Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Refiner's Fire



In case you haven't noticed, yet, this blog is not from someone who has it all figured out. When I reflect on where I am in my walk with God, more often than not, I feel like a baby Christian - who doesn't know anything about anything. A toddler at best. It's kind of funny how that works. As soon as somewhere in your layers of thoughts (because you don't allow it on the top layer, at least), you start thinking/feeling anything like, "I'm really starting to understand God and what He's doing in my life," He shows you yet again that His thoughts are not your thoughts. His ways are not your ways.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts."
Isaiah 55:8-9 

There is another verse that applies to me right now:
If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall.  
 1 Corinthians 10:12
The passage goes on to say:
The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience.
And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand.
When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.
 1 Corinthians 10:13

If you think that's about marital fidelity or lying or stealing or any such things, you'd be right, of course, but it's about a whole lot more than that. There is one great temptation that is behind all of the enemy's schemes, and that is to turn away from God - to stop believing that His plans are always good, to stop believing that He has everything under control, to stop believing that you can trust every word in the Bible, and on and on - a slippery slope that finally leads to outright unbelief and despair. 

But, you'd be giving the enemy way too much credit if you think he has the power to cause anything like that. He can do NOTHING without God's permission. Remember the story of Job? Job had it all together - a righteous man who kept God's commandments, a man rich in children, possessions and servants and even health. And Satan asked and was given permission by God to take that all away. The result? Job came dangerously close to assigning evil intentions to God, but in the end, he learned his lesson and God blessed him greatly - with twice as much as he had before.
  
A baby will never walk if she is constantly carried. She needs to learn to pull herself up, to stand, and finally to take those first tottering steps. In the process, she will fall again and again. She might cry a few times. And when she does, we pick her up and say, "Try again, Sweetheart." Eventually, she will walk across the room, and even if she falls, she will get up by herself and keep going - all while we watch proudly from the side.

And when she is walking steadily, there is a new skill to learn - and one after that, and one after that. Most of the time, there will be failure before there is success. And we watch our toddler carefully while she learns these things. She may not even realize that we are there to scoop her up if she really gets into trouble. Skill upon skill, experience upon experience, slowly, but surely, she grows up and learns to hop and skip and tie her shoes and everything else that goes into becoming an adult.

Being a Christian is like that. There is no such thing as being done with God's training. Little by little, slowly but surely, He grows us up in Him. And that sounds good, right? And it is, but in real life, it hurts. We're being refined, and all our dross removed - and you know how that happens, right? It comes through fire. How easily we read those verses in our bibles:
Be truly glad.There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.
1 Peter 1:6-7
You might be one that your friends look up to for wise words - the perfect Scripture applied at the perfect time.  Maybe you've even taught Bible study. You think of yourself as a mature Christian - ready not only to talk the talk but to walk the walk. Perhaps you're even a little proud of where God has brought you and what He's done in your life. But, you know what? You are barely further in God's training than someone who first believed yesterday. 

Nearly a year ago, I wrote a post and toward the end, I wrote, 
Sometimes the greatest disappointments in our lives come not from events or people but from thinking we knew what God was about and finding out we were wrong. Those "God is God and we are not" lessons can be painful, and yes, sometimes (at first) may result in spontaneous keening. It's basically disappointment with God, and where does that put you? There is no place to turn, and to fight it means you're fighting God. That, indeed, is a hard thing.
I'm going to go out on a limb, here, and suggest that you cannot go through a life of faith without at least one of those occasions. We're talking big time wrestling with God, and something you need to deal with if you are going to keep your faith intact. Your mom died when you prayed for healing. Your spouse left you when you prayed for restoration. Your life fell apart when you were trusting God to make things work. 
Those are hard, hard things. They are the things that can push people to depression and despair, which, of course, is what the enemy wants. Do you trust God or not? Do you believe His word or not? Is He working for good or not? These are major "make it or break it" faith testers.  And, just writing that, I can see why He might allow such a thing to happen. As hard as it is to go through, our faith needs to be tested.
Maybe by writing that, it sounded like I was done with that lesson (have you picked up on the fact that these blog entries are mostly me reminding myself of things I should know?). I'm going to be very transparent here, in the hope that God will use this to help someone else. This past year has been among the hardest of my life. Kind of like a midlife faith crisis. I don't think anyone in my life has realized the depths I've been in. And, it's not the kind of thing where you can go to someone and talk for awhile and feel better. This has been between me and God, and along the way, Satan has tempted me again and again and again to give it up - to say that God is not in control - and that all of this is just chance, with one outcome just as likely as another.

