Monday, December 24, 2012

Immanuel means...

The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; 
He leads me beside quiet waters. 
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake. 
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; 
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. 
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; 
You have anointed my head with oil; 
My cup overflows. 
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

My husband and I have, this past month, walked through a valley. It was not in the shadow of death, though. The shadow that hung over us was a little shy of that. It was of possible diagnoses, brought on by sudden and severe health problems for my husband. We learned just how dark and challenging that valley can get, how fast you can be plunged into it, and how relentless the devil attacks can be... and we learned some more of how endless God's faithfulness is.

God has now led us out of the darkest of those shadows.  The worst possibilities seem to have been crossed off the list of possible causes, and the worst of the strange symptoms have left. (Though his health is still not what it was, and we still don't know what happened.)

And yet... God is always faithful. Always. If I was not convinced before that He does all things well, I would be even more convinced now.

You see, right in the midst of the deepest darkness, God moved.

Right there, with fears and weariness surrounding us, God began breaking strongholds that I've been praying against for 10+ years.  

God is powerful... all powerful... yet He allows Himself to be limited by the freedom of choice that He gave us. And sometimes, He has to let us get into some pretty tight places before we give Him the freedom to release that power in our lives.

That is what He did inside my husband. God has broken chains. He's opened eyes that were blind to things they wanted to see but just couldn't. God has done and is doing what He is always doing... all things well.

As for me...

I blogged about the strength to use the armor less than two months ago. Little did I know how soon those words would have a chance to get tested on an even deeper left. And God's word held true.

The darkest parts of that valley have become something treasured in my heart, for I experienced God's strength and power and peace on a level that blew way past everything I've ever experienced. You know how Paul said that when he was weak, God was strong? It is sooo true! I knew it before, but there's nothing like experiencing something on a deeper level to make your "knowing" even more complete.

How can I describe the reality of what I experienced? Three days in particular were some of the most wearisome of my life. Never before have I experienced such weariness... weariness that seemed to have invaded every cell of my body.

My body remembers how that weariness hit me less than half an hour after waking up. Weariness that exceeded what I would normally feel after 18+ hours of working and doing. But my spirit remembers the unbelievable strength and power that flooded me even then as I began praising my Savior.

How can you go from barely having the strength to stand and keep your eyes open, to literally dancing and singing with a heart full of life?  These words that I shared: "You stay the same, through the ages... Your love never changes. There may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning." ...how is it that when my mouth and heart sung them, now became my morning?

Only the presence of God can allow a person as weak as myself to stare the possible prospect of death and lonliness in the face... and still feel the peace of God wrapping me completely.

I can now understand how Paul could say he rejoiced in his weaknesses. I don't get to experience those things on a daily basis. But I did then! I experienced the reality of Jesus.
"...and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” - Matthew 1:20-21
He truly was with me.

And lest we forget what He said He came to bring, Luke records:
And He came to (P)Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, (Q)He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and (R)stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,(S)The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,And recovery of sight to the blind,To set free those who are oppressed,(T)To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”And He (U)closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and (V)sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 
 He was quoting Isaiah 61, which continues:
To comfort all who mourn,
To grant those who mourn in Zion,
Giving them a garland instead of ashes,
The oil of gladness instead of mourning,
The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting.

Jesus is with us. 
And He didn't come empty-handed. He came to release the captives, give sight to the blind, set free the oppressed, comfort those who mourn, and give the mantle of praise and strength to those who are fainting of weariness.

Here, once more, are the words to His song... the one He gave me last Christmas:

All He Was
© 2011 Kathleen Peters (since US copyright law doesn't recognize God's right to it)

Once outside of time began a story    (John 1:1)
It’s been told a thousand times and ways, or more
A virgin birthed and angels sang    (Is. 7:14Luke 1:342:13-14)
The wise men saw and shepherds came  (Matt. 2Luke 2:15-16)
But the hero who lay within her arms 
Had already made a sacrifice of love:     

He was the Maker of the universe    (Col. 1:16John 1:3)
The Master of the stars     (Ps. 136:7-9)
The voice of endless power     (Gen. 1:3)
And everlasting love     (Jer. 31:3)
Before foundations of the world were laid      (Rev. 13:8)
Beyond the veil of time     (Ps. 90:2)
He knew the world would need a Savior’s touch      (Is. 9:2)
So He surrendered all He was.      (Phil 2:7)

