Have I Not Commanded You?

Joshua 1:9

Joshua 1:8-9

8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

The phrase “have I not commanded you?” really stuck out to me this time because it is a reminder for me that I should be doing what I need to be doing…loving God, loving others, casting off sin, and putting on the fruit of the Spirit. Now I know that the verse is saying be strong and courageous, but bear with me and we will come back to this point.

In verse 9 the author is referring to the countless times that God has commanded the people of Israel to be strong and courageous. In fact my Bible lists at least five times that God instructed Israel to not fear in Deuteronomy (1:21; 7:29; 20:3; 31:6, 8). They were not trusting that God was there with them, that He would do what he promised, and that He had their best in mind. I hear this stern but gentle reminder to them to read the Law again, to not forget, to rely on God.

Here I am sitting on a comfy orange couch reading the words– be strong, be courageous, be not dismayed. I am not facing death or war or conquest. My battle is the sin in my life, how to live in the world but not of the world, and how to love others that are not like me.

Be strong and courageous to cast off the sin that so easily entangles.

Be strong and courageous to put on the fruit of the Spirit– love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22).

Do not be dismayed for the Spirit has enabled you to no longer be a slave to sin (Romans 6:17-18).

Disruption of Harmony #SheSharesTruth

Our sin brings consequences. David makes that very clear in Psalm 38– illness, humiliation, shame, anxiety, weakness, pain, disunity. The result of his one action has brought immeasurable pain upon himself as well as separation from God and those around him. Such is the price of sin; it is a big deal! Cornelius Plantinga Jr. in his book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin shares these biblical images about sin:

“Sin is the missing of a target, a wandering from the path, a straying from the fold. Sin is a hard heart and a stiff neck. Sin is blindness and deafness. It is both the overstepping of a line and the failure to reach it — both transgression and shortcoming. Sin is a beast crouching at the door…Sin is disruption of created harmony and then resistance to divine restoration of that harmony” (pg 5).

However, even in view of sin, we are not hopeless. David has not resolved to let his enemies overtake him and discourage him. His ‘woe is me’ is interlaced with waiting and hope. Does hope not require waiting?

Verse 15 says, “Yet I wait for you, O Lord! You will respond, O Lord, my God!” (NET Bible)

Verses 21-22 say, “Do not abandon me, O Lord! My God, do not remain far away from me! Hurry and help me, O Lord, my deliverer!” (NET Bible)

David knows that the Lord is not absent, that the Lord has delivered him, and that the Lord protects him. Because of these promises and experiences he has hope that does not disappoint (Romans 5:5).

Psalm 27:1 “The Lord delivers and vindicates me! I fear no one! The Lord protects my life! I am afraid of no one!”

Note: Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin is a deep look at sin. It is convicting, but it brings you to a place to see how awesome and perfect our God is. It is more on the academic side, so it is certainly not light reading.

Psalm 130 Reflections #shesharestruth

Waiting for morning on the outskirts of Moscow

“Be patient with me,” my husband likes to say, to which I like to reply, “I am being patient–now, hurry up!” I don’t know anyone who likes waiting, but I have met those who are patient. As a teacher, I may be patient with my students; I do even muster up some patience for my husband occasionally. However, I have almost no patience for my Lord. Psalm 130 reveals to me that I am not alone in this battle with impatience.

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD! O Lord, hear my voice!” Do you notice that the psalmist is in “the depths”? This gives a picture of him having had a long journey downward. I doubt this is the first time on his journey that he is calling out for help, but now he wants the Lord to know “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!” In other words, “Hello, up there? I’m pretty low, down here? Can you hear my voice?!” He’s already been waiting a long time for mercy–desperation is setting in.

I know that feeling. I like to think that I have been patient and that I have waited on my Lord enough already! But, just like the psalmist admits his iniquity in verse 3, I, too, am faced with my impatience. Thankfully, though, “with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” (v. 4) Through Jesus, our Father and Lord has a means to forgive us, a means to give us His lavish mercy. And what is the psalmists response to that gift of forgiveness but an appropriate fear of Him. Who is this Father of ours that has the means and gall to forgive us? What else could we do but, with the psalmist, decide that (impatient or not) all that is left to do is to “wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.”

What are you waiting for in the Lord? To finally overcome that thorn in your flesh? For Him to answer your cry for help? Maybe for him just to show up–Come quickly and renew this mess, O Lord! The posture of the one who hopes in the Lord is one of waiting “more than watchmen for the morning.” (v.6) Let’s wait because “with the Lord there is steadfast love”; let’s wait because “with him is plentiful redemption.” (v. 7) And, you know what? He “will redeem Israel” (which now includes us sinners and gentiles! Romans 3: 28-30) “from all [our] iniquities.”