At any point, God could have jumped in and scooped me up and set me on my feet again, like that baby learning to walk - but this time, He hasn't. This time He let me fall and struggle up - and fall and struggle up. But, even when you let your baby struggle on her own, you are still right there, and now and then, she will look around to find you. I know that God is there, and I know that every time I read His word, I will catch a glimpse of Him again. I know these things. I have all the right words. In fact, if a friend came to me with my same struggle, I would show her in the Bible all of the promises of God, and I would show her why she could trust them. I KNOW that all God's plans for me are good and that in the end, He will bless me. So, why do I struggle?

A few days ago, I read one of the entries in Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest that suggested that we make a mistake when we seek answers from God instead of seeking God.

I am not yet out of this cave (a scene from Edge of Eternity by Randy Alcorn), and no, I don't even see the light, yet, but I do know what to do:

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
Jeremiah 29:13

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Matthew 6:33

Are you still in the fire, too? It is not forever. And just like when Nebuchadnezzar threw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego into the fire, Jesus is there with us, even if we don't see Him.

 And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, 
“Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?”
They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.”
“Look!” he answered, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; 
and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.”
Daniel 3:23-25 

There is something else I KNOW - that this fire, this struggle, this wrestling - is not for no purpose, and like Jacob, I will not let go until God blesses me for it. (Genesis 32:26). Satan can tempt me all he wants, but I will not let go.  I will pray, read God's word, stay in fellowship with other believers, and I will seek God with all of my heart. Perhaps someday, I will understand what it was all about, but even if not, I know God has a purpose. In the end, Job didn't get answers, but he accepted God's sovereignty - and God blessed him for it. 


P.S. If this is you, too, I am happy to listen. ♥ You can write me below or  here.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Evening wishes



Sometimes I wish I could just sit and write all day long. The truth is that I usually get those feelings when it's time to go to sleep or I have a hundred other things to do that second. The times I could actually sit and write - well, usually the thought never enters my mind.

Today, I thought about this blog a couple times and what I would write about. I would write about "seeking first the kingdom" but as I did my Bible reading today, I learned there was something you do before the seeking. You prepare your heart to seek. Sounds a little odd - but it came up several times in the chapters I read today in 2nd Chronicles.

Or, if not writing about seeking - which I will do eventually - I would write about Swedish Death Cleaning. Both things are sitting a bit heavily on my heart tonight. God finds interesting ways to teach me.

Do you ever find yourself at a place where you don't know exactly who you are or what you're supposed to be doing? That has been me lately. I am fifty-seven years old and don't know who I am. Or maybe I - the me that I know myself to be - am just temporarily misplaced. Life has a way of doing that.

My daughters are all grown up and seeking their own places in the world, and I found myself a little jealous this week. Not jealous of their lives so much, but jealous of being at a point where anything is possible, instead of where I am, realizing that much of my life has already been.

I know that's just earthly thinking. Stupid earthly thinking at that. But then, I remembered one of God's promises: 

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Matthew 6:33

All what things? Well, all the things - clothing, food, shelter - and also peace and purpose and a knowing of who you are in God's sight. So, yeah - I'm working on that. Not ready to write it out all neatly in a spiritual lesson (sounding like I've got it all figured out). But I know - even if I'm not there yet - that's it's the answer to my current restlessness, jealously, feelings of failure, feeling old - you fill in the blank. 

And, yeah, Swedish Death Cleaning. Totally not ready to write about that. I ran across an article about it today, and it hit me so hard that I know the Lord has things to teach me that I'm going to find uncomfortable. Again. 

So, evening wishes of being at a place where I'm ready to write because I have learned a lesson that I'm ready to share. Perhaps, for tonight, knowing the place to start is good enough?


 


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Random thoughts on time on a Tuesday afternoon


 Einstein's theory of general relativity predicted that the space-time around Earth
 would be not only warped but also twisted by the planet's rotation. Gravity Probe B showed this to be correct. 

I've been cooking in my kitchen (gluten-free chocolate granola among other things) and listening to talks on YouTube this afternoon. One assertion that a particular interviewee made was that the angels had to have been created before the six days of creation, because there was not enough time for any of them to "go bad" otherwise.

It was at that point that I lost track of the talk entirely, because I started thinking about time. I am not a physicist. I am not even a scientist, but there are few things that have stuck in my brain. One, sort of, is Einstein's idea that space and time are connected. What does that mean? Who knows? But, one of the things that it apparently means is that not all observers of time experience it the same way. Another thing that people who understand it better than me declare is that mass and time are connected. Without mass, there is no time.

