Thursday, December 18, 2008
Speechless. Without audible uttering. Unable to form communicable words with one's tongue. Though for some it may be difficult to believe, I have found myself in this predicament a time or two. The birth of my sons--their slow motion arms and legs stretching skyward and their lifesaver red lips forming tiny ohs as they made their entrance into the world--left me utterly overwhelmed and without words. A yellow topaz ring I had admired for over a year presented in the hands of my husband to me when I thought he hadn't realized how much I loved it also found me unable to form verbal expression. A friend just yesterday told me how her husband had left her sleeping while he crawled from bed blurry eyed and dazed and headed to Wal-Mart for their 5 AM Black Friday sale to pick up their children's Christmas gift. When she realized she had overslept she dashed from bed clamoring to get dressed in hopes there might be a few of the prized items left when her husband casually said, "It's okay. I already got it." Speechless! A husband who braved the insanity of Wal-Mart on black Friday...alone! Wow. My question today is have you ever been left speechless by God? Poor Zechariah and Elizabeth don't get a lot of air time what with Mary and the baby Jesus' story only verses after their own tale of miraculous pregnancy and birth. Here were two righteous and obedient children of God who found themselves unable to bare a child. Scripture doesn't tell us of their emotions about the lack of children, but as a mom, I know that at some point in her life Elizabeth must have groaned and wept into her pillow with the longing for a child. And I wonder if anyone shared with her in her pain. I wonder if at some point she and Zechariah came to the understanding that God was sovereign and remained good despite the reality that He had not blessed them with a child of their own. So often the things withheld from us are not for our pain but for God's later glory and if we can hold onto that truth during the barren season we somehow position ourselves to fully grasp and enjoy the blessings of God when they are poured into our lives. I wonder if Zechariah and Elizabeth understood that. Now Gabriel appeared to Zechariah while he was in the holy place and tells him he is going to have a son. Naturally Zechariah is not a little surprised and certainly has some questions. My pastor pointed out that unlike Mary who when told she will give birth to the prophesied Messiah of her nation simply asked, "How can this be since I've not been with a man," Zechariah asks for some sort of a sign to prove its truth. Interesting comparison. Mary accepted what the angel said as true and simply wondered about the practical "how" God would accomplish this. Zechariah on the other hand wanted proof that what the angel said was in fact true--a sign. So often I still want to ask God for confirmation signs. I won't go there today theologically, but I do want to say that sometimes when I notice a pattern of asking God for confirmation signs it's an indicator that I'm struggling with weak faith. God's Word is clear that living out belief in what we do not tangibly see is a part of the follower of Christ's daily life. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence not seen." (Hebrews11:1) "The righteous shall walk by faith." (Habakkuk 2:4) Jumping ahead a moment, while Zechariah is chatting with Gabriel Luke 2 says "Now the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they began to wonder why he was delayed in the holy place." I love that little sentence. So often when we are meeting our destiny, when we are discovering the greatness of God's plan for our life--people on the outside looking in have no idea what is going on. It's never convenient when God drops in and changes everything, but it's always right. Zechariah was busy doing what he was supposed to do. So often I get caught up in thinking perhaps I need to do something different for God to speak to me. Listen, when God wants to interrupt our daily routine to have a little chat, I can without hesitation promise you He'll have no problem getting our attention. Remember the writing on the wall? The burning bush? The baby floating in a basket down a river? The talking donkey? For busy moms and dads who are just thankful to get ten minutes of quiet time before the Lord a day, the idea of spending a sacred hour or two before the Lord each morning prostrate before Him is almost laughable at times. If you are able to do that regularly, then I commend you. But if you aren't I pray that you know that your God loves you so intensely, so radically, so emphatically that when He's ready to do something major in your life, you'll know it. Our job is to remain faithful with the stewardships God has given us--to obey. And when we do feed our spirits, then we need to make sure that we feed them with the milk and honey of God's Word and not other things. Now backing up again to verses 19 and 20, Gabriel answers Zechariah's request for a sign like this, "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God..." It's as though he's saying, "Hello! You may not have noticed I'm an angel! You know that God you are making offerings to right here in the Holy Place? Well, I stand in his presence everyday! Trust me, when I tell you you are going to have a baby. You're gonna have a baby!" Here's the thing--when we do get the burning bush experience we need to respond in faith. Everything that angel told Zechariah lined up with the prophecy of God's Word and Zechariah being of priestly lineage definitely