Dec 15, 2011

waiting in the stillness


stillness.

There is a sense of peace that rings from the word, like a distant wind-chime on a lazy summer's day.

The Shepherd-King, David, wrote of the Good Shepherd [Jesus] who leads us beside still waters {Psalms 23:2}. Various synonyms are used in different translations: "quiet", "peaceful", and "restful waters." Basically, devoid of turmoil and motion.
 
As I think of the word stillness, I cannot help but want to close my eyes and drift to a peaceful sleep {which can also be attributed to my current lack of shut-eye}. What comfort to know that Jesus wants us to find rest in Him, to be refreshed and rested as we spend time in His presence. 

But, I must say {regretfully} that this is not always my frame of mind. No. Instead, I often see these periods of stillness and rest as boring and non-eventful. I yearn for a more exciting season, for the active, bubbly rivers that entice white-water rafting expeditions. A peaceful pond with not even a ripple of movement? Come on ... I want some action!

And I must admit {again, regretfully}, that these periods have led to discontentment in areas of my mind. Subtle enough that I hardly notice the slight twang of sarcasm in my voice when I comment on the current stillness in my life. 

So, what are we to do in these times of stillness? It may be a season of unemployment, singleness, confusion regarding a big decision. It may be seasons where you are calling on the Lord for guidance and you hear:

stillness.

I certainly do not have the answer, but have drawn much encouragement from different writings that focus on waiting. And I don't write this in order to show off my own knowledge, but instead, to remind myself during my own times of stillness and waiting.

First, of course, the Bible gives great wisdom on what we can do while waiting in the stillness: 

Wait on the Lord. Be of good courage and He shall strengthen your heart. Wait, I say, on the Lord. {Ps. 27:14)  
Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him {Ps. 37:7}

My soul waits for God alone, for my expectation is from Him {Ps. 62:5} 
The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul that seeks Him {Lam. 3:25} 
Therefore I will look unto the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me {Micah 7:7}
The lessons that can be gleaned from these verses all are centered on faith + trust in our Heavenly Father. Without trusting in His faithfulness, we are doomed to repeatedly go through worry and despair in times of waiting. We doubt. We fear. We take things in our own hands. But when we choose to seek Him in His Word, fill our minds and hearts with His Truth, we begin to see the beauty in stillness. 

In Hebrew, wait means to hope for, anticipate, expect. 
“To wait is not merely to remain impassive. It is to expect—to look for with patience, and also with submission. It is to long for, but not impatiently; to look for, but not to fret at the delay; to watch for, but not restlessly; to feel that if He does not come we will acquiesce, and yet to refuse to let the mind acquiesce in the feeling that He will not come.” -Andrew Davidson
 Many of the above Bible verses come from King David. Again I draw back to this Shepherd-King, who, before becoming King of Israel, had his own long season of waiting. The Prophet Samuel secretly anointed David as king when he was a young teen boy{1 Sam. 16:13}, yet David had to wait until he was nearly 40 years old to be anointed again as the king of the united Israel.

So, basically, if anyone could write about waiting, it was this man. He wrote many psalms while he was actively being pursued by the delusional King Saul; when he must have felt uncertain about what God had spoken to him years earlier.  How amazing {and fortunate for us} that David chose to write about these times of waiting and now we can be encouraged by the words he penned thousands of years ago. Realistically, if I was hiding away in various caves and forests from a crazy father-in-law who wanted to kill me, I really don't think I'd feel much obliged to sit down and journal my thoughts. I would much rather wallow in self-pity and grumble about my unfortunate circumstances, or try to fix matters in my own ways instead of waiting for God.  

But the story doesn't end there. David, of course, eventually becomes king. And his season of waiting and patience was the foundation of his character. Even when it seemed like he wasn't getting anywhere {other than a few feet from getting his head chopped off by Saul}, God was actively working behind the scenes in creating a King who would be an early picture or preview of the King of Kings, Jesus Christ.

Today, God is still working in the stillness. He is active when all else seems inactive and silent. 

L.B. Cowman in Streams in the Desert elaborates on a beautiful quote of John Ruskin :
"There is no music in a rest, but there is the making of music in it." In our whole life-melody the music is broken off here and there by "rests" and we foolishly think we have come to the end of the tune . . . 
Not without design does God write the music of our lives. Be it ours to learn the tune and not be dismayed at the "rests". They are not to be slurred over, not to be omitted, not to destroy the melody, not to change the keynote. If we look up, God Himself will beat the time for us. With the eye on Him, we shall strike the next note full and clear. If we sadly say to ourselves, "There is no music in a rest," let us not forget "there is the making of music in it." The making of music is often a slow and painful process in this life. How patiently God works to teach us! How long He waits for us to learn the lesson!
There is a purpose for the "rest" periods in our lives.

Wow. Those words breathe peace into me every time  I read them over and over again! Although a "slow and painful process", the waiting seasons are vital for the beautiful melody to be played in clarity and fullness. May God, the Master Musician, teach us to be content in the "rest" periods even if they seem uneventful, for the music wouldn't be complete without them. It would be rushed and full of anxiety because of the lack of the healthy periods of stillness.  Have you ever heard of a song without any rests in it? The first song that comes to mind is Flight of the Bumblebee. If you haven't heard it, YouTube it. You will see why I say that one would feel quite  rushed and anxiety-ridden in a life without rests! 

