Sunday, May 23, 2010

Life's Storms

I’m spending a quiet morning on my porch watching the world wake up from a violent night. It was storming last night; the wind howled and the rain was pelting against the side of the house. I woke and noticed right away that it was quiet…the calm after the storm. The first thing I saw when I walked out my front door was my favorite tree. It is beautiful – standing tall in the middle of my front yard. It weathered the storm well – with only a few dead branches on the ground below. Its roots go deep, which enables it to stand tall and solid.

Matthew 7:24-27 says, 24"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash."

When I was reading these verses in Matthew 7 the similarity to the tree struck me. When the roots go deep, or we have the right foundation, we can weather the most difficult of life’s storms. Sure, there may be some loose or weakened branches that break free and fall to the ground – the storms of life shake us up. Storms show weakness, but once that frailty is exposed, and the dead is taken away, there is the opportunity for sprouting new growth and strength. I know so many people who have faced adversity, and by clinging to Jesus during that storm, have grown stronger and deeper roots because of it.

Everyone has a different story. We all face hard times – every single one of us. I think what defines us as a person is the way we endure it. I walked out the door this morning, looked at my tree and noticed right away that it stood strong and majestic, not battered and broken. The legacy that we leave, as Christians, isn’t how we stood during the easy and good times, but what we did when it was tough. How deep were our roots, what did we cling to and what was our attitude like in the clean up after the storm.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

One Thing

I love studying different aspects of David’s life. There are so many things about him that intrigue me and that I enjoy thinking about. I feel a kinship with him because he was so flawed. On the one hand he loved God so desperately and passionately and on the other hand he sinned so grievously and openly. I am drawn to his love and devotion to his friend Jonathan, his desire to be righteous and his tremendous courage. But primarily I am drawn to his desire to please and cherish God above all else.

I know that David often prayed, asking God for any myriad of things. We have record of many of his prayers in the Psalms and throughout the Old Testament, but I do believe that his over-riding prayer is summarized in verse 4 of Psalm 27, which says,

“One thing I ask of the LORD,
this is what I seek:
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 seek him in his temple.”

His main heart’s ambition was to walk with the Lord. That’s it. I wish I knew how old he was when he wrote this Psalm in particular, but if I had to guess I’ll bet it wasn’t when he was 15 and a young shepherd boy. I’ll bet it was after he had lived a little, lost a few things that were important to him, seen dreams come true and dreams fade.

I love being in my 40s. They have been the most chaotic time of my life and yet the best too. I have seen enough good and bad to realize that there are only a few things that really matter and only one that ultimately matters. I was a Christian in my 20s but I still had all these other dreams and hopes that battled my heart for first place. I wanted to do the right things but often my soul’s longing was easily misplaced and sidetracked. I still have dreams and hopes – I believe God wants me to have them, but I want David’s heart in my longings, to yearn for the Lord and to gaze upon His beauty above all things.

Today’s question is simple. What would it take for you to be happy? What is your One thing?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Entering The Chrysalis

I was reading a book yesterday and the author was talking about her mid-life crisis and how she likened her gradual spiritual enlightening to that of a caterpillar entering the chrysalis and exiting as a beautiful butterfly. I loved the analogy and haven’t been able to get it off my mind ever since. I don’t think it takes a mid-life crisis to be able to relate to this analogy it just takes the desire to be like Jesus and willingly accept the heart makeover that is a necessary element of that journey.

2 Corinthians 3:18 says, 18”And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

I think it’s a misnomer to believe that every Christian will desire to continually undergo heart renovation. However, for those that have a longing to have the heart of Christ, this verse has two keys to that transformation. The first is an unveiled face – or open heart. You have to be willing to continually challenge your way of thinking. The caterpillar has to be willing to build the chrysalis that will entomb it enduring the hard work of transformation into a beautiful butterfly.

