The Darkness of Saturday

March 30, 2013

How mournful Your friends and family must have been — what a somber Passover Sabbath. When they were supposed to be celebrating God’s faithfulness in delivering their ancestors out of Egypt, they were no doubt overcome by confusion and disappointment, trying to make sense of the last three years and how it all could have ended this way. Surely they were fearful and embarrassed, yet they knew You were true! They remembered the miracles, the healings, the changed lives, yet You were dead. They didn’t understand the prophecies when You had walked among them — how much less now that they were filled with the pain and grief of Your public shaming and execution? What a sad and hopeless Sabbath that must have been, and they were required by Law to sit around — with nothing to keep them busy or preoccupy their thoughts. And how much worse for Peter! I know he was so precious to You! He loved You so much, and he wanted to so badly to have the courage he claimed to have. In the end, he injured You perhaps worse than Judas. None of Your disciples understood that what happened had to happen. They had no idea of the joy and hope that would come in the morning, that their aching emptiness would be filled. I forget sometimes about the humanness of these men and women, and how devastated they surely were. Thomas has the reputation for doubting, but certainly they must have all wondered, even for a moment, if they’d been duped. If You were just some deranged radical. But no — they’d chastise their thoughts — remember when He…? What faith it must have required to endure that day, and what courage they needed to muster in order to face a future without the Messiah they’d believed in and left everything for. What depths of sorrow and fear on this Saturday so many centuries past. Perhaps it mirrors, in a very small way, the agony of separation that will be felt by those in an eternity without You. Regret, hopelessness, despair. Yet for those still living, it is not too late! Lord, let Your truth burn in the hearts of so many uncommitted wanderers this weekend. Fill the pulpits across this country and around the world with Your Spirit, sending forth powerful, soul-saving testimony. Let Your victory be felt, and the sorrow forgotten, for I know that is Your desire and Your mercy and Your purpose in leaving us to endure this dark Saturday. Let us not forget!

~Maranatha

Next Time

One time…
I felt God urging me to turn and talk to a person behind me in line at Kohl’s during Christmas. To see how I could bless her. I didn’t want to, so I literally said, “No,” in my head. To God. Almighty. The Creator of Heaven and Earth. (You really shouldn’t say no to Him.) I immediately felt conviction for it, of course, and I had time to change my mind and obey. Plenty of time, really, since it was Christmas and the line was looooong. Still resolved not to talk to her, however, I made up a new plan about how I could just buy a gift card for whomever ended up behind me when my cashier became available for the next customer. (You really shouldn’t try to bargain with Him, either.) Hey, it could end up being her, if that’s what God really wanted. Well, it didn’t, and it wasn’t. God didn’t want me to give her — or anyone — a gift card; He wanted me to talk to that one woman behind me. Sadly, I was too fearful of looking weird to her, of not knowing what to say.

Failure.

One time…
In college, a history professor went on a rant about how the Bible was not true history — that it was mostly myth and couldn’t be trusted. That stance itself is myth, and I knew it, but I was 20-ish, while he was Dr. somebody who had studied history for years. An older student did offer a dissenting opinion while I inwardly cheered, but then the professor quickly shot him down. I stayed silent. I was too fearful of being embarrassed in front of everyone because I wouldn’t have all the answers.

Failure.

One time…
A woman was going on and on about the importance of good deeds, saying how I was making her cry because of how good I was. She told me that she tapes Ellen every day because she’s just so touched at the woman’s charity. When she asked me why I was doing such-and-such, I told her that I was just trying to be a blessing. Then she told me how great it was and that her father had been a preacher. He’d always said that “it didn’t matter what you believed, as long as you believed.” My spirit objected, but my mouth stayed shut. Never did I say that I was doing such-and-such because of what Christ did for me. Never did I take the obviously free opening and correct her preacher father’s “theology.” Never. I left her, someone with a sensitive, servant’s heart, at the feet of Ellen Degeneres because I was too fearful of having an awkward conversation.

Failure.