Lastly, this beautiful poem by Russell Kelfer has been my comfort for many years for various seasons and reasons . . .  and oft times, it has served to gently convict me of my own grumbling.


Desperately, helplessly, longingly, I cried;
Quietly, patiently, lovingly, God replied.
I pled and I wept for a clue to my fate . . .
And the Master so gently said, "Wait." 

"Wait? You say wait?" my indignant reply.
"Lord, I need answers, I need to know why!
Is Your hand shortened? Or have You not heard?
By faith I have asked, and I'm claiming Your Word. 

"My future and all to which I relate
Hangs in the balance, and You tell me to wait?
I'm needing a 'yes', a go-ahead sign,
Or even a 'no' to which I can resign. 

"You promised, dear Lord, that if we believe,
We need but to ask, and we shall receive.
And Lord I've been asking, and this is my cry:
I'm weary of asking! I need a reply." 

Then quietly, softly, I learned of my fate,
As my Master replied again, "Wait."
So I slumped in my chair, defeated and taut,
And grumbled to God, "So, I'm waiting for what?" 

He seemed then to kneel, and His eyes met with mine . . .
and He tenderly said, "I could give you a sign.
I could shake the heavens and darken the sun.
I could raise the dead and cause mountains to run.

"I could give all you seek and pleased you would be.
You'd have what you want, but you wouldn't know Me.
You'd not know the depth of My love for each saint.
You'd not know the power that I give to the faint.

"You'd not learn to see through clouds of despair;
You'd not learn to trust just by knowing I'm there.
You'd not know the joy of resting in Me
When darkness and silence are all you can see.

"You'd never experience the fullness of love
When the peace of My spirit descends like a dove.
You would know that I give, and I save, for a start,
But you'd not know the depth of the beat of My heart.

"The glow of my comfort late into the night,
The faith that I give when you walk without sight.
The depth that's beyond getting just what you ask
From an infinite God who makes what you have last.

"You'd never know, should your pain quickly flee,
What it means that My grace is sufficient for thee.
Yes, your dearest dreams overnight would come true,
But, oh, the loss, if you missed what I'm doing in you.

"So, be silent, my child, and in time you will see
That the greatest of gifts is to truly know Me.
And though oft My answers seem terribly late,
My most precious answer of all is still . . . Wait."



"You lead me beside still waters"

