Monday, August 26, 2013

The Bible Verse not for the Faint of Heart

Romans 8:28
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

I believe next to John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believed in him would have eternal life.”)  Romans 8:28 is the most important verse in the Bible.  If you can get this verse then many of the struggles that this world gives you can be endured.  It is the key to blooming where you are planted and the key to understanding many of life’s mysteries.  It is not for the faint of heart, though.  You need to be a mature Christian to really ‘get’ this verse, but oh when you do . . .  it can bring the greatest of comfort to your weary soul.

Let’s break this verse down, shall we?

“and we. . .”

Who is the ‘we’ in this passage?  All believers really.  Paul refers to “children of God” “those that live according to the Spirit” and “those who are in Christ Jesus.”  But this particular passage begins with “I consider our present suffering (18).” So Paul is talking specifically to those of us who have suffered.  For some time I believed that this was reserved for those that suffered for Christ, the persecuted, but now I am not so sure.  This passage doesn’t mention being persecuted in Christ, but only the general groaning that all of us, including creation, suffer because we are eagerly awaiting our redemption.  When I imagine this passage I can hear my groans and the creaks of my bones every time I get up from sitting for a long time.  There is a certain amount of pain and suffering that comes with living.  Then there are the special times of intense emotional or physical suffering that comes at particular times in every one’s life.  It is these moments that turning to this passage can provide the most comfort.

“. . .know. . .” 

We don’t think it or wish it.  We know with the certainty that goes well beyond our circumstances. During times of suffering it is important to define our circumstances by our faith, not the other way around. This is the true meaning of hope.  It is like Paul says earlier, “But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” 

“that God causes. . .”

It isn’t us, mere humans that do the work. We can’t make things work out by our own force of will.  We aren’t in control.  And isn’t this what suffering does?  It rips the thinly veiled façade of control right off of life until we are forced to admit that God is in control.  And who better to be in control than the creator and author of the universe, the one who knows all and can see how it can all work out for our good and His glory?

all things. . .”

Not some things, not good things, not the things we choose, but ALL things.  Even those things that we see as messy, confusing, even downright evil can be used for good.

“to work together. . .”

This reminds me of a huge jigsaw puzzle.  When you first start you have no idea on how things are going to work together to form anything resembling the picture on the box.  And in life, we don’t even have the picture on the box to go by either.  In fact, a lot of times I’m trying to fit the pieces of my life together to form this picture of what I think it should be.  The thing is God has something even more beautiful in mind, beyond anything we could even imagine.  It all just looks like unrelated pieces to my imperfect eyes.  I couldn’t even work it together if I wanted to.  Only God can because only he can see the final picture, the perfect picture of how we will appear when we finally meet him face to face.

“for good. . .”

This verse doesn’t say that everything that happens will be good, just that is will work together for good.  But how can the ugly painful, messy parts of our lives do that?  That is the beauty of God’s transformative power.  He took an ugly, shameful instrument of death, the cross, and transformed it into the greatest love letter of all time.  Don’t you think he can take whatever pain and suffering in our lives and transform it?  There is nothing that is beyond his power to use it for our good and His glory.

“for those that love God

It is so tempting to be bitter and angry when something bad happens in our lives.  But God is big enough to handle those feelings if we just hold on.  We are going to suffer any way, why waste it pushing God away?  He can give such comfort and joy to our hearts if we just let him. He loves us so much that he died for us.  He suffered for us and all he asks is that we allow Him to suffer with us, to comfort us.  After all We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).”

“to those that are called

A lot has been written about this simple work called.  Some believe they have been called to their ministry, their job, etc.  The word called reminds me to listen to God’s voice when making decisions, letting him guide me.  It reminds me of the verses that say that the sheep will know the sound of the master’s voice.  It is an intimate thing.  I only recognize the voices of those closest to me, the ones I’m used to hearing from and listening too.  I don’t ever want to go so long in not listening to God that I cease to recognize his voice, his leading.  In the toughest moments of my life I need to hear that voice even more.  In the storms of life, God’s voice still rings true; listen with your heart if your ears won’t.

