Monday, September 26, 2011

Morning Battle




This is the battle I fight each and every day:


“…the real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.

We can only do it for moments at first. But from those moments the new sort of life will be spreading through our system: because now we are letting Him work at the right part of us. It is the difference between paint, which is merely laid on the surface, and a dye or stain which soaks right through.”

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity


Today Show, or Bible?

Internet, or devotional?

Telephone, or meditation?

Emails, or prayer?


This is where the battlefield of the mind begins…

…before you’ve even had your coffee…


What is the first thing I reach for on the bedside table?


You’d think that I would know by now.

It is shocking how often I lose this subtle fight for life.


Lord, please help me to put first things first. 

Every day.


***************

Does anyone else struggle with priorities?


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Better Hope


For the law never made anything perfect.
But now we have confidence in a better hope,
through which we draw near to God.
(Hebrews 7:19)



I’ve felt him hovering around the edges lately. Breathing softly down the back of my neck.

Hello, Darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk to you again…*

Thankfully, gratefully, we’ve managed to keep him pretty much at bay so far. God and I are seasoned warriors on this particular battlefront.

But I am wary.

We know his wiles.


Strangely, I’ve encountered several people recently who are in the heat of battle. The Depression Demon has swooped down like a voracious vulture and grabbed them by their necks. Some are experiencing the blues. A sense of oppression, heaviness, sadness. As one friend told me, “There’s just so much to be sad about in the world right now.”

Some are experiencing situational depression, a mood disorder originating from adverse circumstances, such as a terrifying disease. Some are battling chemical imbalances.

But for others, it’s a bloody fight for life.


Yesterday, I was asked to pray for someone who tried to end life.

The pain became too much to bear.

Hope was lost.

Ending life seemed the only way to end the pain.


Hopelessness.


If you google depression, that word comes up in almost every list of symptoms.

“A sense of hopelessness” is usually right there after “low energy or fatigue” and “constant sadness.”


The end of long-cherished dreams.  A gaping dark hole of a future.

Everything seems impossible. The sun won’t come up tomorrow.

 And nothing can ever, will ever, change.

Hope-less-ness.

These are the lies heard whispered in the dark night of the soul.


This morning, I checked in on Margery to see if there were any new comments on the last post. My friend Mary had left this for me in the wee morning hours:

Life on this earth can be really hard, but we have the hope of a perfect Heaven to live in forever!”

If anyone knows what it is to need hope, it is Mary. She has lived through an unimaginably devastating life-quake. Yet she is one of the most joy-filled, adventurous, giving human beings I’ve ever known. She radiates love and confidence.

But it is a confidence that comes from a source greater than herself. Her hope is not in other people, for they have surely let her down. Nor is it is merely self-confidence.

It is hope in God and His promises.


The definition of the verb hope is:  to cherish a desire with anticipation.

In etymology studies, a connection is made with the Old Germanic verb hop (“to leap.” The extension in the context of hope is “leaping in expectation.”

I think of a child jumping up and down in expectant excitement on Christmas morning. Hoping for all her impossible dreams to come true. I long for the day when my hope is that evident... joyful... contagious... 

“Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.” (I Peter 1:3-4)

But if hope is only in ourselves or fate, then we are ‘more to be pitied than anyone else.’

If I ‘hope’ to get it together… pull myself up by my bootstraps… take matters into my own hands and fix things, then I might as well go ahead and throw in the towel now.

Because my best isn’t good enough.

There are things I simply cannot fix.

Like myself.

Or anyone else.

Painful circumstances.

Devastating illness.


But, thank God, there is a better hope.


Lightbulb clicking on, it comes to me suddenly:

A life without hope is a life devoid of life itself

because Christ is Hope

and he is Life.


Easton’s Bible Dictionary clarifies:

Christ is the actual object of the believer's hope, because it is in his second coming that the hope of glory will be fulfilled (1 Tim. 1:1; Col. 1:27; Titus 2:13). It is spoken of as "lively", i.e., a living, hope, a hope not frail and perishable, but having a perennial life (1 Pet. 1:3). In Rom. 5:2 the "hope" spoken of is probably objective, i.e., "the hope set before us," namely, eternal life.

There is a better hope in a better country.

But that doesn’t mean it’s just pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by.

Where there is Christ, there is hope. There is no place so low he will not go.

Christ inhabits the believer at the point of conversion. If you have ever asked him to come in, he is there still. You may have smushed him into a corner, crowded his space with other idols, but he remains in you. And he is interceding for you now. Standing in the cavernous gap.

Countless promises have been made. It is impossible that they should not be kept.

“There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.”  (Proverbs 23:18)  


If you are oppressed by a debilitating depression,
     there is hope.

If your family is falling apart,

     there is hope.

If you are caught in the trap of addiction,

     there is hope.

