Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Thorns we Grasp

I went exploring the woods this morning in my new neighborhood and pricked my thumb on a thorn.

1.)  Who knew there were thorn trees in Missouri?!
2.)  I think I may have the princess-and-the-pea syndrome.  I'm so unused to sharp pain it seriously bothered me the rest of the walk.

On the other hand, I'm beginning to think it may have been a grace.  A little object lesson.  Not too painful, but just painful enough.  We reach out to grasp things we think will help, as I thought the angled tree limb would help me cross the creek, but if it's not what God would have us grasp (only what is wholesome, noble, courageous, and beautiful) it could harm more than help.  I didn't cross the creek.  My thumb was aching and the sun seemed less shiny and the mud muddier.

There is some writing I want to do today - some "creek crossing".  I need an aware spirit and a ready mind.  But over the last 24 hours my attention has been pulled, without too much resistance from me I'm afraid, to "comforting" things that in reality, not being God's for me to grasp hold of, may actually dull my sharpness for today's task.  I have been pricked, and like the fairy-tale Beauty my niece loves dressing up as, the thorn's poison might lull me to a dull sleep.  How can I write with a slumbering soul? (To be fair, I think she pricked her finger on a spindle, not a thorn :)

What we grasp onto with our hearts, even in the most cursory of ways, can become a brilliant tool or a stumbling block.  A rose, or its thorn.  Today's prick reminded me of that.  My thumb is amazingly sore - perhaps because the thorn went in right over the joint.  I don't want the same to happen within my soul.  Thank you, God, for Your corrections - they are life to me!

And hmmm, just in case the thorn trees in Missouri are even stranger than they seem...

3.) If I suddenly look very drowsy, somebody please come kiss me.  I'd rather be either alive or dead, than asleep!  :)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

To all that shall be - Yes!

Packing your stuff out of house you've spent almost three years integrating into can be a discouraging activity.  "This is mine, that is yours..."  It seems endless.  I've been doing it for a few weeks, and today is the big push.  (Mostly because a few men are coming over to carry heavy things this afternoon, and I want to have as much as possible ready for them.  Thank you, Father, for giving half the population extra arm strength!  I like the way You think :)

It's been a cloudy sort of activity, this packing up of life.  Particularly as everything I own is going to go into storage except for my clothes and the food from my pantry.  The new place is too small to hold anything else, and I only plan to be there a few months as I look toward the future, and hopefully a home of my own.

Yesterday I suspect my sister(s) were praying for me.  After coffee with Jesus and Annie, I had such joy.  All day.  Anticipation, even.  I have always struggled with fearing the unknown.  In fact, when Ravi Zacharias gave the commencement address as I graduated college, I know the Spirit specifically gave him words just for me.  I watched his back from the stage and let his quotation of "The Gate of the Year" settle in deep:

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: 
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. 
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

I remember if every once in a while.  Sometimes with a little guilt that I still need to hear the same thing, that my soul still hates the unknown.  At its core, this seems a distrust of God.  I have been feeling this distrust again, as I've looked into the unknown days ahead and sometimes quaked.  A lot of prayer has been going into this area recently, in the private sharings from my heart to His.  Yesterday's joy was a real victory.

This morning, unbidden, Dag Hammarskjold's words slipped into my mind. I think God dropped them there, and I found that they really did reflect my heart - a miracle of sorts coming at the end of what has been a difficult process and the beginning of months that seem potentially dreary:

For all that has been - Thanks!
To all that shall be - Yes!

Oh - my heart really said this!  Thank-you God!  But, was it just my mind?  Would I feel differently tomorrow?  Was the comfort brought by yesterday's whispers from Jesus in Luke just a temporary thing?  I need more assurance that He is really working inside - and I don't feel guilty about it.  He never minds when we want to be sure of what He is saying and doing.  Still, I set the thoughts aside and began packing.

Can you resist old photo albums and journals?  I can't.  But I was determined to be disciplined with my time and not get caught up into reading old things when I should be packing them away.  So I didn't.  But in an instant of forgetfulness my fingers just slipped open an old album on its way down into the box.  On the first page was a quotation, beautifully written out by a dear friend long years ago.  What do you suppose it was?  Of course.

Now.  When I have overcome my fears - of
others, of myself, of the underlying darkness:
at the frontier of the unheard-of.
Here ends the known.  But, from a source
beyond it, something fills my being with its
possibilities.
Here desire is purified and made lucid: each
action is a preparation for, each choice an 
assent to the unknown.
For all that has been - Thanks!
To all that shall be - Yes!
   -Dag Hammarskjold

I'm joining you, Dag, and to God I can honestly say:

For all that has been - thank you!  To all You will do - YES!

