Thursday, April 30, 2009

He Knows My Name

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.
~Psalm 56:8

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Comparison Trap

Lately, I've been letting envy get to me. It's been insidious-- a tightening up of my stomach when I hear one-too-many in a series of perfect blessings in a friend's story, a sour turn in my heart as I hear about a friend's trip that I've dreamed of taking but can't, the wistful sigh, the unspoken fleeting thoughts-- "I wish I had the energy he did. I wish I had the opportunity she has. I wish things worked out that well for me. I wish my family had an amazing support network like hers. I wish God would give me the blessings he's given her. If God would only..."

These feelings are typically just a passing annoyance as I keep my nose to the grindstone and urge myself to remain focused on blooming where God has planted me in life, even if it's not a prime gardening spot. I try not letting the ample blessings of others get to me. But it seems that recently I've had these thoughts lodging in my head and irritating me more, much like a piece of food stuck in a sore tooth, or wood that lodges in a narrow place and clogs up a stream.

Being chronically ill as a young person is not easy. Having multiple problems, involving the well-being of my family, that restrict my life even further is even more difficult. And I know I'm not alone in my sadness when I see people who appear to "have it all," and I wonder, "Will God ever fulfill my dreams? Will he give me the desires of my heart?"

As this feeling of bitterness and dissatisfaction has been growing in me, so has the memory of an online sermon I heard a couple months ago from Erwin Lutzer. He was preaching a sermon series on Job that completely blew me away and said something in the message "God I've Lost Everything" that drove home a problem I've been having with my attitude toward God.

In chapter 2, verse 10, Job says to his wife: "Shall we indeed accept good from God and not adversity?" Why is it that we would only accept one and not the other and recognize that both come from God.

One day when we came home from vacation, I was speaking to my family, and I said, “You know, God was so good to us. We drove so many thousands of miles. We had no flat tires, no car trouble, no accidents.” And just as the words came out of my mouth, it dawned on me – let’s suppose we had had an accident, or a flat tire, or some tragedy – would that now have meant God wasn’t good?

If you have that theory, that God has to always be giving you “good” things (and I put good in here in quotes) in order for him to be good, then the time will come when you will believe that God is evil.

Job said that we accept good from his hand. We must also recognize that there is adversity that comes from his hand, and both of them come from a good God. They come from a hand with nail prints.

And as Christians, we do not superficially evaluate what is good or evil because we know that God has a plan that is much bigger than we are able to see. And sometimes that which is adversity becomes a blessing.

When I reread that, I am humbled by my immaturity and lack of faith in a God so much bigger than I can understand. Peter once asked Jesus what would become of the disciple John, after being given a tough message about his own future. Peter said what I so often do, "Lord, what about him?" Jesus responded to Peter, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me."

I cannot be so bold as to tell God how he should deal with me or with others because he is the awesome Creator. Isaiah points out in 45:9 how prideful it is for me question God's purposes: "Does the clay say to the potter, 'What are you making?'" I can't tell God his business. My job is simply to follow him.

If it is best for me to be shaped by adversity right now, to have him draw out the envy and the anger in my heart so it is no longer concealed, then I should thank him all the more because he has answered my prayer to "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting." (Psalm 139:23-24) I may not like the impurities that are rising to the surface in this furnace of trouble, but the fact is, these defects in my character have been in me all along.

Still, I see things I want but can't have. It's in my nature to set my heart on those things and become angry with God, as if he is a father who deprives his child of good things. But that is not God's true character.

"Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
Matthew 7:9-11

As my Father, God is filtering everything he sends me (adversity included) through his amazing, perfect love for me. What if giving me everything I wanted in this moment would really be giving me a "snake" spiritually speaking? What if God behaving as a supernatural Santa Claus would spoil me, allow my sin to fester, my patience to evaporate, and prevent me from growing in relationship with him? What if it would even block His ultimate purpose for putting me on this earth?

So how do I escape the snare of dissatisfaction and the trap of comparison?

Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Psalm 37:4

Am I delighting in the Lord when I constantly compare my life to others and covet what they have? No, in fact I'm breaking the 10th commandment. Delighting myself in the Lord includes praise and thanksgiving, not meditating on my unfulfilled desires.

Dislodging these logs of dissatisfaction in the stream of my soul will be difficult. I will still have the thoughts cross my mind that tempt me to dwell in self-pity. But I now have my plan from scripture to fight back:
1) Accept both good and adversity from God's hand.
2) Trust God that he is the perfect Father and does not hold out on me.
3) Give thanks to God for he is good at all times.
4) Worship God as Creator and Lord of my life.

Intrinsic in all of those is to take my focus off of what God is (or is not) doing for others and to simply follow Him, just as he instructed Peter. Even if I still feel that I continue to receive adversity from God, I must give thanks that he is using it in my life for an even greater purpose than I can understand. I can rely on the fact that he "works for the good of those who love him."

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Marshmallow Peep Philosophies

Marshmallow peeps are so tempting. They sit there glittering in their peepy uniformity, just begging to be popped in the nearest mouth in one fluid motion.

Strangely, if I yield to the temptation, I always find they are not quite as good as I had remembered. I end up with a mouth full of spongy calories. I am deceived by fluff in my hunger.

