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sonny

“What does fasting do?” my husband asks.

“It makes you hungry,” the ever so honest Sunday school-er replies.

“It makes you focus on God.”

Sometimes focusing on God means sacrificing.  Other times it means imbibing.  Extremists like me often have trouble recognizing that it is both/and not either/or.  Our problem presents when we begin to lean too far into only one direction.  We begin to forget that the other side of the coin is equally pleasing to God and good for our spiritual lives.

The one who finds faith in fasting must figure out how to find freedom in filling up.  The one who finds faith in filling up must figure out how to find freedom in fasting.

As I ran another very slow postpartum four miler I considered my position.  I am slower than I have ever been.  I weigh more than I ever have.  I have more responsibility and less time.  But I also have more love and less worry; better friends and less loneliness; more patience and less sadness.

It occurred to me that I am allowed to be happy with where I am right now — even though right now I am not nearly what I once was in some areas.  I do not have to always bully myself about what is not perfect about me.  I am allowed to be proud of who I am today completely apart from who I am striving to be tomorrow.

No, I did not wake up at my strict standard 5 a.m. for study and prayer.  I have not done so in too many days to count.  I ate a few cookies.  I ran slow.  I started school late.  I made peanut butter and jelly for lunch.  I wore sweats all day.  I didn’t finish my filing.  I did not fulfill my goals or check many boxes off my all important to do list.

Still, “Good job,” I thought.  I’m doing pretty good.

The thought so foreign to my ever antagonizing inner dialogue seemed strange.  I almost did not believe myself.  But, yes, it was true.  I actually meant it.  I genuinely felt accomplished and content despite what did not get done perfectly.  Could it be?  Have I grown or have I grown lazy?  Before the browbeating antagonist takes over once again, let me say with confidence I believe it is the former.

I got up.  I fed my baby from my own body at least twelve times today.  I spoke to God between shower and school time.  I exercised.  I shared stories, subtraction, and swimming with my children.  I said, “I love you,” and “I’m sorry.”  I looked in my newborn’s eyes and watched some of her very first smiles.  Five years ago this all felt far more like failing.  I am not failing.  I am focusing on God through my freedom saved up for a season such as this.

For the first time in my life I feel flexible rather than forced.  It is not that I don’t want to be better.  It is not that I don’t need to be better.  Always.  I will always be goal-oriented with a side of go-getting.  That’s just the girl God made me.  I don’t even think I can help it.  So, no, it’s  not a matter of lowering standards.  I have simply written myself a permission slip that says I will accept my own limitations and be kind to me as I work ever so slowly toward my ultimate goals.

Because wishing for a free moment to read my Bible is far better than reading it for an hour while wishing I didn’t have to.  A slow run is better than no run.  Better late than never.  Imperfections are part of being made perfect.

Sometimes focusing on God means sacrificing.  Other times it means imbibing.  Extremists like me have trouble recognizing that it is both/and not either/or.  So, from one faith finder to another, by all means, find God in fasting.  But find him also in filling up.  Figure out which season you are in and be free, fearless, and faithful.  Because both are pleasing to God as long as our focus is on finding him.

Pharaoh has just witnessed the authority of Moses’ and Aaron’s God.  Aaron’s staff became a serpent and swallowed the sorcerers’ staffs.  Still, his heart was hardened.  Now, the Lord instructs Moses and Aaron to go back to Pharaoh, remind him of his disobedience, and bring a plague to the land of Egypt.

Moses and Aaron obeyed God.  They turned the water of the Nile River and all of Egypt into blood.  All the fish died.  The Egyptians had no water to drink.  Blood was everywhere.

Somehow, Pharaoh still refused to listen.  The magicians turned water into blood, too.  If they had wanted to show real power, maybe they should have practiced turning blood back into water.  But they could not.  Seven days the blood remained.

The reason?  God is so good that he tells Pharaoh the reason he is turning the water into blood.  God said that, “By this you shall know that I am the Lord.”

God was proving his authority over all the world once again.  Why blood though?

The very sight of blood should be alarming to a creature whose life depends on it.  God is saying, “You are human, Pharaoh; mere flesh and blood.  I am God; listen to me.”  Furthermore, blood is about life – and death – over which God alone has ultimate control.  God is both the giver as well as the taker of life.  Pharaoh did not give these Jews life – God did. Pharaoh did not give himself life – God did.  God shows Pharaoh his power using blood that he might know not only his power and authority, but also his entitlement to all life.  In other words, God made the Jews; give the Jews back to God.  God made you; obey him.

