Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Victories: Held fast in Heartbreak

Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.

Psalms 37:5

The devil specializes in sneak attacks. A deacon, a Sunday school teacher and husband to a faithful women’s leader, Gary never saw the battle line forming. In fact, his plans included only rejoicing and celebrating. Having renewed their vows at a recent anniversary celebration, marriage woes seemed the last of his worries. Returning from a spiritually uplifting Men’s Retreat, Gary thought the weekend only held a celebration of his 50th birthday. Instead, it marked the beginning of a very fierce, painful battle.

Years of unresolved heart issues exploded for Gary’s wife; she left their marriage to begin a new life with Gary’s co-worker. Devastation, depression and desperate confusion marked Gary’s days. Victory in the early days of the battle was simply mustering the courage to face a new day. The promises of God seemed distant, but they were his lifeline. Gary says of that time, “I clung to the promise in Psalms 37 that if I committed my way to God, He would act. He has; but not in the ways I wanted Him to and not at the speed I wanted. I would never have chosen this, but without it, I would never have known God as I do. He has kept His promises.”

His wife’s decision irrevocably altered the structure of Gary’s life. An empty home, strained family relations and gatherings, difficulty with continually encountering the co-worker and disruption in the church family all followed her choice. Gary stepped down from leadership in the church and eventually sought a job that kept him from the loneliness of home more consistently. The scriptures he had taught for so long sometimes seemed to mock him…the promises felt empty and the heartache overwhelming. Yet, Gary faithfully sought biblical counsel from pastors, family and friends’ and he pressed on. Time passed bringing new understandings, but not the deeply desired restoration of the marriage. Throughout the battle, Gary sought and shared glimpses of God’s hand; he was a faithful, albeit broken, witness for God.

In marriage, Gary had been controlling; the concept of forgiving infidelity beyond the scope of his world. Yet in his heartache, he came face-to-face with the reality of the pain of love willing to forgive. He felt, too, the pain of that willingness rejected. Gradually Gary began to see the glory of Jesus Christ in an entirely new dimension. Recognizing the cost of forgiveness and the pain of rejection, he could not help but be awed at the marvelous, perseverant love of God. His heart bowed in humble victory before God’s incredible love.

Understanding in such a personal way is a suffering that Gary does not wish on anyone, but grasping the preciousness of Christ is a privilege he does not dismiss. His victory did not look like he expected; he thought that his initial commitment to God would be the key to restoring his marriage. Instead, it was the key to expanding his experience of God. The victories in our Christian life do not transform us into picture-perfect Normal Rockwell prints. Sin, broken-ness and rejection wound souls…both those who hurt and those who are hurt suffer. Healing in Christ is one person at a time, one life at a time. We cannot be healed for another but we can encourage another to seek healing. Victory stories are not about perfect people; they are about our perfect God. Give Him the glory, great things He has done and will do!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Book To Consider

Just a mid-week post to share some thoughts on a short bible study I had the opportunity to review.  While the title targets 'writers,' the content is much broader.  For any who have ever had dreams that did not fit God's time table, this is a sweet little study.  While we know in our heads that God's ways are higher and better than our own, sometimes we lose focus.  Even beyond our dreams, those niggling doubts that 'nothing' we do matters all that much assault everyone.  Brooke is a young lady who shares from the heart and redirects the eyes to God's perspective.  This is a wonderful, short study on a topic that touches all of us at one time or another.  It is a good summer afternoon project.  Give it a try!


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Victories: Restored

Now may God, the source of hope, fill you with all joy and peace as you believe, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

What does it take to come to Jesus for healing? When we see the heartaches around us, it is obvious that although Jesus is the answer for every struggle, all too often He is the last resort. Our reaction to suffering is to find a way to end it. Sometimes perhaps we even lift the very weight that may have pressed a hurting soul to Christ. While scripture calls us to be the hands and feet of Christ, our loving must always point only to Jesus Christ. As I wait for a personal, 21st century victory story, I thought perhaps a visit to a first century victory would encourage all of us.

Throughout scripture, we find instruction on needs—and God’s solutions. The woman with the issue of blood in the New Testament offers great insights. The life is in the blood…and her life was continually seeping away. Ostracized from society—a source of contamination for all she contacted--even going to the market would have been impossible. A spouse—even a close friend—who would share her pain was but a distant memory. The isolation and shame of her circumstances were clearly intense. As we consider her experience—the realities of her life, the emotions she would likely have felt and the reactions of others—we can readily see that same reality played out around us daily. Eternal life ebbs away daily in souls held captive by the disease of sin.

