Posted in Christian Living, Faith

His Faithful Love Endures

Challenges like the dust bowl of another generation are just one of many things we humans endure.
Challenges like the dust bowl of another generation are just one of many things we humans endure.

As a person with anxiety issues, I avoid the news as much as possible.  Being a fan of history, I realize the potential fallacy of this head-in-the-sand attitude.  But, since most days I have to overcome the challenge of worrying about what my logical mind knows are silly things–like the pine needles on my roof or whether the sugar ants I thought I had conquered in my kitchen will return again–I feel validated in my choice to remain mostly oblivious.

But, I do occasionally watch the news.  My first memory of seeing a newscast is standing in the kitchen of our 75-year-old house as the 13-inch black and white television flashed images of Russian soldiers with weapons moving through the woods as if they might burst through the back pantry door any moment.  The newscaster said that Russia had developed some kind of weapon that was superior to what our soldiers had in this time of relative peace known as the cold war.

In my fifth grade classroom, first my teacher told us about being a girl our age and hearing about Pearl Harbor.  She was a passionate storyteller who painted a vivid picture of her own, innocent world collapsing in around her.  Suddenly, the blue sky over the front lawn where she played on the tire swing or rode her bike was an ominous void where planes might bomb her into oblivion at any moment.

That same year, I stood in the library as a television blared reports that our President had been shot.  One of my classmates cheered.  There were rumors that the teacher standing next to me in the library had snuck out to her vehicle and cried.

I once told a friend of another generation that mine felt like one of the first generations in many to not really be challenged.  She, after all, had lost her fiancé in Vietnam.  I conveniently forgot that one of my own high school classmates had died serving our country in a war we are for all intents and purposes still fighting.

So, there is nothing new under the sun, it seems.  Each generation faces its own share of challenges, whether they be wars against brothers-turned-enemies, economic hardships, or the truly unrelenting power of nature.  Each generation must forge its own path to the perseverance that builds character.  And every day we choose to take one more step forward, we prove our own heroic spirit.

But the most heroic spirit of all is the humble one that realizes all things good come from the ONE who breathed everything into existence.

I was reminded of this truth as I read through the Psalms this week.  In these prayers to God, we learn what it is like to be created and yet in relationship with our Creator.  The various authors of the Psalms praise God, plead with God, bargain with God, and even get angry with Him!  But, they always, always, submit to God’s superior role in the petitioner’s life.

In Psalms 107 and 118, for example, we see the heights and the depths of the human experience:

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good!  His faithful love endures forever. . . . Let them praise the LORD for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them. (Psalm 107:1, 8)

In both these Psalms, besides telling the story of all the good things God has done, the Psalmists also acknowledge their own failings, especially in the face of a perfect God.  They know they do not deserve help.  They know that they have been punished and may still continue to be punished.  But, they also believe in God’s faithfulness.  Even though we created things repeatedly reject Him, God never forgets us.

Believing that God is ever faithful, the Psalmist makes a declaration of belief, asking for success even though the Psalmist knows God may not immediately or ever grant it.  Still, in the end, the Psalmist knows that God will always love:

This is the day the LORD has made.  We will rejoice and be glad in it.  (Psalm 118:24)

Like Job who refused to curse God, even when it seemed like God had taken everything from him, for those who remain constant in the belief that God is faithful, the crazy things that happen in our fallen, cursed world can be placed in the always open hands of a loving Creator.  Somehow, knowing that makes facing a fallen world possible.

I commend those who endure so much, but I also acknowledge that any life is a certain act of endurance.  Since I have problems with anxiety, your mole hill is probably my mountain, but we both still endure.  In the end, the act of being human is not a contest of who had the greatest challenges.  It seems to me that the act of being human is all about enduring through our faith in a faithful God.

In a world full of headlines, I think I’ll stick with the banner that hasn’t changed in centuries:  HIS faithful love endures forever.

I hope we all walk in stronger faith in the coming days.  And if we stumble, then let us turn to the words of others who have gone before us along this same journey.  Open His Word to the Psalms and be ready to find a familiar friend who also loves God.

The LORD who shepherds David shepherds all of us.  I choose to fear no evil when I choose God.

