Monday, January 22, 2018

BSF -- Lesson 16, Romans 9

Romans 9 is a troubling chapter.  It is not my favorite chapter in scripture, that's for sure.

We had to face it this week in BSF.

It often seems that when a particularly difficult portion of scripture comes up, study resources dodge the stickiest issues.

I will say this though:

Although I do not affectionately embrace much of Romans 9,
one of my favorite verses is in Romans 9.

Christians don't get to ponder this verse very much, because it is in the middle of Romans 9, and we are usually trying to squint and get around Romans 9 without looking too carefully at it.  But nevertheless, there in Romans 9, we have one of my favorite Bible verses:

[Paul is referring to his brother Israelites] 
Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, 
who is God over all, forever praised!  Amen.
Romans 9:5

This is an incredibly important verse, the central key to interpreting all of the Bible.

First, and most simple and obvious: This verse clearly states in no uncertain terms that Jesus Christ is God.  This is the most important truth in all of scripture.  Everything else hinges on this.

Everything hinges on Jesus.

God's entire plan for history centers on Jesus.

The whole Bible is about Jesus.

This verse, Romans 9:5, explains how the whole Bible is about Jesus and how the Old Testament and the New Testament work together.

The Old Testament is the history of the ancestry of Christ.  Everything in the Old Testament points to the coming Christ, the promised Messiah.  The Old Testament traces Christ's lineage, records the prophecies and promises of His coming, and includes many multifaceted symbols and types to illustrate what He would be like and what He would do.  The Chosen People of God, in the Old Testament, were chosen to be the ancestors of Messiah for the salvation of the world.  They were chosen to give birth to Messiah.

This is why the Israelites were special to God: not because they were in some way intrinsically better than other people, but because they were His chosen means for providing grace to all humanity.  God knew He would take on flesh and complete His mission at just the right time (Galatians 4:4, Romans 5:6).  From the beginning, God was working out His plan, choosing and preserving a line of people through whose genetics He Himself would enter creation.  He even took care that the appropriate history and prophecies would be recorded long in advance, to document His plan.  This is why the Bible is one story of redemption that comes to us through a collection of literary documents spanning a period of approximately 2000 years, catalogued by 40 or more different writers.  There is no other religious book anything like this, because the Bible is the only book that comes from God, and only God could orchestrate a book like this.

It's easy to see that the New Testament is all about Jesus, because it just is.  The New Testament includes four different accounts of Jesus' life.  The book of Acts explains how Jesus left earth and sent His Spirit to empower the church to spread the Kingdom of God and finish the ministry.  The epistles, or letters, describe what Jesus has accomplished and what this great salvation means, and how we should live as redeemed believers.  Revelation describes the glory that is our ultimate hope, and encourages us to persevere through trials until we arrive at the unveiled presence of Jesus in the New Heaven and the New Earth.

The New Testament is obviously all about Jesus.

But the Old Testament is all about Jesus, too.  Luke alludes to this when he writes about how the risen Christ appeared to some disciples on the road to Emmaus: "And beginning with Moses and the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself," (Luke 24:27).

Paul, who wrote Romans (and many other epistles), was a trained Pharisee, educated under Gamaliel (Acts 22:3, Philippians 3:4-6).  Prior to his conversion by the bright light on the road to Damascus, Paul was a very active Jewish official, zealously persecuting Christians, whom he saw as a threat to the beliefs that were most precious to him.  Paul knew the Old Testament inside out and forwards and backwards.  He knew the Law, the prophets, and the history of his people.

These days, we are used to the idea that salvation is by faith, and that non-Jewish people can have access to salvation.  However, we need to understand, as we read Romans, that these ideas were new and groundbreaking for Paul.  He had always believed that the Jews were more special and more precious to God than any other people.  He had always believed that Jewishness was first a matter of birth, and second a matter of keeping the Law, and--in any case--absolutely necessary for finding favor with God.  Jewish tradition taught that Jewish people, and Jewish people alone, were God's people.  A non-genetically Jewish person could maybe become a Jew by being circumcised and meticulously keeping the Law, but Jewishness was huge, and the Law was absolutely imperative.

