Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What Just Happened?

Her eyes flew to mine with a shocked, “What just happened?” expression on her face. Six-month-old Bethany broke into gut-wrenching tears.

I had yearned for a girl when I got pregnant with her. I already had two dear sons, but now I had a daughter too. She was an adorable little peanut that we named Bethany, and she had completely stolen my heart. I cherished holding her, treasured rocking her to sleep, and enjoyed just sitting and gazing at her sweet little face. I remember how she looked back at me, with her big brown eyes so innocent, and so trusting.

I was a good mom, doing a lot of good mom-type stuff. That included taking her to the doctor for check-ups to make sure she stayed healthy. This day Bethany was due for her first set of shots. She cooed at the doctor as he checked out her ears and throat. She smiled when he weighed her. She laughed when he prodded her tummy to check for abnormalities.

Then I held her as he prepared to give her the first shot. Immediately she broke into tears, and the look she gave me broke my heart. But the hardest part came when he prepared to give her the second shot. She had already calmed down, and looked at me with those trusting eyes, knowing I would never do anything to deliberately hurt her. And I held her down as the doctor once again caused her pain. She looked the way she felt; betrayed, confused, and a little afraid.


I tried to tell her that I was doing it for her own good, so that she would stay healthy. I explained that the little moment of pain was a more-than-fair exchange for her long-term wellbeing. But she wasn’t buying it. The tears continued for a time, but eventually, as I held her close she grew quiet, comforted by my presence.

I wish that Bethany had been able to understand that it was because I love her so much that I allowed her pain, but she was just too young.

Oh how often I have felt the same way as Bethany. When my Father has allowed pain to enter my life, my objection is usually the same as hers: loud and immediate! I, too, feel betrayed, confused, and a little afraid. Isn’t He the One who is supposed to love me? Nurture me? Protect me? If I can’t trust Him, who can I trust? My world is rocked as I grapple with reconciling who God is—loving and good—with the hard things He allows. Nothing seems certain…

Until I stop and remember. Pain is not only an inevitable part of life, but God works all things together for my good, even this (Romans 8:28). It is not the easy things in life that build my character. If so, God would probably allow me less pain. I am a slow learner, and God chooses to allow short-term pain in order to grow me into a healthy believer. Because pain motivates me to change. It deepens my character and causes me to look to my Father for courage, for help, and for the comfort of His presence.

My faith would be unhealthy without the lessons that pain has taught me. My Father knows that short-term pain is worth the long-term gain it brings.

But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.                                                       Psalm 131:2

Further reflection:

  1. Do you, as a parent, ever allow your kids to suffer pain? Why, or why not?
  2. Has God ever allowed pain in your life that made you feel the same way as Bethany did?
  3. Looking back, what do you think you learned from it?

Father, I can’t say I enjoy pain. I may not always understand what You are trying to accomplish in my life, but You are my Abba, my Daddy, and I know You love me. I recognize that there are things I need to learn that only pain can teach me. But please, help me realize Your presence in the midst of it, so that I might be comforted.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Big Waves

The rule always was, “Don’t go out in water above your waist”, and it was a good rule. Having four kids, Mom knew she couldn’t keep track of all of us every second we were at the beach. She understood all about the danger of rip tides, and the rule was her way of keeping us safe.
The only problem was that it was boring! The waves close to the shore were small and tame. We didn’t seem to be having nearly as much fun as those kids who went further out, laughing hysterically as the waves pounded them.
We were often tempted to disobey Mom’s rule, and sneak out into deeper water. But Mom was smart. There was a payoff if we obeyed her: before we left the beach that day, Dad would take us, one at a time, out into that deeper water.
dad and child at beach
I remember so clearly how it felt that first time, as Dad picked me up in his strong arms and carried me past where I could touch the sandy ocean floor to where the white and furious waves were breaking. It shocked me to learn that Mom was right! It would have been so scary out in those churning waves if I’d been by myself. But my Dad was so much bigger than me. His grip made me feel safe, because I knew that my Dad loved me, and would never let go. I trusted him, so I could laugh in the face of what could have been frightening, and enjoy the adventure instead. I hated it when my turn was up, and Dad would take me back to the shore. I treasured those times with him as we battled the waves together.
I loved my Dad, partly because He seemed so strong, but he certainly wasn’t’ perfect. God is my perfect Father. They do have this in common: sometimes, like my Dad, God picks me up and takes me into the deep water. There the big waves of life’s challenges crest hard and fast. It’s no accident to find myself there. It’s where God has deliberately placed me to test my trust, to deepen my faith, and to teach me to hold on to Him in the midst.
The waves can be big, and may feel like they’re going to drown me. I’m in way over my head, and if I forget that my Father is with me it’s overwhelming. But it doesn’t need to be.
My Father is way bigger than my Dad; He’s smarter, stronger, and loves me far more and far better. Even in life’s big waves He never lets go of me, and always holds me safely in His arms. When I focus on Him, I actually experience His strength, His love, and His presence.
I am safe, because I know that He will never lose His grip on me.

God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in time of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the water surge.                                                                               Psalm 46:1-3 

The eternal God is your refuge and His everlasting arms are under you.              Deuteronomy 33:27 

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.                                           Isaiah 41:10 

Further reflection:
  1. Has there ever been a time that you have been overwhelmed by circumstances in your life?
  2. Describe your emotions.
  3. What did you hold on to during those times?
  4. What would holding on to the Lord be like in comparison?
Father, life can be hard, and it can be scary. Thank You that You are bigger than any challenges that come my way, and nothing is too hard for You to handle. You are always with me, and because You love me, You will never lose Your grip on me.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Transforming Love

She sang in the church choir, and he played in the orchestra. At first glance, they appeared to be an odd match. There had even been some strong opposition to their courtship. After all, he was seventeen years old than she. The age difference was significant; different ages brought different memories, different experiences, and different perspectives. Hard things for them, and sometimes for others, to get past.

