Tuesday, March 27, 2012

His Mercies Never Come to an End

Lamentations 3:22-24
(22)The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;

(23)they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

(24)“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, 
“therefore I will hope in him.”

took that picture this morning while waiting at the bus stop with my son. That verse came to mind as I pondered the beauty of the sunrise in the chilly morning today, because when I went to bed last night I was feeling horrendous, yet this morning, I woke up truly and verbally thanking God for the mercy of a good night’s sleep and a marked improvement in how I felt. 
I’ve had occasion to do some thinking about the mercies of God. It’s been a rough two weeks health-wise around here at the Sweet Tea house. About two weeks ago, on a Thursday, I went in like usual to volunteer in the classroom at school like I do on Thursdays. I was really tired that morning, even laughing a little with the teacher about my coffee cup I brought in for fortification that day. Anyway, I dragged through the morning and went home for lunch, when I realized I was going to have to take a nap. When I woke up from the nap, my throat had that horrible pain that, to me, almost always says one thing: “Strep.” Sure enough, the earliest the doctor could see me was Friday morning and by then I was feeling none too well, and it was a definite case of strep. By Monday, one of my sons was at the doctor with an ear infection, and on Tuesday, we were back again with my daughter who had a double ear infection. Of the four of us at home currently (less than a month until hubby gets to come home finally, hooray!), three were now on antibiotics. 
Which got me to thinking about what a mercy it is that God allowed people to discover antibiotics, which, in effect, work to alleviate some of the temporal, physical pain of the curse in a temporal sort of way. It struck me how merciful it is that He would allow there to be something like that which helps the wicked and the righteous, and how sad it is that most of the time, rather than such mercy turning our hearts and minds to sing praise to God, we take these things for granted, take it for granted that a visit to the doctor will fix what ails us, and we don’t sing His praise over such a mercy. It also got me to thinking about how angry we get over the times when there may not be a quick cure for what ails us. We get so used to so many things being 'fixable' that we feel like we deserve everything to be an easy cure or easy fix, like we're entitled to it. Anyway, it got me to thinking how incredibly kind God is to have allowed there to be medicine at all. No, we don’t have cures for everything and there are still horrible diseases that wreak havoc on our bodies, but the fact that there are cures for some things at all, and the fact that within 24 hours I and my kids were feeling much, much better is, to me, a mercy, and an undeserved one, if you think about it. How kind is our God? How shameful is it that I, who know Him, so seldom think to praise Him for such abundant mercies, for things like antibiotics that blunt some of the effects of the curse? 
Fast-forward to this weekend, and I’ve had occasion to think even more on God’s mercies. Because the antibiotics did not, in fact, cure my problem. Last Wednesday was my last day on the medication, and on Thursday morning my throat started hurting again. As it got a little worse on Friday, I hopefully attributed it to allergies, just sure it couldn’t still be strep, and made the choice to ride out the weekend. Come Monday morning, however, I was miserable with the worst headache I think I’ve ever had in my life and a raging sore throat. Visit to the doctor confirmed that I still have strep. I’m now on a super dose antibiotic with instructions on what to do if certain nasty things happen to me as a result. 
What this has caused me to ponder is the fact that, though antibiotics are a good and merciful invention, it is ultimately God who heals. Medicine is limited, but whether God uses that means or not, He is the one who heals. It occurred to me how when I feel strep or other symptoms begin, my first response isn’t usually to pray. My first response for me or the kids is to reach for the phone to call the doctor. A good thing to do, but it occurred to me that by neglecting to pray about things that a ‘good antibiotic should take care of’, I’m in effect putting my ultimate trust in the creation rather than the One who allowed it to be discovered. I’m NOT saying it’s wrong to call the doctor when symptoms warrant that need, nor is it wrong to take the antibiotics. I’m extremely thankful for them today. The fact that I’m upright and typing at the moment when last night all I could do was lie on the couch and moan in agony is proof of that thankfulness. 
What I am saying is that I am pondering the fact that I want to be much more alert to praying in season and out. What I am saying is that I am learning, more and more about applying the gospel to every single area of life. Because Jesus has forgiven me and made me His own, I want to be more and more a true worshiper who gives Him honor and praise, when I feel good, and when I don’t. I am learning that prayer and awareness of our awesome, and kind, and merciful God should be much more a part of the daily warp and woof of life. Call the doctor, yes, but as I do, my first thought must be that God is the One who gives me my very breath. Because it is Christ alone who can alleviate the deep and ultimate effect of the curse. Though the earth groans with the curse, I have salvation and am reconciled to God ultimately because of Christ. Whether my body heals or not, it is well with my soul. The mercies that make this life more livable ought to turn my redeemed heart to sing His praise even more, because I have been redeemed and belong whole-heartedly to Him. The mercies that may blunt some of the physical elements of the curse can serve to make me think deeper and learn to be even more grateful for the ultimate cure, that which cures my soul and has counted me righteous before God through the blood of Jesus Christ. What came home to me this week is that my gratitude for His kindness has not always been first and daily and constant. And I want it to be.
So, today, I am praising God for His mercy, recognized and unrecognized, and praying for eyes to see, ears to hear, heart to obey. 