One time…
I was sitting on the studio floor before yoga class began, reading Don Quixote. (Yes, I regularly read books that people typically only read in school. I’m currently reading The Scarlet Letter. Former English teacher here.) Anyhow, I was about 15 minutes early, and so were two or three others. The instructor walked in, her usual effervescent self, saying hello to the others. (Maybe to me, too, but she knew them personally, which I’d previously figured out, so I kept my nose in my book and tried, unsuccessfully, to ignore their chatter and continue reading.) She talked about her gratitude journal, and shared a page with one of the ladies who went on about how profound it was.  Still trying to ignore them, I re-read the same paragraph for the third time, annoyed. Suddenly, the instructor jumped up, clapped her hands, and exclaimed to the room, “Oh! Do you all want to see a picture of God’s face?!” Now this caught my attention, mostly because she generally talked about gratitude toward the “universe,” and her mentioning God really surprised me, but also because I did want to see a picture of God’s face, but I didn’t think she had one. Still desiring to stay under the radar — my M.O. — I kept my eyes steadied on my book, waiting for an opportune moment to catch a peek at whatever picture she was touting. I never did, but I didn’t need to anyway. In response to a couple of “Aww!”s, she explained that it was her grandbaby. And “what could be a better picture of God?”

I was stunned. I literally stopped breathing. My spirit screamed inside of me, and I felt like I was going to explode. I know I hear blasphemy all the time, but I’d never heard anything so blatant. I wasn’t angry; I was really alarmed and horrified. But I did nothing. Although I don’t know precisely what God wanted me to do or say, since I didn’t really ask Him, nothing certainly wasn’t it. And I knew it. I was too fearful of the response to do anything; I feared men over God. I didn’t even walk out. 

Failure.

The enemy tells me that I’m shy, and that that’s okay. That I can stay true to what I believe personally and stay quiet. God made me an introvert. It’s just my personality. It would be great if I were outgoing, but I’m just not. That’s fine, too. I am who I am, and I shouldn’t beat myself up about it.

That is a lie. He’s distorting the truth. I’m incredibly embarrassed and humbled to admit that, despite my boldness behind a computer screen, I have so often kept my mouth shut when I knew — I knew — God was telling me to speak up. I have embraced the lie that my personality gives me a free pass, and I have accepted it as my excuse for disobedience.

I have failed — a lot. I struggle immensely with this. God, however, is bigger. My introversion, while it’s a fact of my God-given personality and is not a deficiency, must not be the crutch I so readily make it into. It’s okay to be shy, but it’s not okay to be disobedient. The enemy wants to use my record of failures as evidence to keep me from ever obeying God in this way, but I know that I’ll never be any use to the Kingdom if I don’t let go of my failures and trust God. I must forget the past and look ahead to so many possibilities of success next time!

Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 3:13b-14 ESV)

This post is part of the Blog Carnival hosted at Peter Pollock’s blog.  Go there and read other submissions on the word “failures.”

What’s Your Puddle?

I promise, I’m almost done talking trees. (If you missed it, this is the final installment of my tree series, which I didn’t intend to be a series in the first place, but I’m really just incapable of being concise. Therefore, it is now a series. I promise I’m done talking about trees after this. Really. Unless I think of something else to say about them.)

In my first post, I talked about having Deep Roots. There, I discussed exquisite Biblical imagery about a healthy, deeply rooted tree that is meant to help us understand the beauty of a believer’s intimate relationship with God. Yesterday, I posted about Getting All Tangled Up, wherein I talked about growing together in a community of believers and the strength that comes from it.

Today is about having no roots and having no community. It’s about being the average, American, self-proclaimed Christian. This encompasses varying levels of professing belief. Maybe they go to church a lot, maybe occasionally, maybe never. Maybe they appreciate Facebook memes about God and re-post them sometimes. Maybe they wear a cross necklace or have a Jesus tattoo. Maybe they try really hard to be nice and good. Maybe they don’t try that hard because they figure Jesus was all about forgiveness anyway. Maybe they really like Jesus, or at least what they know of Him, but they really don’t like church-going Christians, or at least what they know of them. Maybe they’re really believers, maybe they’re not. The point is that this person would, if asked, identify him- or herself as a Christian. And the point is that this person is missing the point.

