For your weekend…

Words foretold in the Old Testament, lived out in the New Testament and remembered with gratitude today:

Isaiah 53

Who has believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?

For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he has no stately form nor splendor; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.

He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.

And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.

Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he has put him to grief: when you shall make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days, and the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

He shall see the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.

Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he has poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Thursday

John 13-17 records the words and activities of Jesus and His disciples as He faced the looming horror to come.  Even with that knowledge resounding throughout His very being,  this is the day of loving service, fellowship and last words of instruction.  This is the day of washing feet and Last Supper and “love one another” in this way…

 I worked on a clogged drain today and I thought about how gradual it all can be.  The clog doesn’t develop suddenly, but rather over time.  Little by little the build-up occurs until the slowing down becomes an all-out stop.  Then the bowl becomes a vessel for holding in the dirty things instead of a funnel to drain them all away.

 The same thing happened to dirty feet all those years ago.  Step by step on unpaved roads and through fields of labor the layers built until it was necessary for washing.  Maybe one day wasn’t so bad, but string enough of them together without the cleansing and you’d have a real mess…and an uncomfortable one, at that.

 The dirt and the clogs that keep us from fellowship and from relationship…our choices…our decisions.  Ours.  All ours.  The washing away of it all…that’s all Him. 

 It was that way then.  It is that way now. 

 “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.”  Psalm 51:2

The Christmas Nail

I think it was our second Christmas together that we found ourselves in a local Christian bookstore standing in front of a display with lots of boxes.  They were all labeled the same:  “The Christmas Nail” and the package was long and slim and covered in shiny gold paper on the back.  We bought one.  We’ve hung it in our home every Christmas holiday season for the past 19 years…whether we decorated the rest of the house or not.  It’s become that important to us.

It is long and slender and it looks like what it is–a really long spiked nail.  The instructions said that we were to place the nail in a place where only the family from the house would know where it was…prominent enough for us to know about and be reminded throughout the holiday season, but not so much so that it became the focus for those who might come by to visit. 

The whole point of this particular “decoration” is to be a personal reminder that the Baby whose birth we celebrate at Christmas came for a much larger purpose.  He came to save the world.  That didn’t happen in a beautifully wrapped and cozy atmosphere…any more than his birth did…in fact, it was far worse.

The saving of the world was no easy thing.  It was angry and brutal, fierce and devastating…and the most loving response of a Heavenly Father to a fallen world who so often chooses to ignore the gift it made possible.  If there was any other way than the cross that could have happened, don’t you think He would have taken it?

So I’ve been thinking about that Christmas nail today.  Maybe it should be on display at this time of year, too…not hidden, not secret…an open reminder that what we celebrate at this time of year truly isn’t about colored eggs and bunnies, Easter baskets full of candy or pretty new clothes to wear, but about a God who loves this world so much that He gave up His only Son…for you…and for me…so that we could spend eternity with Him…starting now.

“For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”  John 3:16 (HCSB, 2009)

Contemplation

I’ve been thinking about the following words by Ann Voskamp today (from her book, One Thousand Gifts):

Eucharisteo–thanksgiving–always precedes the miracle….

On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread and gave thanks to God for it.  Then he broke it in pieces…” (1 Corinthians 11:23-24, emphasis added). Jesus, on the night before the driving hammer and iron piercing through ligament and sinew, receives what God offers as grace (charis), the germ of His thanksgiving (eucharistia)? Oh.  Facing the abandonment of God Himself (does it get any worse than this?), Jesus offers thanksgiving for even that which will break Him and crush Him and wound Him and yield a bounty of joy (chara).  The mystery always contains more mysteries.

Do I really want this way? …

What preceeds the miracle is thanksgiving, eucharisteo, and it is a Greek word with a hard meaning that is harder yet to  live. Do I really want to take up this word? …

Is there some easier way to the fulfilling life?

I’ve already made my choice.  What is yours?