Despite the miracle of this first plaque on Egypt, Pharaoh still did not obey.

On Fear and 4×4’s

 

“I’m scared.”

Apparently the fifteenth declaration from a frightened wife while driving ever slower on an icy, snow covered road in a 4×4 is the point at which a young husband’s patience runs completely out.

He floors the truck, does a 180 degree doughnut, and lands us in a ditch – a ditch, mind you, that he immediately proceeds to pull back out of with the kind of great skill and ease that is known only to resourceful, self-made men.

“You tried to kill me!”

“I tried to show you.”

“Show me what?!  How to almost die?!”

“That nothing bad is going to happen even if we slide on the ice.”

“I can’t believe you tried to kill me.”

That was over a decade ago.  I still bring it up when I’m the passenger on snowy days.  He still gets aggravated with me when I tell him I’m scared as he drives 30 miles per hour over thoroughly plowed and salted roads.

“What are you afraid of?!  Nothing is going to happen.”

“I know.  You’re a good driver.  Remember when you tried to kill me, honey?”

Fear.  I struggle with fear.  Sometimes irrational; other times justified; always sinful – rooted in unbelief and distrust.

I sit awake long after midnight wondering.  Why am I afraid?  Why do I fear over fragments of falsehood and figments of my own making?  Why is it so hard to take words and what if’s at face value?  Why can’t I just rest knowing that whatever happens is exactly what God is willing.  Why don’t I trust the truth?

This past weekend we spent an hour on the bunny slope and decided it was time to test our snow legs on the real ski slopes.  After not exiting the lift on cue, my 7 year old picked up her pride and whisked her way straight down without blinking.  On the contrary, on her skis at the top of the summit looking down, my 10 year old looked like I felt in that old truck so long ago.

It was written all over her face in flaring redness and tears.  Fear.  Crippling, feel it from head to feet, fiasco feeding fear.

One hour later, we finally found the base of the mountain.

It’s not that Mia couldn’t ski.  It’s that she was afraid to.  And fear makes little girls like us fail every time.

“If only she knew,” I thought.  If only she knew that she can do this.  She doesn’t trust herself.  She doesn’t trust me.  She doesn’t trust her daddy.  She has no confidence.  She believes she will fail.  She can see no scenario in which she will succeed without severe pain and suffering.  She doesn’t know what I know.  I know she can do it.  I know she’ll be ok.  I know there’s no reason to fear this hill because I know daddy won’t let her veer off the path.  I know I won’t leave her side.  But all she can think is that she will fall.  She will speed out of control; she will land in the trees; she will will be left alone with no way down.  She feels trapped; enslaved to the expectations of others and the situation that lies in front of her.  No amount of encouragement can break through her wall of fear.  She does not believe me no matter what I say.  Her vote has been cast and it is against herself.  Even if I were to pack her up and carry her down the mountain she would still be angry – at herself, her failure, her fear, and her father for plopping her in this predicament.

Well, like I said, we were able to coax Mia down the mountain inch by inch, eventually.  But I fear (ironic?) that I am still standing on the tippie top of many of my own – the most ridiculous of which has to do with prayer.

Prayer.  So many times prayer seems so tumultuous to me.  The place of goodness and peace is surrounded by a foreboding angst and I stand at the precipice stalling.  I do not enter.

Will my Father fail me?  Surely not.  My false beliefs are frustrating me.  My fear befriends me as my feelings dissuade any attempts at freedom.  I close up; I stay silent; I run away from soundness and I sleep in my unspiritual cell.  Am I really safe here?  How absurd.

Little wonder why the mechanic sometimes floors it in frustration.  My fear is often nothing short of tomfoolery.

I turn on the radio and plug in my phone.  It will not connect to my music.  As I become impatient, the radio broadcasts a sermon.  I plug it in and out a few more times before remembering the few terse words I threw up before leaving.  “Speak to me, Lord.”

I stop the furious plugging and unplugging and I hear Him.  “You asked God to speak to you, didn’t you, Lori?”

