.posthidden {display:none} .postshown {display:inline} By His Own Hand. . .

8/26/2017

The quiet chaos (part 1)

In the stillness of the morning, before the birds are awake, amidst the buzzing insects and gentle breeze, you can hear it.

It's a sound you're familiar with, always present and always changing, yet always uniquely identifiable.

The quiet chaos.

The inner struggle, the war of flesh against spirit, the battle that feels eternal and yet we know is temporal.

It's the sound of light versus dark.

Selfishness versus selflessness.

Worldly lust versus zealous obedience.

Life versus death.

You try and pretend that it's not from you.  It's the outside: the circumstances of life, the daily grind, the environment you're forced into.  It certainly isn't you.  But that sound isn't coming from outside.

So you try to cover it.  It's quiet, after all, and if you can fill the space with louder noises, then you won't notice it.  But you can only keep the white noise for so long.

So then you try to ignore it.  It's easy to ignore at first, no more than a minor annoyance.  But the consistency of unbridled chaos cooks at the back of your mind and boils your heart.

You start to look at what is causing the chaos, and though you may not want to admit it, many of them have come out of your own heart.  But you see some new faces among the familiar ones.  Regardless of where they came from, they are beating you down, old and new; they are united against you.

So you have a choice: do I stay down, or do I step up and fight?

The battle armor seems heavier, your arm feels sluggish as you try to use your sword.  But you can't stay down, even if you keep getting knocked back, because you know you aren't fighting alone.

But....

Are you fighting well?

And so we cry out with Paul, "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death??"

8/16/2017

The grass is greener. . .

Found myself in Psalm 100 today-

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.  Worship the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs.  Know that the Lord is God.  It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.  Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name.  For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations.

Matt preached on John 10 this past week, focusing on Jesus as the good shepherd, so I couldn't help but be drawn to that part of this psalm.  "Know that the Lord is God.  It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture."

It's good to be reminded that God is still in control, in spite of personal difficulties, national tensions, or world events.  That doesn't mean that we sit passively either, but we can have peace of mind that God will take care of His church.  However, THAT DOES NOT mean that the USA is or will be made perfect and holy- it does mean that we, wherever we are, should be even more sensitive to the needs of those around us and share the good news that we have: that this life here on earth is not the end-all and that there is both a present and future hope in Christ.  We should desire as God does that all should be saved, regardless of who they are and where they are in life.



So. . . are you inviting people to come to the pasture of the Good Shepherd, or are you just enjoying the grass?
Or, if you've seen the Church, and you recognize that the sheep are ugly and pretty dumb and imperfect, are you willing to look past that and learn why it is that they follow their Shepherd?

8/07/2017

Authority

Been meaning to clarify something I wrote last week but haven't been able to set it down into words.  Cue Holy Spirit bringing me to a verse as I worked on my school assignment-

Titus 2:15- Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

I said something last week about not wanting to sound too authoritative. However, I have no issue standing on the authority of Scripture, on the promises of God and how they have been revealed in my life, and in trying my best to base my life on that belief system.  What I am not an authority on is living a perfect life and doing all of that without fail.  I think that's an important distinction, because many times as Christians I think we feel unqualified to speak about things because we know our own heart and the struggles we face.  We know that we say and do stupid things, we know we know better, and so we let either guilt consume us or fear of being called hypocritical keep us from standing on God's Word.

But we can.  We can claim God's authority on our lives, even as we are still figuring it out.  Because we are always going to be figuring it out until we are made perfect in Christ.

The interesting thing about this verse is that I could not get a definitive answer about the grammar of the sentence from Greek (probably because I don't really know anything about Greek).  The way it is written, is it saying that we teach, we exhort, and we rebuke with authority, or is it that authority carried across all three of those (if I were writing it in English clearly it would become "with authority we teach, we exhort, and we rebuke)?  What I really discovered is regardless of the exact intent of that specific verse, we are given authority to teach and we are given authority to exhort.  Teaching in some form is the calling of all disciples, whether it's done on a small scale or a large scale.  That can be intimidating, but we can trust God's Word to speak into all lives.  It's also exciting to think that God wants us to encourage each other.  That we aren't meant to face life alone.  That we can comfort others because we have been through difficult times.



And so I will keep writing authoritatively, not because my words are powerful, but because God's truth is undeniable.

8/03/2017

Carried

I feel like there's a lot of things I could write about, which is good because it means my brain is processing, but summer is apparently over because I have been staying quite busy between school work, stuff for church, running, and rehearsals.  So there are a few "drafts" in my head that I may eventually set down, or maybe not, but this morning I just need a quick moment to get my heart oriented the right direction before the day really begins.