He said that He revealed the face of God    (John 14:9)
That’s why the crowds responded to His power and love    (Matt. 4:25)
The sick were healed and blind could see   (Matt. 4:23Matt. 15:31)
The lame made whole, possessed set free (Matt. 21:14Mark 1:32)
Yet they took Him and nailed Him to a cross   (Matt. 27:22-31)
But He prevailed over death and conquered all!    (2 Tim. 1:10)

'Cause He's the Maker of the universe    (Col. 1:16John 1:3)
The Master of the stars     (Ps. 136:7-9)
The voice of endless power     (Gen. 1:3)
And everlasting love     (Jer. 31:3)
Since the foundations of the world were laid 
Beyond the bounds of time
He rules as everlasting Lord of all      (Phil. 2:9-10)
Yet He surrendered all He was…  (Luke 4:17-21)

         To bring good news to the afflicted     (Is. 61:1)
         And peace for the broken    (Is. 61:1)
         There’s freedom for captives     (Is. 61:1)
         The favor of God    (Is. 61:2)
         There’s joy now for mourning      (Is. 61:3)
         And strength for the weary      (Is. 61:340:31)
         He’s made us the righteousness of God   (2 Cor. 5:21)

He's still the Maker of the universe    (Col. 1:16John 1:3)
The Master of the stars     (Ps. 136:7-9)
The voice of endless power     (Gen. 1:3)
And everlasting love     (Jer. 31:3)
When the foundations of the world were laid     (Rev. 13:8)
The Father looked through time     (Is. 9:2-7)
He saw that you would need a Savior’s love...     (Rom. 7:24-25Gal. 2:20)
         So Jesus came to be the Perfect One      (2 Cor. 5:21)
         What He did for you will always be enough…  (Rom. 8:1-4)
         Because He gave you all He was.     (1 Cor. 1:30)

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Every time I breathe...

Have you actually listened to the words of this song?

These words... they are just so perfect, and so powerful.  That is, when they come from my heart in an attempt to express what I feel... well, it is just as the song says.

"Every time I breathe You seem a little bit closer
I never want to leave I want to stay in Your warm embrace 
Oh basking in the glory shining from Your face
And every time I get another glimpse of Your heart
I realize it's true
That You are so marvelous God
And I am so in love with You!"

If you have never been able to sing words like these from your heart and with all your being... ask Him to do it. To give you a new heart.

Believe me. He is worth it.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

What never fails...

More fire.  Of a totally different sort.  In fact, it feels more like a sledgehammer. That's what's going on right now.

I find myself clinging to God in ways I've never had to until now.

But this... this is what is worth holding onto when your world threatens to turn upside down.

"You stay the same through the ages..."




Your Love Never Fails - Newsboys

Nothing can separate
Even if I ran away
Your love never fails

I know I still make mistakes
But You have new mercies for me everyday
Your love never fails

Chorus:
You stay the same through the ages
Your love never changes
There may be pain in the night but joy comes in the morning
[ Lyrics from: http://www.lyricsty.com/jesus-culture-your-love-never-fails-lyrics.html ]
And when the oceans rage
I don't have to be afraid
Because I know that You love me
Your love never fails

Verse 2:
The wind is strong and the water's deep
But I'm not alone here in these open seas
Cause Your love never fails

The chasm is far too wide
I never thought I'd reach the other side
But Your love never fails

Bridge:
You make all things work together for my good 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Heart-breaking and heart-destroying...

This girl was not born with this deformity  It started with a mouth ulcer, and then reached out to devour and distort and destroy her beautiful face.

140,000 children - mostly in sub-Saharan Africa - catch it each year. And 80-90% of them will die, because it does not usually stop until it has destroyed their ability to eat food. They starve to death. 

Do you know what is the most heartbreaking thing of all about this?  It's not a particularly strong bacteria. It starts with a mouth ulcer, and an even moderately healthy immune system can fight it off successfully.  That's why it hasn't happened to you. 