The preacher tells me that whoever hears the truth and does not do it is a fool.  Immediately I know.  I know what I must do.  Surely I can pray.  I can be vulnerable without freaking out on myself.  I can fall down in front of Him and know I have nothing to fear.  He will not be surprised by my shortcomings so easily seen on the slippery slope of spoken words.  He will not leave me alone or let me veer off the path of prayer.  I will not have control, but He will.  I will trust Him and we will make it to the bottom of every unsafe situation.  Because He is there, I have nothing to fear.  Because He is in control, I have nothing to fear.  Because He is good, I have nothing to fear.  Because He is trustworthy, I have nothing to fear.  Because He loves me, I have nothing to fear.

 I will stop believing He is trying to kill me.  I will allow Him to show me that He is a much better driver than I am.  I will trust Him.  I will pray for grace to trust him more.  Amen.

ticket

Talk of the lottery litters the air.  My husband and I even had the “What would we do if we won it all?” conversation again.  Every time it ends the same and I conclude shaking my head saying I don’t think I’d want it.  Maybe that’s why I don’t play…

Don’t get me wrong, it would surely be nice to buy anything we ever wanted and be able to bless other people who are in need.

…Or would it?

The truth is – when I really think about it – I have to admit that I already have everything I ever wanted.  I couldn’t really ask for anything more.  And if I’m not blessing other people in need out of my abundance now, I surely won’t do it then.

What about…a new house?  Everyone wants to build a dream house, right?  I don’t know.  Maybe for a second home.  I like my humble home.  I wouldn’t want to move.  This is where all my memories of being newlyweds, new parents, learners, and lovers are.

Not even…a new car?  My husband bought me the vintage vehicle I always wanted for Valentine’s Day last year.  He bought me a new SUV for our anniversary.  He bought me a street bike just because I wanted one.  Besides, who needs a new car when you’re married to a gearhead?  Not me.  We have lots of cars…or at least pieces of them waiting to be put together.  Our whole life is cars.

I have the best husband in the world, beautiful, healthy children, my mom helping me all the time, full cupboards, more clothing than I’ll ever need, and on and on and on and on.

Smugly satisfied with myself, my internal dialogue assures me that I have mastered the art of contentment.  “I am content,” I think to myself.

…or am I?

Perhaps it much more likely that I am just well fed and clothed.  I want for nothing.  Enter: Holy Spirit.

Forget the lottery.  Fast forward to Sunday morning singing hymns.  The words propel me to a place where I am letting go of the worldly things, sacrificially giving, and giving up what is mine for the good of others in need.  I feel hollow; pretentious; unreal; fake; hypocritical.  In Bible study we read about the early church and their willingness to sell all their possessions – even their own homes – in order to provide for the needs of others.

…and here I am talking about what I could do if I just had more, more, more, more.  Even the “If I won I’d give” argument is silenced and laid bare before a holy God.  If you were good, you would give far more of your greater goods now.  So speaks the voice of conviction.

My husband and I have a disagreement over something I want.  I start to cry.  I quickly direct my anger upward.  Suddenly what God is giving is no longer good enough.  I darken the glory of both the giver and what he gave by dwelling on what he did not.  I question the truth.  I dredge up unbelief.  I dance on the doorstep of despair.  I sing a dirge to my faith.  I grovel in grief over nothing more than my own greed.

Greed.  I am painfully greedy.  As he begins to open my eyes to the exceeding selfishness I so often exhibit I am alarmed; panic-stricken; confused.  Could I really be so deceived?  How could I not see that the fault for my foolish frustration lay in my very own lap?

Idols.  Does my “contentment” come from idols or does it come from God?  I fear.  I fear fiercely because I cannot answer faithfully.  The revelation of my folly is weighty.  I feel lost in the deepness of my fault.  My erring heart bows its head in shame and I confess.  I apologize.  I ask forgiveness.

My father is faithful to forgive.  Still, I fear.  Fear gives way to more fear and I wonder how I might overcome the ubiquitous malignancy of myself.  No lottery winnings could buy what I truly need.  After a stubborn hiatus, I pray.

Morning breaks and the wisdom of God falls fitted into my fisted hands.  He opens them.  It is free.  I am free; forgiven; fearless; full of faith.  No more deceived by my former feelings or the condemnation of my enemy…at least for today.  The prayers of God’s people prevail and he saves me from myself once again.

father's daughter

Every year for the last five my New Year’s resolution has been the same.  The goal is to pray more.

Prayer, being the mysterious discipline that it is, has been quite a struggle for me throughout the latter part of my Christian life.