This is why, in Romans, Paul spends so much time explaining that the Law is an impossible standard which no man could ever meet by the strength of his will.  It is also why Paul goes on to say things like:

For God does not show favoritism.  (Romans 2:11)

A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical.  No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly, and circumcision is circumcision of the heart by the Spirit, not by the written code.  (Romans 2:28-29a)

And then there's all of Chapter 4.  I'll highlight a couple points here:

[Abraham] is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.  And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.  (Romans 4:11b-12)

Therefore the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring--not only to those of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham.  He is the father of us all.  (Romans 4:16)

Paul has spent eight chapters developing the idea that salvation, life and righteousness are available:

  • Only through the atoning death of Christ.
  • Only to those who believe in Christ.
  • To all people who believe in Christ, regardless of their background.  

He crescendoed to a magnificent peak in Chapter 8, describing all the hope, glory and victory that belong to those who put their faith in Christ Jesus.

Now, in Chapter 9, Paul turns to face the destiny of the Jews.  Are they God's special, treasured possession?  Or aren't they?  Apparently not exactly, Paul laments in Romans 9:1-3.  He grieves for his people, to the point of wishing he himself could be cursed in order to change their outcome.  I do not think this is in the Bible to tell us that we should rather go to hell than see our loved ones perish apart from the Lord.  I think it is here to show that the fate of those without faith is a very serious problem.  Paul has been grappling with this, and it is a bitter pill for him, with his background and all its assumptions of favor for the Jewish nation.  Yet, Paul has come to the realization that people's eternal destiny depends solely on whether they put their faith in Jesus, not on whether they are Jewish.

I've been doing sudoku, so I'm thinking in grids.

Here you go:
This grid shows two ways you can divide humans up, and how the divisions intersect.

As you see, all people can be described as either Jewish, or not Jewish (non-Jew).
All people can also be described as people with faith, or people without faith.
When you chart out these divisions, you get four types of people:
1.  Jewish people with faith in Christ.
2.  Jewish people without faith in Christ.
3.  Non-Jewish people with faith in Christ.
4.  Non-Jewish people without faith in Christ.

This grid has been marked to show which of the four types of people 
from the above divisions have salvation.

1.  Jews and non-Jews who have faith in Christ have salvation.
2.  Jews and non-Jews who do not have faith in Christ do not have salvation.

It can get a little bit confusing as you read Romans, because Paul sometimes calls those who have faith a Jew or Israel.  When he does this, he means God's people are the ones who are saved through faith, and those who are saved through faith are God's people.  Paul is so programmed to think of Jewish people as God's people, that he still calls God's people Jews, or Israel, even though that means redefining "Israel" to mean those who put their faith in Christ.  Paul explains what he means by his term Israel in Romans 9:6, when he says, "For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel."

Paul summarizes the point in Romans 9:8--

In other words, it is not the natural children [those born genetically of Jewish descent] who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise [those who walk in the faith of Abraham] who are regarded as Abraham's offspring.

Through the rest of the chapter, Paul struggles with the idea that Jewish people who do not put their faith in Christ are not the people of God.  I don't think he likes it any more than anybody else, probably less.  I get the feeling that Paul is preaching to himself through these verses, reminding himself--and us--that God has mercy on whom He will have mercy (Romans 9:10-18).  God is our Creator; we are created beings, in no way qualified to judge God's actions or second guess His choices (Romans 9:19-21).

There is a very troubling section in Romans 9:22-23, where Paul asks (and I paraphrase), "What if God created certain people only to be objects of wrath?  What if the sole purpose for some people's lives is to be destroyed, doomed pawns in God's process of bringing His rich glory to those He lovingly created to save?"  I am not convinced that Paul is saying God actually works this way.  I think Paul may be postulating that even if God did do this, we wouldn't have any right to criticize Him, because He is God, and we are not.  There are many other places where scripture reveals God's heart full of love (John 3:16-17, 1 Timothy 2:3-4, 2 Peter 3:9).  These are clear teachings about God's character and His desire to bless humanity, save us, and help us flourish.  Paul might not be saying that God pragmatically designates certain people to perdition for the sake of His elect.*  Maybe Paul is only reminding us that we need to humble ourselves before God and accept what is difficult and confusing as well as what is clear and comforting.  (See the book of Job, especially chapters 38-42 where God asks, "Who is this that darkens my counsel without knowledge?" and, "Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him?"  Clearly, the answer is that we are unworthy, as Job readily admits.)

Paul reminds himself--and us--that the prophet Hosea prophesied long ago how God would call into His kingdom those who had not been His people, in other words, Gentiles (Romans 9:23-26).  Of course, today when the church is so heavily populated by believing Gentiles, this seems like a no-brainer.  However, in Paul's day it was a new, liberal thought.  God lovingly welcomes Gentile believers into His Kingdom.

