Friday, July 10, 2009
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17). I guess that’s what conjured up the butterfly image for me – all the posters and cards I had as a kid always pasted that verse on top of a colorful (sometimes psychedelic) butterfly. This was always used as a super encouraging verse to boost your Christian walk. And it should be encouraging. The truth in this verse should be a comfort and a joy. But to be perfectly honest with you, it’s often more confusing and frustrating for me than anything else.
I feel that the deeper into my Christian walk I get, the more oppressed I am by my sin. Shouldn’t I be freer? Haven’t the chains been cast off? Why do I feel as though I am still writhing in the grubby, green body of a caterpillar? Where are my wings, that I might leave this sin behind me? I cannot tell you how many times I have repeated these words to myself: “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11). The problem is that this spiritual reality appears discordant with the physical reality. United with Christ in His resurrection… Slaves to the one we obey…Freed from sin. These words seem like foreign concepts. I cannot comprehend the full, wonderful meaning in them.
Last week, I was reading the story of a man who expressed a struggle so similar sounding to my own, his words seemed to echo the cry of my own soul. Hudson Taylor wrote to his sister:
I felt the ingratitude, the danger, the sin of not living nearer to God… Every day, almost every hour, the consciousness of sin oppressed me.
I knew that if only I could abide in Christ all would be well, but I could not. I would begin the day with prayer, determined not to take my eye off Him for a moment, but the pressure of duties, sometimes very trying, and constant interruptions apt to be so wearing, caused me to forget Him. Then one's nerves get so fretted in this climate that temptations to irritability, hard thoughts and sometimes unkind words are all the more difficult to control. Each day brought its register of sin and failure, of lack of power.
Then came the question, is there no rescue? Must it be thus to the end – constant conflict, and too often defeat?...Instead of growing stronger, I seemed to be getting weaker and to have less power against sin; and no wonder, for faith and even hope were getting low. I hated myself, I hated my sin, yet gained no strength against it. I felt I was a child of God. His Spirit in my heart would cry, in spite of all, "Abba, Father." But to rise to my privileges as a child, I was utterly powerless.
Taylor’s ultimate peace, the truth he was able to understand after many years as a Christian that put this struggle to rest was this:
But how to get faith strengthened? Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the Faithful One…"If we believe not, he abideth faithful." "Ah, there is rest!", I thought. "I have striven in vain to rest in Him. I'll strive no more. For has not He promised to abide with me- never to leave me, never to fail me?"
I am no better than before. In a sense, I do not wish to be, nor am I striving to be. But I am dead and buried with Christ – ay, and risen too! And now Christ lives in me, and "the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." I now believe I am dead to sin. God reckons me so, and tells me to reckon myself so. He knows best. All my past experience may have shown that it was not so; but I dare not say it is not now, when He says it is. I feel and know that old things have passed away. I am as capable of sinning as ever, but Christ is realized as present as never before. He cannot sin; and He can keep me from sinning.
I think perhaps my problem is that I let myself strive to be, and despair when I am not, sinless. I mistakenly believe that is what God promises when he says “dead to sin.” I so feebly understand that I have been freed from the power of sin and given Christ. This does not mean I have no sin; rather, I have been drenched in an everlasting love – a love which encompasses me and dwells within me. What despair is there to be in union with a Savior like the Christ? As Hudson wrote, “The only power of deliverance from sin or true service is Christ.”
As I write this, I think I have discovered the fault of my butterfly analogy. You can’t expect the butterfly to see a butterfly’s body in the mirror because there really isn’t one. It’s not a physical, outward, apparent transformation. The butterfly has to read the book that says, “You’re a butterfly, so act like one! Even though you look like a nasty grub…” And he crawls around, leaving a perfectly disgusting trail of slime behind him, telling people quietly, “I’m a butterfly.”
My pastor said on Sunday that the guilt you feel beyond the conviction of the Holy Spirit is your own way of suffering for your sin – of saying that what Christ did is not enough. We must, by the grace of God, realize that there is nothing in us that can keep the Father from loving us fully and everlastingly. And there is no outward appearance that can ultimately change the spiritual reality that we have been united with Christ. Entwined for all eternity, He is ours and we are His. We must take our eyes off our wretchedness and fix them on Christ – faithfulness for the adulterous, fountain for the parched, and rest for the weary. His blood covers our sin; His robes cover our “righteousness.”
My friends, I do not see it, and I do not understand it, but the truth has been written for me that I might believe it. I am a butterfly.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Who I am?
