Monday, March 30, 2009

He Will Restore Our Joy

Mary sat on a stool in a storage room in the back of the basement. Her husband was upstairs, fighting a courageous battle with cancer. Her sweater and slacks hung loosely on her thinning frame. Her gray hair, wrapped up in a loose bandanna, framed her bright and beautiful face that reflects a love for the Lord Jesus. At seventy five years old and she is an artist pursuing the heart of God.

I stood a short distance from her, examining the storage shelves that had been built by her husband years before. Gradually, I pulled out bound canvas pictures that she painted over the years, and for one reason or another, had stored away in the catacombs of her basement. Most of them she was displeased with. The balance or the proportions or the colors were wrong, in her eyes. We were on a quest to gather up some of her work to be shown and sold, and thought that it worthwhile to explore the basement gallery where some of her work slept.

I pulled off the shelf a painting of red potted geraniums. It appeared dusty, old and worn.

"Oh, dear, " she sighed. "No one would be interested in that one. I painted it years ago. Dick gave me those geraniums and I set up my easel in the kitchen and painted them right on the spot. The painting hung in a local art store, but then was returned after a fire had damaged the store, and the painting. See the sides, dear, they are gray from the smoke. The whole painting, in fact, is dingy and has little beauty anymore."

I was taken by the story. How interesting and yet sad. All those years had gone by and this painting sat, unframed, resting on the shelves in this small place. No light. No love. No appreciation. Just waiting.

After consulting with Mary, I took a damp towel and began to wash the painting with gentle strokes. Layer by layer, the grime and smoke particles came off, and underneath, brilliant and deep colors began to emerge. The painting was being made new again and it was quite lovely.

The painting was gradually being restored. To restore something means to give it new life; to bring back from a state of injury or decay. It is taking something from a changed state and returning it to life.

Dear reader, are you feeling veiled by the darkness of your circumstance? Is the suffering that you are experiencing like a shroud of gray covering your heart, mind, body and soul? Do you feel as if you are in need of new life? Are you dry and lifeless needing refreshment?

Psalm 23:3 tells us that "... he restores my soul." God comes in and revives us and refreshes our spirit. He takes our hearts that have been covered in our sin or our suffering or our sorrow and gently wipes away that which clouds, and brings out new color and depth in to our lives.

Like the Psalmist we can cry out "Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me" (Psalm 51:12). Dear reader, only God can do this. He is the Artist of your life and He can wipe clean all that stands in the way of you radiating your true beauty. And with that, He will grant a spirit within us that will help us to hold on. Only God can restore our joy.

God is the Great Restorer. We may wonder today, "How in the world will that happen? What will it look like? When, O Lord, when?" But we can rest, in our wonder, knowing that He will restore the joy of Jesus in us, and like the picture, we will reflect anew, His beauty.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

An Unique Fellowship

When I think of "fellowship" I think of two things primarily -- donuts and coffee in "Fellowship Halls" and spending time with people that I love who have the same love for the Lord. Recently, I had a gathering in my home. Some people who are very dear to me were present, and I realized that due to my not being as involved during my current situation, that I really missed fellowship with them. I reflected back on different activities and committees that I was part of and my heart felt the loss of having to give those things up, at least for a season.

And then the Lord reminded me that I am not alone, but part of a fellowship, indeed, a very special and unique fellowship.

Philippians 3:10 says "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings ..." I stand in the face of the truth of these verses and I find myself passionately affirming "Yes! I want to know Jesus. I want to know all about Him. And I want to know and understand the power of His resurrection and what that means for my life!"

But admittedly, I stumble through the next words, guarded and uneasy, not quite as enthusiastic about wanting the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings. Ouch! A desire wells up inside of me that says "Yes, Lord, whatever it takes." But my mind and body glance sideways and query "But do I have to do that?"

What does that or could that mean? The word "fellowship" in the Greek is "koinonia" meaning a state of joint participation and cooperation in a common interest or activity. It is the highest expression of a personal relationship, not just coffee and donuts and committees.

When we walk through the valley, we can take comfort that we do not walk it alone, but in fellowship with the One who has endured all things. He knows our pain and our trials. These very things that bring us affliction also are the things that drive us to Jesus. He has experienced more than we could ever imagine, and yet in His loving kindness, He fellowships with us in our sufferings. He is ever present. When we hurt, He hurts. When we weep, He weeps.