Paul finishes Chapter 9 with a quote from Isaiah, referencing "the remnant."  This idea will be explored further in chapters 10-11.  The remnant is those Israelites who will surely be saved, because they walk by faith.  Paul deeply longs for all his people to put their faith in Christ and be saved.  Romans 10:1 says, "Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they might be saved."

Romans 9 takes the centrality and paramount importance of Christ's function in salvation--the theme of Romans up to this point--and examines the Jewish condition in light of this truth.

This section of Romans, chapters 9-11, is Paul's anguished discussion of the fate of the Jews in light of the truth that salvation comes by faith in Christ, and only by faith in Christ.  Jews can be saved, but they must put their faith in Christ.

When we get to Chapter 11, we will see that Paul has great hope for Jews, that their background, knowledge of scripture and previous exposure to the Father will have trained and formed many of them to be receptive to the gospel.  I am especially interested in Romans 11:26 and Romans 11:32, but if I write about those verses, I will do it in a couple of weeks, when we get there.

In the meantime, how do we apply what we learn in Romans 9?

I think I would divide Romans 9 into two sections,
the function of Israel (verses 1-5),
and the fate of Israel (verses 6-33).

The function of Israel is easy to understand:  Israel was God's chosen instrument, the nation through which He chose to take on flesh and blood and enter into the world.  "...[F]rom them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised!  Amen" (from Romans 9:5).

Applications we can take from this truth include:

1.  The more we understand about the divinity and supremacy of Christ, the deeper and more heartfelt our worship will be.

2.  The more we understand about the eternal nature and scope of God's plan of redemption, the more awed we will be by the miracle of the Bible, which is the collected record of all He has done, and the more confident we will be in its truth.

3.  Natural Israel's function was to bring Messiah to earth as a baby who would grow up and be crucified for the sins of the world.  We are the new Israel, the spiritual Israel, the children of the promise.  Natural Israel gave birth to Christ.  The Spirit of Christ gave birth to us.  Now our job is to carry the Spirit of Christ throughout the world, bearing witness to what Jesus has done and what His Spirit is doing even today.  So, as Israel, we still have the job of bringing Messiah to the world, albeit in a slightly different way.

4.  Although Paul clearly explains that Jewish people are not automatically set up for salvation, he explains here (and also in Romans 3:1-2) that Jewish people have been especially blessed by God.  God gave them a very important role to fulfill, and He protected, preserved and provided for them so they would be able to fulfill it.  We should never be anti-Semitic.  We should respect and esteem Jewish people and Jewish culture, and join Paul in praying that Jewish people will find Christ and come to a saving faith.

Application #4 bleeds into applications we can take from looking at what Paul writes about the fate of Israel.  The fate of Israel depends on whether individual Israelites come to faith in Christ.  The same is true for all humanity.  Those who believe in Jesus will be saved, and those who reject Him will not.  How do we apply this?

1.  We pray for mercy.  God says that He has mercy on whom He will have mercy.  This is His decision and not ours.  It is absolutely imperative that we never make our own determination that God has decided against showing mercy to someone.  As long as there is life, there is hope.  As long as a person lives, we pray for God's mercy, for the dawning of saving faith.  We should pray this for Jews and Gentiles alike.  God is mighty to save.  Jesus died so that men could be saved.  Our job is to hope and pray and demonstrate the joy of the Spirit and (when the opportunity arises) share the gospel for the salvation of many souls.

2.  We humble ourselves before God and remember who He is.  God is worthy of praise regardless of who believes in Jesus and who rejects Jesus.  We must not accuse God of being unfair.  We must not demand that God do things our way instead of His way.  We must never, never presume to correct God.  We must admit that our knowledge and understanding are limited and flawed, while God's knowledge and understanding are infinite and perfect (Isaiah 55:9-11).  We must humble ourselves before the Lord and surrender in trust to whatever He brings into our lives.

3.  We maintain a spirit of joyful wonder and gratitude that, however it came to be, we have been granted faith unto salvation.  God has given us righteousness through faith; this is glorious and we celebrate it!  As we hope and pray for others to come to faith, we rejoice in the faith that we ourselves have.  As we grieve for those whose lives are passing by in a state of separation from Christ, we appreciate every single moment God gives us to worship Him.

