Strong Ending

From a fairly early age, I found “endings” nearly impossible to handle.  I would cry at their portrayal in a movie or in a book, and I would cry and totally melt down about them in real life.  My parents often dreaded sending me off to a spend-the-night, or probably even to camp, simply because I had such a hard time transitioning back when those fun times were over.  To this day, the ending of beach weeks leaves me grieving for a few days, as does the end of summer and the end of school.  Perhaps it is a fear of change, perhaps there is a safety in the moment that isn’t certain in the unknown next moment.  Sometimes it is just as simple as “This is fun and I don’t want the fun to end!”  We’re at just such another moment as the school year comes to an end and therefore, our official ties to these two school communities is also coming to an end since we are not returning to either next year.  I woke up in a panic about it last night.

The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.  Matt. 8:25-26

That is about the nature of my internal alarm…”Ahhh, I’m going to drown!!!!”  In my case, because there are no actual waves, it is not exactly a rational fear…which makes it all the more gripping.  I assume with the fishermen, they knew how to handle themselves in a boat in calm water.  They knew that so well, probably, they could do it with their eyes shut.  They knew that system, all the rules of navigation, the familiar tidal patterns and smells and sense of community among the other boats.  But sailing out into this storm was not normal, it was not known and they felt all alone.

If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  Matt. 6:30-31

If God cares so much about that which is perishing, of course He cares infinitely more about His children who He is growing and preparing for eternity.  Again, I’m not actually worried about what I’ll eat, drink or wear, but it is that same encompassing panic that comes from a sense of disorientation that leads me to forget He is caring for me, is with me and will never leave me nor forsake me.  What happens to me in these times of endings is that I feel my grasp on stability coming loose, so I forget that His never does.  To dig a little deeper, my heart believes that my well being or strength or even confidence is tied to my grip on a certain community or position or routine rather than God’s grip on me.

After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” Gen. 15:1

See, my shield is my association with socially approved institutions or groups. Or, maybe not even socially approved but how about just identifiable?  “Oh no, no, I am not invisible or average, see I am connected to this school/this club/this alma mater/this function/this cause…”  I don’t just hide behind these communities but I clothe myself in them rather than Jesus.  I feel confident dressed in them and totally naked without them.  So, the fear that gripped me in the middle of the night was essentially, “I am about to be naked after tomorrow, Ellie’s last day at Westminster!”

The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. Gen. 3:21

The men designated by name took the prisoners, and from the plunder they clothed all who were naked. They provided them with clothes and sandals, food and drink, and healing balm. All those who were weak they put on donkeys. So they took them back to their fellow Israelites at Jericho, the City of Palms, and returned to Samaria.  2 Chron. 28:15

I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.  Is. 61:10

for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  Gal. 3:27

I am not naked but clothed in the only identity that doesn’t have an ending, ever.  My connection isn’t to a man-made institution or conditionally defined group or set of new laws for self-righteousness.  I am connected into the body of Jesus, clothed in Him and found, always, in Him.  My fears of failure with my children’s education, fears of drowning in poor time management, fears of the wind and waves of unpredictability and changing communities all forget who is in control of the boat and those winds and waves.  Oh by the strength only possible if provided by His grace, would I not shrink back in shame as if naked today when we say our goodbyes to the predictable waters of Westminster.  Instead, would my joy and strength and confidence and hope and peace and anticipation be entirely focused on my bridegroom who has more in store for this boat ride than just routine sailing.

She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.  Prov. 31:25

Even if He Does Not

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 42:5


When we were trying to sell our townhouse in a market that not only was set against sellers of any kind of home, but particularly antagonistic toward condos, I wasn’t afraid because I knew God was able.  He, of course, is not bound by statistics and market downturns.  Nothing is impossible for Him no matter how much doom and gloom was coloring the real estate market.  I expected Him to sell our place, and quickly, because He is able and because all those of little faith could see His sovereignty overpowering our limitations.


But it didn’t sell.  Not only did it not sell, we had enough traffic to be totally disruptive to our daily lives for a year and a half and went through the emotional roller coaster of three separate offers which each fell through.  There were definitely moments in there where I felt “betrayed” by God.  I wanted to say, “Hey, God, I stuck my neck out there and believed in the face of unbelief and you just left me hanging!”


