Apples of Gold

December 7, 2015 § Leave a comment

If Christians are to be known for hating anything, it should be nothing so much as our own sin.

Today I’m thankful for the patience and love of my Mom and sister. Most of us sin against our families more than anyone else and I’m no exception. I put mine through a lot. A sharp tongue and stubborn heart have been my greatest long-term spiritual battlegrounds at home; easier to control around the office, church, and friends . . . but with family? So difficult. Improvement has certainly occurred over time, but it’s been slow.

Yet they love me enough to say the hard things I so need to hear. And I’d be a fool to ignore them. Thank the Lord, that is at least one aspect that’s beginning to improve more and more: a quickness to let their words in, and accept that they are true. That once again, my family’s right. It’s still a constant battle against pride, to not simply think them too critical, and remember that these are the people who know me best in the world, who see what my behavior is like when unchecked, and again, LOVE ME ENOUGH to say something. To recognize that this is God working through them.

May the Lord help us all to be humble, keep soft hearts, teachable spirits, prayerful attitudes, and take action to change.

Listen to those who love you. Be thankful that they are speaking up.

Mom, Becca, thank you for words fitly spoken.


A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold

In settings of silver.

Proverbs 25:11
(NKJV)
Apples of gold

 

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Rated “R”

June 5, 2015 § Leave a comment

Today I’ve been thinking about the “R” words that describe what God does for our souls.

Redeems. Rescues. Regenerates. Restores. Renews. Refreshes.

Why? Why does my soul need all these things?

*Redemption*: I need it because I was subject to sin by nature and therefore “a child of wrath”, assigned to everlasting death. But instead of giving me what I deserve, He was merciful, even to the point of buying me back with His own blood. Has anyone else died for me? For you?

*Rescue*: I need it because in my sin I could not save myself! Think of any situation where a helpless person cries out, begging to be snatched away from danger. Once they realize their situation, there’s no pride or reluctance to ask. Just “please help me!” Do you see your need for rescue?

*Regeneration*: I need it because in sin my soul was dead. Like a dead physical heart, a dead spiritual heart can’t make decay begin to run backwards on its own. Nothing but supernatural power can regenerate it. God removed the dead stone of my heart and replaced it with flesh, quickening my soul for the battle against sin. He raised Jesus from the dead and said the same power that He used to raise Him is the power at work in our souls. We can’t even imagine that kind of power. Because Jesus is fully God, He essentially raised Himself from the dead. The most awe-inspiring words ever spoken, in my opinion, were Jesus’s when He said:  “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again.  No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” (John 10:17-18a) That same power has regenerated my heart.  Do you know He offers to regenerate yours too?

*Restoration*: I need it because, well, with a dead spiritual heart, what do you think the rest my life was like? Unfit for service or function, like atrophied muscle or a rusted-out engine. He had to restore me, make me into something He can use. Did you know that no matter what you’ve done, He can restore and use you too?

*Renewal*: I needed to be turned into a new creation, from child of wrath to child of God. A relationship where there was once enmity. A new purpose, one that matters beyond our physical lives into eternity. Do you realize you can have a real reason to live?

*Refreshment*: I need it every day, because I am weak and weary in this battle against my sin. He provides His strength, His joy, His beauty. He provides respite when I spend time with Him, peace when I trust Him, joy when I seek and find Him. He refreshes my heart through His other children, my brothers and sisters who also love Christ, who also know what it is to be desperately in need of what we couldn’t provide for ourselves. Do you have a parched, tired spirit sometimes too?

So, there it is. I’ve been bought with a price. Redeemed and rescued! Dear friends, please forgive me when I don’t live like it. I don’t want to be a hypocrite. With God’s help I’m learning and changing, listening to instruction and accepting discipline when I disobey. You who aren’t Christians, that’s why you hear us talking about “growing” all the time.We don’t just mean growing as a person or somehow making ourselves better. We mean that God is raising us, His children. We need the difficulties and trials that make us more like Jesus, and the grace He gives us to endure and excel beyond them bring us out the other side full of even more trust that He knows what He’s doing.

