“I Thought to Myself”: Losing Life’s Meaning

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I thought to myself,
‘I have become much wiser than any of my predecessors who ruled over Jerusalem; I have acquired much wisdom and knowledge.’
So I decided to discern the benefit of wisdom and knowledge over foolish behavior and ideas; however, I concluded that even this endeavor is like trying to chase the wind!
For with great wisdom comes great frustration; whoever increases his knowledge merely increases his heartache.
When I tried to gain wisdom and to observe the activity on earth – even though it prevents anyone from sleeping day or night – then I discerned all that God has done: No one really comprehends what happens on earth.
Despite all human efforts to discover it, no one can ever grasp it.
Even if a wise person claimed that he understood, he would not really comprehend it.

Then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out.
Be warned, my son …
There is no end to the making of many books, and much study is exhausting to the body.

King Solomon, Ecclesiastes

No one knows everything about everything. I would say that most know a little about some things, though there are a few who know more about many things.

I confess my own limited knowledge about most things. Even in my own family, I recognize this. For example, my son’s engineering mind goes beyond my comprehension. I don’t get most of what he’s talking about in his field of study. Honestly, I am not sure I ever could. But it doesn’t cause me anxiety that he knows and understands things I don’t. I am thankful that he will be able to accomplish what I never will. It was by design that we each have capacities for knowing things that others don’t.

The people who inhabit the world that God created are fearfully and wonderfully made. Mankind has been gifted the capacity to comprehend all kinds of things from anthropology to zoology. (There are studies – literally – from A-Z). It’s amazing! I appreciate that there are those who are considered experts in their fields. Many have used their minds, and their capacity to learn, to enhance our world.
But even with breakthroughs in science, and advancements in medicine, and discoveries through archaeology or geology, there’s much more to learn. And then there’s that bothersome occurrence of rediscovery. Sometimes we realize that what we thought was new was actually not. Oh, and THEN some of what we “learn” is revised or updated or totally invalidated by a new finding … well, until it’s validated again.

I confess that I sometimes feel angst when I read arguments by people who state their opinions in such a confident (I’d call it arrogant) way that it appears they pause at a certain point … you know, waiting for the mic drop.
It’s as if they have the final answer. And since no one steps forward with a suitable rebuttal at that moment, there’s the sense that they have provided the zinger.

And that’s when I must stop and pray. The World Wide Web has so distorted and short-circuited knowledge, that we now consider ourselves students of a subject when we’ve simply read someone’s position or opinion on a matter. Beyond that, many people share their thoughts as if they are the teachers – the experts.
I recently decided to take a deep breath and remember … that having answers isn’t indicative of all wisdom.
Solomon seemed to wrestle with this as he observed man. And people have wrestled with this before and since Solomon. Our downfall, as humans, has been that we’ve wanted to be the smartest since the very beginning (Gen 3, Roman 5). But we’ve looked for the answer in all the wrong places.

Paul made some observations of his own about people who were seeking in his day (Acts 17). Under the inspiration of the Spirit, Paul expressed that God created us to be seekers. Seekers of Himself!

From one man He made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times and the fixed limits of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope around for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.

For in Him we live and move about and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are His offspring.’
So since we are God’s offspring, we should not think the deity is like gold or silver or stone, an image made by human skill and imagination.

I have realized (with the help of my hubby’s prompting) that fretting over everyone’s questions is not my duty. People have questioned God and His ways since the very beginning. While some questions genuinely spring from a heart of wonder or lack of understanding, many questions arise because the tempter plants seeds of doubt about who God is and what He has said. And then he cunningly convinces us to actually reject truth that doesn’t sound right to us. (Genesis 3)
Possibly Solomon began to “believe his own press.” He began trusting in his wisdom rather than God’s, leading him to depression and a life of meaningless existence.

People make sudden shifts in their lives in an attempt to find joy. If we are not careful and wise, we can linger too long at the “Vanity Fair of Knowledge” only to miss out on the wisdom of God and on a life that is really worth living. This is another lesson for those who live life “under the sun.” Some of us have stayed too long at various Vanity Fairs in life (knowledge, power, sex, popularity, wealth); we have played the fool and given our lives to the wrong things.
Knowledge is not the same as wisdom. It is possible to be smart but not intelligent. It is possible to know a lot but not be wise. God’s design for our lives is not to make us smart sinners but godly saints!
By repenting from our vanity and turning in faith to Him, He redeems us and gives us a new and meaningful life. There is something “new under the sun” – those who are made new creations in Christ (2 Cor 5:17).