The Lord IS my portion, and I will hope in Him. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Quoting From My Reading:

"What is it about God's Word that creates a hunger to hear more? And not just to hear the Word but to long for it, study it, memorize it, and follow it? What causes followers of Christ around the world literally to risk their lives in order to know it?

These questions cause us to step back and look at the foundations of the gospel. Fundamentally, the gospel is the revelation of who God is, who we are, and how we can be reconciled to him. Yet in the American dream, where self reigns as king (or queen), we have a dangerous tendency to misunderstand, minimize, and even manipulate the gospel in order to accommodate our assumptions and our desires. As a result, we desperately need to explore how much of our understanding of the gospel is American and how much is biblical. And in the process we need to examine whether we have misconstrued a proper response to the gospel and maybe even missed the primary reward of the gospel, which is God himself." --David Platt in the book Radical.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Pondering on a Spring Day About Something Precious Lost

I love spring, don’t you? Though we’ve had a rather mild winter here compared to last year, I still get cabin fever after many cold, gray days when we’re cooped up in the house because it’s too cold to do much outside, and this year we didn’t even get much snow to make going outside in the cold a little fun. But then comes spring, when the flowers start blooming - my daffodils are just starting to bloom and I love it - and the weather starts warming up, and everything feels new and fresh and hopeful again, and people start emerging from their winter dens and neighbors who haven’t seen each other all winter become sociable again as we all come out to enjoy the long-awaited warmth and fresh air and sunshine and watch the kids play outside. And the spring allergies kick in, at least, they sure do around here in the notorious Ohio River Valley area. Ahem.
So, enjoying this sparkling spring-like Saturday, I took a walk with my daughter and our dog this morning. My son was going to go with us on roller-blades, but he realized when we reached the steep hill at the top of our street that he couldn’t skate up it, so he opted to return home.  Anyway, my daughter was so much fun as a walking companion as she took delight in marveling over the singing birds we got the joy of hearing as we walked along, dragging my dog who insisted on stopping every two inches to smell some dog-delight or other. And then it occurred to me, if my daughter had not been with me, I probably would not have even noticed the singing birds because most likely I would have had my ears plugged up with my iPod, which I do any chance I get to walk alone. So many podcasts, so little time, you know.
Later, when I was trying to escape the lingering smell of bacon several hours after having cooked and consumed it (have you ever wondered why that smell seems to just STAY in the house?), I opened the windows and thankfully settled on the back porch in my comfy black chair with a book and took a nap in the warm puddle of sunlight I found due to my strep and antibiotic induced fatigue today. Day two of recuperating from a nasty strep infection, that is. I was sitting out there feeling so thankful for the peaceful quiet of a sunny Saturday on the porch and thinking my kids needed to turn off the TV and computer and get out here and enjoy this lovely day, when the thought hit me.
My generation to a degree, and my children’s to an even larger degree, have lost something precious. This is not a new or unique observation, but the thought struck me and has stayed with me all day that we have lost the ability to appreciate quiet. I don’t mean silence in a weird, mystical, search within, contemplative sort of way. I just mean quiet. In our society, we are uncomfortable with quiet. We are always filling it up with music or noise or TV or distraction. We are not comfortable with gentle quiet moments. Think about it....how many people do you know who turn the TV on the minute they enter a house and have TVs in most every room? How many kids/adults do you see around during any given day with ears stuffed with earbuds the moment they are free to do so? Have you ever had a pleasant afternoon outdoors spoiled by a neighbor who had to have a radio going in their garage/backyard/etc. the entire afternoon?
