February 24, 2009

Just the Way You Are...

There's something about a love song that grabs a girl's heart. It's not just the tune, though that can be the winsome agent that sets your heart singing. A good love song says things my very soul longs to hear and believe. [My kids tell me I'm silly to always be listening for lyrics and rejecting a song if it's got unacceptable ones...After all, if the tune grabs you why let a few words get in the way! But ahhh it's a sweet song that delivers both.]

So what does my soul want to hear? That I am loved, as I am, forever and always, no chance of losing favor, no matter what I do (or don't)... That someone I love is crazy about me... That he likes me just the way I am! That someone I love wants to talk to me and listen to what's on my mind... That he loves my company...

Well, yes, I guess that's what my soul wants to hear. And I believe that's because I was created for such a love. Secular artists may not know their Source but when they write lyrics and sing tunes that resonate with a love like this, they echo faintly a Love beyond human comparison. I found a song like that. When I listen as if it were written for me, expressing God's own heart, it makes my soul sing and my face reflect the pleasure.

Try it and see ( :

Billy Joel sings "Just the Way You Are"

Don't go changing, to try and please me
You never let me down before
Don't imagine you're too familiar
And I don't see you anymore
I wouldn't leave you in times of trouble
We never could have come this far
I took the good times, I'll take the bad times
I'll take you just the way you are
Don't go trying some new fashion
Don't change the color of your hair
You always have my unspoken passion
Although I might not seem to care
I don't want clever conversation
I never want to work that hard
I just want someone that I can talk to
I want you just the way you are.
I need to know that you will always be
The same old someone that I knew
What will it take till you believe in me
The way that I believe in you.
I said I love you and that's forever
And this I promise from the heart
I could not love you any better
I love you just the way you are.

And that was Joel (Billy). Here's how Zephaniah* puts it:

"Sing aloud... shout! Rejoice and exult with all your heart,...the LORD has taken away the judgments against you... The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil...He will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by HIs love; He will exult over you with loud singing!"

Now that's a love song worth taking to heart!

*(Zephaniah 3:14-17)

February 16, 2009

Reckless Faith or Ruthless Trust?

I've been contemplating the topic for this blog for a while. Should I address my mounting frustration with emotional faith... the sort that constantly seeks experiential evidences to affirm God's presence... Or should I avoid personal remarks and stick with a bland book review of John MacArthur's book: Reckless Faith, in which he addresses what he sees as the hazards of modern Evangelicalism. He sees a trend in which emotional experiences trump doctrinal soundness. He says our churches have lost their ability to discern truth from error. Even 'discernment' has become a mystical, feeling-oriented commodity available to the special few...I found the book a refreshing slap of cold doctrine that sets straight a lot of silliness that goes on in the name of ‘faith’.

Then I glanced at the title of another book I’m currently reading…and that was it, I had my seed thought--their titles. Ironically enough they are: Reckless Faith (MacArthur) and Ruthless Trust (Manning). And one is the perfect complement to the other (though I’m not sure the authors would themselves agree!)

As I see it, there is a problem with a 'reckless' faith that demands God to act. Is it faith that is at work when I seek an experience in order to validate my faith? This is an incomplete faith. Trust is the missing component. Trust is faith coupled with that childlike hope in the Father’s love that makes no demands but rests in what the Father chooses for my life. It does not demand that He intervene in my every discomfort. It is a faith that trusts Him to ‘call the shots’. It is the stuff of the Hebrews 11 Hall of Fame—who clung to God’s promises though they did not receive what they waited for. They died in hope, trusting God’s grace to carry them through. They did not shake His promises in His face as though He were obligated to ‘come through for me now!’

The underlying premise of Ruthless Trust is that the splendor of a human heart which trusts that it is loved gives God more pleasure than the most magnificent cathedral, symphony or work of art. Such a heart brings Him more delight than ‘the sight of ten thousand butterflies in flight, or the scent of a million orchids in bloom.’ (2)

This ‘ruthless trust’ stands in sharp contrast to a ‘reckless faith’ which bases its validity in ‘powerful’ (often emotional) experiences. Such ‘faith’ is reckless because it is easily duped and its gaze easily turned away from its Author and Finisher. It may claim to be Spirit-led but the Spirit’s role is to point us to Jesus, not to draw attention to Himself!

