Saturday, March 26, 2016

God's Will is Hard

Isaiah 53:10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

We are wrapping up Holy Week- I am so excited that Easter is coming and Lent is drawing to an end. The past 39 days have flown by with daily and weekly reminders of God's grace in spite of my sin and His perfection in light of my petty failures. 

On Thursday night, we commemorated the last supper and Jesus's betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane. Sitting in darkness, we imagined Christ on his knees in the Garden, acutely aware of the suffering that was to come. Jesus cried out to God to take this cup from him. He knew that carrying out God's Will would be hard and painful. Yet he prayed, "Not my will but your will be done." 

Our campus Pastor Jonathan Scott summarized this with the insightful comment "God's will is hard." Let this sink in for a moment.  Jesus came that we might have peace and abundant life  but the process by the hour, day or year of following God's will can be hard. 

Jonathan knows what he is talking about. Over 25 years ago his beloved wife was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She is now confined to a wheelchair. As they have walked out their calling to glorify God, it has been hard.  I have a dear friend whose daughter had a major congenital heart defect.   It was hard caring for a baby who wasn't getting enough oxygen and watching your infant have two open heart surgeries. It has been hard as the avalanche of medical bills came pouring in, knocking them off their feet.    Other friends of our family buried their nine month old Sarah Elizabeth after her ferocious battle to live with half a heart ended. It was hard.  I have watched friends struggle with infertility,  heart broken over dreams that haven't grown and devastated by the ease that teenagers get pregnant. It is hard.  We are heading to Tijuana Mexico for a family mission trip next week and I have been thinking of the difference that being born on one side of the border makes.  A bridge separates life in the suburbs of beautiful San Diego, CA from the poverty and hard scrabble life of Tijuana.  Hard. 

God's will for Jesus was hard. He was to suffer and die on the cross to pay the penalty of our sin.  Imagine giving up your ability to walk so that Jonathan's wife didn't have spend everyday in a wheelchair, paying the hundreds of thousands of dollars for a little girl’s heart surgery, giving up your ability to have a child so a friend with infertility would have a baby, or transplant your heart so nine month old would live and run and play. 

Isaiah 53:3-5 
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, ,and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

Jesus took every imperfection, every weakness, every broken heart, every debt, every bit of guilt and shame, every tear, every insult, every curse, and every sickness on himself so that we could have eternal, abundant life.  Peace.

How can you find peace and trust God in the midst of hard times?

Saturday, March 19, 2016

No Worries, Man!

In my attempt to figure out why people struggle with the idea of abundant life in Christ – I started thinking about the opposite of peace which could be anxiety and strife. I came across this great book by Linda Dillow called Calm My Anxious Heart.  I began reading it the way you would read a psychology text book to understand how other people let anxiety and worry steal their peace.  After reading the first several chapters, a light bulb turned on in my head and I realized I had anxious thoughts! I hadn’t realized when my mind was consumed with researching topics on Google or running through all different types of scenarios of "what ifs" and exploring all my options; whether I was thinking about picking the roofing company for our house, my son’s health or our finances - I was actually having anxious thoughts. Who knew?  I certainly didn't.   I learned from this book that instead of than running things over in my mind or google-ling them to look at every aspect and possibility in a situation - I could choose to pray rather than be anxious.  Philippians 4:6-7 says; “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Linda Dillow writes, "Paul commands us to have nothing to do with anxiety and everything to do with prayer. Sadly many of us reverse this and worry about everything, praying only as a last resort!  It is easier to worry, fret, get heartburn, lose sleep, yell at our husband or our friends, the kids, or our roommates than it is to pray. We've flip flopped the biblical prescription not in belief but in practice... When confronted with negative circumstances, we have a choice: will we pray about the problem or will we worry about it?”  

Prayer, along with making our requests and giving thanksgiving to God releases the peace of God that passes all understanding and will guard our hearts and mind in Christ Jesus.  Here’s a thought, if we don't have peace, it could be because we haven't given our fears and anxieties to God.  We can take our thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) and not let them invade our mind. First, imagine the thought flying through your mind; next, capture the thought; and finally, imagine giving your requests, desires, concerns and worries to Jesus. You don't need it. I promise you He will do a much better job with your situation.  Holding onto worry, fear and the what ifs of life doesn't do any good except to distract you from the abundant peace-filled life Christ died for you to have.  After you have gone through this process, give praise and thanksgiving to Jesus for his victory.  Nothing is too hard for him.  He has the victory.  He knows the future.  He has it all under control.

Isaiah 26:3 is a great verse that contains this important concept. It says, "You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast because they trust in you." Clicking on the link of this verse shows that the English phrase "perfect peace" is "shalom, shalom" in Hebrew.  The key to abundant life and perfect peace in our relationships with God and others is trusting that God will "keep" and guard us. The word "keep" has military roots going back to the idea of a castle keep, which was the most secure part of the castle.  Perfect peace is not a passive, boring place but a place where God is actively keeping us safe and providing for us so that we can live an abundant life.   Jesus said in John 10:10, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly."  I have learned by taking our thoughts captive and giving them to Jesus, we can keep the unwanted invaders of anxiety and worry from stealing the peace and abundant life that Jesus has planned for us.

