Friday, November 13, 2009

Crossroads.

Well.  I made my decision.  (Or rather, I suppose the Lord finally chose to reveal the path He would have me take.)  I've sought out advice, listened to counsel, and (hopefully) received instruction.  I've dragged my stubbornness, my anguish, my wayward will before His throne and left it at His feet every morning, every night -- nearly every waking moment these past two weeks.

He spoke.  He spoke through the voices of people who loved me and knew what I was going through.  He spoke through the words of those who had no idea what I was going through, but who had wisdom to share anyway.  He spoke through the books I read.  The Bible I lost myself in.  The prayers that I prayed and the silences I forced myself to endure.  The journal entries I made myself write when all I wanted to do was run (and keep running).  He spoke through tears and disappointments.  Through anguished thoughts and sleepless nights.  He spoke through the decisions of others.  But most importantly, He spoke -- and I finally chose to listen.

So now, everything is in order and I am tired.  Nervous.  Bracing myself.  Not really ready for tomorrow.  I've been asked to do a very hard thing -- to handle a situation I never wanted to face (and certainly never reckoned for) -- but my God will go before me.  And if He is for us, who can be against us?

I don't want it.  I don't want this responsibility.  I don't want to hear myself mouth words that I only mean because I know they're right.  But tomorrow, I will speak those words, I will surrender my will only because, through God's grace, I've finally acknowledged that He will use this situation for good -- for His glory.

His way is always best.

Someone gave me a quote today.  I've read it a lot.  It makes sense -- and I trust the wisdom of it, even though I can't feel it right now.  "God never takes away anything that He doesn't replace with Himself." (Jacquelyn K. Heasley)  My Savior is all -- and "fillest all in all".

Courage to all you who stand at a crossroads.  Choose our Savior -- and His way first -- for even through the valley of the shadow of death, He will lead you.  His right hand will hold you fast.  And in the end, His glory will be your everlasting reward!  Is it worth it?  Yes, yes, and amen!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Two Masters.


It's a dreary, rainy day, tacked onto the end of a vicious windstorm.  I fell asleep to the sound of the wind rattling the house, shaking the brittle trees -- and the noise of the rain, pounding against the roof, splashing at the windows.  When I looked out the window this morning, the ground was plastered with wet leaves.  The trees are nearly bare.  Winter is coming.  And soon, this year will be over.  I'm ready for the seasons to be made new again.

I've been plodding away, working on several blog posts simultaneously these past few weeks.  (It's a good thing you can't see all the drafts I have, lurking in my "Edit Posts" folder.  It's shameful.)  But I'm feeling so terribly distracted these days.  I meant to publish part two of my previous post today, but I can't stay focused for more than a few minutes at a time.

You know how it is when you're faced with a big decision?  It's the only thing you can think about.  It plays over and over in your mind.  You can barely sleep.  When you dream, it's all you dream about.  It's all people ask you about.  It's all God speaks to you about.  And, knowing what you should do, and knowing what you want to do, leaves a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach.  Because soon, you'll have to choose.  "Choose ye this day whom ye will serve...."

And I cringe.  It would be so tantalizingly easy to do the wrong thing.

A friend of mine recently told me that you can't serve two masters -- if you desire something more than you desire God, you end up resenting God.  And oh, how true that is!  So often, over the past few weeks, I've felt myself at the edges of resentment towards God for that very reason -- I'm not willing to give myself (and every area of my life) completely to Him.  Instead, I argue with Him:  "Why did you have to bring this to my attention right now?"  "Why did you have to make me unsettled about this?"  "If things had to end up this way, why couldn't you have revealed it all months ago?"  "How could you let me go so far?"

Humans arguments, I can answer.  I can speak and minds can change.  I can even lie to myself for a time.  But I can't hide or contend with the unsettledness in my heart.  The lack of peace.  When I pray, it's there.  I still don't want to make any decisions.  But I must.

That's where I am right now.  Soon, it'll be over.  The decisions will be finalized and maybe peace will come again, but for now, I'm losing all my focus for daily tasks.  There are things to write -- deadlines to meet -- work to get done -- and I'm stuck here in this slough of turmoil.