If everything you love is taken away

     there is still hope.


It is one of the three things that remain when all else turns to dust.

‘Hope springs eternal,’ not just because of natural optimism, but because Christ, the embodied personification of hope, is eternal.


When the darkness comes creeping up on me, when everything in life seems unendingly hopeless, I remind myself of these things:

The Christ-in-You-Hope can never die. The darkness will not overtake it. Nothing can separate you from it. You may not see it,  feel it, hear it. But it is there, hiding in your heart, underneath the pile of rubbish and lies.

I hope that you know this, too, no matter how hopeless you may feel.

I pray for us all...

***************

 “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

“I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him.” (Eph, 1:18-19)


And if you could use a little extra hope today…


“Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us…” (II Cor 1:9)

“God also bound himself with an oath, so that those who received the promise could be perfectly sure that he would never change his mind. So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.” (Hebrews 6:17-19)


To hear from someone with a PhD in Hope, please click on my daughter’s blog:






I am linking up with this wonderful purveyor of hope:






(* The Sound of Silence,  Simon and Garfunkle)

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Necessity of Adversity





If you’re in a happy stage right now, you’re probably not going to want to read this.

If you’ve got adorable little kids that mind you perfectly…  if you have a stimulating career… a fabulous marriage… an exciting social life… if you have plans for exotic travels… if your house is a decorator’s dream…

If everyone in your family is happy and healthy and high-functioning…

and you’re all involved in a gazillion interesting activities…

you might want to save this one for later.


But if your dreams have been shattered, your plans destroyed, and your heart torn by grief…

Come sit by me.

And let’s talk about something hard.


When I first heard the title of this post in a sermon years ago, I thought it was strange.

Why in the world would adversity ever be necessary?

ad·ver·si·ty
noun
1.       adverse fortune or fate; a condition marked by misfortune, calamity, or distress.

Who wants that?

Not me. I’m not going to go around courting calamity if I can help it. I did enough of that in my misspent youth.

But in spite of every effort to prevent it, adversity does come into each life eventually. (If I’m wrong on this, please contact me and identify yourself as someone who has never faced adverse circumstances of any kind at any time. I will then amend the above statement to most lives.)

Frequently, adversity comes suddenly and unexpectedly. Out of the blue.

You could be having just the most average, normal, decent day in the world… and the phone rings, shattering life as you’ve known it.

Or adversity might develop slowly, like water gradually heated in a pot. So slowly that you don’t recognize the warning signs until the scalding water splashes over the rim, giving you third-degree burns.

However it comes, there is a choice involved. Will you allow the experience to make you bitter, or make you better? Harder or softer?  More rebellious or more yielded to God and His purposes?

Will you allow it to grow you up, or put you back in diapers?

Will you choose to be brave enough to explore the gifts that adversity brings?

Will you search for the hidden “treasures of darkness?” (Isaiah 45:3)

Or will you cower in a cave?

I don’t believe that God causes adversity or hardship in the lives of His children. But the God-given gift of Man’s free will, combined with immutable natural and spiritual laws, causes them to be a part of life on earth. Things haven’t been perfect down here since the Garden.

Adversity actually appears to be part of a natural cycle. A necessary component of spiritual growth.

Why do we need it?

We are prone to wander.

Personally, I echo the words of the wonderful 18th Century hymn:

“O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to thee

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.
Here's my heart. O take and seal it;
Seal it for thy courts above.”
(Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, Robert Robinson, 1757.)

I think it’s interesting that the author was only 22 when he wrote it. There’s an infinite number of ways in which to wander when you’re that age. But even later, at more settled phases of life, wandering away from God is still a virulent temptation.

When we become too comfortable, it’s easy to forget.

I am the first to admit that this principle is true in my own life. I love to be comfortable. My natural inclination is to avoid unpleasantness, aggravation, inconvenience or discomfort of any kind… much less actual pain.

But here’s what always happens to me during a comfortable phase: The necessity of God as a vital, ever-present force in my daily life gets back-burnered while I run around doing my own thing, trying to be happy in my own way. Prayer becomes perfunctory and peripheral, rather than passionate and central to existence.

I flit around worshipping whatever pretty little idols I can find, forgetting that God is the only true source of joy.

In writing about this, I’ve noticed something: My idols are always things that make me feel good in some way. Emotional anesthesia.

That’s not real life, folks.

Real life is raw and dangerous and terrifying and poignant and beautiful and sublime. Real life exalts you to the heavenlies, and brings you to your knees.

“The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”*

In seeking our own comfort, we miss the grandeur. Ignoring the creator of the glory and grandeur, we forget all that He’s done for us in the past. In living for ourselves, our gaze becomes clouded and earthbound. We become accustomed to our blessings instead of maintaining a humble sense of gratitude for them.