Though I spent too much time rolling my eyes at the damaging consequences of dispensational theology, I have to have compassion on the rapture preachers and believers after this weekend who have lost a great deal on top of their own dignity, many who might be vulnerable to losing their faith. The rapture expectant are reported to be “baffled” and dismayed because God did not show up as they had counted on Him doing.  In both cases, He did not conform to our image of Him. The mistake we both made was in placing our hope and trust in what we wanted God to do for us or, perhaps, how we both imagined Him being glorified in the eyes of others.  A “betrayal” indicates disloyalty or dishonesty and I can only think God has been disloyal if I have reversed the order in our relationship while at the same time deep down coming to believe He owes me something.  We forget whose image is to be glorified and even who is the image and who is God.


Listen, my people, and I will speak; I will testify against you, Israel: I am God, your God. I bring no charges against you concerning your sacrifices or concerning your burnt offerings, which are ever before me. I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.  I know every bird in the mountains, and the insects in the fields are mine.  If I were hungry I would not tell you,
for the world is mine, and all that is in it. Psalm 50:7-12



Because God is good, when someone has a serious illness, we pray in confidence that He will heal them because He is good.  Because God is able, I assume He will do the impossible as evidence of His ability and love for me.  Because God loves me, I expect Him to never leave me hanging as if to make a fool of me but to always act in a way that elevates me because of my faith.  What escapes my paradigm in all of these assumptions is the fact that God has nothing to prove and nobody to win over.  He is God.  He does not exist to glorify me or validate my faith in Him.


LORD, our Lord, 
   how majestic is your name in all the earth!
   You have set your glory 
   in the heavens. 

Through the praise of children and infants 

   you have established a stronghold against your enemies, 
   to silence the foe and the avenger. 

When I consider your heavens, 

   the work of your fingers, 
the moon and the stars, 
   which you have set in place, 

what is mankind that you are mindful of them, 

   human beings that you care for them?
 You have made them a little lower than the angels 
   and crowned them with glory and honor. 

You made them rulers over the works of your hands; 

   you put everything under their feet: 

all flocks and herds, 

   and the animals of the wild, 

 the birds in the sky, 

   and the fish in the sea, 
   all that swim the paths of the seas.
  LORD, our Lord, 
   how majestic is your name in all the earth!  Psalm 8
God has given us His image to wear and in which to take part in the gardening of His creation. He is mindful of us, full of mercy and compassion and abounding in love.  He cares for us like a newborn and faithfully sustains us like a mother bird or even a mother bear.  But my faith is to be placed in Him alone and not in the many ideas I have for how He can best do His job and prove my belief to be as sight.
You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.  Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD himself, is the Rock eternal.  Is. 26:3-4

By His grace and merciful restraint, may my heart trust in the person and work of Jesus as my Rock and not gravitate toward trusting my PR plans for Him or my notions of how He should work out His character before me.  Then, when the condo doesn’t sell or the rapture doesn’t occur on May 21 at 6pm in each time zone, my faith remains intact because it trusts exclusively in Him and His ways rather in my faith as an entity unto itself and my own holy plans.
If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.  Dan. 3:17-18



Displacement

I was the “Silly Scientist” in Chad’s class this week and did an experiment with sinking and floating objects.  As I did some quick research online to find a simple explanation for 5 year olds about why something like an anchor sinks but the boat in which the anchor is held floats, the word displacement kept coming up.  Displacement sounds negative because of the “dis” in the word.  But really, it just means that water which was taking up one space is moved to another space.  I’ll be honest, I still don’t totally get the explanations that are supposed to make sense to pre-schoolers, but I have been thinking about displacement even so.


The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”  Gen. 12:1-3

God spoke this to Abraham and it was a picture of God’s plan for redemption, ultimately accomplished through His son.  Jesus left His home and it is through Him that all peoples are blessed.  It is through His person and work that the Garden flourishes as was intended by the work of the first Adam.  Life, not just in the ethereal future way, but in the present abundance of green plants, strong bodies, fruitful labor and harmonious relationships comes through Jesus alone.  Abraham and Jesus were displaced to grow the Kingdom.  I have been feeling a little displaced lately, too, and it isn’t all bad.


Kind of like the water being moved from one location to another, I have been moved by my neighborhood, which has displaced me from the affections that once occupied the same space. The need I used to have to be “going steady” with certain friends or groups has been replaced with a real satisfaction and contentment with the people who live in the houses right around me.  The value of a Southern Accents home has been replaced with a value of spaces that can be spilled on, stepped on and at times, drawn on by neighbor children.   Tight schedules have been replaced with flexible ones that often exchange visible “productivity” with slow, relational investment.  Just like the boat and the water can’t both occupy the same space at the same time, I can’t be the center of my space and time and have God’s Kingdom at the center of that same space and time.