would have known God's Word. We should always test things against the truth of God's Word and when it lines up, we need to line up too and obey in faith. Then Gabriel says to Zechariah, "because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will be silent, unable to speak, until the day these things take place." And there you have it. God sends an angel to tell Zechariah his life is fixing to be changed forever and Zechariah is so shocked he wants proof that God's really going to do this great thing. I can almost hear God saying, "Zechariah, buddy, I'm God. I can do ALL THINGS. When I move in your life, when I act, it'll leave you speechless." Most theologians agree that he was probably also left deaf because of the fact that later on when asking for the name of the baby, the people made signs to Jon to ask the question. I can't help but wonder if God's whole point in leaving Zechariah deaf and mute was simply this: if we don't listen to the message of God delivered by his servants our hearing is of no use to us. And when our lips utter words of unbelief, they too are of no value. But more than anything, I think Zechariah was left speechless by the power of God at work in his life. Zechariah was a good man. He obeyed God. He served God. And he struggled with believing the unbelievable. I can relate to that. What prayer or petition of your heart is something so impossible that it is difficult to believe God will work in that situation? The answer to that question my friend is likely the very situation where God desires greatly to leave you speechless. Speechless not because you couldn't believe He'd work, but speechless at His power and His might and His faithfulness when He does move. I have a list of barrens--the situations and circumstances in the lives of my friends and family that seem impossible. Trust me, I've got some doosies on that list. I bet you do too. And I am specifically taking those before God and saying, "Lord, leave me speechless. Show your power. Show your might. I don't see how, but I believe, Lord. I believe." Will you pray that with me? "God of wonder, Lord of the barren wastelands in our lives, you see all of these situations. You already know they exist and have a plan that incorporates them in our lives for your glory. God we believe you can work. We believe you are able. Lord, we're not kidding when we say that we believe some of these circumstances are literally impossible, but God with you all things are possible. We stand on that truth today. We line up behind it and we beg of you, leave us speechless. In Jesus' name we ask. Amen."
Saturday, December 13, 2008
"Are you overwhelmed, Sarah?" It was my sister's question and I answered like any self-respecting prideful human being would answer. "No." Liar. Of course I'm overwhelmed, but who ever wants to admit that? Thankfully, my sister is in tune enough to know the truth and kind enough to let me phrase it anyway I want. "It's not that I'm overwhelmed, I just know I have a lot to do." Translation--I'm overwhelmed. All of us have seasons when there are significant time consuming things that we must accomplish. There aren't any real choices--they are largely non-negotiable items. I'm not talking about little things like whether or not we should attend the staff Christmas party or whether or not we should go to the tree lighting ceremony--we have them too. But throughout life there are seasons when our day is literally filled from the moment we pull the duvet out from under our chins to the moment we place it, wearily, back again an the pillow cradles our heads. Generally, though, my seasons like this do not come at Christmas. I've always tried very hard to guard against that. This year however, I have four major things happening simultaneously, none of which have anything to do with Christmas and all of which are life impacting situations. And there's probably no magazine article on how to have a stress free Christmas that will help at this point--I've cut out, reduced and minimized where I can. Painful reductions too, I might add. There are friends and even family I haven't had time to call and a co-op we had to pull the kids from for the next semester and ministries we've said, not now to. It's a delicate balance between admitting, yes, I'm overwhelmed, and asking someone to play the violin while I sing my carol of Christmas woe for any who will lend their ears. The latter is not my intention. Trust me! But the line between being honest, transparent even and pulling up my boots, pointing my nose into the air and denying any need at all seems blurry at times. After all, aren't the good Christians never overwhelmed or dare I say stressed out? I hesitate even to use that word because we are told to be "anxious for nothing." Then too there is the line of thinking that travels along the vein of looking around at the others in my life. They have so many more things with which to deal. And they do. I look around at my family and friends, my church and our community and then beyond to places like Africa where a child is orphaned every fourteen seconds and I ask myself how I could dare use the word overwhelmed in relation to my own life. But then I read the words of Psalm 121, "I lift my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come," and the heat of wet tears insist on filling my eyes. Admittedly there are hills in other people's lives that are greater, higher than those in my own. But to deny there are any hills?Well, my tears seem to say what my mouth is too proud to utter. I have some hills and I'm a little afraid they're bigger