Sunday, 17 August 2014

When You're on the Ground

"Even your God won't drop life in your lap," he said. 
"If you keep having problems, you should ask yourself if the problem is you," she said.
"You should be thankful for what you have. You have no real problems," she said.
They were trying to help, not hurt. And every word they spoke was true. But, oh. On a day when I am struggling to hold back the tears.
They say nothing really shuts you down
Quite like shame, it kicks you when you’re on the ground
Even with your good intentions
You always seem to lose against it (Jason Gray, Love's Not Done With You)
Must my weakness be so evident, so open to comment? Will I ever be strong enough, warmed enough inside, to bear the coldness of this place? Will I ever have enough grace? Where is that Comforter I have known? I have come this far, and how is it that I am so suddenly, awfully ridiculous, and so weak?

God knows. He knows the coldness that grips me, the emptiness that howls. He knows the reason I am here. There is a reason, firm and rich and full and worthy, for this senselessness, this confusion, this loss, this humiliation. I will trust in Him. I will wait here with Him. I will trust that He knows both the cost and the value of this hurt of mine.

These days, I am too often wretched and desperate and clawing, aware of only my own pain, and clumsy, awkward with the way I deal with others. I have struggled and fought to overcome, to give love when I am sore and empty - but everything is twisted, rotten at the core. The dim is all around, and it is hard to even see my own heart. I try to do good, but there is so little love in it that it falls in pieces as soon as I withdraw my hand. And sometimes I am fooled into thinking I can give a gift, but I am filled with such awful expectation when it's given that it is not a gift at all, and I am overcome with regret that I have tried. When, through exercise of will, I am able to tear out and hand over a shred of self, it is misunderstood and rejected, and I am left more bitter than before. Oh, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 

I am ashamed and tired, and I don't know where to hide my hideous self. I am full of grief, but I have lost nothing - yet I am full of emptiness. I know my thinking is wrong. I could give myself all the advice people long to give me, but it's useless. I have no power, no strength, no understanding. Where is Jesus, to rescue me?

He will use this, too, for good. He will love me back to life.

God! Let this make me gentle, not cold and dull, to others' pain! Burn off the sharpness and the selfish anger that pour out of me, and overcome my spewing hate, and love me into soft, warm, kindness. Let Jesus overcome me, and change me, and live in me.


Saturday, 19 July 2014

Past Finding Out

They say the truth will set you free
But I have sought the Truth
And here I am in chains,
If truth be told.
Why?
Where is God?
His ways are past finding out
And there is no one else beside;
I only wait for Him.
Why does He hide himself?
I cannot tell.
I only know that He is Love, and that
The enemy is cruel and he bombards my broken places
Till they ooze loss and ugliness;
To tell the truth, and not what ought to be
I have no grace,
And I am all in pieces.
Where is my escape? Or if there is no escape, then
Where is the strength that only God can give?
Why will He leave me bleeding here,
And yet refuse to slay me?
Oh, where is He?
But Jesus cried. And Jesus was alone. And Jesus, King of Heaven, took on shame.
It's baffling.
He is not far,
And yet I fail to find
The grace, the help that I expected in this place.
Where is God?
I know the answer,
And I could write it, smooth and neat, on an exam:
The Man of Sorrows knows my grief, and
God is here with me, close to the broken-hearted,
And I should not forget that He who Loves is working for me
Better than I can imagine.
All this is true; I know it in my deep heart's core
Yet I am full of emptiness
And grace is given to others, not to me
And I am broken-hearted,
Lost, and weary, disappointed in myself -
After all this time.
Oh, where is God?
I cannot bear the waiting -
Hope drags hard and grace has gone
And I wish I could be one of the strong, sweet ones
But I can't
(I thought that He would help me!)
Nor can I find the door that would eject me from this purgatory,
This anxious waiting, empty-handed and ashamed:
When I would give up hope, my heart will not!
It cries and cries to Him - that Man of Sorrows,
God-with-us:
Surely He will hear the cry of one for whom he bled!
Though I fail Him; though I stumble in the darkness; though I fall-
Jesus, whose strong love made him full of tears
And too weak to bear a cross all the way to Calvary
(Yet he was strong to die)
Must come to me
He will not fail!
I wait for Him to rise
Triumphant over mocking enemies
And put all my broken pieces back into one
Whole. 
As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything. (Ecclesiastes 11:5)

Saturday, 5 July 2014

A Living Sacrifice

Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:28)
The death of Jesus marked the end of all sacrifices, except one: the thank offering. That we owe.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will ishis good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)
"All to Jesus I surrender..." I've sung that in church and meant it with my whole, unknowing heart. Most of us are aware that sacrifice means loss, surrender, and I thought I was ready for that.