In moments like these, it's almost embarrassing to remember that God always comes through -- that He works all things together for good (His good, mind you.  Not always our initial perception of what it is good.  But in time, He makes His good, our good, through His grace).  When I look at my narrow-minded, stubborn, willful self....it's disgusting, the way I've often lost focus.  God already promised to lead me in a straight path if only I trust in Him.  He already promised to give me wisdom if I ask for it.  He already promised to take my cares if I cast them on Him.  So why this doubting?  Why this refusal to surrender my will to His?

Two masters.  I've tried to serve them both, keep them both happy.  And in doing so, I have honored no one.

Dear readers, pray for wisdom every day.  And when you feel that nudge at your heart, that twinge of conscience, that unsettledness in your spirit....listen.  Life is too short to serve two masters.  Decide where your allegiance lies, and spend your life proving it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Forgive Often, Trust Once?

I never thought I had an issue with forgiveness.  (I mean, I don't hold grudges, if that counts.)  But, this past week, I realized that, while I'll forgive many times, I usually only trust once.  And once I stop trusting someone, it's nearly impossible to trust them again.

Under what circumstances is reinstated trust a wise thing?

The girl's Bible study that I attend is currently going through the book of Romans -- and for starters, we reviewed a bit of Paul's (then Saul) history.  Saul grew up in a Jewish family and belonged to a strict sect known as the Pharisees.  As he grew, he became a zealous leader of those determined to exterminate Christianity.  He was so zealous, in fact, that he was responsible for the brutal murder of hundreds upon thousands of Christians.

Remember the first recorded Christian martyr, Stephen?  Saul was responsible for his death.  If you read the account of Stephen's murder in Acts chapter 7, you'll see that "a young man named Saul" was the one who encouraged the town to riot and cast Stephen out, finally stoning him to death for his faith.

Do you know how horrific stoning really is?  It's not like Stephen had pebbles thrown at him repeatedly until one finally hit him at just the right velocity to enter his brain and kill him, as with David and Goliath.  No.  Imagine being crushed and bruised by massive rocks, hurled with a man's full strength at your head and chest.  How brutal!  And how gruesome.  And yet, this is the death that Saul ordered upon Stephen.  "And Saul was there, giving approval to his death."  (Acts 8:1)

As a side note, I find it incredible that, when Stephen knelt there outside the city, committing his spirit to God even as the life was being pounded from his body, he prayed that the Lord would not charge his murderers on account of his death.  What grace!  (I think his prayer was answered.  Read on.)

After overseeing the murder of Stephen, Saul began another riot in the city -- dragging Christians (regardless of age or gender) out of their houses and into the streets, treating them shamefully as he herded them together and drove them before the magistrates.  This was business as usual for Saul.

To be perfectly honest, Saul's bottomless, murderous hate towards Christians is difficult for me to understand.  (Sure, he disliked them.  But, enough to persecute them?  Explanation, please!)

Now, read Acts 9:1-2:  "Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem."

He got permission.  The warrant was in his hand.  He was already on his journey, traveling the famed road to Damascus.

Then suddenly, a light from heaven flashed around him.  A blinding light -- so bright that he fell to the ground and hid his face for the glory of it.  Then he heard a voice that said to him, "Saul, Saul: why do you persecute me?"

I love Saul's next question.  "Who are you, Lord?"  It's like when you ask a little kid to tell you their name:  "What's your name, Timothy?"  You know the answer (obviously); you just want to hear it from their own lips.  I think this is a good indicator of the work God already began in Saul's heart.  At this point, he knew God was calling him -- he just wanted to hear Him confirm it.

And the Lord humors Saul: "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."

Have you heard about Ananias?  He was a disciple of the Lord, living in Damascus -- one of the Christians doomed by Saul's mission.  Well, after Saul had been in Damascus in three days, still blinded from the exposure to God's glory, and weak from lack of food or water, the Lord called to Ananias in a vision.  And Ananias answered. 

Acts 9:11-16:  "The Lord told him, 'Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.  In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.'

" 'Lord,' Ananias answered, 'I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.  And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.' 

"But the Lord said to Ananias, 'Go!  This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.  I will show him how much he must suffer for my name."

Ananias knew who Saul was.  In fact, it was likely that Ananias had even lost family members or friends to Saul's ruthless regime.  Yet, the Lord directed him and he obeyed, albeit fearfully.  Can we blame Ananias for doubting?  Of course not!  Look at Saul's track record!  Ananias was fully justified in fearing for his life (after all, the Lord never promised him safety -- only directed him to go to Saul).