Consequently, only the very, very poorest and least healthy areas of the world still see this terrible disease...and they do not know it could be easily stopped. They see it as a curse from evil spirits.

  

My heart was breaking over this discovery two nights ago... as I was writing my last post, actually.  I found myself wondering what could be done about it. There are a few groups of European doctors that donate their skill for reconstructive surgeries, but most of the time, these children live and die under their curse.

Lord? Look how terrible this is! It's not even something deadly like cancer!  That something so small...something that really isn't that deadly in the grand scheme of things...is destroying so many lives!  And what is there, really, for the world to do? No one even really knows what the initial signs look like because there's no one there to document it until it gets obvious. And "make all the world's children healthy" is a goal that is probably impossible as long as sin exists in the world. 

How do You take it, Father? Seeing such destruction? 

And then He began speaking to me.

You see that destruction, and you weep for outward appearances and for the destruction to their bodies. But that is what sin does in the hearts of every single human. And I see it all. 

Even the smallest "not-so-deadly" sin reaches out to devour and distort and destroy the heart and soul that it found a home in.  It is even worse when it happens there, in a soul.

I see that when it happens in your heart. I see it in every heart.


That's why I sent Jesus. 


There are no words to describe what that revelation is doing inside of me. Yet I can't help adding, that if you DO want to do something, then sponsor another child. Compassion works to save them from this AND to lead them to the One who has saved their soul.


Monday, November 19, 2012

I saw God in them...

I briefly encountered some people the other day-- some that made me realize that I still try to fit people into stereotypes far more than I realize.

We come across all kinds of people in this world, don't we? People who yell and curse at their kids in the grocery store. People who fade into the background and who you never really notice unless someone points them out. People whose entire conversation consists of bad-mouthing those whose lives they disapprove of. People who look rich and sophisticated and as though they have their act together. People who look as though they haven't taken a shower, brushed their hair, or taken a moment to adjust their clothing in the last week. 

I "happened" across one of that last sort the other day. 

I was at the library with my laptop, working, while my daughter was busy with a kid's event. At another computer was a young woman who looked to be in high school, with her mother sitting beside her. There was no one else in the library but us and one librarian.

My first awareness of them was their above-library-volume conversation... something about medicine and seizures and doctors and the girl's heart and missing school. The girl was the type that tends to fade into the background, and her mother was the kind that was hard to ignore.

I tried to focus on the work I had to get done, but it was very hard.

Then a brother came in, and he was far more aware of library etiquette. He spoke in a quiet whisper, but it was still far too easy to hear him telling his sister that getting back to school was not worth risking her life if she did more than her heart could take. She protested that she wasn't going to die and her teachers were already giving her so much grace that she just had to get her papers written. Again he protested... and then asked when she'd eaten last. Then he asked how his mother was doing, and that whispered conversation revealed that the mother had diabetes and several other issues. Soon he left to get them some food.

He came back (and yes, they ate in the library), and then left again to get his sister's prescription filled.

He came back again, and more conversation revealed that their monetary resources were extremely limited... so much that it is quite likely that my tax dollars are paying for their medical costs.

I began praying for them. I prayed for their health and that this girl's determination to finish school would not be thwarted. Mostly I prayed in the Spirit.

But now, I wonder if God used some of those prayers to open my eyes.  Because as I did, I began to realize how many stereotypes this family broke.

They say that you can't love others more than you love yourself, and the mother looked like she hadn't the faintest idea how to love herself... yet she continuously voiced only concern for her kids.

The son looked like your average 20-year-old... and you know how often young men in today's world disparage far more put-together women then this one. Yet this one continuously demonstrated only concern and love for his mother and his sister.

The daughter--who this whole time demonstrated a positively amazing ability to focus on writing her school papers despite her brother and mother's distractions--is not a high-schooler. She's going to college for something having to do with criminal justice.

The daughter wondered how she was going to get to classes, and her mother assured her that dad would take her... and I overheard enough to realize that this casually-referred-to "dad" is still there for this woman who is his wife, and he can be counted on to do what he can to help his daughter get through college.


And then I started to feel amazed. By them. 

There I sat, with a laptop and a good-paying job and clean, good-fitting clothes and hair that people spend money to get (which happened to be given to me naturally), and the prayers that I was praying for them were prayed as though I had something to give them.

