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

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

 

Tombstones, Life, and Ambitions: A New Year’s Post

It’s not about the numbers chiseled in concrete, it’s how you lived your life in the dash between. — Scotty McCreery, The Dash

Tombstones, life, and ambitions. This time of year, and this day in particular, people seem to think and act on these ideas more than usual.

Tombstones 

Anyone listening to the news or on social media could list numerous people who died this year.  Influential authors, singers, musicians, actors, politicians, theologians, missionaries. When news like this breaks, many are quick to bemoan the year — whether in jest or sincerity of hopelessness. “2016, what gives?” “Come on, 2016!” I haven’t spent the time to investigate the rumors of the GoFundMe set up to help Betty White survive 2016.

As if a calendar year could control who lives or dies.

I’m not trying to be insensitive.  On a personal note, this year death was — as always — very real in my life and the lives of my friends and family.  I went to more funerals than weddings this year. And there were even more that I was not able to attend.

Maybe this year-end reflection needs a new angle. Taking another look at 2016, perhaps a year so full of death is also a merciful reminder that life must end one day, and there is no way to tell how many years that dash on the tombstone will cover. It’s a merciful reminder, because left on my own, I would not remember to look to the end.

Life and Ambitions

While cheerily waving this year away, we greet 2017 with hope.  Hope that life goes on. Hope that life gets better.  Hope that we could change someone else’s life for the better. We set new ambitions.  How will we get better? How will we improve? Where will we make our impact?

What are your goals? I started setting mine this week and preparing to put them in practice (I won’t say what they are, but they might involve organization and simplicity… and the mortgage). For others who can be task oriented (like me… sometimes), the focus can be on do, do, do. The more I think about it, doing must go hand-and-hand with being.  As a result, with the new year approaching, I find a question growing more in my mind:

What kind of people ought you to be? 2 Peter 3:11

Just let that question ring into the silence and feel its impact.

What kind of people ought you to be?

Peter’s context here is the end of all time, not just 2016. Year-endings are a reminder of the greater ending to come, so this verse, to me, is also a poignant question for each New Year.

This rhetorical question is quickly answered within the same verse:

You ought to live holy and godly lives…

This is not a call to live a kind life or a good life, but to live a life sacred to God, in piety, or reverence and duty, towards him.  This is εὐσέβεια (yoo-seb’-i-ah), which has promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come (1 Timothy 4:8), and which has power inherent in it (2 Timothy 3:5).

So, part of my prayer for the new year is that I have the ambition to lead a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness. That I trust that God has given me everything pertaining to life and godliness.  That I don’t lose sight of the call to be holy because my LORD God is holy. That I don’t forget that by abiding in Him I can bear the fruit of godliness, and much of it.

In the words of Francis Chan,

The world is not moved by love or actions that are of human creation. And the church is not empowered to live differently from any other gathering of people without the Holy Spirit. But when believers live in the power of the Spirit, the evidence in their lives is supernatural. The church cannot help but be different, and the world cannot help but notice.

Happy New Year!

 

 

 

Saturday Song: Glorious Impossible

“How will this be,” she asked.

“Who then can be saved?”

Impossible…That’s what we would say.  Impossible that a virgin should give birth to a son. Impossible that God would take on human flesh and come to walk on the earth He created. Impossible for the dead to live again.

“With man it is impossible, but not with God.  For all things are possible with God.”

Even today, God makes the impossible a reality.  “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” So, it is by grace we are saved, through faith, which is a gift of God and not our own doing.

Glorious impossible made possible with God.

Glorious Impossible:

See the virgin is delivered / In a cold and crowded stall / Mirror of the Father’s glory / Lies beside her in the straw

He is mercy’s incarnation / Marvel at this miracle / For the virgin gently holds the / Glorious impossible

Love has come to walk on water / Turn the water into wine / Touch the leper, bless the children / Love both human and divine

Praise the wisdom of the Father / Who has spoken through His Son / Speaking still, He calls us to the / Glorious impossible

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah / Glorious impossible Glorious impossible

He was bruised for our transgressions / And He bears eternal scars / He was raised for our salvation / And His righteousness is ours

Praise, oh, praise Him, praise the glory / Of this lavish grace so full / Lift your souls now and receive the / Glorious impossible

To love with all

Fall break means more time for reading!  This week I started Dr. Helen Roseveare’s book ‘Living Sacrifice’.  In the preface, Dr. Roseveare expounds on what it means to be “a living sacrifice” (Romans 12) and show love for God (John 14:21). At the end, she writes thoughtfully about what it means to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

To love the Lord my God with all my heart will involve a spiritual cost. I’ll have to give him my heart, and let Him love through it whom and how He wills, even if this seems at times to break my heart.

