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Archive for November, 2011

Be Still, My Soul

by Catharina von Schlegel, 1697-?

1. Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly, Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

2. Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

3. Be still, my soul, though dearest friends depart
And all is darkened in the vale of tears;
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrows and thy fears.
Be still, my soul; thy Jesus can repay
From His own fulness all He takes away.

4. Be still, my soul; the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul; when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

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from Psalm 22

A prayer from Psalm 22

Be not far from me, oh God, for trouble is near and there is no one else to help. Others fail me. They tempt me to question you. What if you don’t come through? What if you’re not faithful and true? What if you don’t love me like I need you to?

They taunt me for believing what I cannot see. Even my own thoughts threaten to mock me. The tears on my face cry out for your grace. I am like a leaf that has fallen only to be trampled by men. I am like a flower withering away in the darkness. My heart melts like wax in my chest. I shudder at the sound of silence… Oh God, have I been forsaken? Yet you are the one who has stood by me since birth. You have loved me at my best and held me at my worst. You have fought for me when I have faced defeat. Even if I am disowned by my own flesh and blood, oh Lord, do not be far off!

You alone are my help. Fly to find me or I will be lost forever. My soul from the sword, you must deliver. Hide me under the shelter of your wings. Lift me up and I will soar. Save me and I am yours. Surely you hear my cry and draw near lest I die. For you do not despise the lowly and afflicted, and you do not hide your face from those who call your name.

In the dark of the night and in the morning light I will lift my eyes to you. You shine like the stars above and rise like the sun to rescue the world. Though no mind can conceive, we will see your glory. And your praise will be heard, though no tongue can tell of what you are worth.

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From dreaming to being

I do wonder if she will ever know where her dreaming ends and her being begins, as she barely imagines who she really is. For who she really is even dreams diminish…

We have dreams so deep they seem to become our identity. Without them, we don’t know who we would be. We might rather die than be ordinary. To be nobody. In our heads we take the pen and write the rest of our story. Every day we turn a page, praying that our novel which began in fantasy will not end in tragedy. Waiting to go from dreaming to being. We live somewhere in between fantasy and tragedy. Between dreams and realities. And what we are is wrapped up in what we could be.

What could we be? Who knows, honestly? Who says we can be trusted with our own story? If we can’t take the credit for what has already been written, why do we insist on writing the rest? Usually we are too scared to admit that we don’t really know who is holding the pen. We think we are writing when all of the sudden one chapter ends and another begins. One character leaves the story and another enters in. And we realize that maybe it’s another person’s story we have found ourselves in. And if so, the book didn’t begin when our story did. (And maybe it will not end when we think it will.)

Indeed, ‘All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.’ (Ps. 136:16)

Before the doctor dreamed to save lives, he desired to help others. Before the bride dreamed of her husband, she desired to be in love. Before man dreamed to leave a footprint on the moon, he desired to make a difference. Our deepest desires become our greatest dreams, yet maybe the doctor could have been a fire fighter. Maybe the bride could find the love of God better than the love of a husband. Maybe the man who left a footprint on the moon left a bigger footprint on the earth.

Do our greatest dreams need to come true in order for our deepest desires to be met? In order for us to be our best? In truth, to get all we want is not to get all we need. To reach our dreams is not all we could be. We are part of a much greater story. The best life we could live has already been written. The Author of Life penned it in his own blood, sweat, and tears. We don’t need to write it as much as to read it. We don’t need to dream it, but to believe it.

‘There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal… But it is with immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.’ (C.S. Lewis)

Our identity is not in who we dream to be, but we are defined by the Author of Life. When dreams define us, they diminish us. Our dreams are far too small and our desires are too shallow to make us into who we are already becoming. ‘Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known; but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is’ (1 John 3:2).

Even God in the flesh ‘had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him’ (Is. 53:2). The glory of who he was could not yet be seen, just as what we will be has not yet been made known. ‘And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory’ (2 Cor. 3:18).

Our greatest dreams and deepest desires pale in comparison to who we will see, and who we will be. ‘Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known’ (1 Cor. 13:12). Finally, we shall go from dreaming to being.

‘Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.’
(Eph. 3:20-21)

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Remember when you were little and you had a secret crush on the boy who broke all the rules in Sunday school? Maybe that was just me… His name would come up in conversation and you would bite your tongue. If someone happened to ask your opinion of him – or even suggest that you liked him – you’d impulsively laugh like you could never consider something more ridiculous… but you still blushed. Well, maybe we’ve outgrown secret crushes on the bad boy, but we haven’t outgrown secret temptations.

We know full well we should hate sin. We know exactly why. Yet we still have a complicated relationship with it. There can be a silencing sense of shame when we are seduced by what feels good, while knowing it is not good. Our conscience tries to speak good sense into our heart time and time again, but we feel under a spell so strong that we can’t break away. We feel alive in a dream we shouldn’t be having, yet don’t want to wake up from. ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?’ (Jer. 17:9)

We want to be better, but we also want pleasure. We despise our sin, yet we wonder if we could live without it. We know it’s like a deadly drug, and yet we haven’t had enough. We imagine Jesus on the cross, and we’re torn by crushing shame and exhilarating love.

