Sunday, April 28, 2013

Faith That Overcomes

There were several of them this week. Nights when Sleep wouldn't respond to me or my body, no matter how much we begged or pleaded for it to come near. Perhaps it stayed afar because it couldn't overcome the skirmishes of Worry battling Reason. Maybe it had turned it's back to me after I refused to succumb to it's sweet touch on my eyelids, because I pushed it aside to turn one more electronic page.

I rummaged through the sleep aids, trying to find the right combination to silence thoughts and invoke relaxation. Would the sleepy time tea coupled with a Bible verse or two do the trick? Or praying for missionaries while breathing deeply? Surely, meditating on the names of God while wearing the warm rice pack around my neck would fill me with peace.

Been there? Sometimes I can identify the struggle and other times there is no clue as to why Insomnia is winning. This week I was stressed with work concerns, an overactive conscience trying to make me bow to the enemy's accusations, and fear/worry about a relationship that wasn't cooperating with my wishes.

My faithful Father was always there. I felt his love and closeness in the sleeplessness. His gentle thoughts came as arrows piercing the worry, and his truth eventually stilled the roars of condemnation. By week's end, he was restoring my soul once again.

I love his methods of restoration as the week progressed. The gift of a long, refreshing night of sleep. A good strong cup of joe with girlfriends who know and yet still love me. A day of compliments, even over little things like the shoes I wore or the way I fixed my hair--I had to smile up at him at the end of that day and receive it as his pleasure over me. The morning I walked into the kitchen and found a chocolate candy bar on the counter with a love note from my husband.

The Saturday morning meeting felt like an intrusion on a perfectly sunny, finally, warm day of spring, but it ended up being another method he used to spread his banner of love over me. The overseer of our church was visiting and he shared a word on overcoming in our inner spaces. Why are we surprised when tests and trials come into our lives?  They are promised by this wise Father who knows they will make us stronger in faith as we learn to trust him and learn how to fight the enemy. He identified different kinds of trials and how knowing their sources will help us overcome.

Jesus learned obedience through suffering. We should expect to experience this tempering also. "It is important to understand that the purpose of chastening it to bring us back to the Lord, not to distance us from Him. In fact, chastening is actually a signal of His love for us. It can change us for the good and bring wisdom to us.  The problems we face are not always problems to be solved.  Some problems are God's way of teaching us. These are the dealings of God transforming us into the image of Christ."

"Here, then, is one of the great and precious truths about temptation. Temptation is not designed to make us fall. [It] is designed to make us stronger and better men and women. Temptation is not designed to make us sinners. It is designed to make us good.  We may fail in the test, but we are not meant to.  We are meant to emerge stronger and finer.  In one sense temptation is not so much the penalty of being a man; it is the glory of being a man." - William Barclay.

"No temptation has come your way that is too hard for flesh and blood to bear. But God can be trusted not to allow you to suffer any temptation beyond your powers of endurance. He will see to it that every temptation has a way out, so that it will never be impossible for you to bear it." 1Cor. 10:13.

Warfare with the devil:
"For our fight is not against any physical enemy: it is against organizations and powers that are spiritual. We are up against the unseen power that controls this dark world, and spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil". Eph. 6:12
God will give us wisdom to know when our struggle is demonic and how to do combat.

Wrestling with Self:
He used the passage in Romans 7 about how the apostle Paul describes the war he faced with battling his sinfulness within and striving to serve God. A wretched situation.  Our speaker said he once became angry that Paul asks the question, "Who will set me free?", without giving us an answer of what to do.  Then he saw the next phrase was the answer-"Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" The answer wasn't how, but Who. We allow Christ to change us and stay available to his work in us. Like an artist forming a vessel on the potter's wheel, we form to the pressure his thumbs in us.  Paul goes on to say that this battle of sinful desire versus God desire will always exist, but there is NO CONDEMNATION for believers! We focus on Him, He brings the change in us, and in the meantime we are free from blame or disapproval. How freeing to walk in His favor, no matter what.

Criticism. "We cannot expect those to approve of us whom we condemn by our testimony against their favorite sins."

Trials of Faith:
Doubts may be part of the process, to bring us to more faith. 

A new week has dawned.  Isn't it good to know that no matter what happens, our God will never leave us, and that his plans and purposes will prevail in us? In spite of our hurts, habits and hangups. In fact because of them, his glory can be displayed, as we are transformed by his Spirit within us.

You are so good to me, Daddy. I love you. Thank you for being patient with me and that your mercies are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Marriage Has No Mirage

All routes led to Tulsa.

The son of the mantra, "It will all work out, no worries", began the journey to the airport in Google Map time calculations, allowing no buffers for the ensuing traffic delays.  Fortunately,  he and his girl had a chauffeured commute so they could begin stripping belts and jackets enroute, hoping to shave off minutes from STA stringency.  Bolting from the car, as it braked at the terminal, they bounded O.J. style towards the front of any lines, now chanting, "Excuse me, please, my plane leaves in 10 minutes". No worries, they made the flight just before the planes' doors folded in behind them.

