Friday, July 29, 2011

Onward Ho!

Well, this summer seems to be sailing by... relatively unobserved by myself.  There are two main reasons for this.  Firstly, the weather has all but convinced me that we have mysteriously been transported to the southern hemisphere.  This is the coldest, rainiest summer I can remember.  There have been a few warm days, today being one of them, but truly, we have had some very unseasonable temperatures.  The second reason for the lack of summer-ness is the fact that I have been finishing courses.  Thankfully, the final assignments are rapidly approaching annihilation.  Indeed, they shall be completed by the early portion of next week.  I have decreed it.

If you ask me why I am writing so strangely today, the simple answer is that I am possessed with a strong sense of felicity.  If you ask me what has induced this bout of felicitousness, I would have to attribute it to the sense of nearing the finish line in regards to school and anticipation for church family camp this weekend... and youth camp next week.  And going camping with my family in the states the two weeks after that.

Books.  I am very much bookish this summer.  Not like that's anything unusual... but instead of plowing through a dozen novels a week, I've been slowly working my way through a rather challenging list of non-fiction.  Emphasis on the slowly.  As I said, I've been working hard to get my courses finished.  But I am so looking forward to being able to dig into some good, challenging books.  Of course, I'll probably still read some novels and things that aren't on my list, but I guess I feel like I'm at a stage in my life where I need to really start challenging myself more, rather than relying on the expectations of others.  So I stood in front of the bookshelf in the living room a few weeks ago and picked out a dozen or so that caught my eye.

Here's my "official" reading list for this summer:

- Trusting God by Jerry Bridges (currently reading... still)
- 7 Men Who Rule the World From the Grave (currently reading)
- Girls Gone Wise by Mary Kassian (currently reading lol no, three at once is nothing for me :P)
- The Origin of Species
- A Brief History of Eternity
- Darwin's Black Box
- The World That Perished
- The De-Valuing of America
- The Thousand Year War
- Don't Let Canada Die of Neglect
- Free Enterprise: A Judeo-Christian Defense
- The Roots of Endurance by John Piper
- How Now Shall We Live? by Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey

Also, I'm hoping to do something artistic this summer... I've got the preliminary sketch of a painting done, and I'm hoping I'll have some time in August to complete it. :)

I just finished reading through the book of Revelation last night... All I can say is, "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus." (Rev. 22:20)  I've always found Revelation a difficult book to read and understand, and honestly, though I don't think it will every be easy, I did have a better understanding of it this time, and God spoke some amazing truths to my heart about His glory and power.  What amazing promises He has given to those who are in Christ.  "His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever." (Rev 22:3-5)

It makes me think of 1 John 3:2-3, "Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure."  Wow... what an incredible thing we have to look forward to!  This is much better than camping for a weekend. ;) That heavenly worship and fellowship will be perfect... oh how I long for that day! I'm just reminded again of the fact that the goal of the Christian life is not to do enough good things to get an honorable mention in Heaven, but to see Jesus! As Paul wrote, "in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing." (2 Tim 4:8) May we live our lives with this anticipation!

And off I go to round up some last minute things before we head off tonight.  Blessings to you all!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Remember Those...

Yesterday I was doing some Law homework, and the assignment asked me to research a Christian who lived true to faith in Christ but suffered at the hands of a humanly appointed justice system. My thoughts immediately flew to Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand, who founded the organization, The Voice of the Martyrs.  Richard and Sabina experienced a combined 17 years of torture and imprisonment for their obedience to God under the oppression of communism.  Although I was quite familiar with their story, I was deeply moved as I read again of the trials they endured for the sake of the gospel, and saw again the depth and vibrancy of their faith.

I won't tell the full story in this post, but feel free to read a more detailed biography here.

Richard Wurmbrand spent 14 years in Romanian prisons under communism, three of which were in solitary confinement.  He was beaten, tortured, starved, and brainwashed, but God sustained him to witness to hundreds of souls, and ultimately to bring the plight of the persecuted church to the attention of complacent Christians in free countries.  Through his three years of solitary confinement he experienced the grace of God as he composed and preached to himself hundreds of sermons, and later was able to overflow with the richness and reality of the love of Christ in the company of his fellow prisoners.  In his book, Tortured for Christ, he writes,  "It was strictly forbidden to preach to other prisoners, as it is in captive nations today. It was understood that whoever was caught doing this received a severe beating. A number of us decided to pay the price for the privilege of preaching, so we accepted their terms. It was a deal: we preached and they beat us. We were happy preaching; they were happy beating us—so everyone was happy."