Hidden diseases exist long before they grow into life-destroyers; the progression of disease is step-by-step. Chains wrap around souls unseen and unfelt until the prisoner is tightly bound. Shame from self-incrimination and the judgment of others hold the chains fast. Unhealed hurts are especially painful for Christians who fall prey to Satan’s arrows of guilt that they are not trusting Jesus enough. They know all about desperately seeking solutions—usually self-initiated to-do lists, self-powered solutions; and sometimes superstitious, even ridiculous efforts. Research indicates the woman in scripture would probably have followed the Talmudic instructions to find healing: instructions such as locating a barleycorn from the feces of a white, female donkey or carrying the ashes of an ostrich egg. Our modern-day desperate souls have tried equally futile solutions.

In our heroine, underlying the disease and its results of loneliness, fear, shame and guilt was hope-filled courage. Only someone with courageous hope would risk the humiliation of public rejection that was probable for an unclean person daring to enter a crowd and touch a revered teacher. The burden of her situation propelled her to risk it all in an audacious attempt for healing. Whether her faith was in Christ or his clothes is a moot point—Jesus met her where she was at and gave her more than she sought. Ignoring the discomfort she felt with His insistence on coming forward, Jesus called her into relationship with Him. Physical healing was accompanied by restored fellowship—with Himself and others. That is our God: the one who does immeasurably more than we can ask or think!

Courage and hope were necessities for our heroine—necessities for any who would seek victory through Christ. It is that hope we must continually seek to instill in hearts—our own and others. Healing is often uncomfortable; but every victory inspires more courage and more victories. How has Jesus drawn you closer? Encourage another by sharing your victory.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Victories: Garden of Life

I love to garden: bringing order and beauty to a plot of dirt reminds me of the blessings of cultivating spiritual life. A healthy, vibrant garden--earthly or spiritual--requires persistent effort: cultivating, sowing, weeding, pruning.

Our home gardens are a testimony to the blessings God has used to decorate our lives. We use flowers and colors our parents loved along side perennials from friends, family and previous homes. Before new gardens are created, we ’redeem’ the plot from its previous purpose…usually lawn. The intertwined roots of lawn grasses and buried rocks make cultivation difficult. That work reminds me of the persistent love of God which reaches out to every soul piercing the barriers life creates. Decisions instantly change destinies but the transformation takes place in daily details.

The perpetual growth of weeds reminds me of two ever-present dangers to my spiritual garden: endless activity and plain old sin. Both are capable of overshadowing any vision of God’s touch on my life. The busyness of life joins with natural sin tendencies creating disorder and waylaying the purposes of God. It is my privilege and responsibility to pluck out sin and pointless activity so that the view of God in my life is unobstructed.

Some of the weeds in my gardens produce tiny flowers; their deceptive attraction sometimes persuades me to let them stay. Inevitably, they overtake my intentional plantings. Similarly, sometimes I hold fast to habitual sins that I perceive as adding to my life. Their produce, though, is more deadly than my garden weeds for the fruit of every sin is always death. The only results of my natural tendencies--let alone my sins--are earthly and temporary. Eternally beautiful life gardens require intentional cultivation of the life of Christ within.

Also in my garden are some extremely productive perennials. As much as I like them, pruning their fruitfulness protects other blessings of God from being crowded out. These prolific beauties remind me of the truth that too much of a good thing is still too much. God has granted me passions and interests--but serving those passions will leave my life unbalanced and His purposes for me stunted.

Finally, both of our dads loved ’bulb’ flowers. Our tulips and irises do most of their growing out of sight, but attentively nurturing the bulbs produces results as well. Likewise, not all of our spiritual life is visible, but the Holy Spirit produces great growth as He searches our depths, convicting us and calling us to fellowship with God.

The purpose of life is to know God: His greatness and His goodness. He provides the nourishment and care we need because of His love; our right response to that love is to seek Him and obey Him. The presence and participation of others in our life gardens is part of His design. We are to be both blessed and a blessing as we journey through life. May each of our lives be a garden that reflects His glory for all to enjoy.