I am new to understanding this whole anxiety and worry thing, let me know how you give your anxiety and worries to Jesus.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Seek Peace

I've been kicking around the idea of living in abundance for years. It is a Biblical concept that seems to have been distorted by prosperity gospel preachers so whenever I started talking about what I had learned, wise Christians would counter my thoughts by talking about suffering for the gospel and hard times. I didn’t want to discount their experience and numerous verses about suffering for Christ but Jesus also said that he came that we might have life more abundantly. So I kept looking for the balance- I didn't want to be limited to pink cotton candy prosperity fluff and miss the healthy broccoli of suffering. In my quest to really understand abundant life, I came across the concept of “Shalom.” This Hebrew word is usually translated "peace" in English. Jesus explains the connection between peace and suffering in John 16:33, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

Jewish people will great each other by saying "Shalom" just like Hawaiians say "Aloha."  Both of these words carry a deeper meaning than simply saying "Hello."     Though “Shalom” is often translated "peace" and used conversationally as we would use the word "Hello," it is a powerful word and concept that can be summarized by the phrase "abundant life."   Shalom contains the idea of perfection and completeness- think about life in the Garden of Eden before sin. Perfect relationships between God and mankind- no sin, no strife, arguing, blaming, no conflict.  Our desire for peace shouldn’t just be for an absence of strife or a toothless compromise but for abundant life.  

Shalom is a blessing and desire for peace and health in every aspect of life. It means not just the absence of fighting or conflict but the completeness and perfection of life at its fullest, with security and prosperity. I found this quote on my Jewish Learning  that caught some of this concept- "In the Bible, the word shalom is most commonly used to refer to a state of affairs, one of well‑being, tranquility, prosperity, and security, circumstances unblemished by any sort of defect. Shalom is a blessing, a manifestation of divine grace." True shalom isn’t a wimpy prayer or desire, it is a call for abundant life that doesn’t end with this life.  Get this- In Christ we have perfect peace, abundant life, and amazing grace.

 We had a chance to visit the catacombs in Rome and I was struck by the power of the phrase "Rest in peace" that was put on the Christian tombs. Carved in stone during a time of suffering and persecution, this was not a statement of passivity or condolence but a reminder that life after death was truly abundant life - healthy, free of strife and fighting, complete with perfect relationships between God and man- where the lion will snuggle up with a lamb.Those of us who believe in Jesus have eternal life (John 3:16) since eternal means living forever,past present and future,  therefore abundant life of peace is not limited to when we die, in Christ we have it now and forever.  

How can you daily rest in peace, knowing that through Christ you have abundant life?

Saturday, March 5, 2016

A Glimpse of God's Provision in Tough Times

"For your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." Matthew 6:7b-9
I marvel how God provides for us though it is not always in the way we want or expect. Often what may seem like happenstance is God’s provision.   I am privileged to be studying the book of Ruth with Sally Meredith, the author of Ruth: The Story is in the Names.  Sally sees God’s hand in retrieving Ruth from the Land of Moab and bringing her to Bethlehem and even the field she “happened” to work in as part of God’s sovereign plan that laid the foundation for the birth of her great grandson King David and the prophesied birth of the Messiah from the tribe of Judah in Bethlehem. 

Ruth and Naomi’s journey seemed to be driven by famine, need and the loss of their husbands.   Over a thousand years later, Mary and Joseph’s  journey to Bethlehem appeared to be ordered by Caesar Augustus but there is no doubt that God in his sovereignty used Caesar’s pride, famine and widowhood  to move each of them to the place that they needed to be.  Sally writes, “You will not find the word accident in your Bible's concordance.  Go ahead, look it up. Accident is not a word penned by the Holy Spirit. From our point of view, we may experience accidents but God is never surprised by the turn of events in our lives.  Each turn has a purpose. Our responsibility is to trust him at those turns, understanding that He knows what’s best for us in the long run.”

I have recently seen how something that seemed like a horrible mistake was used by God for good. After several scary twists, my friend Lindy recently experienced a blessing that has been decades in the making. Lindy was born with a genetic kidney problem that she only discovered a short time ago. Life became a countdown to a miraculous healing or a risky transplant.  The miraculous healing with no surgery that we all prayed for didn't happen the way we hoped. Instead, the miracle has come through a series of events that give witness to the hand of God that began putting the necessary provisions in place for a kidney transplant long before she knew she even had a problem.  Many decades ago, God gave Lindy a brother that was a perfect match for her. Then God provided her husband with a job less than 25 miles from one of the top kidney transplant centers in the country. 

God orchestrated a surgery that went very well but allowed her discharge papers to have an error on them.  This error to not drink fluids was life threatening because kidneys need fluids to work. It quickly sent her back to the hospital and we wondered why God would allow this mistake after all the prayer and peace that had flooded the transplant procedure.  We soon found out that the poor discharge instructions highlighted a problem with her anti-rejection drug. After finding this, her doctors changed her to a new drug that had been approved just the year before. This anti-rejection medicine had two primary requirements-first, the donor had to be a perfect match, who God had provided when he created her brother and second, the recipient had to have had Mononucleosis.  Eleven years before the transplant, Lindy had been exposed to mono. It came at a hard time that had meant missing out on seeing her fiancĂ© as they were planning their wedding and living in two separate countries. It was hard to understand at the time why God allowed mono to attack them yet God knew what she would need long before her kidney problem was found and long before the anti-rejection medicine had been created.

I have been blessed to see God’s hand at work in Lindy’s life and transplant.  I can see God’s hand in directing Ruth and Naomi through heart breaking times, and leading Mary and Joseph in spite of persecution and a wicked government but I must admit there are many things I still don’t understand and haven’t found the answers. I have friends with chronic illnesses that struggle everyday to glorify God in their pain, I wonder why God would allow a nine month old baby to die after such a short time, and as I look around the world I am struck by poverty and heart break.   Just as during Ruth’s time and Mary and Joseph’s times, we are in a time of rampant sin, weak leadership and heartbreak when everyone does what is right in their own eyes,  but I am still so absolutely certain that God is good, His ways are just and His pro-vision is perfect. Though I still look through a glass dimly,  I am grateful for opportunities like Lindy’s story when  I see clearly how He reveals bits of his perfect plan.  Can you see times in your life that seemed to be mistakes but were God’s provision long before you needed it?