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Posted in Christian Living

This Debt I Owe

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I have a confession to make.  Despite knowing that vengeance belongs to God, I love a good movie where the hero systematically eradicates all the villians.  Even in a story like Eastwood’s Unforgiven, I’m glad to see him take out his enemies because, even though Eastwood has given them every chance to back off, they just won’t give up.  Eastwood may have ultimately lost a bit more of his soul in shooting it out with the bad guys, but as a movie-goer, I am really glad the bad guys bit the dust.

How different are the realities of a world where people live according to the belief that God has the only right to vengeance.  In our modern age, I’m not sure how many of those communities actually exist, but in the pages of my Bible, I find a history of God’s people asking for guidance in dealing with their enemies and giving full credit to God for any victories that they attain.  When the Israelites are on top of their faithfulness with God, no force in the world can beat them.  Vengeance is God’s.

I’ve been reading the Psalms this week.  In David’s Psalms, he repeatedly acknowledges his own sinful state and how little he deserves God’s help.  But, David also acknowledges how he can do nothing without God, how great God is all the time, how willing David is to accept God’s will, whatever that may be.  For David, whatever happens is the will of God, and God is good all the time–even when what God decides to do makes David hurt.

When you read that attitude coming from a man who lives under the weight of sin, you understand more and more just how much David had a heart like God’s.  What I mean is this: in David’s time, there was no such thing as grace.  In order to renew one’s relationship with God, you had to perpetually offer blood sacrifices to make right what you inevitably had done wrong in the sight of God.  Even as David pours his heart out to God in the Psalms, he knows that the only man on earth that can most closely speak to the Maker is the High Priest one day each year when the Holy of Holies is entered after much sacrifice and even more sacrifices are made in the very presence of God.  During that ceremony, tradition holds that the people would tie a rope to the High Priest in which to drag him back out of the Holy of Holies in case God did not find favor with him.

Because Christ died for our sins once and for all, we Christians in this modern world are living every day, truly, in a state of grace that it can be so easy to take for granted.  David, who was persecuted by Saul, lived a life of war, lost children, and had children rebel against him, could always remember that God is good and worthy of praise. David knew he himself had no right to be proud, even though he was a great king in the eyes of men, because he only ruled by the will of God.  David knew that at any minute he could die in a state of sin that separated him from the God he loved so much.

You and I have been given the gift of starting each day and ending it in relationship with God.  The Holy Spirit dwells in us at the point that we accept Christ as our Savior.  We owe such a debt to Christ for His sacrifice, and yet He presents it to us as a gift, lovingly given.  We do nothing to earn our salvation except to accept that gift and submit to Christ’s will.

If David, living under the threat of unforgiven sin, could devote so much of himself in praising his God for the love and protection and mercy God gave him, how much more should we who have been given the gift of relationship with our God be daily loving, praising, believing, and submitting to His will?  Even though we cannot earn our salvation, do we not owe so much more of a debt to our God that He was willing to die for us, once and for all?

Make no mistake, Christianity does not equal inaction.  As James puts it, “faith without works is a dead faith.”  Reading the Psalms of David reminds us of the debt we all owe to our loving God, who gave His whole self for us.

Thank You, Jesus, for the indwelling of the Spirit that allows me to know that when I cry out to You, You always hear me.  And so often, You are my one and only source of comfort.  My job is learning to lean into this awesome debt I lovingly owe.

Our God is truly an awesome God.

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

Why Don’t I Learn?

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As I’ve mentioned recently, my Bible reading currently finds me in the cycle of stories of the Old Testament, where God’s people love Him, forget Him, mock Him, and turn back to Him again in waves of joy and grief that often leave me wanting to scream at my Bible as I might yell at the television set–“What do you think you’re doing?  How can you be so stupid that you would worship a man-made idol or other people’s gods when you have a history of covenant with the one and only God?”

But, I usually remind myself how easy it is to armchair quarterback history.  A perspective from thousands of years in the future, after all, can easily see where others stumble, especially since my perspective includes knowledge of the New Covenant, which was completed when Christ came and sacrificed Himself for us.

