Sunday, June 29, 2008

"Don't hold back."

The "Waitgain" series just finished up at church tonight. My muscles ached so badly from my outings on Thursday and Friday, but I just couldn't miss the last sermon on waiting, and thankfully, God strengthened me to go and hear it.

As I've mentioned before, I have a great fear of hoping for deliverance from God here on planet earth only to be disappointed. Hoping that my Mom will survive this horrific assault on her life is my primary focus right now, and trying to help her get through this trial has been devastatingly difficult-- both emotionally and physically. I wonder some days, will God take my best friend from me? Will he really test my faith to the point of taking from me the dearest soul I've ever known-- all the while my father ignoring, mocking, and abandoning us to the evil that he sees happening?

Searching for precedent, I can see my mom's dear friend Annette, an amputee, who got off of dialysis with a new kidney just to see her husband pass away, and to shortly follow him in death. Her devotion to the Lord was so fierce, and yet her dreams of living with a new kidney were cut off.

Angie Smith, who is a tremendous blogger at, recently lost her daughter after giving birth. Her sister-in-law lost her baby soon after. The faithful family grieves and mourns the bitter loss of two bright young lives that will not be lived here on earth.

My friend Emily, a young and caring woman, just spent a day last week recognizing her 10 year anniversary of debilitating illness. We've talked about the lost opportunities and the dreams she's had to let go as time has dragged on without healing.

My dear friend Melissa suffers with a punishing progressive illness, stealing her ability to eat and move around, landing her in the hospital repeatedly with life-threatening infections-- all of this happening to a 28-year-old full of passion for the Lord and other people. I reason with God sometimes, "Lord, you've given her so many talents and gifts-- such depth of character, such deep devotion to you." I am in awe of this young woman's perseverance through setbacks, disappointments, crises that rise up again and again. Talking to her always reminds me what it means to live with hope. Never is her hope unrealistic, but like a refreshing spring that sort of bubbles out through the tone of her voice and the way she looks at the world. Her circumstances are never defeating to her, but a reason to fight harder, to pursue better treatments, to research the best experts. When her body fails her, she is the first to point out how she was saved from something even worse. When lights go out all around her, her light shines brighter.

All this is to say that my hope for Melissa has always been for a miraculous healing on earth. A young woman with so much to offer, who volunteers online to encourage those with illnesses much milder than her own-- of all people, she must be one God would want to heal. I ask for this in prayer repeatedly and things seem to improve, but months later another setback occurs. More loss, more pain, more of wondering what God is doing.

It's people like Melissa, Emily, Angie, and Annette that make me ask God, "How can I count on you as a sure thing here on earth?" It's the circumstances in lives of the faithful that never get better causing me to wonder, "Why do you allow so much loss and pain where you could easily bring healing and joy?"

Pastor Rick's sermon today was about waiting with expectation for God's best which is yet to come. In the here and now, in the dark places of pain, in the wake of years of unanswered prayer, this expectation is the driving force for our faith. This little engine of expectation must sputter us through the times when we have no ability to take one step forward based on the decay we *see* all around.

I asked him after the sermon how to cope when I want to pull back from trusting God because earthly outcomes can be so daunting and unpredictable. He encouraged me to not hold back. That simple phrase, "Don't hold back," moved me, and I keep thinking about it tonight. Don't hold back praying for Melissa's healing. Don't hold back praying for my family to be free from abuse, crime, danger, fear, and illness. Don't hold back hoping for dreams on earth, but realize that the real hope lies beyond the grave for all of us who believe in Christ.

My view of heaven has always been a little vague with a lot of clouds. I see the great light of God's throne. I hear the praises of him never-ending. I see the golden streets. But what I had not considered until recently was how glorious, sharp, and real the atmosphere will be. The same God who takes my breath away with the deep purple-pink of a sunset, the thrill of a lover's touch, the satisfaction of the most delicious flavors, the mind-blowing colorful creatures living in the depths of the sea-- (solely created for God's delight because for countless years we humans didn't even have the ability to dive down to see them)-- this same God created heaven. It will be breathtaking, filling our hearts with the sincerest delight, the total fulfillment of what we long for now.

