Saturday, October 31, 2009

An Open Halloween Letter from an Ex-Pagan

No I'm fine I can last till Halloween is over
Image by Tattooed JJ via Flickr

I'm delighted to bring you a guest post from my dear friend and prayer partner, Pennie DeWitt. I hope you will read her words carefully and prayerfully. Now I'll let her introduce herself:




Hi. My name is Pennie De Witt and I'm a recovering occultist. A former slave to Satan. Below are just some of the thoughts that have been pouring through my mind today.


Can I do pagan things if I just don't think of them as pagan?


What if I dance naked around the fire for Jesus instead of for Hecate?


What if I get a new deck of Tarot cards, assign each of them a Bible story, and use them to get closer to God?


Why don't I redeem orgies and abortion for Christ while I'm at it?


For that matter, why don't I just open back up for business as a psychic and dedicate it to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?


Isn't it okay to do house cleansings with a rattle? Well, how about if I ditch the rattle and just wear the mask? Would it be better if I put a smile on the mask? And how about, while I'm wearing the mask I go reveling with my friends, but only for candy? How about if I just make a Talisman and put a cute, innocent, funny-face on it?


Of course I would never do such things!


It doesn't matter if you change your intentions. If you read the Bible you'll see, as I have, that the one thing that always ticked God off the most was when His people adopted the customs of the pagans. It was an abomination to Him.


He is the same yesterday, today and always. And it still angers Him today when we adopt pagan customs, even if we try to do them "with different intentions," and "redeem them for Christ."


As I sit and watch many of my Christian brothers and sisters posting on Facebook about their Halloween festivities, my heart breaks. I'm frightened for them, for our nation, and for God's people.


You see, I spent 26 years in the occult. I started out with Wicca as an adolescent, and throughout the years moved on to every corner of alternative spirituality that I could find - Shamanism, New Thought, Rosicrucianism, Eastern Mysticism - you name it.


At age 24 I became a professional psychic. I spent fifteen years serving Satan this way. I made a lot of money, got my own radio show and developed a world-wide following. I thought I was on top of the world.


Slowly, my world started falling apart. Before it was over, I was being evicted from my home, and my daughter was writhing on the floor, growling, hissing and clawing at the carpet on a daily basis.


I sought answers. I tried all my techniques. I reached out to others and, eventually, I started praying. I told God that if He didn't give me some answers soon, I was going to kill myself so I could stand before Him and get them myself.


Then one morning I was hiking behind my house, and I noticed something moving next to my shoe. I took a couple steps past it and turned around. It was a rattler, coiled, and ready to strike. I looked around and realized I was alone on that mountain. If I got bitten, I could definitely die.


Suddenly, as I stood frozen in front of that snake, it was like the sky opened up, and I saw the King of the Universe sitting on His throne. And for the first time in my life I feared Him. He was so perfect.


I thought, "I could never measure up to that perfection. No matter how perfect I made myself, I could never come close to that."


His purity was like a clean fire. It would burn me up in an instant. That's when I started thinking, "Maybe those Christians have a good idea with that redemption thing."


So, you know what I did after that? I went home and did the only thing I knew to do. I looked up "snake" in my power animal dictionaries. In dictionary after dictionary, the message rang loud and clear: "Give yourself over to transformation, let the old die so that the new may be reborn, let go, new life, new spiritual path..." It would have been almost spooky if it hadn't been so precious. He met me right where I was, and he spoke to me in MY language. I wouldn't have listened to anything else.


I knew those terms, "reborn," and "new life." I knew those were from the Bible. I wondered if perhaps the Christians could help me, so I went to church and started investigating Christianity. It took several months of reading and studying, seeking answers to my questions and facing my fears.

Finally, as I sat on my bed one night, reading "The Case for Faith" by Lee Strobel, it finally hit me! That twisted, tortured figure on the cross was there out of compassion for ME! Jesus died for ME! God cared about me so much that He came to this planet in human form and did this for ME. He saw me, He knew me, He understood my pain and my suffering. He felt it, and He wanted to carry it for me. My whole life culminated in this one moment, and I could see that it had all happened for a reason, that God had been pursuing me through it all. I mattered.


I curled up in a little ball and just sobbed. I was ready to give it all up to Him and let Him take care of me.


That Sunday, Sept 9th, 2007, I got saved. I admitted I was wrong, that I had disobeyed God. I renounced all my occult practices and was set free.


The following Saturday I burned all my occult books and paraphernalia, and eleven decks of Tarot cards, per Acts 19:19-20.


Sunday, Sept 16, 2007, I was baptized.


A few weeks later, my sister got saved and left prostitution and the porn industry.


I sit here watching some of my loved ones turn away from the occult, and yet I see many others still entrapped - people dying in sweat lodges, for example. And then I see the very people who threw me the lifeline now turning toward what nearly destroyed me.