Does this mean I have no limits?  No, unfortunately, my threshold for disorder (as defined by my own sense of lack of control) has grown but still has a long way to go.  Like the pump at the gas station which suddenly clicks off when the tank is full, without warning my ease with flexibility and others in my space and time can suddenly click off and angry, intolerant Jane replaces peaceful, easy going Jane.


What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.  If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret.  1 Cor. 14:26-27


God is a God of order.  Chaos is not how His creation thrives.  The problem for me is that I don’t often acknowledge His order as I cling tightly to my own.  Control brings order, and the less I trust His control, the more I depend upon my own control.  The more that life around me feels out of control, the tighter I grip my fist of control and the more intense my efforts to restore order become.  Here is the distinction:  My order and control is implemented with anger and irritability, panic and desperation.  It usually is harsh and hurtful, valuing the order way above the creation and the people in my way.  God’s order is simply the means by which He restores and sustains shalom among His people and all of creation.  His control and order bring life where mine squishes it right out.


The weird thing about displacement is that as it turns out, water doesn’t have to stay in just one spot.  As a matter of fact, how many analogies have been given about the Dead Sea being stagnant because it has no outward flow?  Being displaced keeps the water filled with life even as it carries life through new channels and pathways, nourishing fields, valleys and forests along the way.  But the somewhat sad aspect of the “dis” comes with the reality that old spaces and connections have to be left behind in order to restore and sustain life as offspring of Adam, the Second Adam and members of His body.


So, I am acknowledging my newly realized displacement with both a welcomed sense of peace accompanied by a slight sense of sadness not knowing if I will ever return to my homeland, so to speak.  He has invited me to leave my kingdom of me and all that goes into preserving and strengthening it and to see His Kingdom growing around me.  And, just like a science lab experiment, displacement actually raises the water level, lifting it to what theoretically would be a greater view than was possible before.  I am displaced because of new life He has introduced to me, and it is in this displacement that new life is growing.



“What do you want me to do for you?” “Lord, I want to see,” he replied.  Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.”  Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.  Luke 18:41-43

For I Am Your God

But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. Psalm 33:11


I was flipping the stations in my car yesterday when a talk show host caught my attention for a minute.  It wasn’t long into that minute that I heard his declaration that our country was in great peril of dissolving if the upcoming elections don’t go the way he believes they must.  Oh how such certain peril, communicated with passionate urgency and panic, is really effective in making a listener scared and equally convinced that an impending doom lurks around the corner if people don’t act/think/speak/believe a certain way.  “Your children will never be lost from God’s grip if you…”,  “Our country will decay at mach speed unless we…”, “God cannot bless you if you don’t…”


Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails. Proverbs 19:21


For good or for evil, a person’s plans can never interfere with God’s purposes.  Evil intentions, ignorance or just foolishness cannot thwart God’s plans as if His power is in any way limited by man’s sin or blindness or rebellion.  I guess this is why it makes me so mad when I hear even preachers start throwing out threats to their congregation as if the future of the country or their individual family rests on their “doing it just right”.  Hope, peace and well being then become rooted in the man’s will rather than in God’s alone.  The central character in that story becomes the creation rather than the creator.


But it is not just radio talk show hosts or preacher’s with Gospel amnesia who preach fear to our hearts instead of pointing our confidence and faith to the One who is in control of all thing.  My own voice is quick to preach “doom, doom”.  It comes in the late hours of the night when my imagination is the most morbid.  It is in those moments when I am sure I have lost my children’s affections forever because I was so preoccupied all day or because “I always…” or “we never…”.  (Always and never are very important words for my fearful voice – they are the most extreme and insurmountable.)  Then there is my fear of regret (sort of like borrowed fear of something that is only remotely possible) and breath stealing, “What have I done!?”  The power behind all these fears, from the politicians and preachers to the condemning voice in my head is the absolute absence of a compassionate, long suffering, strong and powerful, good, wise and sovereign God.  I can only freak out if He ceases to exist or has abandoned His throne and has left me as “captain of my own vessel”.  And if that is the case, I promise that whoever our next president is will have nothing to do with the world’s demise.