From redeeming us back from His own judgement to refreshing our renewed hearts with His grace. That’s mercy folks. And He offers it to everyone! A gift. Though, there is another “R” word.

Repentance. Turning our backs on the way we used to live. Admit and reject all the selfishness, arrogance, all the ugly attitudes and actions that sin produces. That one takes humility too, and sometimes it’s so hard. But, remember that rescue I talked about? Would you let pride prevent you from letting someone pull you out of a fire, embarrassed because you started it yourself by some dumb mistake, or even maliciously? No. At that point your only thought is for your life.

I pray that you will come to that place for the life of your soul. To the critical moment where you see the desperateness of your plight without God’s intervention. He allowed Himself to be tortured, to endure the full wrath of the Father against our sin, and then to die — so that you and I wouldn’t have to endure eternal separation from Him. And the last “R” word? I mentioned it once already. He rose from the dead. He raised my soul, and He can raise yours.

Please don’t slap away the hand that reaches out to rescue you.

Walking worthy…on and offline

January 14, 2015 § Leave a comment

At long last, I have come to realize that I do not love people very well at all. In general and especially online. Naturally, some of the reasons I don’t love people well in general are ripple effects of the fact that I simply spend too much time on the web: primarily Facebook, and reading articles linked there.

There is certainly a place for those things, and you don’t need me to repeat what my betters have already blogged, posted, and shared on the subject. But I must finally admit that I have a twofold problem: too much time online, and a misuse of that time.

To first address the misuse of time online: 

As I finally turn a more critical eye on the frequency and content of my Facebook posts, I have seen an unsettling pattern. I seem to be on some kind of crusade against lack of discernment in Christians, mistaken Christian teachers, and Catholicism. Always trying to make some point or harp on some cultural trend.

None of my views on these matters have changed, but it’s time I realized a few things:

1) It is not up to me to effect the growth and change of those I love through sharing just the right article that’s finally going to convince them.

2) It is not my job to make everyone aware of every issue that I deem crucial to good discernment.

Many of us love to share something we find enlightening, etc., and again, there’s nothing wrong with that. But I tend to love making truth known in the face of error in ways that possess neither winsomeness nor humility. I often take a superior tone which betrays the pride in my heart and dilutes the message.

Even worse, sometimes my motive is more akin to “I have to make sure my Facebook friends know that I’m on top of this issue theologically and haven’t been taken in. Others need to know that they’ve been taken in, and they won’t know unless I share this.”

How’s that for prideful? As if I were their only source for that material and God needed me to click “share” lest anyone miss it. And…as if I were always right.

Does that mean I don’t think God would use something I shared in the life of an unbelieving friend? No; it’s always possible that He would. My point is, I need to lay off the frequency and correct my attitude.

There must be a balance, and it may take me a while to find it. In the meantime, I plan to do much less “sharing” (with those extended excerpts you know I love) and use my Facebook time for more encouragement and less tutelage.

To address the amount of time online: 

Others have already said this better than I can, so I’ll keep it brief. I’ve allowed myself to fall prey to the smart-phone addiction, big time. Checking and re-checking to see if new  comments, notifications, messages, or texts have arrived or new photos been posted by certain pages or groups. . . it’s bad. My eyes (and brain!) tire from screens all day at work and screens for most of the evening, and on and on it goes.  Yet I notice how little certain of my friends are on Facebook and I want to follow their example. Their lives are in no way diminished by their “absence” from it and indeed, they have more time for far better things!

So, the biggest concern? You guessed it. All those things I don’t get done because of wasted time. The cooking & cleaning, laundry, letters to friends, serving others, photo album, cross-stitch, calligraphy, writing, drawing, time outside, and a half-dozen projects left unfinished. And the READING! Oh, the reading. What a list! Most of the things that lend true richness to life, right? I deprive myself of blessing others and much of what makes my walk worthy of Christ.

“Walk worthy” . . . sweet Bethany Rehrer would remind me how precious is the time we have here.

