Jehovah was not in the wind. And after the wind, an earthquake: Jehovah was not in the earthquake.
And after the earthquake, a fire: Jehovah was not in the fire. And after the fire, a soft gentle voice. (1Kings 19:11-12)

Friday, January 27, 2017

The One Test You Don't Want to Fail

We’ve made it to the last few squares of January. Already we’ve been given days of grieving or days of great joy. We will flip the page in a few days, blink our eyes and find ourselves at the end of another year.

How are we doing with the things we set out to do? We don’t want to get to the end of the year, the end of our lives and realize we missed the most important thing in the world.

My family is off skiing today on some crispy snow-covered slopes puddled with white slushies at the base of some hills.

Life can seem pretty amazing when we are high over top with spectacular views, but when you get down to the bottom of things, well, there may seem like there is a lot of slugging to plow through.

I don’t have the strength right now to strap on skis all day, and my blood has been too thin from the blood thinner medication I’m on for the rest of my life, to chance falling or being run into and tripped up, and I woke this morning with a little chest congestion that makes things even harder.

So, I'm home all alone for the day. Not something that I get to experience very often.

I wasn’t discouraged that they all drove off and left me behind. Maybe I should say, I wasn’t until they sent a snapshot of smiles under helmets and goggles on their way up a chairlift. I truly am grateful for the day they all have together, but I do miss being a part of it.

I miss the gliding down gentle hillsides, enjoying the winter wonder of the beauty of God’s creation, the laughter, the six year old trying to race her fifteen-year-old sister, the fresh air, being on the adventure together. I don’t miss the cold fingers and toes.

Today, I sit at home alone. I appreciate the quiet, the space to think, to wrestle with some hard things. To seek God in His wisdom and grace and truth and steadfast love.

It’s a difficult exercise to examine your own heart. It’s really easy to see the speck in another’s eye, but remain blinded to the log in your own.

First and foremost, I must confess, I do not think I have it all figured out. I am aware of my own short-comings and at the same time recognize that, too often, I am more willing to ignore my own log while determining how I might help another see their speck.

But I keep coming back to my one thing for this year: to know Christ. 

I will likely keep coming back to that. It is worth giving up everything in this world “for the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord.” That’s what the Apostle Paul claimed in his letter to the Philippians. That is what I want. But, when I examine my heart, my life is it truly how or why I press on each passing day? Is it what I am living; could you tell by the blisters--or lack of blisters--on my knees.

Paul also warned the Corinthians to:

“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”
He tell us we are to scrutinize our own souls. Examine, prove, test our own selves. Are we in the faith? Do we realize we are in Christ? Is it evident that Jesus Christ is in us?

Faith is not persuading our selves. It is graciously given to us by God; it is inwrought in us, but we are to examine ourselves to see if we have come to this quiet confidence in God.

Faith always pleases and glorifies God.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones suggested two factors that determine the strength of our faith.

First, and the chief factor, he said is our knowledge of God.

Do we know God? Do we seek to know God by reading and studying His Word? Do we seek His face by coming into His presence in prayer? Do we wait upon the Lord with a quiet resting? Do we consider His greatness, His glorious attributes, His power, grace, mercy, holiness, His character, His promises? Do we realize who He is and what He has done?

The second factor, Lloyd-Jones said, is the application of what we know. Do we apply what we know and bring our knowledge of God into consideration?

Do we stand on His greatness? Do we look to Jesus and to eternal things or do we get hung up on things of this world?

Are we living out what we know?

Robert Murray M’Cheyne asserted, 

“What a man is alone and on his knees before God, that he is, and no more.”

We may fool others. We may even fool ourselves.

Dr. David, my heart surgeon, had no idea how sick my heart was because even the scores of tests did not indicate how frail it was for it was all turned and twisted and on the wrong side. I didn’t look like the typical heart patient and until the surgeon pried open the cage holding my broken heart no one knew that it was ready to quit beating at any moment. Until my heart was examined on the inside they couldn’t fully explain my symptoms on the outside. Until he cut out the hard, he couldn’t replace it with healthy.

Don’t be fooled: God knows every heart. We are to examine ourselves to see if the delight of our heart is the Lord.

It is the power of God that works in us to bring us to saving faith, to give us life. What is inside, deep in our souls, will come out in our actions. Faith always leads to actions that please God and give Him glory.

Do we seek to glorify God in all of our lives? That is the secret of faith.

Whether I am on the mountaintop or in the valley, in elation or in disappointment, am I resting in God, waiting on Him, seeking to know Him more or am I more interested in preserving my own name, setting up idols when I need to get down on my knees? 

