Sunday, 31 March 2013

Death Is Swallowed Up in Victory

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:23)
And so Jesus, despising the shame of it all, gave himself up to death, trusting the God who forsook him in his greatest, darkest hour. He gave himself up to death; to be laid in a cold, dark tomb, as far from Love as a human can get...broke himself open like a grain of wheat under the millstone. He trusted himself to him who judges justly. He walked straight into the dark. Then God, who judges justly, waited. Waited while the followers of Jesus, the helpers and the hope-ers, slowly gave up.

It is never easy to take what is precious and lay it down in the dead dark.

Yet hasn't our own Father taught us over and over again, that unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, there can be no fruit?
Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (John 12:24)
This is no pretty metaphor. Death, no matter what is on the other side, hurts. And fear of death tracks us all. It will not be quelled by unique perspectives or heartwarming stories.

Beth Moore tells about doing relief work in Angola, and learning about people who received seed for planting. Instead of planting it, they ate it. They couldn't trust such a precious thing to the ground, buried out of sight and out of control. I am just like those people. I am hungry now. I want to eat the seed. I don't want to give up control, cover it with mud and hope against hope that someday, something equally as precious comes pushing back up through the black dirt.
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)
Yet Jesus, the Jesus who died and was buried in that cold, dim tomb, calls me over the rush of my fear and the howl of my hurt. He bids me give up myself in the dark, bury my self-hope like a seed in the earth, and trust all to that One who judges justly.
See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. (James 5:7)
Seed doesn't grow overnight. It's a long time after planting that you can be sure you've deposited seeds and not stones, and even then, the weak little sprouts that show themselves are a far cry from fruit. It's enough to make an inexperienced planter more than a little frustrated with waiting. Only the farmer, who has had his experiences with this planting, dying, rising, and finally, harvest - has patience to wait.
...knowing that tribulation works patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope... (Romans 5:3-4)
And so, when hope in their hero was gone for all lovers of Jesus, and all that remained was a memory to be honoured, the third day came. There in the darkness, death died - got swallowed up in the victory of new life. Jesus the Christ was raised from out of death by a God who is faithful, and all who were condemned to die went free.

And all who are condemned to die go free.

The seed was transformed, released to its full purpose. The One who emerged from the tomb was far more than the One who entered it. He brought out more than he took in.
He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces... (Isaiah 25:8)
Father, give me the grace to walk straight into the dark, laying down in the furrows all my precious seed...not because it isn't mine, but because I entrust it to You...You who judge justly. Let me not be driven by fear, but led by Your Spirit through the darkness to light.
Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them. (Psalm 126:6)

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Love Through Me

Love through me, Love of God;
There is no love in me.
O Fire of love, light Thou the love
That burns perpetually.

Flow through me, Peace of God;
Calm River, flow until
No wind can blow, no current stir
A ripple of self-will.

Shine through me, Joy of God;
Make me like Thy clear air
That Thou dost pour Thy colors through,
As though it were not there.

O blessed Love of God,
That all may taste and see
How good Thou art, once more I pray:
Love through me—even me.

- Amy Carmichael

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

He Was Wounded, and His Way is Perfect

Peter said unto him, Though I should die with you, yet will I not deny you. Likewise also said all the disciples.
Then came Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and said unto the disciples, Sit you here, while I go and pray yonder.
And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very distressed.
Then said he unto them, My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death: tarry you here, and watch with me.
And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as you will.
And he came unto the disciples, and found them asleep, and said unto Peter, What, could you not watch with me one hour?
Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, your will be done.
And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy.
And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.
Then came he to his disciples, and said unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that does betray me.
And while he yet spoke, lo, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and elders of the people.
Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he: hold him fast.
And immediately he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, Teacher; and kissed him.
And Jesus said unto him, Friend, why are you come? Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus, and took him. (Matthew 26:35-50)
This is the Jesus who authorizes my hurt. Jesus of the Scars. Jesus, let down by his closest friends. Jesus, alone in his pain. Jesus, overwhelmed. Jesus, betrayed. That Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief. I will trust the weeping Jesus.

I have forgotten how to pray. I just cry and beg. And then I remember that I need not beg. So I just cry. He hears me. He knows my heart. He is not a stranger to my pain. What shall I say to Him? I am broken open before Him. There is none beside Him. He hurt for my sake. What shall I do with this hurt of mine, when my Defender is silent? What shall I say to Him who also wept?