It was I who slew the Lamb
Against you have I sinned
To you alone
Are the depths of my heart shown
You are right, You are just
When you judge me
For sin is all that I see
But keep me near and do not cast
Oh God please hear me pray
Let your grace wash me clean
Make me new
That I might stand before you
I do not know how to come
But by the blood
And the body that is my food
Let all see you are righteous
Let us turn
From our sin and for you yearn
Restore the joy of your salvation
Let me sing
And give my heart as an offering
For this I cannot do
My greatest efforts are but sin
Filthy I crawl before you
Covered with the blood of Christ
And dressed in His robes
By the love and the prayers that intercede
This is how I come
Before Your Holy throne
It is not my own righteousness I plead
No good is there in me O Lord
I can choose naught but sin
I must cling to Christ’s life and death
And the grace I’ve been washed in
Lord, you have justified me
And no longer see my stain
All you see is Christ in me
And His inheritance I gain
Friday, May 15, 2009
I relate a lot to Dory from Finding Nemo – the fish with the two second memory. Whenever I think of things I have to do, but am not able to access a pen and paper, I repeat them over and over and over again in my head, trying not to forget anything, but growing desperately frustrated with myself when I inevitably do. I wish the most important things I forgot were calling someone back, getting my laundry out of the dryer, or reading a chapter of homework. But my forgetfulness runs so much deeper; it seems I often do not remember the very truths that keep me alive.
Psalm 103 says, “Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
It’s amazing how renewed we can feel one minute, how blessed and full of praise, and then how quickly our worries and daily tasks can drive these thoughts away. I think it’s more amazing how forgiven we can know we are, only to find ourselves plagued by guilt and burdened down by sin. We just…forget. We forget the truth ingrained upon our very hearts; we forget the God who has shown himself to be more glorious that anything else we can imagine; we forget the joy that should at all times be welled up in our souls, waiting to bubble over. We walk into church and we walk out. We pick up our Bibles and we put them down. We are cleansed and, once again, we sin. We find ourselves humming a happy little tune: “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…” and then all of the sudden we stop and ask, “What are we doing again?”
I think this is why these first few verses of Psalm 103 are so important. Because we do forget. Our minds go blank, and in our sin, we panic. But the psalmist paints an example for us: When you forget, don’t forget. In other words, when the truth seems the farthest from your memory and the words hold the smallest amount of meaning for you, preach to yourself.
For some reason, in our minds we reserve the job of preaching for the pastor. He’s the one who studies the Scripture, comes up with the points, and lays it all out there to convict us each Sunday. Terrific. But that’s where we run up against this wall. The wall I’ve been talking about here – short term memory loss. As vital as it is for our pastors to preach to us each week, it is just as vital that we, in turn, continually preach to ourselves. We have to make it a habit to tell ourselves what we don’t want to hear and to say it over and over and over again. We have to command our souls “Praise the LORD.” You don’t want to, but do it anyways. We have to shake ourselves good and hard and say, “Forget not all his benefits. He forgives you, and heals you, and redeems you, and loves you, and satisfies you. Do NOT forget. You have forgotten, but do NOT forget.”
The Israelites did forget. They forgot over and over and over again. That’s why there’s a whole chapter in Deuteronomy titled “Do Not Forget the LORD.” It tells God’s people to remember all He has done for them – the way he delivered them, humbled them, and provided for them. “Be careful,” it says, “that you do not forget the Lord your God” (8:11). It cautions that when the Israelites prosper, “then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God” (8:14). God only spoke about what He knew to be true. He wasn’t cautioning just for fun. He knew the conditions of the Israelites’ hearts, just as He knows the conditions of our hearts.
The Dory-syndrome is nothing new. But the remedy is still the same. Tell yourself the sweet story of the Gospel. Grab at each word separately until they mean something to you. Thunder in your own ears. Wrestle with the truth that you know but have forgotten. Wrestle until you have not forgotten. And do this each week, each day, each minute. Hopefully the frequency of our preaching will increase over time, until it becomes such a habit that no doubt crosses the threshold of our mind and no sin peeps its head out without being quickly and firmly told of the faithful God, the unchangeable I AM, who has shown and proven Himself to us time and time again.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
What is it about dogs? I grew up with a veterinarian for a mother, but I have honestly never understood the “man’s best friend” thing. There are times when I am so blown away by the fawning that takes place over these hairy bone-chompers that I begin to suspect some sort of fairy dust was sprinkled over them.
This morning I walked into the office of the company my dad works for, back for the summer and ready to hit the stacks of numbers that needed to be entered into the computer. As the door swung shut behind me, a tiny white mop flew at my legs. Then this fluffy hairball seemed to decide it should climb up my legs – madly scratching my knees and then flinging itself in a sort of a flurry against my shins. I finally realized this little explosion was a dog, so I shook it off as I headed to get my assignment and maybe inquire after the presence of a creature in an office.
“Isn’t she cute?” I was asked.
Ah yes, exactly the word I was looking for.
I examined the shaking, jumping mass at my feet and noticed it had a little ponytail on top of its head. A little lopsided perhaps, but it kept the hair out of its face and helped expose those pitiful eyes.
“Oh, yeah…whose dog is this?”
The boss’s son’s dog. Of course.
“But why do you have it in here?”
She has separation anxiety.
I laugh. “A needy dog.”
The laugh is returned. Then a more serious, “She’s afraid to be alone.”
I wouldn’t mind being left alone.
“Lily” is now licking my feet around my shoes as though they were melting rainbow popsicles in the middle of a hot August day. It tickles and I can’t really help but smile.