Dec 7, 2011

teacup theology

Pour yourself a cup of your favorite herbal tea and take a few minutes to read through this  excerpt from Calm My Anxious Heart: A Woman's Guide to Finding Contentment by Linda Dillow:
My favorite translation of Philippians 4:13 is from the late Greek scholar, Kenneth West:
 "I am strong for all things in the One who constantly infuses strengthen in me"
At all times, in all circumstances, Christ is able and willing to provide the strength we need to be content. Contentment occurs when Christ's strength is infused into my weak body, soul, and spirit. To infuse means to pour, fill, soak, or extract. Every morning when I dip my herbal tea bag into boiling water, I witness infusion.
How does God enable us to be content? He infuses contentment into us through His Word. As it seeps into our minds, it transforms us. Just as a cup of tea gets stronger when we give it time to steep, so we become more content when we spend time in God's Word and allow it to seep into our lives, transforming us to be like Him. 
~~~~~~~~~ 
God has lovingly assigned each of us to be a uniquely special teacup. Perhaps we're an antique cup, painted with dainty roses set in gold. Maybe we see ourselves as an everyday cup -- useful, but a little chipped around the edges. Or we could be a heavy-duty mug -- rugged, unbreakable, and able to hold much.
Then God fills our cup with our portion, what He determines is best. Our portion is our physical and emotional being, our abilities, circumstances, roles, relationships. Sometimes we don't like what's been poured into our cup. Remember the Lord Jesus in the Garden of Gethsamane. When He saw the suffering He was about to endure, He pleaded, "Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will but Yours be done" {Luke 22:42}. Christ grasped the handle of His cup and lifted it to God and said, "I accept My portion. Infuse Me with Your strength that I may drink."
Every cup -- whether dainty china or rough-hewn pottery -- has a handle. God has placed our portion in our cup. We either choose to grasp it by the handle and lift it to Him, saying, "I accept my portion; I accept this cup," or we choose to smash our cup to pieces, saying, "God, I refuse my portion. This cup is not the right size for me and I don't like what You've put in it. I'll control my life myself"


"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength" {Philippians 4:11-13}
 

May we learn to "seep" in the Word of God, soaking in His Truth and allowing Him to teach us to be content. May we accept our portion -- however difficult it may seem -- as a divinely assigned cup, surrendering our own expectations in exchange for the joy of God's presence and peace in us.


So, my sweet sisters, hold onto the comforting hand of Jesus and let Him guide you through whatever valley you're going through, leading you to still waters and green pastures. 


Your sister,

Oct 15, 2011

a hiding place

"You are my hiding place.
You protect me from trouble.
You surround me with songs of deliverance"
[Psalm 32:7]
****
You are my hiding place.
You always fill my heart,
With songs of deliverance.
Whenever I am afraid,
I will trust in You.

I will trust in You.
Let the weak say,
I am strong,
In the strength of the Lord
.
- Selah

Who better to pen such beautiful words than David, who spent years hiding from King Saul and his men. If anyone could call God a 'hiding place', it is David. Hiding in strange lands and caves, he knew what it meant to be protected from trouble because of God's ability to be a strong refuge for him.

Several years ago, I read the book, The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom. Her story of persecution during WWII was sad, yet filled with God's faithfulness as a true hiding place amidst the hardest trials imaginable. I recently watched the 1975 movie version of the book and was greatly blessed by it and reminded of this heroic woman's story.

Corrie, her sister Betsie (in their fifties) and their 100 year-old father were Dutch Christians who opened their home to Jews that were hiding from the Gestapo during German invasions into Holland. A hiding place was constructed in Corrie's room by adding a wall behind her bed to create a secret room (more like a tiny closet) for the Jews to run to if the Gestapo where ever to enter the Ten Boom's home for questioning.

The day arrived when the hiding place was no longer used to practice drills, but for the real thing. The Jews hiding in the Ten Boom's home rushed into the hiding place as Corrie and her family where questioned, beaten, and taken to a prison. Those Jews were eventually able to escape after hours hiding in that little room.

What followed for Corrie and her sister Betsie was a long period separated from each other in dirty, isolated prison cells, and eventually, being transferred to the horrible Ravensbruck concentration camp for labor. They were reunited here and miraculously, Corrie was able to sneak a tiny Bible into the Ravensbruck. They used this Bible during the years in Ravesnbruck to minister to the ladies in their shack cabin. While severe beatings could have occurred if they were found for speaking about God, the shack was so infested with lice and fleas, the guards never stepped further into the shack than the doorway. Betsie was a constant encouragement for Corrie, reminding her to praise God even for the lice. For that was the only reason they were not discovered for holding small Bible study groups in the morning and night. 

Many amazing stories are told by Corrie in her book, and I am not going to tell them all, because my mere words would not do it justice. Find the book or watch the movie and be encouraged by these woman's ability to cling to God in the middle of the worst circumstances. One of my favorite quotes in the book is by Betsie:

"There is no pit so deep that His love is not deeper still"

 

Only someone truly clinging to Christ could say such words while slowly dying away from hunger, strenuous labor, and sickness. Yet, she found comfort in the shadow of the Almighty. How encouraging for those who are walking through their own valleys of darkness and stuck in deep pits of despair.

"I know that the experiences of our lives,
when we let God use them, become the mysterious
and perfect preparation for the work He will give us to do."
- Corrie Ten Boom

Corrie later on traveled to more than 60 countries talking about her experiences in Ravensbruck, but also presenting the gospel message of Jesus Christ [her book Tramp for the Lord explains many things God did in the years she was traveling and speaking].

 

"Amid many and varied trials, souls that love God
will find reasons for bounding, leaping joy.
Though deep calls to deep, yet the Lord's song
will be heard in silver cadence through the night.
And it is possible in the darkest hour that ever
swept a human life to bless the God and Father
of our Lord Jesus Christ."
[Streams in the Desert]

For more info about Corrie Ten Boom:
  • read The Hiding Place & Tramp for the Lord
  • check this blog 
  •  sermonindex page with Corrie's messages
  • YouTube 'Corrie Ten Boom'

Oct 3, 2011

persecuted, but not abandoned