“According to His purpose.”

Notice this doesn’t say for our purposes.  The things that happen in life aren’t to make us happy or content or peaceful.  They are to make us grow.  Grow to be more like Christ.  Grow to attract others to Christ and to give glory to Him.  Growth doesn’t happen if there isn’t any rain.  Strength doesn’t increase when there isn’t any wind.  The garden doesn’t bloom by us simply looking out the window.  We have to get our hands dirty. 

The greatest lessons of life are learned in the hardest moments of life.  This is where you learn how great God’s love is. This is where the dross is burned away to produce the most precious of metals.  This is where are all the pieces of life are brought together to form the “good,” the best really, that God wants to give us.  

Another part of the Bible puts it this way:  In Gen 50, Joseph says to his brothers

20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

Joseph suffered greatly in his life, but he was able to see how all the pieces fit together so that his whole nation was saved from famine.

I am sure that many would say that cancer is evil, and for all intents and purposes it is.  But what Satan wanted to use for evil, God intends for good.  Yes, even cancer can be used for my good and His glory.  I am here to tell you that you can praise God through anything.  I choose to thank him in advance for all the good he is going to do through even the most horrible of circumstances.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Beauty in the Ashes

I was struck on how beautiful the sunsets were when forest fires were burning on Mt. Charleston.  The sun shone through and infused its light through the smoke.  The stark contrast between the dark smoke and the bright sunshine brought out subtle colors in both. 

While it is true that the fire burned 25,000 acres and destroyed six buildings, apparently forest fires have benefits too.  According to “How Stuff Works” websites, “Forest fires are a natural and necessary part of the ecosystem. Even healthy forests contain dead trees and decaying plant matter; when a fire turns them to ashes, nutrients return to the soil instead of remaining captive in old vegetation.”  Like the beauty of the sun piercing through the smoke, the benefits of the fires break through from the destruction.

God’s love is like that.  There are events in our lives that seem destructive.  Maybe you are living in the dark days where God’s love does not seem to reach you.  The darkness that surrounds you seems to have no end and the fire of stress seems to be wreaking havoc in your life.

But it is the darkness of life that helps to set against the beauty of God’s love.  When focused on, it can light the air around you, bringing out the subtle beauty and depth of life.  What seems like destruction can remove what we think of as important so we can cultivate what is really important.

There is no doubt that this cancer has wreaked destruction in my life and on my body.  I carry the scars with me every day.  My chest looks like they took a big chunk with an ice cream scoop which essentially they did.  I’m not the wife, the mother, the teacher I would like to be whether that is because of exhaustion or side effects of chemo.

But if I focus on what God has taught me, on his love and provision, it colors all that with a subtle brightness that pierces the darkness. The darkness provides a depth to my life that I wouldn’t have otherwise.  Every day I am learning to focus on what is important—that my husband, my kids, know that I love them, that I continue to spread the message of praising God through all of my circumstances.  

In this life there will be fire, destruction, death.  But in the ashes there is beauty.  It doesn’t happen on its own. Only God has the power to pierce the darkness with His light, to clear the death and decay to produce life.  Only God has that power.  Will you let him work His glory?

2 Corinthians 1:8-9

New International Version (NIV)

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

God's Timing

I recently got good news.  The doctor says that my tumor has shrunk by at least 50% after just two chemo treatments.  I was ecstatic.  At the same time my doctor let me know that his other patient who is on the same drug has experienced a 70% reduction.  For just a split second I thought, “now why can’t I have 70%?” I quickly caught myself, knowing that was something akin to a $100,000 lottery patient wondering why they couldn’t have won $200,000.  Still ,I find myself getting impatient with my healing.  I know that it is all in God’s timing, though, so I am trying to trust in that—trust in Him.