Just as I can’t help but smile an hour later when the boss’s adult son, who works in real estate next door, walks in carefully cupping a little paper with some sort of food in it. I watch him walk to the back room, eagerly looking for the furball.
Another hour later, and the woman who works in that back room is on the floor throwing toys around for “Lily” and at some other point in the day she goes next door to get “Lily” a bone.
“Isn’t it just so cute how she lies to chew her bone?” I am questioned.
What a weird question. Can a dog lie cutely?
I obligingly peek my head around the counter. I have work pretty hard not to laugh. If lying cutely involves flattening oneself to look like a rug, then Lily wins the award. I wonder how you can even tell she is eating her bone – Lily’s head is so hidden in a mass of hair and her entire body looks so devoid of any shape, I simply have to trust that someone with better vision than I would notice the chomping and avoid stepping on her.
As I contemplate this little Maltese later in the day, I find myself at the question I began with: What is it about dogs? So I turn to my ever trusty Google and soak in words of wisdom.
The great pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself too. ~Samuel Butler
Don't accept your dog's admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful. ~Ann Landers
I've seen a look in dogs' eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that basically dogs think humans are nuts. ~John Steinbeck
Saturday, April 18, 2009
George MacDonald said, 'The Son of God suffered unto the death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His.” It is easy to find ourselves believing that because Christ endured the shame of the cross, our lives as Christians should be pain-free. But our worlds come crashing down when difficulties overwhelm us and we find ourselves crying out, “Why?! If Christ has redeemed us, why is life so painful?” In his first letter, Peter writes of Christ’s sufferings and reminds Christians that, not in spite of, but because of redemption, we are to partake in these sufferings. As difficult as it may be, we can see our suffering in light of God’s plan for humans in history, and can cling to the knowledge that God’s faithfulness will allow us to persevere to the end.
Peter begins by saying that Christ’s sufferings were not a surprise; they were prophesied of long before he was born into this world. His sufferings were planned and they were necessary as a means of grace (1:10-11). In chapter two, Peter expands on this idea saying, “Christ suffered for you” (vs. 21) and then refers to Isaiah 53 to show what this suffering looked like. It was foretold by the prophet Isaiah that Christ would be a “man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (53:3). Christ was purposed to suffer for our sake, it says. “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.” Not only this, but Christ suffered in silence, patiently enduring the cup that had been given to him. “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth” (53:7). This was done that we might be saved and so we might have an example.
Christ’s suffering is to be a picture for Christians, “that you should follow in his steps” (1 Pt. 2:21). Peter’s encouragement to Christians about how they should suffer makes it clear how this is so. Just as Christ endured suffering in silence, so we too should bear suffering knowing it pleases God (2:19). Christ suffered “though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth” (Is. 53:9), and so too should Christians be willing to suffer for righteousness. Peter says that it is not worth anything to suffer for doing what is wrong (2:20), but “if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed” (3:14). Christ shows us that suffering will seem unjust; in fact, that very nature of true suffering is a seeming unfairness. We should not be “a murder or thief” in order to suffer (4:15-16).
Isaiah 53 also says that “it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,” which is echoed in 1 Peter 4:19 when Peter speaks of “those who suffer according to God's will.” We are to bear up under suffering because God wills it for our good. It is never an accident or something that “just happens.” It is something we are called to (1 Pt. 2:21) and something we should expect (4:12). This is because suffering, although usually afflicting our body, has spiritual effects. Christ’s suffering was a means of our salvation; our suffering is a means of our sanctification. “[H]e who suffered in his body is done with sin” (4:1).
This is why Peter also reminds Christians that their sufferings are temporary. Suffering is just “for a little while” (1:6,10). These earthly sufferings do not last forever, and we have something much better, something eternal, that we hope for. This reflects Christ’s example, for Isaiah said, “After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied” (53:11). Our present, fleeting suffering promises a greater reward. Not only this, but we suffer for the glory of God. Peter commands Christians to “rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (4:13). We should be glad to suffer as our Savior did. He suffered for us; now we suffer for Him – for His sake and for His glory. And we know that, by the grace of God alone, we too “will share in the glorification to be revealed” (5:11). Our sufferings are not forever and they are not in vain. We suffer as the body of Christ: in union with Him and with Christians around the world (5:9), clinging to an everlasting hope.
This hope that we have pushes us to persevere. Peter says those who are suffering “should commit themselves to their faithful Creator” (4:19). In the midst of our suffering, we turn ourselves over to the One who is faithful, and are comforted knowing that He will see us through to the end. Oftentimes, we see suffering break people’s faith, and it is frightening. But we can trust that God knows those who are His, and those who have been saved by the blood of Christ will ultimately be saved from the trials of this world. If we are truly saved, our suffering will be a proving and refining of faith, and we will persevere. God will not let anyone slip out of His hands. Even when it seems like our lives are in shambles, we are His, and we will always be His. Though we suffer, “through faith [we] are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1:5).
