Sunday, April 24, 2011

No longer bound

It's Easter, and this last week has given me some great things to think on as I remember the reason we celebrate today.  I'd love to hear your thoughts too, so if you read this & want to share how God has spoken to you this week, please share it!

Last night, I was reading a book called "The Great Escape" which are short devotionals, and the first entry had the same name as the book.  It reminded me of someone I had known about and someone I had not. The person I had not heard of earlier was a woman named Mrs. Emma Smith.  She prided herself on being someone who had lived underground in a casket for longer than anyone had before!  She was down there for 100 or so days.....and thinking about this, you'd be astonished! But she had help...there was electricity, heat, a phone, a tube to send down food & water, and the casket was big enough that she could move around in.  None the less, she lived in a casket underground for a very long time, and when she came up out of the "grave" she felt proud that she had done something no one else had.

The second person was Houdini.  A man who mastered skills of unlocking locks of various kinds without using a key!  He was able to lock himself in unimaginable spaces, and get out without ever using a key. He even learned how to live on very little air, so he could stay underwater or in buried places for a long time without dying!

Both of these people were known in their time for incredible feats that no one else could do.  They were able to be confined & "imprisoned" of a sort, and yet amazingly enough they were able to escape!  However, at some point, both of these people would not be able to escape death.  As amazing as these people were to many people, Houdini's life came to an end by a simple blow to the stomach & Emma would eventually be put into a grave that she wouldn't get out of 100 days later.  Neither one of them could escape that fate.  But there was someone who did!

Jesus, after three days in the tomb, conquered death & was able to walk out of the grave.  Walk out. Not be taken out, but he left on his own accord.  The grave could not keep him inside.  And what is more, is that by HIS great authority on heaven and earth, and by HIS divine power, WE can also defy death's grip...for when we are believing in God & find ourselves at the door of death, we shall not be defeated, but rather welcomed into the greatness of His glory in heaven forever & ever!!!!!  Like Psalm 49:15 says, "God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, for He shall receive me."

What a powerful promise.  And we can trust that God will remember this because He said "I will never leave you or forsake you." (Joshua 1:5) We are also reminded again of this through Deuteronomy 4:31 which says "The Lord your God is a merciful God. He will not abandon you, destroy you, or forget the promise to your ancestors that He swore He would keep."

What an amazing & powerful God we serve, that His Son would not be held by the grave, but would rise to life. And even more that He would offer that life to us as well as we trust in Him to sustain us throughout our life here on earth & as we pass on to eternal life with Him.  Happy Easter & Praise be to Christ who is no longer bound by death but has freed himself & claims us up with Him. Hallelujah!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Mercies through Disappointments?

(Recently I started reading a book called "Better Than my Dreams: Finding What you Long for Where you Might not Think to Look" by Paula Rinehart. Some of these thoughts stem from the first chapter.)
I've often pondered the ideas of expectations....the ones we have for ourselves & the ones placed upon us by those around us.  Well what about the ideas & expectations we have about God and his plans for us? 
Not often have I heard people speak openly about these expectations that we put on God or assume that He should fulfill for us....expectations that He will prosper us, give us a great life, save us from every pain.  But though we don't say it out loud most days, inside I'm sure many of us have at least a little bit of expectation that those things should come to pass, and when they don't, when things don't work out the way we think they should, we're a little disappointed. Do you agree?
Well here's a thought...."Disappointment is strangely enough, a doorway to the real adventure. It's the point where you start to leave behind most of your notions of how your story should read--and enter your relationship with God as a journey."  But somedays when I get to a point like this, I don’t always think about the “great journey” ahead...sometimes I pout, and mourn over what disappointment or grief I’ve just been handed over.  Sometimes I think like the author of Lamentations does when he wrote in 3:17-20 “ soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is so I say, 'My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD.' Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.” 
We probably all get here at one point or another, but “...who among us travels very far in life without running headlong into the gap between what we hoped for and what came to pass?” We are not alone, there are many others who’ve had unfulfilled expectations. Have you come to that gap? I have. Multiple times. I thought certain things should have happened by now, or people who were in my life would have been doing something different, or that I would have been something different, but it just isn't so.  When these things don't work out the way we want them to, pain inevitably follows....or at least in many cases.  
But. (what a great word.) BUT we can continue reading in Lamentations 3:21-24, which reminds us of something greater & even more sure than the fact that not all our hopes will come to pass....the fact lies in this statement: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 'The LORD is my portion,' says my soul, therefore I will hope in him.'"
Our hope can be found in the Lord. Why it is only there that we can find peace, and confidence when our expectations of God & the life He has for us doesn’t seem to make sense.  When we are disappointed, just remember that God didn’t promise us a perfect ride here on earth. This is the part that will be hard, that we have to endure, journey through & trust Him for his provision.  We live in a broken world & cannot expect that everything will go according to our plan.  It won’t. It’s not how life works.  
Yet like Lamentations says, God will not disappoint. He is faithful to be with us through these hardships. He holds the bigger picture that we cannot yet see. He will be faithful to us and renew us every morning with his love. He will sustain us and give us hope in our journey, and adventure where we may find something we didn’t think we would find. 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

In the Furnace

A few days ago, I was driving home through the dark winding roads of the country, and some song came on about us being in the dark, and needing only Christ to comfort us.  I didn't have anything to write down the name of the song, so I'm sorry that I can't tell you about that more, but....another thought came through my mind as I listened.

The story of Shadrach, Meeshack & Abednego came to mind.  Three Godly men, probably late teens, trying to live & work amidst the palace, in one of the most powerful kingdoms yet to date.  It wasn't a Godly place, and not an easy life for them, captured and put into servitude.  Their faith in God was tested multiple times, and they remained true to their God.

What struck me though, was specifically the story about the fiery furnace.  The king had made a statue, and ordered everyone to bow down to worship it when the music was proclaimed. Out of all the people in the palace yard & I suspect most of the kingdom (if not all) there were only three that did not bend their knees to the idol.  Yes, the three young men, stubborn in faith, refused to bow down.
When summoned to the king, he gave them one more chance which they refused, and boldly proclaimed that God would be with them and even if he DIDN'T save them, that they still would only worship the One true God.

Astonished & enraged, the king ordered the fire seven times hotter, and had them thrown into the furnace to extinguish this disobedience towards him.  What came next was more shocking than their disobedience...the king looked towards the fire (surely in his pride to see his power smite them) and to his wonder, he saw four men in the fire, rather than the three that were ordered to die, and they were walking around none the less, not dying.  He said that the fourth man looked like a "son of the gods".  Apparently he was a curious fellow and wanted to see how these men didn't die (and probably trying to figure out who the fourth man was).  They came out of the fire untouched. Their hair, skin, everything was just as it was before they had entered, and the miracle commanded awe from the king and everyone around.

What I thought about here, was that the three had to enter the fire, before it was clear to those outside that God was with them.  Their attitudes of boldness were clear that their trust was in God, but those who didn't know God weren't able to fully see it until they were thrown into the fire. Then and only then did the fourth "man" appear.  I wonder about this, as we who trust in God seem to be thrown into fires of our own, occasionally and sometimes daily.  We have faith, and know that we don't need another trial to understands God's strength again, but what if those trials we suffer are not for us but for those around us? What if we are thrown into the fire to show God's strength and power to the doubtful eyes that look after us?

There's no doubt that God's power was with the three men before the fire, but it was only during that He was clearly seen.  Hm. Dwell on this with me today, as we wonder about the fires we are living and surviving in. Where is the God we trust in?  How is he using this fire to show others that He is real?  How can we be open to the flames that seem to engulf us but trust that they will not consume us?