To love the Lord my God with all my soul will involve a volitional and emotional cost.  I’ll have to give Him my will, my rights to decide and choose, and all my relationships, for Him to guide and control, even when I cannot understand His reasoning.

To love the Lord my God with all my mind will involve an intellectual cost.  I mist give Him my mind, my intelligence, my reasoning powers, and trust Him to work through them, even when He may appear to act in contradiction to common sense.

To love the Lord my God with all my strength will involve a physical cost.  I must give Him my body to indwell, and through which to speak, whether He chooses by health or sickness, by strength or weakness, and trust Him utterly with the outcome.

The sum of these apparent costs… could be considered as the sacrifice that I am invited to offer Him as the response of my whole being to His love for me in that one “full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.” (pgs. 27-28

How counter this seems to our culture that places emphasis on seeking personal fulfillment, satisfaction, and joy, whether they be in relationships, jobs, or even the church.  This is also contrary to our too highly prized personal autonomy, even where God is concerned.

Dr. Roseveare’s writing prompted me to asked some questions to examine how I view and live out the call to love with Lord my God with all:

1.) How have I loved the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength in the past?

2.) How am I loving the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength in the present?

3.) In what areas am I unwilling to love the Lord my God with my all? Is God calling me to sacrifice my affections to be obedient to Him?

4.) How do I see others loving the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength? How can I encourage them in that?

5.) Am I putting my sacrifices in perspective by meditating on the great love of the Lord my God abundantly displayed on the cross and throughout my life?  Do I consider it a privilege to share in Christ’s sufferings? Do I consider the sacrifice not worth comparing to the weight of glory waiting for me?

Feeding my Mind

2016/07/img_5719.jpg

 

1 Truly God is good to Israel,
    to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
    my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
    when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

For they have no pangs until death;
    their bodies are fat and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are;
    they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
    violence covers them as a garment.
Their eyes swell out through fatness;
    their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice;
    loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against the heavens,
    and their tongue struts through the earth.
10 Therefore his people turn back to them,
    and find no fault in them.[a]
11 And they say, “How can God know?
    Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12 Behold, these are the wicked;
    always at ease, they increase in riches.
13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean
    and washed my hands in innocence.
14 For all the day long I have been stricken
    and rebuked every morning.
15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
    I would have betrayed the generation of your children.

16 But when I thought how to understand this,
    it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
    then I discerned their end.

18 Truly you set them in slippery places;
    you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment,
    swept away utterly by terrors!
20 Like a dream when one awakes,
    O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
21 When my soul was embittered,
    when I was pricked in heart,
22 I was brutish and ignorant;
    I was like a beast toward you.

23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
    you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
    you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God;
    I have made the Lord God my refuge,
    that I may tell of all your works.

Psalm 73

The Heart of a Single Woman’s Home: Lies and the Truth (blog series part 2 of 8)

As I mentioned in the introduction post (read here) of this series on the heart of a single woman’s home, several lies about myself as a woman and as a homemaker wreaked havoc on my heart.  These lies still tend to rear their ugly heads now and again, but by the grace of God, I am not overcome by them. It is not as if I never struggle now, nor that I don’t foresee struggling in the future, but that God is faithful.

One lie I took to heart was that I was not attaining full womanhood because I was unmarried and childless.  I felt others believed it about me as well.  The second lie was that any home-making on my part would just be an imitation of “real” home-making.  You see, I was the fairly conservative good girl growing up. I had my hope chest and learned how to cook, sew, clean, and decorate, yet I felt there was this cultural “rite of passage” into womanhood that I couldn’t achieve, both in secular culture and Christian culture.  I had an idealistic picture in my head of what my homemaking should look like.  Being single and bouncing around apartments every 5 or 3 or 6 or 11 months didn’t fit anywhere in that picture.