He is beautiful, my Jesus. I will confess it now while everything in me rages and tends to destruction: Though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him.

My heart cries and cries, and the Accuser roars loud that God has deserted me, and all around is wilderness,  and I am laid low and stripped bare, hopeless, and still truth stomps out her steady beat: As for God, His way is perfect. (Psalm 18:30)

Here is the last piece of me, Lord. Bowed before You. I don't know what you want me to do. Teach me, though, and I will do it. I can't understand what You are going to do with this mess. The mess around me. The mess of me. How are you going to heal these wounds?

Monday, 11 March 2013

No Weapon That Is Formed Against You

...And the king said unto Esther at the banquet of wine, What is your petition? and it shall be granted you: and what is your request? even to the half of the kingdom it shall be performed.
Then answered Esther, and said, My petition and my request is;
If I have found favor in the sight of the king, and if it please the king to grant my petition, and to perform my request, let the king and Haman come to the banquet that I shall prepare for them, and I will do tomorrow as the king has said.
Then went Haman forth that day joyful and with a glad heart: but when Haman saw Mordecai in the king's gate, that he stood not up, nor trembled before him, he was full of indignation against Mordecai.
Nevertheless Haman restrained himself: and when he came home, he sent and called for his friends, and Zeresh his wife.
And Haman told them of the glory of his riches, and the multitude of his children, and all the things in which the king had promoted him, and how he had advanced him above the princes and servants of the king.
Haman said moreover, Yea, Esther the queen did let no man come in with the king unto the banquet that she had prepared but myself; and tomorrow I am invited unto her also with the king.
Yet all this avails me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king's gate.
Then said Zeresh his wife and all his friends unto him, Let a gallows be made of fifty cubits high, and tomorrow speak you unto the king that Mordecai may be hanged thereon: then go you in merrily with the king unto the banquet. And the thing pleased Haman; and he caused the gallows to be made.
...So the king and Haman came to banquet with Esther the queen.
And the king said again unto Esther on the second day at the banquet of wine, What is your petition, queen Esther? and it shall be granted you: and what is your request? and it shall be performed, even to the half of the kingdom.
Then Esther the queen answered and said, If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request:
For we are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish. But if we had been sold for bondmen and bondwomen, I would have held my tongue, although the enemy could never compensate for the king's loss.
Then the king Ahasuerus answered and said unto Esther the queen, Who is he, and where is he, that dares presume in his heart to do so?
And Esther said, The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman. Then Haman was afraid before the king and the queen.
And the king arising from the banquet of wine in his wrath went into the palace garden: and Haman stood up to make request for his life to Esther the queen; for he saw that there was evil determined against him by the king.
Then the king returned out of the palace garden into the place of the banquet of wine; and Haman was fallen upon the bed on which Esther was. Then said the king, Will he force the queen also before me in the house? As the word went out of the king's mouth, they covered Haman's face.
And Harbona, one of the eunuchs, said before the king, Behold also, the gallows fifty cubits high, which Haman had made for Mordecai, who had spoken good for the king, stands in the house of Haman. Then the king said, Hang him thereon.
So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. (Esther 5:6-14, 7:1-10)
Haman thought he had the world by the tail. He had succeeded in turning his country upside down in order to get revenge for a petty slight, and it looked like it was working. Moreover, he seemed to be moving into a corner office in the palace, hanging out with the king and queen over dinner. He was just drooling over what was to be his. Hubris. It always comes 'round to bite you in the bum.
For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither anything hid, that shall not be known and come to light. (Luke 8:17)
I hate knowing things before other people know them. It is so frustrating to see what is happening and not to be able to talk about it. I hate grieving my loss of trust alone. I am holding on to the promise that shadiness and lies and pretense will be revealed for what they are. Until then, I need God's help to keep my mouth shut.
And it was so, that after the Lord had spoken these words unto Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, My wrath is kindled against you, and against your two friends: for you have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job has.
Therefore take unto you now seven bullocks and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you: for him will I accept: lest I deal with you after your folly, in that you have not spoken of me the thing which is right, like my servant Job.
So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went, and did according as the Lord commanded them: the Lord also accepted Job. (Job 42:7-9)
Of all that was restored to Job, this is the most valuable, in my opinion. Job! You weren't the one who was wrong! His friends were finally forced to admit it. Instead of advice, delivered in arrogant thrusts, they had to ask for him to pray for them.
Behold, they shall surely gather together, but not from me: whosoever shall gather together against you shall fall for your sake.
Behold, I have created the blacksmith that blows the coals in the fire, and that brings forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the destroyer to destroy.
No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against you in judgment you shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, says the Lord. (Isaiah 54:15-17)
O Father, I am waiting for Your justice. I believe in You. You will make things right. 