Do angels have mass? No, they do not. They can appear to us as having mass. They seem to be able to take on many different forms. However, they are spirits:

Who makes His angels spirits,
His ministers a flame of fire.
Psalm 104:4

That word for spirit is ruwach, and in some places in the Bible, it's also translated "wind." Like wind, a spirit has no mass. Therefore, a spirit has no time. Now, that's a terribly hard thing for us - trapped IN time as we are - to wrap our minds around. One second or one hundred million years are both the same, and both meaningless to someone who has no time. How does that even work? I have no idea. I'm hoping my resurrected, outside of time brain will get it a little better. 

For our argument here, though, the point is that angels have no mass. Therefore, angels have no time. Therefore WHEN they were created is completely meaningless. 

Does your soul have mass? If you take all your thoughts, dreams, experiences, loves, hates and everything that makes you, YOU, and put it on a scale, what does it weigh? It weighs nothing of course. Your soul has no mass. What truly makes YOU is not your body - it is your soul that inhabits your body for a space of time. Do you know what that means? It means your soul has no time. Your soul, like it or not, is eternal. For a bit of time, your soul inhabits a physical, earthly body. That body is subject to decay and disease and injury and death. Your soul, however, is forever, and only God can direct what happens to your soul when it is released from your body.

God is not subject to time. He is outside of time all together. For Him, the past, the present, the future are all the same. Some people describe time or history like a train. For us, the cars move past one at a time. There are cars that are already past. There are cars still to come, that we haven't seen yet. For God, it's like being far overhead the train and seeing it all at one time. Someday, when we enter eternity, time will be meaningless for us, too. Eternity is not lots of time - an endless train that stretches in both directions forever. No, eternity is being outside of time all together. And how cool will that be? Maybe, in our resurrected bodies (specially made by God to be as eternal as our souls), we will not only be able to explore the universe - but also explore history itself.

That whole "time" thing leads to lots of random thoughts. Time is also connected to speed. The closer you get to the speed of light (which was once much, much faster according to the latest research), the slower that time goes in comparison with someone standing still. Now, that's a brain twister. And what does that mean for Bible interpretation? Just that 6,000 years on earth, give or take and 16 billion apparent years of starlight, could actually be the same thing. A post for another day. 


  

NOTE: Angels can apparently manifest in a physical body (Genesis 6, for example). Since that would (obviously?) have mass, I have no idea how that works. They would be "in time" for at least that point, right? And yet could go back to being spirit? And does spirit equal interdimensional? And, if so, is that a physical body that just has the capability of popping in and out of different dimensions? Would that kind of body be subject to time? Random thoughts that counter my previous random thoughts? 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Endings and beginnings







If you pay attention to the news - and I do - you might feel a bit like that cute puppy right now. 2018 is an unknown and filled with all kinds of potential for scary things.

On the other hand, it has the same potential for amazing wonders. All that matters is the lens you're looking at the world through. If you are holding tight to God's word and His promises, then there is nothing to fear, just as He says in Psalm 31:

How abundant are the good things
    that you have stored up for those who fear you,
that you bestow in the sight of all,
    on those who take refuge in you.
In the shelter of your presence you hide them
    from all human intrigues;
you keep them safe in your dwelling
    from accusing tongues.  
Praise be to the Lord,
    for he showed me the wonders of his love
    when I was in a city under siege.
 In my alarm I said,
    “I am cut off from your sight!”
Yet you heard my cry for mercy
    when I called to you for help.


 Love the Lord, all his faithful people!
    The Lord preserves those who are true to him,
    but the proud he pays back in full.
Be strong and take heart,
    all you who hope in the Lord.

Let that be your battle cry tonight, as you look into 2018: Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord. This may be the year He comes for us - but even if not, He will be there with us. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Hopes and fears




We all have hopes and fears from the moment we wake up each morning. You know what yours are, and you know that some days - some years, perhaps - are worse than others. What I pray you also know is that God is waiting for you to turn all those over to Him. He can take your worst fear, and even if it actually happens, make it work for your good. And your hopes? His word says that He can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. 

Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
 Ephesians 3:20

As you finish your Christmas preparations or pack your bags to visit loved ones (maybe some you haven't seen in a long time), give your hopes and fears to God. He's the only one who can actually do something about them. May His peace fill your heart today and always.  