After the Lord healed Saul (through Ananias), he allowed him to spend several days with the disciples in Damascus, preaching in the synagogues, proclaiming Jesus Christ to be the Son of God.

But, the Christians weren't so quickly convinced.  "Isn't he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name?  And hasn't he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?"  (Acts 9:21)

As Saul became more powerful, the Jews were "baffled" -- and eventually conspired to kill him.  Distrusting, much?  But do you blame them?  Just in time, Saul learned of their plan to take his life and his loyal followers helped him escape the city in a basket, let down through an opening in the city wall.  He was on his way to Jerusalem.

We read on: "When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple."  (9:26)  Barnabas spoke up on Saul's behalf, recounting the story of the light from heaven and of Saul's fearless preaching in Damascus -- and for a short time, they accepted him, allowing him to preach and move freely about their city.  But it wasn't too long before the Grecian Jews also began to plot against his life.

Because Saul's conversion and repentance was true, (however hard it might have been), it was the duty of the Christians to forgive him.  But it was hardly Saul's place to demand forgiveness.  "Well, I said I was sorry, so you guys need to forgive me."  I'm so glad he didn't.

So often, I find that when a brother or sister sins against another brother or sister, they expect immediate forgiveness.  They're forever presuming upon their fellow believer's better qualities.  However, there are two parts to forgiveness: first, the agreement to withhold punishment from the wrongdoer (thereby, taking the suffering for the offense upon yourself) and second, the restoration and embracing of that person.  The second part of forgiveness is not so easy.  (And it by no means must be proven in some practical way as the newly-forgiven one often asserts.  On a rabbit trail: often, I think people ask for forgiveness in order to receive some form of personal gain -- the return of status, trust, responsibility.  Not merely because of heartfelt contrition.  (Or maybe barring contrition entirely).)

Look at it this way: when the Believers finally did forgive Saul, did that necessarily mean that they needed to prove it by entrusting the lives of their children to him, for example?  No.  That would be foolish.  They were under no obligations to prove their forgiveness for Saul in those ways.  (Also, is it true repentance and sorrow that demands the forgiveness be proven by the expenditure of something precious to the one who forgives?)

So, although forgiveness was required (and given, in some cases), they still needed time, with God's help, to wade through both steps.  And so did Saul.  Knowing this (and having other plans for Saul at that time), the Lord led Saul to Arabia, where he rested for about three years (according to some sources) -- receiving revelation from the Lord: being taught, strengthened, and giving everyone time to heal.

Personally, I find it difficult to swallow the fact that the story of Stephen's stoning is found only a few chapters before the story of Saul's conversion.  And then the very next book of the Bible is written by Saul himself -- containing God's plan of salvation for sinners, and then telling the church how to live: first as Christian servants, then as Christian citizens, then as Christian brothers.

This man was a murderer -- he was probably responsible for the death of people they knew and loved.  And now they were supposed to listen to him?  Accept him as their teacher?  Become his disciples?  Also, when Paul wrote his letter to the church in Rome, he'd never even visited Rome yet (hence the letter).  How could they simply take him at his word, without seeing his changed life?

I'm not going to argue with God about how fast He can save and change a sinner.  But, after seeing horrendous sins repeated over and over, it can be a little hard to trust.

Think of Saul's conversion from the perspective of the Jews.  He entered their city in a weakened state, needing medical attention and care.  He was utterly helpless, having lost his sight.  The Jews had to help him.  But when he recovered, he could have easily faked a conversion experience, just to get out of the city safely (most of the Jews would have been anxious to take his life, knowing what a cruel and murderous man he'd been) -- he was already thoroughly at their mercy.

I'd have been one of the skeptics.

But look at how the Lord eventually used Paul!  I've often thought that, although the Lord redeemed and used Paul in ways we can't even begin to imagine, He also allowed him to undergo all manner of persecution and trials and imprisonment just to prove to the Believers that he had truly given his life to God.  Because truly, if he were leading everyone on and faking his conversion, there would be a limit to his endurance.  But, through Christ, he was able to endure all manner of sufferings in his body.

After his light-from-heaven experience, Paul was ready to jump head-first into the ministry: his heart burned with passion and conviction to do the Lord's work.  His mouth was filled with words and truth.  But, understandably, not every heart was ready to hear and receive it.  And so Paul had to be patient and wait.  He had to persevere in his good work.  In fact, he had to remove himself from the situation entirely -- sit at God's feet and learn, grow, and prove his repentance, through time and committed, consistent obedience.