Seeing what we need to see

Many years ago my husband needed a relatively simple operation.  He did all of the pre-operative steps, paperwork and had a chest x-ray…which many physicians would never have ordered as part of this particular issue.  The films were read and approved.  The operation and subsequent recovery proceeded as expected.  Problem solved.  Proceed with life!

 About five and a half months later, he began to notice some minor issues that occurred with increasing regularity.  Life went on.  The issues became symptoms and the symptoms became more significant.  We found ourselves in an Emergency Room for tests at the end of a very long day.  They ruled out what we thought was the problem, but noticed “something” on the chest x-ray and scheduled him for a follow-up appointment with a local physician.

 Over the weekend, additional symptoms surfaced and within 4 days, we were being given a very scary diagnosis: cancer.  As part of the medical work-up, the physicians mentioned that they “sure would like to have had a previous x-ray for normal-to-growth comparison” and lamented that one wasn’t available.  They were surprised to hear that one actually was available and requested a copy for viewing.

 The side-by-side comparison wasn’t even necessary…the mass was visible on the first film. Though it was significantly smaller, it was still visible 6 months earlier.  There were several very concerned medical professionals—for a lot of reasons.  They couldn’t seem to understand why we weren’t more upset that this “vital piece of medical information had been missed.” 

 Here’s why:  We had the best surgeon in our area for the previous issue—one who knew us and loved us and went the extra mile to make sure everything was in good order before proceeding to do his job.  Our surgeon friend routinely sent all of his films on to the best radiologist in the city because he was particularly qualified in this area.  That means that the very best—most qualified–person for the job did his job…and still didn’t see it.  I believe that was by design.  God’s design.

 How can I believe that?  Well, I believe that God is good and that He is perfect (meaning: He does not make mistakes).  He is a God of order and detail.  I believe that He loves us and has a plan for our good.  This was part of the plan.

 What?!  Yes.  I believe it was part of the plan.  I believe it because we were later told that if they had seen the mass prior to the first surgery—they wouldn’t have done the surgery…and if they hadn’t done the first surgery, my husband would never have even been able to survive the diagnosis stage because he would have been at such risk under anesthesia.  See the plan now?

 All these thoughts ran through my mind several weeks ago as we once again raced through the night for a medical emergency.  Along with the prayers for a clear field of travel and that my husband would continue to breathe until we arrived was the prayer for the medical professionals we would meet to “see what they need to see” when we arrived.  It had been my prayer all day and I had already seen it answered as we were, once again, graced with a wonderful physician who loves us and sprang into action on our behalf.

 I’ve continued to think about this in the weeks since then. 

  • How often do we demand to “know it all now” when that really isn’t in our best interest?
  • When will we learn to trust that some things are best left to other times and places? 
  • When will we recognize that there are lessons we need to learn now and that our focus will be shifted/derailed if we’re inundated with things that aren’t yet for us to see. 
  • What blessings do we miss in our concern over things that aren’t here yet—and might not ever come—all because we’re so focused on finding out things that don’t matter in the here and now?
  • When will we learn to trust God?

  I am not advocating the “ignorance is bliss” philosophy and I’m certainly not excusing anyone from doing the task in front of them with less than their very best.  I’m simply suggesting that full disclosure by the Creator of the universe may not be our best bet, either.  Sometimes things, information…and timing…are best left to the One who created us all.

 

Father God, in this week of remembering Your gift of eternal life through the death, burial and resurrection of Your Son, help us to see what we need to see.  Help us to focus on You and be aware of how very much we are loved.  Help us to trust You and, in the process, be available to see what YOU would have us see.

For your weekend…

When God decides to improve you…

I was lying in bed trying to get some much needed recovery rest last night…and it just wasn’t happening like I wanted.  Oh, I was ‘resting,’ but I wanted to be sleeping and that seemed so very hard to accomplish despite my tasks from the day and the fact that I was still tired from dealing with my “spring fever” episode.  (Incidentally, Spring Breaks are great; “spring fevers” are NOT.)