For these truths of Scripture, I am overwhelmingly grateful. These past two years, I have felt a greater awareness of suffering than I ever have before, and I am confident this awareness will be ever-increasing. I feel as though my life has been sheltered from any real suffering, but I am forced to watch those around me lose loved ones to drugs, to death, to atheism. I ache with those who are in pain, and it is hard to trust that this pain is somehow for their good. I long to see my brothers and sisters in Christ sanctified, but it is so difficult to watch them live out the Christian’s calling and “participate in the sufferings of Christ” (1 Pt. 4:13). And all the while I know that this is my calling also. I do not feel as though I am suffering now, but Scripture clearly says I will. I pray that God will make me willing to suffer. Right now, I am scared to undergo persecution or pain, but I know that it will not be my strength that will enable me to endure.
This past fall, my Resident Director, Jennifer Uwarow, told me she believed God had been preparing her as she grew up, through her mom and the things she read, to suffer. A week and a half later, Jen was told that cancer had come back into her body for the third time, and three months later, she died. I wept for Jen and I ached for her husband Pete, but the truths of 1 Peter have never been more visible to me. I saw very real suffering in their lives, but still they clung to Christ. And I knew when Jen died that her temporary suffering was over; she was with her Savior and filled with everlasting joy in His presence. I know God preserves those who are His, and I trust that He will carry me, as He did Jen, over whatever He has in store for this life. All the while, I will sing, as Jeremy Camp does, “There will be a day with no more tears, and no more pain, and no more fears/ There will be a day when the burdens of this place will be no more; we’ll see Jesus face to face.”
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
He carried the burden of my sin
He was pierced and crushed for all to see
His suffering was done for me
Silently, He was led like a lamb
Before the slaughter – the great I AM
The perfect sacrifice was He
Chosen, revealed, unblemished for me
The wrath of God poured out that day
Smitten by Him, my debt to pay
My iniquity borne on the tree
He was forsaken – forsaken for me
And for a glory which will never fade
He emptied Himself and me He made
A new creation – unchained and free
That exalted on high forever He might be
And so in suffering we now partake
The earth and all it holds, forsake
In light of His glory it grows dim
And we offer ourselves up now for Him
Who’s speaking? The fog sets in
As the decibels increase. The pores
Of the receiver contract in agony of
Ambiguity (listen to me) longing
For middle ground (or a bridge) –
Something solid in the midst of a
Chasm. Two different worlds, sound
Waves jabbing between, opinions like
Foils. Each is parried, more strongly,
Forcibly than before, with more
Misconstruction. Knowledge is
Knowledge: adult women who take
Dim outlines and cry “Fact! Fact!” but
Only flip the pages posthumously.
Is it…for the sake of the tooted horn it
Must be proven. Our ears melt off
And leave us in a world of silence.
Friday, April 10, 2009
When a dance is approaching, you can tell by the atmosphere in the girls’ hall. Dresses fly back and forth between rooms, jewelry is discussed in detail, and your roommate asks you at 12:30 pm (after you’re already in bed) if you know how you’re going to be doing your hair (and then you laugh when your other roommate replies that she’s just going to shave it all off). It doesn’t matter that Providence dances are small and simple – definitely no high school prom – I enjoy them more than any other dances I’ve ever been to.
This past Saturday afternoon I was diligently trying to discipline my brain into doing homework, but when I ran back to my dorm to get something at about 2, I couldn’t help but notice that some girls were in the room across from me having their nails done by one of the other girls. Far be it from me to abandon such beautification processes – I was sucked in. Before I knew it, my nails were being filed and painted as we watched the end of some super cheesy chick flick on a lap top.
Two hours later, every outlet in the bathroom was overtaken by some sort of hair frying device and girls were brushing their faces and stabbing their hair with bobby pins. It gets a little warm and crowded (Beware: turning around and finding your face engulfed in a stream of hairspray meant for the head next to you) but it’s moments like these that make me happy. And the dance is just a good time. It’s so fun to see everyone just look amazing (not that we don’t usually, but you know…) and it’s awesome when everyone is able to just goof around and show off our stupendous Dutch (or in my case, home school) dance skills.
I kind of thought that my usual lack-of-strenuous-muscle-use would have me waking up pretty sore the morning after the dance, but all was good. I might be a little sore tomorrow though. We’ll see. I just got back from my badminton class. We have to take two PE classes here at Providence, and badminton is my third. This is not only because I typically enjoy PE, but badminton is pretty much the best thing in the universe. I grew up playing it in my backyard with my family and now I can’t help but look forward to reliving my childhood every Thursday night.
Most of us don’t have super badminton skills, and usually stick to lunging like crazy people all over the court, stabbing at little yellow birdies – invisible against the blinding gym lights. And we can’t help but laugh at ourselves (and each other) when we wind up for a really powerful smack and end up swinging at air, with a plastic birdie in our face. Pretty much the best stress reliever of all time. And I must say, I’m just proud I’ve finally learned how to keep score and can actually get the birdie past the service line.
