Sunday, January 31, 2010

The One Who Never Changes

“I hate the uncertainty of life,” I murmured out loud to myself and to God. “ I really do prefer predictability, Lord.” I suppose a surprise here and there is fun, but if I had it my way, I want to know what is around each corner before I get there. Sometimes I even think, “If I only knew than I could be prepared to handle it better!” My knowing what would happen next, of course, would be my source of security – which really isn’t secure at all.

One of the things about God that I am realizing more and more is that I just can’t predict what He is going to do. Sometimes I think it looks as if things are going to go one way, and then they seem to turn on a dime and go another. I get confused, and sometimes I begin to fear or worry or wonder.

Then I need to back up the cart and remember that although God’s ways may be unpredictable to me, His ways are not unpredictable to Him. Furthermore, and above all, His character is always predictable.

He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He is faithful to those who love Him. He is in control. He sees all that is happening and He is orchestrating it for our good and His glory. He is compassionate and merciful. We see only a part of the picture; He sees the whole. He is not only loving and kind, He is just. He is good. He is everything we need.

The more time goes on, I realize (despite my frequent forgetting), that I actually do know Someone Who is around each corner, and that is my beloved Jesus. Sure I may not know the details of the next hour or day or year, but I do know Him today and believe that He is the same tomorrow. This gives me great comfort. He is always present - holding out His nail scarred hand – ready to hold mine and to walk with me through any valley or over any mountain slope that He plans for me. He is faithful. He is strong. He is mine, and He is yours, too.

When times are tough, as they often are dear reader, and you are caught “off guard” and feeling the wave of uncertainty wash over you, trust in the only One who never changes. Trusting in Him, resting in Him, is the most secure place you can be. No matter what you may face today or tomorrow, He is the same and He loves you very, very much. Turn your face towards Him and He will show you more and more of Who He is as you journey through this life together.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

For Whom?

Sometimes, most humbly, I find myself heading down the road of wondering, hoping that I am going to get something out of all the pain, the brokenness, the sacrifice, the service. I keep on saying, “Your will be done, Lord,” and trusting Him for the outcome – but sometimes, unbearably selfishly, I wonder if and what I’ll get out of it in the end. Surely, there must be something that I will see or experience as a “reward” for my faith and perseverance! I am not proud of this thinking – my desire is not to be so selfish. Maybe you struggle, too.

Then, this week , this story came back to me that I recall Elisabeth Elliot sharing. It is an African legend about Jesus. It is not in the bible – it is only a legend, but it relays a strong, visual message. And so, I paraphrase …

Once upon a time, Jesus was walking along the road with His disciples and He asked them to pick up a stone to carry for Him. They all picked up a stone – one man a rather small one, another a large one. After some distance, and climbing to the top of a mountain, Jesus commanded that the stones be turned to bread. The man with the large stone had a lot of bread to eat and was satisfied. The man with the small stone had little.

Later, Jesus asked the disciples to again pick up a stone and carry it for Him. This time the disciple who had picked up the small stone the first time, thought he was wise. He picked up a large stone. They walked for a long ways and came to a river bank. Jesus asked them to throw the stones in to the river, which they did at once, obeying Him. They looked at Him, expecting something to happen.

Nothing happened. There was no bread – no reward. The disciples were disappointed and confused. Jesus looked at them with love and said, “For whom did you carry the stone?”

I love this story – and time and time again I have heard the gentle voice of God whisper in my ears this week, “For whom are you carrying this burden, Andrea? I have asked you to carry it, carry it for me, not for what you will see.”

It is humbling, isn’t it? God wants our whole-hearted devotion. He is working all things out; we may not see the result that it may be for the benefit of others and most importantly, for His glory. Sometimes, our motivation gets mixed up and we begin to lose a view of Him. Dear reader, perhaps this is a timely reminder for you as well. Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind and soul and follow Him, not for what you will see or receive but out of a heart that loves Him deeply.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Dangers of Disappointment

Perhaps you know the feeling. One day you are encouraged by the Lord – a phone call, a note, a check in the mail, a visit from a friend – and the next you are wondering why the only visitors that are stopping by are unwanted ones, like discouragement, disappointment and despair.

I hesitate to admit it, but this is the predicament I find myself in today. It is “disappointment” that arrived, unannounced and uninvited. Doesn’t seem to matter – they just show up when we are not looking, and if we are not careful, sit down and make themselves at home.