I usually use this blog to write about lessons that would hopefully encourage, build up, and remind others about God's faithfulness, abundant love, and grace. The Master Creator has a beautiful way of opening our eyes to life lessons in the simplicity and wonder of nature. I love meditating and writing about these beautiful revelations.  But I would be doing a big discredit to these three aforementioned attributes of God if I didn't also occasionally include posts that are a little harder to write ... and a little harder to read. Posts that include true stories of godly men and women who experienced the worst persecution, torture, and pain ... yet remained trusting in God's providence. Men and women who defended the truth of God's Word even when it meant losing their lives. Stories that may not make you feel happy and comforted in the world's sense of these words, but instead, comforted that even in our hardest times, God is still working. He is still just. He is still sitting on His throne.

I started reading Foxe's Book of Martyrs recently and have been blown away by the hundreds upon hundreds of stories of the faithful warriors in God's army. People like Martin Luther, John Wycliff, and William Tyndale who shifted the way Christians understood the Bible and started a reformation that focused on God rather than man. Although filled with very sad stories that make me cringe with the brutality inflicted upon these godly people, reading this book also sparks a flame in me . . . a flame that yearns defend God's truth regardless of what others may say or do. A flame that finds joy in the midst of suffering and peace in the middle of conflict. This can only be possible when we abide in the True Vine, Jesus Christ. He can make something as horrible as death bring testament of what He can do to a surrendered life.

May these stories encourage you and remind you of God's faithfulness, abundant and never ending love, and His grace for His children. I pray they don't depress you, but rather, inspire you to live a life that is wholly spent to bring fame and glory to God, no matter the price to be paid. So here they are ... just a few of the many, many stories of the faithful.

Sabinus, bishop of Assisium in the Province of Tuscany, refused to sacrifice to Jupiter, the supreme god of Rome, and shoved the idol away from him. Whereupon, the governor had his offending hand cut off. While in prison, however, Sabinus converted the governer and his family to Christianity. Upon their confession of their newfound faith in the true God, they were all executed. Soon after, Sabinus was scourged until he died. This was in December 304.  {p. 33}
------------------
Once when Maximus, the provincial governor of Cilicia, was in Tarsus, three Christians, Tarchus, Probus, and Adronicus were brought before him and repeatedly tortured and exhorted to recant thair faith in Christ. When they would not, they were sent to the amphitheater for execution. There severeal hungry animals were released to attack the Christians, but none of them would do so. The animal keeper then brought out a ferocious lioness and a larger bear that had killed three men that day, but both refused to attack the men. Being frustrated in his attempts to torture them to death with the teeth and claws of wild beasts, Maximus had them killed with a sword. {p.30}-------------------
John Wycliffe, born a native of Yorkshire, England, studied at Oxford University, where he majored in scholastic philosophy and theology. He began teaching at Oxford and became known as a brilliant scholastic theologian and one of the most respected debaters of his time. However, his views opposed the practices and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Many of the prelates, friars, priests, and bishops turned against him and his followers.

This occurred at a time when organized religion had become depraved and corrupted. People gave lip service to the things of God, but they denied Him by their lifestyles. Early Christians were often persecuted and martyred by those of the secular world, but John Wycliffe faced persecution from those who claimed to be serving in the name of Christ.

Wycliffe disagreed on the following points: 1. The Holy Eucharist, after the consecration by a priest, is not the actual body of Christ. 2. The Church of Rome is not the head of all churches; nor did Peter have any more power given him by Christ than to the other apostles. 3. The pope has no more keys to the church than any other in the priesthood. 4. The Gospel by itself is a rule sufficient to rule the life of every Christian person on the earth, without any other rule. 5. All rules that are made to govern religious people add no more perfection to the Gospel of Jesus Christ than does white color to a wall. 6. Neither the pope nor any other prelate should have prisons in which to punish transgressors.

Wycliffe was commanded by church authorities to stop teaching his doctrines, but that did not stop him. He continued to teach the truth with more boldness. He was brought before the council several times, but he never stopped being faithful to God's Holy Word. He was continually harassed and threatened, even banished for a time, but he was able to return to the parish at Lutterworth and become the parish priest. John Wycliffe died in his sleep on December 31, 1384 at the age of fifty-six.

His supporters removed all of the statues and icons from his church in honor of his doctrines and teachings. Thirty-one years later, the Council of Constance removed his remains from their place of burial, burned them, and threw the ashes into the river. They felt that this would put an end to his teachings, but Wycliffe's doctrines could not be destroyed because they were based on God's Word. {{His full story is in Foxe's Book of Martyrs. This is a summary from
All About Following Jesus}
---------------------
William Tyndale was born near the border of Wales in 1494. He was educated at Oxford and Cambridge and later began his work of translating the Bible into English. Tyndale delighted in defending his beliefs while having discussions at the home where he resided. The local clergy who visited to dine soon grew weary of Tyndale's constant criticism of their doctrines. They became so weary with him, that they began to bear a grudge against him in their hearts.

Tyndale knew that in order for lay people to know the truth of God's Word, they needed to be able to read it for themselves. The clergy kept the Scriptures hidden and unavailable to their congregations. God gave William Tyndale the will and wisdom to begin translating and printing the New Testament.

The printing began in Cologne, Germany in 1525, but was interrupted by a legal injunction. The printing of his work was completed in Worms, Germany in 1526. Later Tyndale translated the Old Testament as well. It was of great spiritual benefit to the godly lay people of that day.

