Archive for the ‘Following Christ’ Category

The End of Myself

May 29th, 2015

Desperation.

That’s what I felt as Tirzah Mae’s not sleeping at night approached two months.

Would she ever sleep through the night again? Would my “good” baby, who never cried unless she needed something, ever return?

Despite the doctor’s ultimate diagnosis of colic as the source of her crying and frequent night waking (in other words, “crying for no understandable reason”), I was convinced there was something causing her crying. Yes, we ruled out GERD when two weeks of medication had no effect. But prior to this, Tirzah Mae never cried unless she needed something: she was hungry, she was dirty, she was overtired, she was in pain.

As I got up with her yet again, bleary eyed and exhausted from two months of rarely finishing a sleep cycle and from the effort of cleaning up a filthy mobile home while my own home slipped back into chaos, I was absolutely desperate.

I made a plan to do what I’d been toying with for weeks – I’d go to the pharmacy, pick up every scientifically suspect remedy. Gripe water. Simethicone. Homeopathic remedies.

I was willing to throw away my scientific dogmatism, to do anything, however contrary to my training and philosophy, if only it would help.

That’s when, in desperation, I cried out to God: “God, heal my daughter.”

At long last, she was soothed and fell back asleep. I left her in her crib and returned to my own bed, where I continued to cry out to God until I fell asleep myself.

And I slept. Two hours, three, four.

I roused, thinking surely my overtiredness had kept me from hearing Tirzah Mae’s screams. I heard her rustling in her crib – and nothing more.

I fell back asleep.

Six hours after she had fallen asleep, she awoke and fussed for her mother.

The next night, she slept another five to six hours. And the next. She’s slept wonderfully since Tuesday.

And I turn, at the end of myself, wondering why I waited so long to turn to God.

Why is it that I only turn to Him after I’ve diagnosed her myself, after I’ve turned to the internet, after I’ve turned to the doctor, after the medication fails? Why did I wait until my only other resort was hocus-pocus?

It’s frightening, how slowly I turn to the one who knows all things, who alone has the power to change all circumstances.

It’s humbling, how sinful I am even in turning to Christ.

But it’s so amazing, how God’s mercy doesn’t punish me for waiting to turn to Him. Instead, He graciously grants my daughter (and myself) sleep.

Just one more example of the gospel at work: God, graciously giving good gifts to those who don’t deserve it, forgiving those who turn aside so often to self-reliant idolatry.

Thank you, Lord, for bringing me to the end of myself. Thank you, Lord, for your patience with my delay. Thank you for reminding me again how it is only in you that I live and move and have my being. May I turn aside from self-idolatry and ever more quickly turn to you, the source of all life.

Thankful Thursday: Truth in Song

October 9th, 2014

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As we showered this morning, I began to sing “It is Well with My Soul” (secretly enjoying the allergy-deepened sound of my own voice.)

“When peace like a river
attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever the cost
Thou hast taught me to say
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”

It is well (It is well)
With my soul (With my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul.”

I began on the second verse

“Though Satan should buffet
Though trials shall come…

And I stopped, searching my mental song bank for the rest of the verse. Where was the promise of deliverance, the reassurance that everything would be all right, the reminder that the trials would not overwhelm?

I gave up my quest and sang what came to mind.

“Let this blest assurance control
That God hath regarded my sinful estate
and hath shed His own blood for my soul.”

It was only after I’d finished the third verse that I realized the truth.

“My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part but the whole,
was nailed to the cross
And I bear it no more.
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!”

That had been the second part of the second verse. This song offers no blest assurance of some future event in this life. Instead, it harkens back to a blest assurance already completed: “That God hath regarded my sinful estate and hath shed his own blood for my soul.”

Yes, the looming threat of preeclampsia, of having to have a hospital birth, of maybe having to quit my job early and be on bed rest, of not being able to fully participate in our upcoming family vacation, of maybe going into premature labor – all those are trials that may come.

But my greatest problem has already been solved. My sin has been paid for, my soul secure. This is where my hope lies, not in happy outcomes on this earth, but in a blood-purchased ransom already accomplished.

So I will sing again through the tears.

“It is well (It is well)
With my soul (With my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul.”

Contemplating the Word

May 23rd, 2014

I was unfamiliar with the practice of Lectio Divina until I read a post from Tim Challies criticizing it.

According to Wikipedia, Lectio Divina is:

“a traditional Benedictine practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer intended to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God’s Word. It does not treat Scripture as texts to be studied, but as the Living Word.”