than I can handle. I don't know if i should dig deeper and keep going or if perhaps I've somehow taken a wrong turn. Are these hills present because of a poor decision or are they softly lain in my path to strengthen my legs for the next mountain in the distance? Someone asked me, "How are you doing everything?" I responded, "I'm just putting one foot in front of the other." I wanted to say something marvelously spiritual like, "Well, God has just infused me with this abundance of energy and everyday I wake up in fast forward and just go go go! Praise the Lord!" But I'm just not that good of a story spinner. I already tried to tell my own sister I wasn't overwhelmed. Let's just be honest--there's no abundance of energy at my house this season. I do however, have enough. Enough for each day. Enough for each new task--each new requirement. And I'm reminded of the Israelites and their manna; always enough for that day. Never anymore. And I'm thankful for that because somehow there is security and beauty in knowing that God is so in love with me that He is determined to affix and fuse my heart to His in a trusting relationship. As though He has been whispering to my spirit, "I am enough, Sarah. El Shaddai. Trust me. I will be enough tomorrow too. I will because I AM." The second verse of Psalm 121 says, "My help comes from the Lord, the Creator of heaven and earth!" It goes on to say, "The Lord is your protector; the Lord is the shade at your right hand. The Lord will protect you from all harm; he will protect your life. The lord will protect you in all you do, now and forevermore." When I look around I'm tempted to compare my situation to the circumstances of many around me--measure my hills and their hills. I always come up short. That's a slippery slope I can assure you. I always walk away from a comparison session feeling as though all the other Christians are more worthy. Somehow they manage to handle everything and I get a little speed bump in the pathway and want to throw a hissy fit. That's why the author of Hebrews says, "Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for US, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith." (Hebrews 12:1) We all have our hills at some point and God's direction is that we keep our eyes on the face of the man who climbed Golgotha's hill. We hold our hands to the sides of our face and force tunnel vision upon ourselves. We insist that the face of Jesus is all we need to see because He already endured and conquered and everyone's hills pale in comparison to His. We look into His eyes and we do exactly what I said to my friend--put one foot in front of the other. Again and again. I'm like Paul when he said, "I'm not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned (in my case, am learning) to be content in any circumstance." (Phil. 4:10) I'm content in this hill country--not because I'm into mountain climbing per se but because I know that the presence of El Shaddai is in these hills and where He is, there I want to be also. I say these things because I know there have to be a few of you who can relate. Most of you I know are probably far more together than I. And that's okay. But for those who find themselves in the hill country for a season or perhaps have a loved one making a solo trek through an Everest in their life, may you know that for a believer we have an "ever present help in times of trouble." We have a God who will "supply all our needs" and we "shall not want." Those are the truths on which we must walk. Just after Paul instructed the believers of Philippi not to be anxious about anything he says, "And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." That's the very peace Jesus said He came to give, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; I do not give it to you as the world does. Do not let your hearts be distressed or lacking in courage." (John 14:27) I'm determining in my spirit that I'll not deny Jesus His purpose in coming--especially at this Christmas season. Paul must have known that there were a few like myself back then that needed a little practical help in this area because he goes on to explain just exactly what they should do. First of all in every situation we find the time--scratch that--make the time to pray and petition God. Then we thank Him ahead of time for what we know based on His word He is able to do and make all of our requests to Him. I'm okay with that part. I'm pretty good about starting my day off with prayer--some face to face time with my Father. But then Paul continues, and this, I believe is the kicker for some of us ornery followers. "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things...And the God of peace will be with you." (Phil. 4:8) That passage brings us full circle. The only person worthy, true, pure, lovely, excellent and praiseworthy is Jesus. Fix our eyes on Jesus. A WAY in a manger. Jesus. The WAY in a manger. THE WAY through the hills of our lives. If you are climbing this season when you'd rather be sitting by the fire sipping cider and nibbling gingersnaps may you know that there is a way through and you are not alone. Pray with me: Jesus, You are the way. I acknowledge that in you there is a path for my life, in you there is hope, in you there is peace. Jesus I honor you this season not because you took trouble from my life but because you understand it and walk with me through it. Jesus I honor you because You are worth trusting. If like the wisemen, I could lay a gift at your feet, it would be my trust. Help me to fix my gaze on who You are and not where I am. Amen.