But she had loved him for four years. At first he thought that she might outgrow it, and would not allow a relationship to develop. But after the first two years had passed, against his better judgment, he softened to the idea.

She continued to love him intensely and steadfastly. She wooed him more than he wooed her. As he grew to love her, he took the lead and relentlessly pursued her in the way that every woman longs to be pursued. And now they were engaged, and soon to be married.

I sat watching her during this church concert, reflecting on and praying for them. As she had been trained to do, her eyes roamed around the audience as she sang. Being in love obviously suited her. Always nice-looking, she now had that special soon-to-be-married glow about her.

Then her eyes stilled, and I saw it.

loving look 2

Instinctively I knew that her eyes had settled on him. Even from a distance I could see her face soften and her eyes fill with tenderness. She wore the sweet, mysterious smile of one who loves without reservation and knows that she is absolutely, completely loved in return.

I felt like an intruder as she gazed at him; love, longing, and anticipation written on her face. She was completely transformed, and absolutely, radiantly beautiful.

That’s what love does. It transforms us. It turns us from something ordinary into something beautiful. Yet as wonderful as it may be, our normal, human love pales when compared to the kind of love that Jesus offers us; merciful, gracious, sacrificial, holy, passionate, loyal, unconditional, steadfast, unfailing, transforming, perfect love.

Hebrews 12:2 challenges us to “fix our eyes on Jesus”. To the degree that we do this, we cannot help but be changed. The desire to please others is replaced by the desire to please Him; their approval pales in comparison to His, and all other loves become a shadow of one far greater. That process often takes far longer than we’d like. But we are promised that “we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image” (2 Corinthians 3:18). The more we look at Jesus, the more we are changed. We become more beautiful because we become more like Him.

My friend could have focused on any of the other people she knew at the church concert that night. But she chose to focus on the one she loved best. Just as she was changed from pretty to beautiful by her love for her fiancé, we too, can be changed.

Fixing our eyes on Jesus allows us to be so changed by our love for Him, and His for us, that others can see it, and long to know His love, too.

And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13

Further reflection:

  1. Where do you think you focus the majority of your attention?
  2. Does it change you for the good, or not?
  3. How do you think loving Jesus is different?
  4. How might you be changed by it?

Father, I want to be changed by Your love. I want to look at You, without meaningless distractions, because You are the one I love best. Your love is redeeming and perfect, and I long to be changed by it.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Finishing Well

“Yes, I can!” Seven-year-old Lisa shouted at them.

It was summer and another family camping trip was underway. Fifteen cousins provided eleven years’ difference in ages. The hikes we took were designated as either for “the big kids” or “the little kids”, depending on its length and level of difficulty. As you can imagine, the kids themselves did not always agree on which group they belonged to!

We were at Big Sur (on the coast of California) when some of us decided to hike to four- mile creek. Since the mountains made for some challenging trails, the “big kids” didn’t think Lisa could make it, much less keep up. That’s what started the disagreement.

I could see Lisa hesitate a bit, wanting to go but fearful that she may have bit off more than she could chew. Leaving the choice up to her, my only stipulation was that there would be no whining if she went! She decided to go for it.

Turns out that what we thought was a four-mile hike was actually four miles…each way! It was also a warm day, adding to the fatigue factor. Every time we thought that surely we were reaching that creek, we found another bend in the trail and the creek seemed farther away than ever. I was growing tired, myself.

To her credit, Lisa kept her end of the bargain. When she got tired she took a deep breath, but she never gave up, and she never complained. The anticipation of finishing the hike and proving her cousins wrong kept her going.

Lisa and I may not have been the first ones back to camp. We just may have been the very last ones. But the point was not to beat the other kids, but to finish.

I was so proud of Lisa, and the huge smile on her face told me she felt pretty good about it, too. She didn’t even rub it in that she was right, and her cousins had been wrong.

That day I learned something: there is always a cost to achieving a goal.

As followers of the Lord Jesus, our goal is simple: follow Him. Simple, but not easy.

There is a cost of time. In this fast-paced world we want immediate results, but it takes time to understand who Jesus is. It takes diligence to mine truth from His word (John 5:39). Meanwhile, other things clamor for our attention, making it easy to convince ourselves we’ll get to it at some point. Just like with any relationship, we cannot follow someone we don’t know. And we can’t know Him unless we make time to do so.

There is a cost of energy. While any goal worth achieving is worth the effort it takes to make it happen, we have a finite supply of energy. Usually it’s pretty easy to articulate what our priorities are, it isn’t always as easy to allocate our energy accordingly. Weariness can rob us of motivation; keeping the goal in mind is essential (Galatians 6:9).

There is a cost of perseverance. Following Jesus can be hard! Sometimes the way seems all uphill. Just when we think we’re there, life throws a curveball and we realize that the road is a lot longer than we’d imagined. Things happen that we never anticipated; ill health, financial worries, relationship issues. Only by fixing our eyes on Jesus can we keep on keeping on (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Following Jesus is the goal. Simple, but not easy. Like Lisa, I want to finish well.  Because I want Jesus to be proud of me.

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.                                                                          Acts 20:24

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day…                                             2 Timothy 4:7-8a

Further reflection:

1. Do is the biggest goal you have for your life?

2. What do you think God’s goal for you might be?

3. When you think of seeing Him at the end of your life, which do you think you will wish you had pursued?

Father, there is nothing that matters more than following You. I want to do that more than anything. Please, help me to finish this race well, so that someday I, too, can say that I kept the faith. For Your honor and glory alone. I love You.