“When everything is said and done,” (Solomon) it is not the job of the Christian to give people moral or psychological pep talks about how to get along in the world; someone else can do that . . . Most people have no one in the world to tell them about the supreme beauty and majesty of God, found in the glory of Jesus Christ, the “one Shepherd,” who is the very face of God.
Solomon says that at the end of it all is a twofold conclusion: (1) fear God and (2) keep His commands. Trust Him and then obey Him. The order is crucial. Fearing God means to put God in His proper place, us in our proper place, and all fears, hopes, dreams, and agendas in their proper place. The clear and consistent teaching and encouragement of the Word of God is essential if this is to take place. Keeping His commandments means obeying Him out of love and respect for who He is and what He has done. And it must be in this order: I am accepted; therefore, I obey! It is not, I obey so that I can be accepted. He loved me first! I now love and serve Him in grateful response!

(Exalting Jesus in Ecclesiastes, Dr. Daniel Akin)

I’m thankful for Solomon, the seeker. A very wise man with lots of questions. I am most thankful for his final conclusion that gives me abiding peace.
And soulful rest.
AND LIFE.

Having heard everything, I have reached this conclusion:
Fear God and keep His commandments, because this is the whole duty of man.
For God will evaluate every deed, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.
Solomon, a wise King

 

Weeping with Christ

[Warning: NOT a warm fuzzy post.]

Weep:  to express deep sorrow for, usually by shedding tears; to pour forth (tears) from the eyes; to express passion (such as grief) by shedding tears.

Jesus wept. 

When I learned the “shortest verse in the bible” as a child, I don’t think I understood the depth of those words. Two words. Yet so powerful. The New Testament records two occasions in which Christ wept. In these two instances, the eternal outcomes were very different. When His friend Lazarus died, we are told that Jesus was moved to tears. The scripture records that when He saw that His friends were grieving, He was greatly troubled … and cried. Even though they believed in the resurrection, Jesus sorrowed with those who sorrowed.  On another occasion, as Jesus came near to the city of Jerusalem, He felt the sting of their unbelief and He cried for them. The heart of the Savior is compassionate and merciful to all.

When I see the heart of my Lord and Master, it’s compelling. What a Savior! It calls me to worship Him with my life.

‘Cause I am a sinner, and You are the Savior.

I want to make much of You, Jesus.
I want to make much of Your love.
I want to live today to give You the praise that You alone are so worthy of.
I want to make much of Your mercy.
I want to make much of Your cross. 
I give You my life; take it and let it be used to make much of You!

When I decided to follow Jesus, I chose to die to myself and to live for Him. To understand the depth of that decision has been a process of studying Him through the pages of scripture. To make much of Him, I must pore over the pages of His life-giving Word that I can know Him well. The weeping Christ is merciful – full of grace. His mercy took Him all the way to the cross as the Justifier, even looking at His enemies and praying for their forgiveness. For those who receive His life He is a solid rock on which to stand. The weeping Christ is also just – full of truth. And His justice demands that the sin of the world be paid. For those who reject this exchange, He becomes an offensive rock on which they stumble.
To be honest, getting to know the Master isn’t always as simple as reading through some verses every day. Some of Jesus’ teachings in the gospels are hard. Some are hard to understand and some are hard to obey. The skeptics argue that we can’t even be sure that what we are reading should be attributed to Jesus. Who decides what He did say and what He didn’t say? Or even more subjective, what He meant and what He didn’t mean. Bible history scholars (all over the world) have debated these issues for years.

I realize that there are beliefs of all kinds … everywhere. Even though they are often mocked, many of the people who have concluded that the bible (66 books) is authoritative have done so using their minds and hearts. It’s interesting to me that those who have come to different conclusions often portray “bible-believers” as unintelligent and bigoted. In contrast, they would describe themselves as compassionate thinkers. I reject that! I’ve spent years studying and conversing with others and pleading with God for wisdom and understanding. I’ve read and thought until my brain has felt like it was going to explode. And I’ve also cried. My heart has been broken and burdened. I have met many compassionate thinkers, like myself, who have concluded that the bible “was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man.” And as the “perfect treasure of divine instruction, having God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error … that all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy … and is the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried.” Most importantly I have concluded that “all Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.” With this foundation, I have chosen to believe that Jesus said what is recorded in Matthew 7 & 10. And I believe what He meant was that hell is real and that the Redeemed should deeply care that people might spend eternity there.
And because I believe He said it and meant it, I believe we should weep.