This particular practice takes four phases:
1. Reading the Word (Lectio)
2. Meditating on the Word (Meditatio)
3. Praying the Word (Oratio)
4. Contemplating the Word (Contemplatio)

The second sentence of Wikipedia’s introduction to the practice makes clear the intent and focus of Lectio Divina versus other approaches to Scripture: “It does not treat Scripture as texts to be studied, but as the living Word.”

Challies’ criticism of Lectio Divina, drawn primarily from David Helms’ Expositional Preaching, comes from a strong belief that the Scriptures are texts to be studied – and that the study of Scripture should be our primary relationship with it.

I struggle.

I believe strongly in studying the Scriptures. I love inductive Bible study. I delight in asking questions of the text and using the text to answer those questions. I enjoy cross-referencing and digging deeper into the meanings of words and phrases, looking at how one writer uses a phrase and how another does. I am a fan of expositional preaching. Studying the Word is important to me.

Yet I am also something of a mystic, one who sees Scripture as the Living Word of God, capable of working with our reason but also beyond our reason. Often Scripture is poetry, except more living than any man-turned-phrase, poetry that acts as a balm for hurts reason cannot touch. It is a sword, piercing beyond the brain to the will.

Why must we approach Scripture as either/or? Why cannot we approach it as both?

I prefer to. If I had to describe my favorite approach to Scripture, it would be as a scholastic Lectio Divina

I read the word (lectio) and questions or connections come to mind. I dig into the Word to find answers to those questions or to evaluate those connections.

I meditate on the word (meditatio) and other Scriptures, related words, sometimes disparate thoughts from what seems like nowhere arise in my mind. I jot them down and then dig into the Word to evaluate connections or contrasts between the current text and the new Scriptures that came into my mind. I look at both the words of the text and the new related word that came into my mind, evaluating how the words are used similarly and differently, how the one sheds light on the other – or perhaps doesn’t. I evaluate my strange thoughts in light of the text and sometimes find that they shed light on the text or encourage me to dig deeper, while other times they seem just rabbit trails.

I pray the word (oratio), putting what I’ve learned and seen into my own words and asking God to help me internalize (through attitudes) and externalize (through actions) His living truth. Sometimes He reveals attitudes or actions that are in disobedience to His word, and I am called to repentance. Sometimes He reveals specific actions that I must do to apply His word, and I am called to put them into practice. Sometimes He directs me to go back to the word yet again to dig for something I’ve missed.

I contemplate the Word (contemplatio) as God reveals Himself the Living Word through Scripture. I worship Him, sometimes through thoughts which run through my mind, my pen, or my voice – but sometimes through simple, incomprehensible wonder.

Yes, this is my favorite approach to Scripture – I recognize it as I read through the steps of the Lectio Divina. Yet even as I write it out in my own words, I long to experience this scholastic Lectio Divina more often, more faithfully. Instead, in the busyness of the days, I settle for just reading and possibly exploring one or two questions or connections, without taking the time to meditate, to pray, to contemplate.

Challies is undoubtedly right that emphasizing mystical connection with the Word to the exclusion of empirical study of the Word is dangerous, but I am grateful that his criticism brought to my attention the four steps of the Lectio Divina and reminded me of the value of not stopping at the first step but taking the time to truly savor the Word of God – yes, in the text itself, but also in the Living Word that it proclaims.

Stagnant

April 3rd, 2014

I was reading some of my old posts, some of those posts from the summer I met Daniel, when I was steeping in 1 John and dealing with idols and having my love transformed.

It made me ache. A hollow sort of ache. A how-have-I-lost, what-have-I-lost, where-have-I-gone sort of ache.

I miss seeing God on the pages of Scripture, miss hearing His voice as I read. I miss the intense focused dependence, the desperate knowledge that I needed God above anything else.

What was a flowing fountain has become a stagnant pool, but how did it get here and how can I restore this sullied spring?

I need Elisha’s salt to heal the waters of my heart, so that they would no longer cause death or miscarriage (2 Kings 2:19-22). But where is such salt to be found? Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah, who brings life to dead bones?

I need the water that in me becomes a a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:14).

So I come to the one who promises drink, the one who promises to cause my heart to flow out with rivers of living water.

I declare that I believe, help my unbelief.

“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”‘ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”

~John 7:37-39 (ESV)

A Gracious God Gives

January 13th, 2014

We were getting ready to sit down to plan out our day of errands. I checked my phone to remind myself of what all we needed to do.

A text from Ruth asked me if I’d be interested in going to the Spice Merchant and the Nifty Nut House with her.

It was the second Saturday of the month, we were already planning on getting our coffee from the Spice Merchant – and I needed some cardamom pods.

We arranged a time to meet.

