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Archive for the ‘Wednesday’s Word of Encouragement’ Category

Our church’s Maundy Thursday service includes a time of communion with the option of anointing prayer.  In such services, it is easiest to make my way to the line in front of my dear friend Rev. Danna, no matter how much I have to zig-zag across the sanctuary.  I said “easiest” because she knows so intimately all that we’ve gone through in the last two-and-a-half years trying to become parents.  I don’t have to boil down my sadness, disappointment, and physical pain into a short sentence so that she can offer a vague prayer for God’s peace in my life.  She won’t settle for putting an outstretched hand on my forehead but enfolds Mike and me into a group hug as she whispers words meant only for us.  It is a great comfort to be so known and so loved, and I never take her friendship for granted.

But it hit me last night that at this evening’s service, I will basically ask her for the same prayer as I did last year.  And the year before that.  Some variations, of course–last year we were almost approved, the year before I was having my first surgery for endometriosis–but the heart of each prayer is the same: let me please be a mother.  It’s so often repeated that it has that funny sound in my ear of something said so much you question whether it’s actually correct.  It’s become the filter through which I see my life and the whole world, the longing that won’t be silenced no matter what else is going on.  And it feels like nothing will ever, ever change it.

So I turn, as I do in any liturgical season, to the prophet Isaiah, that master poet who prophesied not only the birth and death of Jesus but a bigger, grander picture of God’s restoration of His creation.  My eyes always land on Chapter 43 when I need comfort, and the gathering together of God’s sons and daughters echoes the longing of this mother-to-be’s heart precisely:

But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
Cush and Seba in your stead.
Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
I will bring your children from the east
and gather you from the west.
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the ends of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”

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But I need to be reminded of this passage my Community Bible Study group looked at a few weeks ago.  Seeing the news about Sandy in the papers and through East Coast friends on Facebook combined with Seattle’s usual fall deluge and a random two-hour power outage yesterday has me in the weather dumps.  And while it can seem like a technicality some days, there is comfort in this promise from the Bible:

Genesis 9:11-17

11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

17 So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

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It is part of my lot in life to make friends with those in ministry.  It can wreck havoc with schedules because our Enemy loves to take their days off that should be spent having fun with me and turn them into Emergency-Central.  It sucks, but then I remind myself of the times when the emergency has been me, and they have been there for me without reservation.  I strive to follow their selfless examples, as they follow the examples of Scripture:

Galatians 6:2

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

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Along with God’s gift of generous friends, of course, goes God’s gift of His generosity to us.  That was the crux of the sermon that so touched my heart Sunday morning.  The passage my dear friend had to work with isn’t one that automatically lends itself to that conclusion when read on its own, and as I like these snippets of scripture to stand more or less on their own merit, I decided instead to share another passage she used in a sermon more than two years ago.  We were just becoming friends then, and that sermon touched me just as much.  One of the ways God shows His generosity is by giving us new names, new ways to see ourselves because He sees us in this light as creates and then redeems us.  This is a longer passage than most of them that I use, but unfortunately my favorite verses come at the very beginning and the very end.  Context, right?  A context of a lavishly generous God who longs to restore those who He has made.

Isaiah 62:

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
    for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet,
till her vindication shines out like the dawn,
    her salvation like a blazing torch.
The nations will see your vindication,
    and all kings your glory;
you will be called by a new name
    that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.
You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand,
    a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
No longer will they call you Deserted,
    or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah, 
    and your land Beulah;
for the Lord will take delight in you,
    and your land will be married.
As a young man marries a young woman,
    so will your Builder marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
    so will your God rejoice over you.

I have posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem;
    they will never be silent day or night.
You who call on the Lord,
    give yourselves no rest,
and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem
    and makes her the praise of the earth.

The Lord has sworn by his right hand
    and by his mighty arm:
“Never again will I give your grain
    as food for your enemies,
and never again will foreigners drink the new wine
    for which you have toiled;
but those who harvest it will eat it
    and praise the Lord,
and those who gather the grapes will drink it
    in the courts of my sanctuary.”

10 Pass through, pass through the gates!
    Prepare the way for the people.
Build up, build up the highway!
    Remove the stones.
Raise a banner for the nations.

11 The Lord has made proclamation
    to the ends of the earth:
“Say to Daughter Zion,
    ‘See, your Savior comes!
See, his reward is with him,
    and his recompense accompanies him.’”
12 They will be called the Holy People,
    the Redeemed of the Lord;
and you will be called Sought After,
    the City No Longer Deserted.

