Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Blessed Are....

As I spoke with my neighbor yesterday, I made the comment that when I think about watching my Momma and my husband's mom getting seemingly weaker as each day passes, I get very weak inside and grieve.  It is then that I must look up to Father God and cry out for help just to get the things I need to accomplish finished.  Later the same day I was talking with one of my sisters.  She reminded me that we have eternity with them and it brought a smile to my face.  I admitted to her that I found letting family in Christ go was easier than watching them suffer in the transition.  She agreed.  Knowing that our moms will spend eternity with Christ doesn't make the suffering here any easier to bear, but it does make the thought of its eternal reward quite joyous and even brings a sigh of relief to my spirit man.
Lest anyone get the idea that either of us wishes them gone, that is not anywhere near the case.  Our selfish side wants them to remain here with us as long as we can possibly have them.  I know that I feel I still need their advice and wisdom to guide me and probably always will.  We were simply in agreement that, though it brings us heavy grief and longing for them when they are gone,  we know they will be healthy and happy and no longer in any kind of pain as they wait for us to join them, because they too are children of the King. 

Trusting Christ doesn't mean we suffer less.  A simple quote found on page 365 of If God Is Good.....Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil.  It is almost humorous to me that this statement even need be written.  When studying the things Jesus had to say to us regarding suffering, it almost appears to me that we are promised more.  The beatitudes found in Matthew 5:3-10 seem to me to make it pretty clear:

The Beatitudes

He said:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

vs.3 - Here, "poor" is translated from ptochos, which literally means "to crouch or cower as one helpless." It signifies the beggar, the pauper, one in abject poverty, totally dependent on others for help and destitute of even the necessities of life. (Bible Tools)

vs.4 - we mourn many things, including our personal losses, losses of those around us, world-wide losses such as those in a hurricane, sin in our lives and those we love and the list goes on.  We don't have more to grieve, we simply recognize more of the things that needing grieving over.
vs.5 - Meekness is patience in the reception of injuries, the reception of injuries with a belief that God will vindicate us, and produces peace.  (Barnes notes on the Bible)
vs.6 - The more we get to know Him, the more we want of Him, so our hunger and thirst grows in direct proportion to how much we are fed by Him.  In order to be fed we must want to be and cry out to Him as a baby bird cries to its mother.  They do not stop until they are satisfied.  As they grow, they need more and cry louder still.  This should be us.
vs.7 - In order to give mercy, we must have received a wrong. 
vs.8 - Being pure in heart is a daily battle, where fears, pride, prejudices, anger, jealousies and more all try to rush in not even daily, but moment by moment.
vs.9 - If we are to be peacemakers, we must be in the middle of the battle.  Those who sit on the outskirts are ignored.  It is the one who jumps in the middle, refuses to be ruffled, is willing to give their all that is listened to, but sometimes it means literally giving our all in order to be truly heard.
vs.10 - Persecuted - this is the one we try so very hard to hide from.  We don't want ridicule, hatred, lies told about us, injury or any other form of physical, mental or spiritual anguish.  We try to avoid it at all costs, yet hasn't Jesus made it clear in all the above verses that we will suffer in one way or another?  So why not for righteousness?
With all these marvelous promises of suffering, why would anyone choose Jesus?  Because He didn't stop with the pain of suffering.  We may have temporary pain and suffering now, but all of it works toward our spiritual growth, maturing and ends with our receiving the greatest gift of all - eternity with Him!!  When we look closely at each verse we see the promise of eternity in every situation.  The kingdom of heaven is ours now - in our spirits - and for all eternity.  Comfort, satisfaction, mercy, a name (each of His children is given one), heaven and earth are ours forever as they shall become one in perfect unity and we shall dwell in them AND best of all, WE WILL SEE GOD!!  This promise of seeing God is not simply futuristic, though its completion is. We get to see Him now through the eyes and actions of brothers and sisters in Christ, the miracles we witness on a daily basis (though I am convinced we overlook the majority of them), in creation and in our very own lives as He works to do His will in us.
There is an old song that asks the question, "Why do you serve the Lord?  Is it just for heavens gain or to walk those mighty streets of gold, or to hear the angels sing?  Is it just to drink from the fountain that never runs dry, or just to live forever, ever and ever in that sweet by and by?"  I absolutely love the answer, because it is so extremely true: "But if heaven never were promised to me, neither God's promise to live eternally, it's been worth just having the Lord in my life.  I was living in a world of darkness and He brought me the light.  You know He's been my closest Friend down through the years, and when I cry He dries all my tears.  Yes, it's been worth just having the Lord in my life, cause I was living in a world of darkness and he brought me the light."
Jesus is the Light that opens our eyes to see the suffering that we had overlooked before, gives us a heart that cries out to Him for help for each situation, helps us see our own hurt and need and delivers us from the evil that would consume us in grief, destroy us in anguish and despair and delivers us hope and victory.  The wonder of it all is that He didn't stop there.  He could have, but He loved us so much that He also offers us eternal life with Him.  He will not force us to choose life, but He does cry out for us to do so.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Well, Shut My Mouth!!