Lately I’ve begun to journal more and more, and I find that the time spent at my desk with the low lamp on, candle lit, and pen scratching across real paper (ah, my first love!) to be incredibly sweet. It is cathartic and healing; getting my thoughts out, recording events, expressing prayers and frustrations. You journaling people have known that for years. Well, I can be a very slow learner.

One big thing I did accomplish recently (this is mostly for any Heart for Home study ladies who may be reading). . . in the weeks before Christmas I buckled down and completely rearranged and reorganized my room, selling and moving various pieces of furniture (thanks Becca!) until there was actually room to maneuver in there. After the New Year a free headboard and perfect little desk from church friends made a huge difference, and now there are pictures on the walls and everything. Yay! Very close to “a place for everything and everything in its place” at last.

Please pray for me. These are big changes to make, and I’ve neglected self-discipline for too long. It’s been difficult to swallow my pride and admit this, since it spent a long time on the list of things I thought I’d never struggle with. (A word to the wise: don’t make that list.)

And now it’s time to log off.

Running (and breathing) in Circles

August 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

I love to run. It’s relaxing. A time to be outside and think and pray, and I love the feeling of spent energy, enlivened muscle and increased blood-flow that comes afterward. But there’s a weird little almost-vicious cycle I experience while running, that is super uncomfortable and threatens to stop me from training for another marathon. =(

Usually my asthma — very minor by the way, I’ve never had an attack — is strictly exercise-induced. I run for a while, I feel myself pass the out-of-breath stage and settle into the breathe-steady-and-just-keep-going stage and everything’s great! Here we go! This feels good! Ugh, but then it’s like switch is flipped and suddenly breathing seems to have no affect. Must stop and walk a bit! Let the lungs open up again. 
When I stop running, another minor condition kicks in; a POTS-like malfunction of the autonomic nervous system that means low blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, randomly “forgetting” to breathe. etc. These involuntary systems don’t self-regulate the way they should. So, while actually running/exercising, it’s the exercise itself that keeps my blood pressure and heart rate pushing along steadily at a good rate to maintain the exercise. But as soon as I stop, when it’s supposed to all put itself back to normal rates, instead it goes kind of haywire and BP drops and HR just rushes along as though I’m still running and it just takes an extra few minutes for things to get back into place. 

Once all THAT is over with, I can quit the walk-break pick up the pace. Every run I go on is broken down into those sections.

Run, get asthmatic, slow to a walk, BP & HR go kind of nuts, wait ’til I’m not woozy, run again, repeat. 

Some days, like this afternoon, it happens when I’m not exercising at all and in the opposite order. I’ll “forget” to breathe, suddenly feel like I’m going to suffocate and realize, “Hey, it’s been a little bit since I took a breath. I should do that.”  Deep breath, then feel asthmatic (like no air actually got in). But deep breaths make me woozy so it goes around and around like so:

Hey numbskull, breathe!
Oh! Yes, yes of course.
Whoa, woozy.
But it doesn’t feel like I gut much air. Deep breath again.
Whoa, woozy.

Etcetera. All the while my heart kind of pounds, though not any faster than usual. 

Asthma treatments contain albuterol, which shoots the heart rate up. Since mine doesn’t regulate like it should, my cardiologist says no albuterol for me, because hey, why wear out my heart early by making it run hot all the time?

Not much they can do for the other condition either, because it’s not bad enough to require (or qualify for?) the usual treatment for POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome). They said if I was actually fainting when I got lightheaded, I’d officially have POTS. Well, I’m certainly grateful that I don’t faint, though I’ve come close a few times if I stand up too fast.

I love to be active, to work out and to climb things and run races. And to sprint! Going as fast as I can is a major rush and absolutely love it! However since this stuff began, the reaction is a lot worse after a good hard sprint. Upon stopping I feel terrible, nearly black out, am asthmatic for an extended period of time, and my heart rate doesn’t go below 130 for hours.

So, I need prayer for patience. I need to proactively figure out an exercise routine, and hopefully running schedule, that will work for me instead of against me. And I need to make an appointment with my doctor to see about alternative asthma treatments that don’t affect heart rate (that I’d be comfortable taking).

