October 26, 2012

Loose-ends

Loose ends. The term comes from the old days of sailing ships and their multitudinous rigging ropes. Each end had to be tightly bound to prevent it unraveling. I'm a little like a rigging rope; I unravel easily.

Give me predictability, a plan, a steady routine and I hum along through days and weeks and months. Make a sudden move and I jump (ask Jim how many times I've squealed when he's come up silently behind me in the kitchen in the quiet of a pre-breakfast morning.) Ask me to make an unexpected move on short notice and I am overwhelmed at all the minor details required to transition smoothly. And smoothly is the ideal, right?

Loose ends proliferate in my mind. What will unravel if I don't attend to it? I hate lose ends. The unexpected makes me uneasy. I haven't had a chance to prepare for it. I prefer that everything be tickety-boo, (Don't know this expression? Danny Kay will help. Have a listen here! ) (with perhaps a blue-bird on my shoulder too?)  But Life doesn't seem to come in such a tidy package.

My mother-in-law (the greatest cheerleader a wife could hope for) is dying. These many miles away we 'watch' and wonder how long and are poised to travel. Death always seems so unexpected even though it's one thing in life that is assured.

For that matter, life itself is a series of loose ends. Growing up is that—for both child and parent. What will the future hold? Parenting is not an occupation with a tidy job description. Just do this and that and results are guaranteed. Child 4 of 5 is moving out next week. Did we see it coming? Well, yes. Was I expecting it? Well, yes. But am I ready? No. Shouldn't there be a ceremony of some sort? Should it be a celebration or a teary-eyed farewell? Both, I think. But it will pass without fanfare. We may not even be here to wave…

Whether it's a tiff or a task, a birth or a death, or all the growing up in between, I long for the peace of resolution, completion and closure. The uncertainty of the unknown plagues me like a canker sore at holiday time. Makes me edgy and, well, at a loss to know what to do next—'at loose ends' you might say! Leaves me not knowing what to do with expectations. Do I postpone hope or nourish it at risk of disappointment?

Unanswered prayer is another loose end I've been staring in the face this week. Praying without fainting on the one hand, and on the other, resting in faith that my prayers have been heard (even when I can't see the end results!) I don't find this an easy balance. But I'm pretty sure that redoubling my efforts, fueled by doubt as to whether I've been heard, is not the solution. There is no peace here. One could argue from the case of the persistent widow petitioning the unjust judge, but my petitions sometimes seem more like the odious sound of a dripping faucet, the likeness of a quarreling wife never pacified, (Prov.27:15) nagging reminder that her will has not yet been done.

Must I have all the answers before I can rest? Must I know 'the rest of the story' before I will trust? Life is too long a process to be lived in this suspended animation of holding my breath till I can see all the outcomes. Or of living beneath guilt, that I am to blame for hopes gone awry, and therefore must do something, or at least pray harder?!

As a related aside, I read this helpful word from John Piper this week in response to a mother who was feeling the guilt of her child's suicide:

"If you spend your time trying to figure out whether you should be feeling guilty, you'll always come up with an ambiguity. Just relax and feel guilty, and then deal with it the only way that you'll be able to deal with it at the judgment day, because I promise you at the judgment day you'll feel guilty….And if you don't have a solution for that issue now, you may not then. So let's just relax. We're guilty as charged. And now I repent."
[eds:John Piper, Justin Taylor,Stand: A Call for the Endurance of the Saints, Crossway Books, 2008,p.138]

But this whole pressure of wanting loose ends resolved and prayers dramatically answered (now), has come to a head this week. I have been wrestling for assurances instead of resting in the ones already given. Fixation with present loose-ends distorts my perception of God's overarching purposes and unremitting vigilance to fulfill them.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, thou rulest in might;

(from Immortal, Invisible God only Wise—Walter Smith, 1876)

I've had to step back, repent, and ask for fresh faith to see His ways as I ought. If I insist on loose ends all being properly tied up before I am at peace… well I am not going to know much rest. It is not to the one who has no loose ends in view that God promises rest, but to the one who knows who is in charge of all those frizzled ends!

They have not known my ways, they will not enter my rest… He said.

