Is That ALL?

Is That ALL?

“Is that ALL?”, I fairly shouted at God. After asking Him, beseeching Him earnestly for rain; after days of watching the storms come close but then skirt our town, the thunderheads rolled in. I had been watching them all day as they slowly crawled up to us. Before evening they arrived, and the rain did fall, hard and promising. I stood at the kitchen window to watch this answer to prayer unfold. Audibly, I thanked the God who sent it our way this time. However, the yard of sand was barely wet before the clouds released just one, final dribble, thus ending what had barely begun. And I was incredulous. I heard a loud whine – “Really, God? Is that all you’re giving us after such a long and hopeful wait?” Oops. That voice was mine. …

“Is that all?” It’s December 26th. Maybe you heard the whine from a child. Or maybe you thought it. The post-Christmas let down. Then there’s a hazy, nagging disappointment at the close of a happy event, meeting or conversation. You had somehow expected — more. And then there are the large and looming disappointments, like:

the end of a relationship – “Is this it, then? After all these years is this ALL?”,
or looking back on years of living in hard-to-be places so that some might come to know Christ Jesus, and asking “Is this it? All my life for this small handful of fruit? Really, God?”
or studying hard for that one degree that will get you that job that will get you that career …but it doesn’t work out that way and you sputter “Really, God? Is this ALL I’m to expect?”

Ah, you and I, once young, rising stars who could go anywhere and do anything. The older, wiser ones nodded and smiled, and waited to see what we’d become. The brightness has now faded into a glow. We are ordinary after all. Are you tempted to disappointment? “Is this all, Lord?” Had we expected more fruit, or more affirmation, or to be more cherished, or for more in our 401K? Let’s be careful that the questions we pose, silently or audibly, do not stem from a bitter root of chronic disappointment.

A chronically disappointed person is, at the root, a person in rebellion against God. Pow. Pretty strong statement there, but I didn’t make it up. From Genesis (or at least Exodus 16) all the way through to the apostles’ specific teachings (especially Hebrews 3:7-19) to those of faith in Christ we are warned: ungratefulness = unbelief = disobedience = rebellion = sin (= death). A chronically disappointed heart is a complaining heart. Complaining isn’t really against other people or circumstances; it is really ultimately against God. It is saying, “I am not getting my due, so therefore God isn’t really good. I would do it differently, better. I would be a better god than God.” Does this ring a bell? Know of anyone who has taken action on that premise? So, yes, this is serious stuff. My innocent outburst against the rain stopping may not have been so innocent. Our spontaneous expressions of exasperating disappointment are red flags that direct us to peer into our own hearts and identify sin that may be hiding there. Due to the eternal goodness of God, He is eager to grant us repentance.

So what does repentance look like in this case? Romans 2:4 is a good start. First, you and I must own up to our unbelief. This is called confession. Repentance means to stop going one way, to turn and go a different direction. God’s goodness is meant to turn us. We want to choose the road of chronic gratefulness instead.

… I clapped my hand over my mouth, and went to study my wall map, which is a visual tool I’ve created to help me cultivate gratefulness. This is where I note the ways God’s goodness is clearly visible to me. The map is quickly filling with notes of gracious over-and-above blessings, the sequence and timing of each one truly remarkable, gifts with my name on it from my Heavenly Father. The little “overflowing bowl” icons I draw by each note far outnumber the little icons identifying activities and outcomes that might be in the “Is this all?” category. Clearly, then, God is more interested in sustaining, supporting and encouraging me than he is in waving successes and fruits of my labor before my eyes. His will for you and me is to believe Him with a thankful heart. “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord [have you?], so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving [italics mine].” Col. 2:6, 7  I am amazed, humbled. How dare I not believe in His sovereign goodness. How dare I not overflow with thanksgiving?