I don't understand. Is Halloween that important? What is so valuable about costumes and Jack-o-Lanterns and candy that it can't be renounced for this God who loves us so much?


I've read articles in which people say things like, "I'm not going to let Satan take away my fun." What is Satan's "fun" compared to the joy of the Lord? He can have Halloween for all I care! There's no fun for me in celebrating Satan's schemes.


My daughter, who was raised from birth in occultism, doesn't miss it at all. She once said, "I can't wait 'til Halloween so we can NOT celebrate it!"

Halloween is pagan, it's based on witchcraft, and it's part of my old life. All things have been made new for me. I don't even feel I need an alternative. I'm not missing anything. In fact, I plan on spending my evening in prayer for those who are still in slavery to Satan. I am eternally grateful to the Lord for the sacrifice He made, and giving up Halloween is the least I can do. I'm free now! Why bother putting my chains back on for one night, in the name of fun, or tradition, or anything else?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sunday, October 25, 2009

More Than Gratitude

"Take the High Road" by Maxpate

Why do we live for Jesus?

We cannot earn our salvation.  Our fleshly good works don't impress God.  So, why do we do good works?

I've heard the question presented many times, and it's usually followed by some blank stares and uncomfortable shuffling around…until somebody pipes up and says, "We do good out of gratitude for all that Christ did for us!"  I've heard this explanation taught actively by well-known pastors and organizations.

Gratitude is wonderful.  It's essential.  If we are not profoundly, overwhelmingly grateful for what Christ did on our behalf, we'd better check our spiritual pulses.  But is that truly the only basis for our good works and obedience?

Does it matter?  Am I asking a ho-hum question here with no relevance to real life?

I think it matters a great deal, because if we can't think of any reason besides just "gratitude" for our obedience, then we're missing something vital.  Gratitude is necessary*.  It is not enough.

In fact, if we're missing some of the other foundational building blocks of obedience, there's a good chance we really don't understand just how much we have to be grateful for.  And our obedience may lack both urgency and tenacity.  Hopefully by the time we're through here, we'll not only have more reasons for obedience, but our gratitude will be even deeper than it was before.

Some of you will read this and discover that there's always been much more than gratitude underlying your obedience, even if you couldn't have named what it was.  But for some of you, this may be a strong verbal reproof.  Either way, may it be a blessing.

Let me paint you a picture.

Suppose a man is walking along a path, and at one point it diverges.  He knows that the paths meet up again in a short time.  In fact, there's really no difference between the two. 

But suppose that before this man left on his trip, he had visited with his dearest friend, who had said to him, "On your journey, when you get to the fork in the road, please take the right-hand one."  Our hypothetical man is likely to take the right-hand road as requested, simply because of his gratitude towards this old friend.  He wouldn't have any other reason to choose the right-hand road, would he?

Now, fast-forward a few years.  War has broken out, and the enemy has made terrible inroads into our man's area.  He sets out as he did before, but his friend first warns him that the left-hand fork is now enemy territory.  He's sure to be killed if he goes that way.  Now what motivates him to take the right-hand fork?  Just gratitude for his friend's good advice?  Or an awareness of the horrors of the other path?

Do you and I know what we've been saved from? 

Here's where so many evangelistic schemes show their powerlessness.  They've taught that the two forks represent Heaven and Hell.  Jesus died to save us from Hell, they say.  Once we're saved, we're always saved, so Hell is no longer an option for us to worry about.  The left fork remains in friendly hands.  There's really no difference between the two paths.  Therefore, why should we choose the right fork?  We are left with nothing but gratitude.  Humor Jesus.  After all, you owe it to Him.

Wrong.

If we say there's no reason other than gratitude, then we're like the man facing two equivalent forks.  We're saying the path of disobedience is just as viable an option as the path of obedience, as long as we avoid the unpleasant ending.

Is it?

Jesus did not come just to save us from Hell.  He came to save us from sin (Matt 1:21, Rom 6:7, Rom 6:18, Rom 6:22).  There are two paths, and they do lie in different domains.  One ends in Hell, and one ends in Heaven, but what lies along each path before the end?

Are we really going to say that there's no difference…that we have no reason other than gratitude to obey our Lord?  He died to save us from the sin that lines every step of that other path, not just from the Hell at the end! 

Christ is our life (Col 3:4), while the way of sin is the way of death (Jas 1:15).  The choices we make, even in the secret places of our minds, will determine if we breathe the noxious fumes of decay or the fresh air of the Spirit (Rom 8:6).  Will we really insult our Lord by saying the two paths are equally good, so long as you get to jump to the other one right before the end?

Do we really believe that there's no difference in value, in quality, in worth, in joy, in peace, and in happiness between a life of obedience and a life of disobedience?  Do we obey when the mood strikes, because we feel like humoring the nice guy upstairs, or do we obey with urgency and tenacity (and gratitude) because we know that walking away from Christ is walking away from our Life and into the territory of our deadly enemy? 

