Monday, February 16, 2015

When We Cannot See

Life is so often heartbreaking. Whether suffering enters a life as the result of one person's specific sin or just unexplained tragedy that is a part of this broken world, it feels as though the rug has been pulled from underneath your feet. The air has been sucked from your lungs, and the future seems unbearable at times.

Often, when pondering an ongoing situation that seems hopeless or when hearing of sudden, unexpected loss, my mind and heart can wander to a place of doubt. Suffering in the lives of others can leave my faith feeling shaky, and I sometimes fear that suffering that could enter my own life at some point would destroy my faith. It is so easy to speak of God in theory or to study theology as it applies to other people, but when trouble hits close to home, explanations do not often come as easily.

Circumstances can quickly take you from a place of certain faith to a place where you are questioning the character and/or the very existence of God.

It doesn't take us long to think of a situation, whether in our own lives or in the lives of people halfway around the world, that seems to contradict the promises and character as revealed in the Word of God. We throw around light, airy-sounding promises from Scripture and buy pretty paintings of reassuring verses to hang in our house, but do we believe those words when trouble comes?

Many times, my first reaction is to question. How could you? Who are you? Can I really trust you?

But the Lord takes me back to this choice when circumstances and the Word don't seem to match up:

You can allow what you see around you determine what you believe about Me, or you can allow what you believe about Me determine how you see the things around you.

Isn't that faith? The hope of things not seen?

Our circumstances cannot define our theology. The Lord acknowledges in His own Word that we cannot always see the evidence of the object of our faith.

In Genesis 49, the Lord, through a prophecy given by Jacob to his twelve sons, promises that the royal scepter will not leave the tribe of Jacob's son, Judah, until the final King arrives.

The scepter will not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he to whom it belongs shall come
    and the obedience of the nations shall be his.


So, many years later, when the nation of Israel is dissatisfied with the job God is doing as their king and they prematurely demand a human king "like all the other nations" (insert whiny teenager voice), the Lord makes it very clear to His prophet, Samuel, that the man He is calling for the job is Saul. He's a handsome, tall, rich guy with a lot going for him. Seems like the right choice...except for the fact that he is from the tribe of Benjamin.

This may seem insignificant, but I can imagine that, if I were from the tribe which had been promised the throne, I would have some questions. Catching God in a lie would never be insignificant. In that moment, it would seem unquestionably obvious that God was going back on His word. He had lied, or had at least been unfaithful, and if we can find God being unfaithful even once, then He is no longer worthy to be the object of our faith at all.

However, you might know the end of the story. Saul fails as king, and, before he can really get started, God declares that his reign will not endure. A new king is named. A king from the tribe of Judah. The one God had planned from the beginning, before the Israelites thought they knew better.  But even with God's declaration and anointing of a new king, it takes decades for this man from Judah to take the throne.

Or how about the cross? Did any situation ever seem more hopeless, more like a failure on God's part, than the death of His Son? Yet nothing could be farther from the truth. In what seemed like the ultimate lack of faithfulness and victory, the greatest victory was won. God showed Himself faithful to the promise He had made from the very beginning.

Both now and then, it can often seem that God is not going to come through, but the beauty comes from the ashes for those who wait in faith.

Whether in the daily struggles of life, in the great tragedies that befall us, or in my own wrestling with my belief about who God is in light of the circumstances around me, I must to cling to the Word of God by the grace of God, maintaining my trust in Who God says He is even when what is in front of my eyes seems to disagree.

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Hebrews 11

...in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time,  and which now at his appointed season he has brought to light... Titus 1

Saturday, February 14, 2015

To My Almost-Valentine's Birthday Boy


This boy. He's had my heart from the start. He is our little encourager.

He loves to love. The boy couldn't finish his math the other day because he just wanted to kiss my arm too much.

If someone in our family is going to have a smile on their face, it's him.

He says he will buy the house next to me when he grows up, and I sure hope he does.

Seven years of this sweet thing. I don't deserve it, but I'm sure thankful for it.

Luke, your mama loves you more than you'll ever know. I'm glad the Lord has lent you to me.

Happy Birthday, Pookie Bear!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

No Teacher Needed

I keep thinking of blogging, but the energy and coherent thoughts are typically not available by the time the opportunity presents itself. So, instead, I plop myself on the couch and watch something which originally aired on BBC. What was my life like before I was introduced to BBC? Dreadful, I think.

I feel nervous. I must be out of practice when it comes to bearing my soul with whomever might venture by. However, all I've been writing lately are papers about Benjamin Franklin, apples, and rocks, so writing something a little more personal sounds nice. I'm wondering if I can enjoy it, though, because I only thought I was a grammar Nazi before. Now that I'm teaching grammar to my kids all day long, and actually learning lots of new grammar rules I didn't know or remember, I cannot read anything or listen to anybody without determining their sentence structure and pattern and whether or not they're using the correct case of their pronouns.