We explored, we purchased our respective items, we visited for many minutes leaned up against a shelf of Jordan almonds. After we said our goodbyes, Daniel and I got back in the car and decided it was late enough that we needed to prioritize getting recycling to the center before it closed. We’d hold off on the library, but should we drop by the post office before or after?

Might as well go by the post office. It’s on our way.

We get in, start our self service. Daniel pushes the international button. I correct him. Military addresses aren’t considered international. I fumble around, restart the process several times by accident. A postal employee locks the door to the service counter. No worries, we’ll be able to accomplish our business out here at the 24-hour kiosk.

Finally, I push all the right buttons and the screen announces: I’m sorry, we can not process APO/FPO addresses on this kiosk. Please go to the postal counter.

I look at Daniel. He looks at me. I look at the locked door. What do we do?

“I’m sorry” Daniel says.

The door opens and the postal employee asks us if we’d like in. We will be the last people given access to that room. All who come after us are told that the post office is closed.

On our way home, we remark how fortunate it was that we ended our conversation with Ruth when we did, that we chose to go to the past office when we did rather than later.

I muse that God was good to us by giving us what we wanted.

Daniel finishes the thought, “May He give us grace to accept when He is good to us by not giving us what we want.”

After visiting the library, I read the first chapter of one of the books I checked out: Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts .

She reflects on Eve’s thought in the garden: there must be more than this, something God’s not letting me in on. Eve was right, Voskamp writes. There was more. Pain, toil, sin, death. There was more, but it wasn’t good.

It reminds me anew how often I expect God to conform to my idea of good. I rail against him for not giving me the gift I want so badly. But then, occasionally, He opens my eyes to realize that withholding the supposed gift was a gift in itself.

A gracious God gives good gifts. Whatever He gives is good. Whatever He does not give, He does not give because it is not our greatest good.

Shall I accept good from the Lord and not adversity?

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

May that ever be my cry, even as I anguish over a loss or sigh in longing for a much desired prize.

A gracious God always gives good gifts.

What I pray for your children

May 17th, 2013

If you are one of my siblings or one of my bloggy friends, I pray for you and for your children. Approximately once a week, your name pops up on my phone and, generally while I’m cleaning the toys in my office, I pray for you. If you have expressed a particular request or if I’ve deduced one from what you’ve written, I’ll pray for that; but otherwise, I pray a very specific sort of prayer.

I do not pray for your children to be obedient.

Obedient, manageable children are nice to have, easy to care for. But that isn’t what I want for you or for them.

Obedience and manageability can mask inward apathy or rebellion. Obedience and manageability can convince a child that they’re a “good kid”. They can begin to rely upon their “good kid” status. They can begin to work hard to maintain their “good kid” status. Someday, they may rebel against their “good kid” status.

I don’t pray for them to obedient. They need something more.

They need Jesus.

Even so, I do not pray for your children to love Jesus.

Many a child who “loves Jesus”–who delights to sing Bible songs, who loves to go to Sunday School, who tells his friends about Jesus–grows up to be an adult who rejects the faith.

“Loving Jesus” is often a cultural thing, about speaking the lingo of the church, singing the songs of the church, acting the way church people do.

But just like the children of hippies turned yuppie and the children of yuppies turned hipster, the children of Christianity often turn atheist or agnostic or non-practicing nothings.

I don’t pray for the to “love Jesus”. They need something more.

You see, I don’t want your children to just love Jesus, like they love their favorite toy, I want them to know Jesus.

And I don’t want your children to just know Jesus, I want them to know Jesus savingly.

And if they are to know Jesus savingly, they must know that they are depraved.

For that reason, I pray that your children would recognize their sinfulness.

I pray that they would be acutely aware of their inability to live up to God’s standard.

I pray that they would recognize the futility of their works to ever change their status.

I pray that they would fall wholly upon the mercy of God in the person of Christ.

That, my friends, is what I pray for your children.

The Discipline of the Gospel

April 22nd, 2013

On our flight home from our honeymoon, I started reading Barbara Hughes’ The Disciplines of a Godly Woman. The first discipline Hughes discusses is the discipline of the gospel.

It’s an interesting idea–that the gospel can be a discipline, that we can discipline ourselves to live out of the gospel.

But more than an interesting idea, it’s a frustrating idea.

How can I discipline myself in the gospel? It’s not like reading the Bible or going to church. It’s not something I can schedule into my day or week.

Or can I?

I tried an experiment. I set a reminder on my phone.

Remember the Gospel,” it says.

The task pops up one hour after I last marked it complete, so about every hour during my waking hours, I am reminded of the gospel.