We are in fact the flock in His pasture, the sheep of His hand. (Ps.95:7,10-11) The desert walk was a long trudge for the children of Israel. It got hot. Sometimes hunger and thirst set in. The end in sight for the parent generation was death! But for their children, the promised land. For both parents and children the directive was to follow the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night and learn to trust God to care for all the loose ends, all the details in between. He longed for them to know His ways and experience His rest.

I have to come back to this story and specifically this Psalm 95 again and again, and I pray often David's prayer: " Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long." Ps.25:4,5 This was, incidentally, the verse inscribed on a prominent plaque in my mother-in-law's home. I read it many times. It continues to be my own prayer…

And He hears, and answers. What have I seen this week of His ways?

  • Firstly He asks that I hold on to faith. The righteous must live by it. There's no alternative. We do not and will not see the whole story God is orchestrating until this life's chapter is closed. Habakkuk's testimony beckons me to do the same. In the face of impending disaster—the enemy invading, he writes (and I paraphrase):

I will stand at my watchpost and look out to see what God will saythere is an appointed time—it comes—if it seems slow, wait for it. In the meantime, "The righteous shall live by his faith." Don't count on idols. "The Lord is in His holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before Him." (Hab.2:1-4; 18-20) There's no way around the necessity of faith. We do not need a 'sign' of His presence and provision. We need to count on it, come what may.

  • Another reminder. This life may seem to be a riot of loose ends but the things that matter most are forever secured. Jesus finished His mission (Jn.19:30) My sin debt has been cancelled. I am somehow declared forgiven and therefore perfect, while yet in the process of having my loose ends bound up… "because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy." Heb.10:14 What a paradox.

He invites me to revel in this place of grace, to firmly take my stand by faith that I am His, as is, by grace alone. Not because I scrambled to tie up the loose ends of my unrighteousness into an acceptable offering, but because of His mercy.

  • Lastly, there is this: He found me before I knew to seek Him. He shows Himself to those who have not asked. Ultimately, 'it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy." (Rom.9:16) And that is the other 'way of God' I've been reminded of this week—His sovereignty. Have you read Romans 10 and 11 lately? Here is the marvel of the Gentiles being grafted into the family tree of Israel, being brought into fellowship with God. In the meantime God's own people, the Jews' are hardened against their Saviour and Messiah. But only for a time. It's part of a bigger plan of redemption that reaches to you and me.

God's purposes run far beyond the circumstances we behold on any given month or year! They are eternal. We are the clay and He is the potter. It's not our place to question why one heart is hardened--one pot designed for 'dishonorable use', while another is fashioned for honorable use. He works in everything to show the riches of His glory', not ours. Everything is from Him, through Him and to Him. No loose ends excluded! Every strand will be woven for His eternal glory. (Rom.11:36)

In these things I only scratch the surface of God's ways. Ultimately they are so far above ours as to be inscrutable, past finding out! (Rom.11:33) Mercifully, we are given glimpses, and this assurance--He is the alpha and omega (the beginning and the end). And in between? We are asked to present the loose ends of our lives to Him for His use, as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable though frayed around the edges! (Rom.12:1-2)

Knowing I am in His hands for His purposes I can take a deep breath (and let it out!) and pack, and travel unexpectedly, and parent and pray and walk in a frazzled world, by faith that in every 'loose end' He is at work.

The ways of the LORD are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.Hos.14:9

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Be encouraged with me as you consider these verses that point to the great end of all loose ends—

The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. (I Pet.4:7)

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. (Heb.3:13,14)

He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. (I Cor.1:8,9)

Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near. (James 5:7,8)

Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. (I Cor 15:24)

His kingdom will have no end. (Luke 1:33)

And I hope you won't think it irreverent or impertinent if I tack on this carefree song from my childhood—Zip-a-dee-doo-day, Zip-a-dee-ay—there's plenty of sunshine heading our way!! It's the truth; it's actual. Everything is 'satisfactual' after all!