My skiers crash through the front door chasing after their laughter, fragrant with fresh air, wearing contented grins on pinked faces, and animated with tales of jumps and tumbles as I roll out dough for turkey pot pie. We are back to the noise rattling the bones of our home. The bustle is loud after a quiet day. I slip the fluted pie into the pre-heated oven and in a moment of distraction I toss the oven mitts on top of the stove and nearly start a fire.

We are so easily distracted from the things that really matter.

I breathe a prayer of gratitude for God’s hand of protection and when the famished skiers gather around and dish up large slices of pot-pie and thank-you portions of greens we quiet down for a few minutes to listen to familiar lyrics of a song.

Jimmy Needhem penned this song, entitled, “Clear the Stage” that begs us to examine ourselves. There are many things in this world to take our devotion away from He who is is the most worthy of all our adoration. 

{The second verse and bridge of "Clear the Stage".}

“Take a break from all the plans that you have made
And sit at home alone and wait for God to whisper
Beg him please to open up his mouth and speak
And pray for real upon your knees until they blister
Shine the light on every corner of your life
Until the pride and lust and lies are in the open
Then read the word and put to test the things you've heard
Until your heart and soul are stirred and rocked and broken

Anything I put before my God is an idol
Anything I want with all my heart is an idol
Anything I can't stop thinking of is an idol
Anything that I give all my love is an idol

'Cause I can sing all I want to
Yes, I can sing all I want to

And still get it wrong.

Worship is more than a song.”

Friday, January 20, 2017

How To Have Peace in a World full of Affliction {What it Means to Take Heart}

“Would you do it again?” He threw the question at me in the examination room 18 towering floors up above the bustling city.

I faltered as if the wind may have caused the skyscraper to sway.

“I can’t.”

I reached for a better response, squarely planted my feet, and lobbed it back.

“It will never be an option again. It was a one-time surgery. They told me, ‘there is no way my body would ever be able to handle it again.’”

He swivelled on his chair. I had misunderstood his question.

He leaned it, tossed another from a different angle: “Was it worth it?”

“Would you recommend the surgery to any other childhood cancer survivor if she needed it?”

The radiation oncologist who destroys cancer cells in children probed me with these questions. He was curious to know what I would say now that I had come through this non-conventional surgery done out of desperation—now that I was on this side of the stacks of medical files, all the pokes, and scars, and ongoing difficulties.

I finally got his point.

He asked me, if ever there is another patient that has come to this same long term side-effect--where the treatment killed the cancer and saved the child, but left the child scarred and made her heart so calcified it would shatter like eggshells at the surgeon’s touch--could I say: “Go ahead. Lay yourself on the cold operating table, and surrender your very life . . . to get more life?

Could I tell someone else to brave all the hazards to have the heart surgeon crack open your sternum when your one functioning lung may not draw in the breath of life once your body is taken off the lung-heart machine?

Was it worth all the risks, the pain, the weakness, the struggles, the delusions, the complications?

Ahh . . . well . . . “Yes!” Looking straight at him, I flung my answer across the room with tears teasing the corners of my eyes.

“I’m here; here with my family.”

I still get to be a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, neighbour. I know to live is Christ and to die is gain. And, here I am living. 

No, it wasn’t easy in any sense of the word. It broke me; brought me to the lowest I had ever been, left me cut off, hemmed in, confined, lonely. But, it didn’t destroy me. At the bottom of the bitter cup I was longing for a better place.

I came through the waters with a greater desire to know Christ more. It brought me to a deeper place of soul-searching for the ultimate meaning of our ‘being’.

Charles Spurgeon once said, “We get more good out of our adversity than out of our prosperity.”

So, I sat in the oncologist’s office at the Pediatric Cancer Aftercare Clinic, a year and a half after my heart-salvaging operation, where he can’t promise me a long life, but one marked with continued side effects that make living in this life challenging. He hurled hard realities at me.

He told me, if ten children had have been treated with the rare type of cancer that was rapidly growing in my body in 1979, seven to eight of them would not have made it to their eighth birthday. It was a terrible cancer and aggressive treatment.

These unofficial statistics are sobering. I sit with this awareness.

They keep me from asking “why me?” Instead I ponder: “why not me?”

Life is full of questions. And if we knew all the answers there would be no more questions.

I didn’t deserve to be spared; as a three year old fighting cancer or as a thirty-seven year old with a failing heart.

There was nothing that made me more deserving than any other to be rid of the cancer in my body or for my heart to be patched up to go on beating, ticking like a steady clock in a quiet room, keeping time to all the days that God has purposed for me.

I keep grappling for answers for the fundamental question: “Why am I here?”

We’ve been created to glorify God, to love Him, and enjoy Him forever. We turned from God and exchanged the truth of God for a lie. We worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator. In Adam, death reigns. In Christ, grace reigns. Grace is infinitely greater.