Look down that left-hand fork with me.  What do we see there?  Obvious sins which disgust us.  Obvious sins which should disgust us but don't.  Subtle, hidden sins.  And wait…what's that?  Why…that's our good works done in the flesh.  That's our very best efforts.  That's everything we would ever trust in if we were to put confidence in our own flesh.

Jesus died to save us from those, too.  They are nothing but filthy rags in His sight, as they ought to be in ours (Isa 64:6 NKJV, Php 3:7-8).  If our very best needs His redemption, what brazen, misplaced confidence tells us we don't need Him every moment?

Why do we walk with Him in obedience?  Is it not because we must eat and drink Him in order to live (John 6:57-58); because without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5); because He meets with those who joyfully do righteousness (Isa 64:5); because we love and believe in Him, and therefore trust what He says we should do (John 14:15)?

Dear friends, let's be grateful for more than salvation from Hell.  Let's be grateful for salvation from sin, and obediently follow the only One who is the Way of Life, believing that the truest pleasures lie at His right hand (Ps 16:11), not on the paths of disobedience.

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*Sometimes the enemy of our souls twists even a beautiful thing like gratitude into something that God never intended it to be.  John Piper tackles this issue when he discusses the danger of "The Debtor's Ethic" (PDF file available here).  He says it better than I ever could, so I'll leave that angle entirely in his capable hands.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On The Lighter Side

I've decided to indulge myself and participate in this Blog Party.  I still struggle with putting anything "me-centered" on a God-centered blog, but people really seem to want that sort of thing now and again. 

So please don't run away if you're looking for serious theological thinking.  Just look in the right margin for entry titles or topics that are of interest to you.

On the other hand, if you love the socializing, join in!  The Blog Party is being hosted by Lynette over at Dancing Barefoot on Weathered Ground.  She provides the following "Getting to know you" questions, but you don't have to use them if you'd rather not.  She asks:

1. What is your favorite thing to snack on while you're blogging?

Chocolate chips.  Definitely.

2. What is one thing you wouldn't want to live without?

C'mon, one thing?  Hey, it's my blog, so I can write more than one if I want to.  On the lighter side, I'd say Mountain Dew (yes, I'm still an addict), chocolate, and PEACE AND QUIET!  (I hate noise!)  Oh, and writing, and American Sign Language.  I can't even imagine life without those two.  <Shudder!>

But on a more serious side…it goes without saying that I need the Lord and His Word and His mercy and His grace…and of course my family.  I don't need to say that, right?  But in addition to that, I love the richness of my Christian friendships (both on and off the web).  And I rely heavily on my desktop and PDA Bible programs with commentaries and devotionals. 

Whew, aren't you glad she didn't ask for ten things?  I'd have given you a hundred!

3. Beach, Mountains or Farm? Where would you live if you had a choice?

Near the mountains, but not in them.  (And guess what, that IS where I live!)  The inclement weather gets pretty extreme in the mountain towns around here.  I love the milder weather where I am, and the ability to drive into the splendor in just an hour's time (not to mention enjoying its beauty from right here in town).  My second choice would be a farm, though I'm not up to the physical labor of farm life.  The beach just doesn't give me much of a thrill, except at sunset.  I lived the first 31 years of my life in Florida (all in the Tampa Bay area), and can probably count on two hands the number of times I drove to the beach as an adult.  For one thing, I sunburn WAY too easily.  And I don't like jellyfish.  (I was never stung, but my Mom was, and she said it was awful!)  And I'm not fond of sharks.  Or salt water.  Or crowds.  Or the discomfort of viewing nearly-naked people parading around. 

Nope.  Not a beach person.

4. What's your least favorite chore/household duty?

The more physical work it requires, the less I like it.  Between my very bad back and my sedentary writing lifestyle, I just don't have much stamina.  But I guess, based on looking around at the messes that have lasted the longest, what I hate most is going through stacks of things which require decisions.  You know…papers that need to be sorted and filed or thrown away, and I'm not sure which to do with them…

5. Who do people say you remind them of?

Ummmm…nobody.  I don't know.  Do I remind you of anybody?

6. Prefer parties and socializing or staying at home with the fam?

I'm a dyed-in-the-wool homebody.  I'm becoming much more social in my middle age, but I think I'd go nuts if I didn't have plenty of time just at home.  And I confess, I'm a hermit by nature.  I love to be alone.

7. What's your all time favorite movie?

Gotta be Pride and Prejudice (The Colin Firth version).  I also love The Sound of Music, and Emma (The Gwyneth Paltrow version).  I happen to think one of the most beautiful movies ever made was ruined by constant blasphemy.  It's called "Dear Frankie," and if it weren't for the blasphemy I would easily recommend it as perfect.  Superb acting, characters with richness and depth, flawless cinematography and musical score, a fascinating plot line…why oh why did they have to keep using my Lord's name that way?