--LS

"I will meditate on your precepts, and fix my eyes on your ways…" Ps.119:15

October 19, 2012

Here in the Shadow


He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
Ps.91:1

Here in the Shadow—Shannon Wexelberg

The autumn rains have returned.  I plunked a Vitamin D capsule by my cereal bowl this morning.  We are braced for a change in weather.  In other ways this is a new season for us.  Changing seasons usually bring unsettled weather.  That’s been true too.  I made a wardrobe switch this week, digging out all my turtlenecks and long wool skirts, tucking away my sunny wear till the sun returns.  Getting ready.  And with the wet roads we’ve parked the tandem so I ‘m back to my ‘hamster wheel’—the elliptical trainer upstairs.  What’s good about this absolutely mind-numbing exercise is the chance it gives me to praise and worship.  I pop in my earphones and press a button and my mind is turned to the glory of God and the truth of the gospel.  As my heart pounds and my muscles contract my soul sings for all its worth and I am freed to worship with body, mind and soul. 

I needed that tonight.  There had been tears and sadness today.  Disappointment.  A sense of loss.  A passionate voicing of our core values and our concerns--a being heard but not really understood.  A knowing we have let others down in our decisions, have caused them sadness, but cannot do otherwise.  Convictions not shared.  Friendships maintained, but changed.  Seasons change…

How do I prepare for a new season?  First I run to the shadow of God’s wings (sit myself down alone, journal in hand, worship music playing…and cry!) and resting here I begin to know He is the King. He orders our days.  Times and seasons are in His hand.  He knows all that concerns me.

I remember Sunday’s sermon taken from Acts 1.  Jesus had risen. The disciples were sure their freedom from the rule of Rome was just around the corner.  Would Jesus set up His Kingdom now?!   This would seem to be the obvious opportunity.  Jesus had shown His power.  He could do it NOW.  But He didn’t.  We can have our plans. We can think them His.  We can lay out the whole triumphant scenario in our mind’s eye and believe it is God’s game plan too—and that we are key players.  Then he shatters our worlds with:

“It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” 

He has bigger plans than our most compelling interests.  His kingdom building entails details far beyond the scope of our knowledge.  In this case, Israel becoming an independent nation wasn’t in view, not for a long while. The disciples had overlooked an enormous interim project--the coming of the Gospel to the whole Gentile world!  The disciples were thinking in their little sphere, of their own especial interest—their own temporal  freedom.  God had plans so much bigger.  His Kingdom is an everlasting Kingdom.  He’s in no rush. He will plug us in where He will, when He will, how He will.  It’s His call.

But there is a promise given that restores our hope.  He does plan to use us.  And he will equip us for our task.  For this He sends His Spirit, to make us able witnesses.  This too, in His time.  In this instance, the disciples are told to wait…another reminder that the Father is in control of times and seasons.  This first coming of the Spirit, token of Christ’s ascension to the Father,  was perfectly timed to fulfill the long-held Jewish Feast of Pentecost.  Did they know?  Did they imagine the significance of this moment for which they waited?  They only knew they held a promise and they waited…

And this I know, that this same Spirit blows where He will.  He touches lives, He enlightens, He revives, He imprints us for the Kingdom…And as wind blows in changing seasons, so the Spirit is at work in His good time, in our days. In my disappointment, my sadness.  In change.  I can rest in this certainty.  All is well in the shadow of His wings.

--LS

And there is nothing quite like worship to turn my woes into carefree worship of the One who is worthy to be rejoiced in!

Hail to the King—Shannon Wexelberg

October 11, 2012

My Own Soundtrack

God is here in these moments as I finish up the supper dishes, everyone gone out for the evening but me, here, with Him. Grateful. There is no audible presence. No proof of His nearness. Just His Word, His oath—I will never leave you nor forsake you… Tonight that is enough.

I walked this afternoon, the days now cool and gray, accented with the brilliance of changing leaves. The energy of rhythm and of the stirring lyrics sung in my ears put a spring in my steps. I smiled thinking of something Jim once said: "Imagine life with your own soundtrack."  Yes, imagine it, just like in the movies. You know, that behind-the-scenes music that sets the tone for what's going to happen, whether romance (bring on the violins!) or suspense or drama. The music makes the mood.

