Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Getting Out of the Boat...Or Not.

I'm not doing well.

I'm doing better physically, though I'm still not 100% yet. But what really pains me right now is how poorly I've done on my own challenge. You remember--the pursuing God challenge?

The very day I issued that challenge, I came down sick. Very sick. And it threw a lot of things in my life, including this. And what I want to do is blame my current spiritual lassitude on having been sick. That would be justifiable, right?

But it wouldn't be honest.

Though my health certainly made spending time with the Lord more of a challenge, the real problem is this:

I've discovered that I've got both feet firmly planted in the boat.

And I do mean firmly. I am not even close to being a risk-taker. Once, on a (3-hour, professionally-administered) temperament analysis test, I scored a 3 out of 100 on risk-taking. Get the picture? I am in NO WAY a risk-taker. If you have ever seen me take a risk, just know that it was a God-thing.

And as it turns out, getting out of the boat is risky.

Here's my current struggle: There was a sacrifice that it occurred to me to make, one that would cost me dearly, financially as well as emotionally, and would have even 'cost' those around me, too. It came to me suddenly, but quietly, so quietly that I wasn't honestly sure that it was God's voice.

And I didn't want to make it.

So I questioned it. I justified it. I finagled it until it wasn't God. I became sure it wasn't God. Or if it was God, the question was just a test, a reminder of an attitude I needed to have.

So I didn't make the sacrifice.

And now, I have the strong and sinking feeling that it WAS God, and it WAS a test...and that I failed with a score of 0 out of 100.

And I so don't want to be me right now.

This feeling is so overwhelming that I have a genuine fear that I have missed something very significant. The kind of something that never gets redeemed. And it makes my heart hurt to think that I am so tied to this world and my comfort and safety that I wouldn't act in faith when God called on me.

I want to be a woman of faith.

But the truth is, today, this month, now, I'm not. I am a woman who's treasure is gonna rot soon, whose fear of the storm keeps her--as it did 11 of the disciples--from even seriously considering getting out of the boat.

And can I tell you that it is those eleven guys that give me hope? I've so often identified with Peter--zealous in heart, but the actions get all mixed up in practice. And promises made, but broken. But in this case, I see myself with the other disciples in the boat and ask myself if they too wondered, "Will I ever get a chance to actually try this again...and get it right?"

And just to be clear, there is no record in Scripture that they did get to take that particular test over again. But each of them did fulfill his mission of being a witness to Christ to the ends of the earth. And that gives me hope.

But it still hurts.

Still His, but faithless,

You know my folly, O God; my guilt is not hidden from you. May those who hope in you not be disgraced because of me, O Lord, the LORD Almighty; may those who seek you not be put to shame because of me, O God of Israel. -Psalm 69:5-6, NIV
...If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself. - 2 Timothy 2:12-14, NIV

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Just Wondering...

I am pondering the fact that I am hosting my family's Christmas for the first time. I am so excited!! They are coming to ME! To share in my life and stay in my home (well, some of them...)!

I am also a little intimidated. I'm no longer used to cooking for a crowd. I love to host, but frankly I'm a tad out of practice. But mostly, I cannot wait for everyone (sans my far-out sis & fam in Asia *frown*) to arrive!

Wanting to make this year as special as I can, I'm thinking through everything as thoroughly as possible. Menus are taking shape, places to visit/things to do are being added to the list. I am a huge 'traditions' kinda gal (song & all! *wink*), and have a few of those kinds of things in my back pocket for this year.

But as I shape the plans for our annual time together, I thought that you smart people might have ideas too! So, please share...
What "makes" Christmas for you? What traditions/activities/people/moments/services/etc. do you look forward to each year?

Some things that I think "make" Christmas, in no particular order:
--Singing Christmas Carols and Hymns (sometimes for hours) as a family
--Candlelight and tiny white lights
--Special Church Services, especially on Christmas Eve
--Cold weather...snow is preferable :-)
--Hot cocoa, tea, and apple cider
--Cooking together with my mom/sister(s)
--Shopping, especially together with family
--the reading of the Advent story before we open gifts
--Having gifts handed out/opened one by one so everyone gets to share in the joy!
--Getting to give carefully selected gifts!