Enough rambling for the night, I guess. All my badminton adrenaline has rushed out of my body and I’m sitting here trying to hold my eyes open at the moment. I should probably go pack – I’m going home for Easter tomorrow! I hope life is simply fantabulous for you right now :o)
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Today my Contemporary Poetics class headed over to Starbucks to sip coffee, discuss poetry, and enjoy the ridiculously warm weather. I was pretty excited until about fifteen minutes into class when I realized ‘enjoying the ridiculously warm weather’ also meant bake. I was sitting there attempting to make sense of the words on the page in front of me when I felt a strange sensation on my arm. My pale, white skin cells were shrieking “Help us, Rachel Fleeman; you’re our only hope!” Since I typically pay great attention to any part of my body that takes the time to shriek at me, I tried to subtly shift my body. Unfortunately, I was sitting perpendicular to the sun, so this simply meant the sun was now hitting the back of my left arm rather than the front of it. Once this strip of my skin joined in the protesting, I did a little more adjusting, trying to somehow make it so the sun could bake my right arm instead of my left arm, but I could still see my professor. I think I finally accomplished this by some awkward twisting and careful positioning of my arms and head, but by then it was too late. I was forced to resign myself to being half-lobster…now with a back ache and neck crick.
If you’re wondering what the moral of this story is, welcome to the club. I think it might have something to do with wonderful sunny California, awesome small classes, and needing to remember sunscreen the next time our flexible class relocates. On the other hand, it might have to do with hallucinations of screaming skin cells, conveying events completely hyperbolically, and trying to avoid pretending my brain actually works. Take your pick. I’m going to go soothe my hair follicles.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
An overwhelming creature
Who is slowly nipping away at my being
I feel myself helpless in its power
Driven mad with its incessant clawing
The parchment of my soul
The fabric of my heart
Torn by that which is so hideously alive
Every so often its claw
Slides its way up my throat
Despite the tight constrictions
It wedges into my fleshy mouth
Awaiting the moment it can flash out
And grasp its prey
I leave a trail of brokenness in my wake
Because within me rages a creature –
A ravenous creature
Last night almost our whole school headed to Hollywood to see Grease at the Pantages Theatre. If you’ve seen the movie, you probably know that it’s got a lot of fun songs, but a fairly depressing ending. Sandra Dee sacrifices her good-girl nature so she can be with the guy she’s crazy about. My roommate was really upset about this turn-out. She didn’t have gut to stand up for herself and who she really was, I was told.
On the other hand, the whole basis of our Christian faith is sacrifice. Christ sacrificed himself for us and we are to give ourselves as “living sacrifices.” Why isn’t this wrong? Why does it feel so stupid to deny yourself for some guy, but so necessary to deny yourself for Christ? Why do so many of our “sacrifices” feel so shallow and ridiculous? Meaningless.
I wonder if it’s because so often we’re sacrificing “for the sake of something else” but this “something else” doesn’t last. It’s temporary, fleeting, inconsequential. I didn’t feel a sense of satisfaction watching Sandra Dee get her guy, because I didn’t have any real confidence that their relationship would work for more than two months. Romeo is heroic to many because once he and Juliet are dead it seems their love is immortalized. We can’t touch it.
We like the idea of the eternal. Sacrificing for something real. In my Bible class a couple of weeks ago we talked about the resurrection as our reason for sacrifice. We can surrender ourselves to God now because we hope for something greater – namely, the resurrection of the body. It’s hard to sacrifice like Christ wants us to sacrifice. Romantic characters are more appealing because they get immediate benefits. Christians don’t. But in the end, our sacrifice will be rewarded by God himself. Pretty awesome huh?
Saturday, February 28, 2009
My Tuesday and Wednesday of this past week felt like two totally opposite days. On Tuesday I had a midterm (which I didn’t feel very confident about) and a test. I also had a paper to finish writing for the next day and I got back a paper on which I did not think I received a very good grade. Now, most people might be able to handle this stuff pretty well (which in all honesty, is hardly anything compared to what some people actually had), but if there are a couple things I have learned about myself they are that a) I deal very poorly with stress, and b) I cannot function on less than 6 hours of sleep. Hence the frizzing and crying scene.
Notice all of my excuses. I often think my life is one big excuse, comprised of all the reasons why it is ok for me to complain. God, however, is constantly reminding me that this does not sit well with Him. Wednesday, He reminded me again, sprinkling my life with completely undeserved blessings. Hair that worked, an enjoyable first class, a time of singing in the chapel, canceled afternoon classes, a refreshing nap, an encouraging professor, and friends that never cease to make me smile. Finally, I reached the dreaded moment – the poetry field trip I had completely forgotten about until it was painted into the picture on that terrible Tuesday. And trust me, it had caused me to mope and complain (excuse: who wants to listen to poetry on their last night before Spring Break?).
The first stop my English professor, Dr. Belz, insisted on making during our field trip was at Laguna Beach to watch the sun set. In all honesty, I don’t know if I can say I had ever seen a sunset on the beach. But take it from me now, it was amazing. And as I was meandering along the beach back to the car, I recalled the Psalm I had read that morning. Psalm 57 says “I am in the midst of lions…Be exalted, O God,” and “They spread a net for my feet…My heart is steadfast, O God.” At the time I read that, I was really struck by the fact that such contrasting thoughts were juxtaposed next to each other. Dire situations, but praise and trust.