Tyndale experienced a lot of harassment, ridicule, and threats from the clergy and their aids throughout his lifetime of work for the Lord. Finally, in Antwerp, Henry Philips tricked him into coming out of the house, where officers were waiting to arrest him. He was condemned by decree of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, at Augsburg, in 1530. On October 6, 1530, in the town of Vivorde, Netherlands, William Tyndale was tied to a stake, strangled by the hangman to the point of death and then burned in fire for doing God's Work. It is said that as he met the Lord, Tyndale cried with a loud voice, "Lord! Open the King of England's eyes!"  {His full story is in Foxe's Book of Martyrs. This is a summary from
All About Following Jesus}
--------------
"Then He [Jesus] said to them all: "If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me." - Luke 9:23

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” 2 Cor. 12:9 – 10

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you.” John 15:18-20 NIV

“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 2 Timothy 3:12 NIV

“Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith.” 1 Thessalonians 3:7

“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.” Matthew 5:10 (MSG)

“It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22. 

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” - 2 Corinthians 4:7-12

Note: Please visit Voice of the Martyrs at persecution.com to learn more about the current persecution of the Christian church in various areas of the world. Keep those people in your constant prayers. Let us never forget to praise God that we are able to have our own Bibles, attend church, and freely speek of Jesus. There are many who do not have this blessing. Let's remember to pray for them unceasingly!

Recommended books for further study {I am sure there are many more books, but these are ones I have read and can wholeheartedly recommend}:
  • Foxe's Book of Martyrs
  • Tortured for Christ [by Richard Wurmbrand]
  • If I Perish [Esther Ahn Kim]

    Sep 24, 2011

    excerpt from Streams In the Desert: "Lawn Care"

    Beautiful devotion from Streams in the Desert
    (for Sept. 20) by L.B. Cowman:

    Lawn Care
    "He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass" (Ps. 72:6).
    Amos speaks of the king's mowings. Our King has many scythes, and is perpetually mowing His lawns. The musical tinkle of the whetstone on the scythe portends the cutting down of myriads of green blades, daisies and other flowers. Beautiful as they were in the morning, within an hour or two they lie in long, faded rows. Thus in human life we make a brave show, before the scythe of pain, the shears of disappointment, the sickle of death.
    There is no method of obtaining a velvety lawn but by repeated mowings; and there is no way of developing tenderness, evenness, sympathy, but by the passing of God's scythes. How constantly the Word of God compares man to grass, and His glory to its flower! But when grass is mown, and all the tender shoots are bleeding, and desolation reigns where flowers were bursting, it is the most acceptable time for showers of rain falling soft and warm.
    "O soul, thou hast been mown! Time after time the King has come to thee with His sharp scythe. Do not dread the scythe--it is sure to be followed by the shower."
    --F. B. Meyer
    When across the heart deep waves of sorrow
    Break, as on a dry and barren shore;
    When hope glistens with no bright tomorrow,
    And the storm seems sweeping evermore;
    When the cup of every earthly gladness
    Bears no taste of the life-giving stream;
    And high hopes, as though to mock our sadness,
    Fade and die as in some fitful dream,
    Who shall hush the weary spirit's chiding?
    Who the aching void within shall fill?
    Who shall whisper of a peace abiding,
    And each surging billow calmly still?
    Only He whose wounded heart was broken
    With the bitter cross and thorny crown;
    Whose dear love glad words of Joy had spoken,
    Who His life for us laid meekly down.
    Blessed Healer, all our burdens lighten;
    Give us peace, Thine own sweet peace, we pray!
    Keep us near Thee till the morn shall brighten,
    And all the mists and shadows flee away!

    "The Mowers", 1887 painting by Grigorii Miasoedov. 
    The scythe was the one of the main instruments for harvesting hay in the Russian village.

    Sep 13, 2011

    an instrument.

    Paganini, the great violinist, came out before his audience one day and made the discovery just as they ended her applause that there was something wrong with his violin. He looked at it a second and then saw that it was not his famous and valuable one.
    He felt paralyzed for a moment, then turned to his audience and told them there had been some mistake and he did not have his own violin. He stepped back behind the curtain thinking it was still where he had left it, but discovered that some one had stolen his and left that old second-hand one in its place.
    He remained at the back of the curtain for a moment, then came out before his audience and said: "Ladies and Gentlemen, I will show you that the music is not from the instrument, but in the soul." And he played as he had never played before; and out of that second-hand instrument the music poured forth until the audience was enraptured with enthusiasm and the applause almost lifted the ceiling and building, because the man had revealed to them that music was not in the machine, but in his own soul. [Streams in the Desert, 9/28]

    I read this passage several days ago and it gave me goosebumps. What a violinist! But today while reading through the Set Apart Girl online magazine, I was reminded of this story for a different reason.

    Leslie Ludy wrote a thought-provoking article about self-promotion and its ability to waste and steal your precious hours {Set-Apart Girl Online Magazine; pp 9-18}. It was a great reminder to lay aside desires of being noticed recognized or congratulated. Instead, an emphasis should be on giving all the glory, all the fame, all the recognition and notice to the only One who deserves it, Jesus Christ.

    The Christian life can only be explained in terms of Jesus Christ, and if your life as a Christian can still be explained in terms of you -- ­ your personality, your willpower, your gift, your talent, your money, your courage, your scholarship, your dedication, your sacrifice, or your anything -- ­ then although you may have the Christian life, you are not yet living it! - Ian Thomas
    "He [GOD] must increase and I must decrease" - John 3:30

     In the above passage about the reknown Paganini, it is doubtful that anyone else noticed that he was holding an old, second-hand violin. No one noticed the instrument because they were too busy noticing the master violinist passionately driving music out of that lowly instrument. It is highly doubtful that the violin got anything in return for being used by Paganini. No thank-you card, no gift card to a favorite restaurant, no trip to Hawaii. It merely did its job of being an instrument and yielding itself to the violinst; the violinist took care of the rest.

    May I be a mere instrument in the hands of my God -- even if it means going unnoticed, thanked, or recognized -- so that my God can get all the glory and honor. No one praises the violin, but they praise great musician who used that otherwise unknown instrument. May those who see me doing anything praiseworthy give all the praise to my Master Musician, who composes beautiful music in the keys of grace, mercy, and Truth.  May I live for the applause of heaven alone.