So, perhaps I need to rethink my, "Forgive many times; trust once," policy.  While it's sometimes good to remain cautious, there is no end to what God can do in someone's heart.  Time can prove it.  Maybe even in less than three years.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Pure.

What will you bring to your marriage?  Regrets and moral downfalls?  Past impurity?  Guilt?  Do you realize how these things can affect the marriage relationship - even when both parties are now fully submitted the Lord's leading in their lives?  Even if you've seen it "work" in such situations, uphold a high standard for yourself.  The marriage relationship is a wonderful thing -- but not if it's entered into with distrust and insecurity.  Is this what you want for your life?  Is that what God wants for your life?

This morning, I was reading through some notes on Facebook and saw that one of my friends posted this excerpt from a book by Michael and Debi Pearl called, "Jumping Ship: What to do so Your Children Don't Jump Ship to the World When They Get Older".  This excerpt is written by the Pearl's daughter and son-in-law.

(To the Youth -- Becka Pearl Anast:)

You are the future. I won't tell you that waiting for your mate isn't hard. It is. I have wondered a million times why God gave teenagers such powerful, raging hormones. Why couldn't He have placed that hormonal curse on the old folks that have all the patience and discipline in the world? It’s hard just to keep your thoughts straight, sometimes. But if you knew what is waiting for you . . . if you only knew how good it could be! You would never accept a toy car in the place of a real, shiny red Porsche.

Don't listen to the disillusioned and bitter couples who talk about how hard marriage is, struggling to get along and trying to make it work. If they talk like that, you can bet they messed up somewhere in the past and have no idea what marriage was intended to be. They think their broken product is the way all marriages are constituted. They are wrong. Out of dozens of marriages (good marriages, but not trouble free), we know of only three that came from pure pasts on both sides, neither of them bringing into the marriage any regrets or moral downfalls. Those three marriages were fantastic from the start.

The Bible says, “Be not deceived, God is not mocked; whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” If you sow trouble with your flesh before marriage, you'll reap trouble later on. If you sow purity - oh, yes! It can be soooooo good! Take it from us (my husband and I): a pure youth makes for a fantastic marriage, without regrets, without heartache, and without fear. Nether one of us has had second thoughts, and we never will. Be assured: waiting is so worth it!

A few weeks after I married Gabe, he told me something funny. He said one of the things he most valued about me was that I wasn’t an “accidental” virgin. He said he had met conservative homeschooled youth from a dozen families who were virgins just by happenstance. They hadn't personally made a choice to be pure. The parents had made that choice for them - which is good - but the kids had never made that choice for themselves. He said there was no telling how many of them would have given away their virginity if they had been placed in new circumstances and allowed to do whatever they pleased. Have you made a choice yet? Are you doing as much as you can get away with in the confines of your parents' ruling, or are you personally walking after the Spirit of God? Do your convictions change with the crowd you're in, or do you know who you are?

Even the Bible College for missionary kids that I attended taught a watered-down form of righteousness for the single person. They discussed whether or not dating, holding hands, kissing, sexual deviances, etc., were okay. Everyone had different standards. One day a frustrated student called out, “Why didn't God just tell us what we ought to do? Why didn't He just give us a list of dos and don’ts?'' The professor couldn't answer him. At that time, I didn't know the answer either. I felt just like that student. Why couldn't there be a list of rules to go by? But he gave us something much better - his most HOLY Spirit.

(Gabriel Anast:)

God was actually specific. The word “fornication'” in the Scriptures is sexual activity outside the confines of marriage. That means, any activity or thought that you pursue for sexual pleasure. This law of God allows for different standards for different people. A thirteen-year-old boy won’t be able to look at or do things that a sixty-year-old lady could, with a clear conscience.

Sexual highs are meant to be enjoyed by one man and one woman in a context that is sacred and safe from the intrusion of other people. But in order for marriage to be holy, those who enter into it must themselves be holy.

Imagine a couple standing at the altar in their wedding finery both of them having slept around, more recently with each other. What does the “holy bonds of matrimony” mean to them? What privileged act of pleasure are they going to receive now that they are married? What could have been is now spoiled and gone. They have the same stolen goods they took before their vows, plus doubt, mistrust, and a nagging sense of discontentment and shame. There is no elation or joy in the perfect gift of physical union. There is no gift at all; only spoiled stolen goods.