So, with this belief that shapes my life, I would rather be hated because I spoke and lived what I have concluded is true, rather than be liked because I didn’t. While most will not believe or receive the hard message of the cross, I should never get comfortable with passivity. Being casual about eternity doesn’t seem to be an option. It may be hard to hear and accept, but Jesus spoke very plainly about some things…

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭7

“And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
And whoever does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭10

My journey into the cross-centered life began years ago. When I was a child, my parents told me about surrendering my heart to Christ. And they demonstrated the surrendered life day to day. Through the years, I’ve had many questions. Some have been answered, and some have not. But one thing that has remained is a deep commitment to the scriptures that I was taught from birth.

Reconciling the words of God through the older and newer testaments has been a constant pursuit. There have been times I’ve had to close the bible and confess faith in a God I don’t fully comprehend. And with that confession is also the continued realization that I can’t ignore certain texts calling me to self-denial. I can’t take the “nice” words of Jesus and leave the rest. And because of that, I am also unable to settle for passivity when it comes to people and their eternal destination.
Singer Keith Green (in the 70s) didn’t mince words. He preached and sang the hard truths:

Do you see? Do you see all the people sinking down?
Don’t you care? Don’t you care?
Are you gonna let them drown?
How can you be so numb not to care if they come.
You close your eyes and pretend the job is done.

“Oh, bless me, Lord! Bless me, Lord!”
You know, it’s all I ever hear!
No one aches, no one hurts, no one even sheds one tear.
But, He cries, He weeps, He bleeds.
And He cares for your needs.
And you just lay back, and keep soaking it in.
Oh, can’t you see such sin?!
‘Cause He brings people to your door, and you turn them away.
As you smile and say, “God bless you! Be at peace!”
And all heaven just weeps, ’cause Jesus came to your door.
You left Him out on the streets.

Open up! open up and give yourself away.
You see the need, you hear the cries, so how can you delay?!
God is calling, and you are the one.
But like Jonah, you run.
He told you to speak, but you keep holding it in.

Oh, can’t you see such sin?!
The world is sleeping in the dark that the church just can’t fight ’cause it’s asleep in the light!
How can you be so dead when you’ve been so well fed.
Jesus rose from the grave!
And you, you can’t even get out of bed!
Oh, Jesus rose from the dead!
Come on, get out of your bed!

How can you be so numb not to care if they come?
You close your eyes and pretend the job is done!
Don’t close your eyes, don’t pretend the job is done.
Come away! come away!
Come away with me, my love!
Come away from this mess,
Come away with me, my love!

(I told you this wasn’t warm and fuzzy.)
The hard words of a weeping Christ compel me to pray on and press on toward the goal for which God has called me. My aim is to know Him, to experience the power of His resurrection, to share in His sufferings, and to be like Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

On the fatal morning in Armley Jail, Leeds, England, criminal Charlie Peace was taken on his death-walk. Before him went the prison chaplain, routinely and sleepily reading some Bible verses.
Peace was shocked at the way he professionally read about hell. Could a man be so unmoved under the very shadow of the scaffold as to lead a fellow-human there dry-eyed?
“Sir,” addressing the preacher, “if I believed what you and the church of God say that you believe, even if England were covered with broken glass from coast to coast, I would walk over it, if need be, on hands and knees and think it worthwhile living, just to save one soul from an eternal hell like that!”

And THAT is why I can not be silent nor can I be unmoved. My belief may not be popular; but if it is a genuine belief, it will not let me stay in the shadows of quiet comfort.