Dear reader, we must admit, that it is those people who have walked through a great amount of suffering whom we can depend on the most to enter in to our pain and give us the comfort of God which they have experienced. But with Jesus, it is even more so. Our companionship with Him in our grief and our sorrow and our struggles is bound together by the strong, long lasting ties of His love. Our heart grows closer to Him and richer with Him as we fellowship with Him amidst our suffering.

Do we want to know Jesus and the power of His resurrection? Yes, but we can not know Him apart from abiding in the fellowship of His sufferings. The things that we learn and the changes that occur in the school of suffering are permanently marked upon our hearts, and the relationship with Jesus that is experienced is far deeper that one can ever imagine. And in the darkest and stormiest of journeys through the valley this gives our suffering a purpose and a peace, and in that we can rejoice.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

He Will Renew Our Strength -- That's a Promise

The sense of renewal abounds in Spring. The air has a new smell, the ground is fresh with new growth, birds begin to find their sweet little voices again. Even our homes seem to ache for a good cleaning and a freshening up with pastel colors and the accent of flowers.

And so it is with the desires of our hearts, a longing for renewal runs deep and wide. Amidst trial and suffering, we walk the precipice of wanting renewal and being overwhelmed with our here and now. The tension of living in this place of teetering on the edge of both realities is difficult.

Isaiah 40:30-31 says, "Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 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."

We can take heart. We all are going to grow tired and weary, even the youngest and most fit. However, the Word then says "but," in other words "even when you do" by hoping in the Lord, your strength with be renewed. To hope in is to trust and look expectantly to the Lord. To renew in the Hebrew means to literally "change" like in a change of a clothes. When we are weary, we can put on a fresh garment of the strength of God through turning to Him and putting our trust in Him.

Waiting on the Lord is not a passive process. It is an active seeking and relying on Him, despite what our circumstances are. This is a process of discipline. Sometimes we are tempted to cry out "But it's too hard!" This is one of the mysteries of God at work in us, we try to hope, and at the same time, He pours in to us the strength to do so.

When we do, we are able to do the unimaginable. God gives us the strength to soar above like the eagle. He gives us the strength to run the race marked out for us and to move forward in His work in our lives and in the lives of the people around us. In Isaiah 40:31 "weary"means "exhaustion because of the hardness of life." We can trust that God will give us the strength to overcome this weariness, even when our circumstance may not change.

Yes, dear reader, in all of life, we will grow weak and tired. We may be exhausted. But as we hope in the Lord and trust Him, He will renew our strength. He will bring life to us again, rejuvenate us, grow us up and make us new again. And we will be able to soar and run and walk over and through wherever He asks us to journey with Him.

As you look about in our physical world of the renewing that God is doing in the process of Spring, take heart that as you depend on Him, He will (not maybe) give you strength and bring new life to you.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

God Does Reveal Deep and Hidden Things

I must admit that I have not had the greatest week. Oddly enough, it is not anything in particular. The only way that I can explain it is a a vast cavernous sense of loneliness in combination with being filled with a great amount of sorrow. Empty but full - I am sure there is a powerful lesson in that.

But despite how I am feeling, I try to see God and what He has to share with me about myself or my circumstance or about Him, in the details of each day. Sometimes it seems as if I discover a treasure trove; this week I am struggling to see much, but this is one thing I noted.

I took the dog for a long walk or rather, he took me. (He is still struggling with heeling and obeying! Both of which seem to take a long time to learn, unfortunately.)

We were experiencing our first day of over sixty degree temperatures. It was beautiful. The birds were singing. The air smelled of moist soil and sunshine and running water. Do you know that smell? You can hear the flowing water, as the snows of winter are melting, and the smell is fresh and clean.

I love the sound and smell of melting snow. After a long winter, it is so pure and hopeful. I live in a climate that gets alot of snow. The snow banks are still 4 -5 feet tall in some places, but you know what I noticed about these snow banks on the side of the road? They are filled with junk. As the sun and the warm air have their thawing effect, alot of stuff from the long winter is revealed. Up until now, the snow had covered up all of the refuse, but now I could see it. It was always there, but not seen. Styrofoam chunks, and straws, and chunks of plastic, and soda bottles and milk bottle rings. Junk of all sorts had been hidden under the snow all winter, and now, in the melting process, it was being revealed, and would have to be dealt with. Someone was going to have to clean it up.