I'd just like to say that this whole thing called life is hard. Relationships, homeschooling, cooking, laundry, cleaning, contemplating deep things...all hard. Each day is filled with so many choices, and so often I end the day feeling that I have chosen poorly in most instances. But every once in a while, I remember and enjoy the grace of God. Not nearly often enough, but more than I used to. (Ugh...sentence fragment.)

People constantly ask how the homeschooling is going. Often, people ask the really hard question, "So do you like homeschooling?" or, "Are you enjoying homeschooling?"

And I want to say, "Define like," or, "What exactly do you mean by enjoy?"

It is so hard. Not because it is really so hard, but because I am the one doing it. And I make things hard.

What I am enjoying, in a "deep satisfaction" kind of way, not a "jumping for joy" kind of way, is what the Lord is teaching me through this journey.

GRACE

I can define it for you, but I struggle to know, enjoy, and live in the grace of God. By his grace, I have come to understand that without living in that very grace, I have missed the boat. And I don't want to miss the boat. Because who wants to miss the best cruise ship ever with tons of peace, feasting, and joy on the schedule of events?

Sunday night, as I peered into the busy week ahead, and Monday morning, as I waded through the guilt I had at leaving my kids to do school while I went to a technically not required event meant purely for my benefit and enjoyment, I was not living in grace. In typical fashion, I was relying on my understanding and effort to make a success of my day and my week.

I contemplated staying home and ditching the event, but I felt a tad bad about that as well. I had committed to going, and I hate to break a commitment. So, I skipped my workout, scratched out a school list for the kids to complete, tidied up as best I could, and raced out the door, throwing up a guilt-ridden prayer to the Lord.

Feeling like a failure as a mom and a homeschool teacher for leaving my kids on one of our only three super-focused school days each week, I arrived at my destination feeling worn. But God is gracious.

I sat and soaked in some of the most refreshing teaching of the Word that I've heard in a long time. It was balm to my soul...all about the grace of God, not just in salvation (being saved from sin and death and given life eternal and a new heart) but in sanctification (being made to know and look like God in my everyday life). Oh, how sweet the reminder that I am not only saved by God's power and unmerited favor, but I am made more loving, holy, kind, more at peace, joyful, patient, and Christ-like by that same power and unmerited favor.

Why do we strive to make ourselves love God and love others more? Why do we think that we must pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and just try harder? Why do we heap the failures, condemnation, and hopelessness upon ourselves as we try to go it alone? Why do we read His Word, see how we fail to measure up, and resolve to "do better"?

We are simply to set our minds on Christ, repent of our sin, dive into His Word, and trust Him to do the work.

As my soul began to be refreshed, we took a quick break and I called home to check on the kiddos. Jack answered the phone in the middle of typing his paper. His cheerful little voice greeted me, and when I asked how it was going, he replied, "I have four stars already!"

Me: "Huh?"

Jack: "Yeah, if we get five stars, we get to do something special. Luke has already finished his work and has five stars."

And then I passed out. Okay, not really, but I thought I could. If you have ever tried to teach Luke anything other than Pok√©mon facts or how to put a dvd in the dvd player, you'd pass out, too. That boy...I love him, but the way he sings everything we do can make me a little nuts. And the hour long battle we had over his math the other day because "Forty-eight math problems is too many!!!!!!!!!" just about did me in. (When I finally outsmarted him and tricked him into doing math, it took him about two and a half minutes to do the forty-eight problems.)

Done with his work?

So I got Maddie (a.k.a. the School Wizard) on the phone, and, cool as a cucumber, she rattled off the list of things they'd all accomplished in two hours and let me know they'd shortly be putting in a movie because they were almost done. And I will also add that there was no screaming, fighting, or crying in the background.

With my jaw on the floor, I hung up the phone and, dumbfounded, I laughed and told my friends that apparently school goes much, much, much better when I'm not there. One friend just hugged me and said, "That's just the Lord."

It may sound trite, but it's true. In that moment, I could imagine a big smile spreading across God's face as He enjoyed my reaction, but also as He took pleasure at the relief and release I felt.

I was so worried about my kids' education, and the Lord so sweetly reminded me that He doesn't even need me to accomplish His work in their lives. He does use me, but He does not need me. He doesn't need my schedules (which never pan out anyway), my plans (which some days don't even get made), or even my presence (which usually is not a joyful one). He has begun this work, and He is completely able and faithful to complete it.

There is such freedom in God's sovereignty and grace. His faithfulness and power can provide us such peace and rest when we fully trust Him.

And today, He kindly gave me a field known as "the craziness of everyday life" on which to practice the truths He is patiently teaching me. Really, every circumstance is an opportunity to seek grace and find the Lord in the big and the small. I am finding that He will reveal His grace and presence to me when I stop and ask, and that brings hope to those of us in the trenches.

 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24