Sex is not just a pleasurable act of procreation. It is an act of kindness, care, and generosity. For a woman, it is like an act of worship; for a man, it is an act of joy in the blessings and gifts of his wife. Those highs are righteous, glorious, and a pure. God gave us these intense feelings and pleasures as a gift to be enjoyed. He also gave us boundaries to protect that gift, boundaries to ensure maximum enjoyment and freedom, and boundaries that prevent guilt, shame, regret, and ultimately the destruction of that gift. When the boundary of sexual purity before marriage is disregarded and violated, the enjoyment of His gift is lessened and corrupted. Persistent violation of those safe perimeters will eventually replace all enjoyment with shame and fear. Many couples get married only to discover one or both of them is broken in the area of enjoyment due to the violation of boundaries in the past. God, in His grace and mercy, can mend the broken pieces, but…oh, the joy of having no broken pieces to begin with!

Maybe your parents have a marriage that you admire and desire for yourself; but maybe they don't. If they are working through their past mistakes and are making a go of it, I'd say their efforts are admirable, to say the least; I wish more couples had that fortitude. But don't take their example, however good or bad, and aim for the same. Aim for higher, better, purer, and more glorious examples! Make a decision within yourself to stay pure for the spouse God is preparing for you. There are some folks who need a list of rules; but the highest standard flows out of a sincere love for God. He will show you by His Spirit and with your own conscience when to draw the line. Believe that it is worth it. Be a virgin at your marriage by choice.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Blessings.


I'm trying to read a book of the Bible every day.  (Not just the short ones.)  I'm not going to do it forever (I can't), but while I have the time, I thought it would be a good discipline.  Yesterday, I chewed through 1 Kings.  All 22 chapters.

Solomon's gift of wisdom makes me pretty jealous.  I'd like to think that if God told me to ask for anything I wanted, that I'd ask for a discerning heart and the ability to distinguish between right and wrong as Solomon did, but I just don't know.  Right now, I'd be more likely to ask for a clear path and a memory charm.  (Fail.  I know.)

Something jumped out at me as I read.  You know how God tells Solomon that if he continues to follow the statutes and commands laid out for him, he will be blessed with wisdom, riches, long life, and honor?  Yeah.  It seems so simple.  God says, "If you do this, you can continue to have this."  And Solomon is like, "Great."

But not so simple.  The next part of this story always reminds me of those lines from Gilbert & Sullivan:  "Of all the woes that curse our race; There is a lady in the case."   Remember Solomon's foreign wives?  He had like 700 of them.  Well, they served foreign idols, and I suppose, to stay on their good side (but that's no excuse), Solomon began to construct idols for the "detestable gods of Moab and the Amorites" around Jerusalem.  And his wives offered burnt incense and sacrifices to their gods.

And the Lord said to Solomon, "Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates." 

Now, get this part: 

"Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime.  I will tear it out of the hand of your son."

If I've learned anything this past year, it's that sin has consequences.  Of course, when I was young, my mom would tell me, "Be sure your sins will find you out," (ominous) and I figured that when (not if) I was found out, painful consequences would ensue.  But, after committing a few offenses that completely went over my parent's radar, I began to get self-assured.

At that young age, I didn't realize one very important fact: God sees everything.  Like, everything.  And He's called the Righteous Judge.  Whatever man fails to see and punish, God still sees.  And God punishes sin.

The thing that gets me here, though, is not just that God always punishes sin....it's the way God chooses to punish sin.  I mean, look at this!  Solomon was the one who sinned.  And God chose to punish the next generation -- Solomon's offspring.  They suffered for something they had no control over.  And Solomon was spared because his father (David) obeyed the Lord - and the blessing (for his obedience) was extended to the next generation.  

Have you ever heard the song, "Generations" by Sara Groves?  I probably listened to it a hundred times before realizing what she was singing.  I'd explain the words, but you'd probably lose the beauty.  So here's the song.

I can taste the fruit of Eve. 
I'm aware of sickness death and disease. 
The results of her choices were vast. 
Eve was the first, but she wasn't the last. 
If I were honest with myself, had I been standing at that tree,
My mouth and my hands would be covered with fruit. 
Things I shouldn't know and things I shouldn't see

Remind me of this with every decision.
Generations will reap what I sow. 

I can pass on a curse or a blessing
To those I will never know.