Daniel 2:21a-22 says "He changes times and seasons. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him." Over time, God does reveal all that is hidden. He knows that it is there. Nothing is out of His sight, and with the light of His love, like the warmth of a Spring day, truth is exposed. I have known by experience that when I ask God to show me the truth, whether in my circumstances or in my own heart, He does so. It may require some waiting on my part, but He does reveal it. Sometimes, it is junk in someone else's yard, and sometimes it is junk in my own yard, but He is faithful to show it.

Not to be too pessimistic, however, the truth is that as I see the snow melt, there is not only harsh, ugly truth that needs to be dealt with but beauty as well. Underneath the cold dark covering of snow, is new growth. Fresh, vibrant green shoots of life begin to poke their little heads out of the soil. This is truth, too.

So, dear reader, as you walk through today, ask God to show you the truth. Maybe it is truth in a relationship or about Him or about yourself. Maybe it is junk, and maybe it is beauty. In time, as He reveals the truth to you, trust Him to give you the grace that you need to face the truth. He loves you so very much -- unfailingly.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Do Not Lose Heart -- Nothing is Wasted with God

With muscles aching and breathing labored, I began to unpack the streamers and balloons. I was getting ready for my pity party. It started during my workout. I was with a group of people, participating in a "boot camp" style of working out. I was rotating through different exercises, led by a "platoon leader" and just about killing myself with exhaustion. I appreciate the results of working out, but I hate the process.

"Why does everything have to be so hard for me?" I grumbled to myself. Everything about getting through this trial is hard. Working out is hard. Getting up is hard. Sleeping through the night is hard. Staying organized is hard. My list went on and on. The only thing I could really say wasn't hard was eating, and that was only because I had Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies in the house, but even so, resisting to eat the whole box, was hard. And so the party began, and I was well on my way with noise makers and party games before long.

Then in the nick of time, thankfully, the truth of God was hand delivered to me by two people; nothing is wasted in God's economy. And the still small voice of God gently nudged my stubborn heart and said, "Therefore do not lose heart."

Now where was that verse? I picked up my bible and searched it out. 2 Corinthians 4:16 - 18 says "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

I felt as if I was losing heart. I wanted to give up. Throw in the towel. Jump ship. (Although I wasn't sure where I would jump to.) The truth is, we all are getting older day by day but more so, I also was feeling the outward physical effects of wasting away as I was enduring a trial for a long period of time. I was tired, weary, even aching. Much like I feel during my workout.
The verses encourage us, though, that, in the power of the Holy Spirit, our inner being is being renewed day by day. When I workout, I do not see the benefit of what is happening each time I lift a weight or run or row. The great amount of physical exertion and strenuous activity do not produce strong muscles overnight. Much in the same way, the suffering in our lives although it may be taking its toll on our bodies, is producing a strength in our inner being. And God as the great "platoon leader" is standing there assisting us through the whole process.

There is so much in these three verses that I see, as I study them tonite, and it would take me a long time to write them all, so I encourage you, dear reader, to seek God in what He may have for you here. We need to keep our eyes fixed not on our circumstances, but looking up and away, we can fix our eyes on the eternal glories that our trials are achieving for us, producing for us, working out for us. Nothing is wasted in God's economy; He is using it all.

This is not all for our good, however. It is also for the good of God's people and for His glory. As we endure the workout of our sufferings, we gain a greater capacity to praise, serve and glorify God, not only in the now, but in the future, when we will stand before Him and struggle no more.

Just for the record, the party is pretty much torn down now. The Lord helped me get rid of the pathetic pity party. The only party I'm now working on preparing for is the one that I look forward to celebrating in heaven.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Trash or Treasure

I am unlovable. I am not special. I do not have anything to offer the world. I am a disappointment. I am not worth fighting for. I am alone. I am always wrong. I deserve bad things. I do not deserve respect. There is something wrong with me.

My friend and I rambled to each other on the phone the other night. We talked about how annoying, if not downright painful, it is to have old tapes slipped in to the tape recorder, and before we even know it, we are hearing the junk again. I think as women, if we are totally honest with ourselves and each other, we think these crazy thoughts from time to time. They often come out of no where, usually when we are weak and worn down. They may be things we heard from the past or the present, and our minds just don't forget. When we are struggling and weary, they slip right in and try to make themselves comfortable. They think they belong, but they do not. They are trash.

The enemy of our soul wants to have us believe that they are true. Satan is a deceiver and murderer and he will try and use these thoughts to manipulate our faith and kill our hopes, our dreams, our desires and our trust in God. He is ruthlessly determined to convince us (and when we are down in out, what better time?) that God does not love us or care for us or have plans for us. Satan's talk is trash talk. And He thinks the more trash he throws, the more likely it is that we will pick it up, or at least, that it will get stuck to us, somewhere. Yuck.