“It this all, then? That’s IT?” Yes, for some things it is. The time comes to recognize the end of some events, some seasons. It is with thankfulness that we do so because we know that God is good in all He does. “Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! [That would be you and me.] For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness.” Ps. 107:8

At the edge of my map I have written these verses:
My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure. … Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it. Is. 46:10, 11

This is NOT all!, the Only Just, Righteous, Good God has declared! There is more! He is not finished! No one, nothing, will derail or stop Him from completing His good plan for you and me, and all His creation. So, hold your tongue when the rain stops – unless it speaks from a grateful heart.

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Glory For Me!

Glory For Me!

That which gives you your sense of worth
is your glory.

“Glory!” What comes to mind when you hear the word? I think: jaw-dropping awesomeness, perfection, God, and Christmas. “Glory!” What do you see? I see angels, white and blinding light, glitter and sparkles. Glory. It’s one of those Bible words that we don’t use much nowadays, unless it’s December and we’re singing about it. But the word does appear in the Bible over and over. I was seeing the “glory” theme so often that I decided I’d better take a closer look and understand what is actually being said.

The glory of God is easier to define, even from a brief dictionary definition. glory – n. 1 high renown or honor won by notable achievements 2 magnificence; great beauty; a thing that is beautiful or distinctive; a special cause for pride, respect, or delight. Granted, this only scratches the surface of what the prophets and apostles mean when they speak of God’s glory but at least our understanding is pointed in the right direction. What really threw me was the passages that quote a human being saying “my glory”. What is that about? Take Psalm 16, for example, where we listen in as David alternately prays to God and talks to his own soul. Towards the end he says,

“Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices…”

Now, if you are using a modern paraphrase, you probably won’t see the word “glory” here. The translators have accommodated our self-imposed, limited vocabulary. I’m sorry about that because I think the meaning intended in the original manuscript holds layers of richness that contextualised translations miss.

One commentator, Matthew Henry, explains that “our glory is that within us that makes us different from the beasts”. Our tongue, our ability to speak, distinguishes us from animals. Therefore, in the case of Psalm 16 David audibly, with speech, rejoices in the Lord. But speech is not our only distinguishing characteristic. There’s a deeper layer of meaning to “glory”.

We differ from animals in that we are aware of the self. We think about our self. We consider our image and we ponder the level of satisfaction we have attained. We are conscious of our self, of our soul. So now I invite you to read Psalm 84 with that in mind. Notice that in David’s self-awareness, he directs his soul to God. David is the king! He sits on a throne and lives in a palace! But this is not where he finds his worth. “The Lord will give grace and glory”, he assures his soul, “no good thing will he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” We see here, then, that “glory” also carries the meaning ‘the weight of significance, honor, esteem’. And here is the point. David, for all his talents, skills, wealth and power derived the weight of his significance from the Lord who gives it to those who trust in him! What freedom this truth has given me from the bondage of self — of having to assert myself, to protect and look after the measure of my worth and significance!

Do you see the powerful truth here? If you trust in the Lord Jesus your identity, self-esteem, value and worth is wrapped up in him. He shares his glory with you. In Him you live and move and have your being. Our personal glory is centered in our Savior, the only truly Glorious One.

Now, when you read your Bible and come across the phrase “my glory”, don’t rush over it. Amplify the meaning with “my esteem” or “the weight of significance” and catch a glimpse of the further glories that await you and I! Go to John 17 with this in mind and you’ll be blown away! Christ’s glory, which He has given to us, is for the purpose of unity among us, His followers, to the end that the world may know God sent Jesus. I am identified with Christ, sharing in his worth, not to realize my self but to manifest the truth of the gospel, God’s glory, to the world! Genuine significance lies in an absence of pride in the “me” that I love, and finds its pride and worth in God’s glory.

There is an old hymn I sang as a child that comes to mind. Sing along with me (or say it) and in your mind think “significance or esteem” when you sing “glory”.

When all my labors and trials are o’er, and I am safe on that beautiful shore,
Just to be near the dear Lord I adore, will through the ages be glory for me.

[chorus] Oh that will be glory for me, glory for me, glory for me. When by His grace I shall look on His face,
That will be glory, be glory for me!

