“Dear 2012,” my friend posted on facebook last night, “don’t let the door hit ya on the way out!”
I’ve never “liked” a status more.
I’ve always loved new years, with their fresh starts and clean calendars, but oh! How ready I am for 2013! I need a new beginning.
Except for January 1st, I’m not usually excited for new. I’m a non-changer in the extreme. I’m like the character I saw in a preview for The Croods. “New is always bad!” he says. “Never not be afraid!”
And yet, even Amy the Non-Changer is ready for change. Inwardly, God’s Word is renewing my mind, and a counselor has helped me deal with the old, and look forward to the new. Outwardly, too, God is ushering in a new season for our family. After years of homeschooling, all three kids will attend public school this semester. We are, as Molly put it, “nerxcited”—a mixture of nervous and excited. My nerxcitement is blended with a little sadness, too, as more than once I’ve cried over the kids’ schoolbooks, and wished that there were no such thing as new.
But, it’s time! And like it or not—whether I welcome it, or kick and scream against it—I need new. The God whose mercies are new every morning—He who makes all things new—promises to never change even as He ushers in new opportunities, new outlooks, and new revelations of Himself.
And so, dear 2012, don’t let the door hit ya on the way out! Ready or not, it’s time for new!
Last summer, a few friends and I studied through Kelly Minter’s book, Nehemiah: A Heart that Can Break. (I highly recommend it and all her studies, by the way. Not that you asked. But there you go.) Of the many insights Kelly taught, one was simply this: the name Nehemiah means “Yahweh has comforted.”
How great is that? To remember, every time you said your name, that the Lord comforts you!
So today, dear reader, let’s take a minute to swap stories. In the comments below (click on the word “Comments” just beneath the title of this post), tell about a time when the Lord has comforted you. Maybe in the middle of a heartache, He spoke to you through His word, or encouraged you through someone else. Maybe you faced a health scare or a problem at work, and He made His comforting presence known. Whatever it is–short story or long, recently or years ago–let’s hear it! Let’s comfort one another with the comfort we’ve received from the Lord. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)
It has been hottt here lately. Yes, hot with three t’s, because triple digits deserve triple letters. We go swimming as often as we can—you know it’s hot when I willingly wear a bathing suit!—but even then, some days it’s even too hot to walk to the pool.
Andy says I have a two-degree comfort zone. Beyond those two degrees, I’m either “freezing to death” or “dying of heat.” Either way, deadly.
One afternoon last summer, when Santa Clarita again enjoyed triple digits, I carried on like the princess I am. “When it finally cools off,” I vowed, “I’ll be so glad, I won’t complain all winter!”
Then, we drove to Santa Barbara, to have dinner with friends. Walking down Stearns Wharf, the ocean air grew colder and colder. I zipped up my jacket and huddled behind Andy.
“It’s SO cold! I’m SO glad we live in Santa Clarita. I could NEVER live at the freezing beach….”
My promise to not complain all winter? Broken in less than three hours.
Too often, I have a two-degree comfort zone when it comes to my faith. Everything’s fine when life goes my way, but when it doesn’t…if circumstances are bad, if I’m treated unfairly, or if God is unclear…then, oh, the selfish complaining! The lack of trust, the willful disobedience.
It’s deadly, really.
But when life’s temperatures rise and fall, God doesn’t change. He remains faithful, and good, and in control. No need for carrying on, no place for complaining, and no room for a deadly lack of faith. “By believing, you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).
God, what selfishness! What a fearful lack of trust! Thank You that I can rely on Your unchanging character and endless power. Find me faithful—no matter the temperature—because You are faithful to me. Amen.
Today, I woke up in a funk. Andy was already gone, and I was sad to have missed him. Once I was alert enough to have coherent thoughts, I remembered the trials of the day…week…month…and immediately felt overwhelmed. I went for a walk and tried to pray, but it was a one-sided complaining rant instead of a prayer. I told God my “concerns” with the way He is handling a few things. I reminded Him of some promises that He doesn’t appear to be honoring. And I said all this with a less-than-gracious attitude.
I walked home, showered, dressed, started to blowdry my hair…and cried. I cried and cried and cried. I cried with my eyes closed, though, so as to not see my stringy, wet hair whipping around my scary cry-face, reflected in the bathroom mirror. A sight best left unseen.
“I am doing the best I can, God!” I choked out, my sobs lost in the noise of the hairdryer. “Why won’t You acknowledge how hard I’m trying? Why aren’t You faithful?”
By the time I said, “You aren’t doing Your part,” my hair was dry, and I plunked down in my desk chair. I wiped my eyes and laid my face in both hands.
And then it happened.
From the computer on my desk, David Crowder began to sing “All I Can Say”.
Lord, I’m tired
So tired from walking
And Lord, I’m so alone
And Lord, the dark
Is creeping in
To swallow me
I think I’ll stop
And rest here awhile…
Lord, didn’t You see me crying?