    Moses, Deborah, Hannah, David ... All had songs that were recorded in the Old Testament that brought praise to this Master Musician. Their songs did not consist of self-promoted lines about their own abilities, dreams, and personalities. Instead, about the goodness, justice, providence, and love of their God.

    Moses sang in Deut. 32 that God is the Rock, perfect, and all His ways are just [v.3]. Of all the people in the Bible, I think Moses would have been entitled to writing a little song about himself. After forty years of faithfully leading hundreds of thousands of wayward, complaining, forgetful Israelites towards the Promised Land, he could have penned a hit single about his achievements. But no. Instead, he allowed himself to be an instrument that was constantly used to proclaim the greatness of God. Now, that's a true leader!

    David's songs are also testament to the deliverance, protection, and goodness of God. King David had every reason to want to sit down and write about his accomplishments, for he certainly had many. He could have sang angst-ridden, woe-is-me- songs of being chased by Saul that would have made everyone pity him. Yet, he chose to use all of his songs to bring fame to God and lead that same wayward, complaining, forgetful nation into truly worshipping the Lord.

    The prayer of St. Francis sums it all up beautifully:
    Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
    Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
    Where there is injury, pardon.
    Where there is doubt, faith.
    Where there is despair, hope.
    Where there is darkness, light.
    Where there is sadness, joy.
    O Divine Master,
    grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
    to be understood, as to understand;
    to be loved, as to love.
    For it is in giving that we receive.
    It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
    and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
    Amen.

    Sep 8, 2011

    lessons of the blackberry {part two}

    I had another walk down my favorite trail yesterday and felt like I learned a couple more lessons from the blackberry. Grab some tea and join me as we both learn of God's faithfulness in the natural beauty of the blackberry.


    3.] BE THANKFUL
    I tried to avoid getting poked and scratched by the thorny vines of the blackberry bramble this week [as I am typing, I see scratches on my arms and can say I was unsuccesful at this goal!], and remember an important thing: I need to be thankful for both the blackberry and the thorns, for they both come from the same plant. I want to re-vamp a quote I once heard by saying, you can complain that blackberry bushes have thorns, or you can rejoice that blackberry bushes have blackberries. Learn to have an attitude of gratitude, no matter the circumstances. Just like the age old hymn teaches us, we need to count our blessings, one by one. Start a journal where you write down all the blessings God has poured over you, and pretty soon you will see that you have lots to be thankful for! So many times we focus only on the thorns in our situation. We get discouraged, worry, and wonder if the hard work is worth it. We forget of God's goodness in the past and our faith weakens. But when we have a heart of thanksgiving, even in the hard and painful times [when it seems we are walking through miles of thorny vines], we remember His faithfulness and are encouraged by the hope that comes from our Redeemer.
    Strength, rest, guidance, grace, help, sympathy, love - all from God to us! What a list of blessings! {E. Stenbock}


    A grateful heart is one that finds the countless blessings of God in the seemingly mundane everyday life.


    The optimist says, the cup is half full. The pessimist says, the cup is half empty. The child of God says; My cup runneth over.


    Oh what a happy soul am I although I cannot see,
    I am resolved that in this world contented I shall be.
    How many blessings I enjoy that other people don't.
    To weep and sigh, because I'm blind? I cannot and I won't.
    {Fanny Crosby}


    4.] DON'T LOOK AWAY
    Keep your eyes on the prize. Stay focused. I may sound like a high school athletic coach, but bear with me. As I was filling my bucket with blackberries, I heard voices coming towards me and passing by on the trail. I couldn't help turning to look away for a moment... A moment was all it took. A mere glance away from my prize left me with deep pokes because my hand moved a few centimeters -- straight into a thorny vine. Ouch. I set about returning to my picking, when several minutes later [you'd think I learned my lesson!], I turn my head again to spot a bicyclist speed by. Ouch [again!]. Isn't that how life is? When we take our gaze off of Christ, we end up getting hurt. We end up veering off the path and ending up poked and scratched by thorny vines of discouragement, bitterness, self-pity. But oh, the joy when we keep our eyes on Jesus!


    Vicky Beeching has a beautiful song called "Captivated"  that led me to daily praying that I may have an unbroken gaze that is fixed upon the beauty of Christ's face.
    Turn your eyes upon Jesus
    Look full in His wonderful face
    And the things of old
    Will become strangely dim
    In the light of His glory and grace.
    Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. {Heb. 12:2 NIV}


    With my eyes fixed on the goal I push on to secure the prize of God's heavenward call in Christ Jesus. {Phil. 3:14 WNT}
    When we gaze upon Jesues, our hearts can be captivated by love. Desire for Him will eclipse our problems and trust in His mercy will overcome our guilt.
    5. HAVE FAITH
    Lastly, I want to leave on this note: God is faithful. We may not always understand the hows or the whys, but we can put our trust in the One who does. It amazed me yesterday that while some of the blackberries where plump and ready to be picked, others where still green. How could that be, though they were both right next to each other, exposed to the same amount of sun and watered by the same rain? I don't know. But I do know that God knows the perfect timing. For one person, the perfect timing for a blessing may be today, while for another, in five years. Is it my place to judge or complain? No. It is my place [and may I always remember!] to remain where I am at, trusting that when it rains, it pours ... And I'm not talking about Seattle's weather. God is faithful, and in due time, you'll need buckets to store up all the blessings He pours on those He loves. So, just as a blackberry picker as myself has learned to bring along a bucket in my car in case I find a jackpot of blackberries somewhere, you also can learn to "bring along a bucket" just in case you get a downpour of blessings that you cannot hold in your two hands!
    O LORD, You are my God; I will exalt You and praise Your name, for in perfect faithfulness You have done marvelous things, things planned long ago. {Isaiah 25:1}


    Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. {Hebrews 10:23}


    When circumstances seem impossible, when all signs of grace in you seem at their lowest ebb, when temptation is fiercest, when love and joy and hope seem well-nigh extinguished in your heart, then rest, without feeling and without emotion, in the Father's faithfulness. {D. Tryon}
    May you have a day blessed with God's best for your life. And may you remember what the blackberry, a seemingly worthless "weed" that grows along highways and trails, declares of God's faithfulness over your life.

    Sep 1, 2011

    lessons of the blackberry {part one}

    I was picking fresh blackberries on the Soos Creek trail as I was taking a relaxing walk after work, and thought about two life lessons that can be gained from the simply act of picking blackberries.

    1.] PERSEVERE THROUGH THE PAIN.

    The most plump, delicious blackberries are the ones hidden and protected amidst a thorny collection of brambles. Reach for them and you're sure to experience at least one or two scratches in return. It is usually the most beautiful blessings that are surrounded, just as these delicious berries, by painful thorns that try to keep us from joy. Keep persevering, even if you need to get poked every once in awhile. The reward is worth the pain.


    Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. {Galations 6:9}

    Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can. {Charles Wesley}

    I am prepared to go anywhere, provided it be forward. I determined never to stop until I had come to the end and achieved my purpose. {David Livingstone}

    2.] WAIT AND BE PATIENT.
    There is a season for everything, including ripe, sweet blackberries. Try to pick them too early, however, and you'll get a rather sour surprise. Wait. Be patient. For it is usually after days of uneventful, "boring" weather (not too hot and not to rainy) that the best blackberries ripen. Don't underestimate the days of seemingly uneventful waiting. God is behind the scenes working all things for the good of those who obey Him.

    Ripe, plump blackberries gently fall off the branch into eager hands without any tugging or forcing. Trust in God's perfect timing. Don't force things, pulling with all your might to get your "blackberry" off of that branch. When the time is right, blessings will overflow your hands without a tug or pull.

    There are some prayers that are followed by a Divine silence because we are not yet ripe for all we have asked; there are others which are so followed because we are ripe for more. We do not always know the full strength of our own capacity; we have to be prepared for receiving greater blessings than we have ever dreamed of. {George Matheson}
    But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up their wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not be faint. {Isaiah 40:31}


    Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. {Romans 12:12}
    Learn to say 'no' to the good so you can say 'yes' to the best. {John C Maxwell}
    Be blessed! And go for a walk... You might stumble upon this yummy and thought-provoking fruit.


    [my delicious reward]

    Aug 30, 2011

    the desert, the prison cell, and the storm: three paintings of grace

    Don't you love it when you read a chapter in the Bible that you've read many times before, but this time, something special just pops out at you-- practically smacking you across the forehead with a banner screaming "remember this!" I had this moment Sunday reading Psalms 107. I was so encouraged by the beauty of these verses. It's a long [but oh, so worth it!] psalm, so I will highlight the key areas that jumped out at me and hope you will also be comforted and uplifted by this psalm.

    Eight times in Psalms 107 the psalmist reminds the reader to give thanks to the Lord  "for He is good ... for His love endures forever... for His wonderful deeds ... for His unfailing love ... " A myriad of reasons why we should thank and exalt Him are listed throughout this psalm in between several beautiful metaphors of God's redemptive and saving power that are painted onto the canvas of Psalm 107. So, I suppose the main lesson of this psalm is to praise God in the good times as well as the hard times.

    Here are the "paintings" that make up the masterpiece of Psalms 107:


    Painting of Grace One: Thirsty in the Desert

    4 Some wandered in the wilderness,
          
    lost and homeless.
    5
    Hungry and thirsty, they nearly died.
    6 “Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble,
          and He rescued them from their distress.
     7 He led them straight to safety,
          to a city where they could live.
     8 Let them praise the Lord for
    His great love
    and for the wonderful things He has done for them.
     9
    For He satisfies the thirsty
          and fills the hungry with good things.

    This metaphor is described by a man named Garth Kroeker in his blog. He used it to explain how mental illness is like a desert, but I think I can apply the same metaphor to our overall journey in life.
    "You may feel lost or starved. The view may be exactly the same, despite having invested days, weeks, or months, trying to forge ahead.

    There may be life-threatening moments of intense thirst, and an uncertainty whether you will make it through the day.

    The light of day may be intolerable and oppressive, and you may out of necessity have to work only at night, even though you may fear the darkness."
    I have had moments where I feel I have been walking for miles, yet seem to have the same view as days before. Had I been walking in circles? The sun's fiery rays beating down upon one's back may lead to intense thirst, confusion, feeling lost, starved, and ultimately, the utter darkness of hopelessness.

    But thankfully [and oh, so joyfully!], as children of a loving Father, we can call upon God and He will lead us "straght to safety" [v.6], rescuing us from distress... because after even a little while in the desert, you are dressed in distress. We serve a God who "satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things" [v.9]. Later in the chapter, the psalmist tells us "He also turns deserts into pools of water, the dry land into springs of water." [v.35]. Can you imagine springs and pools in your desert? Even if you can't, God can!

    Take these verses to heart about the living waters that are available to those who are suffering through the desert wasteland and let them minister to you more than my words ever could:
    • "And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment." [Rev. 21:6]
    • "Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” [John 7:38]
    •  "When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the LORD will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them." [Isaiah 41:17]
    •  "He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers." [Psalms 78:16]
    • "Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert." [Isaiah 35:6] 
    •  "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you." [Ezekiel 36:25]