How many times a day are you drawn to check Facebook, Twitter, etc.? There is something dangerously addictive about Facebook, I find. At least, for me there is. Now that I have it on my iPhone, too, I find that I’m on there checking it before I even realize I’m doing it. Just, there it is in my hand and I’m looking at it again. I’ve never been real convinced about the four (five?) love languages, and like any personality type test, I never seem to be able to figure out where I fall on the scale, but if I had to give an idea, I’d probably say words of affirmation do a lot to motivate me. Comments and ‘likes’ on a Facebook post feel pretty good, though it’s a fleeting high. 
And I don’t like that about me. I don’t like that it’s hard to turn off the computer and stop picking up the iPhone and stay away from the social media stuff for any serious period of time. Because, bottom line, it isn’t really REAL, not in the way engaging in real life is REAL. It bothers me how difficult I think it would be to completely unplug.
But here’s the thing....it’s a distraction from the real, everyday things of life. It just is. There’s no rationalizing that away. All our electronic stuff is addictive. At the risk of embarrassing my son, not my intention, I share a small example from his life. My son is the rule-keeper of rule-keepers. For this story to make any impact you have to know this about him. He’s all about following rules. Anyway, he’s at a church youth event this weekend, one in which we have all been praying will be a time for the kids to be encouraged to grow in their walk with the Lord and to develop better relationships with each other. The “What to Bring” instruction sheet very emphatically said not to bring iPods, phones, etc. Very emphatically said that they were only asking the kids to do without them for 48 hours so they could focus on the weekend’s emphasis. My son, my very rule-keeping son, asked me at least three times if I was sure he couldn’t take his iPod this weekend. After reading the list and the very emphatic reasoning for why such things were not to be brought. I told him, “No. The whole point is to not be plugged away in your own private little world.” I’m quite sure he’ll tell me some did bring them, though, when he comes home.
Point being, we are a culture where we are saturated with noise. We have to have music going all the time. We need the visual stimulation of a computer game or TV show all the time. We’d rather be in our cave of a house on a sunny day, checking Facebook or watching TV instead of outside enjoying the beauty of a spring day. I said something about kids playing outside at the top of this post, but I have to admit that’s becoming more of a rarity anymore. Most of the time we hide away in our houses. No wonder we’re all addicted to social media - we aren’t out mingling with the people who live right here around us. We're addicted to the distraction of our plugged-in private little worlds. We tend to know more about the current controversy lighting up our chosen corners of the blogosphere or in pop culture than we do about our real, flesh-and-blood-across-the-street neighbors. And I’m right there guilty as well. 
But one thing we lose in all that is that we aren’t able to think clearly and deeply anymore. Any quiet moment we have, we plug up our ears with our tunes, and we don’t know how to sit and ponder for any extended period of time. We jump from this stimulation to that in quick soundbite size status updates. Case in point, even this blog post is way longer than the conventional wisdom says a post should be to ensure maximum readership to the end, so if you're still here, thanks for reading. I can tell you I’ve seen a lessening in the ability to sit and think out things unless I really put my mind to it. I see it in my writing when I try to sit and work on it. It is all but impossible to sit still and not answer all the other distractions I feel pulling on me, and most days, I lose. 