The thing with disappointment is that, at least in my life, it seems to sneak in on the coat tails of sorrow, and before you know it, I am face-to-face with both of them.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot today and I humbly decided this – I am not just generally disappointed, but I am disappointed with God. And as soon as I thought it, I heard the lie of destruction say, “He really is a disappointment, isn’t He?” That’s really when I knew that it was not good, and I would need to ask God to help me rid of this grim guest.

I am in the process of writing my study for this Wednesday. I usually am looking for what God is going to show me “in the moment,” but I am not very proud of this one. The point that I was working on had to do with exploring the things that come between us and God, even as we choose to follow Him.

Money. Possessions. Popularity. Prestige. Fears. Pain. Worries. And now added to my list – disappointments. I’ve dealt with various idols from time to time – maybe we all have.

As I battled disappointment (and its strong defender – the evil one) I realized more and more that it is a hindrance for me. When I am disappointed, I am not trusting God for the life that He planned for me. I am wishing that parts of it were different. I hate that.

As I processed my disappointment and tried to hand it over to the Lord, I remembered what I wrote earlier. I was paraphrasing Jesus in Mark 10: 29-31. “There will be hard times – for My sake. I have special things just for you in the present and future “never ending, forever extending” life with Me, but it’s going to be hard when you choose to follow Me.”

At that moment, I felt the quiet nudge of God. “Oh, really Andrea? Is that so? Do you really believe that? Then why are you so disappointed in Me? Do you know the truths? Let me remind you. I have you right in the palm of my hand. I love you. I have plans for you. Look at Me – I am looking at you. I know that you are sad; it is hard, but you are mine, and I will never leave you. Trust me.”

I knew then that I had a choice – I could either wallow in my disappointment, and take the dangerous chance that it would become anger and bitterness, or choose to trust God – for the millionth time. Why would I hold on to disappointment when I can hold on to Jesus? I handed it over to Him. I can grieve the loss of what I wish I had, but I do not need to take it out on God.

Dear reader, when it comes down to it, do we really have any other right choice than to follow Jesus? He is the only way. The road is hard, but He is faithful, and He loves us very much. Unfailingly.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Sweet and Tender Way

“Ohhhh,” I sighed quietly, yet heavily, as I paged through my calendar on Monday, noting the date – January 18. “Now, that’s why I feel so out of sorts this morning.”

January 18 is an important day to me, although very few people know of it. Sixteen years ago this week, pregnant with my first child, I was working as a Physician Assistant for a busy transplant unit. I loved my job and I was very excited about my baby. In my 6th month of pregnancy, everything was going well. It is funny (not in a “ha-ha” sort of way) how one day can sometimes change your life forever.

That day my water broke prematurely and I spent the following 8 days flat on my back in a hospital bed, unable to get up. It was a difficult time; the doctors hoped that I would make it 3 weeks, but my dear first born did not make it that long. He arrived on January 26 after a difficult labor, sick and compromised. He spent 10 days in the ICU and came home after 3 weeks. Eight months later he was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy.

I often wonder if January 18 would be as significant of a date for me if my son did not have a long lasting result of his early birth. I remember struggling early on with the reality of this and wise, older friends of ours responded, “This, too, did not slip through the hand of God. It is not a mistake. God has special plans.” I do believe it is true. It is hard for me to watch my son struggle, now in his teen years, but I am also very proud of him. He is overcoming much and is confident in His relationship with the Lord. It is beautiful, but difficult.

So, this Monday, January 18th, as I was doing laundry, washing dishes and writing my study for this week, I found myself in familiar territory -- grieving a loss.

I kept thinking to myself, “Who can I call? I really want to talk to someone.” And as I went down the list of people in my mind, no one seemed quite right for this particular situation. “I would really like to talk to a friend who was there,” I said to the Lord, “but I’ll settle for You.” (Not really meaning that I was settling, at all. I did intend to be respectful, despite the way that it came out).

And then the phone rang. I couldn’t get to it, but soon heard a familiar voice, from my distant past, on the answering machine, “Hi Andrea! It’s Kris! I’ve been thinking so much about you and have missed you. Call me!”

I called her back, promptly. You see, Kris was my friend from college that was with me that day, sixteen years ago. I have not talked with her for 2 years. Truthfully, she did not remember that the 18th was important to me, she just felt the urge to call me – and she did.