I used to imagine myself as an Israelite, bringing my own little lamb to be offered. As I handed over precious parts of my life to God, I experienced the loss, the tearing involved in letting go, and I imagined that as the end of the process. It seemed hard enough. It is no simple thing to give what the heart has called its own. What I did not know to expect when I offered, with burning heart, all to Jesus, was the bloody, messy work of offering the sacrifice. I thought I could bring my heart's lamb and leave the slaughter and the bloody handling to the temple workers.

A sacrifice is a gory, brutal thing. Our God, Father though he is, does not spare us the slaughtering, the tearing of skin from flesh, the cutting, the washing - the handling of our broken, bloodied offerings. It is what he asks because it is what he gives.
The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting. He said, Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When anyone among you brings an offering to the Lord, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock.
“ ‘If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, you are to offer a male without defect. You must present it at the entrance to the tent of meeting so that it will be acceptable to the Lord. You are to lay your hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on your behalf to make atonement for you. You are to slaughter the young bull before the Lord, and then Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and splash it against the sides of the altar at the entrance to the tent of meeting. You are to skin the burnt offering and cut it into pieces. The sons of Aaron the priest are to put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. Then Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, including the head and the fat, on the wood that is burning on the altar. You are to wash the internal organs and the legs with water, and the priest is to burn all of it on the altar. It is a burnt offering, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. (Leviticus 1:1-9)
Again and again, this violence. The loud bleating and the quiet bleeding. For the worshipper, all is disarray and ugly, broken pieces. But to God, there is "...an aroma pleasing to the Lord".

Oh, to see things as he sees them! To be able to look past the blood and the brokenness and see something pleasing! When the tearing and the mess go on and on, and my heart has bled out all its strength, and I am the one laying broken on the altar, and yet more remains to be done to complete the offering, then I am hard pressed to feel that there is in this any honour for my God. How can glory come from this aching, awful mess? The purpose of the sacrifice escapes me, and though dimly I know it is necessary - and I can accept the loss - the work of offering it is more than I had reckoned on.
"Moreover the Philistines had yet war again with Israel; and David went down, and his servants with him, and fought against the Philistines: and David waxed faint."—II Sam. 21:15.
As it is recorded that David, in the heat of battle, waxed faint, so may it be written of all servants of the Lord.
Fits of depression come over the most of us. Cheerful as we may be, we must at intervals be cast down. The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.
There may be here and there men of iron to whom wear and tear work no perceptible detriment, but surely the rust frets even these; and as for ordinary men, the Lord knows and makes them to know that they are but dust. (Charles Spurgeon, When a Preacher is Downcast)
I am weary and ashamed, and the tedium of living an offering overwhelms me. Especially, it is hard to imagine how God can be glorified in the turmoil. I feel that there is something wrong in it. Where are the priests, the professionals? Shouldn't I, after all, have left this to them? Surely they could do a better job than I, when I am all awkward reluctance and and ill-timed, shaking fear!

But if he does not explain, at least God's instruction is clear. He did not spare his son, and he does not spare us, his children. And in this long darkness, I have come to see two sides of a paradox: my faith is far weaker and more easily shaken than I used to think, and, after all, I trust God far more deeply than I ever imagined I could. As I am torn apart, I have the strange sense that something else, yet unknown even to me, is coming together.
These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold–though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. (1 Peter 1:7)
I will trust in the love of God my Father. To him belong the chaos of the bleating and the bleeding, and the glory of the flame, and the aroma of the rising smoke. To him I will lift up my pleading and my worship, both.
Answer me quickly, Lord;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I entrust my life. (Psalm 143:7-8)
But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
to deliver them from death
and keep them alive in famine.
We wait in hope for the Lord;
he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name. (Psalm 33:18-20)

Friday, 6 June 2014

A Holy Waste

Mary, breaking her precious alabaster - did she count the cost? Did it seem waste to her who gave, or did she know what it was for? 

We love things that can be counted, measured, assessed. It is not hard to give ourselves and our heart's deep treasures for what we can calculate, because this matches what we know from the world around us. Give to receive. It need not be selfish. We can invoke the social good and admit the value even of Jesus' command to help the poor. And this kind of investment is not wrong. It is wise. Give up the short-term, the precious now, for the much more precious future.

But this is not sacrifice. Sacrifice gives up. Not to receive. Not to accomplish. It gives to express - love, adoration, worship. It empties itself, not hoping for a result, but hoping in the One to whom it gives. It seeks not fruit, but honour.

I have questioned the meaning in my life, with all its seeming aimlessness and complicated hurts. I have searched in vain for fruit enough to make the cost worthwhile. I have questioned the wisdom of my investments, and I have raised to heaven in bewilderment my empty hands. What do I have to show for my years, my tears, my heart-cries? For what do I live and work and push myself onward and pour myself out? The hiss is loud in my ears: Why this waste? Surely it might have been sold and given to the poor...

