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

maya-angelou-anger-quote

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

Swirling Clouds and Songs

Great is Your Steadfast Love

Psalm 86 — A Psalm of David

1 Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
    for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am godly;
    save your servant, who trusts in you—you are my God.
Be gracious to me, O Lord,
    for to you do I cry all the day.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
    for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
    abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
    listen to my plea for grace.
In the day of my trouble I call upon you,
    for you answer me.

There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
    nor are there any works like yours.
All the nations you have made shall come
    and worship before you, O Lord,
    and shall glorify your name.
10 For you are great and do wondrous things;
    you alone are God.
11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
    that I may walk in your truth;
    unite my heart to fear your name.
12 I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
    and I will glorify your name forever.
13 For great is your steadfast love toward me;
    you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

14 O God, insolent men have risen up against me;
    a band of ruthless men seeks my life,
    and they do not set you before them.
15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
16 Turn to me and be gracious to me;
    give your strength to your servant,
    and save the son of your maidservant.
17 Show me a sign of your favor,
    that those who hate me may see and be put to shame
    because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.

In an Instant

He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter his lightning.  They turn around and around by his guidance, to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world.  Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen. Job 37:11-13

It was sudden.  Even with sirens, there was no warning for what was about to happen. 200+ mph winds. Shattering glass. Roaring thunder. Pitch blackness.  Crying people. Leveled buildings.

And God’s amazing mercy.

This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life. Psalm 119:50

February 5, 2008

The first storm came that afternoon.

The forecasts warned of such strong storms that the city’s public schools let out early.  I was four days into student teaching.  My cooperating teacher and I were on the phone calling the numbers on our students’ information sheets to tell a parent – in Spanish – that school was closing early because of the bad weather.  The buses were leaving in 20 minutes.  Would someone be at home to let the child in?

As the children left, I held the door open for a group of second graders on their way to the bus. Wind gusts howled around the corners of the building and thunder stormed overhead from this, the first storm.  A little girl threw her arms around my waist, looked up with big brown eyes and asked, “Are we gonna be OK?” “Of course you are, baby,” I smiled at her. “But, you are gonna get awfully wet if you don’t go on.”  She laughed and move on.  The nagging truth of what I didn’t tell her settled in to my stomach.  I didn’t know if we were going to be okay, as we’d like to think of it.  It wasn’t my promise; it wasn’t her promise.

What was our promise that day? Safety? Preservation of possessions? Is it only with those realities we can say that God is good?

The First Song

Two songs stand out in my mind. The first was the last song I heard before the second storm came with its lasting changes.  On my drive back to my dorm room, Mark Shultz’s voice sang out,

You never said it would be easy, but you said you’d see me through the storm…

And even though I’m walkin’ through
The valley of the shadow
I will hold tight to the hand of Him whose love will comfort me
And when all hope is gone
And I’ve been wounded in the battle
He is all the strength that I will ever need

He will carry me…

“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)  That was my promise.  I could plan, and prepare, and pray, knowing that at every second my God would be with me.  He would be with me for one of two ends: either to preserve my life or to bring me safely from this life into His presence.

The Second Storm

A little over three hours later, the sirens were going off.

In fact, they’d been going off for fifteen minutes.  Eight of us girls sat in the downstairs dorm bathroom (with our homework of choice), reading, talking, laughing.  Two other girls sat in the living room just outside the bathroom.  We’d been through this before.  The siren would run its course and nothing would happen.

Then we heard a train.

The lights flickered.

Our ears started popping.

We yelled for the other two girls to get in the bathroom just as they jumped in.  One of the girls slammed the door shut as the power went out and the windows exploded.

I remember when I first discovered how fast thoughts are.

I was a little girl trying to see how many thoughts I could think before four seconds went by on the microwave timer.  The tornado seemed to last an eternity, but it probably only took a matter of seconds.  I wish I could say that I wasn’t afraid when I heard the train coming, but I was.  It got louder – sounding more like ten trains – then even louder, until it sounded like nothing I’ve heard before or since.  It felt as if the sound were vibrating through every organ, bone, and muscle in my body. The wall I was leaning against for protection shook from the tornado’s fury.