Perhaps subconsciously we start believing the lie that we’re in charge. We’re responsible for our own blessings. We earned them, and we deserve them. WE ARE ENTITLED.

If this attitude develops, a sad irony occurs: The more God blesses us, the further away we drift from Him. Prosperity produces pride, which causes distance to develop in our relationship with God. We begin to worship created things, rather than the Creator. (Romans 1:25)

This is not a new story. It has gone on for millennia. It is the story of the Old Testament.

I want to share a rather long passage with you. (Please bear with me, and remember all the ‘filler’ posts we had over the summer!)

“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land of flowing streams and pools of water, with fountains and springs that gush out in the valleys and hills… It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking. It is a land where iron is as common as stone, and copper is abundant in the hills. When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.
But that is the time to be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today. For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! Do not become proud at that time and forget the Lord your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. Do not forget that he led you through the great and terrifying wilderness with its poisonous snakes and scorpions, where it was so hot and dry. He gave you water from the rock! He fed you with manna in the wilderness, a food unknown to your ancestors. He did this to humble you and test you for your own good. He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’ Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful...” (from Deuteronomy 8)
David Guzik describes the cyclical nature of God’s relationship with the Israelites: “This cycle would be repeated through the history of Israel, especially in the time of the Judges. God would bless an obedient Israel, and they would prosper; they would begin to set their heart on the blessings instead of the LORD who blessed them; God would allow chastisement to turn Israel’s focus back upon Him; Israel would repent and obey again, and God would again bless Israel and they would prosper.”

When everything’s going great, it is easy to forget our intense need of God. I’m doing just fine, thanks. Things are good. See you Christmas and Easter.
We may even begin to rationalize away miraculous interventions of the past. Well, that probably would have happened anyway, even if I hadn’t prayed.
Because we are the way we are, it seems that adversity is a harsh, but necessary, implement of spiritual growth. Periodically, we must be brought to our knees… to the end of our ropes… to the bottom of the pit. We must come to the end of our self-sufficiency. Pride has to be emptied out so that Grace may come in.

Adversity came knocking at my door again this week. Bad news. Some fresh hell to deal with. It knocked me out for a day. In the bed.
But then, something amazing happened.
I felt this sweet little sense of peace sneak up on me. It has wavered; wafted in and out. But it keeps coming back like one of those trick matches you can’t put out.
Because, this time, I am not despairing. I have fondled the memorial stones in my pocket for courage. I am remembering this:
It is through the worst adversities in my life that I have come to truly know God.

To understand His character. To comprehend His love. To experience His peace. To receive His gifts.

We have gotten down and dirty, God and I.

I’ve let it all hang out. I’ve screamed at Him and cried on Him and sat in His lap.

(It’s my guess that if you’ve never faced terrible adversity, you’ve never sat in God’s lap. I don’t think it would dawn on you to do such a thing. Or even that such a thing is a spiritual possibility.)

Adversity has granted me the gift of Intimacy.
  
It keeps me close to the One I love.

And there, He holds me and gives me treasures in secret places.


He has never let me down.

He has never let me go.


I can't wait to see how He's going to handle this one.

***************

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

*(God’s Grandeur, Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89)

Has anyone else ever experienced a 'hug' from God, or do you think I'm crazy? 
(Never mind, we all know the answer to that one.)




It was hard to choose which youtube of this hymn to post. David Crowder, Surjan Stephens, and even Mumford and Sons(!) all have versions. Love all those people. Google them.


May you have a weekend full of irrational joy, no matter what your circumstances.



Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Lament on 9/11


There are no guarantees in life.


You can do everything right, follow all the rules;

 still,

terrible things may happen.


The world is a fearsome place, fraught with hideous possibilities of unimaginable pain and suffering.

Senseless tragedy.

Incomprehensible inequity.


Saints suffer while villains reign.

The wicked prosper

and flourish

for generations.


Because you can do everything wrong

yet still

have a life unmarred by terrible adversity or affliction.*


The whys overwhelm.

Darkness envelops.

Outrageous injustice demands explanation, understanding.

But none comes.


Only emptiness.

Void.






But from a void, came Life.

Comes Life.


And the unfathomable Love underneath it all

that says, I AM.



I AM.



The knees bend. The head bows.


“Though you slay me, yet will I trust in You.**


***************


“The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.
 And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
 And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.”
 (Genesis 1:2-3)



This lament was written from both a global perspective and an individual perspective, based on my own personal struggles.



(*seemingly)


(**Job 13:15, kjv)



Friday, September 9, 2011

Easy Goodness




My kids have decided that they either need to get skinnier or healthier, so they are challenging each other to compete in a “4-Hour Body competition. This is based on the book by the same name written by Timothy Ferris, the same guy that wrote the “4-Hour Workweek.”