Thinking of heaven as a real place-- the most idyllic earthly haven amplified 1000 fold-- gives me this image of Melissa and me eating together, and after we finish, putting our running shoes on to race around a high mountain, with a clear crystal lake. I smell the tall pine trees and take off like an untamed pony on my strong legs. I dream of not running out of breath because of asthma or getting pained and exhausted, but bounding with limitless energy. I dream of the cleanest air I've ever breathed rushing through my lungs and in my hair. I picture Jesus waiting for us at the top, as a real man, fully with us, smiling and being able to dive with us into the mountain pools-- splashing, laughing. And these glorified bodies that enable us to do all things we cannot do here-- these bodies were worth waiting for. This time with Jesus in paradise was worth the tears we cried. In fact, we can't even remember the tears.

I had to share this image because what I long for is for Jesus to make all things right. I see so much horror around me and hear so much cruelty, and right now I can't see God doing much of anything to make it right. I struggle and labor under the promises of deliverance, when I can easily see that we are NOT delivered.

This morning, I read Psalm 89, which completely captured these feelings of indignation over God's seemingly broken promises to the people of Israel-- specifically the throne of David. They did not yet have the perspective of Jesus reigning on David's throne forever, so to them, it appeared God had forsaken them. What I found so amusingly familiar were the details and great pains the Psalm-writer took to remind God of what he'd promised and then following that up with how it didn't "jive" with reality. I do that same thing to him so often-- confronting him with circumstances like a prosecutor and proudly claiming that they don't "jive" with being delivered, saved, or protected. He is still Lord of it all, and I just don't have the perspective yet to see what he's doing.

What can I do in the meantime, until I have that perspective and can see the complete fulfillment of God's promises to me?

A passage from Hebrews reminds me to look ahead to what awaits-- when I patiently wait on the Lord, I will see the promises of God fulfilled:

"Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised."
Hebrews 10:32-36

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A mere 400 years away from victory

Have you ever thought about the times when the Bible is silent?

I'm not talking about when the Bible is closed and we don't open it. :) I'm talking about the times in the Bible that we naturally skip over-- the times in history when God did not overtly act, but instead waited.

The Bible is a history book, and I took for granted that it covered God's continuous interactions with man for all of time. However, recently, while reading "Disappointment with God" by Philip Yancey and listening to a sermon series from church effectively titled "Waitgain," I was suddenly confronted with large GAPS in God's timeline.

There are 2 large blocks of silence when the Bible says little to nothing about God's involvement with his people. Was God on vacation? It probably seemed that way to his people at that time. No big miracles. No visions of angels. No leading. Nothing recorded at all. But what we see beautifully in hindsight (so much so that we can overlook the waiting all together), is the great victory after the wait.

1) The first 400 years of silence occurred between the end of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus. At that time, Moses was led to prepare the way out for the Israelites who were oppressed by slavery to Egyptians.

2) The second 400 years of silence occurred between the last prophet Malachi and the beginning of the Gospels. At that time, Jesus came to prepare the way for Israelites and all people who were oppressed by slavery to sin.

Both periods of silence preceded arguably the greatest, most impressive, and boldest interventions of God's power in the history of mankind.

Both of those interventions were for the purpose of saving his oppressed children from evil power greater than themselves.

I have been keeping a journal since I was 9 years old. One of those years (2003), I tried to write an account of every single day for the entire year. It was exhausting and stressful. I just didn't have time, and the things I wrote were usually mundane. On the days that big things happened, I didn't have room to write it all. After that year, I went back to my old habit of writing when I was moved to write. There are long gaps of silences in my journals, but that doesn't mean that I'm not at work. In fact, those times are usually when I am the busiest, but the record of my work doesn't show up until the battles have been won. Only then are the empty pages put into perspective.

God is teaching me that he is similarly at work in these years of waiting, leading up to a future victory. His time table is not the same as ours. One of his most passionate friends on earth described him like this...

"But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promises, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."
2Peter 3:8-9

Though this talk of 400 or 1000 years sounds ridiculously long to us, God has the whole picture in mind and some day we will see it too. For now, we must remember he is in control. From his perspective: "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End." He reminds us: "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

He has assured us that the end will be worth the wait and wants as many of us as possible to have faith in him, so we will share in his final victory.