Surely I had mere seconds left to live.  For a moment, I was filled with awe that the time had come.  I was going to see my Maker’s face!  I had waited for this for most of my life!  Then, I remembered what might happen in those intervening moments.

And I was afraid… afraid die in a building torn apart by a tornado.

Then I felt a voice say, “But then you will never hurt again.”  I felt courage from that.  That was my promise.

A couple seconds later, the tornado was gone.  I was still there, and so was the dorm.

It was so dark in the bathroom that we could not see one another.  We called family members to let them know we were okay. We prayed. We cried. We sang to our God because He had saved us.

Then we heard the news being shouted from outside. “Hurt and Watters are gone!

Five simple words, but I couldn’t understand them.  How could two entire residence complexes – fourteen dorm buildings – be gone?  On our evacuation route we soon saw with our own eyes.  The tornado had gone right through both complexes.  The buildings that weren’t leveled were missing walls and roofs. People were trapped in the rubble.  Paramedics were loading students into ambulances.  Surely dozens of our friends were dead.

Was God still good?

The Second Song

And in the end, the end is
Oceans and oceans
Of love and love again
We’ll see how the tears that have fallen
Were caught in the palms
Of the Giver of love and the Lover of all
And we’ll look back on these tears as old tales.

‘Cause after the last plan fails
After the last siren wails…
There is love.

Andrew Peterson, After the last tear falls.

The second song softly played over the speakers of the van as we drove back to the university the next morning.

The EF-4 tornado had gone through the rest of the town, and the morning light revealed the damage left behind.  Whole houses were gone.  Roofs had been lifted off and set down in a neighboring yard.  Debris lay everywhere.  Cars were flipped upside down and dragged across parking lots.

The view behind my dorm

At Union that day, search and rescue crews went through the rubble of the damaged dorm buildings.  Around mid-morning we got the news that everyone had been accounted for… and no one at Union had died.  Did this mean God was good?  Was that the proof of God’s love for us?

My Final Hope

Scripture is clear: God is love and his love never fails.

In every circumstance, God is good. He shows His goodness in fulfilling His promises.  Sometimes He shows that goodness by extending mercy to save from physical danger.  If this life were all that there is, then saving my life would have been the ultimate mercy.  If, however, there is life after death, then the ultimate mercy would be to save me for that life.

The truth is, I was an enemy of God from my birth and marked for destruction. I didn’t need my own actions to condemn me — although those came soon enough.  I was condemned because of my sinful heart.  God extended the ultimate mercy to me by awakening my heart and mind to believe in Him.  Because of Christ’s death for my sin, I am now saved from judgment to belong to God forever.

One day, I really will have only two seconds left to live, and then I will see my God.  And I will not be afraid, but stand before God as a beloved child.  That is my promise and I will rest in it because the steadfast love of God never fails.

 

His grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

 

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.  For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

 

Not Consumed

“How was your week?”

I felt rather awkward making small talk after this past week.  I was pretty certain my answer to that question didn’t fall in the ‘small talk’ category.

I felt overwhelmed.

I was exhausted.

It seemed like the universe was against me getting any sleep.

As an indicator of how the week went, take Monday. After 11 hours at work, I came home, did laundry, cooked dinner and Tuesday’s lunch, washed dishes, and finished up lesson prep.  At 11:30 p.m., 5 1/2 short hours before my Tuesday morning alarm, I was trying to fish a broken measuring spoon out of the garbage disposal with a pair of chopsticks while holding a flashlight in my mouth so that maybe the disposal would work again.  The rotting fruits and vegetables couldn’t wait another 17 hours until the faculty meeting was over and I was off the clock again. I didn’t remember signing up for this.

I was grumpy.  I didn’t want to be a public school teacher anymore. I didn’t want to be a homeowner. I didn’t want to have to interact with any other people for the foreseeable future.

Did I mention I was tired?

