Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Dear Single Friends--Keep On!

Three years of silence certainly demands an update. But there’s no time for that right now, only burning thoughts that have been storing up, waiting for time between dishes and diapers and housework, to put them on paper. (Yes, I have a husband and a baby now, God be praised!  He truly has blessed me more than I dared to hope for.) But without further ado…

To my dear single friends:
I’ve seen the wedding pictures proliferating on Facebook, looked at the smiling faces of bridesmaids and groomsmen standing beside the new couple, and remembered how it felt. I’ve listened to exhortations given to bride and groom, about how marriage isn’t a fairy tale and sometimes it’s plain hard, and although I agree, I also remember how those words sounded when I was single. Marriage is hard. Does that mean being single is actually easy? Cause if this hardest fight I’ve ever fought, this battle to trust God and obey Him and submit my body, mind, and will to the purposes of God, is easy….then I’m not too sure I can handle “hard.”

There’s been a booming crop of babies in these parts lately and I’ve heard, both from my own lips and those of others, the reassurance that being a mom is one of the highest callings on earth, one of the most important jobs I’ll ever do, and an opportunity to influence eternity through the raising of my kids. I agree.  But I also remember the way that sounded when I was single. Being a wife and mom is the most noble job on earth. Too bad I don’t get to try out for it. It sure feels like all the things I’m trying to do for the Lord might not count as much.

Dear single friends who are endeavoring to live pure, useful lives that glorify God, please hear this. What you are doing is hard, harder than any person besides the God who bottles your tears and hears your heart’s cry, can know. Holiness is hard. Faith is hard. Obeying when nothing seems to make sense is hard. And it’s all working for you an eternal weight of glory, and bringing delight to the heart of the God who scrutinizes your path and your lying down, and is intimately acquainted with all your ways. (Psalm 139:3)

This is what will carry you through days and nights of loneliness and uncertainty. We’ve read the books about the importance and beauty of chastity, how that waiting now will make your marriage blessed. It’s true, of course, more true than you know right now. But it’s not enough to keep you walking pure, because who says you’re ever going to get married?  What really is going to keep you from swerving to the right or left, is faith in the God who made you and died for you, just trusting that He knew what he was talking about when he said “Flee immorality…the immoral man sins against himself.” (1 Corinthians 6:18)

When you choose, one minute after the next, day after day, year after year, to obey God regardless of how you feel or what people think or the message this world blasts in your ears, you are walking in faith. Faith is the one vital ingredient to please God, “For without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6)  To live for an eternal reward rather than earthly pleasure, is proof that you believe God is a rewarder of those who seek Him. 

Faith also means trusting that the most significant, noble job you can do in this world is the job God has put right in front of you at this moment. That might be going to work so you can pay your rent. Or picking up a sibling from a friends’ house. Or cleaning the church. Or sharing the gospel with your neighbor.

God doesn’t reserve his most precious commendation for those who are married or parents.  He gives it to those who trust that He knows what He’s doing and are just willing to do the job He gives them to do. 

What you are doing, this life as a single person honoring God, is hard, but believe God’s Word--it matters.

Jesus Himself asked, “when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8).  As I watch the lives of some of you, pure lives of obedient service, I am confident that yes, He will.
He’s already inducted people like you into his “Faith’s Hall of Fame.” “For time will fail me if I tell of [those] who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed act of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions…” (Hebrews 11:32-34)

Your choice to obey God is a victory on all three fronts of the Christian’s battle, the world (the system that opposes God), the flesh, and the devil. “And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” (1 Jn 5:4) There’s the conquering of a kingdom—the world. When you, by God’s grace, perform acts of righteousness, you demonstrate Christ’s victory over the flesh. And when you prove that you trust God even though He hasn’t given you everything you desire, you shut the mouth of the roaring lion, Satan himself, whose accusation before God was, “Does Job fear God for nothing?” (Job 1:9)

So dear single friends, stick to the battle. The Lord rejoices. The devil is thwarted. The church is encouraged. The world sees a picture of what a true Christian looks like. Too much is at stake for you to give in now. And ahead, perhaps just around the corner, is the ultimate home above, sweet rest, perfect love, and eternal reward. May God give you grace and strength to fight on.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Stars and Sorrows

“He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.  He counts the number of the stars; He gives names to all of them.”  (Psalm 147:3,4)

What a heart-stopping pair of verses! Each of them contains a description of God that is beyond understanding. To think that God can have a name and number for every one of His stars—stars that mobs of astronomers and astrophysicists have only begun to discover!  Then, to think that while the stars are the work of His fingers (Psalm 8:3), so is the care of my wounds—or as the marginal reading says, “sorrows.”

