September 11, the Weight of the World, and the Goodness of God

“For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened…” 2 Cor. 5:4

Sixteen years ago, I was getting ready for the day, when I heard news of the first plane flying into the twin towers. I watched in disbelief, frozen in front of the television, as the second plane struck. A terrible thought sank into the pit of my stomach. The towers are going to fall. I retreated to my bedroom and cried to God that the towers would not fall. But they did. And with them thousands of people.

I spent part of that afternoon at my neighbors’ house, a couple who had seen the Day of Infamy at Pearl Harbor. And here was their second day of infamy. So, we cried to God together. And in the days to come, our nation mourned under the weight of the shadow of death, under the veil that is cast over all the peoples. Even the stories of sacrifice and brotherhood could not lift the weight of the nation’s tragedy.

And yet, all these years later, we are still a people under oppressive weight. The weight of a fractured nation. Of divided denominations, churches, and families. The weight of natural disasters. The weight of our own pride and strained relationships. The weight of memories and regret. Of condemnation. Of sickness. Of starting over with nothing. Of death.

We carry the weight of the sorrows of our friends and neighbors, even of people in other parts of the world. The past couple weeks alone saw floods in Asia, hurricanes in the U.S., and an earthquake in Mexico, with people crying out under the weight of their devastation.

“We do not lose heart…” 2 Cor. 4:16

This seems almost impossible to say. Under such crushing weight, how can we not lose heart? How is it that we can be afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; struck down, but not destroyed?

Faith in the goodness of God.

The spirit of faith that says with the Psalmist “’I believed, and so I spoke,’ we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us … into his presence.” (2 Cor. 4:13-14)

God spoke and it will come to pass.

More than a triumph of the human spirit, our hope is sure and steady.  It is not of the things seen, but the things unseen… the things that are eternal.

This is a divine assurance that knows that all the weight of these afflictions are preparing a weight of glory. This weight of glory is so great, all our crushing afflictions are light compared to it. Even if our afflictions last a lifetime, they are still momentary compared with this glory that is eternal.

God has spoken and it will come to pass when the veil of death will be lifted forever. No more will we struggle and mourn under the weight of suffering and death.

And he will swallow up on this mountain

the covering that is cast over all peoples,

the veil that is spread over all nations.

He will swallow up death forever;

and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces,

and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,

for the LORD has spoken.

It will be said on that day,

“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.

This is the LORD; we have waited for him;

let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

Isaiah 25:7-9

Terrorists will not have the final say. Neither will the cancer, nor bitterness, nor brokenness nor demons nor war. Neither will our sense of brotherhood and sacrifice. The LORD has spoken, and so we do not lose heart.

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living!

Wait for the LORD:

be strong and let your heart take courage;

wait for the LORD!

Psalm 27:13-14

Remember 


“Greater love has no man than this, that he lays down his life for his friend.”John 15:13 

“Thanks and praise, for our days, ‘Neath the sun, ‘neath the stars, neath the sky;

 As we go, this we know, God is nigh…

While the light fades from sight,

 And the stars gleaming rays softly send,

 To thy hands we our souls, Lord, commend.” 

Lyrics from Taps

Using My Teacher Voice

“Wow, I was using my teacher voice. I actually missed that.”

I couldn’t believe that was a thought from my own brain. Yet, there is was. Even more shocking… it was true. I really had enjoyed using my teacher voice.

This teacher voice, however, was not the stereotypical one my students aren’t supposed to make me use.

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Oh, I have that one, too.

Then the realization dawned… I have more than one teacher voice.

And so do my teacher friends. I have heard many, many teacher voices coming from down the hall and in my own classroom.

There is the teacher voice that yells above a noisy classroom.

A teacher voice that quietly talks to a student about their struggles at the teacher desk.

The teacher voice that is raised in anger.

The teacher voice that is upbeat and cheerful.

A teacher voice that is firm in discipline.

The teacher voice dripping in sarcasm and bordering on disrespect.

A teacher voice that almost sounds like singing – lilting and lyrical.

A teacher voice that is smiling.

A teacher voice that is sad.

The teacher voice that is tired and discouraged.

I’ll admit it.  I’ve too often used the wrong teacher voice. My students got an exasperated voice when they needed a patient one. I taught about main idea and details (for the 500th time) with a tired voice when my students needed interest and energy.

Some days I may feel like Charlie Brown’s teacher projecting wordless, almost intonation-less mumbling in front of a classroom, but in actuality my students hear what I say.  Maybe more importantly, they hear how I say it.

School’s out for the summer, so I’m looking forward to the next year. One goal is to own my teacher voice (all of them) and make conscious efforts to use the one my students need… and leave behind the one they don’t. Do I think I will always succeed? No, but there is the grace of transparency and admitting when I’ve used the wrong voice. When I talk to my students about my voice, they understand their own.

Self-controlled. Lyrical. Firm. Smiling. Sad. Respectful. Laughing. Clear. Strict.

Patient.

Kind.

 

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Fullness

Thou hast revealed to me myself as a mass of sin, and thyself as the fullness of goodness, with strength enough to succour me, wisdom enough to guide me, mercy enough to quicken me, love enough to satisfy me.Thou has shown me that because thou art mine I can live by thy life, be strong in thy strength, be guided by thy wisdom; and so I can pitch my thoughts and heart in thee. 