Another thing I think we’ve lost is that we are less likely to ponder how awesome God is when we see the wonder of Creation. Because we aren’t out seeing Creation, for the most part. The heavens declare the glory of God, but we’re in our homes, twittering and facebooking away, plugged up with our iPods and tunes and podcasts, but unheeding to the beauty of the sunset right outside our window. Or we’re walking along with our earbuds in, missing the birdcalls that so fascinated my daughter today. I wonder if one reason people are so willing to accept the unsatisfying theories that ‘science’ offers about the origin of life just might be that we never really spend any time outside pondering the very bigness of Creation and how immense a Creator God must be. We’re so easily distracted, and I’m convinced all this screen time and filling up the quiet with tunes and such really does make it much harder for us to think and ponder and contemplate big thoughts with any real depth.
Something else I’ve noticed, too, is that when I’ve spent a lot of time on the computer or listening to podcasts, I tend to be much more irritable with the people I love and share my life with. I’m not exactly sure why that is, but I suspect it has a lot to do with how non-social those activities really are. It’s easy to get lost in your own little bubble and sometimes it’s hard to draw yourself back out and interact with the people who need you most. And I notice it in my kids, too. The days when I’ve been least on top of monitoring the time limits I really, really mean to have in place for myself and for them regarding all the screen time, etc. are the days when everyone is more irritable with each other. I was one of those naive new moms who always pridefully said I’d never let the TV be a babysitter for my precious kids. Then life happened. Somehow I turned around and they are on the computer or TV way more than I know is good for any of us. Not that they’re watching bad things. Just too much of anything. And recently I made the decision that things needed to change, for the kids and for me, so we’ve put time limits in place, and I’m really trying to cut down on the time I spend on social media. And it’s not always easy to remember to stay consistent in keeping everyone to the time limits. Just being honest. 
I am not so sure social media is really all that good a thing, not if it causes me to be less social with the people who are here in the space where I live day in and day out. Certainly not then. And I know I get really irritated with music being on all the time. I like music, don’t get me wrong, but I climb the walls when it’s on all the time. And that even translates into how we think about and ‘do’ church. It’s almost like we have to have ‘cool’ music or a concert kind of atmosphere with emotional ramp up that makes us feel something that we think we need to feel so we can say we worshiped. Sometimes I wonder if we even know how to worship without ‘cool’ music. Dangerous thinking, I know. And I’m not saying I don’t like music. I do. Some music is very helpful to turn my mind to worship, but I am learning to be very careful to make sure I am worshiping God and not just seeking a certain feeling. I don't know about you but I find the temptation huge to fall into the trap of mistaking an emotional feeling for worship but not completely seeking the One we came to worship. But a certain feeling isn't so much what I need to be seeking. Because sometimes real worship happens even when my feelings don’t follow along. But that wasn’t really where I meant to be going and not something I can explore fully in this particular and much too long post. 
And in life, sometimes I like to just sit and listen to the quiet. Sometimes it’s so comforting to sit in the house or on the back porch with no noise on, no computer in front of me, no phone in my hand, and just be quiet. And it concerns me that my kids don’t seem to even be able to comprehend why that would be enjoyable.
I didn't intend this to be a long post, but apparently the 'just something I’ve been pondering today' needed more than a short and pithy expression. Of course, it could be that since I'm blogging so seldom these days, I just have a lot to say when I finally get something written. :-)