The greatest lover of my soul is dying for me, and I am the one killing him. With one hand I touch his wounds, and with the other I reach for the world. I promise my devotion as the sun rises, and as it sets I deny him.’Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?’

He is the perfect husband, and we have all cheated on him. We wear our Sunday best and swear we’ll save our shattered marriage. But we can only gather the pieces, helpless to put them back together again. He loves us the same, yet we hide our face.

But what if Jesus prefers to sit with you in the dark when you refuse to be seen in the light? What if he’d like to find you in his enemy’s bed rather than not find you at all? What if he’d rather meet you in your rags than in your pretense? After all, “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags” (Is. 64:6).

Maybe he’d rather talk to you about what you’re ashamed to admit than not really talk about anything at all.

What if we came to God in the midst of our sickness? In the middle of our tension. Where we love and hate temptation. What if we let him in to the places we feel too broken to fix? Into things that have kept us distant. Where we feel too impure to touch. What if honest conversation finally broke the sound of silence? What if we spoke to God and to people like Paul did in Romans 7 about his struggle with sin?

If we’re not open to talk about our complicated relationship with sin, then how can we listen to the truth that sets us free from it? We tend to forget that Jesus understands temptation and sin even deeper than the sickest man (as C.S. Lewis explained, because the one who stands against the wind knows its power better than the one who gives in). There is no struggle Jesus has not fought. There is no temptation he has not resisted. There is no enemy he has not faced. ‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.’ (Hebrews 4:15)

He may not always agree with you, but he will always feel for you. He may know you’re not right, but he will still be by your side. He may have overcome sin, but he is still the sinner’s best friend. ‘Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need’ (Hebrews 4:16).

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What is better


Throughout the day, we can be worried and upset about many things. We feel restless. We know stress better than rest. There is a still small voice we hear in the midst of the chaos, but why is it so hard to stop and listen? We always have at least one good reason to be distracted. Yet there is a better reason to stop and listen.

We open our homes to Jesus. He dwells within our walls. He walks on our floors. He sits at our table. He is our honored guest. To show our love, we vacuum the rug. We dust the wood. We prepare the food. All of our work is good, yet there is something we have forgotten. Something better. Jesus has not come to be entertained, but to have a conversation. He has not come to be impressed, but to enjoy our fellowship. He would prefer a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner if it meant communion with his friends.

We open our hearts to Jesus. The moment he comes in we try to sweep the dust under the rug, hide the dirty laundry before he sees, and spray the bathroom with Febreeze. He appreciates our hospitality, but not at the expense of transparency. He would prefer our house and heart to be dirty if it meant intimacy. He is not a guest that needs to be impressed, but he would much rather clean up our mess.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…” (Mark 10:45). If he wanted to be served like a prince instead of welcomed like a friend, he wouldn’t have come down from heaven. The reason he has come to our home is to know us, and to be known.

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed — or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

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Following through

The other day, my 3-year-old nephew Zachary had two lifesavers in his hand, and my 2-year-old nephew Jonathan was crying because he had none. I was doubting that Zachary would give up one lifesaver to comfort his emotional wreck of a brother.. when suddenly, to my surprise, he did. I was amazed at Zachary’s impulsive moment of selflessness, but just before I was going to let him know how proud I was, he threw a fit worse than Jonathan when he realized the cost of his kindness. He had barely let the lifesaver out of his hand before trying to take it back and then cried, “But he’s gonna eat it all!” when he realized it was gone for good.

I thought it was cute that Zachary actually thought he’d get the lifesaver back (and gross that he’d even want it back!), but immediately after that dramatic little event, I saw myself in my nephew’s momentary decision to do good before counting the cost. How often do we have a good idea? How often do we act on it? And how often do we follow through despite the cost?

Saying sorry is a good idea and a great act, but without follow through to the end we can’t be taken seriously. There has to be genuine heart break, and we must daily deny the old self and put on the new until we change for good (Col. 3).

Forgiving someone is not a one time decision, but a process of absorbing the pain of the offense until there is none left, while choosing to bless instead of curse the offender in words, thoughts, and works. Feelings follow the will, but who really knows how soon they will? Loving people despite the cost is a bit like writing a blank check. We can’t determine how spent we will be. Jesus counted the cost of the cross, and still determined that it was worth loving us timelessly.

Committing to a position, person, or place is a good idea, but do we look for the first way out after we’re in over our heads? How many disappointments does it take before we try to escape? If we can’t get out physically, we withdraw internally.

Maybe it provides temporary relief, but retreating from conflict resolution and commitment leaves us defeated, which costs us more than moving forward. It becomes a slow death of who we’re meant to be. But when we stay brave in the front line of the battle and stand in the face of our fear and weakness, we defy death and even with our last breath proclaim, “YOU will not abandon me to the grave!” (Ps. 16:10) What will never kill us will always make us stronger.

We don’t know the strength of God within us until he is all we have left. When we come to the end of ourselves, we’ve only come to the beginning of him. If we don’t believe, we’ll never know all we could be. We’ll never know the enemies we could have defeated, the battles we could have won, and the person we could have become.

Yes, doing good costs more than we usually foresee, yet “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

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