* We know that God is omniscient (all knowing).  His knowledge and wisdom are perfect.  He exists outside of time and space and knows all things simultaneously.  Therefore, God definitely must know the outcome of every person's life from before the beginning.  How this all works out in terms of the doctrine of election (and particularly objects of wrath prepared for destruction) is beyond my understanding.  I know that God is love.  God rescues.  God saves.  God delivers.  God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23, 33:11).  God loves the world so much that He was willing to incarnate and die a tortuous death to redeem people from the penalty of sin.  1 John 2:2 says that Jesus is the atoning sacrifice not only for our sins, but also for the sins of the whole world.  God is good, and He demonstrated His goodness by dying for us while we were lost in sin.  I know all these things about God, so I am going to trust Him, and be thankful for my own election, and not worry about anybody else's election, and pray for the salvation of the souls He lays on my heart.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Trying to get back on the bike

This is a picture of my legs, wearing my new pajama pants, at my computer.

I've been away from the computer for a long time, and even today it was a great struggle to sit down here.  All I want to do is wear my pale gray plaid flannel pants and do sudoku.

Shawn says I like sudoku because, unlike life, it always comes out nice and neatly solved in the end.  The solutions are so tidy that I find myself marveling at how these puzzles are made.  They must be even more complex to design than they are to solve.

I've been having trouble writing, talking and eating.  Like I said, all I want to do is wear these pants and do sudoku, preferably in bed, because it is warm there.  It's been bitter cold, although today was warmer and I took Schubert for a walk in the neighborhood.

Shawn has been amazingly patient with me, and I do not know why.  I secretly wonder if I am crazy and he's not telling me.  On Wednesday, I literally did nothing except shower and go back to bed with a sudoku book.  Shawn got takeout from Texas Roadhouse and fed me steak, salad and a baked potato for dinner.  On Thursday, I got up and walked for an hour with a friend, then grocery shopped, did laundry and changed the sheets on my bed (I'd been in it so much, it really needed to be freshened).  I meant to make fish and kale for dinner, but we had leftover chili instead.

When I think about things, I get worried, so I think about sudoku.  I can solve sudoku.  It feels so good every time I get to the last phase of a puzzle where all the missing numbers unzip to the solution.  There's a small thrill of euphoric satisfaction at how everything lines up correctly, and then I want nothing else than to do another one.

I don't have much appetite.  I'm tired, quiet and a bit nauseated.  Did I mention that we got a new furnace?  That was a very cold day.  The day before was minus 15 degrees, and so was the day after, but the day they installed the furnace was 15 degrees (positive 15), so I should be thankful, and I am.  Nonetheless, it was cold.  You can't run an old furnace while it is being taken out, and you can't run a new furnace while it is being put it, so I wore my coat and huddled with a small space heater, a dog and a comforter.  The house dipped to 49 degrees before it began to heat up again.  My peace lily isn't looking so good anymore.  I don't remember which day this was.  The bill has not yet arrived.  I'm trying not to think about it.

On another note:

There isn't any conflict of interest between my words for the year:  Power, Glory and Humility.  The power and the glory belong to God ("for Thine is the ... power and the glory forever...").  The more aware I am of God's power and glory, the more humble I will be.  Even when God's power works inside of me, it is no cause for pride, because it's all Him and not me.

Andrew Murray, in his book, Humility: the Beauty of Holiness, says it this way:  "Just as water always seeks and fills the lowest place, so the moment God finds the creature humble and empty, His glory and power flow in to raise up and bless."

That's all I've got.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Power and Glory

I'm desperate to see the power and glory of God.

As 2017 came to an end, the word "power" often jumped out at me from Bible passages I read.

For Thine is the Kingdom, 
and the Power 
and the Glory forever.  Amen.  
(Matthew 6:13)

I settled into Psalm 65 for a few weeks.
You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness, O God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas, who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength, who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations.     (Psalm 65:5-7)

God formed the mountains by His power.  He created the heavens and the earth with His awesome power.  He is the Source of all time, space, matter, energy, light and life.  God is the power behind every other power.  God stills the raging storms.

God also freed us from the power of sin by the exercise of His mighty power:
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and His incomparably great power for us who believe.  That power is like the working of His mighty strength, which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.     (Ephesians 1:18-21)
For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism.  And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.    (Romans 6:4)
The same glorious power that raised Jesus from death where He lay beneath the crushing burden of the cumulative sins of all humanity, past, present and future, that same power is at work in us, connecting us to the life-giving, life-changing love of God.

If God is for us, who can stand against us?  (Romans 8:31)

I am desperate to see the power and glory of God, and I want to see it this year, now, soon.  I don't want to wait and watch evil have its heyday before God reaches out His hand to do an awesome deed of righteousness.