She taught us to fear the serpent. 
I'm learning to fear myself and all of the things I am capable of 
In my search for acceptance, wisdom and wealth. 
To say that the devil made me do it is a cop-out and a lie. 
The devil can't make me do anything when I'm calling on Jesus Christ 

To my great-great-great-granddaughter, live in peace. 
To my great-great-great-grandson, live in peace.

How often do we really think about the next generation?  The generations to come after them?  To be perfectly honest, when I sit here and try to think about how my great-great-great grandson's life could be affected by my obedience or my sin, it's kind of hard to care.  Who is my great-great-great grandson?  (And isn't the Lord going to return before that guy makes his appearance anyway?)

Regardless,  we've been given a clear picture in Scripture of how the Lord chooses to delay His blessings and curses.  (Think Moses, Joshua and the Children of Israel: the Lord promised to deliver the Israelites to the Promised Land, but because Moses sinned (by not trusting the Lord enough to honor Him before the people), he was cursed and Joshua was subsequently chosen to lead the Children of Israel into the Promised Land.  He (eventually) fulfilled His promise to the Israelites -- and blessed them; He just did it in an unexpected way.)

Today is the day to begin praying for the generations to come.  Pray that blessings, not curses, will follow you, and that your offspring and their offspring and the offspring to come after that will receive the favor of the Lord because of your obedience.



Thursday, November 5, 2009

Lover of My Soul.

My God is the God who never changes.

The God who is enough.

The God who loves me despite my shortcomings and sins.

The God who knows me intimately.

The God who is always eager to hear me speak.

The God who listens.

The God who never walks away.

The God who knows what I mean, even when my words come out all wrong.

The God who is jealous of me -- my love, my affections, my pursuits.

The God who never chases after other loves.

The God who is never asleep.

The God who I can be honest with.

The God who forgives, even when my apology is garbled and imperfect.

The God who gave His life for me, even while I was still His enemy. 

This is my Father and Friend -- the Lover of my Soul!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ordained.

I've been praying a lot this week.  Like, a whole lot.  Not my usual several-minutes-in-the-morning-then-wander-around-and-when-something-comes-to-mind-I'll-pray-about-it.  I mean intentional prayer -- for several hours a day.

You've probably guessed already: there's a big issue that I'm agonizing over.  And I need direction -- desperately.  God knows so much more about this situation than I do -- and in my heart, I do know that He knows best -- but my head is telling me that my way would be so much better.

It scares me how much I want the things I want.  But God is in heaven; I'm on the earth.  He sees all; I don't even see the next second.  Psalm 139 has been my lifeline, time and time again.  Here are verses 14-16: 

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
       your works are wonderful,
       I know that full well.


"My frame was not hidden from you
       when I was made in the secret place.
       When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,


"Your eyes saw my unformed body.
       All the days ordained for me
       were written in your book
       before one of them came to be."
 


Like the Steven Curtis Chapman song says:  "God is God and I am not."  Before I was even born, He knew this would come up.  He already has the end of this story written -- and He loves me.  Of course He'll bring glory to His name through this situation!  Whatever happens, will ultimately be best.

But I don't like it.  I don't like turning my life -- my desires, my affections, my emotions -- over to Him.  Because I'm afraid of how He'll change my life.  

Terrified, actually.

Do you know how scary it is to be alone with God?  To earnestly seek His will?  To bare your miserable soul before the Maker of the heavens and the earth?  To ask Him for His guidance -- even if it means forsaking everything you know and love -- and then listen?

Once the Lord sends conviction, to go against your conscience is sin.  So, to be perfectly honest, I guess I just don't want to be convicted about some of this!  Because some of it has to go and I'm not ready to say goodbye.  I was happy before any of this came up, thank you very much!  (Erm.  Mostly.)  I don't want to make any changes now.

But instead, I'm forced to surrender my will to be lost in His.  Because He knows best. 

"Search me, O God, and know my heart;
       test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,
       and lead me in the way everlasting."
 


Psalm 139:23-24


Monday, November 2, 2009

Singleness: A Hope Deferred


To all single women who seek to please God, even when living with a hope deferred: Carolyn McCulley has some words of wisdom for you.  You may have heard her recently as she was interviewed alongside Candice Watters (think Boundless) for Focus on the Family's 3-part series on singleness. 

Recently, I also had the opportunity to interview Carolyn on the subject of singleness.  Does contentment mean apathy?  How can single women still invest in the lives of children and families?  What about hospitality?  I think you'll be encouraged by what Carolyn has to share. 