The daughter checked and rechecked luggage to make certain sippy cups were in their easy-to-reach pouches, enough outfits were packed per day and activity, hairspray and lotion were stationed in their proper zip-lock baggie, and little boys had enough distractions to keep them happy during flights and layovers. During one of the flights, stormy weather bounced their plane beyond her comfort level. With eyes closed and fists clenched, she had to smile as the excited four year old voice besides her exclaimed how this was "just like a fun roller coaster ride, mommy!"

The parents boarded two different trains to arrive in Chicago and then a direct flight to the Gathering in Tulsa. Weather issues delayed the flight by 90 minutes, making us the last members to arrive and missing the first meal together. But we were all safe and sound and together and prepared to get Son number one married and off to a new start of family.

As our nation tries to navigate through the tempestuous pathways surrounding and intersecting with the definition and understanding of marriage, witnessing Son and Woman declaring their intent to enter this sacred union was like standing on a street corner in a noisy hub of arguing traffic and shouting that our God is the same yesterday, today and forever and His word never changes. We came together to celebrate this mysterious merger, this divine design. This is how it is stated in Ephesians 5: 31&32:

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church."

This event was our purpose and focus for the Gathering, but there was more to add to the trip's delight. Son in Tulsa let all 8 of us travelers stay in his modest sized house with his two daughters. The abode bulged with bodies and bustle as we shared catching-up chats, played Uno with the youngest generation, dandled the daughter's 2 year old on our knee and watched out for the safety of Neo, the ever present Maltese, amidst all the shuffle. I was reminded of days gone by, when brothers were impatient with sister for hogging bathroom time with long showers, and the line up for phone use was as long as the cord it was attached to. All that practice of patience was now paying off, as adults graciously took short showers and shared the bathroom mirror. No more waiting for phones, however, as everyone using their personal cells for everything from trading addresses for GPS, to sharing goofy camera pictures, to taking turns in 'Words With Friends'.

Perhaps it was a taste of heaven, this family loving and togetherness. Though our dwellings there may be spacious mansions, our fellowship will be close and intimate. I want times of being squished close together on the sofa, of wrestling together, limbs entwined on the floor, and sitting elbow-to-elbow at the table tearing pieces off the same pound of shaved lunch meat.
To belly laugh at silly antics and talk above the music of guitars strumming with voices singing worship songs. (Son of 'no worries' serenaded us with just this kind of background sound).  But most of all we'll be with the One who brought us all together by his blood and sacrifice and the gaiety will reflect perfect love, fulfillment and joy for eternity! The Marriage we've all been preparing for and anticipating.

No matter what sets itself up to mimic this magnificent mystery, will then be exposed as only an impish imposter. 

Even so come, our Bridegroom!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Amazing Beauty

With feet propped up on the cute footstool, I surveyed the cozy room my friends and I were lounging in. From the repainted metal vase sprouting tasteful silk flowers on a wall, to the simple, elegant stenciling motif wrapping the room chair-rail height, I admired our hostess's  eye for beauty and balance.  Conversation perched briefly on frivolous topics or lurched into weightier matters like politics and world view.  Someone suggested we each share where in the world we'd like to visit,  if time and money were no concern.  Seeing more of the good 'ole USA was mentioned, as well as Australia and Nova Scotia.

I remembered the stirring I felt when viewing a video on Randy Alcorn's blog that week. My wishful resolve to see the wonder he had posted made my response to the travel question an easy answer.
Here's what the blog says about the Iguazu Falls:
Iguazu Falls

"The Iguazu Falls are located on the border between Brazil and Argentina and are on every list of natural wonders of the world. The word iguazu means “big water.” This is a colossal understatement. The Iguazu Falls contain 275 waterfalls along a mile and a half of the Iguazu River. They are stunning. Imagine seeing and hearing 20 Niagara Falls at once. Every second 400,000 gallons of water leap over the edge, sending mist 500 feet into the air. If you stand next to the falls, you feel like you are waterskiing behind a jet. Amazing. The Iguazu Falls provide an overwhelming experience. "

You can see a video of this awesome beauty of our Creator that so moved me here.

What else captivated me with it's beauty this week? Here's the list I came up with:

The silver blue eyes of a friend I sat across from last night
Sound of a bird's spring song
Faces of grandchildren who made a surprise visit to my work place
Colorful, fresh vegetables decorating the salad I made for lunch
A quiet, cozy spot in front of a sunny window in the library that beckoned me to sit and read (if only I could have complied!)
Strong breezes pushing me forward, then resisting me as I walked
A red ball of sun making it's entrance into the morning
Reading these words on the screen at church this morning--....staying right at the center of God's love, keeping your arms open and outstretched, ready for the mercy of our Master, Jesus Christ.  This is the unending life, the real life! Jude 21.

What beautiful things have you experienced lately? There are too many days where life feels rushed or harried and I miss the details of beauty. But we have an awesome Creator who has beauty-filled the world around us with breath-taking grandeur, in little things as well as big, and through all our senses as we live in His presence and love.

Thank you, thank you, Father.