I felt overwhelmed by things to do and beset by the temptation to be short tempered, complaining, impatient, and unkind.  In my discontentment, I didn’t feel like fighting the temptation.  After all, I felt justified.  And surely God wouldn’t expect me to keep fighting when I was obviously overwhelmed.

How was my week?

I felt consumed.

I felt consumed by work, by impatience, by inadequacy, by discouragement, by weariness.

But then, the Holy Spirit sent a timely reminder.

I am not consumed.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,

for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV

My feelings were strong, but not stronger than the reality. If God’s great mercy means I am not consumed by his righteous wrath, how much less can the urgency and pressures of the world and my own heart consume me?

Meditating on that didn’t make getting the measuring spoon out of the sink any easier, or earn me extra hours to sleep.  It did, however, take away the tyranny of the discouragement and bitterness that threatened to seize my heart. What light was brought to my mind by the beauty and glory of that thought!

Trials may try to consume, but the Lord’s love is greater still. Struggles will eventually cease, but his compassions will never fail.  Discouragement and weariness may be great, but God’s faithfulness is greater still.

 

100,000 Miles

This past weekend, my eleven-year-old car hit its 100,000 mile mark.  Since this is my first car, and I’ve had it since about mile 0, this was a big
occasion for us.100000 miles 2

This car is an answer to prayer.  God was so gracious to answer my prayer – and doing so in a way that showed He didn’t need my help at all. Maybe that’s why I am so fond of this little car.  I made it through my first year of college without a car, depending on friends for rides to my teaching practicums, church, and the grocery store.  After my first year, I realized that, with the many teaching practicums ahead, I would need my own car. I started saving like crazy and putting almost every penny from my summer job towards a car. I scoured the ads to see what I could get for a couple thousand dollars. I figured that my parents wouldn’t be happy with the car I bought for $2,000, or that I had bought one behind their backs since we agreed I would not get a car in college, but I was desperate for a car.  As I worked, saved, and searched, I prayed fervently for God to provide a car. One night as I was working, a car pulled up to the drive-thru and rang the bell.  I opened the window and saw my parents in a little blue car. I immediately burst into tears, because I thought this meant I got to have our gray Lumina minivan – and I was so happy!  Little did I know that in response to my prayers, God had planted in the minds of my parents (without our discussing the matter) that I needed a car.  One day mom woke up with the urgent thought, “Katie needs a car.”  When she talked with Dad, unsure of what he would say, he responded that he had wakened with the exact same urgent message.  And I got the blue car.

As a dedication, I prayed that God would use my car in his service to help with others’ needs as a reminder that he had met mine.  100,000 miles later, God has faithfully brought friendships that I will forever value in response to that prayer. He has shown deliverance by sparing it in a tornado (with a little roof fixing), allowing it to be covered in ash only – and no more – from a fire, and working in each blown tire so that I was never stranded.

Now, we are on a summer road trip that, so far, has included Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas.  Tomorrow we plan to add another state or two, Lord willing.

So, happy birthday, little buddy. And thanks to God for his provision and protection.

… his mercies never come to an end;  they are new every morning… Lam. 3:22-23

Reblog: A Day of Remembering

From the archives:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…

There are many days set aside on the U.S. calendar as days of remembering.  We remember to give thanks in November.  We remember our independence.  We remember 9/11.  We remember to honor our Veterans.  We remember our Grandparents.  We remember our parents.  On our personal calendars, we remember our birthdays and the birthdays of those close to us.  We remember anniversaries: of weddings, of first dates, of adoptions, of fires, of tornadoes, of hurricanes, of earthquakes.  We remember the days the ones we loved died.

Even though we have these special days set aside to remember, I doubt any of us forgets these events the other days of the year.  Every day, I remember that I have a wonderful mom and dad.  I remember to give thanks (most days).  I remember that I live in a free country.  Whenever I see something Grandma would have liked, I remember that Death says I can’t show her anymore.  Tears sometimes flow because one of the deepest loves of my life has been taken from me.  Joy wipes the tears away because I remember that I will get to see her again.