When, by the gift of His infinite grace, I am accorded in Heaven a place,
Just to be there and to look on His face, will through the ages be glory for me. [chorus]

Friends will be there I have loved long ago; Joy like a river around me will flow;
Yet, just a smile from my Savior, I know, will through the ages be glory for me. [chorus]

Pizza Night

Pizza Night

There once was a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. He was blameless -a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil … Job’s sons would take turns preparing feasts in their homes, and they would also invite their three sisters to celebrate with them. When these celebrations ended – sometimes after several days – Job would purify his children. He would get up early in the morning and offer a burnt offering for each of them. For Job said to himself, “Perhaps my children have sinned and have cursed God in their hearts.” Job 1:1-5

It’s Friday! I head to the kitchen to begin the ritual that has engaged me almost every Friday afternoon for the the past 30 years.

I begin by finely dicing a couple plum tomatoes.

Family traditions have eluded me over the years. I love tradition, but it’s hard to keep one going when you find yourself in a different country, a different culture, with different friends and different shopping options every few years. Seasons don’t line up right, either. That tradition we tried to institute in place L just doesn’t fit in location M. And then there’s my own mind that simply doesn’t remember, what with all the changes in our situation. SpoonLicker3 (see My Turn to Lick the Spoon) turns 13 and I ask myself, “What did we do for SL1 and 2 on this birthday?” Beats me. That was a continent and a language ago. But Friday night pizza? That has stuck.

The tomatoes slide into the saucepan where a tablespoon or 2 of tomato paste awaits to receive them, along with a bit of water, several heaping spoons of freshly minced garlic and an equal amount of Italian herbs and a bay leaf. Then, a spoon of olive oil. Put to the heat, it simmers gently. This is when the household members inhale deeply and I hear, “Yay! It’s pizza night!”

We discovered that, especially when living cross-culturally, good family times don’t always come naturally. After a rough week of language learning, or repeated failed attempts to meet with that key person, or when you don’t have running, the roof leaks and the power lines have been bombed again … an intentional “good time” tradition is essential to spiritual health. Thus began pizza and game night. We, and our friends who had the same kind of week, needed to have fun together.

I start chopping and slicing. The toppings all depend on where we are. Today I’m in northern Namibia. Local fresh produce available: tomatoes, onions, squashes and root vegetables. A grated carrot periodically finds its way onto my pizzas but a squash or potato has yet to appear there but …

… I’ve frequently allowed left-overs to sneak onto a pizza. After all, given enough garlic and cheese, who’s to know? But fish from the day before wouldn’t be concealed. That Friday, in Nampula, Mozambique, we took the pizza to a friend’s house for that “good time” we’d waited all week for. Jacob, a dear missionary friend who likes to call my cooking “earthy”, took one bite of the pizza and hollered, “This is horrible! What’s in this?” I think it’s the only time one of my pizzas was declared an abject, unredeemable failure. That threw some cold water (or maybe I should say cold fish) on our Friday Fun Time. My SLs have their own homes and ways to “do pizza” now.  I wonder if any of them are baking one tonight, or maybe picking it up in a box?  But my hubby still prefers my pizza, thankfully. Probably the person who likes my pizza best, though, is … me!

Some great Portuguese sausages are sold here; I thinly slice a link. Most food is imported from South Africa so I have mushrooms and green pepper to slice up, in addition to a sweet onion. I like a lot of toppings. (You know the pizza wasn’t hearty enough if the kids want a bowl of cereal for dessert.) Oh, the sauce has simmered down to a spreadable, but not runny, consistency. It is set aside to cool.

I ponder good times in hard places. We have a SpoonLicker who very frequently prayed: “… and God, help us have a good time.“ This SL hoped for a life a little less hard, and with a lot more fun. Living in a war-torn, foreign country meant that home life was more about building character than having fun. We tried to teach our children that God could and would use the stresses for his good purpose’ to make them holy.  Another SL, gone from his Africa home and not having fun adapting to western culture, bellowed: “I wish God didn’t care so much about making me holy!”  He had learned to recognize the holiness training ground.