Sabina tells of similar experiences while she was in prison in a message entitled "In God's Beauty Parlor".  She says, "Sometimes I am asked, 'But were you allowed in Communists prisons to read the bible and pray?'  We surely were allowed.  We made a deal with our Communists guards.  We allowed them to beat us so they allowed to read the bible and to pray together."

Sabina spoke of faces that shone, "like the face of an angel," while covered with the blood and tears of a brutal beating.  How could the Wurmbrands say that prison was beautiful?  These words of Richard Wurmbrand say it all:

"If a poor man is a great lover of music, he gives his last dollar to listen to a concert. He is then without money, but he does not feel frustrated. He has heard beautiful things. I don’t feel frustrated to have lost many years in prison. I have seen beautiful things. I myself have been among the weak and insignificant ones in prison, but have had the privilege to be in the same jail with great saints, heroes of faith who equaled the Christians of the first centuries. They went gladly to die for Christ. The spiritual beauty of such saints and heroes of faith can never be described. The things that I say here are not exceptional. The supernatural things have become natural to Christians in the Under­ground Church who have returned to their first love." (Tortured For Christ)

I can't help but almost wish that Christians in our nation faced such persecution.  Tonight, just singing in the car about His grace... oh how amazing.  Thinking about how I have so much, but all I really need is Him.  Looking around at a world that comfortably lives as if this is all there is - oh what sorrow!  There's so much on my heart tonight.  I'm so convicted of my lack of love for my brothers and sisters in Christ, for how I take the Word of God for granted, and for how much I complain about the most inconsequential things. 

Oh that we may have an eternal perspective, a heart that remembers those who are persecuted, as though we were in prison with them. (Hebrews 13:2) That is where our heart should be - where the crushed and the afflicted are - where true light and peace are found.  May we turn to our God, the one who brings love out of hatred, joy out of sorrow, and makes sinners into saints, and for Him forsake all else.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Strong Hands

Bright eyes struggled to focus on the strong fingers that deftly wove the threads of the tapestry.  Many times, the curious hands of the infant had reached out impulsively and tried to catch the threads of gold and red and blue.  Patiently, the mother would reprove her child and straighten each row to its proper place, each humble strand to form the emerging design.  Now, her daughter would not understand, nor would she appreciate the effort and love put into the design.  The mother smiled down on the downy head that snuggled so trustingly against her, filled with love for the baby she cherished for this short time, seeing the woman she would so soon become.  The child fussed again, trying to reach for the beautiful threads that were denied her, pushing against her mother's restraining hands. Squirming, she let out a frustrated cry. "Hush, my daughter, hush."

+ + +

The Lord has been quieting my heart and teaching me to rest in Him this year.  So many times, my mind rebels.  "Why God? Why can't I sense your direction for my life? Why do I have to wait to know your plans?  Why do I have to live with these uncertainties, this lack of decision?"  Yet the Lord knows what I need, and He has not left me to wallow in those questions.  He has brought so many messages into my life that deal with these very issues.  One was a sermon series at church last summer about the will of God, based on Deuteronomy 29:29, "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law."  Another was the study on Jerry Bridges' book, Trusting God.  Great book, by the way! 

So, honestly, after some emotionally rough times near the beginning of this year, you'd think I'd have finally got it.  I thought so too, but there have been moments when I've allowed the anxiety of those tangible decisions to get in the way of that trust, and I've felt trapped in it. I would dread the inevitable question of, "So, what are you doing now that you've graduated?" I have struggled with the fear of disappointing my friends and family, of having my decisions ridiculed or misunderstood.

I'm beginning to realize the reason that He has me in this place, and as always, His purposes are perfect.  I'm repenting of my selfish, doubting spirit. I would think I had surrendered everything at the cross, but then get trapped again in the fear that I'm not making the right decisions, and I'd be a failure and miss God's plan and have a horrible life. Uh... Self?  What in the world were you thinking!?  By His grace, I will not be a slave again to fear. 