What then is to be the plumb line by which I measure an experience, a book, a testimony? From my experience, there must be some criterion beyond my own experience! It can’t be all about what God seems to be saying to you or to me or what I’m feeling. This makes for a queasy quagmire, a subjective soup! God is Spirit and Truth. This is the very reason God has given us His written and authoritative, infallible Word, and yes, His Spirit to guide us in it. And His Spirit will never lead us contrary to what is written. Nor will He add to its content. The written Word of God is our trustworthy foundation. Here I can stake a ruthless trust.

And when my faith quavers and I want to experience more of God, or hear His voice more certainly or discover the secret of spiritual power…. what do I do then? How do I resist the urge to seek an experience? And on those days when feelings threaten to overpower reality, what then?
I guess we all want these things, and there are a LOT of voices out there with answers, but none so safe, so good, so sure as God’s own Word.
It is our life—we dare not try to live by bread alone.

The Israelites cried "Is God among us or not?!" They put God to the test. God was not honored or impressed. He called them hard-hearted and said they had not known His ways! (Ps. 95; Numbers 11)

How much better for me to take Him at His Word and rest in ruthless abandon in His trustworthy goodness poured out on my life continually!

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in You; in God whose Word I praise, in God I put my trust…” Ps. 56:4


[Thank-you for hearing me out. I’d love to know your thoughts…LS]

February 2, 2009

Happy? How did that happen?!

I was recently awarded this tag for overcoming a period of gloomy days and regaining equilibrium and good cheer.... As a mom it's hard to escape notice when life falls flat and your feelings are reflected on your face. I've just come through such a time and I guess I didn't hide it very well. The tag was from my youngest child in the middle of a happy school morning--the first in a while. It was the first day of a general upswing in disposition that caught me by surprise.

So I've been reflecting on what brought about the change. I'd like to know if there's a magic 'key' so I can use it sooner next time to escape the ''gloomies". These are the factors I've considered. Maybe they will be of use to you too in escaping the 'fog' that life sometimes enters...

#1 Chocolate. I say this tongue in cheek. They say the stuff does have a real chemical effect that cheers you up. I did dip into my little stash of Cadbury Milk Chocolate straight from England. It was creamy and smooth and felt good going down but... I'd have to say, it didn't have much long-term effect.

#2 Exercise. I mention this one a lot because I know it makes a big difference for me. It's almost like a drug. Endorphins are the thing it triggers. Work hard aerobically and they're almost guaranteed to make you feel better, afterward anyway! However this time I got on my bike and headed up the highway and it was freezing cold. My hands very quickly froze and then grew painful. I couldn't think about much else. I resented the whole thing and returned home feeling rather spent and not really comforted. Exercise doesn't always yield an instant gratifying result. I'm sure it had a longer term positive effect but for the moment, it seemed to intensify my gloominess.

#3 Sleep. This was my effort one day. There seemed to be a physical component to my 'sadness'. My eyelids were heavy even though I'd slept fine, had breakfast and even been out to town and back for an appointment. It was only 9 in the morning. But I went back to bed anyway with no knowing when I'd feel like getting up! And who knows how long I'd have lain there half asleep mulling over life, my troubles, and their solutions...and trying to recall Scripture that might apply...

#4 Friends. But there came a knocking at the door. And lo and behold it was the mail lady delivering 3 cards from friends. All beautiful in picture and sentiment. All personal. All affirming. Only God could have arranged for that. And it was enough to get me out of bed and into my rocker in the sun.

#5 Sunshine. Its effects cannot be underestimated. I don't think we know how good the sun really is for us. We've always been warned to avoid it. But when it shines in the thick of winter, it nourishes the soul and really seems to have a physical effect as well. Is this just Vitamin D? I wonder.