God really is remarkable, isn’t He? Kris didn’t know but God did and I believe He put the thought in her mind to call me. It was a gift for me that day. I am reminded that God cares for us in such sweet and tender ways. I felt loved by Him that day – and today. I was filled with sorrow, and He came in and brought me comfort through a far away friend who felt His nudge and called. It was just what I needed, when I needed it and my faith is strengthened, because of His love.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Inhaling the Truth

Last week, I went to the doctor for a chronic cough that I am struggling with. Long story short, his diagnosis is “post-infectious bronchospasm,” following a viral cold that I had a month ago. Basically, my lungs are irritated and sensitive, causing the airways to constrict down and resulting in my cough.

The remedy? A steroid inhaler, two times a day to help reduce the inflammation and irritation, and thus, over time, allowing my lungs to heal so that I can breath without the annoying interruption of a cough.

He explained to me how to use the inhaler. Hold it upright. Turn the device until it clicks, turn it back again and then carefully rotating the inhaler so that it is flat, place my mouth around it and breath in, hold it for 10 seconds, and exhale. That is it, just do not tip the inhaler over, for the fine powder will fall out and the inhaler will not help me.

Well, being a curious person, I checked to see if I could see the “fine powder” on a test run – and needless to say, I couldn’t. There was no evidence of medication, and yet, I was told that it was there and that it would help. I was to believe, even though I could not see.

And so it is with the inhalation of God’s truths in our lives – it brings healing and helps reduce irritations as we battle with the difficulties of this world. We are to spend time taking His Word in and believing, without seeing or understanding, that somehow these powerful Words will make a difference in our lives. And sometimes, even as we come out of time of suffering – there are still “post-problem” problems (if that makes any sense). We get through one major issue, to only realize that there are ripple effects that are present as a result of the original trial – and on and on it goes, unfortunately.

But, we are to walk by faith. There are new issues – irritations – that need to be helped and healed. God is faithful, this I know. I don’t know how He does it or how He uses His Word to continually bring healing in to our lives and make us stronger, but He does.

Even though I can’t see the “fine powder” I trust that my physician knows, and even though I do not see and understand how the taking in of God’s Word works, I trust that my Great Physician does. Yes, it is walking by faith, not by sight, through this life of brokenness – believing that He does bring healing. This is my hope. He is my hope.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Scrapbooking Our Storms?

I am half chuckling to myself at the visual and half pondering the reality of the question, “What if we scrapbooked our storms?”

The thought came to me yesterday, right before I was to speak at our women’s bible study on Mark 4:35-41 -- Jesus Calms the Storm. Now, I’m not a “scrapper” (are you smiling, Anne?), but there is a part of me that wishes that I was. I feel bad for my children. They are going to grow up huddled around a computer screen, viewing the pictures of their youth because I have not created volumes of sentimental scrapbooks, let alone printed out photographs. Maybe someday ….

Anyway, as I concluded the study today I posed the question to the dear women, “What if we actually scrapbooked our storms?” What if instead of only scrapbooking happy times – special occasions, birthdays, vacations – we scrapbooked the times when we found ourselves swamped by our sorrows, our sufferings and our pains?

Oh, I can only imagine what the papers would look like – clouds, rain drops, whirls of wind, mud puddles, avalanches, all in deep, muted shades. Maybe the additional decorations (there must be a term for them J) would be shreds of paper, ripped and torn, demonstrating chaos. I suspect it would be hard to have actual photographs; how does one capture pain, loneliness, sadness, depression, betrayal, and more, in a picture? And certainly most of us would not want to be photographed in the wind blown, weathered, wet with tears condition that we find ourselves in. However, perhaps rather, we could record all that God has taught us about Himself on this journey with Him.

And why don’t we? Are we afraid to show ourselves in our hard times? Does it make us feel too vulnerable? Insecure? Scared of what others may think of us if we sat down with them and paged through our pain?

The longer I live and the more storms I weather with Jesus in my boat, the more I know we need each other, too. We need to spend time with our neighbors, our friends, our families, and share with them the lessons that we learn from God about God, in order to help encourage and strengthen them in their journey with Him. And we need to record them for ourselves. As new storms blow in, we need to be able to look back and remember what God has done and Who He is to us, personally.

Maybe I’ll start a whole new crafting craze! I doubt it, but I would encourage you to at least record what God is teaching you. In the days, months, years to come I believe He will use it for you and for others as a reminder that He is faithful and to spur you on to continue to hold on to the hope that you have in Jesus (Hebrews 10:23).