But is this effective?

Does this really help me remember the gospel? Does it help me remember more than just the word “Gospel” but the reality that the word represents?

I gave myself limits.

I couldn’t clear the reminder, couldn’t say I’d completed the task, until I’d actually thought about the gospel–about the reality of the gospel.

It’s become almost a game, thinking of new aspects of the gospel to contemplate.

One hour, I recite a verse about the gospel.

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (I Timothy 1:15 ESV)

Another hour, I reflect on what the gospel accomplished.

Redemption. Adoption. Justification.

Yet another hour, I try to paraphrase the gospel as I might share it with an unbeliever.

We are all sinners, deserving God’s wrath and incapable of paying our sin-debt. But God loved us so much that He sent His Son Jesus, who bore God’s wrath in our place, dying on a cross so we wouldn’t have to die for our sins. Now He offers salvation to everyone who believes in Jesus’ name.

These are just scratching the surface of the gospel.

I ask myself what the gospel displays about God’s character.

Holiness. Grace. Justice. Love. Sovereignty over death.

I ask myself what the practical implications of the gospel are to my work life.

Forgiven, I must forgive. Loved despite my filthiness, I must love my clients despite their occasional crassness. Having received mercy, I must extend mercy.

As I review the ways I have been reminding myself of the gospel, I think of some more to use in the upcoming hours.

What are some stories in Scripture that exhibit the gospel? Who can I pray for who needs the gospel? What are wrong views of the gospel and what is the truth that exposes them? In what ways should the gospel influence my thoughts, my words, my actions, my writing?

Hour by hour, I discipline myself in the gospel.

How do you discipline yourself in the gospel?

Pacifying Lies and the Sympathizing Truth

September 4th, 2012

I didn’t expect, when I sat down at her table, that I’d end up hearing all about her current difficulties with school.

I was looking for a place to sit, to read, to wait for the first service to get over.

I didn’t realize that God was at work, engineering divine appointments.

Our conversation was simple enough at first. I asked the usual questions one asks of a student who has just started a new school year. How are classes? Is she settled in yet? What are her favorite parts of school?

But then the levee broke and words came pouring in from every direction, threatening to drown my unprepared mind.

She was overwhelmed. She wasn’t adjusting well. She felt lonely. She’d been made fun of. She didn’t have many friends. Some of her classes were awful. She was grieved by the language the other students used. It was all so different from her old school. She didn’t like it. Not at all.

As the muddy water rushed in, swirling with the debris of a few hard weeks at school, my mind scrambled to put up sandbags against the flood.

“Hang in there. Things will get better. You’ll see.” I wanted to say. Anything to make her feel better, to staunch the hurt she was revealing.

But God, in His wisdom, has been teaching me about loving conversation–and the first rule of loving conversation is silence.

I let her speak. Let the words come. I listened and thought and prayed.

I realized how foolish and insufficient my gut reaction was.

Who says my friend’s situation will get better? Since when was “hanging in there” what she need to do? Will she see?

Those trite phrases, as comfortable as they are to say, offered no solution to her problems, no true hope to get through her difficulties.

They were little more than pacifying lies.

When she wound down her story and shared a Scripture she’d been clinging to, I now knew how to encourage and comfort my friend.

I Peter 5:7 says, “Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” Philippians 4:6-7 says “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, through prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

I urged my friend to take her cares to Christ, to take comfort in His care, to allow His peace to guard her mind.

I could not promise my friend that her circumstances would get better. I don’t know that. But I could promise her that God has a better purpose in her trials.

God has a purpose to conform her into the image of Christ.

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”
~Romans 8:29 (ESV)

She can look back to before the foundations of time, where God was already purposing HER in His heart, where God was already thinking of her and planning for her.

She can look forward to the end of time, when she will be finally like Christ, when all this earth’s trials will meet their end and the finished product will be revealed.

She can take comfort in the present that God is purposing good things in her suffering. He is making her like Christ.

Things may not grow easier. She may not feel better. But as she fixes her eyes on Christ, He is making her better. As she looks at Christ, God is making her to look like Christ.

When I placed my hand on my friend’s shoulder, when I looked into her eyes and told her that God had a purpose in her struggles, she looked back at me with a new light in her eyes.

Far better than pacifying lies is the Sympathizing Truth.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
~Hebrews 4:15-16 (ESV)

It is only in looking to Christ that my friend can find comfort. Only in pointing to Christ that I can be a comforter.

An Old-Fashioned Hymn Sing

August 8th, 2012

I like the modern songs of worship. The wave-your-arms-in-the-air or pump-your-fist exciting music. The clap-in-time and hoot-and-holler-at-the-end type of music.