A few days ago I was looking for something in the Psalms, I wasn't sure what, and came across Psalm 146, which says this (v. 5-9):

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry.  The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.  The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

There's a few key things: God is sovereignly in control as Creator; He is forever faithful; and He helps people in bad positions, including widows.  I have so little knowledge in Hebrew and how it works, so I tried my best to figure out that word "uphold" and what it really means.  From what I could gather, the root word is sometimes translated as "admonish," to earnestly advise or urge, but another thought about the word is that it means "return, go about, repeat, do again."  The idea of something that is done over and over to show its importance.  So in this case, it may be better to think of it as "restore" or "relieve."  (Unfortunately the way the word is written it only occurs like this in this verse so that makes this exploration all the harder).

So after all of that, at the very least, I can say that God comes to us again and again, continually helping us, because He wants us to know that we are important enough in His eyes.

Which brings me to the next verse I read this morning, Psalm 68:19:

Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation.

Totally different word here, this idea of bearing up is literally to "carry a load."  Whether talking about loading up a beast of burden or physical labor, or the emotional side of carrying something like a weight, the idea here is much more clear.  God carries us.  Daily.  And so Psalm 68:19 shows us the daily, repeated relief God gives us that is talked about in 146:9.

The One who made galaxies and ants.  Light and gravity.  Each and every unique thing, great and small.  He carries us.

Because He cares about us.




"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.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

7/26/2017

Expectations in prayer

My brain and heart are super-saturated at the moment, and at some point in the near future (hopefully tomorrow, perhaps while I deal with my car tire. . . . . .)  I'll do some more fleshed out thoughts from the Send Conference, but there was one thing in particular from this afternoon that I've been mulling over and it's important enough that I don't want to lose grasp of it overnight.

Before I get into it, I feel I should give this warning: I have tried to be as transparent as possible from the beginning with what I have shared about my journey after Cam died (and even before I suppose, though my blog before then was a mess of half finished book projects and random things that were coming into my life as an early disciple).  I am not pretending that I have revealed every single struggle and victory, but I have also tried my best to be clear that I do not have everything 100% figured out.  Especially with eloquent writing (and being able to sit and think and hide behind a keyboard) it is very easy to come off too authoritatively.  At the same time I want to share what I'm discovering in this kind of forum because I want people to be able to see Jesus in my search for hope, comfort, solace, whatever.  And really at the end of the day, I am an internal processor, and doing this helps me to straighten out my thoughts easier than having actual conversations (not that I never want to talk, but actually it is easier for me to begin to talk to people after I have sorted out my thoughts.  Otherwise my brain goes much, much faster than my mouth can and I end up incoherent.  Or feel like it anyway), so in most ways these writings were always meant to be a public sharing of a personal processing.

That all being said. . .

One of the sessions I attended today was about changing the corporate prayer life of the local church. There was a lot of great stuff, some things I knew and had left at the wayside and other things I hadn't considered.  It focused primarily on the Lord's Prayer as a template for all prayer life.  Near the end of the session, the speaker focused on Jesus' last prayer in Gethsemane.  There was some interesting commentary on some of the details around the story, but the primary thing that struck me in the context of dealing with grief (and Heather's death and my emotional response to not just last week but really even the past two and a half years) comes from Matthew 26:39-

And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

The speaker said something very telling about this (not an exact quote): if you continually pray to God to do impossible things that only He can do, and you do not take in to consideration His will and sovereignty, you are setting yourself up for a lifetime of disappointment in prayer.  Basically, there is every reason to come to the Creator of the universe and make requests that can only be completed by Him. . . but it is just as important to recognize that, just as Jesus said, "not as I will, but as you will."

My personal epiphany lies not in a changing of my prayer approach, but instead in realizing that someone, probably more than one someone, taught me to pray this way well.  The analyst in me couldn't help but research my own past. . . so I found this from a couple years after I moved down here to Florida, and then this (which I am not linking but am pasting instead. . . I kept a journal for myself as I grieved, see processing concepts above, but I'm not ready to make that a public display yet) from six months after she died:

God is good.  Sometimes I take that thought for granted.  But yes, God is still good.  I don't understand, but I look at my life circumstances and see His Hand all over.  Making new friends (some even my age!!) and His provision in gigs (because now I'm not only a master's student but also going to be a full time musician rather than a teacher) and I can still praise Him even through the insanity of circumstances.  I was reminded of that today.  And my life wouldn't look like this at all if she were still here- in fact I would be in a very difficult situation and don't know that I would have made the right choice, since cancer came above all in those last few months.  That doesn't mean I don't miss her, but even in this short time out I see Providence, which is encouraging.  The places where I am plugging in were prepared in advance for me, and there is great comfort in that.  
  

I can't help but think that this is the answer to the questions I have been semi-consciously asking myself- when will the grief finally break me?  When do I have the big fallout, not just what happened right after, but where's the part where I lose my mind?  When do I get stuck in bed for months on end?