So (I'm owning this, my brokenness, my flawed strategies), I decided to adopt "Power," and "Glory," as my words for this year.

I'm sure there is a root here, where I am trying to control, manipulate the very God of the Universe.

Dear Jesus, I'm sorry.  I'm so very sorry.  It's just that I am desperate to see your hand work.  You probably want me to seek humility this year, but I beg instead for you to show me your power and glory.  I am in favor of humility, I know it is a treasure I need to seek.  But I desperately crave the unveiling of your power and glory.  Please forgive me and make your power perfect through my weakness.

We recently went to the movie, "Darkest Hour," about when Churchill became Prime Minister and fought against his own government, trying to convince them not to appease Hitler.  At one point, Churchill shouted at his cabinet, "You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!"  The music, the mood, the portrayal of a good, honest, trusting populace, the absolute impossibility of the situation wrecked me.  I sat in the darkness of the theatre and wept.  It was the story of Helm's Deep (another one I can hardly watch), only it was true history and not a fairy tale or an allegory.  Even when the humble fishing boats successfully rescued most of the troops at Dunkirk, I continued to weep, maybe even harder.

Evil terrifies me.  The way people in this world give themselves over to evil terrifies me.

Against all odds, Hitler did not win.  This should fill me with hope, assuring me that there is a good God who controls outcomes.  Hitler did not win.

But the collateral damage that crushed Europe's spirit in the wake of WW2 crushes my spirit, too.  Not completely, but impairingly.

I am impaired by the fear of evil.  Yet, God's word tells me that there is no fear in love; perfect love casts out fear.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.  (1 John 4:18)

O God, what is the matter with me?  Please help me in my fear.  Please show me your power and your glory.  Please cover me in the shelter of your wings, and comfort me.  Sing over me and quiet me with your love (Zephaniah 3:17).  Please answer my prayers with awesome deeds of righteousness.  My hope is in you, in your awesome power and your unfailing love.

Who can show us any good?  Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord.  (Psalm 4:6)  Please, Lord Jesus, Creator and Redeemer, unveil your power and glory for me to see.  Help me this year.  Heal my fears.  Increase my confidence in you.


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Is life eluding me, or am I eluding life?

Yesterday I finally went for a walk again.  Still alive, eh?

The temperature was -15 for a painful string of days.  I don't like this kind of cold.  My friend and I walked at the mall.  I'm officially old now, I guess: a mallwalker.  In my defense, I never did like being outside when it was cold.  I hated walking to school as a child, my fingers and toes aching with chill.

During elementary school, one year I had a teacher who assigned extremely lengthy handwriting practice drills.  I think he wanted us to copy over the page in the handwriting book about 30 times, or possibly more.  To me, that was simply unthinkable.  Although I was, in general, a compliant student, the overwhelmedness I felt as I stared down those vast handwriting assignments was paralyzing.  I could not make myself dig in and do so many repetitions.  Upon failing to complete the work, I was at first tremulous and fearful about what consequence I would face. 

However, I discovered that the consequence was to stay indoors at recess time.  Yes.  Staying indoors during recess was the consequence.

Since this was winter in Minnesota, I could barely believe my good fortune.  I had found a way to escape the bitter cold winds on the playground, the awkwardness of trying to find a social circle to fit into, the boredom of waiting for a turn on a swing, the violence of playground rugby matches, the humiliation of being unathletic, the hard work of suiting up in winter outerwear before going out, and the snow-melting sogginess of coming in and stripping off winter outerwear amidst a crush of other children all pushing for space and a dry place to step whilst transitioning from boots to shoes.  I sat at my desk in my classroom, free-drawing, creative writing, laughing and joking with the other rebels who also had their recess privileges revoked.  We were warm.  We were happy.  We were even unsupervised.  And our socks were dry.

I never did a handwriting assignment again.

This is just to assuage my fear that I am getting old because I walk at the mall and not outside.  Honestly, no sane person would walk outside on slick, snowy roads in -15 degrees.

I am only halfway south.  I lived in Minnesota for 22 years and in New York for 25 years.  Then I moved south to central Illinois, but clearly, this year is proving that I have not moved far enough south.