This person is a Christmas tree.

In a puddle of water.

Trying really hard to be pretty and to get people to like her.

And generally, people do. She wears pretty lights, heart-felt ornaments, eye-catching garland, and is crowned by a bright star. People must like that, or they wouldn’t decorate trees every year! Oh, and don’t forget the pretty wrapped presents beneath her branches! She has gifts to give her family and friends because she loves them. She worked really hard to carefully select, wrap, and arrange the presents. All of this makes her look beautiful, and it generally makes most people like her.

Unfortunately, those beautiful presents are masking a deadly secret: This beautiful tree has no roots, and no REAL source of life! She is dying. She’s putting on makeup every day, clasping her cross necklace around her neck, and smiling like everything is okay.

But it’s not. First of all, most of what’s beautiful about her is external. She is not bearing fruit; she is merely adorned with material things. Even worse, she has no roots, and she is trying to survive in a puddle of water that, frankly, is too easily forgotten about for days after it’s gone dry.  Her puddle might be church. Or a relationship. Or general “spiritual” acknowledgements. Maybe even a devotional book. Or a self-help book. Or a white-knuckled dedication to positive thinking. Ultimately, though, it’s deferring the inevitable and keeping her just barely hanging on.

SHE

IS

DYING.

So, at some point, she’s going to start to wilt. And turn brown. And stink. Unless there’s a major intervention.

I know a lot of Christmas trees. I recognize them because I’ve been one, and so God is beginning to break my heart for them. They don’t know that there is so much more to life. That there is abundant life to be had! It’s available for you and for me, and it ain’t no puddle that’s gonna dry up.

Go, seek out Living Water. Then you won’t have to keep hoping your sad little puddle won’t dry up. That puddle’s not really working anyway, is it?

And for the cynics: You CAN re-plant a Christmas tree. So there. 🙂

Getting All Tangled Up

Yesterday, I wrote about how the true believer plants him- or herself as close to the Source of Life as possible. It’s a beautiful metaphor (simile, technically) about trees found in Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17, and it’s worth meditating on if you never have (the Scriptures I mean, not my post!). The believer was meant to grow deep roots, to dig deeply into the love and the grace and the mystery of God. To grow in intimacy with Him. That’s why you were made: to glorify God by enjoying Him forever! It’s not a passive exercise, by any means, and it doesn’t happen just because you have a general preference for Christianity over other religions. You have to intentionally and consistently seek to abide in Him. That was yesterday’s post.

But if you remember, I began that post with a little anecdote about trees planted close together inevitably having tangled up roots, and Justin reassured me that this typically wasn’t a problem for the trees. I never revisited the concept of the tangled roots, but that’s what really got me thinking in the first place.

If the flourishing believer is a tree planted by a stream, yielding fruit and never fearing the drought, then what’s the local church? Well, it’s a little forest that sprouted up all around this winding stream full of Living Water — it’s a whole ecosystem! One that provides warmth, shelter, and nutrition to many of God’s creatures, one that displays His creativity, whispers His majesty, and grows deep and wide, all because it’s nourished by His love.

Even a Narnia-like winter can’t sap the life out of these trees. They have an unseen support system underground, a community. Their strength lies in two things: the Source of Life and each other.*

Remember what Justin said about tangled roots? It’s not a problem for a tree. “It’s only a problem when you’re trying to dig one up.” Their lives are so interwoven with the community around them that it’s quite difficult to uproot any of them.

While I don’t know of a Scripture that talks about a group of trees in this particular way, there is a literal description of the early church in Acts:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

(Acts 2:42-47 ESV)

Community. A group of trees with tangled roots, seeking God. It’s a really good thing. It’ll only cause a problem for the enemy who is trying to uproot you, and his having a problem with that is a REALLY good thing.

