Taking Heart, Truth & Orthodoxy

Not But, So

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A few months ago, God said no. I’d been praying he would stop something from happening, something that would harm people I care deeply about but was powerless to control. But what I feared might happen did happen, and it sent me into a funk.

This isn’t my first encounter with unanswered prayer, but this one hit hard. Perhaps because I was weary. Perhaps it was because it seemed like all God had to do was one simple thing and all would be well. Now because he didn’t, people would suffer for it. So, echoing Jesus’ storm-tossed disciples, I leveled my own charge against God, hurling it as a question.

Don’t you care?

Then, I didn’t rage, I withdrew. My anger came out in the prayers I didn’t pray. God will do what he will do, for his glory, I know. Why bother if he won’t answer?

I’ve been fighting for faith and losing.

~~~

Hard questions aren’t new to people of faith. It is appropriate for those who believe in a God who is both loving and powerful to wrestle with questions about the presence of suffering in his world. Scripture is full of such questioners: psalmists, prophets, Job, to name a few. Martha, the sister of Lazarus too.

Jeff spoke today on the raising of Lazarus, and of Jesus’ lingering when his friends called for him to heal the dying man. Jesus arrives, too late and without apology, and the grieving sister’s words spoken at Jesus’ feet resound with me.

“Lord if you had been here my brother wouldn’t have died.”

Her words are an indictment. Jesus, you could’ve done something. You say you loved him, but you didn’t answer.

The writer of the gospel seems to anticipate this apparent contradiction between Jesus’ love and his purposeful delay. He gives us insight on Jesus’ intentions up front: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”

Jesus didn’t linger because he didn’t care. He loved them, so he stayed, and his friend died.

Not but, so.

As hard as it was, Jesus’ love would lead Martha to deep loss. His love meant he’d mourn by her side. His love also meant in due time he’d deliver her out of her pain into joy. Soon he’d be the one to die and rise again, all for this love.

This difficult word is written for we who wonder if the unanswered prayers to spare us from suffering are a sign of God’s indifference. “So” tells us that our trials aren’t due to God’s anger or his cooly calculated plans for his glory. All things in his plan, even our suffering, comes from perfect love.

Jesus’ love for us led him to his own crucifixion. And his love now leads us to and through our own crosses. “Remember this,” Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there.” We may not understand his ways, but we can be assured of his heart.

The word of God has much to say about suffering, and in the end there is no simple answer. There certainly is no answer that doesn’t require faith.

I still don’t understand what God is doing. I still don’t know how this story will unfold. But I needed the assurance of Jesus’ love-driven “so” today. This way, whatever happens and however difficult it may be, I’ll know this: It won’t be because he doesn’t care, it’ll be because he does.

Taking Heart

The Happiest Of Days

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It was good to be out for a few hours today. It was good for the kids to be under the clear sky discovering the ocean (the baby), making castles (the big girls), and throwing sticks at the waves (the boy). It was good for me to breathe deep, feel deep, and sense the darkness give way a bit.

I cried over my baby girl yesterday as I put her to sleep. Her folded hands rested tenderly on my neck and as her breathing deepened I thought of how quickly a year has come and then gone. I cried because I haven’t taken every moment in, because I’ve been restless to do other things and missed out. I cried because as sweet as these moments are, there’s a sense that they decay a bit, like old reels of film, as time passes. They’re never the same when we relive them in our minds, and that made me sad.

I heard a writer say once that all true stories are sad stories, even the happy ones, because they’re over. These good days will pass, was my sentiment, and I mourned for what I haven’t even lost yet. I probably also cried because my heart has been heavy, and fleeting moments of joy seemed too weak to withstand the hard things.

But today though, out in the open air, I enjoyed the sweetness of memory-making without the sting of decay. I was reminded that the feel of my toddler’s hand in mine, the goodness of looking at my boy’s sand-covered toes, the castle moat filled with carefully collected rocks— they are realer and truer and more lasting than I know.

Because though there are hard and horrible realities in this world, they will not last forever. And when Jesus returns, it isn’t our moments of happiness that will feel fleeting. The Bible says it’s our present trials that will seem light and momentary on that day.

In contrast, the goodness of God in his creation, our deep enjoyment of one another as image bearers, moments of comfort, rest, and his Presence— these are not as fleeting as I may feel. They are meaningful foretastes of the world that will be, a world without shadows, a world without decay, promised to all who trust in Christ.

God sends us the stuff of the world— things we can feel and taste and see— to remind us that as surely as his goodness still fills the earth, the World we await is realer than real and surer than sure. The Christian hope is not to just escape this world, it is the restoration of all things when Jesus returns; a new Heavens and a new Earth is coming, so real that this life in comparison would have felt like a dream. And God fortifies our hope for this reality as we look at the things of this world with eyes of faith.

I’d like to think that in ages to come, these passing moments with my baby and today’s time outside on the beach will not diminish but grow in significance. That as we all look back, we will find the moments we grieve losing were not actually lost to us. Perhaps we will see them with more clarity, not less, as we understand them as lovingly crafted by God so we would not lose heart while awaiting the happiest of days. Maybe then we will know our sweet moments as they truly were, clearly and in living color, even better than we’d known at first.

Taking Heart

Continually

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I need Thee, O I need Thee,
Every hour I need Thee!
O bless me now, Savior, I come to Thee.
– I Need Thee Every Hour