Monday, January 11, 2010

Stormy Seas

As far as storms go, it is a small one in comparison to others that I recently (and not so recently weathered). I know it won’t last long, but I can still feel the wind whirling around me. Like the disciples who set out on a still Sea of Galilee, I stepped in to my day, but before long, I was engulfed with a thousand things to do and a mindset that was not feeling confident nor at peace. My heart is feeling fragile, and my list of things to do is a mile long. How am I going to get it all done? Why does my list have to be so long? I wish I could just quiet my mind and my heart and get through this all!

Bailing. Frantically bailing. Fearing. That’s what I am doing this morning. Bucket full by bucket full I try to toss out the excess “stuff,” -- outside stuff and inside stuff -- and as soon as I toss some out, more comes in. I am weary. Tossed about . Worn out. Having a hard time organizing and seeing what to do next.

Perhaps it is because I am studying the story about when Jesus calms the storm in Mark that the visual imagery is my grid of thinking this week. I can relate to the big storms of life blowing in without notice, and of late, I could probably write a book about it (maybe I will). Big storms. Little storms. Long lasting storms. Short-acting storms. Life is full of them. I am just not a huge fan of storms.

Rocking and reeling and overwhelmed, we find ourselves, like the disciples, out of control. We try to bail ourselves out. We try to find a solid footing. We try to manage the boat – our boat, and meanwhile we are heaving and hoeing and getting sick to our stomachs. We feel swamped.

In the story, the disciples panic (ever do that?). Jesus is sleeping on a cushion in the stern of the boat and they wake Him, saying, “Don’t you care if I drown?”

Ugh. If I had a dollar for every time I have caught those words slithering out of my mouth. It’s humbling. We doubt God’s tender care. We forget that He is present and what He has promised us. We doubt and we fear and we panic.

Did Jesus know that the storm was going to kick-up? Of course He did. This was another opportunity for the disciples to learn about Who He was and to trust Him. Jesus goes on to calm this storm and reveals His power to them -- and to us.

Jesus may or may not calm our storms – but He is the calm in the storm, and I know that to be true. I need to remember that which I have learned from Him and about Him. Yes, I am feeling engulfed, overwhelmed, wiped out, washed over - even fearing, but I know that Jesus is present in my boat, and so instead of panicking, I’m going to reach out and grab hold of Him. Instead of frantically trying to bail, I am going to seek Him first and trust that He will help me manage the mini-storm that He has allowed in to my life, today. The one He has allowed to teach me and to strengthen me. He knows where I am at and how I am feeling, and dear reader, He knows all about you today, too. Trust Him in the storm.

Friday, January 8, 2010

How Does Your Garden Grow?

I knew the ground was not fallow for I heard the tender steps of the Farmer and felt His gentle touch, right from the very beginning.

I could not be certain, all the time, what was growing there in the field of “sorrow and suffering” – but I knew it was good, for He had promised me that what He would plant would grow, if I allowed Him to care for me.

He asked me if I would permit Him to work, no matter what it would take. I wanted to be useful to Him. I wanted to grow. And so I gave Him the one thing I could find – a willing heart.

I did my best to trust. The winters were long and hard; the summers dry and hot, but over time, small shoots began to emerge – some growing quicker than others.

The winds blew and strengthened the little plants. The Farmer ploughed the ground with His love. He fertilized with His Word. He brought the Son to comfort. And He used my tears, as they fell from my eyes and landed on my heart, to water the little plants.

“I have planted special seeds in your heart, dear one,” I heard Him whisper, “seeds of grace, compassion, patience, courage, fortitude, gentleness, and many more.”

“But why is it taking so long for them to grow? “ I asked.

“A weed sprouts up quickly, but that for my service grows slowly. Their roots must be firmly established and their stems strong.”

“But, Lord, it is so painful.”

“Rest secure in this, dear one. I love you and I have plans for you -- plans to transform you and to use you. However, it must be done this way – it is the only way for you to know Me deeply and believe in my great love for you. Growing hurts, but I am here to help you. I am the one who tends you with tenderness. You cannot blossom anywhere else than right here.”

The little willing heart was encouraged and realized more and more that striving would not make a difference; only trusting the Farmer would. And regardless of what tomorrow held, the little heart remained just that -- willing.

And so my heart, dear reader, continues to wait and rest upon the Lord. The field of “sorrow and suffering “ are beginning to sprout up with life. The Farmer has been faithful and I believe now more than ever, that He is Who He is, without a doubt. I have learned to love Him in new ways, not because of what He has done, but because of Who He is. And that in itself is a lovely flower that is already blooming.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Late in a Remote Place?