A lie from the father of lies. Jesus has not come to tell us how to live. He has become our reason for living. He is the purpose and the goal and the deep meaning in it all. He has asked us, not only to work to serve and to achieve, but to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, poured out to him. This flies in the face of human accounting. It overturns the tables and does violence to all within us that would make merchandise of Jesus and the worship we offer him. It turns out the moneychangers in the temple that is us. Such a life is not a failed investment; it is a holy waste.

I have been taken captive by lies. I have lived in fear and raised idols to combat that fear, but my weakness and bondage is increased. I am sometimes overcome with shame and dread. I have come so far and learned so little. I don't know what my place is, and I am often discouraged.

Our opposition is more in us than outside. In this world, we must fight for truth. The lies we believe cannot separate us from the love of God; they can't change the good God has planned for us - but they can obscure our thinking. They rob us of peace. They keep us from gratitude and fellowship and joy. 

Father, give me eyes to see the real value of things. Shine your truth into my life, and let it destroy the power of lies. Un-blind me, and let me run for you, and love you, and find my freedom and my place in you. Let me give my life, not as an investment, but as a sacrifice to you, a holy waste, for the honour of your Name.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Could A Garden Come Up From This Ground?


My vision and my strength is taken away, and I could cry like Samson, "Let me die with the Philistines!" But Jesus is here, whom Samson never knew, and he is the Redeemer of all lost and broken things. He grows beauty and life out of death and dust. He the One Who Never Fails.

When my heart races and my blood creeps, I will fold myself into him. I will trust only him.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

And Will Look Up

Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God:  for unto thee will I pray.My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up. Psalm 5:1-3
My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from Him.  He only is my rock and my salvation: He is my defense; I shall not be moved.  In God is my salvation and my glory:  the rock of my strength,  and my refuge, is in God.  Trust in Him at all times:  ye people, pour out your heart before Him:  God is a refuge for us.Psalm 62:5-8

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

One Thing

One thing God has spoken,
two things I have heard:
Power belongs to you, God,
and with you, Lord, is unfailing love
”;
and, “You reward everyone
according to what they have done.” (Psalm 62:11-12)

Monday, 5 May 2014

Thanksgiving

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.
My heart leaps for joy,
and with my song I praise him.
The Lord is the strength of his people,
a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.
Save your people and bless your inheritance;
be their shepherd and carry them forever. (Psalm 28:7-9)
Father, You put thanks in my heart, and I offer it back to You. You have ordered all of my disappointment. Change my desires. Let me long for Your glory. Let me value things the way You value them. Let me trust You when I cannot see. Be my shepherd: I cast myself on You. I give You my thanks.

You are Good, and You give Good. Let my life and my lips praise You.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

God is the Strength of My Heart

At some thoughts one stands perplexed, especially at the sight of men's sin, and wonders whether one should use force or humble love. Always decide to use humble love. If you resolve on that once for all, you may subdue the whole world. Loving humility is marvellously strong, the strongest of all things, and there is nothing else like it. (from The Brothers Karamazov)
Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise. (Psalm 51:15-17)
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25-26)
The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness... (Exodus 34:6)

Friday, 2 May 2014

No Promise But Jesus

The Bible is full of promises. Promises we think we can cut out and use like coupons, handing them up to God like we can just exchange them for all that will fill our deep, longing hearts. And oh, our confusion when we find it doesn't work that way! 

God keeps his promises. Without doubt, he is faithful. But he will not be conjured. He doesn't come when we ring the right bell. His time and his ways are inscrutable; past finding out. We cannot know how or when he will work, and in a world of time, that fact in essence renders a whole Bible full of promises useless as coupons. 

Martha of Bethany learned this. She had sent Jesus word: "Lord, the one you love is sick." When Jesus came to her, too late to save her brother from death, she reminded him of what he could have done.  She knew - not just believed - that he had the power to save Lazarus from dying. 
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
 There was no confession like this one in all Jesus' days on earth. Martha, the one Jesus rebuked - not sweet, worshipping Mary - knew Jesus as the Son of God and said it plainly. She believed that He was able to not only cure Lazarus' sickness, but even to raise him from the dead. Her faith was straightforward and practical. She was sure of what Jesus could do, yet she had learned not to presume, not to try to guess what he would do.

There is only one promise for us, just as there was for Martha, and that is who God is: “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world."

Let us hold fast to him, the resurrection and the life. Let us fling ourselves wholesale on him, and risk all that we are and hope for on who he is, that One Who Cannot Lie. What he has for us must be better than we would choose for ourselves. It must.
If the only home I hope for is the grave,
if I spread out my bed in the realm of darkness,
if I say to corruption, ‘You are my father,’
and to the worm, ‘My mother’ or ‘My sister,’
where then is my hope—
who can see any hope for me?
Will it go down to the gates of death?
Will we descend together into the dust?” (Job 17:13-16)
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life. (Psalm 143:8)
"No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame..." (Psalm 25:3)
I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. (Psalm 130:5)