My Father has been whispering to my heart, "Look up! Here I Am. Seek Me."  Almost every time I open my Bible or pick up another book, I end up reading that message.  The other day, as I was leafing through a journal that I was given, there was a quote by Charlotte Bronte that said the same thing: "I avoid looking forward or backward, and try to keep looking upward." I am so thankful that God is teaching me these lessons now.  Not that I will ever learn them fully in this life, but that I may be sanctified by His power in order to more fully proclaim His glory through my living and dying, day by day.  His faithfulness is indeed great. Life is busy, complicated, and filled with struggles without and within, but through all these things, I can see God's hand at work.  I can rest in Him, because His strong hands are weaving the tapestry of my life.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Scent of Lavender

A couple Saturdays ago, I found this green vase at a garage sale.  I seem to have a strong attraction to green glassware.  After scrubbing my find, it sat empty for a while.  My darling Mumsy knows how I love lavender, and I was pleasantly surprised to see a sweet little bouquet on my dresser as I went to bed one night.  I bent over to smell the fresh blossoms... nothing.  How could this be!?  These perfect flowers had just insulted my nose with their lack of scent, and there they sat, smugly smiling up at this poor, disappointed girl.

The next morning I thanked my mom for her thoughtfulness in putting the flowers in my room, and she mentioned that I should crush the blossoms a bit so that they would release their scent.  I did so, and that night I inhaled their fragrance while I had my devotions.  It set me to thinking.  God usually gives me a verse in my head, and I go from there.  This time it was Isaiah 42:3 "A bruised reed He will not break And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish;" If God wishes me to be a fragrant aroma, I too must be crushed.  I must be broken.  The following verses describe well what we are called to be.

"Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma."  (Ephesians 5:1-2)

"For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing." (2 Corinthians 2:15)

The aroma of Christ... what does that mean?  It must mean that we "smell" like Him.  To start with, there are some major clues in the verses above.  We are to be "imitators of God", to "walk in love", to be an "offering and a sacrifice to God", and to share the knowledge of Him with this world.  None of these things, however, can be accomplished if we simply sit like perfect blossoms, untouched and untouchable, entirely content with ourselves, unable to extend grace to those who come near enough to seek the divine aroma.

No, to be these things, we must first be broken.  To be honest, my flesh rebels against that.  I like being right, being strong, being adequate.  But my spirit rejoices in brokenness, because it is life to me.  Never has the Lord turned me away when I have come to Him broken over my sin, realizing again the rawness and reality of my need for the cross.  Always, my wounded heart is bound up, my guilt is forgiven, and I am left with the overwhelming joy of worshiping my Savior with clean hands and a pure heart that were washed by His blood.

I had a couple hours last week to read through Isaiah and journal for a while after I put the little guy I was looking after to bed (who, ironically, is named Isaiah).  Such beautiful promises and gentle rebuke the Lord gave to my heart that night!  Isaiah is one of my favorite books because of how clearly the nature of God is revealed.  His attributes are like a perfect diamond - each facet reflecting and enhancing the others to display the brilliant whole.  That evening, I was given a deeper understanding into God's righteous wrath, perfect justice, and incredible mercy.  The words of scripture are perfect, showing the error of the proud and showing grace and hope to the humble.

"For thus says the high and exalted One
Who lives forever, whose name is Holy,
'I dwell on a high and holy place,
And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit
In order to revive the spirit of the lowly
And to revive the heart of the contrite.'" (Isaiah 57:15)

"Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
And clever in their own sight!"(Isaiah 5:21)

“For My hand made all these things,
Thus all these things came into being,” declares the LORD.
“But to this one I will look,
To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word." (Isaiah 66:2)

To be raised, we must realize our lowness before a great God.  Christ himself is our greatest example.  He humbled himself to the point of His death, to achieve the glorious resurrection of many for the praise of His name.  In my own experience, it is when I feel like I'm doing just fine, when I become self-satisfied, that my relationship with Christ grows shallow.  I begin to forget that everything I am is from Him.  The reason I am writing this today, is because the Lord is reminding me of these very things.  So as I walk into my room tonight, where the crushed lavender is filling the room with the fresh fragrance of death, I will remember that life is poured out of the dying.  The seed of life has been planted in my heart, and "unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." (John 12:24)  That is my prayer for myself and for all to whom His life has been given.