I praise the Lord for we are waiting on someone we can trust, and let’s face it, whether we can muster up patience or not, we will still be waiting. Let’s remember who we are waiting on. He forgives us for our impatience (and all other shortcomings) and promises that He’ll be working in us to make us more like Himself. Surely He is patient and can make room in our hearts for patience as well. That is my prayer for me and for you! “O Israel, hope in the LORD!”

Where We Are

Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow

Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow

Do I dare bring up the time that guy was in the women’s bathroom stall at McDonald’s? Or when that man, so quickly, died in the Metro and she saw him lying there? Or when our chests hurt all day because we were truly convinced that Spring would never come (who imagined we could ever believe that?) Or how about those awful medical check-ups when I didn’t understand what they were asking, so they pulled my pants down for me?

Do I dare mention the things that are hard about living here? You see, I don’t want any misunderstanding. We don’t plan on leaving any time soon, and I don’t want to, either. There is beauty here that enables us to stay. But the beauty is not fully in the gorgeous spring tulips that say, “I told you Spring would come!” The beauty isn’t completely in the white, frozen grace that falls in winter days and makes the mud and dark bearable for 6 months. And beauty, completely satisfying beauty, is not fully in each strike of sun that stays for a  merciful 19-hour day in summer. It’s not even fulfilled in the faces of our amazing students, the ones we can’t imagine saying goodbye to, the ones that we are here to love.

What is wonderful enough to keep us here? What is so true that we have the grace to be grateful, most days? Let’s not kid ourselves. Moscow has harsh edges, but I don’t think any other earthly place is more forgiving. Why do we dare to keep living in any place? People are inconsiderate everywhere. A hard thing in one place is a different hard thing in another. In Moscow, they commit suicide by jumping in front of Metro cars; in New York, I hear it’s jumping off the bridge. In Moscow, there’re drunks; In Philly, there’re shootings. In one place, it’s something we’re used to; in another place, it’s something we don’t understand. Bad is bad.  And all the good, the almost beautiful enough things, don’t quite make-up for the hard, the cold, the dark , the black, the empty. So what is keeping us here? Wherever you are, why? Why not try to escape and move, move, move away, again and again and again to some place peaceful that must exist, to a place worthy of the title home?

A depiction of a Russian winter hanging in Tretyakov Gallery

A depiction of a Russian winter hanging in Tretyakov Gallery

I’m here, and I’ll stay here in Moscow, in 2014, because I was chosen. It wasn’t my choice to be born. I didn’t choose my family. My friends? Well, the best of them was a stumbling-into. Where I grew up, even where I went to college: I didn’t choose to receive that pretty colored brochure and know, instantly, that that was the one place I would go, if I could even get in. Maybe you choose each part of your life? Maybe. But each chapter of mine has washed over me with or without my “Yes!” or “No!”: family, dating, learning, marriage, Moscow, teaching. There was never a plan, not by me. I was chosen to be here, with these students, in this weather,  with these companions. Most days, that gives me peace. There is a plan, one that I’m discovering and He is laying out, one that He says will work out for good. Though I don’t know each part of this journey, I do know the end of the story: what’s missing will return, what’s broken will be mended, what’s heartache will be healed, home will be here.

In the meantime, we return and mend and heal what little we can, knowing we’re chosen to join in the resistance of evil. I’m not saying that I am good at being wherever I am. Actually, I’m really bad at it. But, my job is to read and commune and remember the truth and to say “yes” whenever I can utter a word. If I can’t make a sound, I just lay there in silence and let the Spirit say if for me–She’s good at that.

Father, help us as we remember:

In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

-Romans 4:18-25
Christ depicted in an icon, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Christ depicted in an icon, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

The Disparity Between Light & Darkness

I have been reading a lot of books recently- children’s and adult fiction books alike. There are those stories that are understandable and even interesting, but I am caught by the adjectives that disrupt the flow but are trying desperately to paint a vivid picture. Contrastingly, there are some books that stick with me and captivate my attention that feel as if I am listening and watching a beautiful story play out before my eyes. I find that in those moments when I am captivated by a book that I am able to think more deeply about life. Maybe it’s the depth of the story or the openness of my heart or the trust in the characters, but whatever it is, it can be life changing.

As I began Book the Second in The Tale of Despereaux, I was sad to be leaving behind the tales of a passionate mouse. However, I was struck with a beautiful picture of the disparity between light and darkness.