" God never tells Job to shut his mouth; but after seeing God's greatness, Job realizes he must."  (Randy Alcorn-If God is Good)
There was a time, not so long ago and yet ages ago, that I was giving God a diatribe on why He should speak to Michael about being so messy.  "He shouldn't make a trail when coming home from work by dropping a sock, then another, then his pants, then his shirt on down to his underwear as he walked into the bathroom for a shower.  I then had to pick up each item and reclean the floors due to the mud that was inevitably encrusted on each item."
That was over 30 years ago, but I remember the conversation well.  As I walked into the middle bedroom and began cleaning. God gently spoke these words to my heart: "Michael gave his life for you."  He didn't have to say anything more.  My mouth had to shut.  I had been so VERY wrong.  
Michael had given up his dream of playing in the Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass band, an around the world trip with the youth national band (I cannot remember the name of the group, but he had been chosen for it and it was an extremely great honor) and was now working in a position that required (and still requires) him to work with water in sub-zero temperatures in winter, dig deep holes by hand in above 100 degree temperatures in the summer, trust the electric, phone, sewer, cable and gas companies to mark their lines correctly so that he doesn't strike one and become injured or killed, work in  pouring rain, sleet and even hail, etc.  and he was doing it all so that he could have me as his wife!  I was and am not worth it.  Who is?  Yet here he was and is doing so virtually every day of his life.  As I write this he is working another water main break.  He worked all day yesterday, got two and a half hours sleep before getting called in to work, got home at 7:30 am just as the phone rang with another call to work another break.  This is the one he is working on now.  (Let it be known that Michael no longer drops clothing around the house, but is very careful to place them in the hamper.  He does laundry, cleans the kitchen, scrubs the shower, takes care of the trash and vacuums as well, and I didn't have to ask him to do any of it.  One day he simply took them over, but that is another story for another day, perhaps.)
When he left, I was feeling sorry for myself that he had to go yet again.  I should know better.  All that does is makes him feel badly that he has to go.  He called me after checking things out to say that it indeed was another main break, but that it was already marked by the other utilities, so they could start right away and he hoped to be done by 11:30 so he could take me shopping !!  I wanted to cry!!  I am ashamed to have made him feel the need to tell me this.  I don't care about the shopping, I just miss him!  So, I sat down and spoke to God about it.  I type many of my prayers and this is what I wrote:
"So, Lord, I started this morning off by feeling sorry for myself and for Michael. Forgive me and help me learn to trust You more. When You said that the woman would crave her husband, You really meant we would simply crave him personally, didn't You? .... it is the simple thing of being with him, talking with him, sharing occurrences with him, laughing and crying and holding him...these are the things I crave most. When I am in his arms, the world fades away, just as You meant it to. I cannot thank You enough for allowing me to experience this. I know the reason for this experience is to give me a foretaste of eternity with You. I cannot fathom why anyone would want less!!"
I really enjoyed this analogy:   "Ignorant beings often feel unhappy and confused because of decisions made by wiser and more powerful beings.  Like my (Randy Alcorn) dog Moses thinks I don't "get it" when I hush him late at night.  I'm cruel when I refuse to let him eat the steak he smells.  Of course, he has no idea that his barking wakes up the neighbors, or that a whole steak wouldn't be good for him (he had one once, so this is not a theory), or that there are beings more important than he (perish the thought).  Given his world view, he may feel certain I am not demonstrating goodness and love.  But Moses is simply not in a position to grasp my reasons.  They transcend his understanding." 
Moses and I are a lot alike.  We have difficulty fully grasping this verse:

"And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them."  Romans 8:28
This verse has been misunderstood and even taught incorrectly by many.  It isn't that God turns everything into good, but rather that He makes them work together like a jigsaw puzzle or a tapestry to become a beautiful piece of artwork for our good.  It may take years before we can see the big picture, or it may even take until eternity for us to grasp even a small portion of it, but we can rest assured that God always, always, ALWAYS keeps His promises.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Overcoming Weariness

Let us not become weary  in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Galatians 6:9
Somehow I have always divided this verse up in my mind without even realizing it.  Perhaps you have done the same.  Whenever there has been much work I need to accomplish, I have thought about the "Let us not grow weary" portion.  On days like last Sunday when no one showed up for Sunday School, I think of the other half.  Today as I studied, they were finally made into a complete thought in my reasoning.  Amazing how that happens.  I have been reading and memorizing verses such as this for the vast majority of my life, yet each day I can learn something new.
As I read this verse and others that go along with it (Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.  Galatians 6:7, Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.   II Corinthians 9:6) and a few others, I started thinking about this past year's garden.  There were several opportunities for our garden to have been ruined and non-productive.  Michael could have decided it was too much work to cultivate the garden area.  I could have allowed the weeds to take over and rocks to remain embedded in the soil.  Michael could have decided it was too costly to water twice a day and I could have easily decided that it was too hot and dry to harvest.  Because we fought against such thoughts and made ourselves suffer the aggravation of hard work, we yielded quite a large crop of vegetables. 
There are times in every person who gardens life when they wonder if it is worth the effort until the day that first flower blooms in full array, or that first green bean plant pokes its head above ground.  Suddenly rejoicing takes place!!  Then another time comes when the flower fades and needs trimming so it can bloom again.  We have to remind ourselves that the reward will come if we do the work.  As for green beans, we have to pick and replant in order to get the full harvest.  Is it worth it?  It depends on your point of view.  Perhaps you hate gardening.  Then you need to think of something you love to put it into perspective.  Do you love playing a musical instrument?  It takes hours upon hours of work to be able to do so, yet if you love it, somehow that's okay.  Do you love your children?  Think of the work that went into bringing them into this world.  The hours of labor and pain, but when you see those little fists and toes and that tiny wrinkled face, you fall in love and the pain is much more than worth it.  However, that's not the end of the work.  Do you want your child to grow up knowing right from wrong?  There is another huge job waiting, but when they grow into godly men and women whose sole delight is to serve the Father, the work is more than worth it.  There are many more comparisons I could make, but you get the idea.
So from now on I see this verse as one complete thought.  In my heart it will read something like this: Don't allow yourself to give in to weariness, because when the time is right you will reap a harvest - IF you don't give up.
As Christians it is easy to become weary.  We are constantly bombarded with negative news, negative thoughts, negative actions of those around us, and work seems to pile up no matter how much effort we put forth.  The world screams at us as Job's so-called friends did to him, "Give up!!  You're fighting a losing battle!"  and sometimes the temptation is so great, we almost do.  But then God will remind us of the coming harvest and we can hang in there.  We must remember all we have to look forward to and be grateful that we have the opportunity to do so.  God could have handed out justice immediately and wiped mankind out long ago, as He proved at the great flood.  But His mercies are new every morning and great is His faithfulness to His promises.  So He does not grow weary in doing good, even to the part of creation that continually turns their backs on Him.  He keeps going because, "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."  II Peter 3:9
Sing praises to the Lord Most High!  He has delivered us from the powers of evil and set us on the high places.  He renews our strength and helps us to soar as the eagle!!  He waits patiently for our repentance.  He grieves over those who reject him and die in in their sins.  He rejoices over every one that comes to receive His free gift of salvation AND He never grows weary!!  Praise the Lord!!