Sunday, September 26, 2010

Against Me

I read Genesis 42 this morning. It was famine. Jacob had lost his most beloved son years before. In sending ten of his others to Egypt for grain to keep the family from starving, Simeon was taken captive by a foreign power. And that same power demanded Benjamin, too. Jacob had no choices, and he expected no good thing.

"And Jacob their father said to them, 'You have bereaved me:
Joseph is no more, Simeon is no more, and you want to take Benjamin.
All these things are against me.
...My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he is left alone.
If any calamity shall befall him along the way in which you go,
then you would bring down my gray hair with sorrow to the grave.'"
(Genesis 42:36)

Jacob was not able to see the end. But we get to. We get to see his heartbroken grief and fear. His "I can't take another thing! It'll kill me. I'll die if my sorrows increase." Two sons were dead, and the third would die, too. I read his grieving words, his fearful words, and I cried for him. But I've read the end before.

He said, "All these things are against me."

Were they? They looked like it. It had been years of miserable sorrow. Of Joseph, torn by a wild beast, of ten sons walking in fear and guilt, and of his last son, clung to as 'the one left alone' -- all he had left from Rachel, the woman he loved at first sight and worked fourteen years to get. But reality was, His Father had been working all these miserable things together for his good for all those years. Joseph's loss was his salvation. Simeon's loss dragged Benjamin down there. And Benjamin's loss brought all the rest to exactly the place where God wanted that family -- and to a reconciled, whole, fed condition.

What Jacob said was true. They had bereaved him. But remarkably, God untwisted their handiwork and saved Joseph, Jacob, the ten guilty brothers, Benjamin, and all their family in spite of it and through it. All these things were being worked together for Jacob's good all along. But they were also being worked together for the good of his guilty sons. To restore them all to each other.

Jacob said, "I'll be brought down in sorrow to the grave."

But God had plans for good for him, and not for evil. Plans to give him a future, and a hope. He was right on the edge of having food through the famine, Joseph and Joseph's children, Simeon and Benjamin all given into his hands. He was on the edge of joy, and he couldn't see past sorrow. And the very things he thought were against him, were working for his salvation.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Be Still

This is an old hymn based on Psalm 46. It is attributed to Jean Sibelius and Katharina Von Schlegel (translated by Jane Borthwick). Mary Barrett sang this on one of her cds, and often in person at conferences. 

There are times when my heart races and terrifies me. This song so poignantly addresses my fears and griefs. I play it over and over again, and let its words soothe me.

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Thro' thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake

To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on

When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, loves purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Service of Waiting

I read this morning in Streams in the Desert:

"I have sometimes found myself interrupted in what seemed to me a career of usefulness. Opposition came and forced me to go back, or sickness came and compelled me to retire into a desert part.

"It was hard at such times to leave my work undone when I believed that work to be the service of the Spirit. But I came to remember that the Spirit has not only a service of work, but a service of waiting. I came to learn that the desert place apart is often the most useful spot in the varied life of man -- more rich in harvest than the seasons in which the corn and wine abounded. I have been taught to thank the Blessed Spirit that many a darling Bithynia had to be left unvisited by me.

"And so, Thou divine Spirit, would I still be led by Thee. Still there come to me disappointed prospects of usefulness. Today the door seems to open into life and work for Thee; tomorrow it closes before me just as I am about to enter...

"Inspire me with the knowledge that a man may at times be called to do his duty by doing nothing, to work by keeping still, to serve by waiting. When I remember the power of the 'still small voice', I shall not murmur that sometimes the Spirit suffers me not to go." (George Matheson)

I am so thankful for the words that saints have left behind them for me.

"Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her Beloved?" (Song of Solomon 8:5)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Led and Hungry

"Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan
and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,
being tempted for forty days by the devil.
And in those days He ate nothing,
and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry...
Then Jesus returned in the power of the Holy Spirit to Galilee."
(from Luke 4:1-14)

I read this chapter to my children this morning, and this part leapt off the page at me.

1. Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit.
2. Jesus was led by the Spirit.
3. The Spirit led Him into wilderness.
4. The Holy Spirit brought Him to a place where He was tempted by the devil.
5. Being filled with the Holy Spirit, and led by the Holy Spirit, Jesus had nothing to eat.
6. Following the Spirit's lead brought Him through temptation without food, and separation from people He loved.
7. Jesus suffered hunger as the result of being led by the Holy Spirit, and being obedient to Him.
8. He returned in the power of the Holy Spirit.

But I thought being filled with the Holy Spirit and being led by the Holy Spirit meant green pastures all the way? No harassment from our enemy? Health and wealth and shiny faces? Can I be in the way of peace when the sun beats down and I hunger?