John 3:19-20 (ESV)

19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

In The Tale of Despereaux, Kate DiCamillo paints a fascinating picture of two rats, Roscuro and Botticelli, who were both born into darkness and are urged to love the darkness from their very beginnings. Yet Roscuro, which is short for Chiaroscuro (meaning “the arrangement of light and dark, darkness and light together” p.85), is enraptured by the hope and meaning that light brings. Botticelli, illustrative of the tempter, seeks to convince Roscuro that darkness has worth and meaning— “The meaning of life is suffering, specifically the suffering of others. Prisoners, for instance. Reducing a prisoner to weeping and wailing and begging is a delightful way to invest your existence in meaning.” (pg. 88)

Roscuro believes the lie of darkness and asks for the next prisoner. He is given his first prisoner to torture but not before he sees a glimmer of afternoon sunlight streaming down into the dungeon. He is captivated once again. Even so the lies of darkness quickly overtake him—“’Listen,’ said Botticelli, ‘this is what you should do: Go and torture the prisoner. Go and take the red cloth from him. The cloth will satisfy your cravings for something from that world. But do not go up into the light. You will regret it. You do not belong in that world. You are a rat. A rat. Say it with me.’” (pg. 96)

As I sit here thinking about New Years resolutions and moving forward in 2014, I am caught by the questions— In what areas in my life am I believing that the darkness is better than the light? Am I living like the true light has come? Do my words, thoughts, and deeds clearly show that it is God in me? Ponder this with me.

“What a disappointment it was! Looking at it, Roscuro knew that Botticelli was wrong. What Roscuro wanted, what he needed, was not the cloth, but the light that had shone behind it. He wanted to be filled, flooded, blinded again with light.” (pg. 102)

In all respects I want to choose the light over the darkness.

New

Newness. Not just new goals and hopes and dreams but new sorrows and burdens and heartbreaks, too. A new year beginning is full of endings. A year ending is like filling-in the last page of a precious, gifted journal or the last bit of wax melting away from the favorite scented candle. We know there are new journals to begin; they will be just as sweet and comforting to hold and pen into. We’ll light new candles, and their gentle flames will fill the room with ease just as well as the last.

Each year that passes, though, takes with it the older things. These things or people or memories or places that we wanted, so badly, to continue to hold. We value the old maybe more than the new: traditions, familiar faces. Each new thing is sweet inasmuch as it is what we already were longing for.

The recent advent now passed was about hope. New years and their resolutions are about hope. No matter the time of year, we are hoping. “Born Again to a Living Hope” is the title of a section of scripture found in 1 Peter 1:3-9. Born: something completely new, a starting moment. Again: implying a repeated act. Our souls are not satisfied without paradoxes, it seems.

Here, in 1 Peter, Paul shares,

“3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Every moment that brought 2014 closer was making my heart heavy. It is still heavy– I’m longing for so many new things, and I’m pondering the old and don’t want to let all of it go. New York pastor, Timothy Keller, teaches us what Peter says in this small portion 1 Peter that I quoted above. In his sermon he speaks of the hope that Paul tells us we have. It’s a hope that doesn’t ignore the horrors of our pasts, the sufferings of our present, or the trails yet to come. This hope remains no matter the circumstance and will, surely, be fulfilled.

The sermon is titled “Born into Hope” and can be listened to for free here.

Any Hope for Moscow’s Winter? Or Anything?

When it is Autumn, all my love for family and friends, close or far, kindles with the color of the leaves. It deepens, and then bursts into red, orange, and purple flame. The people who are in front of me, I hug more. Those far away, I write more or call. Then I get so homesick, even for those nearby. In contrast, the next moment, I feel amazed at the existence of such beautiful people that could possibly care one wit about me; and then I get to love them back and get to know them–it’s incredible and mushy. There are so many emotions in Autumn. Life just pours out of everything until everything suddenly has no more life to give.

After a month or two passes, my proverbial beautiful leaves curl up, dry, and catch embers to burn. It’s like the song “Time is All Around” by Regina Spektor. “Leaves become more beautiful when they’re about to die,” she warns. She was loving beautifully, in the most beautiful way, and then the love died. She grows tired of putting forth effort “I’m so tired/ Why am I suppose to love if I don’t want to?” she says, “I don’t want to/I don’t want to/ I don’t want/I don’t want.” Winter here is just like that.

It sets in quickly, and it promises to be numb–cold, a chronic gray, and numb. Not sad, not happy, not melancholy, just nothing. A bad case of the “I don’t want” anything mood becomes chronic. Every year I’ve added a new weapon to my artillery against Moscow’s winter. Last year I whipped out exercise and now enjoy an activity that I always loathed before, running. This year I added extra vitamin D and a small, bright blue lamp called “happy”: this lamb blinds me for 15 minutes a day and supposedly will stuff some emotion back into my heart. We’ll see . . .