The answer?  As I cling to the truth of Scripture, in knowing the sovereignty of God and see that He is good and does good, that sometimes bad things happen through no one's fault, I do not have to worry about those things.  Like the post I linked at the very top of this, I shouldn't expect to grieve like the world. . . and part of that solidity comes from a prayer life that is focused primarily on God and not on me.  Do not get me wrong; from the time we got engaged (and probably before) my prayers were often centered around the quality of life Cam and I would share because of her history with cancer. . . and unfortunately I have no proof in my prior blogs because I stopped writing for a while, so boo on that, I would love to pull insight from there. . . anyway.  But in all of that, both of us said "whatever God has in store, we trust Him, and we will go through it."  I promise you I would not have been that strong if my wife had not been able to say that. . . but man, that was her personality.  She even said to Heather (this was right after she was diagnosed and before Cam's re-cancer was discovered) that cancer is just a pause button in life, not pressing stop.  Like. . . how do you go through 23 months of treatment and not be bitter?  I posit and I am sure Cam would agree that that is only through God.  Not that she or I had a perfect relationship with the Father, not that there weren't fights and anger toward Him and wondering why. . . but in the end, deep down the root of our faith was in the firm belief that God knows best and would walk with us through it all.

And He is still walking with me.



I feel like I got off the rails a bit there at the end, but I'm very tired and I need to wrap this up, so I guess my point is this: the prayer life of the Christian must be rooted in God's promises and character.  It's something I am still learning, but for those people who have called me "strong" in this journey. . . just please know that it is not my strength, but God's.  And if you lack that strength, if God doesn't make sense, or you don't know Him. . . then reach out and talk to me.

7/15/2017

The ghost arm

So a few months back I made an analogy about grief being like a rock-

Today I have found it has shifted into something stranger.  Specifically the past few days, and I don't know why, but now it's a ghost arm.

Now, to be fair, more than one someone mentioned this idea to me way back after Cam first died.  They made a comparison to the feeling that one might have in a phantom limb after having lost it in an accident, that there's something that's attempting to be exercised or feels like it's moving but it isn't there.  I didn't think there was much merit to that analogy, as it seems offensive to the person who is actually dealing with loss of limb.

But. . . . I've discovered that I do indeed have a ghost arm.  Maybe it's been there since the beginning, maybe it's been slowly growing and now it's big enough to be noticed, I couldn't tell you.  But it's there.  And wreaking a little havoc.

That's not to say it is all bad- for the first time possibly ever I am emboldened to talk more openly, to not shy away from conversation or to shut it down once it begins. . . but that also means I am spewing it all out, or at least that's what it feels like.  It's like the ghost arm is grabbing people, reaching out, slapping, waving, trying to bring as much attention as possible, and that's the part I don't like.

I know another part of this is that I've just been on a manic streak for a few days, so I'm doing a lot of writing and talking and e-mailing because there's a huge surge inside.  And while it still ebbs and flows, it is tending to be more on the front edge of things rather than swirling in the background.

So, if I say something that's kind of random...that's why.

7/11/2017

Romans 5:3-5

Been a rough couple days emotionally.  I would love to be able to say why. . . but really I don't know.  I'm always finding my emotions coming a few days after things happen, and sometimes things blindside us, but I spent a two hour car ride trying to find a conclusion and I couldn't reach it.  So maybe chalk it up to grief/mood swings/whatever.  I hate to blow things off to not having a cause but sometimes it's more important to focus on what's next.

So. .  I went to Romans.  And it's this sentence that I've been mulling over.

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

A familiar passage, and encouraging. . . but there is so much more there if we look at the original language.

(PS- I just go here for basic research.  I have a desire to learn the intricacies of language and verb forms and such but I do not have that knowledge on my own).

So, some interesting words.  The word "rejoice" sometimes is translated "glory" or "boast," which is a much closer idea.  The word means to have one's "head up high."  Paul uses this word a lot in 2 Corinthians as he is defending his character and ministry position.  The imagery behind "suffering" is a literal pressure, being in a narrow spot and being abraded on either side.  "Endurance" is pretty straightforward (some translations "steadfastness"), the idea of remaining under.  "Character" is another interesting word; the idea of something that has been tested and proven to be good, or to pass the required marks.  It's a positive word, the idea that a standard has been met and it gets a stamp of approval- it's a proof of being found genuine.  The word "hope" here specifically has the flavor of an expectation of something that is certain to happen.  There is anticipation, there is activity- it is not a dormant, passive hope.  Finally, the verb for "poured" is the image of something being filled beyond its capacity, like the wineskins overflowing.  And that is the picture here of God's agape love.

So here is the Ben Beck Expanded Translation of Romans 5:3-5 (©2017 BBET, v. 1)-

And while that is great, there's also enough of God for the hard times.   We can hold our heads up in spite of the pressures of this life; the abrasions and stresses bring us the opportunity to hold fast to God's strength, and it's in those times of enduring under the weight that we will be made genuine.  When we pass the test, we will know that God has brought us through.  We can confidently give God the glory for this work, because His great love is gushed into our hearts in endless quantity from the Holy Spirit, which God gave us for this reason.