The girls are in school and we are in a new season. While I’m not exactly swimming in free time, I’ve been afforded a bit of mental space and time (albeit with toddler and baby). But with this gift of margin, I have found myself anxious, even paralyzed at times. There’s so much I want to do but not enough time to do it all. How do I choose what gets done and what doesn’t? Where should start?

This anxiety isn’t new for me. A refrain in my tenure as a stay-at-home mom has been the struggle of feeling like I’m not accomplishing all I should. Some of my problem is practical— I need more realistic goals and expectations. Some of it is spiritual— the ongoing struggle against perfectionism and asceticism.

God is speaking to these things even now. I have been coming to “aha!” moments with gladness, then stopping and realizing I’ve had these “revelations” before and have either forgotten or not thought to apply them this time.

In Psalm 71:3, the singer cries out: Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.

The continually is a comfort for forgetters like me.

In education, there are different types of curriculum. The “mastery” ones stay on one topic and move one once the learner has “mastered” it. “Spiral” ones spread out one topic over time, progressively bringing the learner to a different level each time a topic is repeated. I am hoping that the reiterations of truth God is speaking to me now are going deeper than before. That God is patiently weaving multi-spiral lessons into my life and I’m just seeing one strand of color resurface for now. Or maybe I’m just giving a chance to learn what I never mastered. Whatever the case, I am glad that God is not upset that I need him to repeat himself. Again.

Continually.

Do you need him to speak to you words of grace and truth today? Are you frustrated that you still need help? Still need comfort? Still need healing? Still need correction?  Do you imagine he is as frustrated as you are? Picture the most patient and kind teacher you know. Times that by 1000 and you’ll start to get a clearer picture of what God is like.

Beloved, take refuge in your infinitely gracious God today. Our fleeing to God for help is not a one and done thing. As our Father, he delights in our coming to him. As Lord, he receives glory as he gives the command to save. He does not tire of repeating himself and will not rebuke you as you come to him once more.

Taking Heart

Just From Jesus Simply Taking

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Just from Jesus simply taking life and rest and joy and peace. I stand in my kitchen, listening as the words fall and flow like Isaiah’s waters in the wilderness. “The burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water”, he prophesied.

God knows I am thirsty.

And, just from Jesus simply taking— this is living, gospel water.

My default, a combination of temperament, experience, and the general human condition, is to approach the Christian life ready to do, to strive, to work. I am not a Deist; I do not believe God just wound the clock and left us to run. But I can live as if I am the main force in my life, God having jumpstarted it by grace.

We sang Tis So Sweet at our wedding, hands raised, declaring God’s faithfulness and our need. These days, the old hymn ministers to me again. “Just from Jesus simply taking” does not come naturally, and has not been my posture as of late.

Just from Jesus simply taking— can it really be that simple? In the midst of all that is going on in and around me, life and rest, and joy, and peace are mine to simply receive? As I meditate on these words, the weight in my heart shifts a bit.

If we have eyes to see them, to listen for it, we will find Scripture replete with God’s divine invitation to simply take.

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (Jn. 10:10).

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Mt 11:28).

Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full (Jn. 16:24).

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid (Jn. 14:27).

Life. Rest. Joy. And peace. These are mine and yours for the taking. Not as mighty conquerors claiming a prize. No, not as the world gives does he give. Not by earning. Not with strings attached, only if you’re beautiful and smart and strong and good enough.

This is Jesus who gives. Precious Jesus, who said of his own body and blood, offered to sinners— Take, eat and drink. To those with no hope of making it on our own, he gave himself that we may freely receive what he has bought with his blood.

So come, weary ones, and find rest. Come depressed and despairing, find joy. Come, anxious and obsessive worriers, find peace. Come broken and dying, and find life. Take him at his word and rest on his promise. In simple faith plunge beneath the healing cleansing flood, and find grace to trust him more.

Motherhood & Family

Greater Is He

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(from Instagram)

I felt the fall last night, the pain of childbearing. In the beating my body has taken in birthing and caring for a newborn. In the toil of raising sinful children. In my own hard-heartedness.

***

I’m sick of dealing with sin.

I think that to myself after refereeing another bedtime squabble. Nothing new, but it’s the mundanity of the self-centeredness that gets to me, that pervasive inward curvature of sin. I think about what it would be like to raise children in a pre-Genesis 3 world. I’m tired and mad and tired.

I retreat from their room when the Spirit speaks: Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world (1 Jn 4:4). A cheery voice calls from across the hall, “Mom, can we pray together?” It is a divine invitation.

I‘m still angry, but what am I going to do? Say, “No!“? So I reenter. First, anything you’re thankful for? Then, more accusatory than I‘m proud of, anything you need to say sorry for?

Their confessions catch me unguarded and convict me. They share specific moments from the day I hadn’t noticed. They give humble insights on their weaknesses. They apologize and forgive. My heart softens. We talk about friendship and family and seeing each other’s sin. I’m asked for verses that will help with a particular struggle with the flesh. We talk about Christ’s forgiveness and the Spirit’s help.

Then we pray.

I pray the gospel over us, over me. It is sheer grace I am able to do so. God himself turned the tide; he spoke, he invited, he softened.

All in spite of me, my sin, and the fall.

***

“Sometimes when I’m in a bad mood, it’s hard to do the right thing,” she says.

Me too, baby. But, praise be to God— greater is he who is in us than he who is in the world.