Oh, and why did this suddenly start happening a few years ago? I’ve had the sports-induced asthma from childhood, that’s nothing new. But I asked my cardiologist why on earth an autonomic nervous system suddenly goes haywire! He said, “Well, it can happen after a patient has suffered a severe, prolonged fever. Have you had one of those?” 

Swine Flu, fall of 2009, a few months before I started getting major woozy spells while simply sitting at my desk. 

Yay. =/

Who’s In Your Cloud?

August 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
— Hebrews 12:1-2

The writer of Hebrews had just been delineating the incredible sacrifices and suffering of past heroes of the faith. They are the cloud of witnesses who have gone before us.

Perhaps those we knew personally who have passed into glory were not martyred, and did not suffer for their faith. But we knew them, and loved them, and they have gone before. Their faith instructed us. Their love challenged us. Their joy encouraged us. And so much more. They are part of our cloud of witnesses.

Thinking about the fact that people I actually know, people I hugged and loved and laughed with and sang with and cried with, are actually experiencing Heaven at this moment, makes Heaven so real to me. It’s there! They’re there! Heaven is a place.

In fact my friend Jody wrote a song called “Heaven is a Place”. I listen to the CD and hear her sweet, somewhat husky alto voice singing, and tears always come. As the musicians begin, she calls out to the audience (I and my family were their for the live concert recording), “Are you ready to go to Heaven? I’m excited to go there because that’s where we’ll finally meet the King! Face to face. There will be fullness of joy, and pleasures forever! Maybe tonight. I’m ready.”  Then she sings. How her heart longed to be there. And on September 30, 2006, her desire was fulfilled.

There are others in my cloud. Those that I knew on at least some personal level. The first was my dear grandpa, Jess Vanderpool. I loved him so much! And there is Lynda, Bethany, Jody, Claire, Jasmine, Greg, Chris, Rob, and Tori.

Mrs. Claire Clint was my 2nd grade Sunday school teacher at Grace Community Church. She could have been my grandfather’s teacher, too, if he’d grown up near her. Because she was born six months before the declaration of the Spanish American War in 1898, and was 14 years old when the Titanic sank I sang in choirs with her great-great-grandson. She once told me she still remembered how she felt upon seeing the newspaper headlines. Between Grace Community and her former churches, Mrs. Clint taught Sunday morning classes for 80 years.

Talk about faithfulness.

Jody’s talent was music, and her gifts were never underused. Nether were her gifts of encouragement, speaking the truth in love, and helping others set their minds on things above. Bethany’s exhortation to all of us was always “walk worthy!”. She so desired herself and her fellow believers to walk worthy of our calling.
Tori was all about others. How she could serve, how she could pray, how she could help. She offered to talk any time I needed to . . . wanting to be of any consolation to my sore heart that she could.

I think God has been teaching our little church here in Little Rock how to love suffering people well. How to love, how to be grieving people. We have experienced a great deal of loss in the last several years. Our cloud grows, while we mourn. However, instead of a dark, heavy cloud, this cloud is full of light, joy, and anticipation. They now know that fullness of joy unspeakable, and they eagerly await the day that we will join them.

And we want to! It’s the Christian’s sanctified death-wish. We want to be with our loved ones, those who spurred us on to love and good works, and whom we loved so dearly. Even more we want to be with our Lord. They, with Him, are waiting for us. Let it be soon! Or come quickly, Lord Jesus.

It is better to go to a house of mourning
Than to go to a house of feasting,
Because that is the end of every man,
And the living takes it to heart.
– Ecclesiastes 7:2

No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever! 
— Revelation 22:3-4

Listening to the Sound of our Mourning

April 29, 2014 § Leave a comment

This week I am grateful for melancholy music. Not for wallowing, but for the cushion it seems to place between my emotions and the cold hard ground.

Music’s ability to aid the feeling and expression of sorrow is amazing. Although ultimately for the worship of God, with the advent of sin, misery and tragedy He allows us to use its great power help us make it through the depths.