Yet....

If my high school daughter needed a computer for the day, I'd probably have dropped her off and told her to call me when she was done. Yet this mother and brother seemed more than willing to patiently wait as long as needed, just being there with their daughter and sister.  They demonstrated priorities that I often have wrong.

If I had decided I was bored and had gone to look for a book, I'd have picked up something to entertain myself. Yet this woman had picked up an educational book because, as she declared to the empty library, it looked like it was about interesting things.

If I had been discussing the doctor issues that cropped into their conversation.... well, I wouldn't have been cursing them, but I would definitely have been complaining. Most people would have been cursing. None of these people uttered a single curse word... or even a disparaging remark about anyone... the entire two and a half hours.  I doubt the same could have been said of me.

And then the daughter.  Once upon a time, I had top colleges begging me to apply to them. I probably could have gotten thousands of dollars of scholarships... and I declined it all because I didn't want to go to college. I'm not necessarily saying that was the wrong choice for me.  But... how much stronger a person is she?  I'm thinking this girl with the weak heart is a much stronger person than I am. To persevere and persist against odds that I could only imagine in order to get through college? Wow.

.~*^*~.,.~*^*~.,.~*^*~.

I think back now, and I can't help wondering if God specifically sent them there to change me. To open my eyes to still more ways that I stereotype people.

How many people do we pass by without a glance? How many do we glance at and think only of whether or not we can do something for them?  Pride.  

What if we can learn from them?

What if we're totally clueless about the strength that lies inside of that unassuming disguise?

We are made in the image of God. That image is not just our human features. It is our will to live. Our strength of character. Our ability to love. Our determination.

And I saw God in them.

Father, continue to open my eyes. I've asked You for years to show me the world through Your eyes. You know I include people in that, Father. But now I ask that You open my eyes to see individuals--each precious, personally-crafted person I meet--through Your eyes. Overwhelm my sight with this vision, Father, that Your love would then overwhelm my heart.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

On Election Day...


Jesus is Lord! - At the name of Jesus, every knee will bow...

(If you'd like to share this image on your Facebook page, you can find a share link here.)


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Strength to use the armor...

I've had spiritual warfare on my mind for the last few days, after an article a friend shared with me. It's got me thinking and praying in ways that I haven't in awhile.

So I found it rather interesting what I happened across this morning as I flipped through my journals looking for a reference to something completely unrelated.

Evidently, back in June of 2004, I'd been reading some sort of book that had a chapter on joy. (I wish I had written down what book it was.)  But I wrote:
I've always known the verse, 'The joy of the Lord is your strength,' but still somehow, I've always considered joy to be an extra gift... a sign... something that is an effect, rather than a cause.  But that chapter shows how joy is actually essential to the Christian walk! Yes, it's an effect... a fruit of the Spirit. But it's also a cause-- a tool. Actually, it's our strength!

I immediately thought of Ephesians 6 where it describes the armor of God. Those verses have been brought to my attention quite a few different times and ways in the last few days... but how does that section of scripture start?
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. - Eph. 6:10

I'm wondering how often we skip that first verse and we jump to the rest. We talk about the sword of the Spirit and the shield of faith, and we attempt to march out into battle... in our own strength. Without an ounce of His joy inside of us.

I wrote in my journal:
What good is the sword of the Spirit if you don't have the strength to wield it?  What good is the shield of faith if you don't have the strength to hold it? What good is the helmet of salvation and the breastplate of righteousness if you do not have the strength to uphold their weight? And what good does it do the world to have our feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace if we have not the strength to walk in them?

Could it be that this is sometimes why our weapons feel so powerless? Because we have no strength?  No joy?

I did a quick search for "joy" on BibleGateway.  Most of the results it turned up (before you get to Psalms) were examples of when joy is easy... when it is accompanying blessing and victory. But what about when we're defeated and feeling anything but victorious?

I went back to Nehemiah. What exactly were the circumstances when he told the people that the joy of the Lord was their strength?
Then I said to them, "You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem." - Neh. 2:17

Ever felt like that? Like you have no walls to protect you from attack?