I need a soundtrack some days. Like this morning. I woke early fretting like a silly mother hen, fretting because someone's got to do it if things are going to change, right?!  What I needed was an inspiring soundtrack to stir my soul to rise and believe in things yet unseen…

Instead I woke dwelling on my insufficiency for all that came to mind! I prayed, but sleepily and doubtful, loathe to leave the comfort of warm covers, though needing far more to rouse body and soul to the truth of the matter: My grace is sufficient for you in your weakness…II Cor.12:9

But now at the other end of the day I am ready to write out some things I am sure of, my 'soundtrack' if you will, for foggy mornings when my head's all sleepy and my faith unsteady, mornings when I need the rhythm and music of truth ringing in my ears. Let these things sound in the background of my days:

#1 God is our Shepherd, faithful to shepherd every generation. (Ps.95,100)

This goes for me and my kids, whose success in life is my greatest obsession and easily rises to become idolatry. Each of us must bring our dreams, our fears, and our desires to Him and bow down. He's our Maker. If He leads through a wilderness where we cannot find a thing to drink, we have only to ask, not to whine, not to threaten, not to mutiny. He waits to hear our voice, to see our trust, to know what's in our hearts. This is our test, not His. It is not for us to demand that He prove His nearness: "Is the Lord among us or not?!" (Ex.17:7) We are to trust His heart and learn His ways of answering our every prayer—whether we see instant results or not. He is shepherding. Only by trusting will we find rest.

#2 God does as He pleases. The will of man is no obstacle to Him.

"Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come? Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins?" (Lam.3:37-39)

Gone are the days when the solution is as simple as "she spanked them all soundly and sent them to bed". My charges are no longer living in my shoe. But they are not out of reach of the God who has chosen and called them for His glory. He will fulfill His purposes without the old woman's spanking spoon! Nebuchadnezzar learned these things the hard way. His sanity was restored only after he was willing to acknowledge that God's kingdom far outranked his own:

"He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: 'What have you done?'" Dan.4:35

I sometimes pray as if in a 'spoof' of the old hymn, Have Thine Own Way, Lord.* It's as though I've rewritten it to "I want my own way, Lord. I want my own way". No wonder I don't find peace when I'm through! I want what I want, and soon. Surely He does too? I want us all to live happily ever after. I want for my children the good things we have found. I want for them to be unscathed by the mistakes that we have made. Is this too much to ask? Can I assume God's thoughts are my thoughts on this? And then just pray my will be done as though I were the potter and He the clay? As though "power all power, surely is...[mine!]". I can easily forget that God does not exist to fulfill my dreams but that we exist for His glory, however He intends to bring that about. The Kingdom is His and the Glory and the Power. He is not thwarted by man.

#3 God is able to keep that which I've entrusted to Him (and He to me!) (II Tim.1:12)

He is in fact able to do exceeding abundantly above all that I ask or even think? His power is already at work. Must I see it to believe or will I choose to trust His Word? (Eph.1:19,20) Will I trust Him too with my dreams? His are far better and though they foil my best-timed scenarios, His have eternity in view!

#4 Only God is able to change a heart, to fill it with hope, to reveal an unseen inheritance, and to give courage and strength. But I can pray. (Eph.1:17-19)

These things are sure, my stirring soundtrack for mornings that dawn foggy… Can you hear the music?

I read an article this week titled: Four Essentials for Finishing Well.** The author summarized by commending these four keys to persevering. I pass them on to you in closing:

  • a daily time of focused communion with God
  • a daily appropriation of the gospel
  • a daily presenting yourself as a living sacrifice, and
  • a continual firm belief in the sovereignty and the goodness of God

And to these I say 'Amen!' , by the grace of God 'so be it' in my life. Bring on the soundtrack!

--LS

 

“Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” Ps.95:1

"…who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began" II Tim.1:9

“…for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” II Tim.1:12

‘Today if you hear His voice, do not harden you hearts…’ Ps.95:7

----------------------------

*Have Thine Own Way, Lord! by Adelaide Pollard, 1862-1934. Words available here.

**by Jerry Bridges, p.35, Stand: A Call for the Endurance of the Saints. Eds. John Piper and Justin Taylor, Crossway Books, 2008.

October 5, 2012

Faithful Ones

I’m grateful this week for God’s faithfulness because it is the rock that steadies my own fickleness.

I weary of my fainting faith, of my fickle heart that fills with hope and confidence one moment but is so easily cast into doubt and sent racing off in desperation to do something at the next moment! Could it be my hopes are staked on tangible evidence and not on God's faithfulness—His character and 'track record' as revealed in His Word?!