Jenn Joshua:  I’ve read plenty of books geared towards single women, but the title of yours really jumped out at me.  How is your book different from other books written for single women today?  Do we really need another book on singleness?


Carolyn McCulley:  Do we really need another book on singleness? Well, as an author, I find great comfort in the promise in Ecclesiastes that of the making of books, there is no end (Ecc. 12:12). Job security! Seriously, because of the publishing industry’s short shelf life for keeping most books in print, there is always a need for new voices reflecting timeless truths.

As for how my book is different, I think most books are aimed at helping single women leave our state. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get married obviously, but that perspective only breeds discontent. What I wanted to do was address the good in being single—what in the world God could do in and through it—and also to challenge the conception that being single is less than fully feminine. So often in our culture we put the emphasis on an adjective—single women—rather that on the noun, woman, which is where I think the Bible puts its emphasis.

Jenn:  Does finding contentment in our singleness mean we’ve relinquished our dream of marriage?

Carolyn: 
  No, not at all. Finding contentment is a godly quality that we are called to cultivate throughout our lives as believers. The earlier you learn that quality of being a weaned soul before the Lord (Ps. 131), the more fruitful your life will be. To learn contentment now will serve a woman throughout her life, when certainly the issues of trusting God for her husband and children only increase the temptations for discontent and worry!

Jenn:  How is it possible to balance our trust in God with our desire to take responsibility in the area of our relationships?

Carolyn: 
There’s nothing passive about being a Christian, nor is there about biblical femininity. Trust is a proactive quality. It means you are working on your heart issues, your thought life, your innate selfishness. To overcome those things, you have to take action. Your responsibility as a godly woman is to encourage godliness in others, no matter what kind of relationship you have with them. So sow words of encouragement and faith in all your relationships and you will see a profound effect. Sow actions of service and loving charity in all your relationships and again, you will see a profound effect. And when the Lord brings your husband to you, you will be in the habit of proactively building up others and you will be an tremendous helpmate to him!

Jenn:  What are some practical ways for women to turn their single years into productive years?

Carolyn:
  Look at what is required of a woman of noble character in Proverbs 31 and study the areas in which you lack. That’s the focus of my book. Learn to bless those in your private sphere (the home, essentially). Learn the skills necessary in running a home and caring for a family (they are myriad and complicated—it’s not just dusting and cooking—think insurance claims, medical care, mortgages, etc.).

Become financially savvy—how to save, invest, buy property, trade profitably. And be serious about investing your single years in the lives of others. You may long for a date yourself, but if you think long and hard about Satan’s assault on families today, you will realize that it is very important to do what you can to shore up the families in your local church. As families go, so goes the church. So volunteer to care for other people’s children so that these couples can have some time together to build their marriages. In doing so, you are being strategic about the spiritual battles that are taking place all around you. Your spiritual adversary wants to see marriages ruined, families broken, the church maligned, and people hurt. Do what you can to stand in the gap as a wise woman of God.

Jenn:  Being single yourself, have you ever found it difficult to practice hospitality?  How about childcare?  Are there any practical solutions?

Carolyn:
  Yes, of course. There are always time and money constraints. But if you study the hospitality commands in Scripture, you’ll see that there is a missional focus to hospitality. We can be sidetracked by the HGTV/Martha Stewart marketing machine and forget that it’s not about us, our possessions, or our decorating style. It is about making someone else feel prized and cared for, whether you are having them over for coffee or a weeklong visit. The goal is to build them up for ministry purposes or to share the gospel. Fellowship is the motivating reason. And that includes how you approach childcare – it’s an investment in the next generation, not a chore.

As for practical tips, I think one useful idea is to trade off with someone else. I once had a housemate who was into hospitality. So we would be each other’s kitchen help for various events—or we’d throw parties together. I’ve also held joint dinner parties with other friends, where we shared the guest list and food duties. And don’t forget: being hospitable is a great way to “audition” for single men. HA HA HA! Okay, that’s a joke. But there’s still some truth in it!

Jenn:  If you could give single women just one word of advice, (okay, not literally!) what would that advice be?