D. Martyn Lloyd Jones reminded me that God often uses small trials in our lives to prepare us for large ones. You would think that knowing this, I would hit midterms and just be ready to jump for joy. Instead, God has my history professor tell me that stress is a part of life and I can’t let my life collapse because I’m not in the best mood or I don’t like the way things are working out. College is just the precursor to the rest of life. Then God sends me off on a night of beach walking, Mexican food eating, and poetry listening in order to get me asking myself, “Why are you so willing to praise God only on the good days?”
So here I am telling you that college is crazy. And life is crazy. And I will probably spend many more mornings as a sobbing mess giving myself motivational pep talks. And I have a very strong feeling that I will not be jumping for joy once finals roll around. But thank goodness for professors who are willing to tell you things like they are, for stiff necks from sleeping on patio furniture, and for beach sunsets. May I someday learn to “take refuge in the shadow of [God’s] wings until the disaster has passed (Ps. 57:1).
Saturday, February 14, 2009
I attended a funeral this morning. The first funeral I have ever attended for anyone under the age of seventy. It was one of the most heart-wrenching things I’ve probably ever experienced. Jennifer Uwarow was my Resident Director last semester, until tests showed that a ravaging cancer had reappeared in her body and she was physically, emotionally, and spiritually broken. This morning I was reminded once again of the testimony she left behind – a testimony of a great, faithful, and loving Savior. Even as Jen was brought daily closer to that moment of death, this was the hope she clung to. And at this moment, my greatest desire is to do nothing but bask in the sweetness of the love of Christ.
These words have remained a presence in the back of mind since the day I read them: “On the whole, God's love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him” (C.S. Lewis). I am easily discouraged when I consider the love I have for my God. Over Christmas break, I prayed asking Him, “Why do I love you so little?” When I consider that Yahweh himself marked out His plan of redemption, boldly drawing in the crucifixion of His only Son, that His love might drench wretched sinners such as myself, I cannot answer this question. The answer reverberates through my being, but it is so terrible and wonderful a truth it pierces me to the core. I am, and always have been, devastated by sin – dead – and I have, in and of myself, absolutely no ability to love my God.
We are told to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37), but our weak attempts to love God as He should be loved are like shooting balloons into the sky and hoping they will reach Neptune: they cover only a few feet of that endless stretch and fall deflated to the ground, failures. In the face of such circumstances I believe we have only two choices: we can despair or we can fix our eyes on that infinitely safer subject.
“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might perhaps dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The truth of these verses is impossible to wrap my mind around. Try as I might to love God as I should, I lie pitifully at His feet, woefully aware of my ungratefulness and ability to be easily wooed by poor, scrawny lovers. Yet even still, my God poured Himself out for me and continues to unwaveringly love me. He loved me when I did not love Him and He loves me now, though I do not love Him as I should. His love for me at this moment is as free, as full, and as passionate as it was as Christ hung on that cross – gasping for breath, suffering for my sin.
C.S. Lewis says, “[God] will give us feelings of love if He pleases. We cannot create them for ourselves, and we must not demand them as a right. But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him.” How beautiful, how precious is this thought!
Let us treasure the love of God. May it quench our thirsting and satisfy our hunger. But may we never cease to wonder that the Creator of this universe – our holy, magnificent, and glorious God – deigns to call us His beloved. He is ours and we are His. May His love be the only love we ever need.
“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:17-19).
by George Herbert
Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning If I lack'd anything.
"A guest," I answer'd, "worthy to be here";
Love said, "You shall be he."
"I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear, I cannot look on thee.
"Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
"Who made the eyes but I?"
"Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.""And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?"
"My dear, then I will serve."
"You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
So I did sit and eat.
Saturday, January 31, 2009
my toes curl I contemplate
bread cookies pie
which smell will fill permeate the air
Comfort this is Comfort
apron strings tightened
dough makes my hands sticky
oil leaves a trail down my arm
puffs of white powder settle on the counter
clinks, slams, whirrs chop the silence
bowls dirtied washed dirtied
worries are poured in with the milk
beaten with the eggs cooked
I don’t know why people need therapy or spas
the kitchen’s got me covered with chocolate that is
Comfort this is Comfort
They’re like tourists who don’t speak any English
But chatter excitedly in their impenetrable hollow.
Flocking about, but garnering only
Sometimes they run altogether and are indistinguishable –
One from another –
Sometimes you’re completely unaware of their presence
Until your own squinted eyes reveal
Their staunch presence in the background
Of your tangible memories.
You know they must be important –
The fulcrum of days, music, business procedures, wanderings.
They hang like a fog –
But when you swing at them,
They slide through the crevices of your fingers.
