February 28, 2014

Safely Home

The best part of a bad dream is when you open your eyes, and you're home--safe and snug in your bed, untouched by the perils you dreamt of. Whew! I had a particularly harrowing ride in the wee hours the other morning. I hung on to the side of a monstrously big truck, squeezing by, scraping through, narrowly missing…on my way to some unknown drop-off point where I needed still to find my car (and my keys) and get myself home…And then I opened my eyes. Ah—I'm home already! Whew!

I'm often lost in my dreams--on convoluted highways trying to choose the right exits to get me safely home. Or down long hallways of doors, none of which opens to my room. Or on elevators which go not only up and down but also sideways—very confusing. [I think this nightmare harks from my short and troubled career as a candy-striper in a big hospital—charged with collecting blood and urine samples from every possible department and getting them to the lab in a timely fashion… and then sorting and delivering the internal mail. I would gladly have stayed in the mailroom forever sorting and popping mail in slots. How I disliked those meandering halls and elevators.]

I am a homebody at heart, never so at rest as when I'm home with familiar walls around me and mundane predictable tasks to accomplish. Even an empty nest is a cozy place to be.

Likely that's why so often my dreams, and my prayers, are about someone finding the way home—safely.

I pray this for my Dad who is lost in the ever worsening confusion of Alzheimer's still. How long Lord, before you rescue him from this dysfunctional body and bear him safely home?

I remember the day my Grandma (his mom) died—and the comforting relief that came with the thought that now she was safely home beyond the reach of harm, beyond the confines of an aging body. She was the classic farm Grandma--the indispensable family hub we wished could stay forever. She collected eggs, kept the cookie tins full, hosted family picnics and well, she worried about all of us. This was her besetting weakness. But it seemed legitimate, the grandmotherly thing to do. She loved us, right? So whenever our family was away she would sit up late in her rocker, watching the road that ran by down at the foot of the farmhouse lawn. She would wait for us to pass. Then she'd know we'd made it safely home from our travels and she could go to bed…

Are such traits inheritable? Or is this just part of the human condition? Was my relief at her death for her benefit, or for mine in no longer needing to worry what might befall her?

I pray too for black sheep, or if you prefer, lost sheep, wishing them safely home—family and friends who have somehow lost their way and distrusted the wooing voice of the Good Shepherd. In shunning hypocrisy they have missed the reality of life in Christ altogether.

An uncle lives on the streets of a cold city this winter without even a birth certificate to call his own, or a homeless shelter's welcome. Somehow he was derailed from the Kingdom in his youth despite his God-fearing parents' devotion. We long for him to be brought safely Home.

Question: When are we safe this side of eternity?

When our children are young we hover and protect, thinking we can keep them safe. As they grow we train and warn, hoping they will play it safe with life. When they are 'all grown up' we watch and hold our breaths. But when do we get to breathe again? When is there nothing to worry about? When are we safe this side of eternity? Is there a magic age or stage that we reach and then it's smooth coasting, no worries?

What a nonsense phrase 'No worries' is! Who are we trying to kid? There is always something that can be worried about. And who better to do it than a mother?!

"I wouldn't worry about it", the husband says.

The wife's retort: "That's why I have to!"

But it occurs to me that in my longing for all I love to be 'safely home' I am left with a dilemma not resolvable till death! Ridiculous. My refusal to rest from anxiety till each is 'safely home' is little more than a death wish. For as long as there is life there will be uncertainty of circumstance. Risk. Danger. And even bad dreams that won't go away. In this lifetime there is ample reason to fear for their well-being, if I'm dependent on worry and faithless prayers to see them through!

What is the value of a faith that doesn't dispel such fears and live at peace?

Home is our destination, but it's the walk of faith that takes us there. And in this life we will always be sojourners, never having quite arrived. Thus the need for faith—that assures us of things hoped for but not yet seen (Heb.11:1).

This week's Sunday sermon challenged us to consider how our lives give evidence of such faith. The proverbial chair that we say we believe will hold us up, is sitting there. Will we sit down in it? Or do we stand idly by boasting of the faith we possess but unwilling to put it to the test? James wrote: "Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works." He demonstrated that 'faith apart from works is useless' (James 2:20) by citing the life of Abraham.

I went back again this week to Abraham's story noting the things he did by faith.

He left with God the responsibilities that were God's. But he paid close attention to each thing God required of him in the process of fulfilling His purposes for Abraham.

So, what did Abraham actually do to be commended for his faith?

First and last, he listened to God's voice, with a heart willing to do whatever He said. In the middle, he obeyed and waited.

Contrary to some popular teaching, listening to God isn't a matter of just tuning in to a voice that's always speaking and immediately responsive to our every inquiry. But God does speak in ways we can hear. After all, He designed us to commune with Him. And in Christ that fellowship is restored so that by His Spirit living in the believer, He speaks.

The question is, how am I at listening? Am I 'slow of heart' (Lk.24:25) to believe what He says? I know I can be hard-hearted, resistant to trusting God's direction, preferring my 'tried and true' solutions sometimes. Ideally we will have soft hearts that purr with 'Yes, God, anything You say I will do. I trust You completely. All your ways are good.' Abraham had this kind of heart. He believed God. And God spoke to Him.

