Light that Swallows Shifting Shadows

“Sunny morning
You can hear it
Siren’s warning
There is weather on both sides
And I know it’s coming

Just like before
There’s a black dog
That scratches my door
He’s been growling my name saying
You better get to running

Can you make it better for me
Can you make me see the light of day
Because I got no one
Who will bring me a big umbrella
So I’m watching the weather channel

And waiting for the storm”[i]

My breakfast room faces east. The morning sun streams in through the deck doors and stretches in long diagonals across the table. My youngest, Jamie, is always the first up, although not as early as his younger years. We’ve spent many a morning in darkness at that table, eating cereal to the jolting sound of cartoons invading my quiet first cup of coffee.

I used to resent that – no time of morning without a kid on my heels. I could not get past him. Even when I awoke first, Jamie would hear my cracking ankles down creaking steps, and inevitably come bumping down behind me. I quit trying. Now, Jamie and I sit together at the morning table. He eats and watches the noise, while I tune it out and try to read.

I like to open all the windows and welcome the morning light. Jamie usually lasts only a couple bites before he’s up closing the curtain, complaining about the sun in his eyes. One morning, he surprised me with a deeper revelation. I am learning not to underestimate a child. Just when you think your 7-year-old is lost is his latest Lego creation, leaving a trail of crumbs to clean, he turns and holds out bread. Soul-nourishing, faith-infusing, hope-inspiring bread.

After he closed the curtain, Jamie returned to his seat, turned to me and asked, “Mommy, will we have shadows when we get to heaven?”

    “I don’t know”, I answered, “What do you think?”

Jamie paused to consider it for a moment, and then spoke with the full weight of glory, “No. There can be no darkness when He brings us to the light”. Just like that – a theologian emerged from the Captain Crunch. I sat stunned, trying to absorb all he addressed in one simple sentence. So much to hold onto in the face of the shifting shadows and storms of life.

What Jamie didn’t know was how hard I had been wrestling in the darkness. How the shifting shadows were trying to swallow me down. Even my dreams betrayed my fears. I went to bed praying off worry, and awoke with a loud cry in my spirit. I surely have walked in the valley of the shadow of death, and I have been afraid. I have often tried to outrun that “black dog” growling my name, nipping at the heels of my heart. Relentlessly. I have become skilled at forecasting the storm, trying to steer around the worst of it. Jamie didn’t know any of that, or how hard his momma was fighting for hope of a shadowless day, in a Savior who is the same yesterday, today, and forever!

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).

Jamie surely is a gift from the Father of heavenly lights. I welcome his boisterous footsteps behind me these days, as much as I welcome the morning sun. What I didn’t know until that day is that sometimes the boy brings the light with him down those stairs.  A ray of sun across the shadows of my heart. Bread of truth to a hope-hungry soul.

When Darkness seems to hide His face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil
Christ alone; cornerstone
Weak made strong; in the Saviour’s love
Through the storm,
He is Lord, Lord of all[ii]

[i] Song, “Weather Channel” by: Sheryl Crow

[ii] Song, “Cornerstone” by: Hillsong United

When You Have a Thinking Problem

“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain” (Psalm 139:6)

I was discussing the Meyers-Briggs personality test with my son recently. A counselor in the prison offered it to him as a means of self-discovery. He is an “ENFJ”. On paper, we have some similarities, and one striking difference. Whereas, he is a strong “F”, or feeler, I am a strong “T”, or thinker. As we discussed the differences between the two, a lightbulb of sorts went off in my head.

I’ve realized for some time how my thinking (I should say over-thinking) leads to trouble. I am a person who will think and re-think every possible angle of a situation, looking for anything that I could have done differently to change it, prevent it, or improve the outcomes. This has led me to take on more responsibility than is truly mine, especially with regard to my children. That being said, you can imagine the type of grueling self-analysis and scrutiny that goes into trying to understand a son in prison. Let’s just say, I have been sorting through the “yours, mine, and ours” pile for years, trying to determine what parts I need to “own”, what parts are their responsibility, and what parts are the common pre-disposition of our fallen nature. The sin disposition we all share, whether or not we “own” it, and that can only be dealt with in Jesus. (Praise God for His grace!)