Friday, 8 March 2013

But I Call To God

Listen to my prayer, O God,
do not ignore my plea;
hear me and answer me.
My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught
at the voice of the enemy,
at the stares of the wicked;
for they bring down suffering upon me
and revile me in their anger.

My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death assail me.
Fear and trembling have beset me;
horror has overwhelmed me.
I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest—
I would flee far away
and stay in the desert; Selah
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm.”

Confuse the wicked, O Lord, confound their speech,
for I see violence and strife in the city.
Day and night they prowl about on its walls;
malice and abuse are within it.
Destructive forces are at work in the city;
threats and lies never leave its streets.

If an enemy were insulting me,
I could endure it;
if a foe were raising himself against me,
I could hide from him.
But it is you, a man like myself,
my companion, my close friend,
with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
as we walked with the throng at the house of God.

Let death take my enemies by surprise;
let them go down alive to the grave,
for evil finds lodging among them.
But I call to God,
and the LORD saves me.
Evening, morning and noon
I cry out in distress,
and he hears my voice.
He ransoms me unharmed
from the battle waged against me,
even though many oppose me.
God, who is enthroned forever,
will hear them and afflict them— Selah

men who never change their ways
and have no fear of God.
My companion attacks his friends;
he violates his covenant.
His speech is smooth as butter,
yet war is in his heart;
his words are more soothing than oil,
yet they are drawn swords.

Cast your cares on the LORD
and he will sustain you;
he will never let the righteous fall.
But you, O God, will bring down the wicked
into the pit of corruption;
bloodthirsty and deceitful men
will not live out half their days.

But as for me, I trust in you. (Psalm 55)

Monday, 4 March 2013

Who In Heaven But You?

Dear God, I am really frustrated. Please teach me how to deal with my emotions in a constructive way, for once. Teach me how to neither seek escape nor become bitter, to neither try to please everyone else nor let my hurt make me think it's all about me. You see me. I am thankful that You know how I feel and where I am.
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? (Psalm 13:2)
Father, the truth is this: I would rather fix this myself. I hate waiting for You. I am tired of reminding myself that I am dependent on You. I would rather, right now, haul this thing into my own two hands and break it to smithereens. I want to storm and rage and slap and scream. I want to feel like I can control something.  But I know I can't do that. 

My frustration is cradled in a terrible error; You have been shamefully misrepresented somewhere deep in my heart. Something in there says that You are not giving me good. Something says that You are unfair, that I am not worth Your best, that You do not love me as You should, that You can't fix me, even that maybe You have forgotten or given up on me. Set me free from these lies, God of Mercy! Remind me how You gave Your Son for me, long before there was anything in me that responded to You. Remind me how You loved (and still love) me past my weakness and my often complaining and my stubborn, self-driven heart. Remind me how You created me with this mind that races, with this heart that cries. Remind me how you have led me and patiently taught me lessons I thought I would never learn. Remind me of what You have prepared for my future.
Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. (Psalm 73:25)
I don't know what is the best way to deal with this situation, but calm my heart, and remind me that I am not responsible to figure that out. Make me understand that I don't need to do everything right in order to make this situation better. Teach me that You are in charge of the ends of things. However messy and awful it seems now, You are able to redeem it.
I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things. (Isaiah 45:7)
I don't know if I am trusting or not, but I am choosing with my will to give this situation to You, and I am looking to You to sort it out in the way that pleases You. Don't forget how tired I am, and how little perspective I have.

Father, I know You have been with me through this in ways that I still don't even recognize. I am sorry for my failure to recognize the comfort and the strength You have given me at unexpected times and in unexpected places. Somewhere in my heart, alongside my anger and confusion, I am deeply thankful. I know You, my Healer, my Hope, my Song.