These days are so weird, these present days.  Lupus saps my energy, but I have very little to do.  I read my Bible and pray about the things that worry me.  I complete my lessons for Bible Study Fellowship (BSF).  I try to write, but lack energy and inspiration.  I take the dog out, make the bed, usually make dinner.  I shop for groceries and do laundry.  I go for walks and shoot texts to my kids in hopes of a response.  I scrub lime off bathroom faucets and try to get spots out of the carpet here and there.  I search the internet for answers to random questions that arise in my mind, but I'm getting gun-shy about that, because I can tell someone is tracking my rabbit trails, based on targeted advertisements I later receive.

One thing is certain.  I am not busy.  Nope.  Not busy.  This is not a busy season.  It has been a season of listening and seeking, and trying to be patient, trying to trust God that He does have a plan for my life.  Also, it's a time of trying not to let my bewilderment about what to do with myself result in inappropriate meddling.  I think I wish I had a job to do, but I'm afraid to say so.  Probably, I'm afraid I'll be given a job I don't like.  Perhaps God is waiting for me to come to the point where I want a job so badly, I won't complain about what job I get, I'll just be thankful.  It's nice to be thankful.

Today it is 15 degrees above zero, rather than 15 degrees below zero.  This is a definite improvement, although it comes with a flurry of snowflakes (not a ton of them, but enough to make the air blurry outside my windows, and turn the blue sky a dull white).

Shawn works at home in the mornings.  He gets up and feeds the dog and makes coffee, bringing two mugs up to the bedroom where we sit sipping together while he takes stock of his upcoming day and answers the emails that have come in during the night.  Then he goes into his study and works for a few hours while I bomb around looking for something meaningful to do.  Just before lunchtime, he packs up his computer and a sandwich so he can leave, and I say, "Don't forget to come home, 'kay?"  And then I am alone and ought to write my novel, except that it died inside me about five years ago, give or take two or three years.

Darkness falls so early these days.  We're past the winter solstice, so the days should be lengthening, but they are still remarkably short.  It makes me wonder what kind of time I have left, time to do something with my life, time to love my kids, time to make a difference.

I should pack up Christmas, but it's still nice to be able to turn the tree lights on at 4:00 when the sun goes away.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Good-bye - Hello

January 1 can be a trying day.

You'd like to get on with the new start and the new routine, but everything is closed.  Also, today was -15 degrees F.  I think it eventually warmed up to -7.  I stayed inside.  No exercise for this body today.

The sun has already set, darkness falling black outside the windows.  Granted we haven't eaten supper yet, haven't even worked up an appetite for supper.  Still, the daylight is over and the day mostly gone.

I washed a few sheets and towels.  Shawn washed the dog.

It's been a slow start to 2018, all things considered.

Last night was a blue moon, or maybe not quite.  Maybe tonight is the full moon.  But last night, December 31, the moon was round and particularly bright, after a lovely full moon on December 1.  Shawn and I ventured out into the dry, bitter cold to look at it before we went to bed.  When it gets that cold, the outside air sucks your breath away but almost doesn't feel cold to your skin, because it seems to burn.  A cold burn.  We quickly turned our faces to the moon, appreciated its brilliance, and hurried back inside.  Then we went to bed, on New Year's Eve, at about 10:30 p.m.

The kids left on Thursday and Friday, December 28 and 29.  David and Ashton left early Thursday morning.  Matthew and Laura had planned to take Shannon to the Indy airport on their way home Friday, but snowy conditions moved them to try to leave ahead of the storm.  Shannon had a late flight, which was further delayed by the weather.  Shawn and I were happy to glean a few extra hours with her, so we offered to take her to Indy later.

We almost crashed the car on our way home from Indy.  Highway 465, the beltway around Indianapolis, is five lanes wide (I think, at least that...), and it was completely unplowed after 5-6 inches of snow had fallen.  You couldn't make out any lanes, and the surface of the road was extremely slick.  As we sloughed northward, amidst a mixture of cautious and reckless drivers, all of a sudden, for no obvious reason, a car ahead of us and to our right lost control and careened in an arc across a number of lanes, towards the left side of the road.  We and the car directly to our right (which was also a bit ahead of us) began to brake and try to avoid a collision.  On our left, in the "fast" lane, another car was approaching, faster than the rest of us.  As the out-of-control-car crossed in front of us and slid into the left lane, the car chugging up the left lane was completely unable to stop or slow down, and it T-boned the careening car with an ominous crunch of metal.  The impact carried both vehicles into a sort of circling dance; right in front of us, they spun around together.  I prayed, and Shawn tried to figure out which way to steer to avoid them without hitting the other cars around us, while pumping his brakes.  They glided off onto the inner shoulder and we left them in our wake.  I wonder if any other vehicles piled into them.