My son tells me often I beat myself up too much. He doesn’t want me to take on anything of his situation. I appreciate that he is in the process of recognizing his responsibility, even if he is slow to acknowledge the true cure (Jesus!). I also appreciated the opportunity to look at my thinking problem again, and glean the learning the Lord is showing me from it.

Years ago, a friend of mine quoted Psalm 139 to me in regard to my situation. “It is too lofty for you”, she had said. And it was true. The situation was so much bigger than me, my frail and limited understanding, and my impotent thinking power. In these years, I am learning (slowly) the meaning of “leaving it all quietly to God”, what it means to “be still” before Him in absolute trust of who He is, and the power He has to redeem life, relationships, and situations.

All in His timing, and His ways….which are MUCH higher than mine.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).

He allows us to be put in these situations, I believe, not only to show us our own limitations, but to reveal His limitless power and all-sufficiency. Coming to the end of our own thinking capacity, drives us to our knees – the best posture to receive true wisdom from on high. The only posture where wisdom is possible, because all true wisdom comes from God. We can’t think our way out of a wet paper bag… that is a trustworthy saying worth taking to heart!

Oswald Chambers once said, “You can’t think your way out of a spiritual muddle….you must obey your way out of it”. I love that. Oswald has a memorable way with words, doesn’t he? And his advice also happens to be absolutely true. Take it from a muddler, who has made a long-standing practice of mulling it over, and over, and over. One who has been proud of her ability to think on her feet, think of creative solutions to problems, think her way out of a jam. This thinking is the way of stumbling in deep darkness, we don’t even know it is ourselves we stumble over. The way to light is through obedience, “Casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:4).

Think of it this way: casting down our higher thinking opens us up to thinking from on high. The Lofty One, in high and holy places, dwells with the lowly and contrite in spirit (Isaiah 58:15).

And a note to the worriers: this over-thinking is the road to regret, guilt, and self-loathing. “Godly sorrows brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (2 Cor. 7:10). Take Him at His Word, and leave your worries there.

 

Boots on the Ground

This might be a strange topic for the Christmas season, but something I wanted to share. I have been studying the book of Revelation this year in my Bible study class, and so we are taking a close look at “end times”. Biblical prophecy is a complex matter, often with elements that have been fulfilled, and some “not yet” fulfilled. The matter is further complicated by the differing opinions of the scholars. There are so many different beliefs on the same passages, it is hard to form a solid understanding.

But that is exactly my prayer this year.

I want to know, and take to heart, what the Lord would have me learn from this year. I am praying for concrete, tangible take-aways from all intangible, often symbolic, complexities. Mostly, I want to know what I need to know to live my life effectively for Him – now. Today, and every day, until the end comes; one foot in front of the other.

When the study began, my first thought is that studying the end is not so different from studying the whole, and, specifically, the faith required is the same faith required to believe any of it. I am not sure why, at first, it appears to be so different and complex. If we believe Jesus is the Son of God, prophesied as “the child born to us” (Isaiah 9) at Christmas, Jesus the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), Jesus who rose from the grave (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20), and ascended to heaven (Matthew 28, Acts 1), then why do we struggle to embrace the Jesus described in Revelation? He is the same Jesus. All the other things recorded about Him have been true, and happened just as the Word of God said. Why do we question or doubt the certainty of a final end – judgment of the earth?

Our leaders have been talking about the “certainty of judgment” the last couple of weeks. They have also acknowledged the hardship in looking closely at the fact that judgment is real, and coming. It is difficult to think that the world as we know it will be destroyed, and all who reject Jesus will perish. It is a sobering and unsettling reality. But it should unsettle us. It should ignite a fire under us in how we are living life today. Who are we telling about this? Who needs to know? But this presents a whole host of other problems, doesn’t it? We don’t want to be an alarmist, labeled a fanatic. We fear rejection, ridicule, and scorn. Don’t we? I have to admit that I do.

