Monday, November 13, 2017

"No More Bad News, Please"

This week I have been made aware of my tendency and desire to avoid suffering. When I see a sad Facebook post, hear an angry comment or complaint, or catch the news, I cringe and turn away. Ugh. I know I shouldn't, but I do.

Unlike His creatures, Jesus walked boldly into a mass of lepers, touched the sick, healed the lame, dialogued with the demon-possessed. He brought life, hope, peace and joy. He is the Good Shepherd.

Part of our human condition is called expectation. We have an expectation, or desired outcome, for everything. We expect coffee to get us up and running, we expect a daily routine, we expect the washer and dryer to work, we expect our children to listen. But sometimes (?) God has a different plan. He sees a greater need.

This morning's devotional came from Numbers 20:1-13 where the people of Israel ran out of water in the wilderness:

“Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” 

And the thoughts came, "Did they really expect a place of grain, figs, vines and pomegranates? You're kidding me? Why, all of a sudden, are they prepared to die? At that point would it really matter if they had cattle or not?"

They had a need, a desperate need--but they wanted so much more. They wanted what God hadn't promised. Their imaginations had carried them where God did not intend to take them...yet.

Many of us are familiar with Philippians 4:19: "And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus." The unasked question is: how do I know my need? And the answer is: because God will supply it.

If I perceive a need that God's not meeting, there's a bigger one behind it. There's something greater, something more, something unseen that God is doing. I don't need pomegranates and vines. I need water.

Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the Lord appeared to them, and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him.

God knew the need and only He could meet it. Need water? Got a rock? Really? He doesn't need a specific set of circumstances or "just the right person for the job." He really. doesn't. "need." anything. to take care of us. He does it through His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Jesus made the way for us to interact with God, to receive grace, forgiveness, mercy, and kindness. It is only through Jesus we come to God and call Him, "Father."

And here's where I've been lately:
Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” 

In other words, "Moses, this is not about you. It's not about your leadership, your desires, expectations, frustration, or ability. I have provided and you contaminated my grace with anger and unbelief. You took it upon yourself to communicate your displeasure by hitting the rock--twice--instead of talking to it. You wanted the people to see you bring forth water. I told you to talk to the rock. You hit it. How did you display my generosity? My gentleness? My power? My holiness? Who are you to use my goodness as a platform for your displeasure?"

These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy.

In reading Facebook posts of suffering, pain, and uncertainty, I am not called to fix or change anything. But I can pray, extend grace and love. In reading the news, I have an opportunity to talk to God, to reach out as the Lord allows, to interact with a suffering world and the individuals around me. I can give to others as the Lord has given to me--no less, no more. So what kind of grace and mercy have I received from the Lord today? Have I interacted with His Word and in prayer to the point that my heart and soul are reminded of His goodness and filled with His grace? I will reach out to others with the Spirit, grace, and kindness I have received and taken for myself.

How deeply are you drinking of the rock?

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.

Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Cor. 10:1-13)

Sunday, November 5, 2017

For Women Only (or Not): Riding the Struggle Bus

Alright, ladies. I'm going to lay it out there. Because I'm not a man. Because I do know. Because we're in this together.

Last week I was just. angry. frustrated. irritated. Under-the-skin crawling. At my husband. My children. My mother-in-law. The youth leaders. The people in hallway at church. Which means it wasn't them, it was me.

Here's the hard truth. When "that time of the month" hits, it's not an excuse to be crabby, cranky, difficult, know the drill. When I'm feeling out of sorts, frustrated and angry with the world, it's time to examine my heart. "My heart?" Yes, my heart. Because,

"...the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders." (Matthew 5:18-19)

Yes, hormones may be off and we know everyone else isn't as perfect as we are--but--the problem is not physical. The problem is spiritual. In the book, Blame it One the Brain, Ed Welch says there's a difference between physical limitations and sin. He discusses brain injury, ADHD, senility and Alzheimer's and arrives at the conclusion that they do not cause sinful behavior, but they may remove inhibitions. In other words, what's going on in the heart may be exposed as a result of physical injury, change or dysfunction, but physical infirmities do not create sin. They simply reveal our heart and desires.

May I walk out on a limb and say the same is true of us? Our hormonal, physical state may remove some inhibiting forces and expose what is really going on under the surface of our normal, everyday machinations. What that means is that the change and flux is not an excuse for misbehavior, but an opportunity for sanctification. It's an opportunity for me to examine my heart: what makes me angry? Why am I angry? What do I really want that I'm not getting right now? What's happening in my thoughts? Why?

It's also an opportunity for me to depend more and more on Jesus Christ. How many times do I cry, "Help me, Lord," or "I need you," or "I was wrong. You are right."

And, last week, as I struggled and wrestled and prayed I was afraid of the future, of that l-o-n-g period of time when everything's up for grabs and life is difficult. But I was reminded that will be yet another opportunity to lean on the Lord, to learn humility and exercise grace. It is not a "valley of the shadow of death," but a mountain to climb.

If you are a man that wants to share this with a woman--be careful. Don't (if you value your life, peace, and the pursuit of happiness). Instead, pray. Wait. Love. Extend grace. Encourage. And, as the Lord allows, He will work His perfect will in her life. Because guess what? It's your struggle-bus, too. It's your opportunity to be sanctified, to experience being out-of-control, to see what's in your heart. So read it again. Because guess what? This is for all of us.

So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it...

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. (Romans 8:16-29)