It's easy to feel thankful when you have a near miss like that.  For awhile, the relief and adrenaline took the edge off missing the kids.

Saturday was a dull day.  Of course we were tired.  And Christmas let-down set in with a fury.  I don't know what we did all that day.  We did not cook or wash dishes, which is a nice silver-lining after the excitement of houseguests.

Sunday was church, which is always nice.  Church, lunch with Jonathan, football in the afternoon, a Vikings win.  A lazy day.  I ate popcorn, applesauce and granola, and drank a number of mugs of tea.

Which brings us to today.

I apologize for this lame blog post.  It's been so long since I've written, I scarcely know what to do with myself here.

My words for the year are Power and Glory (God's), and I also want to grow in humility.  Perhaps "want" is too strong a word there.  I perceive the importance of growing in humility and hope to get better at it, although I have a certain dread of the pain that such an endeavor may involve.  Still (an idea I've explored before), I think humility is the surest, and perhaps only, path to ultimate joy.  I will write more about Power and Glory and humility another day.

2017 was a busy year, full of graduations and trips.  We experienced gains and losses, triumphs and sorrows.  It was a good year for the garden and a bad year for the ornamental pear trees.  Some excruciatingly horrible things happened, but there was no lack of small and medium sized miracles to keep us conscious of the truth that a sovereign God in heaven watches over us with love.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A prayer for December

Dear Lord God,

I can't remember a December so filled with bright blue and gold as this one.  You shine from beyond the cerulean sky, illuminating dried leaves and grasses so they move in the wind like living lights.  Without you they would be mere straw and chaff, but under your presence they appear as precious metals.

You are the God of all Hope.  Thank you for all the words you have given us about hope.

May the God of hope fill you with all peace and joy, because you trust in Him.  Then you will overflow with confident hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  (Romans 15:13)

Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.  (Psalm 31:24)

May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you.  (Psalm 33:22)

You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness, O God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas.  (Psalm 65:5)

It is right to hope in you, Lord.  It is right for us to believe that you are good, and that you have good plans of salvation for the men of earth.

The angel said, "I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people!"  (Luke 2:10)

Jesus has come.  You have come.

You are the Light of the World, illuminating truth and driving away the dark of doubt, the dark of despair, the dark of the devil's deceiving schemes.  Your glory utterly undoes the darkness, shining in clear revelation.

You are the Living Water, reviving and refreshing parched, weary souls.

You are the Bread of Life, filling and nourishing those who hunger.

You are the Good Shepherd, leading us by quiet waters, making us lie down in green pastures, restoring our souls, and guiding us in paths of righteousness for Your name's sake (Psalm 23).  You gather us like little lambs in your arms and carry us close to your heart (Isaiah 40:11).

You love us with an everlasting love, and draw us to yourself with cords of lovingkindness (Jeremiah 31:3).  Thank you, Lord Jesus, thank you for your great love.

Thank you for your mighty power, which will never be overcome.  You yourself are the Overcomer.  You have even overcome death itself, and the sin that begets death.  I praise you, Lord Almighty.  I praise you because you died and rose again, so that we could be redeemed for eternal life in your presence.  The victory is yours, and ours, too, because of your unfathomable grace.

You are King of kings and Lord of lords.

Thank you for your sovereign, faithful power over all creation.  You tell us that you know the end from the beginning.   Your purpose will stand.  You will do all that you please.  (Isaiah 46:10)

No power can stop you, Lord.  Thank you.  You are worthy of all praise.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for your providence and for your miracles.  I've read a little bit about these things, and from what I can tell, although theologians go to great lengths to distinguish between the two, the only difference is that your providence is the miracles we are used to, because you do them most every day and wire them into the way the universe works, while "miracles" are the unusual events you bring about, surpassing the boundaries of nature and only happening at rare intervals in our lives.  It is all your work, all from you.  I am thankful that you are with us all the time, and every sunrise is as much a gift as an unexplainable healing.  Thank you that you both provide for us and do miracles for us.  Thank you that your hands are always at work around us, feeding, healing, comforting and protecting.

Oh Lord God, how I love your hands.

You formed the world with your hands. 

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place... (Psalm 8:3)

The heavens declare your glory, and the skies proclaim the work of your hands (Psalm 19:1).

You are the one who made the earth and created mankind upon it, stretching out the heavens by your own hands and marshaling their starry hosts (Isaiah 45:12).