Come back tomorrow to read my concluding thoughts on trees, spiritually speaking!

*Disclaimer: Obviously, unhealthy relationships that choke the life out of you if you grow too close to someone else, leaning on him or her as a substitute for God, are not good. This happens to trees, too. Don’t do that. God must be first and ultimate, and then other believers encourage you, and you encourage them. You should benefit from both.

Deep Roots

Trees.

I’ve been thinking a lot about them.

I asked my husband the other day, as I was idly looking out the car window on the way home from church, if trees growing close together have tangled roots — because it seems like they obviously would — and whether this ever caused a problem. He said, “Not for the trees. It’s only a problem when you’re trying to dig one up.” I didn’t reply. He continued by explaining that’s why he had such a hard time removing some of the ugly landscaping in front of our house.

I might have replied with an, “Mmm hmmm,” as we turned onto our street, or I might not have. I don’t remember. But as he pulled the car into the garage and shifted into park, I turned to him. “Because it’s really a great metaphor for Christianity.”

He looked at me and said, “Explain.”

And so I did. I started with the imagery already present throughout Scripture — off of the top of my head, Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17, and wherever it is that Jesus talks about Living Water — about trees and fruit and nourishment. In short, the true believer is the tree, which stays close to the source of life (God), and which therefore bears fruit and doesn’t worry about heat or drought. Check it:

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose trust is the LORD.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.
(Jeremiah 17:7-8 ESV)

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
(Psalm 1:3-4 ESV)

So you have this gorgeous image of visible health and vitality that springs forth from the life-giving Source. Green leaves, sweet fruit, a sturdy tree that doesn’t get blown away like the chaff. Who in the world doesn’t want this? Who would look at this and say, “No, you know what? I want to be chaff. Useless and blown away with the wind to amount to nothing.” What? No! Everyone wants to be healthy. Everyone wants to be useful. Everyone wants to be whole. Everyone wants to be beautiful. That’s what this tree is, and that is what is offered to you.

You’ve really got to have deep roots to be this tree, though. That will take time and effort and perseverance. You don’t just say a seven-second repeat-after-me-yes-I’m-so-sorry-Jesus-I’m-a-sinner-prayer when you’re seven or seventeen or thirty-seven and then magically morph into this tree. You start as a little baby tree, and you are weak and vulnerable. You have to be nurtured and protected and planted in the right soil and connected to the Source of Life. Your little baby roots just barely touch His goodness, but He’s so good that you can’t get enough. You stretch and you reach deeper to get more. Then through the years, you grow. Deeper and deeper into His word, and He sustains you. It’s really a beautiful image.

But ideally, you’re not alone, and I haven’t even gotten started with this tree thing. More tomorrow!

Intentional Praise

I’ve been planning to write a post about my praise jar for about a week, but I just haven’t. I’ve been super-overwhelmed with a lot of things, (mostly Bennett and his notsleeping), and so I’ve put it off. Today, however, is so full of praises that I figured it was the very best day to write this post!

My neighbor, Rebecca, posted a very Pinterest-y idea the other day on Facebook:

I thought it was brilliant! I decided to make my own, with the specific intention of its being for praises. So here’s mine:

100_2374

No, I don’t dot my “i”s. In print. I do dot them in cursive. And yes, my jar is small. That’s what I had on hand. I’m hoping to upgrade when it gets full! Anyway, I wanted to make sure that my jar was prominently displayed in order to remind me of it, and I wanted to make sure that it was clear that this is all about making note of everyday praises. At the end of the year, I can look back and praise God very specifically for all the ways He blessed me during 2013! Awesome! I’m so excited, and I’m extra excited today, which is why I’m posting this particular post at this particular time.

I put several praise post-its in my jar today.