So they determined to rebuild the walls, and work began. Did it go easy?
Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews. - Neh 4:1

And if that wasn't enough...
Now when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that the repair of the walls of Jerusalem went on, and that the breaches began to be closed, they were very angry. All of them conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it.  - Neh. 4:7-8

That wasn't the only difficulty these people were facing.
Now there was a great outcry of the people... there were those who said, "We, our sons and our daughters are many; therefore let us get grain that we may eat and live." there were others who said, "We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses that we might get grain because of the famine." - Neh. 5:1-3
So they had a bad economy, too.

But Nehemiah pointed out to them that some of their struggle was their own fault... because they were charging each other interest when they lent money to each other, and they were buying and selling their Israelite kinsmen as slaves when they could not pay their debts. So trouble was compounding trouble.

Their response?  They repented and restored everything they had taken from each other. Their hearts were right before God.


They continued building until the wall was finished, but don't think their troubles were over yet!
Now the city was large and spacious, but the people in it were few and the houses were not built. - Neh. 7:4

So they had their wall... but the city was still desolate, and there were still enemies outside the wall, and the famine was still upon the land.

Then the book of the law was found, and it was read and explained (and translated) to the people. Their response again showed that they had a heart of repentance.
For all the people were weeping and they heard the words of the law. - Neh. 8:9

And it is now, when they are standing inside an empty, desolate city in the midst of a famine, convicted of their sin, surrounded by enemies, and without much help from the empire that ruled them... that Nehemiah says those famous words.
Then he said to them, "Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength." - Neh 8:10

This was the first day of the 7th month, and for several days they continued to read, and they found where God had commanded them to celebrate the Feast of Booths. In Leviticus 23, God explains that the purpose of this feast was to remember how God had delivered them from Egypt.

So on the fifteenth day of the 7th month, the people celebrated the feast "for the first time since the days of Joshua the son of Nun."

And there was great rejoicing. (Neh. 8:17)

So they found joy... not in their current circumstances, but in remembering and testifying about who their God was and what He had done.
You will make known to me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever. - Ps. 16:11
Splendor and majesty are before Him
Strength and joy are in His place. - 1 Chr. 16:27
But let all who take refuge in You be glad,
Let them ever sing for joy; - Ps. 5:11

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Elections and eternity...

The United States is going through elections that somehow seem very different to me than what past elections have been.

It's normal for different people to have different thoughts and opinions on how things should be run. It's normal for people to have different priorities. It's also normal for people to look at the past and present and see them differently. 

But the thing that strikes me the most is how vastly different people's perception of facts are.  Facts are supposed to be facts. Unarguable. Things that people agree on, even if they totally disagree on what to do about them. 

Yet, in this Information Age when anything can be googled within seconds and news can be sent around the world even faster, facts have somehow become evasive things that shift and turn and transform into something totally different than what they appeared even days earlier. 

I read lists of comments on websites, and I see that half the comments are written by people who cannot understand why so many of "the other side" cannot see what to them appears elemental... and the other half of the comments ricochet the exact same statement back at them!  Both cannot be right.

What is truth? 

Of course, I know what I believe, and I know what seems obvious to me.

But how do I know that my perceptions are any more accurate than the "other" half of my fellow citizens?

Perhaps this is what Solomon was thinking of when he wrote:
Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. for God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few.   - Ecc. 5:2

We citizens (and those around the world) like to pass judgement on the claims, proposals, and speeches of those running for office.  We aren't afraid to say so when we think they are lying, and we often are just as eager to denounce their ideas of what would be good for the country.

I wonder how often God listens to us and shakes His head ruefully at our supposed wisdom?  Is there, after all, anyone living today who has perfectly run a country with 50 separate states (each with their own agendas), and 314 million people (each with the freedom to state their own opinions), and an economy that involves 1/5 of the world's production (even if it is struggling), and...

You get the point.

Yet most of us don't hesitate to claim that we know what would be best.

It's actually quite ludicrous to think anyone other than God has any idea what would be best for this country. (Or for the world.)  And His priorities are not the same as ours.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares 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

The only conclusion I find left for me to make is that I have a simple choice:

I can either get myself worked up over what I think the country needs, and I can worry over my future, and my welfare.

