Thursday, October 21, 2010
My impression while reading the book was one of vague annoyance at times. "Real life doesn't always work like this!" I thought in my heart. My own family has been suffering for years, and God has not fixed this! I finished the book, and before Bible study yesterday, I cried out to God something like this:
I know you love me and you're faithful, but it's so hard for me to keep going like this. I get so weak seeing my loved ones suffering emotionally and physically. I can't fix this, and I'm waiting on you to do it, but you're not moving! Please come. Please help me. Please show me what to do. I just want to hear you speak.
More than the words, it was the emotion that streamed out of me to God, opening up and pouring out what I keep pressed deep down inside. I try to seal up my painful feelings so I can just cope day to day.
I watched the video at Bible study last night and took in the practical teaching about spiritual warfare. I was reminded that the Enemy is the ultimate counterfeit and has a plan for my life to try to tear me away from God, make me doubt Him, and erode my faith and trust. It alerted me to how much I have to be on guard to protect my faith during this time when I am so prone to discouragement and despair of God ever moving in my circumstances.
When I began my first reading for the week this morning, I was face to face with a lesson all about my feelings of discouragement with God. The lesson covered David fleeing from Saul and giving up hope of surviving. He said in his heart, "One of these days I will be destroyed by the hand of Saul. The best thing I can do is to escape to the land of the Philistines."
The study then pointed me to Psalm 10 where David pours out his heart to God in much the same way I did - asking God why he allows wicked and arrogant people to succeed and seems to turn a blind eye to evil. When God's not in a hurry to fix our difficult situations or stop evil, what are we supposed to do?
David, a faithful man who spoke from experience, laid it all out:
"But you, O God, do see trouble and grief;
you consider it to take it in hand.
The victim commits himself to you;
you are the helper of the fatherless."
The victim (the helpless) commits himself to God. This is a decision of the will that no matter how bad things get, my allegiance will not waver. I must be "all in" with God, daily renewing my commitment to Him rather than yielding to my own anger or fear.
This psalm says that God does three actions for those who come to him hurting:
1) He hears the desires of the afflicted.
2) He strengthens (encourages) their hearts.
3) He inclines his ear (listens) to their cries.
Since we have a good God who knows our desires, encourages us, and listens to our cries, we have to keep going in the face of not getting what we expect. We have to love him for who he is rather than what we receive.
At the end of the lesson for today, Beth Moore suggested two verses to give both hope and direction when we feel like life will never get any better. Here is what we are to do when our problems aren't getting fixed:
"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."
"So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good."
1 Peter 4:19
The repeated call to commit to God and do good during long times of suffering is my battle plan from God's Word. I must daily wake up and commit my heart to the Lord. I must actively seek out ways to do good to others. By doing these things, I keep my heart from soaking in bitterness, anger, and self-pity, and in the process, I defeat the devil by blessing other people and bringing God glory. I don't do good to earn God's love and approval or to bribe him into helping me. The work I do is out of love for my Master who first loved me. I must work with a fully surrendered spirit, trusting that he will do what is best for my life and that the best may hurt for a time.
It's Spiritual Survival 101 - Commit to God and Do Good. Let's not grow weary as we wait expectantly on the Lord who saves.
The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Do you feel weak and overwhelmed as you try to hang on to God through tough times that never seem to end?
Here is an encouraging thought about faith from Jan Karon's book At Home in Mitford:
"I've never been one for physical exercise," she said, "but what God does with our faith must be something like workouts. He sees to it that our faith gets pushed and pulled, stretched, and pounded, taken to its limits so its limits can expand."
Thursday, October 14, 2010
As he embraced his wife and the crowd cheered in loud cries of victory, I could feel tears begin to well up in my eyes. The power of that moment was profound. Reporters claimed that there were no dry eyes in the media area as hope for each of the 33 trapped lives was fulfilled one by one.
It occurred to me as I watched that I feel a similar sense of wonder when I see a birth or a baptism take place, and as I thought about it more tonight, it makes sense why. The mine collapse is a tragedy that is strikingly symbolic of the broken condition of our world. The fall of mankind has been trapping all who ever lived on earth in the web of personal sin and in the sins of others. We all fall victim to the domino-like consequences that bind us in illness, broken relationships, fear, insecurity, and feelings of hopelessness. As we wrestle to break free ourselves, sin just seems to entangle us more. The harder we try, the more we fail. In the darkness, there is no way out.
That is until the drill breaks through from the surface, and the path to life becomes possible for us. Jesus broke through into this world when he was born, and like that precious rescue capsule "The Phoenix," his death and resurrection offer us a safe transport to the surface. If we get in and take that ride with him, we transfer from certain death to life.
When I think about the unimaginable suffering that those miners endured, it's a powerful reminder for me to give thanks to God, not only for the miraculous rescue of all 33 lives, but also for the even greater rescue effort God has put into place for each of us living in this broken world today. Chilean President Sebastian Pinera spoke about the impending rescue in language that mirrors the rescue mission of Christ:
"It will be a true rebirth, not just for the miners but for the spirit of unity, strength, faith and hope they have shown our country and the world."
When we choose to turn from our sins and follow Christ, we experience a true rebirth into eternal life that can never perish, spoil, or fade away. If you haven't yet chosen Jesus as your savior, consider the words of one young trapped miner who pondered the reasons for his 69-day suffering:
"God wanted me to stay here, I do not know why.
Maybe for me to change."