Unable to be grasped.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Metal covering above my head
Like large grains of rice
Falling from the sky after a wedding
Clank, clank, clank
Each drop purposeful until
It pours onto its obstruction
Dissipating onto the silver sheet
Melding into a solid reflection pool
Singular parts lose their individuality
Lost in their common identity
Gathering, weaving, trickling
Making its way to the ground
Through the metal ducts -
Climbing their way through the vents.
From a small alcove, a deep hum begins.
Whirring, buzzing, settling into an
Uninterrupted stream of rhythm.
Behind the shelves, lips form urgent whispers.
Cresting into an abrupt exclamation –
Erupting in a shriekish giggle.
Erratic clacking weaves itself in –
Noticeable only in the occasional breaks
Of one “musician” or another.
They all play, but resolutely –
Determined not to match another’s beat.
Yet they cannot be wholly independent –
Forced to mingle among the books
And dance down the library aisles.
Monday, January 19, 2009
One huge sheet comprised of rolls and dips.
Up, down. Up, down.
In between the curves, there are breaks –
Allowing the sky to gaze through.
It seems undecided though.
In some spots the clouds are pulling apart more quickly,
As though the sky were somewhat desperate to make itself known.
Elsewhere, it rests contentedly.
do today? How should I
live tomorrow? Should I
go here or there? Should I
do this or that?
For some, it seems
as though the world
is black and white.
Sharp, clear, definitive.
If only. The lines
Didn’t blur. Not everything
Had pros. There were
Large neon signs.
Pick this. Choose that.
But instead I waver.
Vacillating in a
Tireless sea of questions.
Clawing at my mind.
Dancing through my dreams.
Mocking, laughing, destroying
Attempts at clarity.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
This is one of the simpler lessons I took away from the weekend I spent down in Tijuana, Mexico this past Christmas Break. I’m a member of the Evangelism Club on campus and as kind of the culmination of our semester we spent four days on an evangelism trip. It was a really unique time – focusing on evangelism for four straight days. I don’t have a lot of experience “evangelizing” in the first place, but I have even less experience evangelizing in Spanish. So basically, the best kind of opportunity for God to teach me some things about myself, who He is and the Gospel in general.
Note to self: God doesn’t need you. Not even your voice.
It was definitely not too exciting to lose my voice the night before we left on this trip. But it was ok at first - I figured I would just wait it out and it would come back in about a day. But three days, lots of tea, and some interesting cough drops later, I continued to sound like a seventy-year old chain smoker. Or worse, because I think they can usually be understood without having to spit in people’s ears. But my voicelessness wound up being an awesome reminder that no matter how much things stray from our plans, God is totally and completely in control. Not only this, but He honestly doesn’t need me to carry out His perfect will. He just uses me. And sometimes that just happens to be more in the form of smiles, wiggling eyebrows and spit-filled ears.
Note to self: Cute kids sometimes have firecrackers hidden in their pockets. Literally, not figuratively.
Our first night down there, Friday, was spent helping a local church with the hosting of a children’s event. This means we traipsed around handing out invitations inviting people to a free movie. Back at the church, there was some singing, a short message, and a showing of an animated nativity story movie. (It was during this movie I was surprised by a bright light and loud *pop* courtesy of the impish boy sitting next to me). Afterwards, everyone had hot cocoa and we played a couple of games with the kids. It was freezing cold, but simply wonderful if I do say so myself.
Note to self: Dogs are scary and should be avoided at all costs.
Saturday and Sunday afternoons we walked around and passed out gospel tracts and invitations to the services we were hosting that night. Most of the houses were gated, so if people weren’t home, we just stuck the tracts and invitations in their gates. At one point, several of us were walking along the street, past a parked car. All of the sudden, a large scary dog jumped out from under the car – I am almost positive this dog actually came out sideways – and attached his mouth to Tim’s leg. How Tim detached this dog I didn’t really see, since I was a little too busy screaming, but thankfully there was no harm done. Physical harm that is. At another house, while speaking to a lady (well, I was observing), a little dog wandered out of the gate and decided to make Jana’s leg its fire hydrant. Simply fantastic. Any slightly warm thoughts I had ever had of dogs were chased away by the leg-clamping, leg-watering dogs we encountered that day.
Note to self: Ladles in big pots of hot chocolate should be held at all times. Unless you enjoy disappearing acts and consequent liquidy ladle searches.
The evening services were held at two different local churches and consisted of a time of worship (accompanied by our instrument-playing guys) and then a gospel message. Saturday night Adrian spoke, but Sunday the pastor of the church we were at, Cristo Vive, preached. I didn’t understand a word that was said (besides Jesus) but I loved knowing that the gospel was being passionately taught and just sat there praying for the people around me. Afterwards we once again enjoyed hot chocolate, cookies, and conversation (or attempts at it).
Note to self: You are always less than you imagine yourself to be. And God’s grace is so much greater.