....and so much more. But I want to leave room for you to share...PLEASE! :-) What do you love about this season? What do you do to make it special? What suggestions do you have for me as a new host? I'll take all that you want to share!

Loving the season, but more so The Reason,

"Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. ...to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace." --Luke 1:68, 77-79, NIV

(c) 2008

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I've Been Sick...

I've been absent because I have been sick. Quite sick. For 183 hours, so far, if anyone was actually counting. Which of course, I am not. Totally not.

I've tried to keep up my part of the challenge I left us all--most especially myself--with last Monday, but I haven't really done as well as I would have hoped. But I do have some thoughts on the journey so far, and I'll tackle the first one quickly today. ("Quickly" being an entirely relative term with me.) If you're sure you're ready for it...

There are some things about God's workings that I simply--really deeply--don't like.

Okay, who's mad at me now? Frankly, I edited that statement. What I wanted to say was that there were things about God that I don't like, but I don't know that that's 100% accurate. Why would I say either one of those things? Well...

Last week, I found myself reading at the end of the book of Judges. Now, if you've read this book, you know it's filled with sorry stories about sinful, self-seeking people over the course of generations. It's not a place for the faint-of-heart to start. However, at the very end there is a very telling story about an unnamed Levite who travels with his wife/concubine (she's called both in the passage) to an apparently wicked city in the tribe of Benjamin. The men of the city are so wicked that they clamor for this guy to be sent out to them so they can perform indecent acts on/with him. It's shocking, and very reminiscent of a story God relates from Sodom. This Levite, instead, sends his wife outside to them, and they abuse her so horribly during the night that by daybreak she is dead.

I know, my stomach is kinda turning too. God uses this scenario to reveal the wickedness that this entire tribe had allowed to grow in their midst, and then to exact judgment on them for it. The wickedness is removed from Israel, at the cost of tens of thousands of lives and the near extermination of the tribe of Benjamin. Justice is done.


I want God to judge this Levite. How could he treat his WIFE like that? ANYONE like that? I wanted God to make HIM pay for his wicked acts... I found myself wanting to scream!

I know, some of you are saying, "We aren't told the whole story here. Only part is recorded in order to fill us in on the history/tell of how God judged this tribe." Yep. Okay, I get that. But my struggle lingers: Why isn't the next part of the story recorded? Why isn't there one word of condemnation of this man's horrific behavior?

And this, my friends, is where faith enters in. I understand when I look at the whole of Scripture that God doesn't condone men using their wives as shields. I understand that God never says, "Oh, just let those evil men have their way with her." But what I want is complete and immediate justice for this wrong. For. Each. Wrong.

Except...I don't. Not really. For if God did such a thing, who could stand? Surely not I. Most certainly not. Somehow, in His sovereignty and His grace and His mercy, God does 'balance' the scales--ultimately. And frankly, I don't think He cares if I'm on board with His timing or not.

This is where my knowledge of God Himself and of the promises and prophecies He has given comes into play. His nature hasn't changed. His promises will be fulfilled. And even if I don't get to see God work all this out, those things are still true. To believe that is what faith is.

So, I don't have good answers as to why God allows such evil--globally or on an intimate scale--to reign. I have answers, but in the face of it, they don't feel like good answers. But the nature, character, and faultlessness of my God stand in mute testimony that there are purposes and there are days of accounting.

So I don't hang my trust on what I don't understand. I place my faith on the Who I do know. And someday, maybe, when God has expanded the peanut in my head to be able to comprehend His ways better...maybe then I'll 'get' it.

Until then, I rest in the knowledge that the story juxtaposed immediately against this torrid tale is the sweet, tender, remarkable tale of a kinsman-redeemer whose rescue of a certain woman foretells God's own intervention into history. And the grace that is demonstrated in that tale is mine. Blessedly mine.