Before Christ, the closest any individual came to God was through the High Priest, who was allowed to cleanse himself and enter the Holy of Holies, the most sacred place in the Temple, the place where God dwelled, only once each year in order to offer sacrifices that would give the people a way to forgiveness from God.  When Christ died on the Cross, that curtain that separated the rest of the people from that Holy of Holies literally split in two!  From that moment on, those who ask Jesus to be their Savior have entrance into the Holy of Holies through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which means that we can call on God anytime, anyplace, anywhere.

But, since human nature really never changes, how often do we also cycle through loving God, forgetting Him, and even mocking Him before we remember just how special the gift of Grace and Salvation are and return to Him again?

Modern culture likes to concentrate on a kind of non-religion where everyone can feel good about him/herself so long as we give everybody enough room to believe whatever they want, and we don’t get in anybody else’s way.

Even though Christ loves all of us so much that He died so that we all would have the chance to choose everlasting life with Him, He did not negate following God’s commands:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.   (Matthew 23:23)

There is no way to God the Father except through our belief in Christ the Son.  Christ commanded that we love God first, with everything that is in us, and to love others as we want ourselves to be loved.  Between these two commands, He covered every other rule laid out for human behavior in the Holy Word.

Yet, despite the simplicity of God’s plan for our salvation, don’t we manage to make everything so very complicated?  We judge when we should be silent.  We offer disapproval when we should be extending a helping hand.  We let ourselves off the hook when we should be listening to the voice of conscience that tells us we just messed up.  We hold onto our pride when we should submit to God’s ultimate power over us.

Despite the many downs in the history of the Jews, theirs is the ultimate victory in human history because it is through them that God chose to make Himself known to the rest of us.  I feel sorry for those who stubbornly refuse to believe that God is because, in the end, they miss out on the pinnacle-moments of knowing a loving Creator.

Through his many psalms, David, the man after God’s own heart, expresses as well as anyone the joy of knowing, truly knowing, God’s love for us:

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. (2 Samuel 22:2-4)

Like intersecting circles in a graph, we humans may have different perspectives about the world, but the one thing that should center us is coming back to our true center, which is Christ.

So, even though I want to chastise the people in the stories I read in the Old Testament, I know that I, too, am constantly on a path of winding toward and away from God, even though I have Jesus in my heart.  The main lesson I have to learn is to keep going on my knees and asking God to keep guiding me and bringing me back to center.

Posted in Christian Living, Writers, Writing

It All Begins With A Story

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Writers live and die by the story. We see a story in the heated exchange between a mother and father over the cooling remains of a half-eaten dinner at a crowded restaurant, in the brief glimpse of a bicycle laying upside down against a rickety fence, in the weathered face of a one-legged man holding a cardboard sign on a street corner.

Are we writers first, born with the love of story? Or do the stories that we encountered growing up make us into writers?

No matter which chicken or egg answer you choose, stories are a blessing no writer can ignore.

My story blessings are deeply rooted in the histories of sacrifice, hard work, and all-out toughness that surround my family’s background. Like many of us, I don’t have to look past two generations to find people who survived off the land, perfected the art of getting by with just enough, and who never questioned the value of hard work and the happiness achieved via the simple philosophy of loving God first and then one’s fellow man.

There are people outside of my family circle, however, whose stories also touched my creative spirit. One of them died before I was born. A friend of my dad’s, he was sacrificed like so many of that generation on the battlefields of Vietnam. As the story goes, he was safely inside the trench when he ventured out to retrieve a fellow soldier. Unfortunately, he died in the attempt. The closest he ever came to having children, I suppose, is the middle name I bear in honor of his memory.

Another one of my dad’s friends survived his tour of duty only to be scarred by it for the rest of his life, or at least, so it seemed. A “frogman,” that friend had the scary job of following behind the enemy divers and dismantling the bombs they had set in the ocean. It was almost fifteen years after the war before he was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, but even before that, he had chosen a different path.

A sort of “old hippie,” he travelled the country playing music, never laying down roots, and yet still having that bon vivant quality that drew others to him. At his funeral recently, Dad was impressed by the stories this buddy’s more recent friends had to tell about the kindnesses extended and lives touched by someone who truly sacrificed all for his country, leaving behind in the end nothing to really call his own.

