Friday, December 12, 2008

Hold on . . .

I just found the sheet music for the song "Hold On" by Wilson Phillips. I don't really want to talk about why I bought it years ago - it's a long story. Or why I still have it 20 years later! But the lyrics go something like this, "I know that there is pain but you hold on for one more day and you break free from the pain." I think I know why this song was kind of a hit. There is a lot of pain in life and it's natural to want to break free. But what is freedom and what on earth are we supposed to hold on to?

There have only been a handful of times in my life where I felt truly desperate. It's not really the best place to be. When you come to a place of desperation it must mean that things are so bad there doesn't seem to be a way out. It's obvious there is desperation over loss and grief, health problems and financial crisis.

Some painful situations seethe below the surface. They are too painful, humiliating or dangerous to talk about. On the surface things seem fine or even great! Dealing with spiritual temptations and sin are the unseen deal breakers for Christians. And it's a lonely place because you don't really want to stand up in church and ask for prayer for your porn addiction or the feelings you have for someone at work. And it seems that the church doesn't really want you to either. We have such a hear no evil, see no evil mentality that just wants to pat you on the back, say good morning and wish you a good week. The statistics of Christians dealing with pornography and affairs are staggering and we think it's not going on in our churches?

So why does God allow times that are so bad and staggering? I have never prayed more passionately than when I am desperate or someone I know is. I cry and plead for the Lord to be near and change my stinky, sinful heat. I beg for his strength and comfort for someone going through a battery of tests which might result in a cancer diagnosis. Sometimes I just ask why or sit in the presence of Jesus.

There are also times when I just want to walk away from Christ. It seems too hard and he feels so distant.

I've never really considered myself a doubter. I haven't felt the need to read "Evidence that Demands a Verdict". Faith has just always come naturally to me. But sometimes it just isn't that simple. I'm reading a book by Philip Yancey called "Reaching for the Invisible God." It's one of the best books I've read in a long time. Here are a few of his quotes about faith:

"Perhaps that's what faith is: trusting God's goodness despite any apparent evidence against it" (page 69)

"Faith requires obedience without full knowledge" (page 90)

"Faith that does not count for such complexities can not last" (page 93)

"Hope emerges as a result of the struggle" (page 95)

There is so much about God that we don't know and will never know on earth. And a faith that says only "all things work together for good" is not that helpful when your life is in ruins or your heart is completely ripped to shreds. There's more to this faith thing than God is good as long as he makes me happy and gives me what I want. Then I'll love Him.

If we're not desperately clinging to Jesus and holding on for dear life - what kind of faith do we have?

There is a choice to be made in desperate times: cling to Christ or try to stumble through in darkness. If we cling to Christ and pray desperately for Him and His work in our life, then hope will emerge. Those don't seem to be lyrics of a future pop hit, but then again, how long did Wilson Philips last?

Hebrews 11:1
"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. "

Colossians 2:1-3
1I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. 2My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Monday, December 08, 2008

As long as God provides . . .

Several years ago, we started a tradition. We buy Bibles for every couple Mike marries. We even have their name and wedding date engraved on the front. It has been fun over the years to give them. We truly hope and pray that even those who do not follow Christ or even attend church will look to it for answers when they need help. It's probably more than we need to do, but it's something we love to do and want to do.

Someone in our church commented on what a great ministry that was to which I piously replied, "As long as God provides the money, we'll keep doing it." And why wouldn't God provide the cash for such a noble endeavor?

Well, much to my shock and dismay God has not been providing the money. The last few weddings we did we just couldn't swing it. I thought we could use the money that they paid us to get the Bibles after the fact, only they didn't pay us. We still payed for babysitters for the rehearsal and the wedding ceremony.

So why would God not provide money to buy people Bibles? I can see why there might not be the cash for a Hummer or a jacuzzi or a trip to Hawaii - but a Bible?

In the book Reaching for the Invisible God by Philip Yancey, he writes about God's provision.

"Christians often read the Bible in such a way that exaggerates God's promises, setting themselves up for later disillusionment. "Look at the birds of the air," Jesus once said; "they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them . . . .See how the lilies of the field grow. The do not labor or spin." From such verses, readers infer that God will always provide, which then brings about a major crisis of faith when drought and famine arrive.

The lilies of the field may grow without labor, but their growth also depends on the regular systems that produce weather. In years of severe drought, they neither labor nor spin nor survive."

His conclusion is that God's interventions are less like lightning bolts and more like a river.

"His presence sustains all creation at every moment: "in him [Christ] all things hold together," said Paul . His presence also flows into individuals who align themselves with him; God's Spirit, and invisible companion, works from within to wrest good from bad."
It seems like I have been conditioned to believe in my "USA" self-centered theology that God will provide what I think is best. It's not even a vending machine mentality as much as a prideful, of course God would concur attitude.

The thing is that most people in the US have a Bible somewhere. Most people have access to the internet and the library where the text is readily available. And although it's nice to start them off with a momento of their special day it certainly is not the only way they can experience God's grace.

We usually have the couples over to our house for dinner during the premarital sessions. (It can also be a good reminder on the importance of birth control!) They can experience God through their contact with us and our friendship comes for free. We have cases of paperback Bibles at the church office that we keep on hand to give to anyone who needs one.

Maybe I was feeling a little too good about myself and our leather, engraved Bible ministry. God is showing me that whatever the provisions or rations are at the time, the most important thing for me to recognize is that He's THERE. No matter what I have or don't have in wealth or health he's always with me. And I want to be there for him, continuing the work he has for me no matter what the price .

Philippians 4:11-13
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


I went out Christmas shopping the day after Thanksgiving with my Dad and my sister. She picked us up at 3:45 a.m. I was already awake with a crying kid anyway. I'm not really sure how the news media can report that we are in a recession. The lines were crazy long! People were in line outside, in the cold, in the dark, in Minnesota for hours.

I was kind of enjoying watching it all. I didn't buy anything. I didn't have any money to buy anything. Usually, when I am shopping and I don't have money (which seems to happen a lot) I feel so bummed about all the great stuff that is out there that I can't get. This year, I couldn't find one thing I wanted to buy. Nothing made me feel happy or excited or in the Christmas spirit at all. All I could think about was crazy people trying to buy as much as they could in as little time possible. I'm not sure some people were even looking at what they were dumping in their carts!

I was talking to a friend about the small Christmas budget we seem to have this year. And I realized that I'm not sad about it. I haven't spent one minute shopping (except for black Friday) or fretting about what to get people. I haven't been stressed or crabby. I haven't been running all over town. I've just been listening to Christmas music and hoping we can get our tree up this week.

I know some people who really hate Christmas and trying to think of things to buy for their adult siblings who need nothing and trying to find the money to pay for it. All they do is complain about it. It seems like we don't have to live that way. I think I can change things now and not waste 25 perfectly good Christmases by stressing over sweaters and gift cards.

There are always those moments when I start to feel bad or jealous though. When I hear about someone buying the latest gaming systems or fancy expensive dolls. But even if I had $10,000 extra dollars laying around I still don't think I'd do it. There are so many more important things going on around me. There are people who lost their jobs and can't buy groceries, marriages that are falling apart, people who are trying to celebrate Christmas without a loved one, friends whose kids are receiving treatment at facilities and may not be home for Christmas.

I can give some money to the Salvation Army, I can bake stuff for my neighbors, I can make crafts with my kids and I can forget stores and materialism and just enjoy Christmas.

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