Thursday, July 22, 2010

Battles Not Yet Won

One of the side effects of my chronic illness is a disrupted sleep schedule.

"Disrupted" is a polite way to put it. "Completely screwed up" is probably a bit more descriptive.

The way it works is this: No matter when I fall asleep, the next day I always need to fall asleep a little later. The result is that my "nighttime" migrates (cycles) around the clock. I will sleep during the night like a normal person for about a week, but progressively, I will begin sleeping into the morning hours. As time passes, I will eventually be sleeping fully in the afternoon, and so forth, back to an early evening bedtime again.

For example, yesterday, I fell asleep at 2 PM. Today's bedtime will likely be at 4 PM. This is caused by a disruption of my circadian rhythm - that finely balanced cycle we all take for granted to make us sleepiest at 4 AM and most alert at noon. I've tried 1,001 ways to fix it (one attempt which landed me in the ER), but ultimately, following my unnatural rhythm has been the only way to have any hope of functioning. Granted. I lose a week or so every month to sleeping through days, but those nights can be quite productive.

Since I can't keep a normal routine from day to day (such as scheduling regular morning devotions or taking a quick walk every day before dinner), I have had to be a bit more creative in the "good habit-forming department," otherwise good intentions go flying everywhere like bowling pins once my circadian rhythm rolls into a new week. Today I got up at 10:30 PM, ate "breakfast," did some gentle yoga, and showered. I then started my makeshift day with a chapter of scripture.

Still in the early chapters of Deuteronomy, I have been reading the final sermon from Moses to the Israelites just before he died. His last remarks are to review with this new generation their covenant with God and their mission: They were supposed to go in and take over the Promised Land. a nation, they didn't have such a great track record when it came to trusting God to provide in overwhelming situations (kind of like me). Instead, they preferred to focus on their problems, complain, and basically tell God he should have just left them in slavery (the equivalent of yelling "I wish I'd never been born!" in nation language). The last time they were told to go in and possess their land, the description of their enemies was so intimidating and discouraging that they just freaked out, sat down, and gave up.

So Moses knows that this second time around (about 40 years later) is really important. Confronted with the same daunting enemies, will they run in fear or will they trust God? As the previous generation of unbelievers had passed away, God had preserved the nation by raising up their children, now grown, to march in and receive the land the nation should have had decades earlier.

Moses knew this was a time for encouragement if ever encouragement was needed. Their enemies were still as big and intimidating as ever. Feelings of fear and inadequacy were bound to surface in a people who had been living as nomads for 40 years. There had been a lot of suffering, a lot of death, a lot of waiting. Focusing solely on their present situation, it would be easy to get dejected, asking "What if we just can't do it?"

What struck me as I read last night was how often I ask that same destructive question - "What if I just can't do this?" When big fears come into play, my first reaction is to take stock of my own resources and see that I'm woefully lacking. Being chronically ill means my emotional and physical reserves are already bordering on "empty" a lot of the time. Looking at my energy gauge and then seeing the daunting journey in front of me can give me a feeling of complete inadequacy and hopelessness. How do you drive down a long desert road with no gas in your tank?

It's easy from my perspective to knowingly shake my head at the fear of the Israelites. I mean, I've read the whole story. I know they go in and live in the land. I know how it ends. Imagine if an Israelite from Moses' day had my perspective. No sweat. He'd wave the complete Bible around and yell, "Here it is in the book, guys! We do win after all!" They would waste no time charging in and taking each city.

I imagine I would have that kind of bold determination too if I could see my life written out. I'd march into victories a whole lot more confident. I'd stand a little taller. I wouldn't be so afraid. Isn't that what we all want? Isn't that why fortune tellers and astrologers are so popular? If I could just KNOW that I'll have a child. If I could just be SURE I'd get a job soon. If I could just catch a glimpse of a time when I will be healthier. If I could see this situation resolved or this person saved by faith - then I could rest a little easier at night in the midst of this battle.

But just like God does not reveal to us the specific details of our journey, God does not show the Israelites their outcome either. They never see the nation of Israel under King David or the temple built by Solomon. Instead, when they fear the most, he gives them this instruction:
If you say in your heart, "These nations are greater than I. How can I dispossess them?" you shall not be afraid of them but you shall remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, the wonders, the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm, by which the LORD your God brought you out. So will the LORD your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid.

