Thursday, September 29, 2011

Future Hope

I'm reading a book about godly eating habits. The author suggests writing a list of 10 things that you are thankful for. In making my list, the thought came to me that I am thankful for my future. Now, I can't say that I have ever included "my future" any time in counting my blessings. Yes, I have been thankful for the glorious truth that I will eventually be in Heaven with Jesus. But today, when I thought of being thankful for my future, I was thinking more about my remaining days on earth.

Having struggled with depression off and on for many years, I couldn't help but be pleasantly surprised that I was feeling hopeful about the future. More often, I think of it with a certain amount of anxiety and pessimism. But today was different. Today, as I was thinking about it, I saw the future as only good, because my Lord is in control of it. Even if "bad" stuff happens, I know it will have been ordained by Him. Because His thoughts and ways are so much higher and better than mine, I can trust that, no matter what, He is working on my behalf, in spite of what circumstances might look like.

I hope that you, also, have placed your future, and your hope, in Him. He is in control of all things, and if you are His child, no dark cloud, no plan or purpose of man, can thwart His plan and purpose for your life. He, the ruler of the universe, is for you.

For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11

Monday, September 19, 2011

Beauty For Ashes

Fall. I love this season. It makes me feel more alive, somehow. Is there more oxygen in the air when it is cool, rather than hot and humid? I'm not sure, but when the temperature drops, and the sky takes on a more brilliant shade of blue, and I get the urge to knit, I know it must be fall. This is when I really miss having little kids around, to make cookies for that they can have after school. I am making them anyway; two kinds today. Molasses spice, and oatmeal with butterscotch chips. My neighbours and friends will have to pick up the slack; there's no way my hubbie and I need that many cookies around.

Still, it's hard to leave summer behind. Such a wonderful season, especially this year. Those hot, sunshine filled days and beautiful evenings are delightful, even though I could do without the really hot ones, and the muggy nights. We are blessed to have four distinct seasons in this country. I think if we were to always have fall, or spring, or summer, we wouldn't appreciate them, and start taking the weather for granted. As it is, each season brings its own positive aspects, as well as some negative ones. (That's why winter seems to take forever to leave!) So as each new one moves in, we rejoice anew at those aspects that we enjoy most. And again, as each in turn leaves, we look forward to the next with anticipation.

Recently, I visited with a dear friend who is going through a difficult time. Her marriage of many years is ending (through no choice of her own). I know that she is mourning this loss, and wishes that things could be different. But she has an amazing attitude. Though she is sad, and grieves the loss, she has accepted it. She has let go of that season of her life. "I'm just thankful for the years that I had," she said to me. And now, she looks forward to this next "season", trusting that God will lead her, and provide all that she needs. In her pain, she has drawn near to her Lord, and as a result, she is being strengthened in her innermost being, and finding a new level of intimacy and trust. Such faith, such dependence on God! At one point during our conversation, she was consoling me, reassuring me that she was, indeed, alright.

I admire her steadfastness, and her positive outlook. More than that, I rejoice and give thanks for the gift of faith that allows her to have these, in the midst of heartache, in the midst of uncertainty. It is truly a supernatural power that upholds us in the face of trials. God promises that He will never leave us, and that He will work all things together for good. His grace is sufficient, and His strength shines through in our weakest moments. All to His glory......

To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He might be glorified. (Isaiah 61:3)

A Face In The Crowd

Yesterday I went to a ball game in Toronto. The Blue Jays beat out the Yankees. It was a good game, a good day, with great weather and wonderful fellowship.

Whenever I go to Toronto, I am amazed at the number of buildings, cars, and people. Yesterday was no exception. As we left the Rogers Centre, we were a sea of bodies and faces. The human traffic moved slowly up the stairs, across the lobby, and out the doors. As we inched toward the street, on our way to find the bus that we arrived on, one lone figure stood out. He was perched at the intersection, faced toward the oncoming crowd. In his hand he held a paper Tim Horton's coffee cup, empty of coffee, and containing one lone Loonie coin. Now, in Toronto, it is common to see people begging on the street. But where I live, I hardly ever encounter it. And as it usually does, yesterday it caused some conflicting thoughts.

In those moments before I reached the man, many thoughts raced through my mind. When I first realized what he was doing, I remembered my wallet, buried under my knitting and all the other paraphernalia I had tucked into my bag. The crowd had me captive, moving me along at a slow but steady pace, and my two companions were somewhere ahead of me. No time to dig for my wallet and extract some change for this poor fellow. I noticed that no one was dropping any coins into his cup. Then my eyes met his, and I couldn't look away. I couldn't have guessed his age. It might have been anywhere from 40 to 60. He had that weather beaten look of someone who had seen a lot of struggles. His posture and countenance spoke humility and desperation, and my heart melted. I held his gaze as I approached him, wanting to wordlessly convey a message of hope, and acceptance. As I got nearer, his eyes holding mine, he gave a little smile of resignation. "Tough crowd" he said. His demeanor seemed to say "yeah, I'm this desperate. I'm ashamed to be here, but I don't know what else to do." As I moved past him, still meeting his bloodshot eyes, I touched his arm, gave him my best smile, and said "God bless you."