  1. I am exactly at my pre-pregnancy weight! Five months and three days after having my stomach sliced open and being handed a baby, and then curiously still being left with a giant belly and lots of pounds to lose! This is a great day. I celebrated by eating, and I’m going to celebrate again tonight by eating. 🙂
  2. Bennett’s notsleeping, as mentioned above, has been a huge issue. Huge. I’ve done everything I felt like I could do based on his age and my related discomfort with cry-it-out sleep training at his age. Anyway, my friend Alison gave me the courage to try something that she told me to wait until bedtime to try, so that I’d have my husband for reinforcement, but I tried it anyway at both naps today. BENNETT HAS TAKEN TWO NAPS TODAY WITH MINIMAL PROTEST! AND HE’S BEEN ASLEEP FOR AN UNINTERRUPTED ONE HOUR AND FIFTEEN MINUTES ON THIS SECOND NAP, AS I TYPE VERY EXCITEDLY IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS MUCH TO YOUR ANNOYANCE!
  3. I have an amazing husband who is a great encouragement and help to me every day.
  4. I have an amazing friend, Andrea. (I have lots of other amazing people in my life, too, but she was most recently amazing.)
  5. I have an amazing God, who has been preparing me extremely specifically through Scripture (the book of Titus) for a spiritual battle. He is sustaining me, comforting me, and encouraging me spiritually as this is happening during a season of both physical and emotional exhaustion (see #2 above).

Amen, and amen.

(You should make a praise jar, too. It’s too easy to forget or ignore the good things when there’s so much crumminess around that’s too easy to dwell upon.)

TDOT: Day Two

You know what? I think that in some ways, modern Christianity is missing out. Let me qualify that, so I’m clear about my experience: modern, American, evangelical Christianity is missing out. On what? Holy days. Unfortunately, we’ve changed the spelling and turned them into holidays.

Our two big holy days are Christmas and Easter, and they are most worthy occasions for religious observation. Unfortunately, though, we fill one with reindeer, shopping, and cute family pictures to be mailed out in a yearly greeting, while the other is filled with bunnies, baskets, and new dresses. We smile sweetly at “8 lb, 6 oz, newborn infant Jesus — don’t even know a word yet, so cuddly, but still omnipotent” — and we paint purple crosses on our eggs, but are we really worshiping? Are we really observing a holy day?

No. We’re just having fun. You know, like going on holiday, as they say in the motherland.

Having fun is not bad, of course, but that’s all most of us are doing pretty much every moment in our lives that we get a choice about it. Even if we dutifully attend church services on Easter and Christmas, we’re just getting that out of the way so we can get on with celebrating — not Jesus, really — but our earthly pleasures. Gifts, eggs, new things, family — and food! Always lots of food. Turkeys, hams, macaroni and cheeses, deviled eggs, you fill in the blank.

All the while I notice that other religions have holy days. High holy days, in fact. Do they include food and gifts? Sure, a lot of times. But it sure seems like a lot of emphasis is still placed on the meaning of the holy day, which generally includes some version of worshiping and realizing their humble status before their deity, while we push out Jesus and replace Him with a bunny and a jolly man with a red nose. (Sad, since we made those up, while Jesus is Almighty God.)

This is why I’m claiming Thanksgiving. It’s a relatively untainted holiday, though I’ve been guilty of focusing too much on the (phenomenal) food and too little on actually being thankful. This year, I’m celebrating Thanksgiving all month. Hence, my Thirty Days of Thankfulness! And here’s what I’m thankful for today:

  1. I’m thankful for prayer. It’s mysterious how God is in control of all things, is the Creator of all things, and has already planned all things, yet our prayer can move His heart. I don’t understand it. He already knows what I need, yet He tells me to pray to Him. Why? Well, because He loves me. He wants to hang out with me. He wants my good, and He knows that if I pray to Him, if I worship Him, that it is good for my soul and it brings Him glory. “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him,” John Piper always says. I’ve been most blessed recently through intercession, or praying for others. I think He commands us to pray for each other because it brings us closer together in community as we share our burdens, and because it shapes the intercessor’s heart to be more like His. I’ve been really thankful for that these past few weeks.
  2. I’m so thankful that I get to stay home with my little Bubs. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else; I’m exactly where God wants me right now, and I’m savoring every minute!

What are you thanking the Lord for today?