God’s timing is perfect and I know that, still waiting is difficult to say the least.  I am sure that Joseph felt like that.  Here he was sold into slavery and yet he had prospered in Potiphar’s service.  Yet because of his integrity in not sleeping with Potiphar’s wife, he found himself in prison.  When he successfully interpreted the bakers and the cupbearer’s dreams he may have thought that this was his way out.  He had told the cupbearer to “remember me” when he was reinstated to his position with pharaoh.

The cupbearer didn’t remember him, however.  He was in jail another three years.  How long those three years would have seemed.  I think about that because I’ve had cancer for a little over three years now.  It is all about perspective however.  Three years in watching my children seems to go too fast.  Three years in studying for my Master’s seemed just long enough.  It depends what you are doing, what you are focusing on, what you are feeling.  Joseph must have kept his eyes on God.  He focused on his job as a leader in jail. He bloomed where he was planted.

I heard a fitting analogy.  We are not supposed to do anything while we are driving, but we all have done it—put on makeup, eaten a snack, put on jewelry, written a text.  We wait for a light and furiously try to accomplish as much as possible while the light is red.  Sometimes you laugh because you don’t seem to catch any of the lights. Your trip seems to fly by and maybe you don’t get done what you need to get done.  On the other hand, we all have been late for something and seem to catch every light and each light seem to be so long!  It is simply a matter of focus and perspective.  When you have a clear focus, the waiting doesn’t seem to be a difficult.

Waiting is never easy, but we need to trust God’s timing.  If the cupbearer had mentioned Joseph right away, Pharaoh would have forgotten about it since he had no need.   But three years later, when Pharaoh needed someone to interpret his dream, he called Joseph out of prison right away.  Joseph saved his whole family—in God’s timing. 

Trust in God’s timing.  Focus on Him and on doing his will in whatever your circumstance. Waiting is never easy, but it can be purposeful.  It can accomplish your maturity and God’s plans.  Bloom while you are waiting.

Isaiah 40:31
but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Are You Wrestling or Dancing?

Today was an awesome day!  Nothing could have ruined it because today, for the first Thursday for more than a year, I didn’t have chemotherapy.

Believe me that after the year I have had, I was tired.  Tired of feeling crappy and having to run to the bathroom.  Tired of not being able to take care of my family the way I think I should be able.  Tired of not sleeping at night because I felt so completely full of chemicals.  I felt bone tired, soul sucking, weary that no amount of sleep was ever going to make up for.

I appreciate the break from weekly chemo, but my war with cancer is far from over. Maybe you know how I feel because you too are experiencing a situation that you never wanted and you never imagined you’d ever be suffering.  Maybe it involves physical pain, but emotional pain can be just as, if not more, draining. And sometimes there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.

There is that famous saying that there is “no rest for the weary.”  But I believe there is.  The Lord said that “his burden was light” (Matt. 11:30) and that “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  (Matt.  11:28)  Sometimes God alleviates the problem at the very moment we fall to our knees in prayer, but often times nothing about our circumstances change. So how do we find this rest?

The first step is the beginning of the Matthew 11:30 quote from above. Jesus says “my yoke is easy. . .” We must yoke ourselves with Jesus. We do this by taking our cares to Him in prayer, even if that is simply “Jesus, please help.”  We are then like two beasts of burden carrying our load together.  But it is even better, because Jesus is so much stronger than us.  He takes most of the load while the yoke allows us to share that strength and remain standing. Jesus will carry our burden so that we can find rest.

The second step is releasing the needless struggle against what is happening.  We can ask “Why me?”  all day long and I do think there is benefit in the asking (I’ll write about that at another time) but don’t expect any answer to be satisfying in the midst of the pain.  God is the author of the universe and so much higher than us, I don’t think the answer would even make sense.  Instead, focus on the blessings that you already have. The pain of our circumstances may be hiding these gifts--everlasting life and love, a hope and a future. There is refreshing and rest in the remembering of these gifts and having a heart of gratitude. We don’t need to struggle against God’s will for our lives because he knows what is best.  Our circumstances might get better or worse, but God never changes. We can't base our joy on the vagaries of life.  God is good, no matter what happens to us and looking at our lives through those God colored glasses will refresh our souls.