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Day of the Seven Billionth


Sunday Morning, 10:57 am.  --  Hands rise, voices crescendo, the two-thousand-strong congregation has become one single choir of unified worship. 

But not to God’s ear.

An exhilarating flash of understanding strikes me – the pleasure He is receiving, while we sing how much we love Him, is not solely the pleasure of having one great, huge, unified Body honoring Him.  It is far more than that.  It is the pleasure of having one intimately-known friend express her deep love – multiplied two thousand times over.

We don’t have the capacity to experience more than two or three earth-shattering loves in our lifetime.  We never imagine that the words “omnipotent” and “omnipresent” and “omniscient” might mean that when He is in a room of two thousand or twenty thousand, He is receiving and interacting with each soul as deeply and enjoyably as if they were the one person with Him in a two-person universe. 

The world is screaming today about how many people there are alive, torn between a feeling of the milestone’s momentousness and a deep misgiving.  Seven Billion!  Seven Billion! 

She who loves self more than others is quaking with the fear that today’s seven billionth baby will plunge everyone, including herself, into spiraling poverty and resource-poor living.

He who loves creation more than the Creator is angry that the Father’s burgeoning family will encroach upon the pristine but temporal land he values more than he does an eternal soul.

Spirits who hate the Father are writhing in eagerness to take down that seven billionth, and billions more with her, into eternal separation from Abba, and to keep any more from being born – since that seems the best method to injure the untouchable God.

And she who truly loves living people, but misunderstands the living God, mistakenly believes each person’s life will be better if the number God has to take care of is kept to a minimum.

In it all, our attention (even that of loving, believing Christians) is being diverted from what has really happened today. 

God is rejoicing over the seven billionth life!

In the last two centuries we have hit the tipping point – due to the principle of exponential growth, the Industrial Revolution, medical breakthroughs, and agricultural advances our population is rapidly increasing.  Between 1801 and today (about 210 years, a small fraction of the years since creation) we’ve grown from one billion to seven billion.  Minus a “Malthusian catastrophe” or natural and man-made disasters that could dramatically reduce the world’s population, the number of human souls on the planet will continue to explode - to the dismay of many overpopulation-fear-mongers.  Even Christians look at aerial photographs of the teeming markets and streets in places like Manila and feel their hearts sink.  So many people.  So many. 

The number of synapses in our cerebral cortex is finite.  You discover this when you try to imagine the existence of God before creation.  We can go back a thousand years.  A hundred thousand.  A million.  But when it exceeds that and billions upon billions of years of His uncreated existence tumble into our minds, piling high, we pull up hard - dizzy and overwhelmed.  I can’t go that far back and wide in my mind.  It isn’t possible. 

The same problem – a limited physical capacity for imagination and understanding – rears its head and brings me to a screeching halt when I imagine knowing and loving each and every soul walking those overcrowded streets in India or Bangladesh or China, or even Chicago. 

And because I can’t possibly know each of seven billion intimately, it doesn’t seem to me that God can either. 

There are many things that cannot be understood with the mind (if even for the simple fact of the physical limit on the size, speed, and firing capacity of our grey matter).  They must, instead, be perceived with the spirit.  This is one of those.

I can love many, but to be intimately involved with each of my children probably requires that I have less than twenty (and that’s if I’m a super high-capacity person, which I’m not.)  But to assume it is the same with the uncreated Father is a highly egocentric perspective.  He is the one who “fashions their hearts individually” and to whom we can confidently say, “every day of my life was recorded in your book.  Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” 

But to love SEVEN BILLION people that well?

Without thinking it, we think:  “Not even God can do this.”
Without saying it, we say:  “His capacity to love and know has a limit.” 

These are the heresies we imply when we mourn the advent of the seven billionth; or shrink from the challenge of feeding, clothing, and housing them all; or simply do not celebrate today’s births.  We are making God in our own, tiny image.  In the end, we are stating what we really think of Him, stating how little we understand about a Father whose essence was Father before He ever created children.

That sort of a Father, the one God IS, is completely capable and completely committed to caring for each child.  He made it clear in scripture that He rejoices in godly offspring, that He created us to multiply, that His greatest natural gift to humans is the gift of a child (as His greatest spiritual gift is the gift of a Child).  

The hoopla of dire projections, and fear, and counting then recounting available global resources has at its core a deeply imbedded sin that is found festering like an absorbed thorn in the fleshly heart of every one of us – the sin of unbelief. 

If I do not believe who He is and what He says He will and can do, then I too will not rejoice – with dancing and shouting and celebrations of heart – over today’s birth of the seven billionth, and over the bean-counters’ projections of another billion or two to quickly follow.

But I don’t count beans.  I count He who has promised faithful.  And that faithfulness is inextricably linked with the giving of children. 

Hebrews 11:11  By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.