I’m a nurse. I know a bit about binding wounds. It’s a smelly, unlovely sort of job, often involving a lot of pus and blood. A wound is everything that ought not to be—skin that is open where it should be closed, blood leaking out where it should be sealed off, organisms living in an environment that should be sterile. Frequently, the wound is related to some miscalculation, lack of coordination or just plain stupidity (sorry!) on the part of the wounded.  And often, the wound is so painful that the patient doesn’t feel inclined to thank the one who binds it.

Try to grasp the picture.  God, inhabiting eternity, the One whom the heaven of heavens can’t contain, accompanied by millions of angels and surveying his vast creation, knowing the most distant star as intimately as the nearest, is aware of my wound.  He knows about the discouraging news, the strangling loneliness, the pain of rejection. And He gets down, as it were, on His knees, soap and water in hand, peels away the blood encrusted human attempt to stop the bleeding, and begins, gently, patiently, steadily, to cleanse and soothe.  His loving attention is not on the millions of whirling galaxies, but on the fact that I have a sorrow, a wound that needs care.

Only One who was wounded Himself, could have such a gentle touch. Only a hand with nail-scars could know so well how to bring relief. Only One who was pierced through for my sins (Isaiah 53:5), could consider my name more precious than those of all the stars.

I cannot heal my wounds. But I know I can trust them to Him.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Despise Not The Watering

My garden is a continual source of encouragement for me.  Every year, what looks like an impossibility becomes a reality—an expanse of bare (or worse yet, weedy) ground, transformed into an abundant harvest that feeds us all year long.  Every spring, as I pick rocks, chop up dirt clumps, and try to pull out stubborn weeds, I wonder what are the odds that each tiny seed will somehow get through all the obstacles and survive to get above the ground, never mind grow to maturity!

It’s no wonder that God put the first man, Adam, in a garden.  It’s a place where miracles happen every day, and yet where faith and patience are daily challenged.  And it’s no surprise that the Bible is full of analogies comparing the work of God to agriculture.

Often as I work in my garden, I think about the parable that Jesus told, of the sower who went forth sowing the seed—“and the seed is the Word of God,” Jesus said.  Some of the seed was plucked up by birds, or scorched by the sun, or choked by weeds—but some of it resulted in new life, and fruit so abundant that it made up for all the disappointments.

The analogy is continued by Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:6, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.”  We hear quite a lot in Paul’s other letters about that planting—about the things that he suffered for the sake of sharing the good seed of the Word of God.  And we readily acknowledge that God causes the growth—every gardener knows how helpless he is to make the seed grow. But often we forget about that little phrase, “Apollos watered.”

I was watering the other night, and thinking how much I respect the people who are God’s waterers.  There is something exciting about planting a seed—all the labor of preparing the soil culminates in that action of dropping the seed in the ground so that the miracle may begin.  True, it is hard to believe that anything can come of that tiny seed. But to water, day after day, when nothing can be seen but bare ground and the beginnings of weeds, requires enduring faith and perseverance.  

The sower’s work is done when the seed is nestled in the soil, but the work of the waterer continues, not just until the seed sprouts, but long after, until the roots grow deep and strong.  Just so the spiritual waterer continues to nourish the seed of God’s Word sown in a person’s heart, until it brings about new life—and then he continues to nurture that flickering bit of life until it has learned to draw its strength directly from God. When the fragile tendrils of green poke above the soil, he will be there, watering gently so that the tiny plant is not disturbed.  As the hot months continue and the seedling grows—oh, so slowly!—he will continue pouring out, pouring out, into soil which greedily drinks up every drop.  Truth administered wrongly can be destructive, as the wise waterer knows.  And yet, it is vital to spiritual life, and so he goes on, encouraging, exhorting, explaining and re-explaining, until spiritual understanding and strength develops. 

If it was not for the assurance that “God causes the growth,” he might be tempted to give up. But there is one thing that keeps him going, and that is the assurance that the seed is good seed, and the fruit will be sweet, and that the Owner of the garden is worthy of his diligent labor.

So if you’re one of God’s waterers, please don’t give up.  And though you may feel like you’re mixing an awful lot of blood, sweat, and tears in that watering can of yours, take heart.  The Lord knows, and perhaps somewhere in heaven He is making a little note with your name in the place of Apollos, “He watered.”

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Drumroll Please...The Meaning of Life--in 629 Words

 The thought doesn’t come often, but when it does, it’s pretty scary—what if I spend the rest of my life waiting for some definite direction from the Lord, and when I’m forty or fifty I’m still waiting to begin on any real life-work?  ….there must be something eternal for me to be engaged in, besides incidental opportunities along the way!”