Dear reader, do not let this trash reside within you. Take hold of the trash and drag it out to the curb. In the powerful name of Jesus, you can remove it. Get it off the premise. It smells and it has not use, and in time, it will breed infestation and infection. This trash is nasty and it is a lie.

Drag out the trash, and grab hold of the treasure, God's truths about you. You are His treasured possession, His chosen one, belonging to God. You are loved with an everlasting love. You are worth fighting for. He has fought for you by sending His one and only Son. You are special, and created in the image of God, and you are beautiful. You are not alone. He has not forsaken you. That is a promise. He has great plans for your life, and in each one of them He is making you even more special, as He forms you to be more like His Son.

Dear loved ones, what will we choose to listen to? The trash that comes in to our heads and holds us back from experiencing life with Christ and healing or the treasure of God's Word that teaches us all about God and who we are in His image? Right now, in the name of Jesus, ask God to show you what trash to take out and what treasures to believe. He is faithful and just to show you the truth, and loving and tender to gently care for you in the process.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Lost and Lonely and Brought Home

I spoke to a friend today about her kitten. It was missing for 4 days, and showed up on her back porch today. Visions of this lost kitten conjured up images of it being tired and hungry and lonely, out in the cold, trying to find its way home, not hearing the voice of its master calling for it from a distance. My heart went out to this poor little kitten, and then I realized why. I was feeling a bit lost and lonely, myself.

Loneliness can occur in different scenarios. We can be lonely when we are alone, lonely when we are in crowds and even lonely in our circumstance. Loneliness feels empty and it can hurt.

I wrote and taught a bible study last year, long before I knew of my current struggle. It was on Psalm 107 and it was titled "Unfailingly Loved." In particular one of the phrases that I used to summarize part of the chapter (verses 4-9) was "Lost and Lonely and Brought Home." The Psalmist talks about being lost in a desert wasteland, thirsty, hungry and failing away, looking for a way to a city. Finally, the people cried out to the Lord in their trouble and He delivered them from their distress, and led them by a straight way.

Yes, sometimes we wander from the Lord and we are lost, and other times I think that we can even feel lost and lonely in our troubles. They become wastelands for us. We are in need of so many things (food and water, only to name a few of what seems like the least of our needs) and we are looking for a place of safety -- a refuge. We are not much different from the Israelites of old or even from each other. Our pain and suffering may be different, but in it, we can feel lost and lonely.

The good news is that we can be brought home, as we call out to Him. He leads us by straight paths, satisfies our needs and brings us to a place of safe keeping. It may not always feel like it, but we can be confident. For the God that loves us with an unfailing love, even sent His one and only Son to die for us, and be raised from the dead, so that we can have forgiveness of our sins and live in the bliss of eternity with Him. This very God relentlessly seeks after us, and is waiting for our call.

Sometimes, I think I get too weary or discouraged to cry out to Him, perhaps afraid that He will not answer or will not hear, both of which I know are not true. I can fear that His answer may be different than what I expected, or think that I can handle. However, we can trust God that His way is the straight way, that He knows every need that we have and will satisfy it, and even give us good things amidst it all. He has us just where we need to be right now, and is directing us towards the city of refuge that He has for us - Himself.

Dear reader, perhaps you feel the same right now, in your solitary place of suffering. If so, join with me as I cry out to the Lord. "Dear Lord, I am lonely and feeling as if I am wandering in and through my time of suffering. I do not always feel your presence. Help me to really know that you are an ever present help in trouble and that you are leading me, satisfying me and filling me with good things, even now. Help me to know the safe refuge of You as my home. Please hear my call. I choose to trust in You. In Jesus name I pray. Amen."

Monday, March 9, 2009

Power, Perspective and Peace

Regardless of whether we are in the heat of the trial or in the monotony of the mundane, we may fall in to patterns of worrying and wallowing. We may tend to take our eyes off of the Lord Jesus, and get bogged down in the details of our current situations. This is where I am finding myself lately, and realizing that I am in desperate need of reigning in my thought life.

To "reign" means "to rule over." Our thought lives can get away from us. We can fret over the littlest things, or the biggest, or we throw our hands up in to the air and feel like giving up. We obsess about our fears and exhaust ourselves with the work-out of worry.

