Monday, September 26, 2011

Resting in the Lord

The last couple of weeks have been extremely busy and somewhat exhausting for me. Between work and personal commitments, I’ve been working 10-12 hour days almost every day for the last two weeks and today after four wonderful hours of worship and service at the church, I collapsed and took that really long nap I’d been looking forward to. My plan was to gather my thoughts after my nap and write this week’s blog but found myself facing an overwhelming case of writer’s block. At first, I was upset with myself because I’ve made a commitment to you and myself to reflect on God in my life and share the hope and wisdom he freely gives me with all of you but then it occurred to me what this week’s lesson really was – Be still and know that I am God! (Psalm 46:10)

Sometimes, we all need to take a break, stop our insane rushing around and remember whose we are and why we are here. And after two weeks of dedicated service, God was telling me today, “Rest. Rest in me and let me renew you.” He is my strength and he is the one who brings the hope I try to share each week. Who better to turn to when we are dry and thirst, when we are exhausted and have nothing left to give. So with that said, I would like to share with you God’s own Word to all of us as a source of hope and reflection this week. May God add his blessing to your reading of His Word.

But now, God's Message, the God who made you in the first place, Jacob,
the One who got you started, Israel:
"Don't be afraid, I've redeemed you.
I've called your name. You're mine.
When you're in over your head, I'll be there with you.
When you're in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you're between a rock and a hard place,
it won't be a dead end—
Because I am God, your personal God,
The Holy of Israel, your Savior.
I paid a huge price for you:
all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in!
That's how much you mean to me!
That's how much I love you!
I'd sell off the whole world to get you back,
trade the creation just for you. (Isaiah 43:1-4, The Message)

How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He's the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth's foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son. (Ephesians 1:3-6, The Message)

About the pictures:
North Park (September 2011)

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Lord Is My Portion

This past week, I was enjoying lunch with three friends, all of whom have children who are grown and either away at college or out in the world living their lives. M’s youngest just left for college two weeks ago and she is having a hard time adjusting to daily life without the kids. Though they phone each other regularly, M is still missing her girls a lot. J, whose boys are a little older, comforted M by telling her that soon, she will learn to appreciate the new freedom she has now that the girls are away at school. L, whose four children are grown and out on their own for some time now chimed in expressing his longing for his kids who are scattered all over the world. They stay connected with texts, emails, and skype but it’s not the same as being together. It was at this point that I had to excuse myself.

I admit that, for a moment, a jealous part of me wanted to remind them all of how blessed they are that their children were only a phone call or email away.  It’s been 13-1/2 years since I’ve seen my Bryan or heard his voice. He never made it to college or met the girl of his dreams and I sometimes wonder what kind of man he would have been. Yet just because my son is dead and I will never see or hear or talk to him again in my lifetime, that doesn’t make their longing for their children any less valid or real. So I excused myself from the conversation and buried my sadness for the rest of the afternoon.
That night I was still feeling empty. My arms ached to hold my child and I was helpless in the knowledge that nothing else would satisfy my need, my loneliness. Confused and hurting, I cried out to God. How could God leave me with this hole in my life and my heart? He let me rant and carry on until I was exhausted and then tenderly but firmly reminded me of His Word, “You are my portion, O Lord… …I shall not want. (Psalm 119:57a; Psalm 23:1b) In those few words, God spoke a mountain of understanding and wisdom to me. I was feeling hurt, empty, abandoned and lacking because my maternal instinct and human logic insisted that only Bryan could satisfy my need, fill my emptiness and make me whole. As reasonable as that sounds, it’s not true. Only God can fill all the empty spaces of my life. Only God can satisfy my need and make me whole. My sadness and momentary jealousy came because I was looking for something else, someone else, to satisfy my need.
That’s not to dismiss the love I have for my son. There will come a day when I will hold my son in my arms again. Out of all the loved ones waiting for me in heaven, Bryan will be the first one in line, after Jesus of course, to welcome me home. But here and now, on this earth, only the Lord can fill the empty spaces of my life, satisfy my every need and make me whole. When I began to look to Jesus to fill the hole and relieve my empty, aching arms, his peace and a joy that defies all human understanding overflowed within me. My tears of pain and loneliness turned into songs of joy and a sense of fulfillment. The Lord has always been, is now, and always will be ALL I need. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:26)

About the pictures:
North Park (September 2011)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Promises, Promises

This Sunday, September 11th is a day for my family to remember, not the pain of loss and devastation that most of the nation is focused on, but to remember a promise – a vow, made forty-nine years ago on September 11, 1962 between two young people in the presence of God and family. That is the day my mom and dad promised to love and be faithful to each other through the good and the bad forsaking all others until death. And believe me there was a lot of good and a lot of bad. My dad’s Italian temper found its match in my mom’s Irish stubbornness. Add poverty and an infant to the mix and it’s a wonder they made it past the first 18 months. But it was my mom’s Irish tenacity and my dad’s Italian passion, often the cause of their conflicts, which also saw them through the tough times and made them the loving single unit of man and wife that they have been for most of their lives.

In Scripture, our relationship with God is often compared with a marriage. For example in the Old Testament, the prophet Hosea’s love for and continual forgiveness of his unfaithful wife Gomer was a picture – a living, breathing reflection of Israel’s unfaithfulness in her covenant relationship with God and God’s grace and love as he continued to pursue and forgive them, bringing them back into relationship with him. Isaiah 62:5 says: As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you. John the Baptist refers to Jesus as the bridegroom and himself as the friend who attends the bridegroom. In Matthew 9:15, Jesus refers to himself as the bridegroom and again in the Parable of the Ten Virgins as he warns his bride, the church, to be ready and waiting for his return. And in the book Revelation, Jesus the bridegroom comes back to claim his bride – you and me.