The command is: Remember. Remember it's not about your weakness; it's about God's strength. Remember God's past acts of faithfulness. Remember he is Creator of the sun, the moon, the stars. Remember he is in charge over all life. Remember he is personal. Remember he intervenes for us. Remember he delivers. When I fear, I must remember God's spotless reputation for caring for his people.

A few days ago, I was spending some time writing out a short version of my personal story of how Jesus has changed my life. Once I started to write, I realized that I couldn't fit all of God's goodness to me in one short essay. There was SO MUCH Jesus had done in my life that I wanted to write it all. I came away from the experience with a rather condensed and stiffly written testimony but a heart full of renewed confidence, having remembered all of God's past acts of faithfulness to me.

As I reflected on the past, my faith in Jesus, and how God has proven himself over and over during the hard times, it occurred to me:

The curious thing about looking back and remembering Jesus on the cross is that it's really not looking back at all.

The reality of the cross is that we are looking forward. We are looking toward the time when Christ will come back again. We are looking forward to our healed bodies. We are looking forward to our complete victory over sin and temptation. We are looking forward to never again being enslaved, intimidated, discouraged, or afraid. By looking back to remember Christ, we inherently remember that we have a future.

During a late-night exercise session this week, I was listening to "Days of Elijah" (on my playlist at right) and was moved once again by the triumphant lyrics. As I sang and walked, I felt tears sting my eyes - not of sadness and defeat but of such unspeakable joy. For at that moment, my soul was remembering the great and glorious future that is yet to come. My deliverance from the problems in this world seems long in coming, but I have a Savior, and he reminds me to look at him and keep on walking despite the pain. I need only remember, the Promised Land is not that far away.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Who is your King?

"We are witnesses."
"Lifting the curse."

Sounds like I'm talking about... a certain basketball star?

Religious language has consistently surrounded one particular sports celebrity because of his tremendous athletic ability and potential to bring victory to a struggling city. His move to a new team, announced tonight, is making big waves.

When I read the outraged reactions of scorned fans ("you are dead to me"), it reminded me of how deep and penetrating our hunger is for God, yet how we fill it with idols like this talented man.

A long time ago, I heard a sermon illustration that made me cringe. A pastor admitted that he once got so thirsty when he was a boy that he bent down and slurped the water from an oil-slicked puddle in a parking lot. His thirst had driven him to drink dirty, contaminated water in place of the real, pure thing.

This powerful (and gross) example shows the depths to which we as humans will sink to quench our thirst. Even stronger than our thirst for water, however, is our driving need for love, for victory, for someone to save us.

I have settled so many times for idols that did not deliver - friends, love, academic achievement, even strangers that I admired. I put my hope for happiness in people and things that were never meant to bear the weight of that hope. I talked to a friend this week who knows he has placed his hopes, his worth, and his value in the hands of the wrong group of people, and yet, he can't seem to break free.

Whether it's a political figure, an athletic star, or a music legend, there is no one on earth who can deliver what we need deep in our souls. There is no husband or wife, no child or parent, no pet or movie or habit or food in the world that can feed what we need inside, what we hunger for so desperately.

These outcries I've read from devastated fans who've lost their "king" are symptoms of a much more serious thirst - the deep need for a real Savior who has the power to truly save, for The King of kings who has eternal and lasting authority. Looking for your hopes and dreams to be fulfilled in a sports championship is like drinking from a puddle in a parking lot. We were built to drink in so much more than that - to fellowship with God of all creation through a living, daily relationship with Jesus Christ, champion over sin and death itself.

Today, as I read about Jesus making his final journey to Jerusalem before his death, I caught a glimpse of the kind of hero I've been searching for all my life. Not only had he determined with resolute strength to endure unimaginable suffering for my sake, but he so firmly determined it as to "set his face like a flint." I love that description of him as it calls to mind a man so full of strength and power that all the evil forces of hell and suffering and death could not shake his confidence. His love was so strong for me that he resisted every ounce of his humanity that must have screamed for him to turn back.

Not only this, but as he drew closer to his certain betrayal and brutal execution, he paused because a man in distress cried out in faith, asking for healing. In all that he was facing, he never lost his patience and compassion for the lowest of the low in society or for the sickest and most disabled.

If that wasn't enough, he had the power to perform miracles. And just as he healed the blind man that day, he used that same awesome power to endure what no other human could, bearing the weight of all sin and rising from the dead to stand alive outside his own grave.

He did this all to save you and to save me.

Now, that's a King truly worthy of praise. Do you know him?