God's Word tells us to "take captive every thought" (2 Corinthians 10:5). It can be challenging to break out of the cycle of destructive thinking that we can fall in to, but it is possible, and God's Word is one of the keys.

Imagine a horse out of control. He is bucking and running wild. The owner takes hold of the reigns, and holds firm. With a strong grip, the owner pulls hard on the reigns and slows and directs the horse, so that it becomes more obedient and relaxed. The owner rules over the actions of the horse.

And so we can with our thoughts. We can grab hold of our thinking with a strong and firm grasp and slow it down, making it more obedient to the will of God and subsequently, bringing peace to our soul. We reign in our thinking and align it with the thinking of He whom reigns over all, Jesus.

But how can we do this? We immerse ourselves in to God's Word. It is here that we experience three things -- perspective, power and peace. When we read God's Word, God reminds us of Who He is. We remember His faithfulness and His love, His tender care and His all-sufficiency. He shows us Who He is specific for our particular situation.

We experience the power of God's Word. Hebrews 4:12 says "For the Word of the God is living and active." Somehow, like the healthy food that we eat, it comes in to our bodies and nourishes our souls. We may not always be aware of how it is working, but just like the nutrients that strengthen us when we eat food, the Word of God strengthens us.

And we experience the peace of God. God uses His Word to calm our anxious hearts and to remind us of the peace that only He has for us. Like a warm blanket on a cold day, a peace wraps around us and brings us comfort.

So, dear reader, as you may struggle with your thoughts getting away from you and taking you on a wild ride, turn to God's Word and experience the perspective, power and peace that He has for you, as your thoughts are reigned in and ruled over, once again, by Him.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

What To Do With These Broken Pieces?

Do I sometimes feel like God swoops in for the big rescue and then leaves me to clean up the debris and make new of the situation? Admittedly, I do. I rummage around looking for items to salvage and then wonder how I'm going to use these bits and pieces to rebuild my life, forgetting who is in control and getting impatient with God and His perfect plan. Sitting amidst the rubble right now, I have grown quiet and discouraged.

I am tempted to begin to think that that God does the big job, and then I fix it up. I forget that He takes the broken pieces and is the One, the only One, who can put them together and make me whole again.

Psalm 147:2 - 5 says, "The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the exiles of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; he understanding has no limit."

I need to let go of trying to put the pieces together, and hold on to God, Who not only knows the name of every star, which He created, but knows mine. Dear reader, embrace this truth in your suffering, as well. He does all of the gathering and building of His loved ones. He takes the brokenness and makes it whole. He binds up the wounds, because of His great and unfailing love. His understanding has no limit, and therefore, He knows the very best for us and the very best timing.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Little by Little

From time to time it seems as if God gives me a special verse. Today, the Lord brought to mind a verse that he gave me in August of last year, and I believe that He wanted me to remember it to encourage me to persevere, even now.

Exodus 23:29-30 says, "But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land."

Does it seem as if God is taking too long to work in a situation? The foe is great and prayers seem to be unanswered, or partially answered. We may call out to the Lord and ask for deliverance. "Please! The trial is too great! The burden to heavy! The oppression too fierce! The battle too intense."

Of course, God is capable of responding in one massive movement (after all, He did create the world) but sometimes He chooses to work slowly, or at least, what appears to be such, and it is hard for us to see the benefit of His strategy amidst the long dark expanses of time.

We need to remember that God knows who we are and what we need. In our circumstances, we may need to further develop our strength or perseverance or integrity. If He was to remove that which plagues us too quickly, we may not grow in those areas. Only God knows.

The wild animals of entitlement, ungratefulness, apathy, mistrust or self-doubt could over power the victorious land that God intends to give us. And so, sometimes, little by little, God drives out the wild animals and desolation that infect us, inside. These things would overtake us if we did not deal with them, with Him -- our own sins, our past, our mistrust, our unbelief, our selfishness or our insecurities (to name a few).

Little by little, in great detail with fine quality, the Lord deals with us in our circumstances until we have the strength and integrity of character to possess the land -- the life -- that God has for us in Christ Jesus. And little by little, He drives out the enemies that we battle with, until we are ready to possess that land of freedom that God has prepared for us.

So, dear reader, persevere in keeping your eyes and faith focused on Jesus. God is about a very detailed work in your life, as you trust in Him and obey Him in the way that He may be asking you to walk. It may seem like He is holding back, but I believe He is not, but just working the very best plan so that we will be ready to possess a fertile, healthy, beautiful land.
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