Not always clear, but confident,

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. --Hebrews 4:13-14, NIV

If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? ...I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in His word I put my hope. --Psalm 130:3, 5, NIV

(c) 2008

Monday, December 1, 2008

Um...Ouch. Time to Get Out of the Boat

I had a little thought/conversation/realization the other day, and it kinda hurt. And since you guys are getting used to receiving my confessions, well...here goes.

I often find myself walking around thinking about what I'm going to teach "my kids" (middle school class on Sunday) or "my girls" (the high schoolers I meet with throughout the week). This (blessedly-long!) weekend was no exception. I found myself pondering the lessons I wanted to communicate during this Advent Season. And when I got to "my girls," I heard myself 'say' (in my head), "I want them to know that Jesus is worth pursuing."

And then, a still, quiet Voice replied, "So, what about you?"

Uh...um... Have you ever stumbled over your words in your head?! And as I stumbled over this questions, a painful realization swept over me: It would be a serious stretch to say that I pursue Jesus regularly.

I know Jesus (thank You!!). I walk with Him. I obey Him (mostly). I pray. I read and study His Word. I teach His Word. I push/pull/encourage/exhort others to relationship with Him and application of His Word. But do I pursue Him?

There have been times I have. Dedicated periods of listening, seeking...and by His grace, hearing. There have been times where He was all I could and did cling to. But typically? Pursue would not be the right adjective for my life.

And I was saddened.

And challenged. What if I did more than just walk with my God? What if I put my all into knowing Him? What if I ran after my God to hear His voice, to see His face, to feel His heart?

It was thirty-two years ago this fall that I came into the Kingdom of the Son He Loves. I've walked with my God a long time. But what if the verb 'walk' was changed into 'run after'? What would that look like? Wouldn't that amount of effort change...everything?

Recently, I've had this growing sense. It's kinda hard to put into words, but I'll try. I get the feeling that no matter how close I--or anyone--press into knowing God, no matter how well we know Him, we will be overwhelmed by His presence, His glory, the moment we pass through the veil. When we see clearly--except that God Himself give us new bodies and preserve our lives--I truly think the radiance of His glory would simply consume us whole. That's what He is like.

Think about it: The Perfect (having never sinned) creatures in His presence are shown in Scripture to cover their faces and their feet in the presence of His holiness (Isaiah 6). When the saved of all the ages declare the preeminence of the Father and the Lamb, the angels fall on their faces in worship (Revelation 7). How much more would we be overwhelmed by the glory of the Lord? (What I think is that I would like the shock to be as minimal as possible. *wink*) A God whose very radiance is so powerful, and yet who set it all aside to take on the form of a servant (human) and humbled Himself to death, even death on a cross? Surely that is a God worth pursuing.

The Holy Spirit has 'thrown down the gauntlet,' so to speak. Will I pursue Him?

I'm not wholly sure what that will look like, but I know it will look different from the sleepy Scripture readings I tend to do 3 minutes before I fall asleep. I know it will look different from the random and incomplete prayers I often send 'upward.' I know that pursuing God will require more of my time and energy. It will require less of my self-impositions into the process. It's likely it will require sacrifice.

I am a tiny bit scared. My life is kinda comfortable right now. I am wrapped secure in my relationship with God, in the forgiveness and direction He has offered me. Then I think back to C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, when Eustace asks Reepicheep about Aslan (representing Christ), "Is He safe?" "Safe?! No He's not safe. But He's good."

This doesn't feel safe. But it does feel right. And my God IS good.

So, since "Pursue God for the rest of my life" seems a bit too large of a chunk to bite off right away, here is what I am committing to:
1.) I will pursue God in some tangible way every day during this advent season (December 1 to 25).
2.) AND, I will share at least some of what that looks like here.

I just might be launching the journey of my life, and it might be a wild ride. But faith is the siren call, and the only answer I can give is to step out of the safety of my boat.

Here's to life on the sea,

P.S. I don't know what God is working in your life right now, and this might not be the lesson/time for you, but I feel compelled to ask, "Any other takers? Will anyone join me on a 25-day odyssey?"

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
--Philippians 3:7-14, NIV