I am reminded of Jacob wrestling with God.  After wrestling all night long, Jacob said to God “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”  How silly a statement in the light of the fact that Jacob had already been blessed by God more than twenty years before.  But maybe he didn’t know it was God?  He did ask the man, “Tell me your name?”  But the man didn’t reply and still Jacob called the place Peniel because he saw God face to face there.  Jacob knew it was God and he knew he had been blessed but it took his hip being wrenched from the socket for him to stop and really encounter God face to face.  When God is all we have, then we know He is all we need.
Instead of struggling with God over why you are in pain, why not dance with Him?  The difference?  Who is in the lead?

Psalm 62:5
Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Every Seed Must Die

So here I am again, facing another challenge in my health.  I found a new lump and so next week, after getting my regular eight week CT, my doctor and I will decide how to proceed.  People have expressed their sympathy and asked how I am.  I reply that I am perfectly at peace about this.  Really, I am.  I am more at peace about this than anything else in my life.  I put up a stink about all the petty inconveniences of this life and the many vagaries of everyday living, but about this I am perfectly at peace.  Why you ask?  The Almighty Father still sits on his throne and I relinquish my life to his most capable hands.

How have I gotten to this point?  Kicking and screaming, I must confess.  You see, every struggle is an opportunity to die to self, which is a necessary prerequisite to growth.  It is one of life’s many ironies that life requires death, but then life in Christ means accepting the greatest ironies of all time—that an ugly instrument of death, the cross, brings abundant life. 

Christ makes this truth perfectly clear in John 12:24–25, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”    Before a plant can grow, the seed gives its life, breaking apart to bring forth life.   Our self must die, that is we must give up our self-will, before God can bring forth life.  

What makes a struggle a struggle is that our will is desperately pulling in one direction in opposition to what God wants.  If it weren’t, then it wouldn’t be called a struggle.  The more we try to assert self will, the more struggle there is.  Which is not to say that even if we totally surrender, there isn’t pain.  No, one of the most basic of all truths is that dying hurts.

Sometimes that growth takes a long time.  It is at this time that we must trust that God is faithful to our sacrifices and growth will happen in his due time.  Scientists have found long dormant seeds that are capable of growth if given the right environment, some as old as 10,000 years.*   Those favorable conditions, of course, are abiding in Christ’s love (the sun) and the Word (water).  Then in his timing (Ah, there is the rub) growth will happen. 

It is very difficult, however, to wait on the Lord.  But his timing is not ours.  He has all of eternity as his battlefield.  (I know I am mixing metaphors here).  Whereas we would go for the quickest route to victory, God knows that quick doesn’t always bring success.  It may gain us some ground in the short run, but doesn’t always bring victory in the end.  Victory involves our maturity into people that resemble Jesus Christ and this takes time.   And make no mistake; it is only through God that victory is achieved.  Psalm 44:3 says:

It was not by their sword that they won the land,
    nor did their arm bring them victory;
it was your right hand, your arm,
    and the light of your face, for you loved them.

What is our reward for victory (besides growth into maturity)?  Besides the peace and comfort that comes from the father throughout the struggle, which I have written of at great length, there is the victory we will experience in heaven when he says to us “Good and faithful servant” (Matt 25:21) and we get our jewels in our crowns. (Ps 149:4).

We will also experience rest.  Mathew 11: 28 says: 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  The yoke here is the Cross (Luke 9:23).   The cross is where Christ denied his will for the sake of the Father’s will unto death.  We too are asked to deny ourselves and take up our cross.  That cross is different for everybody, but ultimately it is the point where our will clashes the most with God’s will for our lives.  Mine happens to be Cancer.  I have had my own garden of Gethsemane where I prayed for this cup to be taken from me. Still, I know it will also be my greatest source of victory!  When you come to this realization it is such a place of freedom and joy that you get to experience victory even in the midst of your struggle.  This is truly blooming where you are planted!