When Love is Perceived as Hate

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The law of the Lord is perfect and preserves one’s life.
The rules set down by the Lord are reliable and impart wisdom to the inexperienced.
Psalm 19:7

Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He [Jesus] interpreted to them the things written about Himself in all the scriptures. Luke 24:27

Then He said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.”
Then He opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures and He said to them: “
Thus it stands written that the Christ would suffer and would rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
Luke 24:44-47

I was feeling sad and disturbed this week. I have been praying for peace and wisdom. This morning I opened the scriptures to my reading for the day and was refreshed by the life-breathing words in Psalm 19. I used the verses to filter the plethora of thoughts swirling around my heart and mind …

When someone concludes/believes they have the answer to something, and that it is the only answer, should they say they don’t really know if they have the answer, just so they’ll appear humble? Or nice?
Well, let’s say my child had a disease that I truly believed would kill them, even if they could not see it and they actually felt OK. And what if I had in my possession the only certain cure – which had healed others – but they refused the cure because they did not believe it or because the taste caused them discomfort? Would it be evil for me to continue to try to convince them of the hope I have in the cure? Even if they felt annoyed, would that mean my heart had hate toward them if I continued to plead?
I understand that people may disagree (for reasons of their own) with the thing of which I’m convinced. And I understand that misuse and abuse have distracted or even damaged many who need it desperately. But if I sincerely believe it is life-giving, surely one could understand that it is love that compels me to share it. Not hate.

The Lord’s precepts are fair and make one joyful.
The Lord’s commands are pure and give insight for life.
The commands to fear the Lord are right and endure forever.
The judgments given by the Lord are trustworthy and absolutely just.
They are of greater value than gold, than even a great amount of pure gold; they bring greater delight than honey, than even the sweetest honey from a honeycomb.
Yes, your servant finds moral guidance there; those who obey them receive a rich reward.
Psalm 19:8-11

It would appear that not everyone has the right motives in sharing their beliefs about the life-giving Gospel.
And certainly, not everyone shares their beliefs in the right way.

But there are many who are attempting to do so – out of love. And they are actually brokenhearted that people refuse the gift they believe will save them. The most difficult part for me is to continue to read/hear people, especially those with platforms, lump us all together. Admittedly, there are people who call themselves Christ people and create much angst for me. But recently, I have seen more disdain and contempt for gospel-sharing persons than I have in all my adult years. The most painful judgments are those that come with subtle verbiage used to communicate that the majority of gospel-driven folks (who hold fast to the scriptural authority) are ignorant and intolerant because of their deep assurance of things hoped for and their deep conviction of things not yet seen.

Someone may reject that I believe in a gospel that is exclusive – that it’s only for those who repent and trust in the righteousness of Christ for their salvation. But my desire is that they know my love for them compels me to tell them to come just as they are to Him, with all their brokenness and shame, so they can exchange it for wholeness and hope. I once was lost and blind, too. But now I’m found and I desire to know God through His word, that I may discover what separates me from His holiness. The Jesus who healed diseases, befriended the marginalized and comforted friends in death is the same Jesus that went to the cross in my place and is the same Jesus who spoke to and through the Psalmist about guilt and sin.

Who can know all his errors?
Please do not punish me for sins I am unaware of.
Moreover, keep me from committing flagrant sins; do not allow such sins to control me.
Then I will be blameless, and innocent of blatant rebellion.
Psalm 19:12-13

With all my heart I seek You. Do not allow me to stray from Your commands!
In my heart I store up Your words, so I might not sin against You.
You deserve praise, O LordTeach me Your statutes!
With my lips I proclaim all the regulations You have revealed.
I rejoice in the lifestyle prescribed by Your rules as if they were riches of all kinds.
I will meditate on Your precepts and focus on Your ways.
I find delight in Your statutes; I do not forget Your instructions.
Psalm 119:10-16

Love is perceived as hate when it takes a stand against a person’s evil, but the person does not see it as such. Pastor Greg Gilbert said that “nobody wants a God who declines to deal with evil. We just want a God who declines to deal with our evil.”
I want to delight in the Lord’s precepts. And I continue to learn from scripture what breaks God’s heart (and law). If the law of God is perfect and brings life through the Son’s death and resurrection, I want to know it and give it. Taking a stand so that people will have life should be done in the right way – “gently, openly, and intelligently – so that people see how gloriously God created them …”

My prayer is that I continue to have the heart of Christ for every person I meet and also the ones I don’t … in all the nations. I want to cry with Him over those who don’t recognize Him (Matthew 23). I want the people who feel marginalized and disconnected and hopeless to find rest (Matthew 11). But I also realize that people will sometimes mistake our testimony of Christ’s call to the crucified life (Matthew 10) as a personal judgment rather than a deeply held conviction about the only way to hope and joy and life. I don’t want people to hate me. I don’t want people to hate those I love. I mostly don’t want people to hate Jesus. But …. they will. They always have and they always will.