So this has been a week for reflecting gratefully on God’s faithfulness, realizing that the extent to which I treasure it, count on it, stake my life upon it, to that extent my life will reflect it. And I too will be characterized by a steady confidence, unswayed by externals, grounded in God's unchanging Word, His revelation of who He is.

I sat one morning this week and read slowly through the book of Lamentations . I wanted to see the lead up to those 'famous' verses we love to sing: "Great is thy Faithfulness." How many times have I stood singing this great hymn, my heart brimming with all the 'good things' I can remember, grateful for God's care in multiple situations, sometimes brought to tears at the reminiscence of His steady love for me? But Lamentations does not read at all like this! It's a bleak little book in some respects (as per the title). The measure of God's faithfulness in Lamentations has little to do with feeling good or even seeing His hand at all. It is the record of God's faithfulness to His own Word and His consequent disciplining of His children to bring them back from idols to treasure only Him. This too is God's faithfulness. The sum of God's faithfulness extends far beyond the 'good things' we perceive He's done for us…

"How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become…she weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks." So begins the poignant description of God's beloved Judah now gone into exile: loveless, desolate, afflicted, suffering bitter enslavement to her foes. Why? 'because the Lord has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions' (Lam.1:1-5)

Israel’s loving God does things we'd expect of a tyrant: He sent fire into my bones; He spread a net for my feet; He turned me back; He left me stunned. To sum up graphically: "My transgressions were bound into a yoke; by his hand they were fastened together; they were set upon my neck; he caused my strength to fail" (Lam.1:13,14) His people have rebelled against His word, (1:18) their prophets have spoken false and deceptive visions of comfort rather than exposing their sin (2:14) and now it is left to God to restore His people to their inheritance but not without first bringing them to their knees in repentance, and what a horrific process follows.

The first two tragically sad chapters capture Israel's situation. Then Jeremiah begins a lament of his own. As God's messenger he has had to suffer with the people of God. And they've gone and plunked him in a mud-filled well to die; they don't want to hear His warnings. So Jeremiah's own life-mission seems like a failure. There's very much to be sad about! But into this chapter midstream of all this grief comes our hymn-- this marvelous statement of God's faithfulness, and in it Jeremiah's own faithfulness is evident:

"But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;

his mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.

'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul, 'therefore I will hope in Him.'

The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.

It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.

It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth…."

Jeremiah has not lost hope. By faith he sees salvation on the horizon. He knows God is faithful and that his love is not absent even in the most horrendous of circumstances. Recognizing the LORD's unchanging character he urges the people to examine their own ways and return to Him (3:40) Jeremiah chooses to rest his soul in God's unchanging character despite what he witnesses day to day… And eventually his lament ends with the acknowledgement: "But you, O LORD, reign forever; your throne endures to all generations." (5:19) He's still filled with questions of why the agony must last so long but He knows his is a faithful God. And in the hanging on to this knowing Jeremiah shows himself to be in the line of those who will be rewarded with those words: 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant'.

His applause didn't come on earth. The nation of Israel was carried off into bondage never to return. Judah was exiled only to return in straggles some 70 years later and eventually to be overrun for good till recent history. But Jeremiah fulfilled his role in proclaiming the faithfulness of God to His Word and His people.

These are reminders I need. Life is not about success or fulfilled expectations. It's not even about knowing only sweetness with no bitterness mixed in. It's about counting on a faithful God when the streams flow smoothly at my side and through the rocky painful passages too, and in this confidence, walking in faithfulness, a sheep at the side of a very good shepherd.

These ponderings have encouraged my soul this week. I hope they’ll do the same for you.  We serve a faithful God--faithful to His Word, faithful to His character.  He calls us to stake our lives on who He is no matter what comes. 

[Faithful One is a song that brings home this truth winsomely. Listen here.]

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand
. Ps.95:6,7

--LS

If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.II Tim.2:13

"Return, O faithless sons, I will heal your faithlessness."
--"Behold, we come to You; For You are the LORD our God.
Jer.3:22

There is no Rock like our God.” I Sam.2:2

God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good? Behold, I have received commandment to bless: and he hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it.” Numbers 23:19