Or I can rest in the fact that my God-who-loves-me and who has promised to provide-- He is the One who ultimately appoints rulers.

“It is He who changes the times and the epochs;
He removes kings and establishes kings;
He gives wisdom to wise men
And knowledge to men of understanding.   - Daniel 2:21
For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. - Romans 13:1
And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. - Phil. 4:19

Thursday, October 04, 2012

The forging of a blade...

Fire. 

I've gone through a bit of it this past month, and God has been speaking to me about the purpose of trials.

In one instance a few weeks back, I was the kettle, someone else was the pot, and I was being called black. Boy did I get angry! It just wasn't fair! Besides, I was only mildly grey in comparison. It didn't seem right, and everything within me got riled up against the injustice of being accused of something far beyond what I actually did... by someone who was regularly far worse than I was. (At least in my mind.)

But as I submitted my anger to God and humbled myself before Him, He began speaking to me

Does not the Bible say that I must return evil with good? True, Jesus did say to remove the log in your own eye before you try to take the splinter out of someone else's... but He didn't say the one with splinter can get mad at the one with the log and refuse to do anything about the splinter that was still there.

He reminded me of those truths, but still I resented the level of criticism that I had been subjected to. I could not understand how it could be a good thing for me to receive such harsh criticism over something so very, very small.

And then He reminded me of a line out of that fantasy book I mentioned.
A blade is only strong because of the fire it passes through, isn't it?
That line shot through my spirit, and with it, more details.

When a swordsmith forms a blade, he subjects it to high heat, and he pounds that edge to make it fine and thin and sharp. And the sharper he wants that edge to be, the more heat and pressure is required.

I saw, in my spirit, a blade that was relatively sharp.  A close look, however, revealed tiny, tiny rough spots here and there. I am sure that a swordsmith with such a sword would then get very, very critical with his heat and his blows, focusing on each small imperfection, one at a time, until each one was worked out.

And so it is with the Master Craftsman who will complete what he began in me. The faulty humans around me are His tools.  We are like sandpaper - rough against each with our faults and failings.  He uses uses those around me however He desires to fashion me into the vessel... the sword... the woman that He wants me to be.

I can look around at the other swords who aren't being subjected to the same fire and blows that I am, and I have a choice:

Will I complain because of the detailed and critical work being done on me?

Or will I embrace the fact that it is my turn to be made more perfect and beautiful and powerful? Will I submit willingly to the fire and the pounding with a yielded spirit made softer by humility?

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. - Romans 5:3-5

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Good to be alive...

Hello world!

I know it's been a month since I blogged. I've got thoughts... things I want to blog about... things I want to share. But the launch of the school year and an increase of the load at work has slightly overwhelmed me lately.

Nevertheless... here's my song right now. Perhaps it's fitting.
(You can download it for free on klove.com through the end of September if you like it as much as I do.)





"All I want is to give you a life well-lived to say 'thank you'..."

...even though I'm often not sure how to do that.

I love You Father, for every breath You've given me and every day You have planned for me.  For You do all things well.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

One hope / for all the world to see...

I just have to share this song this morning. My heart echoes every word...


There's a fight between my heart and soul
When my pride tries to take control
It's hard to see what I was meant to be

And we are living in the world without a cause
And there's a need that seems impossible
But I can hear, I hear You calling me

To raise a banner of love up high in these city streets
One hope for all the world to see
Be my banner of love
This love is a burning flame
One voice crying out Your name
You're my banner of love
You're my banner of love

And only You can see my destiny
Only You can be the strength I need
Cause my life is Yours now

So goodbye to pride and bitterness
I'm going to live out my purpose
Cause Your life has showed me how

To raise a banner of love up high in these city streets
One hope for all the world to see
Be my banner of love
This love is a burning flame
One voice crying out Your name
You're my banner of love
You're my banner of love

I want to be Your love
I want to lift You higher
I want to reach out and touch this world
I'm gonna reach out and love Your world
We want to show Your love
We want to lift You higher
We're gonna reach out and change this world

We're raising the banner of love up high in these streets
One hope for all the world to see
Be my banner of love
This love is a burning flame
One voice crying out Your name
You're my banner of love
You're my banner of love

Up high in these city streets
One hope for all the world to see
Be my banner of love
This love is a burning flame
One voice crying out Your name
You're my banner of love
You're my banner of love

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Hard questions...