I’ll let Kevin DeYoung conclude for me:

As a general rule, Jesus was popular with the masses (the exception being in his hometown of Nazareth), and as His popularity increased with the crowds, so did the opposition from the Jewish leaders. The Jewish leaders disliked, and eventually grew to hate, Jesus for many reasons. Mark 15:3 says the chief priests “accused him of many things.” They were angry with Him for upsetting their traditions and some of their scruples about the law. They looked down on Him for eating with sinners and associating with those deemed unclean or unworthy. But most of all, they hated Jesus because He claimed to be from God, and as time went on, dared to make Himself equal to God.

That’s why they hated him; that’s why the crowds turn on him; that’s why Jesus was put to death. The Jewish leaders could not recognize Christ’s divine authority and identity. Jealousy was no doubt part of it (Matt. 27:18). But deeper than that, they simply did not have the eyes to see or the faith to believe that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. That’s why in all four gospels, when the opposition against him reaches its climax, Jesus is not charged with being too welcoming to outsiders, but with being a false king, a false prophet, and a false Messiah (Matt. 26:57-68; Mark 14:53-65; Luke 22:66-71; and less clearly in John 18:9-24). They killed Jesus because they thought he was a blasphemer.

In the end, it was the implicit and explicit claims Jesus made to authority, Messiahship, and God-ness, not His expansive love, that ultimately did Him in. This is not an excuse for our own hard-heartedness or a reason to distance ourselves from today’s “sinners and tax collectors.” We need Jesus’s example to set us straight. But we must put to rest the half-truth (more like a one-eighth truth, really) that Jesus was killed for being too inclusive and too nice. The Jewish leaders may have objected to Jesus’s far-reaching compassion, but they wanted Him dead because He thought Himself the Christ, the Son of the living God.
If Jesus simply loved people too much He might have been ridiculed by some. But without His claims to deity, authority, and the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, He likely would not have been executed.

Christ people should be known for brotherly love and hospitality; for prison care; for healthy marriages; for sexual purity; for generosity, not greed; for contentment; for confidence and peace; for respect; for faithfulness; and for displaying grace in all things because He equips us with every good thing to do His will, working in us what is pleasing before Him.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.
To Him be glory forever.

Amen

Love God with Mindful Wholeheartedness

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When one of the religious scribes asked Jesus which commandment was most important, He essentially quoted Deuteronomy 6 when He answered: “The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
With that answer, He was communicating that the expectations for God’s people has always been the same. That is, we’re to love God with our whole being. We’re to love Him “with everything we’ve got!”

But which comes first in loving God wholly? Is it the mind’s clarity or the heart’s purity?

Having done a quick word study, I realized that heart/mind was closely connected in the Hebrew language. This is not surprising based on my personal experience. Sorting through what my mind thinks and my heart feels can be excruciating. That is why feeding on Truth is essential to my soul’s wholeness and well-being. I can not love a God I do not know. And as I get to know Him, if there’s no love motivating me toward the relationship, then it will become stale and seem contrived.

I’m so thankful God gave us minds. I like to learn. Or maybe it would be more honest if I said that I like to be “in the know.” There’s something within me that is always stirring my mind to find the answer.
I want to know the difference … of all the things.
I want to know the reasons … for all the things.
I want to know who started thinking what, and when and why they started thinking it.
Whew!

GK Chesterton said of our minds that we should “not be so open-minded that your brain falls out. Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” That’s good. But I’d take it even further. We shouldn’t open our minds so much that our heart falls out. In the grand scheme of things, it would be better to lose my mind than my heart. The bible says that “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.” We see the mind and the heart at work here. In this case, it would seem that the heart’s purity comes before the mind’s clarity. But how do we cleanse our hearts? We are to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
See the dilemma?

Thankfully, Jesus’ answer to the scribe was not only something He taught, it was something He demonstrated. It was something He provided. Only through His sacrificial death and bodily resurrection do we have the capacity to love God as we ought. And even though we will daily fall short of whole-being love for God, because of our union with Jesus, what is true of Him becomes true of us. Though it is progressive for now (and not perfected), God enables us to obey this command to love Him with all that we are so that God is delighted.
The Psalmist sheds more light for me with this: “Give me understanding (clarity), that I may keep Your law and observe it with my whole heart (purity).”