This is the exchange of wonderful love — for me to have thee for myself, and for thee to have me, and to give me thyself.

There is in thee all fullness of the good I need, and the fullness of all grace to draw me to thyself, who, else, could never have come. 

But having come, I must cleave to thee, be knit to thee, always seek thee.

There is none all good as thou art: 

With thee I can live without other things, for thou art God all-sufficient, and the glory, peace, rest, joy of the world is a creaturely, perishing thing in comparison with thee. 

– Fullness, from The Valley of Vision Prayers

Anger and Action

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The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” Exodus 34:6-7

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1:19-20

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,and give no opportunity to the devil. Eph. 4:26-27

I’ve been angry before.  I was angry at an injustice committed against another person. Surely this was the most noble anger.  From my point of view, injustice seemed like too tame of a word for what had happened. Surely such anger was worthy. Yet, instead of following God’s wisdom, I was angry and sinned.  I used anger to fuel hate. I used that hate and anger to pray for a man’s eternal condemnation instead of his salvation. I used that hate and anger to tell the Almighty Master of the Universe that he had no business going against that request. I used that hate and anger to elevate myself as the judge for who was worthy of heaven and hell.  I used that hate and anger to make myself God.

People are angry.  I took a semi-hiatus from Facebook this week and forgot just how angry people are. The anger is many times directed at injustice.  Even self-professed believers are sharing the quote at the beginning of this post to justify their anger. But, as with my anger, it quickly becomes a habit and is used for sin. Singing, dancing, talking, drawing — doing everything — with anger and about anger makes a person a slave to that anger. We may begin using anger as an instrument, but then we become an instrument of that self-same anger to accomplish its purposes. This flies in the face of the Word of God concerning how a believer is to act.

King David was against injustice. And he wrote songs addressing it, but his songs were not about his anger. His songs rested in God’s vengeance and justice being carried out.

Arise, O Lord, in your anger; lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies; awake for me; you have appointed a judgment. Psalm 7:6

7Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
    fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
    over the man who carries out evil devices!

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
    Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
For the evildoers shall be cut off,
    but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land. Psalm 37:7-9

More often than not, David’s remembrance of anger in his writings were about the Lord’s anger, which had been kindled against his own people, even David himself.

So what to do with anger, then? Anger is a way to bitterness, not an alternative. Just as bitterness poisons life, so does anger when it is allowed to thrive in our hearts. As believers, we are allowed to be angry, but not cling to it even as the day ends. We are to put away anger — not make a habit of it (Eph. 4:31, Col. 3:8).

If I speak anger, I spread anger. If I speak justice, I spread justice. If I spend my breathe and pen for tearing down, I will have nothing left for building up.

Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly. Proverbs 14:29

Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. Proverbs 16:32

Being slow to anger is neither proof of blindness or weakness. True wisdom sees injustice, acknowledges it, and opposes it. But true wisdom does not act out of anger. May the people of God be seen and spoken of as those to cling to good and advance justice, not those who exalt folly.  May our anger at injustice not blind our discernment.  May our anger go down with the sun, and so give way to faith in God and his justice. May our anger give way to the love that builds up.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

In the end, I felt the rebuke of God toward my bitter anger.  For my anger had poisoned me so much that I did not know how to forgive. I remember praying and asking for prayer. I remember that it did not go away quickly, but over  months of daily praying and repenting and giving up the part of myself that was still clinging to that anger.  In place of that poisonous anger, God caused the healing balm of faith in his justice and love for mercy to grow.

What would happen if the last part of that famous quote were rewritten and taken to heart? So use that love. You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You vote it. You do everything about it. You talk it. You never stop talking it. 

 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.  Let all that you do be done in love. 1 Corinthians 16:13-14

Saturday Song: Now I Belong to Jesus

After reading this post from Desiring God, I felt inspired to play some old hymns that I haven’t sung or played for quite a while. I couldn’t help but smile fondly at the hymnal when I pulled it from my piano bag. I remember reading some of my first words out of a hymnal like this… but this one was mine.

Without looking, I can tell this book apart from its hymnal twin in my bag, just by the feel of the cover. I have been playing out of this little book for 20 years now. I know how each page falls open and where each dog-eared hymn is. The margins are full of my notes. It is full of the songs that helped raise me. It’s been my companion at funerals and weddings, at Christmas programs and my grandma’s living room. When I play the old hymns, I hear the voices who used to sing with me harmonizing with the notes – sweet echoes from the past.

As dear as this little hymnal and the memories are to me, the words in it remind me of a deeper affection. A longing that is universal: to belong. Not just to fit in to a temporary group or fragile social structure, but to belong securely, completely, forever.

Tonight the little hymnal reminded me that I belong to one who is more constant than the most faithful companion ever could be.

Jesus my Lord will love me forever, from him no pow’r of evil can sever; He gave his life to ransom my soul- now I belong to him!

Once I was lost in sin’s degradation, Jesus came down to bring me salvation; Lifted me up from sorrow and shame- now I belong to him!

Joy floods my soul, for Jesus has saved me, Freed me from sin that long had enslaved me; His precious blood he gave to redeem- now I belong to him!

Now I belong to Jesus, Jesus belongs to me. Not for the years of time alone, but for eternity.

…You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefather, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 1 Peter 18-19