(Advance notice: This post is NOT about homosexuality or free speech.)

The whole Chik-fil-A thing last week has had me asking myself some hard questions, as well as asking some questions of God that I've never asked before.

I didn't get involved in it. The nearest restaurant is over an hour away, and...well, I just stayed out of it.

But I did read some news articles, blog posts, and comments... enough to realize that that there was a vast difference between the reason many people went to Chik-fil-A on August 1st and the message that went out to certain parts of that world we're supposed to love.

And that sent me on my knees (figuratively) before God.

Lord? How much responsibility should we take for how our message is received...regardless of how it's meant?  How do You view this thing that's going on?

I don't know that I got any answers, but I did find Him reminding me of a few things that we, American Christians, like to forget.

I found a question echoing through my spirit. Why did tens of thousands of Christians go to Chik-Fil-A on the 1st? Not what reason did people think they have, or accuse them of having, or even what reason they really had.  But simply, when they were asked, what reason did they say they had? Taking it at face value.

The answer was almost universal... even for those who weren't Christians but went anyway.

People said they are tired of being discriminated against because they say they believe the Bible.  Whether we are discriminated against or not has nothing to do with my point. That's what they say they are feeling.

And immediately after that came the words of Jesus:
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Is that what we Christians (as a whole) were doing that day? 

Is that what we do here in America when we are persecuted oh-so-mildly?

Does the Christian church know how to rejoice while we're in the midst of persecution?

Do I?


Monday, August 06, 2012

Romans - Before and after circumcision...

[Bible study on Romans - post 6]

The Bible talks a lot about circumcision. In Romans 4, the term circumcision stood for the covenant that God made with Abraham, because that was the sign of the covenant. (Genesis 17)

To the Jews, that covenant was everything. It was the foundation of who they were, and it was what set them apart from everybody else. No, they weren't the only nationality that practiced circumcision, but they were the the only people that were decedents of the promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That promise said that Abraham's descendants would be as numerous at the stars, and that they would be blessed. For them, circumcision was a symbol of that all-important covenant of blessing.

So when Peter and Paul began saying that "the uncircumcised" could be saved, and that salvation was not only for the Jews, many of them found that extremely difficult to comprehend and accept. Why would God have set them apart if, in the end, anyone could be saved? Why would God have given the law if anyone could be saved by grace through faith instead?

In Romans 4:9, Paul asks that question, "So... can only we Jews be saved because of our faith, now? Or can those who aren't Jews be saved this way?"

He reminds them of the point he'd just made... that God called Abraham righteous because he believed Him. And then, in verse 10, he asks, "So tell me, did all of this happen after Abraham entered into the covenant with God and was circumcised?  Nope! It happened before he was circumcised!"

And then he went on to say something even more shocking... that circumcision was a seal of the righteousness by faith that he already had!  It wasn't just the sign of the covenant. Both the sign and the covenant were because he was already righteous.

You see, they'd been putting the cart before the horse. They thought that their righteousness was because of the law, and the law was part of the covenant.  Paul was saying, "Nope. The righteousness came first. God entered into that covenant because Abraham was righteous. And he was righteous before the law was given."

I'm sure there were quite a few Jews who were having a hard time wrapping their minds around this one. After all, this was not what they'd been taught for centuries.  But the thing was... Paul was among the foremost scholars of the law at that time. He had the degrees and had passed the bar.

And he was using their own scriptures to prove everything he said.

Perhaps at this point, some of the Jews were thinking, "Okay. So we had the law, but we can also believe like our father Abraham. I guess it's okay if God lets other people in on the good news."  But then Paul takes it one step farther.

He said God did all of that so that Abraham might be the father of everyone who believes like he did... even without being circumcised.  He says that this was God's intent all along. Verse 16 says it again.
For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.
Paul finishes up the chapter by saying that these truths were made plain to Abraham, not only for Abraham's sake. All this was written down for our sake, too. And then he ties Abraham's faith in God's promise to our faith in what Jesus did.
23 Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, 24 but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.
Whoah now! What is justification? That's what Paul explains next.