But what will really get me, and other Moscovites, through the looming winter? What will combat the apathy, the whining, the blues? I don’t mean to be cliche, but I have to be honest, it is just a little bit of hope. And yes, it’s vitamin D, and happy lamps, and exercise, and extra hugs and smiles and buying that bouquet of flowers or coloring with as many colors as possible: it’s all those little things AND it’s the one big thing:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience–among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature, children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved–and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And it is not by your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast, for we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2: 1-10
The leaves will fill with bright color again: it’s simply the truth. They’ll be green and alive and then, they’ll be willing to, in a beautiful fit, die to themselves because they trust that they will be resurrected to an even brighter and broader green then was known before.
Okay, winter, here’s the deal: In faith I’m working on saying “yes” to the dying thing, by His grace, I believe the dying will be beautiful, and finally, by His great love, not by my own doing, I will choose to hope that I will be raised again from winter and everything else. I hope you can claim that, too!

Hope is Beautiful

1 John 1:7

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
My friend and I used to get in constant arguments about the beauty of God’s creation. “It’s beautiful,” she’d agree, “but the evil and pain is overwhelming. It’s all too heavy. Look how people suffer!” I’d agree but explain that she wasn’t looking close enough. “Beauty’s light overwhelms the dark, every time,” I’d say. But we were both a bit naive. God’s beauty was in everything: the sweet smell of rotting leaves, the colored pebbles on the path, the hug and smile of a friend like herself. But evil is dark and heavy, too, and easy to find.
Recently, I find myself overwhelmed with the evil I see around me. It’s all too heavy, I think. I hear story after story of family and friend’s loved ones who are sick, hurt, dying or desperate and then turning away from those who love them; they are victims of circumstance and other people’s sin. Where is God in these situations? Where is the beauty when suffering is all around?
My heart felt cold this Sunday as I thought of all the pain and loss of those dear to me. I chose to sing along with the hymn ” Jesus Paid it All,” though the beauty and the music of the words were not yet touching me.
As we sang through the chorus the first time, the words- “Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow” -rolled over me. When we sang them a second time, I was reminded of all my faults, including my inability to worship that morning, and I was grieved and relieved all at once as I remembered God’s forgiving grace.
Finally, my thoughts came back to all the recent wounds and pain that afflict my family and friends. It’s too much, I thought. What are you going to do about it? Won’t you help? Then we sang the chorus a third time, “Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.” I pictured those wounded by sin, not just their own but also the sins of others that had marred them. What do we do with the wounds that are from other’s sins against us?
There, in those lines, I heard God’s answer to my call for help. I know that He is strong and pure and beautiful enough to wash away all sin, from ourselves and from other’s that were committed against us. He washes us white as snow, I thought. He promises to resurrect us; removing all our stains and scars from ourselves AND those left there by others. Hope and healing is coming–that is beautiful.

From Fretting to Trusting

God is sovereign.

God is good.

If I am to go on with the next few thoughts, then I must believe those statements.

“Fret not yourself because of evildoers…” (Psalm 37:1) But wait a minute if I don’t worry, who will? Worrying gives me a sense that I am in control of the situation. Still I don’t find a good outcome in the Bible for those who worry. “Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil” (Psalm 37:8b)– God knows that worry is a waste of energy and it slowly corrodes the heart and mind. If I choose to stay fretting and worrying, I am saying that God does not have control over this and he may or may not act in my best interest.

However if I choose to turn from fretting to trusting, I am saying to God– You are sovereign; you know what is best; you are good. The Lord has given us such a strong promise for those who trust– “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.” (Psalm 37:5) HE WILL ACT! (I get a picture in my head of Aslan acting on behalf of Peter, Susan, Edmond, and Lucy. When Aslan roars things go right!) When I imagine God acting on my behalf, my worry just fades away.

It is easy to remember that I am not supposed to worry, but it is difficult to actually not worry. Today I heard a question that really shook me up– do even 99% of things that we worry will happen actually end up happening? No, but there are those times when they do happen or they were worse than I feared. In those moments God is still sovereign. God is still good. Why then do I cling so desperately to worry which God so clearly abhors?

Fret not yourself. Psalm 37:1

Do not be anxious about your life. Matthew 6:25

Do not be anxious about anything. Philippians 4:6

He does not leave us with a list of things not to do, but He gives us a promise of what will happen if we turn our worry into trust in Him.

Psalm 37:3-4 “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Hand them over to the Lord with prayer knowing that Our God never fails, never runs out, and never grows weary. He is big enough to handle all of our worry!

Psalm37