I believe understanding Revelation is critical to “growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord” (2 Peter 3). This is not an area where we can rely on others to interpret. Just as faith forms in concrete ways from studying the other parts of the Word, so it must be with Revelation. I would encourage you to get into the book of Revelation. For local friends, Bible Study Fellowship offers classes for men, women, and children. We have a welcome class the first week of every month. Please consider this for the first of the year, we are only on chapter 7 this week. There is plenty to go, and learn.

Last week, my group was talking about the fear we all have in the increased violence and killing in our world. We talked about how fearful we are to be in public with our families, and how God has called us to be a light and hope to others as the terror increases. We prayed for one another to get free from our fears by focusing on Jesus – the Sovereign Lord – who rules and reigns over every aspect of every life. In the middle of this discussion, the Lord brought to mind a concrete visual (just as I have prayed). I thought of the Scripture we cross-referenced this week in Zechariah 14, as we talked about the “great and terrible day of the Lord”. It says, “Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south”.

In this country, we talk a lot about whether or not we should send troops to the Middle East to address the savage terrorism there. We look to political candidates for leadership and actions. Who will put the “boots on the ground” in the conflict?

Jesus is coming, and His boots will split apart the mountains when He sets His foot upon the Mount of Olives. I want you to think about that. Jesus Christ, with His nail-scarred feet that shine like bronze glowing in a furnace (Revelation 1:15), will set foot on this earth again. And when His boots hit the ground, the battle belongs to Him. All terror and sin will be removed from the earth in its final judgment.

Let this thought encourage you, and terrify you in the fear of the Holy Lord. Let this thought stabilize you because He has set our feet upon a ROCK – that cannot be shaken. Though the mountains give way, His covenant of peace will never be removed (Isaiah 54:10). If we belong to Him, we have nothing to fear in the day of judgment.

This Christmas, as you behold the tiny toes wriggling in the manger, see the feet that will crush the head of Satan when Jesus once again sets foot on this earth.

 

 

Deep Thoughts and Deep Knee Bends

Yesterday was a good day. I am four-days-in-a-row into my exercise program and feeling pretty good about it. I feel best after it is done for the day. I have decided to treat it like anything that I don’t particularly enjoy, but must be done. Like dishes, for example. I hate doing dishes. Yet I do them several times each day. Exercising my body is like that. I need to do it every day. Whether or not I want to is beside the point.

I was feeling pretty encouraged yesterday for other reasons. I had a good morning in the Word, felt directed by God on several important things going on in my life, and had a good conversation with a family member. I thought a breakthrough moment, perhaps.

We were discussing faith. I made a statement similar to what I’ve stated above. “You may not be able to control your thoughts or feelings, but you can control your behavior”. This reminded me of a quote from Beth Moore. “Faith is not the absence of fear. Faith is doing it anyway, when you are quaking in your boots”. I told this family member to do it afraid. Do it even if it doesn’t feel right. I said if you do it in faith, eventually your thoughts and feelings will follow.

This conversation came back to me in the middle of my workout yesterday. It happened at a moment when I didn’t particularly feel like continuing. I realized in the middle of a squat, I was daily exercising faith by sticking to this routine. I am a living witness to what I said to my family member about faith. Kind of makes it hard to back out, eh? God is for real in teaching discipline. And I am so grateful.

I am not the first to make the connection between faith and our body. Paul talked about this extensively in his letters to the early churches. I read 1 Corinthians 9 this morning, so much wisdom in his words, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore, I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Cor. 9:24-27).

Paul was talking about his ministry to others. He basically is saying he practiced what he preached. Living by faith is entering into strict training. Whether or not we realize it, we are running a race marked out for us in front of others. Our lives are on display in this marathon race. Running with purpose, focus, and discipline are daily exercises of our faith. This helped me push through when I wanted to quit, and I pray helps the little eyes watching me push-off their own starting blocks.

 

 

When You Are Afraid to Go Deeper with God

I set my alarm this morning, determined to have a few quiet moments with the Lord in His Word before Jamie gets up. Even as I type that, the anxiety swells inside me. I used to be the type of person who spent at least an hour every morning pouring over the Word and prayer. After my older kids left for school, I had hours before my young daughter woke up. Perfect time to spend with the Lord. But that was then, this is now. And things have changed.