Go to the index of posts on Romans.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Where joy comes...

For You have been my help
And in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy. 
That's Psalm 63:7 -- one of my favorite Psalms -- and this little verse points to one perspective-changing truth.

Whether or not we have joy is dependent upon my proximity to God, relationship with God, and reliance upon God.  Not upon where I am at in this thing called life.

A few days ago, I used a snippet from a story to illustrate how true peace rests within us... how it's it dependent on outward circumstances. Joy is no different.

Neither comes because of blessings or success and work their way in.

Both come from Him to our heart and work their way out.

              Psalm 63:1-8
1 O God,  You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly;
   My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You,
   In a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2 Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary,
   To see Your power and Your glory.
3 Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,
   My lips will praise You.
4 So I will bless You as long as I live;
   I will lift up my hands in Your name.
5 My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness,
   And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips.
6 When I remember You on my bed,
   I meditate on You in the night watches,
7 For You have been my help,
   And in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy.
8 My soul clings to You;
   Your right hand upholds me.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Of fantasy, truth, and peace...

I love stories, particularly when they illustrate a deep truth in a non-pretentious way. I think I (and many others) got this from God. After all, Jesus used stories to illustrate truths!

One of my very, very favorite stories is a fantasy trilogy. This story has magic and mages, swords and prophecies, as well as one of the most beautiful romances I've ever read. I love the story because the magic and wisdom so often symbolize truths that seem to come straight out of Scripture--without preaching at all.

One section describes the peace that God gives in such a poignant way.

You see, the world loves to talk about peace. Jesus talked about peace. But the two are not the same.

When the world talks about peace, they mean no fighting. No one saying what you want to do is wrong. No trials and tribulations. No death and destruction. Even the Jews thought that this was what the Messiah was coming to bring.

Jesus said differently. He said, "In this world you will have trouble. But fear not, for I have overcome the world."

But so often the concept of peace in the midst of trouble is just too abstract for people to imagine. That's why I'm kidnapping a paragraph for use as a parable.

In this story:
  • The kingdom is being threatened by a terrible kind of evil and destructive magic. The main characters have been working to discover what it is, who is behind it, and how to stop it.  
  • Morgan, the heroine, is learning to deal with things that frequently overwhelm her with their darkness. 
  • The elves stand for the perfection of beauty, harmony, music, etc. You might say that they almost represent what the world would have been if sin had not messed things up so terribly.
  • Lothar is the archenemy. He is the evil mage whose lifeblood feeds off of the destruction of everything that is good.
  • Miach is the hero mage. Once upon a time when he was young and foolish, he spent a year in Lothar's very, very dark and evil dungeon. His parents both died rescuing him, so he's got a past that he's had to learn to deal with, too.  Much like all of us.
  • Furthermore, Miach knows that facing Lothar and stopping all of the evil and darkness is his job. What he has to do gets more and more unpleasant as the books progress, much like the paths our lives take sometimes.

This is in the final book of the trilogy, and they are in a room with Morgan's brother. Outside of that room, however, they are surrounded by the enemy. They are on their way to a place that is simply saturated with evil. They have to stop what no one else has been able to, and they still have not figured out how to do it. On the table are spells of evil that they suspect are what is working against them.

In other words, nothing's looking particularly good at the moment.

But it is here, in this place of darkness, that Morgan begins to realize something very special.
Morgan sat back and listened to them. ... She realized at some point during that discussion that the peace she'd felt before was still surrounding her, as if it had been a quiet spell of elven glamour cast by someone who loved her. The contrast between that and the spells of evil that sat on the table was startling, but she found that she could tolerate it more easily now. She looked at Miach as he laughed at something her brother said and wondered if he had that same sort of tranquility somewhere deep inside him, a peace that not even the horrors of Lothar's dungeon could touch.

She suspected so.

That is what the peace that Jesus gives is like. It is something deep within us that is not dependent upon outward circumstances. It is not upset by guilt over things in our past, and it is not affected by the path that lies ahead of us.  It is more powerful than all those things, for it can "reign in our heart" if we let it. It is a fortress inside of us... a place of refuge that we can remain in, even as we face the darkness around us.
"Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful."   - Jesus
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