In the darkness of my own trials, or when anguished for others like the Tittle family, why would I listen to doleful music when I’m already sad? It’s not for everyone and each of you knows whether or not it helps or hurts. Nor is it for every stage of those emotions. There’s a time and a place. Certainly there are times when any music at all may feel like a mockery to the sufferer of intense grief.

For me, as an avid lover of choral and orchestral music, those are my musical refuge when sadness overwhelms.

Author J.K. Rowling put it this way in one of her books, when after the death of an important character the grieving friends hear a Phoenix singing in the distance, with terrible beauty and an unearthly quality that they felt must be
“their own grief turned magically into song, and it seemed to ease their pain a little to listen to the sound of their mourning.”

To somehow hear my heartache, bound up in a lovely sound, and thereby let go of it teeny tiny bits at a time. The poignancy of certain musical sounds seems to draw the grief out of me like a gentle syringe.

The following pieces are my go-to for such times. Pieces with lyrics that don’t match the specific circumstance of a particular struggle are chosen for the arrangement of the music itself.

  • Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” — simple string quartet. Full string section versions are gorgeous as well, but the exposed, raw quality of just the four parts better suits its nature, to me.
  • “Agnus Dei” — choral version of the above. Barber chose to set the Agnus Dei text to his haunting melody.
  • Eric Whitacre’s “Sleep” — choral.
  • Eric Whitacre’s “When David Heard” — choral. A stunning piece representing King David’s grief upon hearing of Absolom’s death. It’s about 15 minutes long and worth every moment.
  • Joseph MacKenzie’s “Mansions of the Lord” and end credits of the film We Were Soldiers — choir and orchestra.
  • Puccini’s “Crisantemi” — for string orchestra. Written for the funeral procession of a noble.

 

Courage, Brother! Do Not Stumble

January 6, 2014 § Leave a comment

Part of my job today is flipping through a beautiful 1934 hymnal. 

Courage, brother! Do not stumble,
Though thy path be dark as night;
There’s a star to guide the humble;
“Trust in God, and do the right.”
Let the road be rough and dreary
And its end far out of sight;
Foot it bravely, strong or weary;
Trust in God,
Trust in God,
Trust in God and do the right.

Some will hate thee, some will love thee,
Some will flatter, some will slight:
Cease from man, and look above thee;
“Trust in God, and do the right.”
Courage, brother! Do not stumble,
Though thy path be dark as night;
There’s a star to guide the humble–
Trust in God,
Trust in God,
Trust in God and do the right.

(Rev. Norman Macleod, 1857)

This Terrible Truth

July 5, 2013 § Leave a comment

For those of us who believe in the absolute truth of the Bible, there is a wonderful freedom to be enjoyed in the confidence that no human government can force us to disobey the God of the universe.  As I observe the steep downward turn in our nation’s moral trajectory,  my grief for its depravity is always accompanied by a strange excitement.

Jesus promised His followers that those who hate Him will not stand to hear truth. That we will be despised, slandered, abused, and even killed, for speaking it without apology. The spectrum of persecution is broad, and although early signs are visible, I don’t know at what speed the United States’ progression in it will accelerate. But there is daily proof that what Jesus said is true. I think that’s the source of the excitement I feel. It’s not that I wish pain on anyone. It’s that no matter what they do to us, they prove the Word true with their aggression just as we prove it true with our Spirit-enabled unwavering commitment. When we stand fast in truth, and suffer for it, we represent Christ and take part in His suffering.

It is astounding that although we DO deserve the suffering of eternal judgement, instead we are called to rejoice in a different suffering that we DON’T deserve: the privilege of suffering for the name of Christ.

Persecutions of all kinds are the pruning shears that will reveal the true size of the church in this country, as they do wherever it occurs. Obscured by its own dead branches, the church is in dire need of it. May we all be steadfast!

On June 25th I sorrowed for another godless decision from our U.S. Supreme Court, yet I rejoiced in its total impotence to alter reality. Further proof of Jesus’ words.

I take joy, confidence, and warning from this terrible truth in the words of King Solomon.