Sin has had its effect on this world. “The whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” {Romans 8:22}

Our mortal and corruptible bodies will suffer disease, decay, and death.

But as Christians, ones who have been justified by faith, who have been made new and been given new regenerated hearts that love God and know Him, we are no longer under the reign of sin. We have died to sin and we now live in the reign of grace.

That is why we take heart!

This is not some self-help, self-promoting scheme. This is the truth that God, the Father “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” {Colossians 1:13}

We are in Christ. We are children of God awaiting the final redemption, the full and final salvation that is absolutely certain. In Him is our peace.

To ‘take heart’ is to have confidence, to have courage, to be unafraid.

A quick word study reveals that the original meaning behind the word used is "showing boldness" and it comes as the “result of the Lord infusing His strength by His inworking of faith.”

Jesus said to his disciples just before he was taken away to be made sin, to die the death that we deserved, to suffer incomprehensible agonies as He conquered sin:

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” {John 16:33}
Christ has made a way for us to be brought back to God, to no longer be slaves to sin, but to be made children of God.

It is the by the power of the Spirit of God working in us, that makes our hearts adore Christ, that makes us yearn after God, that opens the eyes of our hearts to know God, to taste and see that the Lord is good.

Jesus assured his disciples that there would be tribulation in this world. But, He promises a peace which co-exists with tribulation, a peace which is realized in and through conflict and struggle. Our peace is in Jesus Christ.

Christ bolsters our confidence, gives us courage. He has overcome the world—all that is opposed to God, all that would turn our desires away from God, anything that we would want more than God Himself.

For those of us in Christ, we will not escape tribulation.

Some of my tribulation has come from a diseased body, but this world is temporary. I am looking to that which is eternal. As a citizen of heaven, I gaze beyond the heavens and all the glory that is on display there and I realize a greater glory. That Jesus Christ has come to give us eternal life: that we might know the only true God and Jesus Christ.

We can take heart, show this unflinching, bold courage, live out the inner confidence that is Spirit-produced while we face tribulation because Jesus Christ has overcome the world.

Again, I quote Spurgeon, who reminds us: “As he died for us when we were ungodly, what will he not do for us now that he has sought us as his own? He gave the highest proof of his love to us when we were most unworthy of it, so will he leave us now?”

Whatever difficulty, tribulation, or affliction that is nearly squeezing the life out of you, take heart Jesus Christ has come to give eternal life to all that the Father has given him.

Friday, January 13, 2017

One Thing for twenty17

The door swung wide open and we stepped into a brand new year.

Some of us leaped with gusto, some of us gingerly tiptoed over the threshold.

For me, there's been a sense of great urgency.

Life rushes on like the last thin line of sand slipping through the hourglass. Try to slow it down, or hold it in your hand and it trickles away right before your eyes.

Our lives really are a whisper of wind, a puff of the briefest breath.

King David sang, "Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!" {Psalm 39:5}

And King Solomon, in all of his wisdom wrote, "For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow?" {Ecclesiastes 6:12}

Yet, the Son of God came to our world, entered into time, and took on flesh, that we might know God and have abundant life.

Last year many of us walked through excruciating heart ache.

Many peeled back the dressings on wounds and uncovered shattered relationships, self-absorbed lives, and staggering loss.

The world raged. Innocent blood spilled. The earth shook. Families rivaled. Some spiraled low, some seethed with bitterness, others pushed through the pain and turned numb. Many blind to the rot of sin in the world.

For some there was healing, a few knew a peace that passes all understanding in spite of all the jagged pieces. Some pressed on to know the joy of the Lord in the midst of all present circumstances.

And all the time, hope rang out, never growing dim.

This new year open before us is a gift to unwrap, each day that we are given is one that the Lord has made and we do well to give thanks and rejoice and be glad in each one.

How many of us have started off a new year with great intentions and brilliant resolutions to improve our habits, our well-being, our life. The most dedicated among us make it past the end of January.

I've found that giving my year "one word" to help remind myself of the truth and promises of God has been a better way for me to begin and live out a year.

The year I survived open-heart surgery and 80 days in ICU, my one word was "with". At the crack of that new year dawning, I wrote:

"I don't know what this year may bring, but when I understand that He is with me I do not need to fear. I have confidence in His presence, that He will complete the work He has determined. I can fight the fight, walk the narrow path because He goes before me."

How often I needed to remind my soul that God was with me and would never leave me that year.

Last year my word was "strength".

My weakness was so evident in every area of my life that I knew I needed to trust that the Lord would strengthen me to accomplish what He had purposed for me and I eagerly anticipated God to work all things out for His glory.