The reason all of this is worth considering is because Christ Jesus said it is. In the midst of the voices rivaling for our attention, we need to train our minds and our hearts. We aren’t supposed to close our minds or guard our hearts so much that we hinder the transformed life to which we’ve been called. But we do need to recognize the essential component of Spirit-led meditation. Our hearts long for something to fill the emptiness and brokenness. So we open our minds to the Word of an omniscient God that we may learn from Him how to become whole. We pray for a heart that is purely seeking Him that we may know Him more and more. We pray for the desire to walk in this knowledge because He is worthy of our loving obedience. It’s a continual renewal of mind and heart.

“This means that the covenant love we’re called to must be wholehearted, life-encompassing, community-impacting, exclusive commitment to our God. And this God is our God only because he has now revealed Himself to us in the person of His Son. This kind of love we should have for Him doesn’t exist apart from love for Jesus — for Jesus and the Father are one. (Jason DeRouchie)

We love God only because He loved us first. We seek God only because He sought us first.
I’m so thankful that when Jesus stated the most important commandment that He didn’t expect us to try to accomplish whole-being love toward God without Him.  (Romans 5)

Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and walked in the ways of David his father; and he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet a boy, he began to seek the God of David his father.
And the king went up to the house of the Lord, with all the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the priests and the Levites, all the people both great and small. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord.
And the king stood in his place and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant that were written in this book.”

Perspective: Greater than Reality

perspective

Years ago at a women’s conference, I saw one of the most poignant presentations that I’ve ever witnessed. And I think I am being honest when I say “ever.”

The conference center was filled with thousands of women chattering when the lights went down and a figure appeared on stage. Although she was dressed in rather bland attire, had very little makeup and an even less attractive style, we were all quickly engrossed in her monologue. There in the spotlight, a woman speaking with a Yiddish accent began telling a story. We all knew this was not real. She was an artist who was painting us a picture through drama. But it sure seemed real. I was captivated. Her story was so riveting that I could not take my eyes off of the stage. She spoke of a time she had recently sat alone in a booth at a small diner, witnessing a frustrated customer ranting over his less-than-stellar service from an over-worked waitress. She communicated in somber tones as she recalled the memory of that day. We could all sense the agony she felt as she watched the scene unfold. She could not understand the depth of his angst. You see, her family had been victims of the Holocaust. She was the only one to barely escape the terror. Her parents and siblings had all suffered in front of her very eyes, eventually dying. You could have heard a pin drop as she shared about the suffering and torture they had all experienced. And now, the sole survivor, she was recalling the feelings she had as she sat there near the angry man. He was fuming and frustrated at how violated his rights were that his burger did not have cheese, and that the waitress had taken so long to deliver it.

And then she said it. The two words I’ll never forget. They hit me hard.

Minor inconvenience.

She spoke the words slowly and deliberately, unable to comprehend the kind of emotion that was spent on an incorrect order. What could possibly be so bad about a burger without cheese? Even if it was delayed? Was his perspective so skewed that he had no idea what real pain or suffering is?

It was just a performance. It was possibly taken from a real-life scenario, but it didn’t matter. Because sitting in the audience that evening, that story became real to me. My heart was shocked into perspective.

The past few weeks have been truly wonderful as our family has been able to have some days together. We have journeyed into God’s creation, we’ve talked through lots of topics, and we’ve enjoyed game nights and picnics. We have shared many laughs and hugs and meals. But in the middle of all the wonderful was a very nasty stomach bug that lasted almost the entire two weeks. It interfered with meal times, it kept people sidelined, and it changed the dynamics of some of the fun family plans. With each day that passed, as another family member was taken down, I became discouraged because my prayers for healing went unanswered. Brent’s two messages from Psalm 23 and Psalm 27 helped temporarily, but my heart was downcast. I tried to keep hoping and believing that “this is the last one to get sick.” But just as we thought we were clear, yet another.
This morning, as the very last family member woke up sick, thoughts of faith and trust waned. My very last hopeful prayer had also been met with a “no” answer. My sweet sister would not be spared. Sickness was going to accompany her on her trip home. I dreaded the day for her, thinking about her boarding a plane and probably experiencing an excruciating flight in which she would barely make it to the bathroom (and indeed that happened).

As I was ready to give in to the hopelessness, and believe the lie that God really doesn’t care, my oldest daughter walked in and spoke a one-word sermon to me that preached the very same message I heard all those years ago: Perspective.

While a stomach bug is something that no one would ask for, it’s also a minor inconvenience in the scheme of things. Even though we may have wanted to die in the moment, within 24 hours we all felt better. It came and went, and we all survived. And we even had lots of fun. There were some really good days. In fact, there were mostly good days. Sweet days.