There is another aspect of 1 Corinthians 3:18 that stands out to me. According to this verse, the change “comes from the Lord”. That is huge. Yes it takes a decision on our part to enter into the chrysalis, so to speak, but once there it’s the Lord’s work, not ours. We cannot make ourselves righteous – our own effort isn’t enough. We must allow God’s Spirit to lead us through whatever trial or situation necessary and allow that process to take whatever time is needed. The caterpillar doesn’t remain in his cocoon for only a day; it takes a season to conclude its metamorphosis. We wait for God to act and in his timeframe, the beautiful transformed heart emerges.

I distinctly remember my time of entering the chrysalis as I maneuvered my way through life single again, parenting two children. My time of waiting definitely wasn’t passive as I was experiencing change in almost every single area of my life, but I had given up trying to control or figure out what to “do”; nothing I had worked hard to preserve had been salvaged. Instead I lived my life on a day to day basis the best I could, and let my circumstances rise or fall around me. The constants in my life were my relationship with God, my children, and a few of my friends, but everything else was different. My time of waiting lasted approximately two years. I didn’t poke my head out of the chrysalis on a specific date like the beautiful butterfly; one day I just realized that I was flying and not crawling and happy instead of numb. The butterfly had emerged and I was different and God had changed me. The most important decision I made during that time was to open my heart and let God use my life and situation for his glory. I believe that is all you can do as you wait.

As I enter the chrysalis
The agonizing wait begins
The crucible of spiritual transformation
Lies in the offering of
A fully engaged heart
There is agony in conversion
Knowing even as I enter
That I must be willing to change
For if a true revolution occurs
I will be unrecognizable
To all who once knew me
Sometime later
I see life through different eyes
And a renewed heart
I emerge from the chrysalis
With stunning color and breadth of wing
Now able to soar

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Pain In Waiting

Last evening I was speaking with a dear friend of mine. She’s in the midst of a divorce and was sharing with me that she seems to cycle through a time every few weeks when she feels heavy and depressed. We talked a few minutes about grieving and how normal it is to feel that cyclical pull towards sadness. I was talking to her today and shared the story of Lazarus in John chapter 11. I read it for years, and while I thought I understood the teaching, I think now I comprehend it in a deeper and more authentic way. It’s the story of trusting God and being willing to be used in any way to bring him the ultimate glory. In order for this to occur, however, there can be significant pain for his followers. That was true with Lazarus’ death and those who mourned him and it’s true in our lives as well. We WILL feel pain and God allows that and, although I believe feels compassion for us, he knows that the outcome (his praise) is worth the pain we may suffer.

Look at some excerpts from John 11.

1Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. 3So the sisters sent word to Jesus, "Lord, the one you love is sick."
4When he heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it." 5Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.
7Then he said to his disciples, "Let us go back to Judea."
11After he had said this, he went on to tell them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up."
12His disciples replied, "Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better." 13Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
14So then he told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead, 15and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him."
17On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18Bethany was less than two miles[a] from Jerusalem, 19and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21"Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask."
23Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."
32When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."
33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34"Where have you laid him?" he asked.
"Come and see, Lord," they replied.
35Jesus wept.

Jesus could have stopped Lazarus from dying. He could have alleviated the tears of Mary and Martha and all the people of the village who were also mourning Lazarus’ death. There is no question that Jesus could have either come earlier or spoken a word from where he was and Lazarus wouldn’t have died. But Jesus chose to stay for a few more days. Sometimes we don’t understand the ways of God, and may never.

I’ve been thinking a lot the past couple of years about waiting on God. I believe one of the reasons God calls us to wait is for our own character and growth. When I was considering that however, I didn’t dwell on an aspect which is crucial...God knows we will often suffer during our waiting, but he is willing to let us suffer. I had to wrestle with that because it seemed contrary to a loving Father. My conclusion though is that God allows the pain because refining is painful. It doesn’t mean that he isn’t compassionate toward us in that pain.

Right now, my friend is hurting and more than likely she will experience emotional pain for some time yet. But, if she allows that sorrow to mold her heart, turning to the Healer, then the character that she gains will highlight God’s magnificence and will be worth whatever pain she experienced. I believe that is the story of Lazarus.