Now for the crust. I like to use as much whole wheat flour as possible in the hopes that it will be more healthy and filling. Making dough is simple: a couple teaspoons yeast sprinkled into 1 1/2 cups of warm water – add a tablespoon of olive oil and gradually stir in four or more cups of flour plus a couple teaspoons of salt. I turn the dough out onto a floured counter top and begin kneading.

Fold, press, turn. Again and again and, for some weird reason, Job’s children now come to my mind. Apparently, they liked to have a good time too. They were grown, each with their own home and families, but the guys would take turns having’”pizza night” at their house. They always included their sisters, too. These grown kids just enjoyed being together. They had fun, I’m thinking. The Bible seems to indicate that Dad Job didn’t go to these events. Maybe he knew they’d have more fun without him.

I roll out the dough and lay it in a sheet pan that I’ve liberally sprinkled with cornmeal. Building materials in place, construction begins. I spread the sauce, then carefully place the vegetables, sausage and kalamata olives evenly, out to the very edges. In other places gouda was the only cheese available. But here there is mozzarella and feta, and both go onto this one. I powder the top with a little parmesan, carried over in our suitcase as we can’t get it here. Ta-daah! Another work of art is displayed on the counter top until the dough has risen and it’s ready to bake.

I don’t think Job was at all opposed to his kids having a good time. Parents like to see their children getting along, desirous of each other’s company, especially as adults. But he was more concerned that they be holy, that the way they live would be acceptable to God. He didn’t pray, “Help them have a good time”, or “Help them be happy” but “Make them holy.” He offered sacrifices on their behalf towards this end. Old Testament sacrifices all pointed to Christ – to his person and to his work on the cross. They illustrated that being holy and accepted by God is a gift offered only by Jesus Christ’s own sacrifice. If Job had lived on this side of the cross, his prayers might have been something like this: “God, may my children know their sin and go to Christ for forgiveness. Cover them with the blood of your sacrifice. Make them holy. Keep them from careless, thoughtless words and actions while they’re having fun. Cause them to want you, to love you and be hungry and thirsty for intimacy with you. Protect them from the evil one and his lies that tempt towards atheism, agnosticism, humanism and fatalism. May they be more Christ-conscious than Self-conscious.”

My daily and continuous prayers for my own children when they were young was that they would believe and trust Jesus Christ as their Savior, the One who died on the cross for the ungodly – them. As they grew up, I added, and continue to add to that prayer: when they are sinking in despondency, I pray they will experience Christ their Hope and Counselor; when their heart is hurting, that they experience Christ the complete Comforter; when they need guidance or direction, that they find in Christ all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I pray that they will be more conscious of Christ’s sufficiency than they are of their own deficiencies. I pray that they will look less at themselves and more at Christ.

J.C. Ryle of the 19th century said, “In all true saving religion Christ is all: all in justification, all in sanctification, all in comfort, all in hope. Blessed is that mother’s child that knows it, and far more blessed is he that feels it, too.”

Pizza’s done! We snuggle up side by side with the computer in front of us on the coffee table, large slabs of pizza on our plates. We’re hoping to find something good to watch on YouTube and that internet will be fast enough to stream it in tonight. We’re ready for a Friday Night Good Time!

Recommended link:   http://www.biblebb.com/files/ryle/christ_is_all.htm

Wedding? or Witchcraft?

Wedding? or Witchcraft?

Simply walking around is the best way to get to know a town. As soon as we arrived in Rundu, we began, almost daily, walking through the various neighborhoods and commercial centers.

Here and there I noticed a white flag, flying high on a long stick, attached to a house. In northern Mozambique, the witch doctor flies such a flag to advertise his/her services. I was puzzled, though, because several of the flags I was seeing here were displayed in unlikely neighborhoods or at a house that didn’t resemble in the least what I had come to expect as a witch doctor’s residence.