When I first became a Christian, prayer was easy.  That was more than 18 years ago, though.  I was graduating high school with the world spread out in front of me.  I was hopeful.  I talked to God about everything all the time —with no fear or inclination that things might not work out just the way they were supposed to.  It’s no surprise that at some point, somewhere along the way, I got discouraged.  Blame it on my faulty theology I suppose.  I stopped believing that my voice much mattered in the grand scheme of things.  Children are to be seen and not heard, right?

 Instead of praying, I buried myself in finding out just what God was saying; what he was like; what he wanted; who he was.  In other words, correcting my poor theology, especially on what prayer was and was not.  I read and studied the Bible far more than I prayed.  I believe it was because I desperately needed to know what to pray for, or, what prayer even was.  Communion as well as communication with God was realized almost solely through the study of him and his word.  Aside from sending up a few half-hearted thank yous and the needs of others, fervent prayer had largely taken a backseat in my spiritual life.

I often think about why prayer is so difficult for me.  I read several books on prayer.  I used to think it was because I wasn’t any good at prayer.  I studied and wrote on the Psalms extensively for over a year hoping it would help me understand.   (Go figure…more study, still no increase in prayer…)  I learned that it isn’t because I’m a below average pray-er as far as technique.  More likely, being the analytically wired idealist that I am, my need for understanding overrides my will to simply obey.  In short, flawed human logic overrides faith in the unfathomable.  I am a sinner even in seeking God…and I am often unbalanced.  I do what is easy for me, rather than doing what is best for me.  I am lazy.  I lack faith and discipline and I struggle with unbelief.  Those are some of the real reasons I don’t pray nearly enough.

Nevertheless, even if we are faithless, he remains faithful.  The Lord showed up in the labor room a couple weeks ago.  Our newest addition, Sonny Faye, was born on December 18, 2015.

Like all babies do, she was crying loudly upon entrance to this world.  As the nurses tidied her up, her father walked over to see her.  Then, something happened that made time stand still.  It was one of those moments that etches itself into your memory and you know you will not ever forget it.  As he began to speak to her, she became immediately silent.  Daddy’s calm, familiar voice broke through the barriers of an unfamiliar, cold, fearful place and she listened intently to that which she foreknew.  Daddy’s voice called her attention and in an instant, a squirming, flailing baby girl was comforted.  Without a doubt, she is her father’s daughter.

She is me.

In the fearful, the cold, the unfamiliar trenches of this world, I squirm and squeal.  I thrash and flail not knowing or trusting my harsh surroundings.  When I pray years upon end without seeing change and I have run out of words, out of faith, and out of pleas, I found a way to hear daddy.  My father speaks through his word.  Little wonder why an immature baby in the faith like me pines so intensely over his words.  My father’s words comfort; they calm; they make an infantile daughter cease from flailing in fear.

Perhaps I do not speak to God as oft as I should.  I do not.  I hope to do better this year than last.  What I do know is that when my father speaks to me, I hear him loud and clear.  I am my father’s daughter.

manger

This is my body, given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me. 

Mary lived it before Jesus said it.  Both every true martyr and every good mother who have ever lived have embraced it.  It is the purpose of the church and, in this particular kind of giving, the glory of God is displayed to the whole world.

I am not talking about taking communion, although the same things could be said of it.  I am talking about the physical realities of Christ’s Passover statement and command to follow.

Christmas is physical.  Whether it is bags and boxes or babies and choir blouses, everything we do around Christmas requires, at very least, an acknowledgement of the physical.  Many would remind us that if we allow the physical things of Christmas to overshadow the spiritual, we miss it altogether.  While that may be true enough, as the blessed mother of a brand new baby this Christmas season, I believe that it can go both ways.  That is to say so, too, if we miss the physical realities of Christmas and discount their importance, we may just miss the spiritual truths behind them as well.

Let me explain.

What I mean to say is that, with a newborn, I understand in vivid detail this Christmas season some of the same physical realities Mary was feeling when Jesus was born.  From the discomfort long before and the pain days after, I am called to give as she gave.  I am reminded in living color, day and night, of the frustration of a newborn nursing child and the overwhelming demands determined by her needs.  Mary lived out a very physical picture of what it means, not only to receive, but to give a gift like no other.  In agreeing with God about his plan for her and obeying, Mary gave life to the Son of God through the giving of her own body.  Albeit unwillingly in many cases, every mother since Eve has done as much.