I know that whatever God does,
It shall be forever.
Nothing can be added to it,
And nothing taken from it.
God does it, that men should fear before Him.
That which is has already been,
And what is to be has already been;
And God requires an account of what is past.

 Moreover I saw under the sun:

In the place of judgment,
Wickedness was there;
And in the place of righteousness,
Iniquity was there.

I said in my heart,

“God shall judge the righteous and the wicked,
For there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.”

Ecclesiastes 3:14-17

 

The Gift of a Gift Withheld

June 14, 2013 § 1 Comment

Are parents, churches, and mentors giving their young girls — and progressively older single women — the right message about God and His promises? We women know that our ideas about when and why God “will” provide a husband begin to form very early, and can consume much of our thoughts as we approach marriageable age.

If we aren’t careful, the well-intended instruction we receive can settle into an If-Then formula in our minds. We begin to expect something that God has never promised, expecting it as a matter of course if we simply obey the right verses (or the right popular Christianese catchphrase).

A few people tried to teach me which husband-producing prayers to pray, but I am so grateful that my parents and youth leaders were faithful to speak truth to me. Truth like we don’t really know whether or not God has a husband for me. They taught me to seek the Lord without a marriage agenda.  I am still sinful and plenty of false thinking grows up in my mind beside the good planted there, but with truth I am well equipped to pull out those weeds.

One of the most impactful things in my life was my youth pastor’s wife reminding me of Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”

Specifically, the first. “Whatever things are true.”  True. I love what a rock-solid, concrete word that is. She fed me this verse over and over, and it has stuck with me ever since. Think on what is true. Search the Scripture and see. Is it true that God gives a young woman a husband when she’s become holy enough? When He decides that she loves Him enough? No. God’s ways are not our ways. We don’t really know what makes Him decide who gets a spouse.

But wait. In a way, we do know. We know from Romans 8, from the whole testimony of Scripture, and from what we see looking back that God’s decisions are always whatever will bring glory to Himself, and whatever is best for His child. Without exception. So let’s meditate on that. Whatever God gives, and whatever He withholds, is the best possible action He could take on our behalf. God is not passive, waiting to give something good until we are worthy of it. He is always active, and the purpose is always our good and His glory. If I am without a spouse, then without a spouse is the state which God deems best for me and most glorifying to Him, and that will remain my state for as long as those things remain true.

Psalm 84:11
“For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
The Lord will give grace and glory;
No good thing will He withhold
From those who walk uprightly.”

Meditate on what is true and remember that even something we see as the lack of a good gift, is a good gift.

Teach your young women, as young as possible, to trust and love God for His own sake, to take with humility and thankfulness those gifts He gives, and to recognize, with that same humility and thankfulness, the gift of a gift withheld.

“Follow Christ for His own sake, if you follow Him at all.” – J.C. Ryle

Turn left, go straight, then turn right.

June 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

“Many have dismissed my story with four simple words: “But you are conservative.” Yes, I am. How did I get that way? I moved to the right wing because I lived in precisely the kind of anti-normative, marginalized, and oppressed identity environment that the left celebrates: I am a bisexual Latino intellectual, raised by a lesbian, who experienced poverty in the Bronx as a young adult. I’m perceptive enough to notice that liberal social policies don’t actually help people in those conditions. Especially damning is the liberal attitude that we shouldn’t be judgmental about sex. In the Bronx gay world, I cleaned out enough apartments of men who’d died of AIDS to understand that resistance to sexual temptation is central to any kind of humane society. Sex can be hurtful not only because of infectious diseases but also because it leaves us vulnerable and more likely to cling to people who don’t love us, mourn those who leave us, and not know how to escape those who need us but whom we don’t love. The left understands none of that. That’s why I am conservative.”

http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/growing-up-with-two-moms-the-untold-story

This man has some keen insights forged in hard reality and cultivated with common sense. I want to hope that the voices of those like Mr. Lopez would be heard — the liberal machine will not hear Christians, maybe they’ll hear the children of gay and lesbian couples — but even their voices are marginalized and hope is again pushed aside.

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