Then we visited a pastor. Wouldn’t you know it? A white flag was flying from his roof! I had to ask. Proudly, he explained: “When someone living in the house is having a church wedding the flag is flown. It stays on display until the couple’s first anniversary.” It’s a good thing I asked, before assuming the worst. How foolish it would have been for me to cling to a negative, and erroneous, judgement: to assume the worst about the people who live in all these homes flying a white flag. And I am reminded of God’s definition of love.

Recently my Bible reading plan took me to Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. With Matthew Henry’s amplification alongside, I slowly went through the thirteenth chapter. And I was devastated. So, since misery loves company, I thought to invite you along to be convicted too!

The first thing I notice in this great “love chapter” is the complete absence of instruction on how to get other people to love me. There is no “find your love language so you can help others love you” here. It is a description of the beliefs, thoughts and actions of those who speak the only true love language – God’s. He has commanded all of his disciples to speak this language with each other. The focus is on being one who loves even when, especially when, the others “just don’t speak my love language”. If we are learning to speak God’s love language we need not concern ourselves about anyone else’s, including our own.

Next, I ponder the implications of the definition of love. Here’s a sampling from the chapter:

“Love suffers long …”

In Henry’s words, “love can endure evil, injury, and provocation, without being filled with resentment, indignation, or revenge … it will wait long to see the kindly effects of such patience on the offender.”* Is this my position when I am provoked by someone I say I love? Is it yours?

“…thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity …”

Love takes no pleasure in doing injury or hurt to any. It does not think evil of any without very clear proof. It won’t rejoice or triumph at the faults and failings of others because it will make you look better. I knew a godly mother who called this kind of triumphing ‘candle blowing’ – you blow out your brother’s light to make yours look brighter. Am I a candle-blower? Are you? Are your children?

“Love bears all things … endures all things …”

Love will throw a veil over my brother’s sin against me. It does not blaze or publish the faults of a brother or sister, under the guise of pious ‘truthfulness’. A love-er is unwilling to expose him in public but will cover the fault from public notice as long as he can and still remain faithful to God’s ordinances as recorded in Scripture. Am I heart-sick when a I hear about the fault of a brother? Are you? Do I weep for him, pray for his repentance and apply myself to restore him to fellowship? Do you? Or are we secretly smug? (Candle-blowing, again?)

“Love believes and hopes all things.”

Let’s not be silly; love does not destroy prudence. It lives side by side with wisdom. But love is apt to believe well of all. “It will judge well and believe well, as far as it can with any reason, and will rather stretch its faith beyond appearances for the support of a kind opinion.”*  Do I, do you so stretch yourself?

I sought information about the white flag rather than continue to support an unkindly opinion. It wasn’t that big of a stretch as there was no affront to me, personally. On a personal level though, we all wave flags visible to those around us. Our words, our expressions, our behaviors flap in the breeze for all to see. We naturally expect others to place the best possible interpretation on our flags to consider them well-intended— wedding flags, if you will.

I Corinthians 13 is an elaboration on Jesus’ commandment to his disciples; to his followers, then and now, to love each other as He has loved us. Our love for each other should be a love wherein I think better of my brother than I do of myself. I do not withhold this love from a brother just because he will probably disappoint me. Only this kind of love is the proof to the world that I am indeed Jesus’ disciple. This is the flag you and I, as God’s chosen and redeemed people, must fly.

God, teach me to love your people according to the definition you have given us. I confess my complete inability to love. I will not be perfected in love until I see my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, face to face. But by His grace, may I be able to say I am learning to love. 

Recommended for study: The Holy Bible: I Corinthians 13, John 13:34; I Cor. 13 in Matthew Henry’s Commentary of the Whole Bible.  *direct quotes from his commentary

Canary in the Cart

Canary in the Cart

Counsel in self-awareness from Psalm 131

“You can be anything you want to be! You’ve got it in you! The sky’s the limit! Go for it! A little bit of hard work and it’s yours! Remake yourself into whatever you want to be!” So shout the magazine covers, the book titles, the therapists, the parents to their children … so insist those who have a thorough belief in human capability, who scorn boundaries and limits as mere hurdles in the road to be cleared. Our world, especially my western culture, holds faithfully to this view of the self.