God said out of the blue: "Go, to a land I'll show you." (Gen.12) Abraham could have responded with: 'Who are You, anyway?' or 'Why?' or "No, I'm happy here." But he didn't. He got up and went, leaving his comfortable life and home behind to spend the rest of his life living in tents. [Question: Was he living in tents before this time? I don't know.] He went, listening all the while for where to go and when to stop! He trusted God.

Little by little God's plan for him unfolded. Little by little he obeyed. There were questions: How will I have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky if I have no children? Will my servant be my heir? But when God answered, Abraham believed Him and set his heart to wait for the fulfillment of God's purposes. That's the second thing I noticed that Abraham DID to give evidence of His faith. He waited.

He only got into trouble when he gave in to fear ('She's my sister'—Gen.12) or when he listened to Sarah's voice rather than God's (Gen.16). She had such an innovative plan for accomplishing God's will! (We women can be good at coming up with these!) Wrong plan. Wrong heir.

No, a big part of Abraham's obedience was waiting God's timing. He was 75 when he packed his bags to live the rest of his life in tents in a strange land. Eleven years  passed before Ishmael was born! Now he was 86. Then there was silence for another THIRTEEN years while he and Sarah just got older and older…increasing the impossibility of fertility even further! Sometimes waiting on God is the very best way to show that we believe.

Then came another opportunity to act. God said: Circumcise all the males in your household. And Abraham did it 'that very day' (Gen.17). He was NINETY-NINE by then. But no dawdling. He was a 'doer of the Word' (James 1:22) if ever there was one.

Shortly thereafter came the big announcement, and another opportunity for Abraham to take action. God said: This time next year your wife will have a son. (Gen.18:14) Here was a part for Abraham to play—making love to his ninety year old wife—yet another step of obedience in the fulfillment of God's purposes.

You get the idea, there were actions Abraham took because he had faith. He moved. He waited. He circumcised the males in his household. And he had sex with his wife. But the fulfillment of the seemingly impossible promises was entirely up to God.

"Is anything too hard for the LORD?" (Gen.18:14)

Andrew Murray puts it this way, in his reflections on Psalm 37:
"Do what God asks you to do; God will do more than you can ask Him to do." (Waiting on God, p.65)

God doesn't ask us to do the impossible, only to believe that He can and will in His good time. We show we believe by doing the things He asks of us on the way to fulfilling His purposes.

As I studied this story again this week I prayed, "Lord, let me not be a Sarah, figuring out ways to make things happen that you have promised." I can be like that, chafing that I'm not 'doing anything' to make things change or to bring about what I perceive to be God's will.

If it's up to me to make things happen, when am I ever 'doing enough'?

I can even use prayer in this way—like a juggling feat—as if the success or failure of those I pray for is contingent on my keeping the oranges up in the air…If I don't pray enough, they're doomed. Yes, intercession is important, but it must be Spirit-driven and empowered by the faith that He supplies! A false sense of my indispensability, even in prayer, is a case of misguided significance at best, arrogance at worst! Faith trusts God to direct even my prayers. It leaves with Him the means by which He will accomplish all that is in His heart.

Meanwhile faith waits with a ready posture, humbly willing to obey. It neither rushes ahead to do things my way, nor lags behind overcome with disabling doubt.

"I am God ALMIGHTY—walk before me and be blameless"

This was God's call to Abraham (Gen.17:1). Isn't this what He has called all believers too? We too are sojourners in a world not made to be our home. We walk through it by faith in our God to guide our going and our staying, our acting and our waiting, and ultimately to grant us our last breath and take us safely home. For all this we can trust Him.

The ultimate test Abraham is known for was his willingness to give up his only son, his promised heir, as an offering to God. He trusted God could raise him from the dead if necessary. Perhaps in a lesser way, this is the test of every parent—to yield our offspring up to God's purposes, for Him to care for, discipline, and direct through their life's journey. Their destinies are in His hands, not ours.

But richer still is the true symbolism shown in Abraham's offering up of Isaac, that is, God sacrificing His own Son for the life of us all. And yes, He did raise Him from the dead as Abraham supposed he could! He was "delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification." (Rom.4:25) Think on that. What more is there?

And just as Abraham was declared righteous because he was 'fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised' (Rom.4:21) so are we who believe that God raised Jesus from the dead on our behalf. It's all pre-figured in the life of Abraham and precious to consider again. In light of such a testimony of faith, my anxieties for those I wish to see 'safely home' are laid to rest, again. The God of Abraham is my God. My destiny and that of those I care most about is with Him. He's not asking that I accomplish their rescue but that I trust Him to do it while I listen for His directives…

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died--more than that, who was raised--who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Rom. 8:32-34 ESV

But getting back to an answer to the sermon's question: How does my life give evidence of saving faith?

--By my willingness to sit down in the chair of God's provision, and to rest there without fear or nightmare of how we all shall get 'safely home'. I will trust Him to do it while I listen for His bidding, ready to obey.


"You were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls." I Pet.2:25

[May] your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. I Thess. 5:23

Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! Ps.107:30,31

The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
II Tim. 4:18 ESV

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. Jude 1:24,25 ESV

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ…to bring about the obedience of faith-- to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.
Rom. 16:25-27 ESV


P.S. May I urge you to sit and enjoy Abraham's story for yourself? Watch for the voice of God and the response of Abraham—Gen.12-25; Rom.4; Heb.11).

--And if you have a prodigal, consider Abraham Piper’s own story and suggestions here.

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