 The idea in both books is to discover how to achieve the greatest result with the least time and effort.

The rules are not earth-shattering. Pretty much the same as any low-carb eating plan:

RULE 1: AVOID "WHITE" CARBOHYDRATES.

RULE 2: EAT THE SAME FEW MEALS OVER AND OVER AGAIN.

RULE 3: DON'T DRINK CALORIES.

RULE 4: DON'T EAT FRUIT.

RULE 5: TAKE ONE DAY OFF PER WEEK.

Personally, I think the guy is about 3/4ths lunatic, so don’t necessarily rush out and buy the book.  You can find the basis tenets here.

The recommended foods are, in a nutshell:

Greens
Beans
Lean Proteins

My family is very sick and tired of listening to me complain that my pants won’t zip up because of the mennertube*, so they have urged me to try this plan with them. I am notorious for never sticking to a diet, but my eldest has assured me that “this isn’t a diet, it’s just a healthy eating plan.”

I lasted about two days without cheating.

But during that time, I came up with a recipe that’s becoming a staple at our house. I love the idea of a healthy, no prep-time, one-dish meal.

This is so good for you… full of lean protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It will bless your body!

Plus, the time not spent in the kitchen can be used for things that bless your spirit. Go outside, sit on your porch, and just listen.


Shrimp and Lentil Salad

Bag of fresh baby spinach leaves
Can of black beans
Package of pre-cooked lentils
Chopped tomato and avocado
Virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar
Mild salsa (not chunky)
Bag of frozen cooked shrimp, thawed
Lemon juice

(All ingredients were from Trader Joe’s.)

Thaw shrimp
Rinse black beans in a colander

Layer spinach, lentils, black beans, tomato, and avocado on each plate. Sprinkle with oil and vinegar.  (I always do twice as much vinegar as oil.) Put a big dollop of salsa on top, arrange shrimp on top, and sprinkle with lots of lemon juice.

Voila! Bon Appetit.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend with people you love.


***************

*Mennertube: mysterious subcutaneous innertube that suddenly appears around a female's middle section following menopause.

Has anyone else experimented with the 4-Hour Body plan? 
Have any easy recipes to share?
Want to discuss mennertubes?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Apropos of the last post...


When I get up in the morning, I sit
on the side of my bed and say, 
God, if I don't get anything
else done today, 
I want to know You more and love You better. 

God didn't put me on earth just to fulfill a to-do list. 
He's more interested in what I am than what I do.
That's why we're called human
beings, not human doings.

Rick Warren


Monday, September 5, 2011

Accomplished





I’ve always been pretty much of an underachiever. At least since halfway through high school, anyway.

I don’t feel too bad about it most of the time.

But every now and then it gets to me.

Like when someone says something to the effect of, “Why, I didn’t know that you could a, b, c! So why don’t you x, y, z?” (Example: “I didn’t know you could string two sentences together! You should write a book.”)

Well, because the x, y, or z might be next to impossible for an unorganized, unmotivated, ADHD underachiever like me. There’s a big discrepancy between potential and production here. So the occasional comment makes me a little sad.

Why don’t I accomplish more?

Why don’t I get more done?

What’s wrong with me?

Why can’t I be more like normal people?

Normal people get a lot done. They’re always scratching things off their to-do lists. Marvelously multi-tasking. RSVPing on time. Returning all their calls and emails as soon as they get them.

They’re out running errands while I’m still contemplating getting out of bed.

They accomplish a lot in a day.

I accomplish little.

Sometimes the whispering lies of self-hatred waft into my head and settle there like a low-lying gray cloud.

Until I ask: “What is truly needful?”

This society encourages twisted thinking about doing vs. being. About works vs. faith. Self-esteem easily becomes tangled up in what we do rather than in what we are. We are judged by our accomplishments. And we judge ourselves by our accomplishments.

Sometimes I catch myself internally attempting to bolster my ego with a thought like, “Well, Kim, you managed to accomplish a lot today. You were a good girl. You got it done. Give yourself a high five!”

And then I immediately go, “Yecccchhhh. Gag me with a spoon.”

Twisted sister.

I remember the words of the apostle Paul: I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me…” (Romans 15:18)

In the Upside Down Kingdom, the bed-confined invalid who faithfully prays for others accomplishes far more in a day than the most driven, accomplished workaholic.

I constantly must remind myself that my worth comes from who I am… whose I am… rather than from what I do.

“For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God.” (Rom. 10:4)

I don’t have to do anything to make myself okay. Only believe.

On this Labor Day, may we truly rest from our labors, rejoicing in the accomplished work of Christ.

In his own words,

It is finished.


***************


“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
(Matthew 11:28-29)

“For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors,
 just as God did after creating the world.”
 (Hebrews 4:10)