Today is a good day in the Lord’s book – the day of the seven billionth!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Tormenting Righteous Souls


A few weeks ago another one of our states registered into the written law of the land an official determination that what God has called evil is actually good.  By human decision, it has been decreed that this evil will be sanctioned by the government, elevated to the status a sacrament has in the church, and taught to children as a higher good.

I had already been grieved by a much more individual sin – the discovery that a person who calls himself a Christian, and believes he is both in relationship with God and seeking God, was directly and blatantly lying to others about a particular event.  Instead of repenting when confronted, he justified his actions and made clear his determination to continue in them.

It was when my heart was grieving over the number of Christians who don’t obey Jesus (or even the rules of basic morality) that New York announced its decision.  One scripture kept running through my mind.  It defines the saints’ predicament, as we live in such an upside-down world, and is actually about Lot, “for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard.” 

That is so.  I don’t know how you’ve been feeling, but every day I read the news I torment my righteous soul.  Not only are terrible things happening, terrible things are being done.  Humans are setting themselves above God, actually thumbing their noses at Him – intentionally!  Almost worse, evil is not only rampant in our nations, it has infiltrated our churches…so that if we could see the spiritual realm with our natural eyes, we would fall on the floor and weep over the sheer number of those around us who are being crowded and poked and pierced by demonic spirits of witchcraft and perverse sexuality and rebellion and the like.

This weekend my state of grief was intensified, when I came face to face with yet another instance of real sin and bondage in the life of a true believer.  When I was younger I would have grown angry – self-righteous and angry.  Today I grow sad.  Sad and begging for God to do something supernatural (for that’s what it will take) and douse us sinners with grace to be free, and mercy to cover; with desire for holiness like His, and with compassion strong enough to help one another limp into that throne room to receive these gifts. 

There is evil all around – everywhere wickedness.  To me it feels like the noise of a piece of modern, dissonant music turned into its physical equivalent - shrieking shards of sound and glass coming from all directions, swelling inescapably louder and sharper, piercing my ears and mind and eyes while I moan and crouch and mourn over the cacophony, over what it feels and sounds and looks like, over how painful it is when it hits my ears and how perverse it is when it hits my eyes.  This is what unrighteousness feels like to the righteous soul. 

We feel all this, and our souls are simply righteous because He gave us His own righteousness. What must it be like for Him, the Original Righteousness?  If I curl on my basement floor to the music of "Heaven & Earth" and weep, praying for the church to be made pure and brought near, for Him to return and make everything right and holy - to banish evil - what must He be feeling?

I did weep like that.  I couldn’t help it.  I am that grieved.  I keep praying for mercy, that in mercy He will pour out grace to escape temptation and deception and sin.  That our holy and love-filled God would be honored by how we think and what we do, not maligned by it. 

During worship this morning I remembered the phrase “as far as the east is from the west” and began seeing the distance from here to the exact opposite side of the globe, for that would be the farthest east-west distance possible.  Once forgiven, I could go looking …walking, searching, seeking… for one of my sins, and at that distance, it could take me years to find one.  Just one!  Then the Spirit prompted my mind to step back a little and stop being so myopic.  How far is east from west, in all of the created order?  As far as the far east of the galaxy is from the far west of the galaxy?  Wait, no – as far as the far east of the universe is from the far west of the universe.  I would never find that sin.

I see you Jesus, so big, so big - so big that my very important, very evil sin is absolutely removed from me (and certainly not worth a million-year-quest to re-find).  Since this is the case, since you are so capable and I can be so righteous, can’t you change our hearts so that we WANT to simply bring our sins to you so you can hurl them that vast distance?  It has become very apparent - our own hearts keep evil cyclical and recurring.  Our own hearts.  Our own hearts love our sin more than they desire You.  Have mercy, Lord!

Corey Russell preached on the knowledge of God, and summing it up, at the end of the service, with every hand over every eye, he led the entire congregation in a real and corporate prayer of repentance and renunciation of a certain kind of evil – of looking on perversity and wickedness with our eyes and in our thoughts and through our hearts.  My soul was trying to burst out of my body, as I heard the sincerity in my fellow believers, and in my own voice...as I watched a tidal wave of forgiveness and righteousness wash through and past us, leaving the entire thousand of us standing just as solid and immovable in the same spot, but entirely clean, while the flotsam and jetsam of degrading passions and sins went floating away behind.  We are righteous!  We can be righteous tomorrow!  We will be righteous forever! 

Jesus is right.  He is much, much bigger than one sin or than our millions of sins.  Oh, that we would seek his kingdom and his righteousness.  And then, someday when he has come back, the righteous soul will never be tortured again.

“Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?  He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy.  He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities.  You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea…”  Micah 7:18-19