It is important to be aware of your self, your heart and your soul. But if you share my same faith in Christ Jesus, your awareness is not based on human philosophies. You know that God, the maker of your self, also instructs you how to think about that self. David, shepherd, warrior and king, made himself vulnerable to us, laid his heart bare within the pages of scripture. His intent, second to ascribing all praise to God, is to instruct us on a proper self- awareness – – seeing ourselves from God’s point of view. So let’s take a look at one of his songs that has instructed me down through the years.

Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty.

David does not make much of himself. He does not desire to be significant to anyone but his sheep. He is not impressed with himself or with his influence. He is not proud of his accomplishments nor think himself above others. He is humble, seeing himself through God’s eyes, oriented towards loving God, not himself. His focus on God puts his view of self in its proper place.

Neither do I concern myself with great matters, nor with things too profound for me.

What might these “great matters and “things too profound for me” be? David didn’t try to be what he wasn’t. How much are we tempted to think of ourselves more highly than we ought; as indispensable or deserving or invincible? How foolishly we build up our children’s esteem in themselves, only for them to discover later that we built on shifting sands. It was all a lie. No one can have all they want, do anything they want and be anything they may want to be. David, in his humility, knew his limits. We are wise to study ours.

Secondly, how taken is your mind with speculations? Do I let my thoughts go round and round with speculations about other people, what they think of me; with the future and the “what ifs”? Such ponderings either serve to stoke my pride, or fan the flame of my fears into a blaze that singes even those around me.

A third great matter, things too profound for us, are the great mysteries of God. Not even our neatly packaged, instructive catechisms, statements of faith and systematic theologies can contain Him. David praises God whose thoughts are very deep and can’t be fathomed. Isaiah tells us God’s thoughts and His ways are above ours, His designs too deep for our understanding. And Paul labors to explain how it is that our slavery to sin enables God to show mercy to us all. How do I wrap my mind around that? The apostle himself is astonished. You can just hear him finally raise his voice and declare, “Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!” [from Romans 11]  Do I humbly admit that God has purposefully placed the full extent of His deep thoughts and divine wisdom beyond my reach?

Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with his mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.

A nursing child is a restless child in his mother’s arms, banging his head on her chest, twisting this way and that, until he gets what he’s rooting around for. But a weaned child will sit contentedly.

David sent his soul to rest in the God he totally trusted. No head banging to sort out thoughts that circled in his head; no rooting around for what wasn’t his; not flailing his arms in self-assertion. He cried, he questioned and in the end, he was content to let his soul restfully trust in the God he hungered to know. He seems to say, “Let me know God, and He will tell me all I need to know about my self, my circumstances, and in His perfect timing, too.”

“Thus does a gracious soul quiet itself under the loss of that which it loved and disappointment in that which it hoped for, and is easy whatever happens, lives and lives comfortably, upon God and the covenant-grace, when creatures prove dry breasts.” M. Henry

Canary perched on the seat in the grocery cart. I rolled us down the aisle of the store while the little guy sang clearly, sweetly (that’s why I called him Canary) the chorus he must have heard repeatedly at home:  “No, never alone. No, never alone. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone.”   He cared nothing for himself, or what other shoppers might think. Shamelessly, he sang what he knew about Jesus.
These had been tense months. We were waiting for all of the financial support we needed before we could go to Portugal for language study. Any day now we would be closing our suitcases for the last time and getting on that plane. But the days stretched to weeks, and to months. We moved from one temporary house to another. Uncertainty and change were the norm in our home. And yet, our Canary sang. He was not concerned with these great matters before us. He did not bother his soul about the moving, the leaving, becoming a third culture kid or any other profound thing. His soul was quiet and at rest for he trusted God.

Oh Israel, [oh Church, oh Christian,] put your hope in the Lord now and always.

Canary has outgrown the cart, but not the hope in his heart;
regarding his “self” in small measure, to know Christ is his treasure.

 Photo: grocery store in Namibia