Monday, March 13, 2017

Keening




Keening is usually associated with professional mourners - people (usually women) who are actually paid to publicly express the sorrow the family can't or won't express at a funeral. In ancient times, it was traditional practice and showed respect for the person who died. Weird, huh? In the Middle East, they were the wailing women, and you'll find them in the Bible in several places, like Jeremiah 9:17-18:

Thus says the Lord of hosts:

“Consider and call for the mourning women,
That they may come;
And send for skillful wailing women,
That they may come.
 Let them make haste
And take up a wailing for us,
That our eyes may run with tears,
And our eyelids gush with water.

In Ireland, they were the keeners, and the sound they made was called "keening." It was a wail, yes, but more than that - it was a sound unlike any other kind of weeping. 

Keening, when it comes naturally, comes from a broken heart. It is beyond words - or perhaps in place of words -  that won't or can't come. It flows from sorrow so deep that there are no words to express it. You hold it in, because once started, it is so hard to stop that it leaves you panting for air. It is usually utterly private, something you try never to do in front of others. 

The Holy Spirit is actually very like a keener at times, who expresses to God, to our Abba Father, what we have no words for:

Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses.
For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought,
but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us
with groanings which cannot be uttered.
Romans 8:26
 
  It is no accident that Romans goes on to say in the next two verses:

Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, 
because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
 
And we know that all things work together for good
to those who love God,
to those who are the called according to His purpose. 

"All things work together for good to those who love God, who are called according to His purpose." Not some things. Not even most things. All things. Including those which may cause spontaneous keening. All things work together for good. Our Abba Father knows the end from the beginning. He knows far better than us what needs to happen in order for His purpose to be accomplished. This world, our world - our lives in this world - are the barest blip in comparison with eternity with Him. It doesn't have to make sense to us. It usually WON'T make sense to us. But all things work together for good, if you are among God's children. Somehow they do - in a way that we probably don't understand at the moment. 

When Jesus washed Peter's feet, He said, (John 13:7)

“You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”

That is true of far more than washing Peter's feet. It's true for me, today. It's true for you, too. Trust is not a feeling. Trust is a decision you make based on all that God is and all that He has promised to you in His word. That trust comes from your head and your will. Your heart will catch up eventually.  

Sometimes the greatest disappointments in our lives come not from events or people but from thinking we knew what God was about and finding out we were wrong. Those "God is God and we are not" lessons can be painful, and yes, sometimes (at first) may result in spontaneous keening. It's basically disappointment with God, and where does that put you? There is no place to turn, and to fight it means you're fighting God. That, indeed, is a hard thing. 

I'm going to go out on a limb, here, and suggest that you cannot go through a life of faith without at least one of those occasions. We're talking big time wrestling with God, and something you need to deal with if you are going to keep your faith intact. Your mom died when you prayed for healing. Your spouse left you when you prayed for restoration. Your life fell apart when you were trusting God to make things work. 

Those are hard, hard things. They are the things that can push people to depression and despair, which, of course, is what the enemy wants. Do you trust God or not? Do you believe His word or not? Is He working for good or not? These are major "make it or break it" faith testers.  And, just writing that, I can see why He might allow such a thing to happen. As hard as it is to go through, our faith needs to be tested. 

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 


Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 


"Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.


 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Be still


Stop fighting. Stop trying to do it all yourself. Stop worrying; stop fretting; stop striving so hard. Be still. Calm. Patient. Trusting - and KNOWING that God is God - and you are not. Be still - He is in control. He has been. He will continue to be. He did not blink. He is not late. He is God.

This is not a mindless thing, not blanking yourself out. It doesn't mean clearing your mind of all thoughts, and it is not some new way to know God. It's not that when you are a blank, empty slate, that a new "knowing" of God will come upon you. No. It means stop everything that you are trying to do in your own strength. It means to stop despairing. Stop giving up. Stop letting Satan win. 


Just. Be. Still. Let GOD be God, because you are not and never will be. Know who He is. Know what He has done for you. "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32)

A "commentary" on this verse is in Psalm 37:5-8 -

Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him,
And He shall bring it to pass.
He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light,
And your justice as the noonday.
Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him;
Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass.
Cease from anger, and forsake wrath;
Do not fret—it only causes harm.

The New Living Translation says this in verse 7, which is very much a parallel to Psalm 46:10:
Be still in the presence of the Lord,
and wait patiently for Him to act.


Today, if events in your life seem to be spiraling out of your control, be still. Know that nothing is out of God's control. He's not only fully on top of the situation, but has it all planned out to work for your good. He is God. You are not. It's not your job to figure everything out. Nothing is impossible for God. Let HIM work it out.