In any case, I wanted the situation to be different, so I began to pray.  I’ve found that’s always more conducive to rest than just getting upset about it.  I thanked God for having the fever break and I thanked Him for helping me feel so much stronger, for clean linens on the bed, for a husband who has been incredibly supportive this week and for several other things, as well.  I told God that I knew He didn’t HAVE to heal me, but since His word says that He’s my Healer, I was really hoping to see that improvement in action—and soon!

It pulled me up short a bit.  Oh, not that I doubt His ability to heal—I’ve seen and experienced it often!  What made me really stop and think was about all the other ways I’ve seen Him work to “improve me” over the years.  One of the first things that came to mind was in the area of temper.

I used to have a pretty volatile one.  In fact, it could have been classified as vile.  Oh, I was pretty even-keeled most of the time, but then…out of the blue…it might strike.  Actually, that last part should read, “I might strike.”   When that happened, it wasn’t pretty.  I have a pretty extensive vocabulary and I know all about nuance and inflection.  At times, I used those gifts as weapons.  Unfortunately, for anyone on the receiving end, I was pretty good at it.  In fact, I could make Julia Sugarbaker look like Mother Teresa when I really got on a tear.  (For those of you who missed Atlanta in the late 1980s-1990s…that is a really bad thing.)

As God began to improve me, He decided that this trait needed to go.  He helped me realize just how destructive my speech could be and I began to pray for His assistance in that area of my life.  You know, sometimes change comes r-e-a-l-l-y slowly.  Along the way, you realize that one of the ways you actually know that you’re changing comes because you keep getting put in situations that would have previously inspired the negative behavior…and it doesn’t happen…as often.  Over time, the frequency continues to decrease—something about fruit of the Spirit and self-control…imagine that! (grin)

One of the final nails in the coffin for that particular bit of nastiness in my life was a Bible verse:  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”  Colossians 4:6 (NIV)

Oh, goody!  Don’t you just love it when God meddles with you and spells things out so you can’t worm your way out of it? Almost like He KNEW we’d have trouble with different areas of our lives and decided to address them before we were even born?  (yes, sarcasm…it still shows up occasionally…down here, we call it “sass.”)

In any case, that Scripture verse hit me really hard.  It truly didn’t leave me anywhere else to go on the matter.  That’s actually a gift, in case you’re still wondering.  As I read that verse over and over I realized that in the past, I’d actually done the opposite of what that verse says to do:  My speech had often been filled with salt and seasoned with grace. Not what God had in mind at all.

I’m not going to say that it all changed overnight once I realized what needed to be different.  It took a lot of time, a lot of prayer, a lot of intentional walking away and some serious assistance from the Holy Spirit for that trait not to be my go-to tradition.  I wish I could say that those days are completely gone and that they are never even a temptation for me now.  It wouldn’t be true.

There are still days that I struggle with wanting to “educate” some people in just such a way.  Thankfully, even those days are much fewer and further between.  God has healed–yes, healed!–and improved me in this area of my life to the point where my language skills and vocabulary are more often used in prayer for those who seem to need that “education” and I’ve found that, in His own funny way, God will sometimes allow me to address the issue with much less volatility/anger and still make the point in a way that grants me favor with some of these same people.  (Perhaps even because I didn’t react as they would have in a similar situation?!)  Imagine that!—using words for influence instead of annihilation; making a point with humor and prayer instead of launching a barrage of words designed to wound or humiliate.  What a concept!  What a God-thing!  What an improvement!

Your challenge for the weekend is to take stock and see if there is an area of your life that needs some God-improvement.  If you’re really serious about it, He will reveal it to you and, usually, He’ll also begin to reveal what His word has to say about that same area of life.  Who knows–perhaps His word for you will be just as specific as His word was to me about my speech.  My God is all about the practical application of His word–you can count on Him to tell you what you really need to hear…and do so in love.