I began to believe I had been given second best. I grew to resent doing the “manly” tasks out of necessity.  I felt overwhelmed with balancing a heavy teaching load that followed me home, maintaining a home, running errands, paying bills, and finding time for ministry. I felt that I was viewed as living in roommate limbo-land, not reaching full maturity until I had a family of my own.  I questioned whether my work in the home was legitimate since I wasn’t engaging in the sanctifying work of submitting to a husband and raising children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.  I heard testimonies time and again that being a wife and mother was the most sanctifying experience these ladies had encountered. Being a wife and mother was simultaneously the hardest thing they had done, and also the most beautiful and fulfilling.  A married woman could live out the beautiful reflection of the Gospel with her husband. I didn’t hear anyone say that about singleness.  I felt left out of that element of beauty, that witness, that sanctification.  I began to wonder if my witness and sanctification were second best as well.

The truth is that I was prideful and jealous. I was comparing my reality with the romanticized versions in my head and on social media. I really wrestled with Pinterest and wanted to make my home look perfect in an attempt to validate my efforts in home-making.  I was confusing homemaking with a product that looked like a well-laid out home with good recipes, cleaning know-how, and hospitality tips. Nothing is wrong with any of those things, but the truth is that the validation of my work in the home needs to come from God.  In this way, I am freed from worrying how popular culture or Christian culture viewed me or my home.  I have the ammunition I need to fight from alternating between “If only there were a man here who could do this” to “forget men, I can do this myself” to “but don’t appear too self-sufficient because that might scare them away” to “I don’t think I can do this after all”.

Here is an example of God showing Himself in the midst of one of those times from a journal entry dated 6/11/14, the almost 1-year anniversary of living in my own house:

“Tonight I find myself guilty of great sin. Yet, I also find my great God forgives, gently instructs, and breaks my proud heart with such kindness that I find any tears of remorse must find themselves equally mixed with tears of happiness in my Lord’s goodness. What is my crime?  I have not believed God’s works kind; I have doubted His faithful words that he hears my desires and fills them; I have willfully neglected the truth that I am one whose face need not be covered in shame.  I have instead chosen to dwell in my discontent on the idea that the life and work God has given and the blessings He has bestowed are not good. I have worried in mortification over them instead of rejoicing and delighting with thanksgiving.  But praise God that he has given me His Word to read freely.  His Spirit, instead of shunning me, stays to faithfully convict and then comfort my heart.

“The Lord is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works. The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.  The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.  The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on Him in truth.  He fulfills the desire of those who fear him, he also hears their cry and saves them. Psalm 145:13b-21

“And as if that were not enough – God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every  good work. 2 Cor. 9:8”

Through her writings, Helen Roseveare, a single missionary to Africa has encouraged me in the sanctification that comes from serving God as a single woman. She wrote about one similar encounter with God in her book, Give Me This Mountain:

‘You are doing this work for me, and I have seen all you have poured in, of heart and soul; I know.’ So He breathed peace into my striving heart – the same old message, but ever new.

Another deep truth I have learnt, and one we can all cling to, is that God is personally interested in us as individuals and that He will engineer our circumstances and daily lives so that He can thereby make us like Jesus… through them, we may be drawn closer to Himself.

Therefore He showed me, with a gentle smile, a smile of reproof perhaps, that I had taken so long to learn, a smile of deep love that I truly wanted to learn, that I was ‘acceptable with God,’ and this could only mean that I was in the centre of his will.  Certainly this could be no ‘second-best’.

I have come to realize that making a home looks different for me than for others – even other single women.  In His great goodness, God is the designer of all and is pleased with the faithful, trusting obedience of His children whether he has called them to singleness or marriage.  The Father of Lights, who gives good gifts, does not give second best.  His will is good, pleasing, and perfect.

Those who look to Him are radiant, their faces are never covered with shame. Psalm 34:5

(Up next: Some examples of what different aspects of home-making have looked like in my life and what God has taught me through them.  First on the list: time and money.)