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This verse came up over lunch with one of my dear pastor friends.  She lamented the needs of some church leaders to “market” Jesus, to try to make something new out of the Gospel message even though it is eternal.  I told her since I’ve become a Christian, along with the typical growing up that takes place between ages 15 and 28 (college, leaving home, getting married, heading into the workforce), I’ve experienced a lot of upheaval in my life.  My parents got divorced and remarried, my mom then got divorced a second time, my maternal grandparents both passed away, I moved across the country and had to start life over again knowing no one but my husband, and have had two years of gynecological hell.  But through it all, there is one constant.  I don’t always remember it or do a good job conveying this truth to others, but truth it is.  We found ourselves marveling over it like we’d never heard it before, because it is just as true as the first time we heard it however many years ago.

Hebrews 13:8

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

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This week, I can’t stop thinking about my wonderful encounter with Julie Andrews.  As my last post said, I have wanted to meet her most of my life, most emphatically since I was twelve and began to discover her work beyond The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins.  There have been times in those sixteen years that she’s been nearby (like, in Chicago while I’m on the other side of Indiana, or southern California while I’m in Seattle), and I’ve considered making a multi-hour trek in hopes of catching a glimpse of her.  But it has never worked out, and I figured I’d just lost my chances.

But this time, she came practically to my front door.  The bookstore where her signing was held is only a couple miles from my house.  My husband and I go there all the time for a cheap date, and my writing group hosts many events there.  It was like my Father in heaven said, “You’ve had a rough go of it the past couple years, but have I got a pick-me-up beyond your wildest dreams.”  And so I am reminded of the following Bible verses from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 7:9-11

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

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I don’t know if the two are related, but as the church calendar moves from Lent to Holy Week, I seem to hear from several Christians who have a problem with Jesus having more than one aspect of His character.  Some have said they have a hard time seeing Jesus as a judge who will return as the conquering hero in the end times.  “Isn’t Jesus a loving man who heals the sick and lets little children sit on his lap?”  Others have said that God in the Old Testament is distant and angry, while in the New Testament He isn’t only loving, “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 1 John 4:16).  These are two takes on the same argument, and they boil down to one thing: we aren’t comfortable with a multifaceted God.

But why not?  People have a million character traits, some good, some bad.  We have parts that make others fall in love with us or count themselves lucky to be our friends.  We have parts that make those very same people wonder what good they ever saw in us in the first place.  As our pastors said in premarital counseling, what we love most about each other now will be the thing that drives us the most crazy in a couple of years, and a big part of marriage is learning to live within that tension.  We accept that in our human connections, but why not with our Lord?

God even has one up on us.  His multifaceted-ness isn’t even characterized by strengths and faults.  If we believe that God is perfect in His character and His love, then we can find no room for error in His actions, only in our responses.  That doesn’t mean we don’t try, but the process should ultimately become one of us learning to see things His way, not hoping that He will see things our way.  And God has always been this way.  He didn’t mellow out with Fatherhood, the way I’ve sometimes heard people say.  How ridiculous is that?  Some of the most beautiful love language in the entire Bible is found in the Hebrew prophets, especially Isaiah.  Read past the several chapters of national curses and see the lavish love that God bestows on His people, longing for their return to His ways.  This is not a distant, vengeful God, but one who loves deeply and is about to usher in a way to connect with His people that would be unthinkable for anyone but Him.

God loves us.  Why else would He create us, why else would He redeem us and stay in relationship with us despite our many acts of rebellion?  It isn’t an act of love to let the object of your affection wallow in their rebellion, especially when You are without sin and cannot associate with it lest You go against Your very nature.  So rather than lose that which You love so dearly, You take on a form in which You can interact with them, and You do the redemptive work they cannot do themselves.  Love like that encompasses healing and holding children, but it also encompasses what we like to call “tough-love.”  God’s wrath against humanity’s continued sin isn’t a flaw in His character, but a way to stay true to it.

I’ve come to think that this whole tension can be summed up in 2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  God, out of His love and His desire for our redemption, has held off on His wrath.  He has done and continues to do everything possible to bring us to Himself, but ultimately the choice lies with us.  And think about those who do come to Him, but are then persecuted.  Or any number of ways we humans victimize each other and God’s creation.  How can God declare His patient, perfect love for us, to the point of His own death, but not do something about the hurts of His people when they are caused by someone else?  His wrath is another act of love in that sense.  His wrath is carefully measured out, but His love can’t be contained.  After all, He who loves His friends lays down His life.  We wouldn’t celebrate the day He came back from that awful death if it weren’t so beautiful.  Or so necessary.

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