When Jesus spoke of giving his body, he was referring to his death on the cross.  That’s Easter,  I know.  How does Christmas fit?  Well.  Thirty-three years before he gave his body in death, Jesus gave his body in life.  Coming down from heaven, his very presentation is the gift we celebrate every Christmas.  This, the gift of all gifts.

While I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to die for Christ, or, for others as he did, I do know something of what it means to live for him.  It, too, is a giving of our bodies.  Whether we are called to martyrdom or motherhood; ministry or mechanics; Macy’s or the city mission, our call is the same.  It is the giving of our bodies for the glory of God.

…and giving our bodies to glorify God in life may just prove more difficult and demanding than to give them in death.

Christ’s body lives on here on earth today.  The church is his physical presence – his body – on earth until he returns.  So, next time you go to take communion and you hear Jesus whisper, “This is my body, given for you,” remember him.  Remember his death, but do also remember his life.  Remember how he came.  Remember Mary.  Remember your mother.  Remember your mission.  Remember that you are his body and your purpose is to be altogether spent giving yourself away for the good of others – just as he was.  In these living sacrifices, we honor and remember him.

How ironic.  Turns out Christmas really is about spending after all. Spend yourself on others like Jesus; like Mary; like martyrs; like mamas.  When you sing your spiritual songs and light your spiritual candles, don’t miss the physical.  Your presence in the practical, the painful, the presents, the parties, and even the picture perfect provisions all have their place if they are done purposefully.  Do all of this in remembrance of Him.

god's will

Moving into Exodus chapter 7, God retells his plan once again to Moses.  This is the third time God reiterates for a hesitant human like us.  What grace Our Father has for our immature rebellion, fear, and faithlessness at his commands!

Moses’ objections to obey God’s directives finally cease.  He stops contending with God and begins contending with Pharaoh.  I suppose that is the way it generally works for God’s people.  We cannot fight a good fight against this world when we are busy fighting against personal obedience to God’s clear Word.

God reminds Moses that Pharaoh will not listen despite all the signs and miracles he is about to perform.  Then he says something that I find quite curious.  God says, “The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.” (Exodus 7:5)

God causes the ungodly to know he is Lord by “great acts of judgement.” (Exodus 7:4)  Conversely, he causes his people to know he is Lord by great acts of gracious, merciful deliverance.  In his wrath and his mercy – both solely dependent upon his own sovereign choice – God is glorified.

As the story goes, Moses and Aaron obey, Pharaoh asks for a sign, and their staff becomes a serpent.  The sign is quickly dismissed as the Egyptian magicians are able to do the same.  Still, Aaron’s staff swallows up the others.  While that proof of authority should have been enough, instead Pharaoh’s hard heart deemed it enough reason to disbelieve.  Matthew Henry says, “…the very appearance of an opposition to truth, and the least head made against it, serve those for a justification of their infidelity who are prejudiced against the light and love of it.”

I guess the most obvious question here is, “Why would God allow and enable the false magicians to imitate the true sign so similarly?”  Apparently, it serves as part of his sovereign will to harden the hearts of some and deliver the hearts of others.  Again I defer to Henry’s words:  “God suffers the lying spirit to do strange things, that the faith of some may be tried and manifested, that the infidelity of others may be confirmed, and that he who is filthy may be filthy still.”

The bottom line in this strange interaction between a sovereign God who sent a humble man to speak to a proud man on his behalf only to exalt the one and bring down the other, is to prove his authority and prerogative to do just that.  And why would an all-powerful God have need to do anything like that?  He doesn’t need help, approval, or acceptance from mere men.  Therefore, the reason he does so is solely for their sake; for our sake – that we might know who he is and what he does; that we might know his grace and mercy; his greatness and his wrath.  God gives us the whole of the Biblical text that we might know just what kind of God he is.

And what kind of God is that?

He is a God who humbles men and hardens men.  He exalts men and delivers men.  He chooses whom he will for whatsoever he pleases.  This is a God who made men for his own purposes, and for his own purposes alone men live and breathe.  This is a God of greatest power, authority, knowledge, and wisdom over all things, all nations, and all people everywhere.

Such may seem a great mystery.  So be it.  It is a mystery woven throughout all of scripture for us to investigate and inquire of him about -and that is what he wants from us.  We serve a God that is altogether sovereign.

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