I don't always understand why God keeps me in a place of hardship, but I do know that God is working on changing me. God often wields suffering as a tool to get our attention before it's too late. Though we are trapped in a world that is filled with sorrow, hardship, evil, death, and pain, be assured that God's Spirit is working a rescue mission that is first spiritual and invisible but will soon become physical. We may not see it now, but gradually, he works to bring about change in our hearts so that we turn ever more toward Him. Remember that though you walk in darkness now, the rescue from death to life is only a prayer away.
Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."
"How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"
Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. John 3:3-5
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:16-17
Picture from dailymail.co.uk
Quotes from mirror.co.uk
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
I peered inside, picking up the handle of the worn and crumpled plastic with care. Multitudes of old paper yarn wrappers spilled out, and as I prodded a bit further, I saw the fuzz of an unfinished blue mitten weighing down the bottom of the bag.
Now, a little background about this mitten: It was made during the period of time shortly after I had gotten sick/disabled. I was trying to find something to do that would distract my whirling mind but not make demands on my broken body. It just so happened that I had been taught to crochet some basic stitches a few years before, and so after a scarf or two and a few squares for a baby blanket, I decided to try my hand at a "useful" project. In order to do this, I needed to ramp up my skill level to "mitten." At the "mitten level," I imagined myself cranking out multitudes of soft pairs of perfect mittens for all my friends at Christmas. After all, how hard could it be to make a mitten?
I plunged into Project Mitten full force. I began with a ball of the softest blue yarn I could find. It was fuzzy, twisted, and a deep sapphire color. Unfortunately, each stitch with this yarn was a battle. I couldn't keep my hook from snagging and tugging every few stitches, and because the yarn was so fuzzy, I had trouble seeing what I was doing. It made counting and following the pattern very difficult. However, I stubbornly pushed forward in my quest for making a legitimate article of clothing.
This, of course, proved to be ill-fated. Much to my chagrin, as I donned the mitten in preparation to sew up the side, it extended far beyond my fingers yet could barely close around my palm. It was the longest, skinniest, ugliest mitten I'd ever seen. I even tried it on my grandma who has the slimmest hands of the family. I'm pretty sure she laughed when she saw it.
There I was, stuck with a blue, bulky, cumbersome mitten that couldn't even close around my hand. I had just poured hours of blood, sweat, and tears into this useless thumbed garment, and I was faced with the dilemma of either making a second disfigured twin to match or to attempt an altogether shorter mitten which might fit properly but sadly would not match the first. The third option (that I felt unmentionable at the time) was to rip the whole thing out and start again, but after all my toil, I just couldn't face starting once more, and besides, I didn't think the fuzzy yarn would retain its integrity after being subjected to my inexperienced crochet hook again. I did the only logical thing.
I stuffed it in a plastic grocery bag, forgot about it, and made my friends little scarves instead.
So this weekend (about 4 years later), as I gingerly pulled my decidedly sad blue friend from the bonds of crumpled plastic, I recalled the history of the skinny mitten and decided that enough time had passed for me to say farewell. I considered tossing it in the trash, but for some reason, ripping out the yarn to use again seemed like more humane treatment for something that had required so much of my precious energy. I began to wiggle the loose strands in order to start the process of pulling out the overly tight stitches. It unraveled like a cap gun the faster I pulled. Pop, pop, pop went each stitch as I wound the yarn around my hand.
As the ball over my fist grew bigger, it suddenly struck me how sticky and cheap the yarn felt to the touch. It was as if strands of chemicals were leaving a residue on my fingers. I marveled at the fact that I had once considered this the "softest" yarn around.
Sometime after the mitten fiasco, I remember stumbling into a yarn store where my friend led me to my life-changing encounter with natural fiber yarn. I had at first dismissed this idea as boring since the yarn wasn't available in flashy colors or laced with fringe, sparkles, or ribbon. However, I later agreed to try it. The incredible softness and ease of use converted me on the spot. I finally saw the light of how much better natural fiber yarns could be. Instead of struggling with each stitch of acrylic yarn, my projects with genuine wool became enjoyable and fun.
As I disentangled the old, sticky, mitten mess, I suddenly saw an example of how easy it is to settle for (and even adore) an artificial substitute when I haven't yet tasted the real thing. When I started crocheting, I had never been exposed to natural yarns. I didn't understand the difference between yarn that came straight from a sheep and strands from a chemistry beaker. Now I can tell the difference instantly, and it's a big difference.
I have a history of settling for artificial substitutes in other areas of my life too - like the many years I indulged in processed foods and high-sugar snacks to boost my mood instead of "boring" whole fruits and vegetables. Food packed with nutrition was the real thing, but I passionately preferred that which was man-made. In settling for the fraudulent delicacies, I was cheating myself out of feeling better simply for the sake of instant gratification.
Of course, most importantly, I see the same parallel spiritually. I'm guilty of looking to the "artificial" here on earth to fill my needs. Like with the acrylic yarn, I once ignorantly settled for entertainment, achievement, affirmation, and relationships to keep me feeling good, pushing God to the side where I could fit him in. Even as a Christian, I didn't understand emotionally that Jesus is the true source of all comfort, satisfaction, acceptance, and love. I kept looking for these things in people and experiences, not realizing I was just setting up idols for myself.
What changed me is that ALL of those artificial substitutes failed to comfort me when troubled times hit. I had to find better answers because of the deep pain. Suffering through trial has forced me to recognize the impotence of my substitutes and to seek an emotional connection with my Savior Jesus, who sustains me and gives me genuine joy.
When Christ comes back, all the worldly things that we lived for here will be destroyed. Jesus will remain, and those who choose to trust him will taste eternal life. On that day, no substitutes will do.
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.
1 John 2:15-17