#6 Honesty with God and myself. OK so there was a particular morning where I'd reached the boiling point. Issues I hadn't been able to resolve had built up. I had asked the Lord for wisdom and guidance but I didn't feel like He'd answered me. I was up a creek without a paddle and failing to make any headway. I was angry. I took myself outside paper and pen in hand and (sitting in the car all bundled up) began to journal my thoughts, my complaints, my 'case'! I took it to God and admitted where I was at. I recognized I was actually angry at God because I believed He hadn't 'come through' for me! This caught me off guard. But getting it out in the open, admitting it, was a critical step because it quickly began to dawn on me that I was believing a lie. I might feel that it was true but the Word of God is far truer than any feelings I might come up with. Something might be wrong but it certainly wasn't with God!! Just coming to that point was a big step. Because when I come in repentance I can again see Him as my Ally, not my enemy. And I can ask Him to clarify what I'm missing. He has promised wisdom. If I'm not getting it, then it's me that's double-minded, not Him that's miserly! So, that was the start. Though admittedly, I was restless in my complaints and not ready to sit and hear all I needed to hear.

#7 The Word. For this little outing I had also taken my Bible, in case there might be something there to point me in the right direction. Oh my. And did it ever. James 1 had all sorts of things to say to me, about how to latch onto wisdom (ask--in faith. No doubting allowed), about how to manage trials(rejoice, they're perfecting you), about how to receive the Word if you expect it to save your soul! (Meekly! not defending yourself and your 'case'). It was good stuff. And some solace. But still I wanted answers. Still I was focused on my perceived troubles... [The Word came into play again later also, when I was less agitated and more ready to hear. This time it was comforting and reassuring, and probably The Key to bringing peace to my heart. Very sweet. God is faithful].

#8 Psalms and Hymns. A sunny afternoon came along. [Mind you, all these factors did not come into play on the same day. We are covering a few days' time here!]. OK so I must get out for a walk. I chose a formerly favorite destination overlooking the Strait though nature walks had lost their appeal. Life still felt flat mostly. And I walked. When I got to the overlook I sat and began leafing through Psalms, finding the ones focused on praise and reading them out loud. I have recently bought a Message New Testament, not because I think it a great translation but because it offers a fresh perspective, modern language, in which I can express praise... So I read through some Psalms out loud as my own expression of praise. Did I feel it? Not at first. But I know it to be true. I know God is worthy of praise no matter what my circumstances may seem to be... And my heart did begin to thaw. Perhaps life wasn't so flat... I suppose it was a beautiful day...And my soul began to be revived. I went on to sing some hymns and sign the parts I could (in ASL). This was truly therapeutic. Could this be why we are commanded to sing to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs? "It is good to sing praises to our God;...a song of praise is fitting."(Ps.147:1)

#9 Reflection on God's true character. Somewhere in this process, my thinking was righted by thinking about who God truly is. While I was whining along, complaining, I was believing bad things about Him. When I reminded myself that He is always loving, always good, never changing, and always keeps His promises, well... then something had to give way. Perhaps the fault was with my hearing...

#10 Taking time to Listen. To be honest, looking back I think the crisis point could probably have been avoided had I faithfully spent time in the Word every morning and consistently kept asking God for answers and listening to Him! My problem was that the more 'tired' I thought I was, the more I justified sleeping in past that sweet time of morning when I was guaranteed to find Him ready and waiting to meet with me alone, in the quiet, before the day was rolling. I had neglected this and it was showing... The day things turned 'happy' again was the day I got up and commenced an old habit called 'Morning Pages'. This is a practice of journaling first thing in the morning whatever comes to mind. It is a unique opportunity to find out what's really on your mind. Artists and people in pursuit of their creative genius practice this. But I find as a believer it is especially helpful to me. I not only clarify what I am troubled about but it gives me a chance to mull it over before God and hear His quiet nudges as He points out things I wasn't aware of and suggests changes of action I might take. It has always been helpful when I take the time for it. And so I recommenced the habit ( :

And with that my days turned a corner from fog to light again. I feel like I've woken up again. My interest in taking pictures and blogging, in teaching Rachel and drawing, in being in touch with friends and enjoying my family... all these are coming alive again.
And oh, where is that Cadbury chocolate? I believe I've eaten it all up!


I'd be interested to hear what your experiences are with staying out of the 'bogs' of life. Leave a comment here or e-mail me 'that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith.'