"I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it's your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory."

1 Peter 1:6-7 (Message translation)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

as trusting as a whale

The cry of my heart tonight echoes in this song by Kathryn Scott:

Hungry I come to You
For I know You satisfy
I am empty but I know
Your love does not run dry
So I wait for You
So I wait for You

I'm falling on my knees
Offering all of me
Jesus You're all
This heart is living for

Broken I run to You
For Your arms are open wide
I am weary but I know Your touch
Restores my life
So I wait for You
So I wait for You

I'm exhausted in every way possible. I feel like I can't keep going. When I went searching for the secret of keeping and maintaining faith tonight, I read about the bigwigs in the "Hall of Faith" (Hebrews 11).

While reading, I saw how dangerous it is to be a person of faith. BIG faith requires BIG RISK. Among other things, the people mentioned in that chapter risked public humiliation, wasted time, being laughed at, losing secure homes, the lives of loved ones, huge hassles, years in prison, false accusations, persecution, disappointment, and death.

But to risk all you have betting on God is THE sure win. Why don't more people do it? And why isn't it easier? I mean, people go skydiving and bungee jumping and car racing. Rock climbers place their faith in safety harnesses, and everyone who flies or drives places their faith in computers, machines, and crazy people on the road. I even know one person who would ride a bike on the berm of the highway if it was legal. Why do we risk so much on this earth when the payoff is small and uncertain at best? Why not fully place our lives in God's hands who promises to work all things for the good of those who love him?

The answer, I think, is the final 2 verses of Hebrews 11--
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us, so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
Hebrews 11:39-40

We don't get all our rewards now. Faith pays off for those who wait on the Lord. It's the waiting "without" that's the problem for most of us. We need our rewards instantly, at least I do-- the thrill of the chase, the rush of adrenaline, the flush of endorphins, the goal in sight-- when we don't see that quick reward follow our faith, in fear we sometimes back away. In disappointment and anger, we blame God. "I was faithful!" "This is how you repay me?" "How long will you punish me?" Relationship with God is not an easy ride. It requires something from us in return: To love him and trust him as the perfect Father, even when we don't understand what he's doing.

I saw a clip on TV recently that involved a whale rescue of some sort. People were in the water for hours trying to untangle and free a small whale that had come in too close to the harbor. With many failed attempts and the whale showing signs of distress, the rescuers were left with no choice but to lift the whale out of the water and transport him to safety in the back of a pickup truck. Of course, as an objective human, I relaxed because it was easy for me to see the whale was going to be just fine once he got into open water; however, my view of the situation changed when one of the rescuers turned to the camera and said something like,

"I wish we could somehow communicate to it that everything is going to be ok while it's on this truck. It must be pretty scared not knowing what we're doing."

When I heard this, I immediately thought of how the whale couldn't see man's plan to help, and was afraid-- just like we often can't see God's plan to help us, and feel he's somehow stopped caring. The truth is: God is on a massive saving effort for mankind. We're groaning under the stress of being caught in a net of sin, and we can't free ourselves from the ugly consequences of this sin-infested planet. Disease eats at our bodies. Depression, worry, and stress eat at our joy. We look around, unable to comprehend that we are being offered a way out, but that it will take time, and it will get scary before it gets better.

We're lifted out of our familiar waters when we begin to follow Christ in his suffering, but instead of feeling safer, it can most surely feel like he's hauling us away on a flatbed truck to our demise. What could this rescuer be thinking!? All our senses say he is not the loving helper. He tells us with words that can only be interpreted through the Spirit of God that the future holds safety and freedom that we can't imagine. The way is hard, and though we don't fully understand the twists and turns of this rescue effort, we can trust Him. He'll sit in the back of the truck with us on our long ride to open waters and whisper to us as he scoops water over our hot skin. He will gently lift us up once more, and this time, we won't ever be caught in the traps of sin, disease, or death. We will swim free with him forever.

Hear his whispers of hope in these verses:

2 Corinthians 4:16
"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

Romans 8:18-19
"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed."

Isaiah 64:4
"Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him."