Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The mystery of suffering

It's late, I'm awake, and pondering. Pondering on such things as the life of Jesus and how many temptations He had to go thru.  It must have been very difficult to share what happened up on that mountain in the desert where the main story line goes.  It must have been gruelling - but contrary to popular belief, I think those were just the first shots, the first serious ones, the wily ones the ones He chose to share with others - but I'm sure they were just a few of the temptations the evil one threw at Him every second of every day.  I cannot imagine how terribly hard it was to be on your toes every single second, with good friends or no, He was never safe from the tempter's reach.

In a society where marriage and a son were so important, it must have been so difficult to deny even your thoughts to go in that direction.  He mingled easily among men and women I'm sure the evil one would maneuver the ones he knew delighted Jesus's heart into His presence again and again and have the women thinking He was so kind, so careful of the women's feeling and he elevated them from the status of possessions to persons, asserting that women, too, had feelings and their hearts were at least as important as the man's were. He couldn't help being attracted to some of them - and many women must have been drawn to a man who treated even the heart of a women caught "in the very act" - He treated her with the respect a respectable woman deserved, because He could see past the sin she had become trapped in , He could see the unsoiled white dove in her heart, and what's more important, He showed that unspoiled dove to her in a way she, too, could see it.

Having lost my own father as a teen ager,  I wonder about His earthly father, Joseph.  He was many years older than Mary - and there is no mention of him in the gospels - and surely there would have been, had he still been living.  The fact that He took upon Himself the problem of having a home provided for Mary after He died, her whole support as the eldest son, was his duty: none of that would have been mentioned if Joseph was still alive. As it was, that one simple act tells us that John must have been his cousin, as the oldest son would never give her into the care of a non-relative. That, too, would not have been necessary had Joseph still been living.

Having sat with my own mother as she lay dying, seeing her pain, being helpless to ease it, holding her hand in the middle of the last night as she slept in fits and starts.  I saw Him, loving His earthly dad so very much.  This was the man who took his pudgy little boys hands and helped him learn the "right" way to hold a chisel, an awl, a hammer.  Taught him which woods worked best for which project.  Showed him how to save the wood chips and curls that fell to the ground for later use as kindling, or a wick The easy camaraderie and private jokes they shared, the memories of his dad tousling his hair when telling him what a good job He had done.  And it was all  necessary - for He would spend His ministry working on hard wooden hearts, getting them to soften but not splinter, His chiseling must be done with a light touch so the wood would respond, not shatter.

And then one day, the shoulders he had ridden upon countless times were no longer strong.  I don't know what illness he had, but it most likely hurt Jesus deeply to watch this man who had been his hero fade away one day after another.  Pain relief was rudimentary in  those days, they most likely used willow - the equivalent of aspirin - and one of the first "real" drugs was laudanum, a strong narcotic.  Any attempt at surgery meant certain death - not knowing how to take c/o infection caused a 100% fatality rate, and it was always a last ditch effort after everything else had been tried and death looked imminent anyway.  Jesus would have been the one who took care of him, as eldest son.

I am a nurse.  I had knowledge of how to make my mom as comfortable as she could be.  But she suffered, probably more that I will ever know.  She carried it bravely.  But if I had the power to take away her pain, to make her completely well, to end her suffering in a legal manner, it would have killed me to refuse it.  In fact, a nurse offered to give my mom a dose that was legal, but it was also a dose that we both knew would have put her to sleep. Forever.  It was very difficult to say no to that.

So how did Jesus handle it?  I've often thought about this, wondered how He handled the pain, knowing with one word He could make Joseph well and hearty again.  One word. But His heavenly Father said, "No"

He learned obedience by the things He *suffered* took on a whole new meaning to me.  It would have pierced my heart to the very soul if, knowing I had the power, I had been commanded not to use it.  And I'm sure the enemy of our souls reminded Him for every second of that weary, painful battle, easing subtle temptation into every snarky whisper.  I get it, came the whisper, so you can't end it quietly and release your dad, after all he's done for You - but surely You could at the very least, ease His pain, can't You?:  What kind of son are you.? This man gave everything he had for you and You, You stand there and do nothing,  Nothing.  If you are the Son of God, this would be a good way to prove it, that after you've healed so many others You're gonna crap out on this most important one of Your life?  Really?  You can't do anything right can You?  You're such a goody two-sandals yet You won;t lift a finger to ease the pain of Your very own father....

I think how hard it would be with his brothers and sisters.  Perhaps one of them said,"ok, you're supposed to be this holy guy and do all these miracles - and we need one right now,  I don't know what You are thinking..  You see him every day, see how much he is suffering and,"he spat out,"You watch and wait and DO EXACTLY NOTHING!  THIS IS OUR FATHER WE'RE TALKING ABOUT AND YOU DO NOTHING!!" and no one could understand.  Of course they couldn't.  He had to suffer their accusations and anger alone.  Hurting from not being allowed to heal His dad, hurting from the way His siblings hurt, the look in His mother's eyes when she looked at Him. The pain in Joseph's eyes, in each breath.  The silent, whispered into His-ears-alone taunts from the pit of hell.