I, even I, am he who comforts you. Who are you that you fear mere mortals, human beings who are but grass, that you forget the LORD your Maker, who stretches out the heavens and who lays the foundations of the earth, that you live in constant terror every day because of the wrath of the oppressor, who is bent on destruction?  For where is the wrath of the oppressor?  The cowering prisoners will soon be set free; they will not die in their dungeon, nor will they lack bread.  For I am the LORD your God, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the LORD Almighty is his name. I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand— I who set the heavens in place, who laid the foundations of the earth, and who say to Zion, ‘You are my people.’”  Is. 51:12-16


Of course I immediately think of scary, dictator-like people when God tells me not to be afraid of “mere mortals”, but guess who else He means?  Me!  I don’t have to be afraid of me as if God has dominion over every single thing in all of creation except for me when I don’t act properly or wisely or righteously or humbly or lovingly or…Yes, I don’t even have to submit to my late night panics that I have ruined my children or my family or my own future by this or that because God is reigning over all of His creation, even me, and His purposes will always and forever prevail.

Mastering Comfort

My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life. psalm 119:50


Sometimes it is easy to identify those who worship comfort as they lie on the sofa eating more than they realize as their eyeballs glaze over in a television trance.  Sometimes it is more subtle, shopping because it “feels good”, drinking too much too often, pushing snooze not as a break but as a rule and so on.  I’m coming to see that the “they” I am mentioning is very much a “we”, including me.  Eating is not where comfort masters me, but laziness and procrastination definitely are.  Here is a specific way my willing submission to the master named “comfort” exposed itself to my heart recently:  sprinting up a very steep hill in a race with a runner in his early 20’s.  Clearly he smoked me and as he passed me and it became evident I couldn’t keep up, several things happened at once:  1) My competitive self hated it and felt helplessly out of shape.  2) Every molecule in my body was physically uncomfortable, in pain and wanting nothing more than to stop and lie down.  3) My eyes actually wanted to close and take a nap!  Comfort is a masterful slave driver because he is so compelling, so urgent, and promises to save my life from pain…literally.


I have heard many things like these; you are miserable comforters, all of you! Job 16:2


That seems to be the marking of an idol, really.  One who promises life yet can’t actually deliver it.  For example, I learned from my sister that as long as a person is sleeping, serotonin levels stay low.  Low serotonin levels are linked to depression.  A depressed person thinks they need to stay in bed because they feel so low, but it turns out, they stay low as long as they stay in bed in and out of sleep.  Getting up and moving about actually raises the serotonin levels in a body, aiding in the elevation of mood.  I found that to be a great example of the powerfully deceptive nature of false masters or imposter gods.  Come you who are uncomfortable and I will comfort you, says the bed…yet like the Sirens, their seductive lure is to rob the victim of life.


Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Matt. 11:28


But there is another Master who offers comfort of a much different nature.  Because He has worked, I can rest in Him.  And the rest He offers is not the entitled, self-indulgent kind that simply leads to obesity and neglect of others.  He offers rest from the toil of my labor as He is reversing the curse even now.  The rest He offers, unlike the comfort offered by Job’s friends, does not depend upon my doing more and trying harder nor thinking better or approaching things more positively.  They directed Job to a comfort apart from the person and work of Jesus where no true comfort is to be found.  His comfort is resourced not deep within myself but from all of Himself poured out to me.  And the end goal of His comfort is that as one who bears His image and has been given dominion over the earth, I might offer His comfort and whole life to every aspect of the creation around me.


Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  2 Cor. 1:3-4


As His image, I have been tasked with filling the earth with His image and subduing it to reflect Him more clearly.  This morning, my little area of the creation is my office/den which has grown wild with the weeds of too many papers, unopened mail, photographs and projects.  My old master comfort would suggest I delay, that it isn’t going anywhere and isn’t really urgent, but that my opportunity for comfort is urgent and might flee if I don’t grab hold of it this very minute.  Jesus is a better Master, promising life and actually providing it.  Isn’t a de-cluttered room far more restful than one screaming its demands at me, for example?  And more than just for me, rest will then be multiplied for my family and friends who enter this small plot of His creation.  His comfort extends to the nations, mine just stops with me.


Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.  For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. Romans 6:8-9


Death no longer has mastery over the second Adam, the first Adam or all who are identified in them.  The weeds and thorns of the ground will give way, in my labor and in my heart.  Oh would He restrain me from bowing to death, from submitting to the lure of closing my eyes in death rather than continuing, by faith, up the hill.  Would He give me the faith and the motivation to trust His mastery over comfort as well as His comforting Mastery today.