Tonight I sit in a very quiet house and I zoom out. I think about my life and the mercy that chases me everyday. No one in our immediate family received a fatal diagnosis this week. I wasn’t faced with an empty chair at dinner because of a wayward or disconnected child. No one was worried or anxious about having enough food each day. We had a cool home to return to every day, getting us out of the scorching temps. Luggage was filled to the brim with clothes and toys and extras. And beyond that, we really love each other. We support each other. We pray for each other. We’re a bunch of good friends.

Perspective: So much grace.

I’m sad to say that I’ll probably be reminded of this lesson again. And it will likely be the hard way. Because I still tend to default to a skewed perspective. Minor inconveniences still rob me of my joy way too often.

Life can be hard. A stomach bug can take over a family gathering and change everything. It can also cause me to lose my perspective and throw a pity party.
But God is so good. And He is faithful. In fact, He can not NOT be good. He can not NOT be faithful. I must choose a new perspective. I must  choose to bring into focus the one thing, and not the minor inconveniences of life.

One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in His temple. Pm 27

Not that I have already attained this – that is, I have not already been perfected – but I strive to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Phil 3

I know the One in whom my faith is set and I am convinced that He is able to protect what has been entrusted to me until that day. 2 Tim 1

Zoomed out I see it so clearly. My faith should not be placed in an outcome. My faith should find its resting place in the Ever-living One. I need no other argument, I need no other plea. It is enough that Jesus died, and that He died for me.

 

 

 

Foster Care: Encouraging Words

fosters

We have been Foster parents for almost six years. In that time we have fostered at least 20 kids from newborns to age 14.

I know some foster parents who have been fostering for many more years than we have, and who have loved lots and lots of children through the years. I’m sure they could share a perspective that would be much more insightful than my thoughts. But as we transition again, I was reminded of some things that might be helpful for those who encourage their foster-parenting friends. I hesitate to share these because it feels like I’m asking for praise. I hope I do not have that motive at all. Honestly, we have had so much support! We have been abundantly blessed by a church family who has loved our kids and has constantly shown grace to us. So, it’s because of that encouragement we have received from friends that I share this. Their concern and timely words of grace have given us the strength we needed to press on in our commitment to foster hope.

Following are four statements that I believe most foster parents would like to hear from those around them. While this is a short list, I think it covers how most might be encouraged:

  1. “What you do is hard.”
    Fostering may not be more difficult than what someone else is doing, but most foster parents are doing the hard work that many just don’t want to do. Letting them know you appreciate their commitment to the difficult task of parenting foster kids can lift the spirit of that parent who feels overwhelmed and unseen.
  2. “What you do is good.”
    Becoming a foster parent doesn’t make a person holy. It’s not what creates a clean heart. In fact, there are some people who foster for all the wrong reasons and are more harmful than helpful. But for those genuinely and humbly loving and caring for children in the community who have been neglected, sometimes abused, and/or abandoned, it is right and it is obedient. And good. And even if impatience and frustration win the day, caring for an “orphaned” child day after day requires selflessness and sacrifice from foster families.
  3. “What you do matters.”
    Whether a child is in a home for a few days or a few years, it is significant. Giving children an example of a safe and consistent environment offers them a look into something they probably do not know exists. Although many kids will go back to a less than desirable environment, forever etched in their minds is the knowledge that safe homes and caring families exist. And maybe that knowledge will produce a hope that never leaves them … that a better future is possible.
  4. “I want to help.” When a church family rallies around foster parents, the impact is huge. Supporting foster parents with your prayers, your words of encouragement, and your time is such a gift. Inviting foster kids into your home and including them in your family’s life reinforces what they see in their foster home. Engaging foster kids in conversation and showing you care demonstrates to fosters that Jesus people love each other.

Because we serve on a church staff, people know what we do. We have the benefit of a congregation of people who keep up with us and care deeply. But I know lots of people who have friends or family who faithfully serve Jesus through foster care, and do so quietly … way in the background. So if you know a foster family, reach out to them. These are just a few ways that we have been encouraged and supported, and I thought it might be helpful for you to know how you can lift the souls of those who are ministering in their communities in this way.

Thanks to all of you who love us from miles away. Thanks for your prayers, your encouraging words and your never-ending friendship.

