Apr 23

He Lives!

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“Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.”  – Isaiah 53:4

For Easter, this year, our pastor preached a series from Isaiah 53, where the prophet foretells, more than 700 years in advance, details of the crucifixion. In addition to the striking physical specifics, the passage details the spiritual and emotional ramifications of the events that happened that afternoon.  It is, at the very least, an amazing passage, worth reading for the details of the prophecy.

A few weeks ago, as I was doing the study that I like to read through during the season of Lent, I came across this verse. I haven’t read through the study in several years, mostly because life has just been busy, and Lent hasn’t been a top priority. This year, though, our boys are old enough to begin to understand some of the reasons to observe, so we decided to teach them about the season. Since I was focusing on it, I remembered to dig out the book. (Yes, that’s my confession: the last several years, I haven’t had the forethought to dig the book out at the beginning of the Lenten season.)

At any rate, as I was saying, I was reading through the study, and came across a reference to this verse. It’s a verse that I know well, part of a passage I have been familiar with for many years. I can quote most of the passage by heart. But that verse, this time, was like a slap across the face. “Surely He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows…”

I won’t lie; I’ve been struggling, over the last few months. There have been a lot of things going on, but the long and short of it is that I’ve been struggling. So, when I read that verse, it hit a little too close to home. I was feeling my griefs and sorrows quite sharply. In fact, I was feeling a little overwhelmed by them. And there was more than a little anger blending in. It was getting pretty heavy. I was being weighed down. And I was sinking.

“Surely He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows…” I responded in anger, when I read those words. I was sinking and here was someone saying that the weight that was pushing me down had already been taken away! How dare they!

One of the things I’ve learned, over a lifetime of learning to walk by faith, that never ceases to amaze me, is that God always wants us to be real. In the Old Testament, He never rebukes the children of Israel (or anyone else, for that matter) for being angry with Him. He chastises those who offer sacrifices without sincerity, and those whose worship doesn’t include the heart, but never those who are honest with Him. And the thing is, He doesn’t have anything to hide. If we’re angry, the best thing to do is to just be honest with Him, and He’ll help us work it out. Scripture tells us to “Be angry and sin not”, so we know that it’s not wrong to have the feelings He built into us.

I get angry at God fairly often. Obviously, my life hasn’t been a series of beautiful picnics and walks in the park. It hasn’t been a living nightmare, or anything, but there have been a lot of painful experiences – just like everyone else’s lives. Anyway, I find that, when I get angry with Him, I can resist, but only for so long. The silent treatment doesn’t affect Him much (it just affects me), and it doesn’t solve anything. So, eventually, I always end up “talking” it out with Him. I find that my life tends to be smoother if I do it sooner, rather than later, but I don’t always go that route.

Anyway, when I read Isaiah’s words, I took it to God. I was angry, but it was between Him and me. I wanted to know: If He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, why was I grieving so intensely? Why were my sorrows, this heavy weight that was burying me, still so heavy? If someone has already taken them, how could I still feel them so much? I know that God doesn’t lie, and He’s never wrong, but sometimes it just doesn’t feel like the way it is. And, sometimes, I just don’t understand.

So, He explains things to me, in a way that my heart understands. That night, when I was accusing Him of leaving me with what He was supposed to have taken, His still, small voice spoke loud and clear. And I was left with nothing to say. I was struck with one thought: how can anyone take what I haven’t let go of?

A lot of people say that Christianity is simple, but not easy. In Job 42:5, after actually speaking with God, Job says: “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.” In John 3, Jesus spent hours talking with Nicodemus about spiritual birth. There is a very subtle difference between knowledge and understanding, but it makes all the difference. Knowing that Jesus has “borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” is not the same as understanding that I don’t have to. It’s not just about letting go, either. Just letting go implies that something is gone. My griefs and sorrows aren’t gone. I just don’t have to carry them. Someone else has them.

As many times as I have read Isaiah’s prophecy, foretelling the striking, specific details of Christ’s crucifixion, I have never taken as much comfort as this year. It is an amazing and overwhelming thing that Christ has taken my sins and my punishment on Himself – indeed, it is the very thing that my salvation is founded on. There have been times, in my life, when my sins have weighed heavily on me. But I have never felt a weight lifted like I felt this year. He took so much more than just my sin – that alone would be overwhelming; He took every consequence of my fallenness – all of my sin, my death, my corruptible body, my grief, my sorrow, my separation, my inability, my weakness, everything. And all of it died with Him. All I have to do is let it go. Someone else has it.

And then, as if all of that weren’t enough, He took it somewhere else, He left it, and He came back! When Christ died for us, it was simple: a substitution. But it was so much more than that. It was a preview. My body, my self, my life is not perfect. But it will be. It will be! And I can have confidence in that, because He gave me proof: He rose from the dead! He lives! And it will be!

Dec 03

Thanksgiving!

It’s been an interesting few days around our house. Let me start by saying that Thanksgiving has been hard, for the last few years. In 2009, we miscarried at the beginning of November. In 2010, we had Zoe, but she was no longer with us at Thanksgiving. That was a really difficult blow for me, because my greatest desire was for her to spend Christmas with us. I was angry, that Thanksgiving. And the next one…

At any rate, what I’m trying to get at is that this Thanksgiving was different. In February, my brother’s second daughter was born. In a lot of ways, she’s my rainbow. I don’t think I really understood how important that was. Until I realized that, for the first time, I’m looking forward to Christmas. If you’ve been where I am, you’ll understand when I say: that’s hard, in its own way. Overall, though, it’s an amazing thing. I didn’t think I would ever be excited about Christmas.