    Painting of Grace Two: Shackled in a Prison Cell
    (1)

    10 Some sat in darkness and deepest gloom,
          
    imprisoned in iron chains of misery. 11 They rebelled against the words of God,
          scorning the counsel of the Most High.
     12 That is why He broke them with hard labor;
          they fell, and no one was there to help them.
     13
    “Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble,
          and He saved them from their distress.

    14
    He led them from the darkness and deepest gloom;
          He snapped their chains.
     15 Let them praise the Lord for His great love
          and for the wonderful things he has done for them.
     16
    For He broke down their prison gates of bronze;
          He cut apart their bars of iron.
     

    Sin binds us like shackles on a prisoner with "iron chains of misery" [v.10], "darkness and deepest gloom" [v.14]. But how joyfully we can shout praise when He breaks down our own prison gates and cuts apart the bars of iron that imprison us in depression, worry, guilt, shame. He is the one who sets us free!

    I wrote about this metaphor in a previous post, so please read it for a bit more study [and a poem that I wrote] of this painting of grace: chains be broken.
    Painting of Grace Three: The Raging Storm


    23 Some went off to sea in ships,
          plying the trade routes of the world.
     24 They, too, observed the Lord’s power in action,
          his impressive works on the deepest seas.
     25 He spoke, and the winds rose,
          stirring up the waves.
     26 Their ships were tossed to the heavens
          and plunged again to the depths;
          the sailors cringed in terror.
     27 They reeled and staggered like drunkards
          and were at their wits’ end.
     28 “Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble,
          and He saved them from their distress.
     29 He calmed the storm to a whisper
          and stilled the waves.
     30 What a blessing was that stillness
          as He brought them safely into harbor!
     31 Let them praise the Lord for His great love
          and for the wonderful things he has done for them

    32 Let them exalt him publicly before the congregation
     and before the leaders of the nation.


    Whatever storm is in our present or near future, we serve a faithful, loving God who has the power to still the storms in our souls and lead us beside the still waters of His peace, for as Jesus' disciples declared, "even the winds and seas obey Him!" [Matthew 8:27]. These men where stuck in a "furious storm" and "the waves swept over the boat". The frightened disciples cried out to Jesus, "Lord save us! We are going to drown!" As soon as Jesus "rebuked the winds and waves, it was completely calm"[v23-27]. How often  can the same thing be said of us as Jesus said to His disciples: "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" [v.26] 

    Sometimes the rising winds and stirred up waves are God's way of reminding us that He is the only one we can find solace in. We try in our own might, but we find ourselves pretty useless when we are confronted with twenty foot waves billowing over our little boat. But when we humble ourselves and cry out to God, He saves us from our distress, calming the waves to a stillness only found in Him. He brings us to harbor where we can declare His goodness and faithfulness. Sailors always have heroic and exciting stories after braving storms and peril. How much more do we -- those who have gone through physical, spiritual, emotional storms -- have great stories of God's great love and wonderful deeds He has done!

    Again, I have a previous post with a beautiful poem [not written by me] that perfectly adds onto this metaphor. Please consider taking a peek:
    Song of a Bird in a Winter Storm

    May these three pictures of God's amazing grace fill your mind and heart with faith in His ability to take control of every situation you are in. Whether it feels like you've been  wandering in the desert for forty years, bound in chains of past mistakes without chance of parole, or about to fall overboard during a raging storm, God is able to save us all from our distress. Let's never forget to cry out to Him in those times, and wait expectantly for the God who hears and answers.

    Aug 14, 2011

    The Love that will not let me go

    As I was reading Elisabeth Elliot's The Path of Lonliness, I stumbled upon the story of George Matheson. His experience of desolation, rejection, and pain gave birth to a hymn that has been for many, a "balm of heaven".

    Matheson went blind shortly after becoming engaged and his fiance broke off the engagement. Not only was he dealing with personal rejection in his eyes failing him, but he now felt the painful rejection of the one he thought he would live his life with. But instead of wallowing in the deep wasteland of bitterness for the rest of his days, this mighty man allowed God to transform him in his weakness. In the following hymn, it is plain to see that Matheson "gave back his life, restored the light of his life, opened his heart, laid down life's glory". In other words, he totally surrendered his life, which was only able to come when he fully trusted the Joy Giver.

    Elliot writes that Matheson's blindess and rejection proved to be the exact means of illumination the Love of God. Instead of drowning in confusing thoughts, self-pity, resentment, bitterness, and and age-old question (Why?), he listed to God's sweet whisper, Trust Me. He sang out to the Love that will never let him go. Now his sweet song can be sung by generations of souls hungering for that same Love. That same Light. That same Joy. And oh, that glorious Cross.

    O Love that wilt not let me go,
    I rest my weary soul in Thee;
    I give Thee back the life I owe,
    That in Thine ocean depths its flow
    May richer, fuller be.

    O Light that followest all my way,
    I yield my flickering torch to Thee;
    My heart restores its borrowed ray,
    That in Thy sunshine's blaze by day
    May brighter, fairer be.

    O Joy that seekest me through pain,
    I cannot close my heart to Thee;
    I trace the rainbow through the rain,
    And feel the promise is not vain
    That morn shall tearless be.

    O Cross that liftest up my head,
    I dare not ask to fly from Thee;
    I lay in dust life's glory dead,
    And from the ground there blossom red
    Life that shall endless be.
    Chris Tomlin has an amazing version of this hymn. You may need to silence my music player at the bottom of the page to be able to stop that music and hear this one.

    May we also learn to surrender all that is in our heart. The desires and dreams, but also the painful rejections and bitterness residing in the dark corners of our hearts. May His glorious love and light shine in those hidden areas and fill us with a joy that "seekest [us] through pain". We can then join Matheson in tracing the rainbow through the rain and trusting that there will come a tearless morn.

    "...weeping my endure for a night,
    but joy cometh in the morning"
    [Psalm 30:5]