But there’s nothing that can beat the old-fashioned hymns, tried by generations of believers, refined through decades (even centuries) of worshipers.

There’s something about knowing that you are joining a host of saints before you, singing an old chorus. There’s something about meditating on the same words by which some predecessor lived and died.

You don’t need to be in a packed auditorium when you’re singing a hymn. Even if it’s just you in your car on the way home from work in Grand Island, you know you’re joining a community of believers.

Also, there’s nothing like going through a set of old hymns to awaken one’s mind to doctrine.

To remind us of our weakness in spiritual battles–and Christ’s strength on our behalf:

“Did we in our own strength confide
Our striving would be losing
Were not the right man by our side
The man of God’s own choosing
Dost ask who that may be
Christ Jesus, it is He
Lord Sabaoth by name
From age to age the same
And He must win the battle”
~Martin Luther, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”

The glory of sins removed:

“My sin–oh the bliss of this glorious thought–
My sin, not in part but the whole
Was nailed to the cross
and I bear it no more
Praise the Lord,
Praise the Lord, oh my soul”
~H.G. Spafford, “It is Well with my Soul”

The eternal hope of Christ’s righteousness:

“When He shall come with trumpet sound
O, may I then in Him be found
Dressed in His righteousness alone
Faultless to stand before the throne.”
~Edward Mote, “The Solid Rock”

The great sacrifice of Christ on our behalf:

“Well might the sun in darkness hide
And shut his glories in
When Christ, the Mighty Maker, died
For man the creature’s sin”
~Isaac Watts, “At the Cross”

The promise of glorification:

“Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power
‘Til all the ransomed church of God
Be saved to sin no more.”
~William Cowper, “There is a fountain”

The sovereignty of God over nature:

“That though the wrong seems oft so strong
God is the Ruler yet”
~Malthie D. Babcock, “This is my Father’s World”

God’s goal to make us like Christ:

“Come Desire of Nations, come!
Fix in us Thy humble home
Rise, the woman’s conquering seed
Bruise in us the serpent’s head
Adam’s likeness now efface
Stamp Thine image in its place
Second Adam from above
Reinstate us in Thy love.”
~Charles Wesley, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”

The sacrifice that motivates my holiness:

“For Thee all the follies of sin I resign…
I love Thee because Thou hast first loved me
And purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree…”
~Anonymous, “My Jesus, I love Thee”

And then a rainbow rises above the road and in raptures of delight, I sing all the more.

“This is my Father’s world
He shines in all that’s fair
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass
He speaks to me everywhere.”
~Malthie D. Babcock, “This is My Father’s World”

Bittersweet Mornings

July 15th, 2012

This morning has been the very definition of perfect.

Waking up with sun, knowing that I have plenty of time to do whatever I want to do.

Spending hours in the Word, digging deep into I John, letting the Word transform me.

Getting dressed and going to my car to get my hairbrush (which I left there yesterday after a rather rushed morning).

Bringing in the waffle blocks I’d bought at a used store last week. Searching for the perfect striped twill I’d gotten a few weeks before to make toy bags with. Cutting out a bag in the right size.

Seeing that my sewing machine was already threaded with black thread and deciding to get my black mending done while I was at it. Having plenty of time to mend several dresses and a couple pairs of slacks, even to rip out a seam that I wasn’t satisfied with.

Changing to white thread and whipping up the toy bag. Running the rope in the casing and filling the bag with waffle blocks.

Making my breakfast and enjoying it while writing a blog post.

No morning could be better.

Yet even in this, my heart is not content.

Like Naomi, returning to her homeland when God has visited His people with food, I entreat those around me to call me Mara.

God may have abundantly blessed me with today, but I am bitter that this is not my every morning. I am bitter that I have no children to play with my waffle blocks, no someone to admire my recently altered dress. I am bitter that I must work long hours in the world, leaving few for the home where I love to be.

I speak to my soul, telling it to be quiet. “Be still. Be at rest. Rejoice in the day that the Lord has given you.”

My heart does not want to listen. It wants to wallow in discontent.

I must point Mara to the end of her story, to Obed, to the promise of God in Christ.

I am not husband-less. I have Christ.

I am not child-less. I have Christ.

I am not without a Provider. I have Christ.

So do not call me Mara. I am not she.

Bitterness has no place in my soul.

Instead, I will sing like the women singing to Naomi:

“Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”

I will choose to sing with these:

“Blessed be the Lord, who has not left me this day without a Redeemer. May His name be renowned in all the earth. He is my restorer of life and the nourisher of my age; for He is more to me than anything.”

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