8. Do you sleep in your make up or remove it like a good girl every night?

I avoid that dilemma altogether.  I don't wear makeup. 

I don't have anything against makeup.  I just got out of the habit of using it when my kids were smaller and I just didn't have the time or energy for applying it anymore.  Now I just can't be bothered.  There's not much that can be done with this mug anyway.

When I did wear it, I slept in it.  Tsk, tsk.

9. Do you have a hidden talent or a deep desire to learn something that you've never had a chance to learn? What is it?

Not really.  Writing and using Sign Language pretty much fulfill my creative needs.  Writing is how my soul speaks.  Sign Language is how my soul dances.  I just wish I got to Sign with others more often!  I Sign to myself, but that just lacks something somehow…

10. What's one strange thing you're really good at?

Executing a three-point turn in only 6 points. 

When I was a kid, I used to be really good at picking things up off the floor with my toes.

(It's at this point in these "Getting to know you" entries that I start asking, "Is anybody REALLY going to be edified by this?")

11. What first attracted you to your spouse?

The way he put me up on a pedestal.  Hard to resist that, isn't it, ladies?

12. What is something you love to smell?

Gardenias, lilacs, and orange blossoms. Love 'em.  And vanilla, and bakery aromas, and Beef Stroganoff…all right, enough.  I'm starting to salivate.  Hey, I almost got something theological into this entry!  Salivation!

(If you don't get it, never mind.)

13. Tell something about you that you know irritates people.

Oh, there are so many!

When a group of people gets together to do something, I'm not good at just figuring out something that needs to be done, and then coordinating myself with other people.  It always looks magical to me, the way people just seem to know how to work together.  I've learned to say, "Tell me what to do, and I'll be happy to do it.  Just don't expect me to figure it out on my own."

I procrastinate terribly.

I suspect that people sometimes wish I didn't talk so much, especially about myself.  Like I'm doing right now.

I chronically lose too much time reading and writing on the computer.  Er...like I'm doing right now.

I'm scatterbrained.

I could go on and on, but that's one of the things that irritates people about me…

14. When you have extra money (HA!) what's the first thing you think to do with it?

I'm likely to either buy something for my electronic Bible program (a new commentary, etc), or something for my kitchen.  I do cook a lot.

15. Are you a silent laugher or a loud laugher? What makes you laugh the hardest?

Can you picture a donkey braying?

My humor is very verbal in nature.  I'd rather go to the dentist than watch slapstick like The Three Stooges.  The biggest laugh I've had in the last day or so was when my 4- year-old great niece yelled at the dog:  "You are banished forever from my kingdom!  You have smelled the royal feet!"  That is hysterical on so many levels!

16. Where is your favorite place to shop?

Bed, Bath, and Beyond. 

17. What's one thing you'd do more often if you had more time?

Even more writing and Signing.  I'm pathological.  I know.

18. Are you a big spender or frugal?

Frugal.

19. Who is your favorite character of all time (from a movie or book)? (Can't be real)

Dan Jeffries from the book "Dying for Answers."  Gotta love him…I created him to my specs!  (One of the perks of being an author.  You can create the most wonderful people!)

Gerard Butler's character in "Dear Frankie" is way up there on my list, too.  And I really like Captain Picard from "Star Trek, The Next Generation." 

20. Would you want to be famous?

Not really.  I would like to be known and respected in Christian circles…but not like a Beth Moore with all of the traveling and public speaking.  I wouldn't mind the speaking, but all the hassle in airports and the butt-time on airplanes…ugh!

I confess, I do struggle with envy when people talk about getting hundreds of page hits per day on their blogs, while after a year and a half I still rarely see 40 hits in one day.  Partly it's pridefulness (pray for me about that, please), and partly it's a sincere desire to spread what I think is a vital element of God-centeredness in a me-centered world.  Which brings me back full circle and makes me almost feel like I should delete this post…

(You're reading this, so I guess I didn't delete it.  I hope it was worth the time, and I hope you'll take some more time to read other entries which are WAY more important than this one.  Here's a good one to start with.)

Thanks for dropping by!

Monday, October 19, 2009

What is Man?

Grand Canyon, Arizona.

Image via Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today Joanne Sher at An Open Book challenged bloggers to write about the following passage:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

(Ps 8:3-4)

I haven't read anyone else's entries yet, partly because I don't want anyone to think that I wrote the following in response to them.  The fact is, this writing prompt struck a deep chord in my heart, and I have to proclaim God's worth as I see it displayed in this glorious psalm.  Because this passage is not primarily about us. 

John Piper says,

"The really wonderful moments of joy in this world are not the moments of self-satisfaction, but self-forgetfulness. Standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and contemplating your own greatness is pathological. At such moments we are made for a magnificent joy that comes from outside ourselves. And each of these rare and precious moments in life-beside the Canyon, before the Alps, under the stars-is an echo of a far greater excellence, namely, the glory of God."