I’ve blamed this change on Jamie – my energetic rooster of a boy who rises well before dawn. But, in truth, Jamie is only one factor. Albeit, a bossy one. This morning, he woke up (as usual), and I put him back to bed. I reset my alarm to give him a little time to fall back to sleep. As I lay there, contemplating (and possibly pouting) about how difficult it is to slip past Jamie, I sensed the Lord’s presence. The words of a song arose, and without realizing it, my spirit was already in worship. God made it clear to me that I’ve been too easily defeated by my rambunctious son. Too often, I’ve taken the lazy way out, conceding all is lost once Jamie is awake. Today, I felt the Lord impress me with my need to be more authoritative in carving out time for Him. I need to stop using Jamie’s strong personality as an excuse, and letting him steamroll me.

Why was I allowing this? I started to sense there were deeper reasons for my retreat from God. Maybe I feared going further because the way had gotten steep, narrow, and painful. Very painful. I definitely had skin in the game, and the scars to prove it. God was revealing all this to me as I lay in the dark, waiting for the chance to turn on the light, hoping Jamie would fall back to sleep before I lost the desire to truly see.

There are treasures in the darkness when we are willing to search them out. I was grateful this morning for my newfound willingness to ask the tough questions, and wait to hear the response. God rewarded my perseverance. Jamie did sleep, and I got to read a whole selection of passages, including cross-references and study notes. Oh, the riches of His glorious grace!

In my reading, I discovered the disillusionment of another follower of Christ. John the Baptist faltered in his faith. The study note said this was “surely aggravated by his being in prison”. John was alone, in the dark of a prison cell, when he began to doubt. This was not how he had envisioned things would go with the coming of the Messiah. He was having a “how did I get here” moment. He must have wondered if he had gotten something wrong, which I totally identified with. He questioned so much, he sent a couple disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the One, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:18).

Hard question, don’t you think? He was pretty much confessing his lack of faith….to Jesus. That took courage. But we get desperate in the dark. We need answers, and quickly, because our spirits are fainting.

Jesus did not admonish John. He didn’t rake him over the coals for asking the question, or being honest about where he was. Jesus simply pointed to the evidence. “Tell John the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear……blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me” (Luke 7:22, 23).

Wait, what does that last part mean? The ESV says it this way, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me”.

To take offense means, “to feel hurt, angry, resentful, insulted”.

John clearly could have taken offense. Had he not been faithful to his calling? Why was he in prison? Why did Jesus not protect him, or rescue him from the situation? Hard questions. Even harder when the answers you wanted don’t come. Let us remember John the Baptist was beheaded shortly after this. Lost his head, and his life, to gain the eternal life that cannot be taken. Because John believed in the evidence, and in the One who had come. John believed in God’s Kingdom come, even as He waited in the dark for its final fulfillment.

John is not much different from us. We also profess our faith in Jesus and His coming Kingdom. We also sift through things not happening according to our plans, and are left with the hard questions, few answers, and this continuing darkness.

What I learned this morning in my darkness is that the True Light is already shining. If we are willing to ask the hard questions, to make an honest admission, He is quick to shine His light of truth. He reveals us to ourselves: where we are struggling, stumbling, faltering; and the deeper reasons for it. No one who truly walks with Christ does so without skin in the game, and scars to prove it. We might lose life and limb, but only to find the life that is truly life. This is what it means to be a partaker in Christ, the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings. This is what Jesus meant when He said he must “eat His flesh” and “drink His blood” (John 6). And this is the point when so many take offense, and turn back.

Don’t fear your darkness, or let it become an excuse to distance yourself from God. Press into Him in the places you don’t understand, the places where you are tempted to doubt, or fall in defeat. Persevere, knowing that “we have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first” (Hebrews 3:14). Be amazed when your spirit rises quickly to worship, and you hear His welcome whisper, “I give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name” (Isaiah 45:3).

Then, be swift to turn on your light and do what your faith requires. This is the essence of going deeper with God.