Carolyn: 
One word: Pray. Seriously. I’ve seen the Lord move in many merciful ways as single women have prayed. I have been a part of several prayer groups where single women prayed that the single men in their churches would find wives (hopefully among the women already there!), that God would bring new single men to the church, and for God to bring their husbands. One time, I did a count and I would say that on average, about 70 percent of each group eventually ended up married. And that is women of all ages, sizes, and ethnic backgrounds! And for the rest of us who are still single, we have had a small part to play in seeing the Lord’s will unfold and that’s a joy, too!

Jenn:  Now for fun: if you were stranded on a desert island and could only bring four items with you, what items would they be?

Carolyn: 
Uh, oh. Now here comes the truth! I’d like to be all impressive and stuff, but to be honest, it would be: 1) my iPhone, loaded up with games, movies, and music; 2) 70 SPF sunscreen; 3) a great DSLR camera; and 4) the ESV Study Bible. I might trade one of those out for a water purification kit if I were sensible. Of course, my iPhone would be useless within 24 hours if there’s no connection and no electricity. But that goes to show you how much of an addict I am!

Carolyn McCulley is the author of two books,
Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World, and Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? Trusting God with a Hope Deferred. Carolyn is also a contributor to Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor, and to Focus on the Family's Boundless webzine. She is a frequent conference speaker for women's ministry events and also maintains a blog, Radical Womanhood.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Led.


Just outside the window where I sit to write, there is a spider's web stretching from one corner of the frame to the other.  Last night was windy and most of the ancient pecan trees around the house lost their leaves.  As they fell, some of the leaves stuck in the silvery strands of the web.  I sit here this afternoon, watching them shake back and forth in the breeze, looking like they're caught, suspended in mid-air.  They are yellow leaves, and the last few rays of sun glint off of them as they toss about.

The seasons are changing and so am I.  The way I look at things; the way I handle stress and disappointment, betrayal, anxiety, and change.   But the more I understand my purpose here on earth, the less any of it matters.  I'm here for God's glory.  When faced with the tumult, I have merely to ask, "Does this glorify my Savior?"  And if not, it is excess.  It is His to contend with for me.  I give it to Him, gladly.

God's glory is what I exist for -- what I was created for.  So, in the eternal sense, nothing that happens really matters except that He receives what He justly deserves.  Death and separation and bottomless hurt can happen (in fact, it does -- every day), but as Elisabeth Elliot says, "We can pray with perfect confidence, 'Deliver us from evil,' knowing that He may hurt us, but He will never harm us."  Because what is intended by Satan for harm, God uses for good -- for His glory.

His glory.  Us.  So feeble, so ill-equipped to do what we ought, but asked to try anyway.  It is my highest calling to be a disciple of Christ -- an instrument to bring Him glory.  In this season of my life, it's the only thing that isn't absolutely meaningless to me.  I want to walk worthy of being called His daughter.

Two nights ago, I staffed the Compassion International table at a Michael W. Smith concert and as I worked, I met a man who shared his testimony with me.  After only a few minutes of conversation, I asked him how he became involved with Compassion's ministry.  He explained that he'd been in two accidents within the last several years -- both resulting in severe, traumatic injury: brain injury, a shattered hip, leg and foot, third-degree burns -- he said that just a few months ago, he wasn't even expected to live after a failed bungee jump.

"How about the first accident?" I asked, wondering what all of this really had to do with Compassion.

"I hate when people ask about that one," he said.  "I hate to make people cry."

I didn't know what to say, so I waited.

He watched the ground as he continued.  "I was driving home one day -- my three kids were in the car and I guess I was tired -- I'm not sure how it happened.  I just nodded off and.... My nine-year-old and my eleven-year-old were killed in that accident.  This arm [he held out his left arm that was horribly scarred and disfigured] was burned down to the bone.  For the second time, I suffered severe brain injury and was in the ICU for months.  Now, I have one child -- my daughter -- left.  I began sponsoring two Compassion children in honor of the two I lost.  Now, I sponsor six."

He was right.  I cried.

The Lord is our Shepherd.  We can trust where He leads us.  While often, we do not understand His ways, we understand that He is perfect and He does all things well.

When His green pastures look more like whitewashed hospital halls, an empty crib, an untouched pillow on the other side of the bed -- a terminal diagnosis, or the prospect of a future without the one you truly love, He is there.  With His rod and His staff, He comforts us -- He prepares a table before us -- even in the presence of those who would seek to destroy us. 

Deliver us from evil.  We pray this with confidence, knowing that through our God -- our Savior, Father, and friend -- we can do valiantly. 

And we will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.