I couldn't agree more.  And yet the world, the flesh, and the devil have sold us one of the most fiendish lies imaginable.  True joy, these deceivers hiss, comes from focusing on yourself and loving what you see.

When you think of joyful people in the Bible, who comes to mind?  King David probably is one of the first on most people's lists, if they know the Scriptures.  David's psalms of joy have enriched the world for thousands of years.  And yet it was David who asked, "What is man, that you are mindful of him?"  It was David who said, "I am a worm, and not a man" (Ps 22:6).  How could he be such a joyful person with that point of view?

If there were no Grand Canyons, no Alps, no diamond-studded midnight skies to invoke our awe, we might be excused for excessively admiring our own reflections.  But think how impoverished our experience would be!

If there were no God, we might be excused for worshiping ourselves.  But what a paltry, trivial, meaningless life we would have!

Oh how much joy we deny ourselves when we insist on looking for it in the mirror!  The apostle Paul, a man who referred to himself as "the very least of all" (Eph 3:8, 1 Co 15:9), regularly burst into rapturous exultations of joy over the God he knew and loved. 

Should we really be so surprised that the knowledge of the Infinite, Majestic, Thrice-Holy Creator of All would satisfy us more than our own selves ever could?  Should we really?

And yet, are we subtly offended when we're reminded that we really don't need more self-esteem?  Does the thought of increasing our God-esteem make us fidgety, wondering if we could handle the religious boredom? Do we really believe we'd be happier if everything revolved around us?

Of course we do, at least in weak moments.  Maybe, for some of us, that's most moments.  And we're missing out on life's best when we do.

When we pursue self-esteem, we must tread carefully, or we might end up pursuing practical atheism.  Oh we may certainly be believers, but in our hearts we're saying, "I need more self.  I need to like self.  I need to admire self.  I cannot be happy until I love myself.  The secret to fulfillment is found in myself.  Me, me, me." 

Some protest, "Well, you have to have self-esteem, because otherwise you're just running yourself down, beating yourself up, etc."

Really?  Must we focus on ourselves for good or ill?  Are those the only two options?

Our official theology might not be atheism, but if "high self-esteem" and "low self-esteem" are the only two options we acknowledge as worthwhile, then we are thinking like atheists.

Where is our God esteem? 

Many of us left it behind when we decided it couldn't satisfy us as well as good old me, myself, and I.

The humble also shall increase their joy in the LORD (Isa 29:19 NKJV)

Do we really believe that? 

Listen, just listen to the joyful awe in David's question.  What is man, that You are mindful of him? 

Is it possible to fully rejoice in this divine care as David did, if deep down inside we believe we deserve it?  Or is there a richer, more satisfying joy in the humble gratitude that says, "Oh Lord, why do you love me so?  You are so wonderful!"

We were created for a deeper joy than we can ever give ourselves.  I believe that with all my heart.  And that's why my heart sickened when I heard the following words from a world-famous leader in American Christendom:

If you really, really look at Calvary, you'll never have low self-esteem again.

Now, perhaps he didn't mean that the way it sounded.  I certainly hope not.  Because if it is pathological to stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon and contemplate our own greatness, then it is downright blasphemous to stand at the foot of the Cross, where the Holy, Spotless Lamb of God poured out His life's blood because of our iniquities, and puff out our chests.  Calvary does not make us look good!  Calvary would never have happened if we were good (Isa 53:6, Psa 53:3, Mat 19:17)!

God does not love us because we are lovable…He loves us because He is Love!  And that is not bad news…it's the best possible news of all.  Because, as Piper says, "we are made for a magnificent joy that comes from outside ourselves."

Read Isaiah 6 and ask yourself, "If I saw this very same awesome God come in the flesh and die for me, would I really start crowing about my worth?"  What do you think Isaiah would say to that question?

Do you think he got a raw deal because his natural human self-worship got interrupted?  Or do you want to be blessed as he was, to get your eyes off of yourself and onto The Holy One?

Who is your faith really in?

Lord, please forgive us our self-focus, our belittling of Your worth, our pride.  Please cleanse us of our blasphemous suspicion that You're gypping us when you try to reorient our focus from ourselves to You.  Please grant us the incredible joy that can only come from exulting in Your unmerited love!

What am I, that You are mindful of me?

 

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Heaven's Chariots

Hittite chariot (drawing of an Egyptian relief)

Image via Wikipedia

   













“It has been well said that ‘earthly cares are a heavenly discipline.'  But they are even something better than discipline - they are God’s chariots, sent to take the soul to its high places of triumph.  They do not look like chariots.  They look instead like enemies, sufferings, trials, defeats, misunderstandings, disappointments, unkindness.”