What if this year we don't set out to make a list of great things to accomplish, but focus on one thing?

This year my focus is on more than just 'one word'. It's still not a long list of resolutions, but one main focus: One Thing.

What I hope, earnestly desire, pray all of my life will centre around.

***That I may Know Christ***
Forgetting what lies behind, whether it was remarkable feats or regrettable failures.

And straining, pressing on, reaching out over toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. To know Him completely in all His surpassing glory and goodness, to be conformed into Christ's likeness.

The Apostle Paul, even near the end of his life, still desired above all to know Christ.

It's an all encompassing focus for life; something that cannot be fully attained in this life, but the one thing that we should strain intensely towards to take hold of, to make God's aim for us our own aim. 

God made our reaching the goal possible by sending the Son of God, the Incarnate Christ, Immanuel: ‘God with us’, to take on human flesh and die an atoning death so that we could take hold of the prize to know God.

It is what our hope hinges on.

Jesus said, "I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." {John 10:9-10}

This year may it be our all encompassing focus to know Christ, to grow in deeper intimacy with our Lord Jesus Christ, to love Him with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Hope For Our Hearts

A little over two years ago we returned home.

November 21, 2014, I shuffled out the hospital sliding doors, wearing the same black Birkenstocks that I had worn when I was admitted into Toronto General hospital almost three months prior. The final heat waves of the summer had long faded, the crisp golden days of autumn had blown away like the fallen leaves, and we drove home to a world blanketed with snow that had descended upon us layer upon layer like a cold, thickening darkness. Winter storms hit early that season.

We were ecstatic to all be together once again. We hugged each other tightly as tears welled from deep inside and flowed like a river without a dam. We tripped over the 50 feet of oxygen hose that trailed behind me; the reality of the frailty of life ever before us. There were tears. Tears of rejoicing, yes! There were also tears of uncertainty, frustration, distress, turmoil, and anguish.

The strain of scarcely making it through high-risk open-heart surgery, living 80 crazy days in cardiovascular ICU, setback after setback, being separated as a family had left me cast down. Wave upon relentless wave had battered us. There was still so much hard yet to come.

We took one slow step at a time. There is no doubt that dark, uncertain days and hard and heart-breaking circumstances will come.

But, we must not lose heart. The way forward is to: Trust in the Lord.

There is hope for our hearts in the midst of hard days.

Yet, how do we deal with adversity and distress, pain and suffering? How is it possible to flourish like a tree planted by water when faced days of drought?

The apostle Paul desired to know Christ, and that he might “know him and the power of his resurrection, and [that he] may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,” (Phil 3:10)

It is through suffering that Paul could say in Romans 8: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us . . . we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son . . .”

The good that God is working out all things for those whom he has called and that love Him is that we will be conformed to the image of His Son.

Suffering, we see is a gift as it conforms us into the image of Christ “being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory”. (2 Cor 3:18)

So, how do we handle the adversity and distress that does come into our life without becoming despondent? How do we yield to this working out through suffering?

Oh, there were days, I cried out to God in my distress and all I seemed to hear was an echoing silence. But I firmly believed that God was with me and had me in that place. He was continuing to teach me to be content in all circumstances. I trusted.

In those days, something I had read years before would soothe my weary and worn soul.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones was a medical doctor, yet traded His medical bag in the late 1920’s for the privilege of preaching the message of the Bible. His wise counsel as he preached from Psalm 42, to those who were wading in dark waters was this:

“I say we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing ‘ourselves’ to talk to us. Do you know what that means? . . . Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?” . . . “You have to take yourself in hand, address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say ‘Why art thou cast down?” . . . “You must turn on yourself . . . condemn yourself, exhort yourself and say to yourself ‘Put your hope in God!’ . . . And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, What God is and What God has done and What God has pledged Himself to do. Then, having done that, end on this great note – defy yourself and defy other people and defy the devil and the whole world and say with this man, ‘I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.'”

Do you speak truth to your soul? Do you trust in the steadfast love of God? Do you treasure Him above all?

The father of lies would have us believe we cannot endure, but we must trust in the Lord and His faithful promises and throw them against the despondency.

It is a fight of faith and in enduring we grow in Christ and we become conformed into His likeness to the praise of His glory.

When we endure difficult circumstances and preach to our souls the goodness of God, His Gospel, His glory, we will rejoice in suffering and give thanks to God in all things.

When the storms come, we are held by his steadfast love and anchored and secure in His faithfulness.

As we look away from our troubles and unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, we see Him and our hearts adore the One who suffered the greatest agony and is worthy the greatest glory.

And we find that our hearts are home, right in the hollow of his hand.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...