This week I have been over my head in images of bread as I studied and pondered the Feeding of the Five Thousand (Mark 6:30-44), preparing for the lesson that I taught today. At one point, I actually thought that I could smell bread baking; just thankful that it was not day old fish.

I came home and tried to take a nap – wiped out from teaching and staying up later than I would normally like. However, I couldn’t sleep. One small part of my lesson kept coming back to me.

The disciples and Jesus had just landed on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Hours earlier, Jesus had suggested that they go to a solitary place to rest for everyone was tired, and so that was what they intended to do. However, there was an interruption in their plans. People. Hurting people. Lots of people -- probably numbering around 20,000. Jesus, being filled with compassion, as He always is, began to teach them.

Now, I can’t be sure what the disciples were thinking, but if I was there, I would have been disappointed. “What happened to rest and relaxation time? I am weary and worn out. I needed a break. And now this?”

So, the disciples take the problem in to their own hands. They state the obvious to Jesus, “This is a remote place and it’s already very late,” and they come up with a solution.

As I taught, I tapped my watch with my right hand, gesturing “I’m watching the time and it’s getting late!” And as I did so, I remembered how I have done this to God a multitude of times, speaking almost the same words, “This is a remote place and it’s already very late.”

Sorrow. Suffering. Pain. Loneliness. Betrayal. Regrets. Dreams dashed. These are the remote places I was thinking about – specifically, the most current remote place that I find myself in.

And like the disciples, I have tapped the old watch and reminded God of what is happening and the time that is slipping by. As if He didn’t know … but I was (am) worn out and weary. I often times can only see my time line. And while marinating in my own inabilities and unbelief, I – like the disciples -- consider taking the situation in to my own hands, saying to myself, “Is God going to do something about it or do I need to?”

Dear reader, do you feel like that? Are you experiencing a remote place in your life and feeling like it is getting late and something needs to happen?

I want to encourage you (and myself), today – continue to press on. Keep your eyes fixed on Him -- He is looking at you. He is watching and He is orchestrating. God’s ways are higher than our ways and He does have your best interest at heart. Keep on listening to Him and trusting the situation in to His hands. He will show you what to do, when to do it and how to do it. His timing is good and perfect. He has everything under control.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Impass of the Impossible

My mind raced through the text in Mark on the Feeding of the Five Thousand and my fingers tapped across the keyboard. Finally, after weeks of research, thought and prayer, I was getting to my final truth that transforms – finally.

Jesus equips. The impossible becomes the possible in His hands, and He allows us to be involved in the distribution of His grace. He is willing and able to take a little and use it to feed a multitude.”

Why am I such a slow learner? Have I not seen this truth in my own life over the past year, in a hundred ways big and small? And although I have not witnessed loaves upon loaves of bread being served up, I have witnessed the impossible becoming the possible; how many times would it take for me to believe it though?

These next six weeks are going to be a lot for me. Coming off of the last year, I know that God has grown me in incredible ways, and now He has given me an opportunity to teach and share the truths about Jesus that I know to be real in our Women’s Bible Study at church So, why do I feel so inadequate? So weary? So discouraged? I guess, because I am. I am face-to-face aware of my dependence on Him, and feeling the impass of the impossible.

God does give us opportunities in the midst of all sorts of details of life, dear reader. I am sure you experience the same, perhaps different ones, but opportunities for compassion, for truth and for grace.

And again and again, I think God brings us to a place of seeing and believing that when He asks us to do the impossible, it is so that we learn that He intends to do the work. It is only in His hands that the work to feed the multitude is accomplished. We are dependent on Him. Only He can make the impossible, possible.

Sure, we need to do our part – get out of bed, brush our teeth, be sensitive to the needs of others, spend time with the Lord, seek out the resources (even if meager), do the research – whatever it may be – but then we are to place it in His hands, not hold on to it, or bury it, or forget it – but trust Him for it.

If you are so led, pray for me these next 6 weeks. I may be gone more than usual on my blog – or maybe not – I’ll have to see what the Lord does and how He leads. Maybe you’ll just hear a lot about what Mark shares about Jesus as I teach through “Remarkable Moments with the Savior,” looking at Jesus as He comes face-to-face with people like you and me.

In the meanwhile, trust whatever you have in the hands of our remarkable God today. While we may feel that our contribution is small and of little value, whatever we give Him of our resources – time and treasure – is multiplied according to His will, in His perfect timing. Be strengthened by this in your weariness and woundedness. Just continue to be willing to give whenever He calls.

(Yes, Lord, I am trying to listen to my own advice – trying. Thanks for the reminder, again.)

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