Hannah Whitall Smith

I get so tired of the fight.

More than physical fatigue, it's a soul-weariness that sits like lead in my chest; a thick, sticky tar coating the wings of my spirit.

Endless, ugly sniping and bickering.  Tattling and accusing.  Rage thrown in the face of my efforts.  Grating futility.  Disobedience and disrespect so flagrant that they scorn my very existence.  Assaults on the dignity and worth of those I love, and of myself.   

Often I feel defeated before the first five minutes have passed, and yet the whole day stretches before me.  And the next day.  And the next.  And the years yawn like a chasm beyond them, their strength already sapped by the years that have gone before. 

In the face of all of this, I am not supposed to merely survive.  I am to love unselfishly, give devotedly, and rejoice in the Lord.  His love and grace and mercy and joy are freely available to be my strength.

I believe that, at least at some level.  But the lead still weighs heavy in my chest.  Other than its weight, it's more like flint than like lead.  Every time something strikes it, sparks of anger fly.

Here I stand, and it's such a strange place.  Because I do know.  I have tasted.  God has shown me.  All the many words I've written over the past year and a half have come from a place of sincerity inside of me.

And yet…

The joy and peace which fill my quiet moments often seem to flee away when reality claws at them.

I know the joy and peace are real, but the pain feels more so.  At least most of the time.

How can I find the strength to continue?

Part of the secret must lie in repentance.  The Lord has been showing me that my stubborn, faithless self-reliance is the core of my heartache and the cause of my failure.  He points out my self-pity, my bitterness, my self-centeredness, my pride.  He shows me, but I'm slow to learn.

Perhaps another part of the secret lies in the truth that Hannah Whitall Smith expressed above.  Perhaps I could bear the struggles more graciously if I stopped struggling against, and started striving toward.

Not against a child's autistic challenges, but toward God's best for him and for me.

Not against a child's bipolar excesses, but toward God's grace and blessing.

Not against the blows that pummel my soul, but toward the One whose grace is sufficient.

I am exhausted by against.  I can't feel love when I'm against

But toward…there's hope in that.  And there room for more love in that.  Not butting heads with others, but putting an arm around them as I set my sights upward.  Inviting them to join me in this journey toward a closer walk with the One who is our life.

Oh Lord, please help me climb into that chariot!

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This post was written in response to the "In Other Words" writing prompt for this week.  To see other writers' posts on this week's quote from Hannah Whitall Smith, please visit Kathryn’s blog, Expectant Hearts.

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Friday, October 9, 2009

Grace that Empathizes

"Hands" by Shiner 

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. (Hebrews 4:15 NIV)

In His time on Earth, Jesus of course endured lots of temptations.  Hebrews tells us that He was tempted in all points, just as we are.  People rubbed Him the wrong way…no doubt even worse than they do to us, because His holy nature would be far more repulsed by sin than ours is.  There were days in his youth when the drudgery of the carpenter's shop must have been hard to bear, with all the wide world calling to Him.  As a man He doubtless saw the local prostitutes skulking in alleys, and heard their darkly alluring invitations.  Holy nature or not, He still wore human flesh, with all its weaknesses. 

He did not give in to it.  But He knows the pull, the yearnings, the hungers, the pain of unfulfilled desires that we all feel.

Is that the full extent of His sympathy?  Does He understand merely because He was tempted too?  Or is there even more to it than that?

Jesus bore our sins (1 Pet 2:24).  Was that just a legal transaction?  Or did He also bear the sufferings that our sins cause?

You know, I have been tempted to doubt Heb 4:15 on one point.  How could Jesus know my temptation to feel discouraged and quit because of personal failure?  He never failed.

But what if His understanding goes far beyond His personal life experiences?  What if part of the hell of Calvary for Him was the experience of every soul agony you and I ever felt?  Even the discouragement, the failure, the guilt?

Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows (Isa 53:4).

Not just His own sorrows, as similar as they may have been to our own.  He bore our sorrows.

Ours.

Why not?  If the Lord could lay our iniquities on Him, could He not also lay our griefs and sorrows on Him? 

God's Word says He did.  Do you believe Him?

He says that believers are His body.  Is that just a metaphor, or is there some miraculous sense in which He has encompassed all who believe, and has made us a part of Himself? 

How closely has He identified Himself with us?

When you picture Him dying for you, do you see it as a transaction carried out from a distance?  Is it as if He were a philanthropist who heard that a stranger was wearing the chains of slavery, and sent money to have her freed?

Or do you see Him as one who loved so much that He came and married the slave, giving her His Name and completely identifying with her…even, shall we say, becoming one flesh with her, so that she became a part of His body? 

Did Jesus really leave His Father and come down to do that for me?  For you?

