Friday, November 21, 2014

The Anchor in the Storm

All of us have experienced storms in our lives.  We expect them.  It is just a fact of life.  Jesus even warned we would have them: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b)

It is no wonder that many of the most memorable stories in the Bible involve storms.  There is the flood, of course.  Peter walking on water.  Paul’s shipwreck. 

One of my favorites is when a sudden storm arises as Jesus was in a boat with the disciples.  As the disciples are running around in a panic, screaming, “Lord, save us!”  What is Jesus doing?  Sleeping! 

Does it seem that Jesus is doing nothing to calm your storm despite you calling out “Lord, save me!”?  Maybe it is because he is sleeping, perfectly at peace, and maybe he wants you to do the same.  When Jesus awoke he chastised the disciples for having little faith.  Perhaps if they had had more faith they too could have slept calmly as the storm raged around them.  (Matt 8:23-27)

Often times when we are in the midst of a storm we just pray for it to pass.  Perhaps though there is something that the lord wants to teach us, a way he would like to grow our faith, which he cannot do with calm skies. Jesus can calm the storm or he can calm the storm in us so that we can rest in his loving arms despite what may be happening around us.  Which is the greater miracle? 

In the storms of life what we need is an anchor to hold us fast in the buffeting seas. That anchor is Jesus Christ.  If you hold fast to Him there is no storm that you cannot weather.  More than weather it—you can sleep!  

19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf.
Hebrew 6:19-20

Friday, November 14, 2014

Shine Like the Gem You Are

I am going to break from my usual metaphor of gardening and go with another one this week—gemstones.

Raw gemstones are nothing special to look at.  They are grey and dull and lifeless.  It is not until they get into the hands of a master cutter that the beauty and value of a gemstone is revealed.

One of the values of a gemstone is in the cut.  The cut is what produces the facets on the surface of a stone and the facets are what reflect the light that makes the gem sparkle.  This is where the master cutter comes in.  The facets have to be just right—too steep or too shallow and there will be no reflection and so no sparkle.

Believers are like those gems.  Without God, we are nothing special—we are dull and lifeless.  In fact, we are dead!  God is the master cutter—grinding and polishing until we sparkle with his light.  That light doesn’t originate with us but instead comes from the Father and reflects off our character, a character that is produced by the many experiences that God has allowed in our lives.

Sound like a beautiful process, right?  It is but only if you focus on the end product-- the precious gemstone. The key words in the process are grinding and cutting, both painful processes.  Some of the most transforming of experiences in our lives are painful, but God orchestrated them in such a masterful and specific way as to produce groves and facets in our lives.  Those facets are what the light of God reflects off of to produce His glory.  Without God’s masterful hands, painful experiences would produce groves in our lives that are either too shallow or too deep to reflect God’s light and so do not glorify God, as they should. We would remain ugly, dull and lifeless.

Romans 5:3-5Not only so, but we[a] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Another aspect of value and beauty in gemstones is color.  Color is based on the atomic structure of a gem that either reflects or absorbs light.  Sometimes other elements are introduced into the atomic structure of a natural gemstone and so produce a unique and sometimes rare and thus valuable color.  These are considered ‘impurities’ and can actually be very minor manipulations in the atomic structure of the gem (as few as one in a million atoms) but can produce very dramatic results.

Our character is created by God and is intrinsic to us.  God introduces elements into our personalities that produce our uniqueness.  These may be considered impurities to some, but in God’s masterful hands they can produce our unique nature that can be used to add beauty to the world.  None of these elements are accidental.  We should accept are so called ‘impurities’ as gifts from God and use them to bring glory to God. We are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).

My hope is that you recognize that you are God’s gem, his treasure and that by recognizing that you can allow God to work in your life so that His glory, shines.  

Ephesians 2:10
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Why it is O.K. to be angry at God

I have experienced a great deal of anger in life—betrayal by friends, domestic squabbles, uncooperative kids.  But recently I have experienced a type of anger I have never experienced before and hoped I never would.  As write this, it is with a great deal of guilt—

Hello my name is Ellen and I am angry at God.

In ten days I will have had cancer for five years.  Many of the people who were diagnosed at the same time are celebrating being free from cancer.  Five years with cancer is a milestone, something indeed to be celebrated.  I too am a survivor, but one that is still in the fight.  I too will be celebrating life but it will be tinged with sadness and weariness.  Weary communicates so much more than tired.  It is a tired felt in the body, mind and soul.  and yes, I am angry.