Dear young woman who wrote that in my journal a few years ago,
Can I tell you what happened to me the other day? I spent part of the afternoon picking up branches around the perimeter of one of our hayfields.  The snow has receded enough on the south-facing slopes that we can see grass again—or at least the dead grass stalks that were left from last year’s hayfields.  It was slow, monotonous work, but the beautiful afternoon made up for it.  A few optimistic birds were singing about spring, and the brilliant sunshine was warm enough to make up for the chilly winter air. 

As I was walking back to the house to get supper, it hit me: this is it.  This is life. I’ve arrived at that nebulous thing called “being grown up.”

Not only that, “this” is my life work.  This living from day to day, receiving my daily work with my daily bread. This learning to walk by faith, not knowing the plan for the remainder of my life.  This buying up of opportunities, and realizing that they are neither incidental nor accidental. This realization that immortal souls are cloaked in the highly mortal bodies that are always crossing my path, and so every interaction is “something eternal for me to be engaged in.”

God has given each of His children a life work—to live.  Living entails a host of difficulties, disappointments, perplexities, and surprises.  But it is in the context of “just” living, that God meets us.  In fact, and, as Paul the apostle said, “To live is Christ.”  No so-called “life work” can be carried on through the passage of all of life’s seasons; it must be laid down eventually.  But the real kind of life, the life that is Christ, only grows stronger as we get closer to heaven—and it even crosses over into life after death, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom You have sent.” (John 17:3) 

 Life, when lived to its fullest, is all about Christ, not about my work for Him.  If only I could get this solidly in my head, life would be splattered all over with glory. Most of the time I obsess over my to-do list and yes, often I try to make a to-do list for God too.  How much better to slow down to watch for His fingerprints in my day, and listen for His voice and His approaching footstep.

Do you catch the beauty of this kind of life?  It is the dust of earth being blown into living significance by the breath of God.  It is the filling up of weak earthen vessels, with the glorious treasure of the gospel of God.  It is washing dishes and scrubbing floors in the anteroom of heaven, and enjoying fellowship with the eternal God while bumping over muddy roads and getting little kids bundled up to go sledding.

It is strange that human sweat and tears, when shed for Christ’s sake, can be converted into heavenly treasure.  Strange that the mundane and the sublime can seem so far removed from one another—and yet rub shoulders.  Strange that the warm sunshine can so transform the chill of winter.  Strange that picking up sticks from a sodden hayfield can be the prelude to such a revelation about the meaning of life!

Monday, January 28, 2013

And It's All Free!

I could see my patient struggling for air.  His breathing was fast, and his face was preoccupied, etched with anxiety.  The alarming of the oxygen saturation monitor didn’t help.  Yet a few minutes after being put on oxygen, he was relaxing, leaning back in the bed, talking to me about how sick he had been, and about how terrible it is not to be able to breathe, and about how much the oxygen helped.

“Funny how much we need that stuff,” I said with a laugh.
 “Yes,” he said, thoughtfully, “And it’s all free.”

He didn’t look much like a philosopher, with long, greasy grey hair, an unkempt beard, and nondescript clothing.  But His statement was the most profound thing I heard all day.

We all know that costs are going up.  Some people think about it in Wall Street sized terms.  Most of us around here think of it in terms of the cost of a gallon of gas and a loaf of bread.  I suppose that soon enough we’ll fall over the fiscal cliff and inflation is going to skyrocket and all that.  But did you ever think how much of life is free, and can never be under the greedy control of mankind?

Yes, the air we breathe is free, all of it.  The sunshine that warms us is free.  The colors in the sunsets are free, and so is the singing of the birds.  The rain that refreshes our land is free, and so is the wind that fills us with vigor and clears away the smog. 

And just think, God gives us all this without requiring us to earn a bit of it! “He causes His sun to shine on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Matthew 5:45

Of course, I suppose we might observe that it doesn’t cost God a thing to create the sunshine, and paint the sunset, and send the rain, and tune the song of the birds.  Would He be so generous if it cost Him something?  What if it cost Him the highest price He could pay, the only thing that really mattered to Him?

Because that did happen, you know. He paid that highest price, the death of His only Son, so that you and I could come to live with Him in heaven, cleansed from all our sins.  There was nothing more that He could have given for your life—your eternal life.  There was no higher ransom that He could pay to save you from hell.  So what does He charge for this eternal life, for which He paid so dearly?

Nothing.  The only requirement is faith.  Trust.  Belief that He actually did it for you.  Simple agreement with the facts of the case—you are the sinner that Christ died to save.

Yet so many people choose to reject this offer.  They would rather have a salvation that they have to earn.  The idea of taking something so magnificent without being able to do anything to deserve it, is offensive to them.  Every day they breathe in God’s free air, and enjoy His free light, and listen to His free concerts, and tour His free outdoor art galleries, and live the physical life that He gave them so freely, and yet they reject the eternal life that He desires them to have above anything else.  Just because it’s free.   

Tell me, does that make sense?