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Eph 5:31-32)

Do you see Him as a husband who wraps Himself protectively around His wife as the whips lash at her, so that the blows fall on Him too?  Do you see Him wrapping us up in Himself in an embrace so firm that death itself could not break it?  Do you see Him bringing us with Him back out of the grave, resurrected with Him to a new life as part of His own body?

Is that really what it means to be "in Christ?"

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Col 3:3)

If He has identified Himself that closely with us who believe, then isn't it true that our sufferings become His, just as His became ours?

But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. (Isa 53:5)

Listen to these holy words from the Apostle Paul:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. (Col 1:24)

How could anything be lacking in Christ's sufferings?  Surely His sufferings were sufficient, weren't they?

Well of course they were.  Christ has done all of the paying for sin, and all of His part of the experiencing of our sorrows.  All that is lacking is our part of the experience.  And why do we have to suffer at all, if He suffered already?  So that we can experience the sweet fellowship with Him that only comes through suffering (Php 3:10), and so that we can comfort others (2 Co 1:3-5).

We may not be able to understand it all, but if we truly see how much He shares our afflictions and bears our burdens, and how much love accompanies all of the suffering that He allows into our lives, surely it will make our hurts more bearable, and our loving Father more precious in our sight.

He asks nothing of us that He has not already borne for us.  Go to Him, heavy-burdened one, and let Him give you rest.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Grace and the Fellowship of His Sufferings

Adapted from "Sister Love" by mrinkk http://www.sxc.hu/photo/505392

Yesterday turned into a rough day.

Some of you already know that, because you saw my pleas for prayer on Facebook and Twitter.  (Thank you so much for your prayers and words of encouragement in response.  They meant so much!)

Most of the fault was my own.  Oh, it's true that my kids were acting up terribly (one in particular).  It's true that I had reached a certain tipping point of physical fatigue.  And it's true that I've reached a stage of life in which I can blame mid-life hormones for just about anything.  (That may come in handy for the next decade or so!)

In all seriousness, there were a lot of extenuating circumstances.  Nevertheless, yesterday proved the truth of the statement I quoted a few days ago:

The trial is usually never as bad as the unbelief during the trial.

Yesterday became a day of unbelief for me.  Not the kind of unbelief that denies God entirely, but the kind that denies Him practically.  Unbelief which relies on self rather than God, which frets and fumes instead of resting, which seeks strength in anger rather than in the joy of the Lord.  And my unbelief hurt me far worse than any of my circumstances did.

When will I ever learn?

I pled for prayer because my heart felt hard towards God, and I needed others to come alongside.  After all, we don't ever arrive, right?  We just learn to depend more, love more, obey more.  Well, my friends did pray, far better than I could at that time, and the softening began even as the chaos of life rolled on. 

And, showing the kind of grace that just boggles this poor undeserving mind, the Lord deigned to speak a word of truth to me.

You don't want the fellowship of My sufferings as much as you want relief from your own.

Oh, ouch.

I was in no frame of mind for even shallow thought, much less the kind of meditation that such an insight deserves.  So all I could do was throw a prayer back upwards.  What is the fellowship of Your sufferings?  Help me to understand it and want it.

The Apostle Paul stated that this unique fellowship was one of his life's highest aims (read this verse in its context if you want to catch just how fervently Paul desired this):

that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death
(Php 3:10 NKJV)

Last night I crashed onto the pillow almost as soon as my kids did.  But one thought did come to me just before sleep overtook me:

The fellowship of His sufferings is the opposite of the aloofness of my own.

Are you like me?  Do you withdraw into a furiously stewing cauldron in the hidden depths of your soul when you're suffering?  I know I tend to.

What do I miss out on while I'm there?

A few days before, I had experienced a much more "victorious" time of suffering.  I described it to a friend as a day in which God's grace did not replace the pain, but came alongside it and made it bearable.  On that day, I tasted just a sip of the fellowship of His suffering.  Not because I deserved that fellowship (I could never do that), but because that's what His grace does.  He comes alongside and gives the kind of comfort the world cannot give.

"But is that really the fellowship of His sufferings?" you may ask.  "You weren't being persecuted for Jesus. You were just having a rough day with the kids, like lots of other moms.  How is that 'His sufferings?'"

Could it be that we don't have to suffer because of Jesus (such as being persecuted) in order to suffer for Him and with Him?  What makes any suffering a part of "His sufferings?"

Could it be that, just as Jesus' sufferings brought glory to God the Father, we too can bring glory to Him if we allow His Spirit to sustain us?  Do we share in His sufferings that way…the sufferings which declare His worth by refusing to abandon Him in favor of the relief that sin provides?

Could it be that His agony on the cross was not just bearing the eternal penalty of my sin, but even bearing the temporary earthly sufferings that all my sin brings?  Does He enter into my sufferings so deeply that they become His own, and I can share them with Him and call them His?

And could it be that the fellowship of His sufferings is something so inexpressibly sweet that we can begin to yearn for it as one of life's highest goals?