I am waiting for you and looking for You. 
My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. (Psalm 130:6)

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Except It Be Given

Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines. The Israelites camped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines at Aphek. The Philistines deployed their forces to meet Israel, and as the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand of them on the battlefield. When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the Lord bring defeat upon us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Shiloh, so that it may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.”
So the people sent men to Shiloh, and they brought back the ark of the covenant of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim. And Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.
When the ark of the Lord’s covenant came into the camp, all Israel raised such a great shout that the ground shook. Hearing the uproar, the Philistines asked, “What’s all this shouting in the Hebrew camp?”
When they learned that the ark of the Lord had come into the camp, the Philistines were afraid. “A god has come into the camp,” they said. “We’re in trouble! Nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the desert. Be strong, Philistines! Be men, or you will be subject to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Be men, and fight!”
So the Philistines fought, and the Israelites were defeated and every man fled to his tent. The slaughter was very great; Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers. The ark of God was captured, and Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died. (1 Samuel 4:1-10)
Another seeming failure for God and his people. But if you know this story, you know that this is not the end. In fact, this temporary shame is the means of showing the Philistines - and ultimately Israel - who God is.

Like the elders of Israel, who thought bringing the ark of the covenant would force God's hand and guarantee them a win, I have reached time after time for everything any Christian every assured me was a surefire recipe for spiritual success...And like Israel, met with failure. God will not be conjured.

I am no less God's dwelling-place than was the great ark. It is God's business if I look to shame Him. I believe that He can redeem any failure, any loss.

I am coming to the place where I just have to accept what God gives. He is fighting me, and I cannot win. My begging for peace and power goes unheard. I can't change myself, can't trust, can't even pretend to be gracious while I'm "under construction". I am taunted by the "shoulds" that clatter against the glass of my soul. I am powerless to put them into practice, and they mock and judge me every hour of the day.

But there is One who does not mock. Jesus who died is full of mercy. His silence is sometimes terrible, but He does not blame. In the end, I will have what He gives me. I will be what He makes me.
A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. (John 3:27)

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Little Faith

And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him to the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone. But the ship was now in the middle of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spoke to them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.
And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be you, bid me come to you on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said to him, O you of little faith, why did you doubt? And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth you are the Son of God. (Matthew 14:22-33)
To tell the truth, I don't really understand this story. It is so different from the stories Christians tell, how they followed God and He gave them strength and peace and led them all the way and they all just lived happily ever after, or even if it was hard, they were able to move forward, overcoming trials and hardships with God's grace poured out fresh every morning.

In fact, when this one starts off, I think I know where it's going: The disciples are in a storm-tossed ship and it looks like Jesus just doesn't care, but really, he's off praying. When he comes to them walking on the water, Peter puts his faith in Jesus and goes leaping out of the boat; he walks on the water, just like Jesus, and isn't it just amazing what God does when we put our faith in Him? But wait - it's not triumph that meets Peter. He takes one look at the wind-tossed waves, and he's scared. Even though he's a fisherman, he doesn't try swimming on his own - he starts yelling for Jesus like a little kid (which is what a good follower is supposed to do, even if it's a tad embarrassing, right?) and everybody is watching Peter sinking and yelling, and Jesus hauling him out of the water by the hand. To make this who scenario extra disturbing, Jesus doesn't praise Peter for jumping out of the ship in the first place, nor for calling for help instead of trying to take care of himself. Instead, he says, "O you of little faith..." What is going on here, anyway? You'd think God would have un-inspired this part right out of a book that was going to be communicating His character and influencing people for thousands of years.

Don't misunderstand me - God is faithful. Though I have cried and choked those words out a few times, I know they are true. But sometimes God is inscrutable...and outright confusing, if it comes down to it. In the end, it is strangely reassuring to me to think about Peter (dear, wholehearted man!) setting out to meet Jesus on his own terms and then failing in front of everyone and being chided (however gently!) by Jesus for having "little faith".

Ultimately, I don't know what this story is supposed to mean. But three chapters further on, Jesus is saying something else about "little faith":
He replied, "Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." (Matthew 17:20)
 So there. I don't know exactly how this all fits together, but I do know that God is not afraid of telling the truth, even when it makes him look bad. All his stories are not triumphant and sweet. He is more than we think He is. Sometimes He doesn't calm the storm. Sometimes He allows our best intentions to meet with failure.

Yet He promises to do something, someday, with even our "little faith".

Father, I don't know what is right, and so I can't fix myself, but please come and teach me how to see. Make me wholehearted and purposeful. Re-order me. Like Peter, I am sinking in the waves. Like Peter, I have so little faith. Take my hand. And in the end of it all, let worship rise to You.