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?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Single--and Happy?!?!

 I’m living the life I always dreaded.  I’m in my late twenties—and single.  No major adventures on the horizon—and single.  I’ve even discovered the beginnings of my first wrinkle—and I’m still single.  But by the wonder-full grace of God, I’m happier and more fulfilled and content than I ever have been before! 

That’s not to say that I don’t eagerly hope to be married and have a family and home of my own someday.  If Mr. Right showed up tomorrow, I would be thrilled. =) But it does mean that God has proven to me that He is enough, and that He can fill my life with richness and purpose and usefulness even outside of my “dream life.” 

This is the message I eagerly want to share with other single people, because I’ve spent most of my life under the illusion that yes, the Lord can keep my head above water as a single person, but that’s about it.  I pictured myself trying to survive with a brave smile, trusting that when I get to heaven I’d finally be happy, rather than thriving in God and exulting with His joy right here, right now.

But I believed a lie!  Psalm 84:11 says of God, “No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.”  Psalm 34:10b puts it slightly differently, “They who seek the Lord shall not be in want of any good thing.”  I take these verses to mean that if I’m walking in obedience and fellowship with the Lord, having laid my desires before Him, and He has chosen not to give me a husband thus far, that means that thus far, a husband would not have been the best thing for me, regardless of how I felt about it!  God is the perfect Father, and is “kind in all His deeds (Psalm 145:17).  Sometimes His goodness is demonstrated in giving, and sometimes in withholding—and I’m glad that it’s His job to decide what is best!  My job is just to trust, obey, and give thanks.

Yet how God has given, even when it seemed like He was withholding! He knows the womanly desires that He implanted in me, and He has met so many of those desires in unexpected ways, ways that hold benefits for many other people besides me.  No, I don’t have a husband to love, to help, to make a home for.  But I’m surrounded by lonely people of all ages, for whom I can cook, or mend, or clean, and for whom I can help to make a welcoming home where they can visit and be encouraged.  No, I don’t have children of my own to hold and rock to sleep and explore the world with.  But there are scores of children around me who come from broken homes, who perhaps were never wanted in the first place and are only considered a bother.  When I visit with them and teach the Bible to them, and shoot BB guns with them, we grin into each others’ faces and I hold them close and feel their arms around my neck and their hair against my check, and pretend for that moment that they are mine.  If their heart is warmed and comforted half as much as mine is, it’s worth it.

We single people have a mission in life just as much as the married ones.  We get to “fill in the cracks,” for needs in our churches and in society.  We can spread ourselves in multiple places and mobilize on the spur of the moment, to meet needs that married people aren’t able to meet.  We get to show the world the love and joy of God, to have a part in filling His heavenly home, and to help our fellow travelers in the family of God on their way.
One of Christ’s last commands was, “Love one another, just as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)  And that is, in words borrowed from The Sound of Music, a mission “that will need all the love you can give, every day of your life, for as long as you live.”  It’s also a mission that can only be accomplished by the power and love of God, when He reaches down in sheer grace, clasps our hands like those of a little child, and teaches us to transmit His love to the people around us.  

If you’re a single person who has been in Christian circles, you probably have heard, like I did, that God CAN meet all our needs and satisfy us in Himself.  But you may not have heard that He actually DOES!  That’s why I have kept persisting in my attempts to write this blog post, because God is worthy that someone should testify of how perfectly He works and how bountifully, too.  

There’s no magic formula besides the one we find hardest: trust and obey.  He asks us to trust Him, not by agreeing mentally that God knows best, but by putting ourselves at the mercy of His grace, without a backup plan in the event that God should fail us.  He asks us to be willing to love through whatever door He opens, whether it’s the one we were hoping for or not. To rejoice in all circumstances, whether we would have chosen them or not. And in everything, to give thanks, to make thankfulness our daily occupation—in fact, to pursue thankfulness as one thing we must not neglect to include in every day.  

Trust and obey. Is it a risky thing to trust the God Who sent His Son to die for you, who keeps the galaxies whirling in perfect synchrony, who has established mechanisms to keep your blood pH in an unbelievably narrow critical range? And is it too much to obey a God Who has only good plans for you, who withholds no good thing from those who walk uprightly?

“Of course not!” we say.  And yet most of my life I’ve had the impression that trust and obedience meant a doleful struggle. So here I am to say that’s not so!  God’s blessings are all out of proportion with our deserving.  Here I am, having learned just a little bit about trust and obedience, such a little bit that I still fall into fear and worry on a regular basis.  But how God has blessed me and shown me His glory during these past few months—and He desires to do the same for you!

There is something even better than love, and marriage, and the baby carriage.  One man who made this discovery recorded it in Psalm 63:3, “Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips will praise You….My soul is satisfied.”  Nothing that life can offer—indeed, not even life itself—can offer more joy and fulfillment than the lovingkindness of God, something that is available for you to enjoy today, this very moment.

I simply pray that this glimpse into what God has been teaching me about Himself will encourage you to exult in the God that is yours, if you have trusted the Lord Jesus to be your Savior from sin.  And if you have not—well, have you found anything better than Jesus Christ and the life that He offers?  Jesus said, “The thief [Satan] comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)