I don't think the Apostle Paul was a fool.  He had tasted something far richer than my spiritual palate has ever known.  I want to get better acquainted with this fellowship, even though it means giving up my treasured "stewing cauldron."

Faith says He will be infinitely worth the exchange.

More to come…

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Grace That Cuts Away

Circumcision sketch

It's been a while since I participated in any writing "Memes," but today's writing prompt at "Monday Manna" was too good to resist, and it ties in very well with our current series on grace.  We were prompted to write something on this verse:

Deuteronomy 30:6

And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

That's one of my very favorite verses, and it's so rich in theology, so rich in assurance, so rich in JOY that there's no way to cover it all in one little blog post.  But here's the angle that the Lord is prompting me to take today.

Why in the world did the Lord use the term "Circumcision" to describe what He does to our hearts?  And for that matter, why did He ordain the act of male circumcision in the first place?  Isn't it rather bizarre?  Some would even say it's a brutal thing to do to an unsuspecting infant who cannot possibly give consent.  What's the meaning of it all?

I've usually heard the whole idea of circumcision presented as a theological "negative."  Something is cut away to remind us to get rid of the filth of sin in our lives.  And that's definitely part of it (Col 2:11).  It makes sense why a certain body part would be chosen for such a procedure, doesn't it?  If a young man decides to go astray, we can be pretty certain of at least one type of sin he's guaranteed to choose.  Enough said?

Sin needs to be cut away, so circumcision is primarily a lesson in self-denial and loss, isn't it?

What if it's more than that?

Today's verse hints at a much deeper and more joyous meaning.  Look at it again.

And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God…

Love is not a negative.  This verse begs us to look at the positive, at the yearnings of our heart.  Everyone longs to love, unless they've hardened their hearts so much that they've denied even that most fundamental desire.

"But wait a minute," you may protest.  "If an 8-day-old baby were capable of speech, do you think he'd cry 'I love you' to the Mohel who just circumcised him?"

Nope.  I don't.  And when God began the process of circumcising my heart, it didn't exactly bring me into poetic ecstasies of love for Him, either.  (I believe my words to Him were, "I hate You!")

But the purpose of God still stands.

And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God…

God cuts away, and He commands us to cut away.  In physical circumcision, what gets cut is…how shall I say this delicately?  A major pleasure center?  And in heart circumcision, He cuts away at the center of our being, at the place where pleasures and pains go deeper than the merely physical.

Why??  Why all of this loss and sacrifice and blood (or at least emotional bleeding)?

so that you will love the LORD your God…

Oh, how prone we humans are to focus on loss, and lose sight of gain!  Yes, a bit of flesh is lost in physical circumcision, and there is pain.  But what is gained?  A lifetime as a member of a covenant community.  God's covenant community.  And, of course, plenty more flesh remains than what was lost, with lots of potential for future enjoyment.

The pain is quickly forgotten.

Now, think about the focus of so much of Scripture.  We are to be wholly given to the Lord.  We are to delight in Him, take pleasure in Him, value Him above all else, rejoice in Him (Deut 6:5, Jos 23:11, Matt 22:37-38, Psa 37:4, Php 4:4, just to name a few examples). 

He is to be our "pleasure center."

What if that's the lesson?  What if injury must be done to the sources of some of our human pleasures, in order to remind us that we can know deeper pleasures than the ones mere flesh can bring?  What if the ultimate goal isn't losing something, but gaining something?

For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…(Php 3:8)

No physical circumcision can save anyone's soul, but it can serve as a vivid reminder that our physical pleasures are to be submitted to the One who is the source of all pleasure (Jas 1:17).

And the miraculous work of the Spirit, which God describes here as circumcision of the heart, does save souls.

And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

Heart circumcision cuts away at our loves…our idols…so that we can be brought to love the only One who is truly worthy of our heart's whole commitment and devotion.  The process is often painful, but take it from one who has gone from hating God to loving Him…it is so worth it all!  And think how quickly the pain will be forgotten when we enter Eternity!

Always remember, true salvation is accompanied by an ever growing love for God.  The inability to love God is part of the curse of sin, and those who will not come to love God through Christ will be accursed (1 Co 16:22, John 3:19).  Head knowledge without love for God is not saving faith.  That's the kind of knowledge that demons have…call it "demon faith."

If you do not love God through Christ as you wish you did (and none of us loves him perfectly), pray for this wonderful "circumcision made without hands."

Dear Lord,

Thank You for Your sacrificial death for me on Calvary.  Please forgive me for my sinful lack of love for You.  Please, oh LORD my God, circumcise my heart so that I will love You with all my heart and with all my soul, so that I may live!  Cut away my idols, and teach me to find my deepest pleasure and joy and hope and love in You!

No request could please Him more!

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To read other participants' blog entries on this verse, please visit Joanne Sher's blog, "An Open Book," here.

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