The heart weeps. I think of Him bearing this alone.  Not understanding either but bound to obedience.  Obedience He learned **by the things He suffered**.  I will never hear that phrase again in a dismissive frame of mind.  My Savior suffered, not just on the cross.  Every relationship He had brought Him pain.

I was shocked to realize that.

The Father kept Him away from the death of Lazarus - perhaps the Father could not bear to put Jesus thru it a second time  where He would have to stand by and let someone else He loved die. Again.

and yes, He knew He would raise him from the dead, but in the meantime the stunned broken looks in Martha's eyes, Mary:s eyes, the accusing stares of acquaintances.  He must have felt so very very alone.  Judas was another one that wounded Him - and Peter and James and John - they saw Him transfigured and yet, when He really needed some human company and comfort at Gethsemane, they went to sleep.  Judas betrayed Him.  Perhaps He felt that one He could handle.  But Peter!  His prize pupil, His companion, His friend.  Even tho He knew it would happen, what a painful betrayal that must have been. I can't imagine the heartbroken look in Jesus's eyes as he turned to look at Peter that morning as the rooster crowed.  Amidst the deep pain, there was forgiveness.  Always forgiveness.  Jesus loves mercy the same way His 'Father loves mercy. And extends it to me, to you, every day.  His mercy is a deep down in the soul forgiveness, a fullness of mercy.

So when some paltry little wisp of suffering saunters into my life, and I am hurting and feeling alone, I pray He will remind me that He has walked the path He calls me to.  There will be nail prints in the footprints on that path.  And Lord, please, let me learn obedience by the things You choose for me to suffer. And let me suffer gladly, knowing You are moving in my soul, chiseling out some unwanted parts, sanding the parts You like until there are no more rough edges, and I fit in Your hand perfectly, a tool ready to be used.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Take a step back...

A dear friend struggles with depression and loneliness.  This is part of an email I shared with her.

Sometimes we just need to step back and look at things.  The enemy of our souls wants us to desperately think we can handle something if we were "just strong enough" - and we have a hard time admitting that we are not.  Depression is as much chemical as it is mental and spiritual, and helping to correct that chemical imbalance means the Holy Spirit can be better heard when the correction is taking hold. Those of us with limited energy available to us need to be especially careful.  A lack of sleep opens the door to the enemy quicker than other things because we're not as alert to his traps, and our perspective is shot.  He can tempt us to dwell on things we'd never even think of when we have some rest in our bodies.  Think of it as a gas tank. Like prayer, without sleep we are running on empty.

Now I'm going to ask a hard thing.  Can you take your loneliness to Jesus and ask Him to take c/o it?  I know how difficult it is to see what seems like the whole world going by  2 by 2 and here we are just one.  I often think about Jesus - He had such an amazingly sweet personality and kind heart, and I'm sure some of the women had a crush on Him.  He so loved having the little children crawl all over Him, and He probably had a crush on someone as a young boy - and constantly had to deny Himself.  Mary of Bethany knew Him so well, she could minister to His spirit when He needed it - she was the only woman Jesus wanted her deeds recorded for a memorial to her.  I think she was very special to Him - but He continually had to let go of the *good* things for the greatest thing - the will of His Father. And accept the fact that He would never have a child, in a society where having a son was everything. Like Jeremiah, God's will for Him did not include married life - I can't help but feel there were times when He felt a pang, looking at the kids crawling all around Him, and  the marriage at Cana that begins His miracles makes me wonder if He was a bit wistful, in the midst of all that joy for a couple.  Tradition says it was the wedding of John the beloved, and that he was a cousin of Jesus.  This was His entry into His public ministry, and He was paying the cost of the Father's will both before and during the next 3 years, not just the 6 hours on the cross..  Perhaps He had a hard time with it - He learned obedience by the things He *suffered* -  and He was tempted in all things, even as we are.  Matters of the heart are one of mankind's biggest pitfalls, I think His heart had to be engaged at some point for that to be true, and we know it is true.  And He chose the will of His Father over Himself, every time.