One night I was really struck by my ungratefulness for my salvation and by my very poor comprehension of the nature of God’s grace. I am so selfish and willing to accept God’s grace poured out on me, but this hasn’t spurred me to long and to work to see it poured out on others. I tend to be pretty content to just watch people wither away without ever knowing my beautiful Savior. Even though I know I don’t deserve God’s grace, I still think and act in a way that denies this. In reality, there is not a single reason I should receive it any more than the next person. Yet, it has been given to me. So why do I not long that everyone else should taste the sweetness of undeserved mercy alongside me? I claim that my hope and my joy is that one day I will be forever in the presence of my Savior. The communion I will have with Him, the ability to gaze upon His glory, will be my inheritance. But it has not pierced my soul to think that while I stand in the presence of my beautiful Savior for all eternity, there are those who will forever be separated from Him. My prayer is that seeing God’s Son rejected will tear us apart. That we will ache with the knowledge that the people around us do not know Christ. And that we will do something about this.
Note to self: “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace” (Acts 20:24).
Monday, January 12, 2009
Whose slim figure
The arch of my thumb
To my pen
Whose solace I seek
And in confusion
To my pen
Whose ungiving rigidity
When I am not
To my pen
Who runs across
Grace and fluidity
I do not know
Have been hidden
But are now
Alive and free
Across and down lines
To my pen
The key to my being
Squeezing my leg
Feeling my cheek
My mouth is pried open
To make way for a popsicle stick
Just when I think
I am healed
I discover I am not
Tell us what is wrong!
Pretend medicine can
Fix pretend scrapes
But not self-inflicted injuries:
My desire to be perfect
- striving after air –
And the frustration that follows
If only band-aids and unopened
Ice packs could heal that
But I must settle
For being bounced on
By giggling children
Saturday, January 3, 2009
Several years ago I was talking to my friend about death and heaven and she told me that the only thing that made her sad about dying was thinking about all of the things she would miss. If she died the next day, she wouldn’t ever have a job, be married, or have kids. I can still remember feeling completely amazed at her response. I told her I did not think that at the moment when I was standing before my beautiful and glorious God, my Creator and Redeemer, I would for one minute be thinking about anything I was missing out on. I supposed I would be consumed with my Savior and totally and completely unconcerned about anything else.
A sermon that has stayed with me for years was on Genesis 15:1, which says, “After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward." Notice that the Lord tells Abram that He himself is Abram’s reward. There is nothing else mentioned, because there is no other reward that could possibly compare. Then we see in Psalm 73 that psalmist cries out “Whom have I in heaven but you?...God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” The NASB has a cross-reference to Psalm 16:5 which says, “The LORD is the portion of my inheritance and my cup.” We can thus see that the word portion in Ps. 73:26 is not strong enough; He is the portion of our inheritance. Actually, since we have no one in heaven but Himself, He is our very inheritance; He is our reward. What do we seek to gain from death but God himself? If we seek anything else, I don’t think it will ever sound all that great to us. I don’t think we will ever really feel any particularly strong draw to heaven. We can sing plenty here on earth and halos just might not suit us. But God Himself is glory and majesty. He is the source of all things, but has no source Himself. There is nothing in heaven or on earth that is more worthy or excellent, rather, God is all – the very one whose very existence ought to throw us to the ground in worship and cause us to gasp with desire for Him.
I went through a period in my life when I was desperately afraid of death. I did not even want to get into the car for fear I would get in a crash and die. I could not stand the idea of leaving this world and standing before my Maker. Now, it is my very hope and joy. While I once cried at the idea of being exposed before God, now I cry out with the desire to be in the presence of my Lord. There are times when I experience nights like I did the other day, when the entire sky was a flaming orange streaked with bright pink – alive and vibrant. It seemed as though color were pulsating out of the heavens, awakening the world and screaming of majesty. Moments like this seem to me to be a small taste of heaven. I can only think How glorious, and yet how much infinitely more glorious is my God! I drink it all in, thankful for such beauty displayed for all to see, yet longing for the One whose beauty has no comparison. There are also times when the deepness of my sin so oppresses me that my whole being yearns for the moment when I will fully and completely cast off my sinful desires, the cravings of this world, and will be totally satisfied in my Lord. Oh, how much there are times when I would like nothing better than to forego all my years of sanctification and simply gaze upon my Savior’s face!
Yes, I once thought Mrs. Cocke was somewhat strange for actually wanting to die, but over the past 6 years there have been many times when I have wanted the very same thing. Oftentimes, it has been overwhelming. But still I live and thank God for the life He has given me, however long it may be. When I look upon His face, when I meet Him as much as I can on this earth, then do I wholeheartedly echo the Apostle Paul: “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” One day, we will stand before God and we will know Him in a way we have not known Him yet. We will be overcome by His holiness, His beauty, His glory, His majesty and we will cry out “Woe is me! For I am a man of unclean lips!” Yet we will not wither away because we will be dressed in the robes of Christ, cleansed by His blood and dressed in His righteousness. And we will spend eternity praising God for who He is and that He has poured out His grace upon us, giving us Himself as our inheritance, our very great reward.
Until this time, sing with me:
I long to be where the praise is never-ending,
Yearn to dwell where the glory never fades,
Where countless worshippers will share one song,
And cries of “worthy” will honor the Lamb!