Monday, February 11, 2008

cut to the chase...

i wish i had all the time in the world to update you on life...
just know that it's a crazy time of the year for us and yes, we're still in the throes of housing negotiations. even this morning, the cross country conversations continued and we placed one foot in front of the other and continue to trust (or try to) that God is teaching patience, humility and even lovingkindness in every moment along this path.....

but i feel compelled to discuss something else....
there are SO many people my life.
ever have those seasons in life where,'re not on a completely peaceful mountaintop, but if you were, you'd still feel distraction from it because of the weight of the burdens you watch others around you bear.
i'm talking cancer.
i'm talking infertility.
i'm talking unemployment.
i'm talking chronic pain.
i'm talking marital discourse.
i'm talking loss of loved ones.
i'm talking VALLEYS, people. real true valleys.
and though i ache for these people, i still have to thank God for vulnerability in life and for really pushing fellow Christians to be transparent and honest. how on earth does the world deal with such tragedies without the fellowship of those who have encouragement that can REALLY mean anything....

in the midst of all this heaviness, i had to do my reading this morning, in preparation for tonight's bible study. we're going through a series of sermons on each book of the Old Testament. i have to admit i wasnt thrilled when i joined the bible study, knowing i'd be spending an eternity in the old testament, but can't really find the words to express how much it's blessed me. TRULY blessed me.

this week's reading:
The Message of Lamentations: Justice Up Close, How To Deal With Suffering

i have to admit i never knew the depths of what Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Lamentations were about and never really felt like i was missing out. i'll spare you the teaching lesson and just encourage you to GET THIS BOOK!

at any rate, i cracked it open this morning and felt that so MANY of the words used were mine.
the pain, the terror, the unknown....and the wondering, "how long, O long."

Moments of suffering and loss often mark the great turning points in history generally, and in our lives particularly.

Humility is a by-product of suffering: and the only alternative to being humbled by God's Word through suffering, is to be humbled by his wrath...

i never knew this...but Judah suffered SO GREATLY in Lamentations because of what Jeremiah predicted would happen in the previous book of Jeremiah. Judah was SO incredibly sinful and so rebellious that the prophet Jeremiah was sent to warn them of impending judgement. their sin angered the Lord beyond their knowledge, yet, they did not care....

enter Lamentations.
Jeremiah is now witness to Israel's final demise.
His judgement fell so tremendously upon them, most of them perished by starvation or the sword. the seige had taken such a terrible toll, the Israelites we're told ....were ignored by God. their peace and plenty and been replaced by war and want....

and what were they called to do?
to still hope in God.

it all comes down to faith that He is SO JUST, that despite punishment for sin even....all action is handed down to us because of
love. God was angry and God had to do what transpired, but each moment transpired out of pure purify His people.

how can we hope in situations like that?
far be it from the truth that we are suffering all the time because of sin....
i'm just using this one example.
even in this EXTREME situation where death WAS deserved and punishment WAS severe....Jeremiah urged the people to have HOPE.

(sidenote: some people like to present God as a formless ocean of love, engulfing our every part. but the Bible NOWHERE presents God's love so amorphously. God has revealed himself in the book of Jeremiah and elsewhere as a personal God who is holy and who cares. we cannot demand that such a holy and loving God be so
UNcritical of people like us. in his love, he will NOT leave us as the broken, wounded, wrongheaded, self-defeating, and fallen people that we were when he found us. he will love us in an EFFECTIVE and sometimes painful manner in Christ and make us better....ultimately, make us perfect in Christ.)

so if that is the case, much MORE SO for us who simply suffer out of the result of a fallen world and broken dreams and disheveled lives, even when our own personal sin plays no role in our suffering?

it does seem a strange sort of love, to provoke 45 chapters of DAMNATION forecasted in Jeremiah....and then DAMNATION realized in Lamentations, but it is clearly love.
besides, what kind of love is it that admits no possibility of correction?

all to say, reading this morning displayed a sort of suffering that was catastrophic...and yet....there was a call for hope. we are called to hope.

not to hope in our situation.
not to hope in specifically answered prayers.
most of Judah vanished....were slaughtered....the remnants were scattered forever.
but we have to hold on to the hope
in His character......

if we must accept that painful measures must be used to attain perfect outcomes...we should think first of Christ who suffered ultimately. LOVE isnt always pretty or always the way of ease....but His character is trustworthy, shown supremely through the cross.

there are so many questions that rise in my mind....
things i'll never reconcile on earth.
injustices that are simply too great to swallow....and mildly accept as "God's will."
but i think the point is -- that's ok.

His character is trustworthy beyond it all, and THAT is the only thing i should hold on to.

i was incredibly convicted as i read this next passage because it PERFECTLY eludes to my previous post. i felt as though it were written for me:

"If you are convinced that you must understand a particular trial perfectly well before you are willing to trust in God, I will tell you now that you will fail. At some point, if you haven't already, you will experience a trial that exceeds your ability to find an explanation. Complete explanations, finally, are God's business. But if you know him for who he is and what he is like, then you will be able to trust his character and all of his promises IN CHRIST even in the trials you cannot understand...."

i could feel a lump in my throat as i read Chapter 3 of Lamentations, as Israel justly suffered so completely, Jeremiah wrote:

Yet this I call to mind and therefore have hope:
Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions NEVER fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.....

For men are not cast off from the Lord forever.
Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.
For his does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men......

The devotional ends with this paragraph:

When we get right down to it, there are two responses to suffering: denial of God's hand it it (self-righteousess and bitterness) OR discerning God's hand in it and trust that we are becoming more like Him.

Father, if we don't have the earthly wisdom to make sense of suffering, please give us heavenly wisdom. and if you still deny us heavenly wisdom, simply give us faith in your character. the character of the same One who came and died for me. teach me to trust in my only hope found in You........

most if not all taken from:
The Message of the Old Testament
Mark Dever
pgs. 614-632