Today's world offers a lot of glittering peeps when it comes to beliefs about God, sin, and the afterlife. We search the tables of options, hungry for hope, and sadly many are deceived by hollow philosophies of relative morality, false forms of godliness, and our "own personal truths." None of these are real or offer lasting hope. We are searching for a meal, but by eating things that simply look and feel appealing to our appetites, we just end up with empty calories and a stomach full of air.

Easter is actually about the real deal. It's the offering of a priceless solid meal of eternal bread and flowing wine. Jesus offered the woman at the well "living water." He promised her, "whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst." (John 4:14)

Now, this might sound like just another option calling out among the many "religions" in the world, but Jesus did not start a new religion or die to never be heard from again. He instead initiated a relationship with us, offering us forgiveness of sins and heaven through faith in him. He stated definitively: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)

We might pass those boasts off as the teachings of just another prophet, but the empty tomb of Easter is our proof that what this man said was true. Jesus was willing to be beaten, tortured, humiliated, mocked, and brutally executed by the human race so that he could make a way for sinners to be with a Holy God. Hanging on that cross, he cried out "It is finished!" before giving up his spirit. And everyone, even his followers, thought it was over at that moment. He was dead. Christianity would have lasted no longer than that day on Golgotha had that been the end of the story. We who sin and suffer from others' sins would have no hope of forgiveness, justice, or heaven, had Jesus stayed put in his tomb.

The great gift of God to us is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These words changed all of history:
"Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!"

If you are still looking for hope among dead people and ideas and trying to satisfy your hunger for truth with marshmallow peep philosophies, remember there is only one man who claimed to be God and proved it. Jesus Christ claimed to be the Messiah, Son of God, Savior of the World, and he proved his identity and the truth of his great promises-- forgiveness for sins, hope for the hurting, and heaven for those who believe in his name.

"Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
hear me, that your soul may live."
Isaiah 55:1-3

I trust in Christ's sacrifice for forgiveness of my sins and eternal life. I rest in the hope of heaven when I am in pain. I wait eagerly in faith to see my Savior who died for me and conquered death. My Redeemer Lives!

Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat upon them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd;
he will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Revelation 7:16-17

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Is it God who is silent? Or is it me?

My frustration with my circumstances has been steadily growing over the past few weeks. At some point, I stopped journaling these feelings in my prayer journal and began my silent "civil disobedience" thing with God again. It's my lame attempt at trying to gain some control in a situation that is completely out of my control. Refusing to pray is an expression of quiet rebellion, a mixture of frustration, anger, hurt, and confusion over why my prayers don't seem to make a bit of difference, no matter how heartfelt or dire they might be. I then have the habit of blaming God and saying he is silent, when really I have not been interested in what he has to say. If he's not doing something at this point, then why should I listen to what he is saying?

Well, a couple days ago, I was reminded of just how hurtful it is when you look forward to talking to a friend and then have to face the disappointment that they are too busy for you. In the midst of being upset about it, I experienced the awful conviction that God must feel the exact same way when I make myself too busy for him. Not wanting to face this fact right away, I put him off a few more days. I became more disciplined in my Bible reading, but my "prayers" still consisted of a few short requests and some thanks for food.

Today, I finally broke down, cried, and got out my prayer journal. It had been over 2 weeks since my last entry. Trying to see the page through my tears, I told God in the most respectful and honest way possible that I felt abandoned by him. There was no getting past saying that because both He and I know that those are my real and true feelings. I feel like I am walking this road alone.

But the question lingered in my mind-- am I struggling with His silence, or my own? Is my frustration and refusal to meet with him regularly contributing to my feelings of isolation? Or does his perceived lack of action on my behalf justify my forlorn cries of abandonment?

One thing I love about reading the Psalms is that I can really get into the 'feelings' part-- the part where the Psalmist pours it all out there in complete and brutal honesty. Today's reading in Psalm 77 said this in echo of my own prayer:

Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?

Ok. I can get into that. That's real to me. Someone has felt this before. And all of a sudden, I don't feel quite so alone.

Next to that block of text in my Bible, I had a few dates scribbled when these words expressed similar past prayers. The dates go all the way back several years, and I added today's date underneath. But the Lord was not done with this Psalm. Faith followed the fear.

Then I thought, "To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High." I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.

Next to that block of text, I had written a full 17-year range of dates, along with milestone events in my life that came about miraculously through the grace of God.

The Psalmist did the same thing by remembering the mighty deeds that God had done on behalf of the Israelites:

Your ways, O God are holy.
What god is so great as our God?
You are the God who performs miracles;
you display your power among the peoples.
With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.

And as I read the end of this Psalm, about the parting of the Red Sea, I remembered how many years the Israelites had groaned in Egypt without any answer, but in that one moment at the Red Sea, their miracle came.

Your path led through the sea,
your way through the mighty waters,
though your footprints were not seen.

I may not hear his voice when I groan. I may not see his footprints as he walks beside me, but I am reassured when I read, "you led your people like a flock."

If the Lord is silent, I will continue to pray. If I am not delivered, I will continue to walk. For the Lord hears my cries of affliction, and he walks with me, though his footprints are often unseen.