At the beginning of this week I got a stomach virus that had me throwing up.  There should be a rule that you shouldn’t have to suffer petty illnesses when you have cancer.  I know, though, that because of a weakened immune system that the opposite is true.   On the bright side I did lose ten pounds.  Frankly I am weary of looking at the bright side.  There is that word again.  Weary is the tired side of anger.

The illness came after the mountain top experience of attending a Christian Writer’s Bootcamp.  What an amazing three day.  I learned so much my head hurt.  God in his graciousness allowed me a three days of less pain and bleeding.  I am grateful for that.  Really I am, but then when I came back to apply what I learned, I slammed into the valley.  Again, anger reared its ugly head.

Everyone tells me I have a right to my anger. That I have been through a lot in the past five years. But part of me feels like I don’t, that He is the God almighty and He has given me so much.  I’ve felt God’s presence all through my ordeal and He has provided in wondrous ways.

I recognize all that, but there are times, in the midst of throwing up or bleeding through my clothes, I think “Why would he allow this to happen when I just want to serve Him?”  I had to cancel teaching the Bible.  I was crying with pain at church. I have reconciled the why of the cancer as a whole.  It is when the bad is so bad that I question those moments, that pain. I am weary of feeling the pain. 

Then I gain back some of my energy and I that weariness turns to anger.  Then I feel guilt.  But should I?

At least being angry means that I am acknowledging God’s hand in my life, even if I don’t like it; I am acknowledging his sovereignty in the situation and his power to stop it.  And He already knows what I am feeling anyway.

The Psalms are full of every emotion imaginable—including anger.  What I get from that is God is bigger than the vagaries of our emotion. That he can take what we throw up on Him.  He is God almighty and created us as emotional beings.  We are his children—full of love one moment, anger the next. Who among us hasn’t experienced a tantrum or two even from the best of kids? The key is that we remain children of God and we take our anger to Him. Honestly. Broken. Willing to have Him heal us, put us back together.

So go ahead.  Be angry.  God can take it.

Psalm 22[a]

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest.[b]

3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
    you are the one Israel praises.[c]
4 In you our ancestors put their trust;
    they trusted and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried out and were saved;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

6 But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned by everyone, despised by the people.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Root of Blooming

Here I am almost five years later and I am still dealing with cancer.  I certainly didn’t expect this to be the life I’d be living—dealing with multiple recurring tumors that give me intense pain some days. Locally advance cancer they call it.  I can’t even find anyone on the Internet with my same situation.  I pride myself on being unique but this is one situation where I would love to be boring. 

I often have people say that I have a wonderful attitude.  Part of it is that they don’t see in my dark time, alone, often late at night, sleepless, wondering about my future.  Or times when my emotions hit me out of nowhere.  I watched my daughter’s fifth grade graduation and suddenly burst into tears, crying out in my heart “Please, God, let me be alive to see her high school graduation!”

But I do think I have a good attitude.  It really isn’t me after all; God gives me the strength and courage to face tomorrow with hope and a bright outlook.  I truly believe that “ I can do all this through him who gives me strength. “ (Phil. 4:13).

But having that hope does take faith.  Faith, after all, is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Heb. 1:1) I don’t always see that hope, I don’t always feel Gods love.  But I know that it is there.

That is the root of blooming where you are planted.  The first step, the only essential step, is to believe, no matter what, that God still loves you.  We are told we are going to have trouble in this world.  It is just a reality, a by-product of having a heartbeat. But we have a life because God loves us.  Having problems, suffering, doesn’t mean God doesn’t love us.  Suffering is just an opportunity for us to grow and to feel God’s loving arms around us.  When life is going fine I have a tendency to chug along, not paying attention to God’s presence.  But in times of suffering I can feel him there and see evidence of him working.   That is a blessing, my friend. 

As long as you understand and believe that God loves you then you can have the strength to get through anything.  In your darkest moments just repeat “God loves me.”  Breathe it in, breathe it out.  Live it.  Hear it in your heartbeat.  Plant it in the ground and watch it bloom. 

1 John 4:8New International Version (NIV)
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.