Jesus said, "Man shall not live by bread alone." He seems to have proven His point. Because He was hungry, and not eating, and He returned in the power of the Holy Spirit. It would have to be the power of the Holy Spirit -- He allowed His physical resources to be depleted.

Perhaps if Jesus had had more foresight, He might have laid up something to hold Him over during this lean time. Or perhaps if He was listening closer, He might have found the smoother path. Perhaps these adverse circumstances were the result of some failure? It says the Spirit led Him.

Just the chapter before this, God speaks from heaven and says, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased." And yet He leads His Beloved, the One He delights in, to hunger for awhile. But I love that He made sure it was clear: "I LOVE HIM! HE'S MINE! I AM PLEASED WITH HIM!"

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

For Your Good

A quote from the end of Foxe's Book of Martyrs comes to mind: "The Lord has been better to us than all our fears."
Being an extraordinarily fearful person naturally myself, this quote has often comforted me. Because looking back, it has been true. He does work all things together for your good. I don't know what that will look like, but I know it is true.
I've been reading Genesis again lately, making note of every instance of the Lord's guidance in each chapter (some direct instructions, some interrelational conflicts, some famines).
I've been thinking about Joseph, and how the Lord said He had sent him ahead of Jacob and the others to save them. All those many years of suffering without any hope in sight... and he was sent. You can't know yet how this trial will play out -- or what good will come of it, but if you are His child, He works all things together for your good who love Him and are called according to His purpose. And He is still preparing a place for you. There is a reward.
"Moreover He called for a famine in the land;
He destroyed all the provision of bread.
He sent a man before them -- Joseph -- who was sold as a slave.
They hurt his feet with fetters, he was laid in irons.
Until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the Lord tested him."
(Psalm 105:16-19)
"Many of the richest blessings which have come down to us from the past are the fruit of sorrow or pain."
(Streams in the Desert, September 19)
I was in hard labor with my oldest for 26 hours. My total labor was 65 hours. Three hours of pushing, one and a half of that with a vacuum extractor -- and no pain medication. I'll spare you the inventory of damages to myself. When he finally came out, my pale, blood-spattered husband said, "We're not doing this ever again."
With my baby in my arms, I said, "Why not? I feel like I could leap tall buildings in a single bound!"
Joseph named one of his sons 'forget,' because he said God had made him to forget his suffering in the land of his affliction. God knows how to reward the righteous. And His rewards are so rich that no amount of fetters and irons can dull them. No years in prison can be compared with the riches He has prepared for His own.
"I walked a mile with Pleasure,
She chattered all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.
I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And ne'er a word said she;
But, oh the things I learned from her
When Sorrow walked with me."
(Also from Streams)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Atonement Rest

I looked at my calendar today and noticed it was the Day of Atonement: Yom Kippur. Being a Gentile, not raised to observe the Feasts of the Old Testament, I turned to Leviticus 16 to remind myself of its meaning.

"For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you,
that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord.
It is a sabbath of solemn rest for you, and you shall afflict your souls.
It is a statute forever."

I was reminded of Hebrews, which says that He (Jesus) is our High Priest, made like His brethren,
merciful and faithful, having suffered, being tempted, able to aid those who are tempted,
who sympathizes with our weaknesses, without sin, having compassion on the ignorant,
and on those who go astray.
And it says that having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.

On the day of atonement, when the uncleanness of the nation was to be addressed, when the sin was to be provided for, the people were told to rest. Not to rest in joy, but in affliction of soul. Sin ought to grieve us. But, still: rest. Because our work is worthless to provide atonement. No good work that I can do can make my uncleanness clean. The work of the Priest is the only work to be done for atonement. The sacrifice. The shedding of blood and the application of it for all.

"There remains therefore a rest for the people of God."
When it comes to atonement, my work is to sit on my hands, afflicted in soul, and hope in God -- and let His High Priest do the work.

"Because He continues forever, He has an unchangeable priesthood.
Therefore He is able to save to the uttermost
those who come to God through Him,
since He always lives to make intercession for them.
For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled,
separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens;
who does not need daily, as those high priests,
to offer up sacrifices, first for his own sins, and then for the people's,
for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself."

Able to save to the uttermost. 
Always lives to make intercession for them. 
This He did once for all.
As one of my teachers used to yell: "THESE ARE SHOUTIN' GROUNDS!" I like to maintain my dignity for the most part, but this passage reduces me to wonder and humility every time I read it. And I want to shout.

"Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood 
He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption."

Eternal redemption. He paid it forever! My day of rest does not end. My sabbath in Christ is eternal. He sat down at the right hand of God. Because His work of atonement is DONE!! I am atoned for. My sins are paid for. I'm clean.