You bless and feed us with your hands.

All of creation looks to you for food, which you give at the proper time for us to gather up.  When you open your hand, we are satisfied with good things (Psalm 104:27-28).

You fill me with joy in your presence and eternal pleasures at your right hand (Psalm 16:11).

You comfort and protect us with your hands.

When I take refuge in you from the foe, you save me by your right hand because of your great love, keeping me as the apple of your eye, and hiding me in the shadow of your wings (Psalm 17:7-8).

I cling to you, your right hand upholds me (Psalm 63:8).

You deliver your people by your hand, and your mighty outstretched arm (Exodus 6:6).

You heal with the touch of your hand.  Your hand has healed lepers, blind people, deaf people, lame people, and people with broken hearts and malignant souls.  Your hand continues to heal, every day.

You reach out with your hand to pull us up out of the miry clay, out of the raging waters.  You grasp us with your strong hand when we are too weak to hold on by ourselves, and you lift us up to safety and restoration.  You lovingly chide, "Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?" (Matthew 14:31)

You saved us when you stretched out your hands at the cross, allowing them to be pierced for our sins, your precious, nail-pierced hands.

You have thus engraved us on your hands, written our names on the palms of your hands (Isaiah 49:16).

I am yours.  Thank you, Lord Jesus.

O Jesus, help me trust you.  Help me to be better able to perceive your goodness and your love.  Help me to walk in your Spirit, filled with your Spirit, conscious of your Spirit.  Please radiate the beauty, peace and joy of your Spirit out through me.  Let me carry your presence wherever I go.

Thank you for your promises.  Thank you that you hear and answer prayer.

Thank you that you are always with me.  You go before me, leading, forging the path.  You come behind me, protecting my back, shielding my blindside.  You cover me with your feathers, shelter me with your wings, protect me with the armor of your faithful promises (Psalm 91:4).  Thank you that you never leave me nor forsake me.

Thank you that you promise that I will bear fruit as I abide in you, that joy comes in the morning, that your plans are good and certain to come to pass.

Thank you, Jesus.  Help me Jesus.  I praise you, Jesus.


Monday, November 27, 2017

Thankful that joy comes in the morning.

It is morning, and the sun is shining.

We got a new deck.  Our old deck was built with a lip around the edge of it, a lip that caught all the debris from our trees and hindered me when I tried to sweep.  My sweet son-in-law was frustrated for me every time he looked at it.  "Who would design a deck that way?" he would ask, expressing my exact thoughts.  I appreciated his sympathy.  Our new deck has clear space beneath the bottom of the railings.

The sun shines bright on the new deck, casting sharp lines of light that cross the lines of deck boards, creating a checkered effect.

In contrast to the bright, shining, morning sun, my life carries a dark heaviness these days.  Things I cannot talk about well up in my heart.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest, Jesus says.

The Lord told Jeremiah, "I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish."  And Jeremiah awoke and looked, and his sleep was pleasant to him.

When everything seems to be going wrong, I think of the disciples during the crucifixion.  Everything certainly seemed to be going wrong that day, all their hopes and dreams turned awry at a bloody, violent cross.  Yet, this was exactly God's perfect plan.  This was the victorious battle where God vanquished evil and death for all time.

I think of a sermon I once heard, where the pastor kept saying, "It's Friday night, but Sunday morning's coming..."

Jesus rose from death, alive and triumphant.

He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also along with Him graciously give us all things?

He has done this.  He has won this victory.  He will certainly see that the blood is applied to us, we who need His salvation so desperately.  He will bring us home.

Resurrection morning.

It will be okay.

For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor lasts a lifetime: weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.  (Psalm 30:5)

Rejoicing comes in the morning.

Praise God that joy comes in the morning.  I am thankful.  I struggle with the long, dark wait, but I am thankful for the hope of promised rejoicing in the morning.  May He, Himself, my faithful God, hold my faith intact through the night.  I am thankful that I can entrust this to Him, the One who is able.  I am thankful that He is able.

In You, O Lord, I have taken refuge.
Let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in Your righteousness.

Turn Your ear to me,
come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,
a strong fortress to save me.

Since you are my rock and my fortress,
for the sake of Your Name lead and guide me.
Free me from the trap that is set for me,
for You are my refuge.

Into Your hands I commit my spirit;
redeem me, O Lord, the God of Truth.
(Psalm 31:1-5)

Give me a sign of Your goodness,
that my enemies may see it and be put to shame,
for You, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me.
(Psalm 86:17)