And didn’t You hear me call Your name?
Wasn’t it You I gave my heart to?
I wish You’d remember
Where you set it down…
Those first two verses, I cried in agreement. “Yes, Lord, don’t You see?”
But the song’s bridge brought tears of another kind. Tears of remembering. Tears of understanding. Tears of knowing that God was, in fact, present—He hadn’t left. He most definitely cares—He sees and hears and is carrying out His plan.
I didn’t notice You were standing here
I didn’t know that
That was You holding me
I didn’t notice You were crying too
I didn’t know that
That was You washing my feet
The song ended, and the next on my worship playlist began: “Amazed” by Desperation Band. The first line rang out, “You dance over me while I am unaware….You sing all around, but I never hear the sound.” Indeed, the Lord was singing over me. I recalled Zephaniah’s words:
The LORD your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.
So today, after I woke up in a funk…today, after a whiny prayer and an ugly scene with a hairdryer…my sweet Lord sang over me. He quieted me with His love. He didn’t scold me for my doubt or my ungratefulness. He didn’t even point to calendar to blame my meltdown on hormones. He just sang. He reminded me that, even if I don’t see Him, He most definitely sees me.
God, I accused You of not caring. But “I didn’t notice!” “I didn’t know!” “You dance over me” and “sing all around”, whether or not I see. Thank You, Lord. “I’m amazed by You.” You are ever faithful. Amen.
- Previous posts on this scripture: Zephaniah 3:17
When Amy Carmichael struggled with whether or not to serve God on the mission field—leaving behind all she knew—her mother wrote this poem. Today, more than a century later, her words spoke to this Amy, too. A beautiful, simple reminder of our faithful God, and a reminder to moms to always point our children to deeper faith. I hope it encourages you.
He who hath led will lead
All through the wilderness,
He who hath fed will surely feed…
He who hath heard thy cry
Will never close His ear,
He who hath marked thy faintest sigh
Will not forget thy tear.
He loveth always, faileth never,
So rest on Him today – forever.
In his book The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith, Timothy Keller explores a familiar parable with fresh insight. His message is at once hopeful and challenging–comforting and convicting. I finished Keller’s book with a better understanding of the passage, a greater awareness of my own “elder-brother lostness”, and a deeper sense of gratitude for God’s lavish grace.
A few quotes from The Prodigal God:
“…one of the signs that you may not grasp the unique, radical nature of the gospel is that you are certain that you do.”
“…The word ‘prodigal’ does not mean ‘wayward’ but, according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, ‘recklessly spendthrift.’ It means to spend until you have nothing left. This term is therefore as appropriate for describing the father in the story as his younger son.”
“Jesus’ purpose is not to warm our hearts but to shatter our categories.”
“Elder brothers obey God to get things. They don’t obey God to get God himself–in order to resemble him, love him, know him, and delight him.”
“As long as you are trying to earn your salvation by controlling God through goodness, you will never be sure you have been good enough for him. You simply aren’t sure God loves and delights in you.”
On an extra hot day last summer, the glass in our patio door shattered. First, it popped loudly, as though hit by a rock. Then, it crackled quietly as thousands of thin lines spread across the whole door.
Andy called a repairman, who said that shattering is common in glass that gets direct sunlight. He also said that he was on vacation and couldn’t fix it for two weeks. For five of us, two weeks with a broken door was just an annoyance. But for one of us–the one who walks on four legs and drools terribly–the non-working door was a puzzle. Belle could not understand.
“Ruff,” she’d say, sitting at the broken door, asking to be let out.
“Come, Belle,” we’d call from across the room, to take her through the front door instead.
“Ruff?” she’d repeat, confused.
Basset hounds, the dog books say, enjoy routine. That’s one of the reasons we chose her breed, actually, because I’m not fond of change, either. But the broken door ruined Belle’s normalcy. For two whole weeks, she was forced to do something–gasp!–new.
Aversion to change is harmless enough in basset hounds. I suppose it’s even understandable in my personality type. But a problem arises when my dislike of “new” becomes a lack of faith, or worse, a willful disobedience of what God tells me to do.
Andy and I have been in a season of change. One area of ministry ended and another began, and I must say, at times I’ve obeyed God only after pitching a royal fit about it. My kids are changing, too. Last night as I folded Nathan’s laundry, I sighed and wondered aloud, “When did we get big kids?” How dare they grow so quickly. Our church, too, is fast-approaching a new building, with new opportunities for ministry and growth. It’s exciting! And, terrifying.
But God is in the “new” business:
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
“He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’” (Revelation 21:5)
Lord, You’re leading me through a new door, and I want to follow. Thank You that what is unknown to me is nothing new for the Ancient of Days. Help me to trust, and to obey with boldness and joy. In all the changes, I rely on Your unfailing love and Your unending faithfulness. I love You, Lord. Amen.