No matter how diligently we try to express or emulate the stories we experience on paper, beyond personal experience there are no stories as powerful as those woven for us in the pages of the Bible. Open this good book anywhere, and you will encounter love stories, great battles, and conversations with God.

How incredible is the story of Saul called Paul, a Pharisee known for his zealous pursuit of the infidel Christians, a Roman citizen who met God on the road to Damascus and gave up all the acclaim he had earned among his peers to preach the truth of Christ to the Gentiles? Or what about David, who had a heart like God’s, yet still continued to struggle with the same sins that we all must face each day? Because David repented of those sins, he continued to find moments of wonder with the One and Only.

But my favorite stories of the Bible are found in the Psalms, where anonymous, every day people, just like you and I, pour out their praise and fear and even anger with God as they combat the challenges that are inherent to being human. What a glorious God we have, that He will love us through our happiness and our pain! If you ever doubt it, you will find a fellow traveller in the Psalms for whichever place with God you are at. And if you are far from God, I am convinced that the every day people of the Psalms can bring you back again.

From Psalm 91: “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’”

From Psalm 33: “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. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.”

From Psalm 12: “Help, Lord, for no one is faithful anymore; those who are loyal have vanished from the human race. Everyone lies to their neighbor; they flatter with their lips but harbor deception in their hearts.”

Solomon tells us, “There is nothing new under the sun,” but there are beauty and wonder, tears and pain.

And it all begins with a story.

Posted in Christian Living, Faith, Love

Just Listening

20120608-210710.jpgIt’s funny how things in life seem to happen in bunches. Thomas Pynchon wrote about this phenomenon in The Crying of Lot 49, the way that, once your mind is drawn to the attention of a certain idea or symbol, you suddenly seem to run into that very thing all the time. Pynchon’s point is that the idea or thing was really around you all along. You just didn’t bring it into your perception of reality until you actually acknowledged it.

When I seek to learn about and better understand God, this very same phenomenon seems to happen for me. Truths that were always right in front of me but never really seen by me suddenly become glaringly visible. Some people like to claim God is speaking with them when this type of thing happens, and who am I to disagree? However, since God is there for us all the time, I like to think it is more a factor of my finally listening.

Case in point:

Sunday service this last week focused on the uncomfortable subject of materialism. The pastor used as part of his text the parable from the twelfth chapter of Luke in which a man with abundance makes plans to build larger storehouses for his stuff, not realizing that he would die that very night. Jesus concludes in verse 21: “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

Now, just a few days before that sermon, I had gotten a compulsion to gather up some like-new stuffed animals from around my house and give them to a friend of mine who volunteers with an organization that, among many other things, puts together kits for hospitals to hand out to sexual assault victims, who have to leave all their personal effects with the police as evidence. My stuffed toys were for the growing number of children the hospitals are seeing as victims of assault.

In the class following the sermon, the subject of materialism remained the topic. I was able to share the need for these kits as part of the natural discussion of the class, for which I was glad. Until my friend had told me about this program, I had never thought about that as a need before. And I was pretty sure several of the people in the room hadn’t thought of this need before I mentioned it either.

On Monday, as I sat doing my daily Bible reading, which just happens to have me in the book of Psalms at the moment, I happened upon this verse–

Psalm 49:20–a man who has riches without understanding is like the beasts that perish.

I sat up straighter in my chair. Luke 12:21 loomed in the back of my brain–“This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” The “understanding” of the Psalms surely means the same as being “rich toward God.” My ears were being called upon to listen.

What was I going to do about it?

One of the first things I did was to keep listening and reflecting as I continued in the Psalms. These were the other truths I heard:

Psalm 51:5-6–Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. / Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.

Psalm 51:10-12–Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.

Psalm 51:17– The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Living in the most materialistic country in the world, in a world where just having clean water, a roof over my head, and some money in the bank makes me rich compared to the majority of the planet’s population, it is a daily struggle to make sure God comes before everything else. Too many times I fail. But, if I listen, I know that God will provide me with the steadfast spirit and contrite heart that will bring me closer to Him and make it so much easier to give, storing up my true treasures in heaven, the only home we’ll ever have forever.