That's not to say you will be alone forever.  It's just to say when those longings come on you that you force your eyes onto Jesus as One Who understands more deeply than we will ever know until heaven.  Before something like that could happen, your heart needs to heal, and that takes time. And I can truthfully say, Jesus is enough.  Once you train those impulses to point you towards Jesus - and grit your teeth to be obedient - He will heal the pain inch by inch. When you are smarting from an ambushing memory, cry out to Him.  My usual cry is "Save me Lord, or I'll perish,!" - what Peter cried when he tried to walk on water - "and immediately, he was in the boat."  It reminds me that without the power of the Holy Spirit I am easy prey, and I will fall if I try to do it in my own strength - and with my slightest cry, He hears and rescues. I have prayed for 40 years (off and on, usually after some spectacular falling) that He would make turning to Him my first response in every situation.  After about 20 years of this, I finally began learning in my flesh I can do *no* good thing, Period. That trying to be strong and resist will never cut it - my haughty spirit will win every time - and to try to "be good" is as useless as Peter's blustering that he would *never* betray Him, even if he had to die with Him.  And we know how that turned out - not well!  We will never -repeat - never be strong enough to resist the smallest temptation - the enemy of our souls will try to distract us, or put filthy thoughts into our mind just when we are trying to pray or be quiet before the Lord.  !000 things we need to do will pop into our minds to cause us to worry (sin) or make us feel guilty (keep a notepad by you when you pray - then you can just down all the distracting things that you "need" to take c/o).  Even with worry, we need to give it to Him.  He has pledged Himself to supply our needs.  God's word to us is a pretty good assurance that He will take c/o it.  We don't realize - at least I don't - we are calling God a liar when we figure "I've got this one, Lord" and don't turn to Him in trust instead.  It was when Joshua was so certain the Gibeonites were from a far country that he made a covenant with them - not checking with God first b/c it was soo obvious - their clothes were worn, their food,mildewed.  They were so friendly and seemed so honest - and there was a little pride there too, I think.  Joshua hadn't been leader for very long, he was still learning the ropes of how to be the official leader of the strong and mighty people of God.  whoo hoo! Wasn't he somethin'!  And God knew he had to learn, and learn quickly, that apart from Him, he could do no good thing.  God didn't choose him because  he was qualified, He qualified him because He chose him. 

 And it's the same with us.  When He chooses us for something, HE puts the ability needed into that person.  remember when they built the temple, He pointed out to Solomon the man He had trained for the metal work and beauty He desired in the temple.  How many years did the guy train, not even knowing that his talent came from the Living God, not from himself.  It's the same with His choosing YOU.

You are not only pre-approved, He chose you for a reason.  Do you think my ability to share wisdom is from me? (pause here for laughter)  No way, Jose.  He gifted me to be able to speak a word in season to the hurting soul. That is a *gift* - it is not from my great store of holiness (guffaw!)
Just like the gift of tongues, it is nothing from myself, it is the gift of God. I could no more speak the tongue He gave me than I could fly - even now, I stumble over the ups and downs of the lilt to it - it sounds like Oriental to me and is quite gutteral - sometimes my tongue trips.and my throat gets tangled up in the changes to the tone.  How could I even think that my ability to know how to share His love with a hurting soul came from me?  He is the only One Who knows your innermost soul, and He is the only One Who knows how to speak to you. No human will ever be able to touch your heart with what it craves.  All humans are imperfect and will fail you at some point. All. No exceptions. And the reason we fail is that God wants us to *know* that no human is perfect.  The deepest desires of our heart
- to be totally  and tenderly loved, to have someone who will always be there, to be able to trust someone whole heartedly - that is reserved for God.  Hear me on this. No one, absolutely no one, will be able to love you that way except Him.  The evil one wants you to crave that from a man, so he can disappoint you and wound you and make you vulnerable to his lies.  Human relationships may be good, but they will never be perfect.  Jesus took the time to warn us of this, when He had recorded in His Word, that in the midst of the Hallelujahs on Palm Sunday,He didn't trust in man, because He knew what was in their hearts.

My pastor often says marriage is not to make us happy.  Marriage is to make us holy.  The imperfections in another human being is to train us in forgiveness and agape, to be the sandpaper that smoothes out the rough edges in our hearts - and this is true of any relationship, friendship as well. And motherhood is to induce humility - every woman on the face of the earth has failed at it.  Impatience has won. Anger has won. Unrighteous and fallible judgement has won. Our best efforts will fail.  Period.  **No good thing will come from us alone.** The more we try to "be good", the more we fail.  Our sin nature will keep us missing the mark until we get to heaven and have it forever buried on earth.  Only in heaven will humans be perfect.  Don't try,  Pray for His guidance and do the next thing that has to be done.  ONe step at a time He will lead us where HE wants us to go.

I know this is a lot for you to soak in.  I myself am learning as God teaches you  I'm no guru; I'm a sinner saved by *grace*, just like you. The enemy's favorite trick is to make us feel guilty b/c we aren't perfect.  We forget, We stumble. We never get it right.  Remember this:  God is the only One Who gets it right.  He does not like it when we think we can. He knows it is a futile attempt to make it without needing Him every single step along the way.  Our pride keeps telling us we are weak and stupid, and we *could* do it if we really, really tried..  Settle it once and for all: we ARE weak and stupid when it comes to being perfect.  BUT GOD(one of my favorite phrases in the Word) has chosen, redeemed, and prepared us for what He wants to accomplish, for no other reason than He loves us.

What a deal!

I hope this reaches someone who stumbled on this blog  Loneliness and depression are so common - and a lot of people feel alone even when they are busy as they can be and surrounded by people.  God  never intended for us to be alone - and He never intended us to be lonely. Sometimes, we just need to step back and look at things to realize we are sinking - and as part of God's family, we can call out to Jesus to save us or we perish.

And He will.