Previous Lessons from a Basset Hound:
“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” (Psalm 103:8)
Perception does not always equal reality.
Case in point: when I pull on a pair of old jeans. My perception says, “I’m the same size I was before I had kids.” But reality says, “Are you kidding? These won’t make it over your backside.”
Like I said, perception does not always equal reality.
It’s the same with God and His character. I may have a perception about God that simply isn’t accurate. “God is always angry.” “God is apathetic.” “God is tired of me.” But if my feelings and beliefs don’t line up with scripture, they aren’t truth.
When Moses encountered God on Mount Sinai, he got a dose of reality. He learned firsthand what God is like. God covered Moses with His hand and announced His name as He passed by:
“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness….” (Exodus 34:6)
Let me tell you who I AM, Moses. I am tenderhearted. I give you blessings that you don’t deserve. I am patient with you. Most of all, my love is unfailing and never-ending.
What a glorious reality. Compassion, grace, patience, unfailing love….The truth of God’s character surpasses anything I could imagine. His reality is greater than my best perception.
God, show me what You’re like. Replace my false perceptions with reality. I want to remain in Your presence (Exodus 33:14-15), and build my life on Your name (Exodus 34:5-7), and reflect Your character to others (Exodus 34:29-30). Will You please reveal Yourself to me until I know You completely? Show me the glory of Your reality. Amen.
…and crowns you with love and compassion… (Psalm 103:4)
Molly was a queen for Halloween. Really, I can’t think of anything that suits her better. Of all my children, I’d vote Molly Most Likely to Someday Rule a Country.
As Molly’s crown was somewhat smashed in the costume package, it took some twisting and tugging to whip it into queenly shape. Even then, it still sagged a little on the right side. But really, what can one expect when one buys one’s costume on sale at Wal-Mart, three days before Halloween? I suppose crooked sequins are better than none at all.
Queen Molly’s crown reminded me of Psalm 103:4. My friend Beth taught this verse last Sunday at church. Beth divided us into small groups to answer a few questions, one of which was: “What do you think of when you imagine the Lord crowning you with love and compassion? Be specific.”
To be honest, my group spent so long discussing the first question that we skipped this one entirely. Sorry, Beth. I’ll answer it now.
When I imagine the Lord crowning me…I get stuck. Truthfully, I can’t picture it. I imagine my head dropped, eyes staring at the ground, feet shuffling, knowing I’m not worthy of anything He has to give.
I envision that God might give me a consoling pat on the head, as if to say, “It’s okay. I know you’re trying.”
On a good day, when I’m feeling extra-confident, I may perhaps imagine a crown like Molly’s. Cheap. Felt and sequins. Bent out of shape but good enough. After all, crooked sequins are better than none at all.
But my imagination is not God’s truth. When my picture doesn’t match His character–His word–then I must change my mind. God crowns me with love and compassion. He doesn’t just tolerate me. He gave His life for me. He blesses me. He treasures me. The King of Kings considers me royalty, and He crowns me with unfailing love and tender compassion.
When I imagine the Lord crowning me like that…I cry. I look down, not in shame, but in gratitude. Then I look up into the eyes of the One who says I’m worth far more than crooked sequins, and I say, “Thank You. I love You. I’m so glad to wear Your crown.”
When I was in college, I sang a solo at our school’s chapel service. “A” solo, as in, one–singular–because after this story, I wasn’t invited back on stage. The song went well at first. Words were recalled, notes were correct–until the very end. I screeched, quite horrendously, on a high note.
Screech doesn’t go far enough. Shriek is more accurate. Or squawk? Whatever it was, it wasn’t pretty. The music finished and I set the microphone in its stand, calmly walked backstage, and then ran out the door, down the hill to my dorm. Sobbing with humiliation, I called my sister and choked out what an awful job I’d done. I vowed to never show my face on campus again.
My dramatic flair is quite big. My ego is even bigger.
I hung up the phone and cried some more. Nearly an hour later, when I was sure everyone had left the auditorium, I went back for my books. And there, sitting alone right next to my backpack, was my then-boyfriend Andy. He hadn’t budged. He didn’t pity me, or lie that I hadn’t sounded that bad. He just smiled and motioned for me to sit down. I started to cry again, but Andy pushed an open Bible in my hands.
“I want you to read this,” he said. “I’ll start. Then you read the part that repeats.”
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever.
To him who alone does great wonders,
His love endures forever.
“His love endures forever.” The psalm continues for 22 more verses…and Andy made me read every single one of them. Over and over again, I had to repeat those words. Andy was gently teaching a lesson that I’m still learning today: “God loves you in spite of your mistakes, Amy. He won’t stop loving you, no matter what. Your failure may be quite big, but His heart is even bigger. And speaking of hearts…examine yours. There is too much ‘you’ in you. Stop focusing on yourself, and start dwelling in His enduring love.”
A song for a former soloist:
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good.
His love endures forever.