So every struggle, no matter how small or large, is on opportunity to die to self.  We should ask,  “What is God’s will in this?” and “What do I need to learn from this?” and trust that, in the long run, the Lord will use every opportunity to bring Good to us. 

Romans 8:28

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

The perfect picture of this is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. I like the account in Luke because it highlights his anguish so well:

Luke 22:41-43

41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

Jesus, the perfect Son of God, was in so much anguish that he sweated blood!  Dying to self doesn’t come naturally and is not without struggle.  We must give ourselves some slack if we don’t at first react with gentle submission. 

But there are some things to remember in this passage.  First, an angel from heaven appeared to him to strengthen him.  In the same way, God will provide us strength to endure the struggle and to relinquish our will.  It is, again, irony that it takes great strength to give up, but here it is.

Second, the struggle caused Jesus to pray more earnestly.  When we experience struggle, we must step up the prayers in a fierce way.   It is on our knees that we are closest to the altar.   It is on our knees that we are strongest.   Dear friends, join me in praying:

I am the seed, oh Lord,
In Love, Press me to you
so that I may die,
That in that dance
 my shell of a heart may break,
to be born again
in the green growing of life in you.

Ephesians 3: 16-19

16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

 *Taylor, Joanne. Seeds for success, Pt. 2: A seed must die before it grows.”  13 April 2010.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

What We Can Learn from Moths (yuck!)

I can’t stand moths.  To be more precise, I am deathly afraid of them.  They are hairy and can fly into your hair.  Let just say I wasn’t the same after Silence of the Lambs.

Still, if I can get past the heebie jeebies, there is a lot I can learn from the moth.

Legend has it that the Chinese empress Leizu discovered silk when some moths were eating her mulberry trees.  She was probably pretty annoyed by this problem.  She decided to sit down to tea to consider how this was to be solved.  As she sat pondering, one of cocoons fell into her cup.  The heat of tea unraveled the cocoon to produce a long thread.  She soon realized that this thread could be woven into cloth.  Out of this seeming problem came one of the most valuable and beautiful materials in all the world, silk.

Your circumstances right now may seem troublesome.  You didn’t ask for the situation and you are praying desperately for it to end.  Keep in mind, God uses those situations to draw you near and teach you about his character.  He is the God of miracles.  You can’t learn that when everything is going well.  Instead of looking at your circumstances as a problem, try to see that God is weaving something beautiful.  Thank him that he has trusted you with the glorious revelation of himself.  He trusts you to discover the beauty in the circumstances. 

Notice that the silk wasn’t discovered until it was exposed to heat of the tea.  Tough circumstance may make you feel like you are in hot water and it certainly doesn’t feel good.  It is through these circumstances, however, that your character is revealed.  They also allow God to demonstrate his power to transform even the most trying situations into his glory.  The heat of life produces the beauty of life.

It is significant that this beauty comes from the stage of a moth’s life that is one of radical transformation.  God matures us through trying circumstances until we are transformed into someone more like Christ.  It isn’t pretty and it involves a lot of struggle just like coming out of a cocoon does. 

Watching a moth or butterfly emerge from a cocoon you witness the struggle they go through to come out.  You may be tempted to help it along by opening up the cocoon so the moth finds it easier to emerge.  The struggle, however, strengthens its wings.  Helping it along may prevent it from flying.

You may be praying for your situation to end, but know that it will last long enough for you to strengthen your wings.  Trust in God’s timing.  You will find that you will emerge to fly among God’s glory.  It isn’t pretty and it is a struggle but in the end it is worth it to be able to fly.

Psalm 90
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
    that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
    for as many years as we have seen trouble.
16 May your deeds be shown to your servants,
    your splendor to their children.

2 Corinthians 4:17 

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.