By the Brook

Yesterday I read in Streams in the Desert:

"Hide thyself by the brook Cherith.  (1 Kings 17:3)

"The man who is to take a high place before his fellows must take a low place before his God. We must not be surprised if sometimes our Father says: 'There, child, thou hast had enough of this hurry, and publicity, and excitement; get thee hence, and hide thyself by the brook -- hide thyself in the Cherith of the sick chamber, or in the Cherith of bereavement, or in some solitude from which the crowds have ebbed away...

"None of us, therefore, can dispense with some Cherith where the sounds of human voices are exchanged for the waters of quietness which are fed from the throne; and where we may taste the sweets and imbibe the power of a life hidden with Christ." (From Elijah, by Meyer)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

In What Measurements?

I am a book lover. As a teenager, my books had outgrown my room. I did not often ask things of my parents, particularly during those lean years. But on that fateful day, I wandered into the garage and expressed a wish for a bookshelf. My Dad, who was working on something, brightened. "In what measurements?" I didn't know. I had hoped for a sometime fulfillment, and had not come armed with measurements. I took a tape measure up to my bedroom and measured the space between the two windows. I brought them down to my Dad, and gave them to him. "Painted? A clear wood finish?" I asked for a natural wood finish. Within 24 hours, my Dad had built, finished, and delivered a new bookshelf to me, in perfect measurements.

My eyes fell on that bookshelf today, not for the first time, and reminded me of the quiet lesson I learned all those years ago. My Father is waiting to bless me. I have not because I ask not. God's heart is more eager to answer than my own Daddy's heart.

"And it shall come to pass that, before they call, I will answer;
and while they are yet speaking, I will hear." 
(Isaiah 65:24)

To Jacob

To Jacob the Lord said: 

"I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, 

and will bring you back to this land; 

for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you." 



Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sown Light

"Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart."
(Psalm 97:11)

They are sown. Planted. There will be a harvest for the righteous, although perhaps all we see now is darkness and sorrow. Planted in darkness, sown in sorrow, light and gladness are going to bear fruit. As farmers look forward to the day the crop is ripe, we need to look forward to the day when light and gladness are mature for us.

I like that it says they are sown for us. Not sown by us. We do sow things in life, and they will bear fruit. But this light and gladness are sown for us. A gift crop. A garden planted by our Father to feed us on later. It reminds me of Psalm 31:19:  "Oh how great is Thy goodness, which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee; which Thou hast wrought for them that trust in Thee before the sons of men!" Our inheritance will not fade away, and it's reserved in heaven for us.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

To Live With Us

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God...
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,
and we beheld His glory, the glory as the only begotten of the Father,
full of grace and truth."
(John 1)

He regarded our low estate. He condescended to live with us -- to dwell with us -- to abide with us. The Word became flesh and walked among us. When we humble ourselves (as God Himself did) to live with our children in the daily mundaneness of their lives, we follow His example. Women have sometimes said to me, "Oh, I just couldn't bear to be home with them all the time -- I'd go nuts!" But Jesus left His position of honor in heaven to eat and sleep and live among men. With us. And He said, "I have given you an example that you should do as I have done."

Monday, September 6, 2010

To the End

 Jesus said, "I am with you always, even to the end of the world."

He is with me. He was with Joseph in prison. With Daniel in a pit of lions. With Ishmael in the desert. With Gideon in the winepress. In rooms that shut out all the world, in places of suffering that no one else sees, He is with me. Even to the end of my world.

I read this today:

"When from my life the old-time joys have vanished,
Treasures once mine, I may no longer claim,
This truth may feed my hungry heart, and famished;
Lord, Thou remainest! Thou art still the same!

When streams have dried, those streams of glad refreshing--
Friendships so blest, so rich, so free;
When sun-kissed skies give place to clouds depressing,
Lord, Thou remainest! Still my heart hath Thee.

When strength hath failed, and feet, now worn and weary,
On gladsome errands may no longer go,
Why should I sigh, or let the days be dreary?
Lord, Thou remainest! Could'st Thou more bestow?

Thus through life's days - whoe'er or what may fail me,
Friends, friendships, joys, in small or great degree,
Songs may be mine, no sadness need assail me,
Lord, Thou remainest! Still my heart hath Thee."

(J. Danson Smith, from Streams in the Desert)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Good Boys and Girls

"Some talk to children about such things as being good boys and girls; that is to say, they preach the law to the children, though they would preach the Gospel to grown-up people. Is this honest? Is this wise? Children need the Gospel, the whole Gospel, the unadulterated Gospel. They ought to have it. If they are taught of the Spirit of God, they are as capable of receiving it as persons of ripe years. Teach the little ones that Jesus died, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God."

(C.H. Spurgeon, Spiritual Parenting)