Immediately, I thought to myself "how lame was that? 'God bless you?' Sounded so condescending!" I wished I had at least had a bible tract to give him. Most of all, I wished I had been like Peter and John, when they came across the lame beggar at the temple gate called Beautiful. I wish I had somehow given him what they had given that beggar; healing and deliverance. I wanted so badly to convey that love, that healing, that deliverance that only Christ can give. That love that has been shed abroad in our hearts, that love that is not for us to keep to ourselves, and smugly delight in, but is meant to share with a hurting world, with hurting people like that man.

I can't stop thinking of him. He has been popping into my thoughts since then. Was he not someone's little baby at one time, like the rest of us? Someone's son, perhaps brother, or husband, or father? In different circumstances, he could be my brother, or my son. Is he any less valuable than them? Than me, or any of my friends and loved ones? Of course not. We are all equally valuable to God, and all in need of His grace.

It troubles me that this man, and so many others like him, have come to a place in their lives that they are so alienated from whatever security or relationships that they may have had in the past that they now stand or sit or lie in the street, and beg for money. But the thought that troubles me even more is that they might have no one who cares enough to even pray for them. No one that knows them by name, who lifts them up to the Throne of Grace, begging that God would intervene in their lives, and awaken them to the hope that is in Christ. To me, this is an even greater tragedy than having no home or no money.

So I am going to pray for this man, as often as God brings him to my mind. I have named him "Richard". It seems a noble name to me. Like King Richard, the Lionhearted. But I want him to have a heart that holds the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. Maybe you could pray for him too? I know he doesn't deserve it, but then neither did I, and neither did you, deserve all the prayers that might have been said, and are still said, for us. Pray that God will bring someone into his life that will be a Minister of Reconciliation, someone that will bring a message of hope, healing and deliverance. Pray that his heart will be opened to hear it. He is only one man, one soul, but if God saves him, oh, there will be such rejoicing in heaven!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sharing His Holiness

I love to hang laundry outside to dry. Today was a perfect day for it. The sun was shining and there was a strong breeze that flapped and flipped the clothes all day long. When I brought them in I noticed how soft they were, and wrinkle free, from all that battering. I thought to myself that I wished it were that easy for us to be "soft and wrinkle free", to have a soft heart and be free of sin and struggles. Just go through a wash and rinse cycle, then be hung out to dry on a windy day. But then again, we are in a process of sanctification, each and every day, whether we realize it or not. So it may seem as though we've been "hung out to dry" or spent some time in the dryer on high heat. Or perhaps you've had an experience that more resembles clothes being beaten on a rock. If you belong to God, then you've "been through the wringer" more times than you would like to remember, I've no doubt.

I've had some losses in my life. We have all suffered through them. It's a theme that has been very familiar to me lately. I'm discovering that loss comes in many varieties. With all loss comes grief and mourning, to some degree. We grieve for something that can never be recovered. Loss of life is at the top of the list. I lost my brother three months ago. Since then I have heard stories of other people's losses. There are many ways to lose people from your life. Sickness, suicide, miscarriage, accidents, divorce. We can grieve other losses as well, like the loss of a job, or a relationship, loss of health, opportunities, a beloved pet. We can grieve the loss of a dream that has died, that we know will never come to fruition. When these losses happen, we are sad, we question, we wonder why these things, some of them tragic, happen to us and to those that we know and love. We get angry, depressed, fearful. Hopefully, though, these emotions give way to more positive ones. We come to terms with the loss, we accept it, and best of all, we trust that God has ordained it, and approved it as necessary in our lives.

To come to a place of acceptance can be a struggle. When my brother passed away, I was shocked, hurt, and angry. Angry at him for not taking better care of himself. And I admit that I was also angry at God. I was angry that He had not intervened in my brother's life in the way that I had hoped He would. Thankfully He continues to extend His grace and longsuffering toward me. Of course I have no right to be angry at him, the very thought is ludicrous, and I was the one that needed forgiveness from Him. But in my weak human condition, it was not an unusual response.

Very recently I was reading through Hebrews, and came upon these verses:

It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. (Hebrews 12:7-10)

For some reason, the last few words seemed to shout at me, telling me the ultimate purpose for the struggling and suffering that we endure as Believers. It is so that we might become like Him, to actually share in His holiness! It's not as though I didn't already know this. It is one of the main themes in Scripture, the truth that God works in us and around us to conform us more and more into the image of Christ. But coming on the heels of yet another loss, the renewed realization was precious.

Talking to a dear friend this evening, I was saying how I am trying to "think positively" about some recent events. Often, when there is a particularly painful and bewildering upset in our lives, we paint the whole picture black and bleak, with no redeeming features, no light at the end of the tunnel. We might feel that no good can come from the situation, because it is so devastating. Or we might feel that God is punishing us for some unknown reason. We rant, we rail, we question, and wonder if life will ever be the same again. But we do, hopefully sooner than later, remember that, oh yeah, God is in control! He knew this would happen! In fact, He ordained that it should happen, in order to fulfill His purposes in those whose lives were affected! So..........I can let it go, I can thank Him that He is working every detail together for their good, and His glory. I can rest, be still, and know that He is God, and will continue to be God.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)