Don’t get me wrong; I love Christmas! It’s my favorite holiday. I know that it isn’t about presents or decorations or music or any of those other things. I get that it’s about celebrating the greatest gift that mankind has ever received: the Lord Jesus Christ! Even when I can’t get excited about it, I’m still excited about it. 🙂 I mean, hello!: it’s Christmas! But it’s been different, the last few years. I haven’t been able to get into the “Christmas spirit”. And the idea that it’s all centered around the birth of a child… Well, let’s just say it’s been rough. It’s different this year, though. Praise God!

This was the first Thanksgiving, in recent history, that I didn’t have to make a choice to be thankful. Gratitude is always a choice, but I didn’t have to think about it this year. That was an amazing gift. I was absolutely reveling in it. I even did the shopping thing, the one that only crazy people do. And I enjoyed it! (And yes, for those of you who are wondering, I am almost done.)

On Friday evening, as I was sitting with my family, I got a text message from a friend. One of her dear friends, she had just learned, had spent Thanksgiving day in still birth. Talk about a deflation! My joy didn’t disappear (praise God! that’s huge!), but my excitement sure vanished. I was exhausted, after shopping all day, but instantly focused in a way I have seldom been.

It’s been over three days, and I still cannot stop thinking about the family. Their holiday will never be the same. Kelly Gerken (from SGM) calls it “the sacred place where heaven and earth meet” and talks about entering in, with families, to the place where they meet Jesus. I pray that this is the experience that this family had. I have prayed, many times, in these days, for the needs they’re experiencing right now. And my heart is so heavy for them. I pray that the Lord will use the package we shipped out to minister to the needs that only He can see. I would ask your prayers for them, as well, please. They need all the support they can get, right now. They have five other small children, as well, who need grace and understanding. My children have been a blessing, while I have grieved, but my grieving has not left them unharmed. They need our prayers!

Please continue to pray, too, for the ministry. The Lord is moving. I cannot see, at this point, exactly where and how, but I can see things popping up and I know that He is in them. Please pray that, as things begin to happen and move, we make decisions that honor and glorify Him, not just further our own agendas. The greatest desire of my heart is to glorify Him by serving others, not to get our name on the map. I would much rather have people know the ministry than my name. And if they’re only going to call on one name, His is the best one.

I have so much more on my heart, but I’m out of time, for now. Please pray with us.

By His grace and for His glory!

Nov 22

A Challenge…

I’m not really into the whole idea of “the Thanksgiving challenge”, as I call it. I’m sure you’re familiar with the idea: every day, from the first of November through Thanksgiving, it’s become popular to challenge one another to name something we’re thankful for. Sometimes, it doesn’t even involve other people; it’s a challenge we issue to our own hearts. Either way, it leads to a lot of Facebook posts, tweets, and other such things.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not against the heart of this kind of challenge. In fact, I think it’s great to issue a call to gratitude, especially among Christians. I just get weary of the posts of people who have decided to “accept the challenge”, because it’s the trendy thing to do, and then end up fishing, by the fourth or fifth day, for shallow “gratitude” simply because they don’t want to be the first one to give in to defeat. Personally, I try to keep a daily journal of gratitude, with 3-5 things a day. I don’t always stay on top of that, but it’s a good habit to be in. Besides that, research has found a laundry list of benefits for people who make a conscious effort to write down things that they’re thankful for. I just don’t like the idea of making it into a “holiday tradition”. I think it should be a year-round thing, even when it’s not something that everyone is sharing.

I’ve always struggled, a little, with the idea of the Thanksgiving holiday. I understand that it has a lot more to do with the history of our nation than it does with a particular attitude. But there is a definite focus, during the month of November, on having an attitude of gratitude. Again, I think this is a great thing! As someone who struggles with balance, though, there is a very real temptation, for me, to slap on the “season” label and let the attitude be part of it, much like the traditions and decorations. I want to make the attitude fit into the season, instead of letting the season come out of the attitude. My natural response is to resent the traditions, which can sometimes ring hollow, and instead refuse to associate the practices I value with the actual holiday that people use.

November began, a few weeks ago, without the idea of the “challenge” really coming up much. Or so I thought. Then I went to my Wednesday night ladies’ Bible study. Our pastor’s wife, who leads the study, told us, that first week, what we would be studying for the month:Psalms, highlighting a focus on gratitude. And she offered up: The Challenge! Instead of one thing every day, we were challenged to physically write down (or at least make an electronic note) of five things from each day.

I’m not going to post everything and everyone’s buisiness here on my blog, but I wanted to share the challenge that the Lord has been laying on my heart for the last few days. It’s not my words, and it’s a simple, basic cause-and-effect observation. But David could write!

Psalm 13:6 – “I will sing unto the Lord, because He hath dealt bountifully with me.”

The idea David was trying to convey here, probably, is one of having such joy that we just can’t contain it anymore. David was so blessed by God’s lovingkindness toward him that he just had to sing! My challenge for you is a much simpler one. Just two questions, directly related to the quote. 1) Has He?  and   2) Will You?

It’s not much. But it’s one of the ways He’s been challenging me, this week. Have a blessed day tomorrow. 🙂