“Foster care bears too much brokenness to be ignored and too much beauty to be hidden. Know this: It won’t be easy. It will be worth it. You can’t see everything. God is sovereign. You are not alone.” Jason Johnson, The Orphan Care Network

Between the Pictures

summer

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Someone has said that the change of the seasons in a year presents us with a mental image by which we can view the entirety of a life. For instance, spring is represented in our lives from conception/birth through adolescence; young adulthood is the summer of our lives; when we reach middle age, autumn begins; and our old age brings the winter of our lives.

We also use the seasons to serve as analogies of the experiences in our lives, despite our age. Spring is the season of life when we consider new growth. We enthusiastically clear out the old to make way for the new. It is a time when we create new beginnings for ourselves and find all the reasons to hope. Summer is also a welcomed season. We experience life at its best. We wake up with the bright sunshine streaming in. It’s the season we reap the rewards of pressing through the winter days.
And just like life, autumn is about changes. Cooler breezes start to blow in, reminding us that the lazy days are coming to an end. We have to adjust to a new schedule, typically more routine. As the leaves change color and fall to the ground, we know that these changes are inevitable.
And then, even though we know it’s coming, the winter of our lives usually hits hard. It is the season of challenges and difficulties when the darkness is long and heavy. We may isolate ourselves thinking we can hide from the cold. The vibrant life we felt in spring feels distant. These are the days and weeks of our lives which often create the most fear and anxiety.

Based on these, I think I’d pick to live in a constant state of summer.  Who doesn’t want to be forever in the health of young adulthood, living our days on an eternal perfect vacation?!

So, here we are. On June 20.
Summer has officially begun in the US. Where I live, school has been out for weeks. Friends are already vacationing. The locals head to the beautiful surrounding lakes with their boats and water toys. The trails are filled with bikes and scooters and walkers with their beloved pets. The crowd at the city parks and pools signal that warm days have arrived.
Very soon we will have family here with us. In my usual fashion, I’ve already created a summer album to share our adventures. I’ll post pictures of smiles and suntanned faces, of picnics and late night games, and of grand-kids who we’ve posed (after a thousand takes) to possibly look like the cover of a postcard or magazine.
Because social media.

When everyone gets together, I take and post pictures.
And I love to look back and remember. Pictures can tell a story.

But what about between the pictures? Before and after. You know, the version of life before the edits. What about the moments we captured in the deleted photos. Or the mornings at breakfast when no camera was allowed at all. Those moments without the spin. Yes, it’s summer. But when people gather together, even in a close-knit family where we strive to love each other well, there are times it feels a little like winter. Or spring. Or autumn. In the moments behind the scripted photographed scenes, our tribe has to manage the winter of hurt feelings, and tired kids, and impatient parents, and overwhelmed grandparents. In between laughter and games, there are moments of deeper discussions that sometimes bring out strong emotions. We love being together, but we also recognize that we are all growing and changing just like the seasons.
Real.Life.

In these next few weeks of summer, I’m probably going to put the good stuff out there. But even as I do, I hope that people realize it is just a season. A summer season. In the background of our family gatherings this summer are some much sadder and darker times. In the last couple of years, our family has experienced some of the most difficult days I’ve ever known in my life. I haven’t tried to cover them up or pretend, but neither have I had the freedom to write a “tell all” on social media for inquiring minds that just like to know. So in case I need to clarify, the Reeves clan is a group of regular folks. Regular, imperfect folks. In between the pictures and posts, we are a bunch of people who need the good grace of Jesus. We have nothing in ourselves worth boasting.
No gifts. No power. No wisdom.
All the smiles and all the laughter and all the hugs are given to us from the generous heart of a kind Father. We can celebrate summer all year long only because of the abiding joy of our salvation in Christ. When I think about God’s goodness to us, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. This life is brief. And in it we can expect sorrow and happiness to walk side by side most of the days. But underlying every moment in every season is a greater reality: He made my mind and heart; and wove me together in my mother’s womb. His deeds are awesome and amazing. He knew me thoroughly; His eyes saw me when I was inside the womb. All the days ordained for me were recorded in His scroll before one of them came into existence.

In between the pictures is real life. Real people on hard days walking through seasons with broken hearts. But not one day goes by without God seeing and knowing and caring and loving and saving us.

Why should I gain from His reward? I cannot give an answer;
But this I know with all my heart – His wounds have paid my ransom.

Happy Summer, y’all!