Today is a day of remembering on the Christian calendar: Good Friday, the day of remember Christ’s death.  It is one of those days that we have set aside, although not a day should go by that Christians do not remember what Christ has done for us.  Nor is Good Friday the only day that Christians remember Christ’s death.  Every time we celebrate communion, we do it in remembrance of Christ’s death and resurrection… and we will continue to do so until he returns.

So, why this day set aside?  As with other history-changing and life-changing events, this day is set apart to remember something that we remember the rest of the year as well.

Good Friday services are more solemn than Easter or Christmas services — and even sorrowful — but grief does not reign.  I would argue that wonder and thanksgiving reign over sorrow on Good Friday. (Just as there would be no occasion to celebrate Christmas if there were not Good Friday and Easter, if there were no Easter, Good Friday would be the gravest and most hopeless of all holidays… but I’ll talk about that later).

Sorrow is appropriate for Good Friday, just as sorrow is appropriate when we remember our sin, and as sorrow is appropriate when remembering a horrific crime against another person.  Good Friday’s sorrow is because we remember that Christ, fully God and fully man, after a lifetime of loving, serving, teaching, patiently guiding, and healing was taken by a mob and endured unimaginable beatings from trained soldiers, was run through trials by political and religious leaders that mocked justice and religion, and was left to die, naked, bleeding, cursed and mocked on an expertly devised, torturous instrument of execution.

That was just the physical aspect.

On the spiritual side, he bore sin… and with that, separation from God — something that I cannot even begin to imagine.

And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” — Mark 15:33-34

Christ is sinless.  The sin He bore was not His.  The sin He bore was mine.

That’s where grief meets wonder.

That’s how we can call this Friday “Good”.

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die– but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. — Romans 5:7-8

Then wonder grows.  The mob that took Jesus and crucified him did not do it because Christ was powerless.

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. — Colossians 1:16-17

“He’s speaking it all into being: the soldiers, the priests, the thieves, the friends, the mothers, the brothers, the mob, the wooden beams, the spikes, the thorns, the ground beneath him, and the dark clouds gathering above. If he ceases to speak they will all cease to be. But he wills that they remain. So the soldiers live on, and the hammers come crashing down.” Rick Gamache, A Crucifixion Narrative

Wonder then meets with more wonder.

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. — John 19 :30

…he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. — Hebrews 9:12

Christ’s death is enough to secure my forgiveness before God.  Christ’s death did not start a process that I complete by feeling enough remorse over my own sin.  I don’t earn forgiveness because I feel enough shame or by inflicting punishment on myself.  I’m forgiven only based on the merits of Christ’s death for my sin.  The only appeal I can make for forgiveness is God’s own promise that He forgives those who trust in Christ’s work alone.

See how God illustrates this at the exact moment that Christ cried “It is finished” and gave up his spirit in death:

In the temple, at God’s command, there was a curtain – 60 feet high, 30 feet wide, and 4 inches thick – separating the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place.  According to the historian Josephus, horses could not tear this curtain apart.  God’s presence dwelt in the Most Holy Place.  If anyone went in to God’s holy presence, he or she would die because of their unholiness.  Even the high priest only went in the Most Holy Place at the appointed time once a year to offer a sacrifice for the people.  The unholy could not approach the Holy.  The curtain was a reminder of that.

And this curtain was torn from top to bottom at the moment Christ died.

And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. — Mark 15:37-38

For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. — Hebrews 9:24-28

Now, through Christ’s death, the unholy can dare approach the Holy to seek forgiveness of sin.

Grief does not reign, but there was grief.  Christ knew that in talking to his disciples.  But He also knew that the grief that reigned in their hearts as they watched him die would be replaced by joy that could never be taken from them.

Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. — John 16:19-22

And so even while we remember the blood, the suffering, and the horror of Christ’s death — and remember that it was our sins that He bore, and for our sins that He died — we wonder at love that would sacrifice so much for people who are so undeserving.  And our hearts rejoice, because we remember that Easter followed.  And we persevere in hope because we know that Christ will come again, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrow, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned — every one — to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. — Isaiah 53:3-6

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. — 1 John 1:9