But on a day like this when we remember the evil that has been done to us and as we mourn the pain and devastation of that day ten years ago, we may find ourselves doubting God’s love. How could a loving God have allowed this to happen? Why do pain, hatred, and war exist at all in this world if God is really in control and protecting us? I don’t have a satisfactory answer for you, except to say that God’s promise, his love for us, is still just as true and real this moment as it was in the beginning when he created us, when through baptism we first entered into a covenant relationship with him as his people, and when he redeemed us through his Son Jesus Christ. God’s love and grace are still ours and his Spirit continues to be with us. His promise to be with us and care for us is still intact as Revelation 21:3 attests to: “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” One day this promise will be evident and we will rejoice over the memory of years of hardship that deepen and strengthen our relationship with him. He is our God and we are his people and no power on earth can separate us from his grace. But don’t take my word for it – embrace his Word, his promise of life to you.

Because I love you, I created you.
I chose you to be my heart's desire and
opened your ears to hear me call your name.
You are my own, my joy and I have redeemed you.
I've broken through your heart of stone, and
created in you a heart of flesh –
yes, a heart of love after my very own.
Always I will listen for your cry,
to lift you out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire
because I love you.
I will set your feet upon solid rock -
firm ground on which to stand, hand in hand,
because I love you.
I've given you a new song to sing –
a redemption song of love and grace.
I have forgiven all your sinfulness
and will not treat you as your sin deserves.
Rather I will comfort you in my arms
until your last tear has been cried and
I will heal your brokenness.
I give all of me to you
and have sacrificed my life for the you
you were yesterday,
are today,
and will be tomorrow.
The record of your sins is no more, gone and forgotten
I want only to embrace you
with a love greater than you can measure.
I love you - all of you right now
just as you are because I AM.
When you turn and go your own way,
I search until I find you and bind your wounds.
I love you and no one can take you from me –
I've made your heart my throne, my home.
You are my precious child to love and protect.
Where you wander, there I am loving you,
a new creation, Lover and loved.
Nothing, no nothing, on earth nor under
nor above can ever separate you from my love.
In love, I have crowned you with salvation,
dressed you in my own robe of righteousness
and surrounded you in the Truth of my love.
In me you find the peace your heart aches for.
In me your faith is proven by my love,
and my Word, my very Spirit, lives in you.
Together you and I are victorious,
for my power defeated our enemy long ago.
And even now I defend you, plead on your behalf -
I am your sacrifice because I love you.
I am love and you are my desire
every moment for all eternity
because I AM and I have made you mine.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Believing Outside the Box

Ever wonder how anyone can really have a “relationship” with an invisible God? Or when people say, “God told me…” or "God was there with me...," do you ever silently disregard their statement because that doesn't "really" happen? Or perhaps you try to rationalize it away with some "reasonable" explanation. Or an even more unimaginable thought – what if someone said that God miraculously healed them – yes, healed – like they had cancer and now they don't or were paralyzed and now they aren't. How hard it can be to accept that God heals, and yet, isn't that what we all hope our God does – have the power and generosity to heal our pain, our sickness?

I too have struggled and do struggle with this very issue. I have a younger cousin who at one time in his life was near death stricken with the severest case of acid reflux disease. For many years he was in great pain and malnourished because his body refused to digest his food. Though he’d taken all the medications available and had several surgeries, still his own body was fighting against him, rejecting every morsel he tried to eat. He was so weak that sometimes he’d pass out from the exertion of rolling over in bed. They eventually inserted a feeding tube to try to keep him alive.

He went to a healing service about halfway through his health battle, but to no avail. His health ever declining, he endured the severe pain inflicted by this disease, and yet, he never lost faith. One day he told his mother it was time to go to another healing service. This time, my cousin went in near death and came out completely healed which was confirmed by his physician the next day. For the first time in years, my cousin ate food and his body did not reject it. Today, he is healthy and happily pursuing a life in service to God. I saw him a few weeks ago – he is a tall, healthy, handsome young man. To look at him, you’d never know how emaciated and near death he had been for so much of his young life. As I hugged him and talked with him, I couldn’t deny that only by God’s grace and healing this young man is alive and well today. But then there is that small voice in me that says that it just doesn’t make sense.

Why would it have been so much easier, and not a struggle at all, for me to accept wholeheartedly his healing if it had occurred through the hand of a human doctor? And yet I struggle with the idea that the Creator, who knows us best and made each of us uniquely in His image, could and would heal us. It’s far outside my sophisticated, worldly American way of life and yet my cousin is proof my eyes cannot ignore. I have friends who for years had been in healing ministry and they’ve witnessed with their own eyes God’s miraculous intervention time without number and have shared these stories with me. Also, I’ve read enough miracle accounts to know that everyday God’s miraculous love and power is being seen in great and impossible ways in places all over the world. Even with all this proof, I find it difficult to break out of my little box of human understanding.

Does that stop me from believing that God is alive and personally interacting in a supernatural way in my life? Absolutely not! I decided long ago that even if God’s presence in my life and his benevolent intervention in the world doesn’t make any sense – doesn’t fit into my little box of human understanding – I still will believe. Because really, my ability or inability to understand doesn’t have any bearing on what God is able to do and does. If God could fit into my limited human ability to see and hear and feel and understand, then he wouldn’t be God and I wouldn’t have any cause for hope. Thank the Lord, he is greater than our ability to understand, explain, and prove. That doesn’t mean that I don’t question. It just means that I don’t need to find or understand the answer to believe and to know and be in relationship with Jesus.

About the pictures:
Parkwood Presbyterian Prayer Garden (July 2011)