Friday, March 02, 2012

Status Report - March 2012

With nods to Lisa for her status report format, I'm posting a report to try to get myself blogging again:
Sitting....in the kitchen, trying to formulate a blog post to keep my pitiful little blog alive.
Drinking...Iced tea with lime and Sweet-N-Low. 
Waiting...to see what happens with the weather this afternoon and evening. I confess that after the wild weather Wednesday, I’m a little nervous. On Wednesday, the tornado sirens were going most of the day and it was a wild day - with a tornado even touching down not too far from where we live. It’s creepy when your town gets mentioned on the news. While thinking about how to prepare for the predicted storms today, my son asked if I wanted him to bring some of the tons of MREs we have out in the garage to the basement. I think I’ll have to be pretty hungry to want to eat those nasty things, but my boys think they are treats. Army kids. Go figure. To me, Spring in the Midwest feels more scary than hurricane season when we lived in Florida. At least you can sort of track hurricanes for the days leading up to them and evacuate if necessary. Tornado season is just unpredictable and scary. I don’t know about y’all, but this kind of weather is another reminder to me of the fact that we people are not in control, but we serve the God who is supremely and ultimately sovereign. 
Along those lines...I’ve been thinking about vinegar. I like vinegar. Ever since I discovered you can use it and baking soda and Borax to clean things more naturally than with harsh cleaners, I’ve been pretty excited about it. Have you ever thought about how incredible it is that there are things like vinegar or other natural type things or things we can derive fairly simply that can be used for cleaning or for curing certain ills or what have you? I mean, think about it for a moment. If you believe in evolution, that we’re all basically just accidents of ‘nature’, why is it that anything is beneficial at all? Why is it that vinegar can clean pretty much everything? Why do we even have such things? Why is it that anything works at all? Why is it that we are able to use consistent laws of ‘nature’ and physics and stuff if we’re all just cosmic accidents? Nope. Makes much more sense to believe that we’re created by a very, very intelligent Designer. More than that, as my kids are learning in their catechism, God made me, God made all things, God made me and all things for His own glory, and God loves me and takes care of me. This makes much more sense.
Speaking of catechism....I’ve started something with the kids that I’m pretty excited about. I got each of them, and myself, a folder and each week I write out a scripture passage to memorize, 2-3 catechism questions from this resource, and some suggested ways to pray about what they are memorizing, specifically asking that God to put a genuine love for Him and desire to obey in their hearts, because I know that it is only God who can regenerate our hearts and put that desire for Christ and love for His word in us as we hear and read His word. 
Reading....a book called Trackers by Deon Meyer. Interesting so far, but I’m not very far into it. Actually I’m wondering how interested I really am because I seem to only read a page or two before getting distracted. Hmm. Also reading Defending Your Faith by R.C. Sproul. Also interesting, but also having a hard time reading more than a page at a time before getting distracted. Hmm. Maybe that says more about my distractibility lately than it does about the books I’m reading. 
Feeling...a little depressed lately. Fighting it, but feeling it some. Things are just harder when Drew is not here. And I learned something about a friend the other day that hurt my feelings, but I’m trying not to read it the wrong way and assume the best. Talked it over with Drew to get his more unbiased opinion since that friend didn't choose to talk to me about the situation, and he thinks my attempt at assuming the best is probably the right way to read the situation, but that doesn’t make it easy.  
Wondering....why I find it so hard not to let minor things get my ‘feelings’ all twisted and hurt. I tell you what, not being ruled by emotions and feelings is not easy. Necessary, but not easy. But I also know feelings can lie. Especially in a situation where you don’t have all the information. That’s why it’s wise to assume the best and move on and remember it’s not all about me, and determine to love your neighbor as yourself and ask God to reveal to you areas you need to repent. Get that pride thing under control.
Thankful...that a little medical thing I was concerned about turned out to be normal. One more reminder of my stupidity in seeking the perfect tan every summer as a teenager in Florida. I even knew at the time I'd probably regret that later, but my teenager self was selfish and not very kind to my later adult self. :-) Very thankful for the undeserved mercy of a normal result this time, though.

Also extremely thankful.....that God’s mercies are new every morning. And very thankful that He is saving me and teaching me to live in the light of His word. Very, very thankful that He is Lord, even over my feelings and emotions and His peace surpasses all understanding and He guards my heart in Christ Jesus. 

Ending...this post so I can go exercise. I'm really liking the fact that I've lost 5 pounds. Now if I can just keep it going.....
Not much of interest in this post, I guess. Perhaps that’s why I haven’t done much blogging recently.  Little thing called life takes precedence to sitting in front of the computer blogging sometimes. :-)
Happy March!