Saturday, May 27, 2017

A Message for My Daughter at Graduation

May 22, daughter, Rachel Heather baby girl, graduated from high school. How is that even possible? Wasn't it just yesterday that we just taught her to walk? I know it is so cliche to ask that question, but in the moment, it feels so real. It all went so fast, and then here we are with her walking across a stage, receiving awards, giving a Salutatory speech (you go girl!), and getting her high school diploma. And then, in just a few short months, she will journey off to the next phase of her life--5 HOURS AWAY from home!--at college. I am happy for her, truly I am! And words cannot express how proud I am of her--of the amazing young woman she has become. She is beautiful, kind-hearted, funny, sweet and smart...and so much more! So now, as both she and I prepare for her departure that will be upon us before we know it, my heart and mind continually contemplate all that I want to say before she goes. I know there have already been 18 years of wisdom and love poured into her by her me, her father, our family and friends around her, but now it feels so desperate. Did we give her everything she needs to know to make her way out there in the world on her own? Will she remember when it counts the most? And the most important question of all--will she cling to her faith?

Nothing is more important to me than knowing that my children are serving the Lord. Joseph and I have prayed and worked hard as parents to lay that foundation for them, and now it is time to trust the Lord with their hearts. Rachel is going off to a big, secular university--5 HOURS AWAY from home!--where her faith is going to be tested and challenged. And I know in my heart that that is a good thing. Even though it scares me, I understand how important it will be. I know it will give her an opportunity to search out the Truth on her own, and find it. A faith that is tested and tried is a faith that is strengthened and perfected. So I know that I must trust the Lord to guide her and keep her close to Him. I know that ultimately, she has always been His, and only mine on loan.

But even though I know all these things--truly I do!--and I do trust the Lord, and I trust her, I still want to make sure I tell her just the right things before she leaves. You know...impart that final wisdom as she goes off to the great big world? I mean, even Jesus did that before He departed this earth. When you read through the book of John, in chapters 14 through 17, you find Jesus giving His final words to His disciples before He would leave them. That's incredible, powerful, beautiful stuff there! With all Jesus had taught them in their years together--all He had said and done--He still leaves them with what is most important for them to hear and know for when He is no longer with them. He wants to equip them and empower them to make it on their own when He is gone, and that is what I want for my daughter.

So as I was listening to the various graduation messages given over the course of the week, all with that same kind of purpose, I was constantly thinking and searching for what my words would be, or will be, for my daughter before she goes. And then it finally came to me! On graduation night, God gave me these important words to share with her--"God is a Stalker!" Yup, that's the wisdom that came to me that I desperately want her to know. stalker. And I hope she never forgets it!

The scripture reference for this truth is Psalm 139--all of it. This reading from the Psalms is truly one of my favorites. There is so much in there for all of us, and definitely for our graduates. But all of it can be encapsulated in the simple phrase and understanding that God gave me--He is a stalker. This truth is stated right from the beginning of the passage. The first five verses start out by laying the foundation that God knows us..I mean really, really knows us. It even starts in the first verse with a clear declaration of that truth: "You have searched me, Lord, and you know me." That section of the chapter then goes on to describe the many ways that God knows us. He knows what we think, what we will say, where we will go, what we are doing and when. Suffice it to say, there is nothing He does not know about us. God's "knowing" of us is more intimate than we can imagine or even handle. The writer even says that as well as he concludes the section with, "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain." It is so hard for us to conceive the depth with which God knows us. But it is so important to know, especially for our graduates. As they make their way in the great big world, they will be trying to figure out who they are, where they belong and what they should be doing. They may not feel like they know who they are, but God does. And when they face temptations and find themselves challenged in making right choices, saying right things, and going to right places, to remember that wherever they go, whatever they do or say, God knows. They cannot escape Him or hide from Him. He is stalking them.

The next section of the scripture develops this thought further. Verse 7 says, "Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?" And the simple answer is, nowhere. There is nowhere they can go that He is not there. Even when they try to run from Him or hide in the darkness of the night--or sin--it cannot be done. He will be there. That is what makes Him a stalker. He is always right there, right behind us, watching what we are doing. Now some may not like me saying it this way. Especially the graduates. It is not necessarily comfortable to imagine that God watching everything that we do, that we can't hide anything from Him. I mean, it's college...they want to have fun, right? It's not right to make them think about the fact that God is peering over their shoulder in everything they do, right? I disagree, and not because I think so, but because God's Word says so. It's not me who said this, it is Him. So He wants them to know and to remember. But the most important thing to understand is why, and that is revealed in the next section of the scripture.

"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." (v. 13-16) God "stalks" us because He loves us. God intimately and intricately created each and every one of us, and He has loved us from before the time we were born or even conceived. He has a perfect plan in place for each of us, and a purpose for our lives. He loves us, oh, how He loves us! And so He "stalks" us, not to cramp our style or limit our fun, but because He wants to be near to us and for us to be near to Him. He wants to protect us and guide us on the path He has designed for us. And He wants us to know that He is always right there when we need Him. God is a stalker because He loves us more than we can imagine.

Psalm 139 ends with these words, "Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." In light of all that comes before, this is the only way to end such a passage. When I realize and embrace the truth of God's intimacy and love, what else can I bring before Him but a prayer for Him to keep stalking me and leading me in His ways? And so this is the prayer that I want to share with my graduate, my daughter. And it is also the prayer that I will pray for her--that God, who created her, knows her and loves her, will lead her in the way of the everlasting. There is nothing more I want for her.

I love you, baby girl!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

So Easy, But So Hard

I remember the first time I came across the scripture in Romans 7:15, when Paul expresses his struggle with sin saying, "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, I do."  As a young Christian and a young girl, I remember thinking, "Yes!! Awesome! That's me too!"  It was such a relief to learn that I was not alone in my struggle.  Not only was there someone else who experience the same inner battle, but it was Paul!  I mean Paul was a big deal.  Apostle of Jesus Christ and writer of more than half the New Testament, Paul was not just anyone, he was a big kahuna (spiritually speaking) and yet he found himself confounded by his own sinful behavior and choices, just like me.

Fast forward a whole bunch of years, although I have aged in years and wisdom and grown in my faith and walk with Christ, unfortunately, I still find myself relating to that scripture.  Back then it was a blessed revelation that brought reassurance, but now it is a source of frustration for me. I'm over it!  I feel like I should be past that by now, right?  I should be doing what I want to do, and not doing what I don't want to do.  It should be the opposite of Paul's scripture by now, shouldn't it?  I am not so sure.  Again, that was Paul who penned those words; who I am to imagine that I would be farther along than Paul?

So this morning I was reading in the book of Leviticus, where God gives the Law through Moses to the Israelites, His people. I am always amazed at how specific the Law is.  Yet, I realize that is because God was instructing His children in a way that would guide them and protect them, keeping them safe.  It was for their own good.  The whole book of Leviticus is filled with these detailed instructions.  Then near the end of the book, God lays out the consequences for either obeying or disobeying the Law, and the breakdown is pretty simple--obey the Law and you will be blessed; disobey the Law, and you will be punished.  It is so clear and seems so easy, a no-brainer.  If I am an Israelite, I would want blessings, not punishment, so I will obey, right?  Right.  And yet, the Old Testament is filled with account after account of the Israelite's disobedience against the Lord.  They disobeyed over and over again, and ultimately suffered painful judgment and punishment for it, just like the Lord had said.  As clear and easy as it had seemed, the Israelites struggled to obey.

I think sometimes we modern-day Christians read through the Bible and feel inclined to judge the Israelites for their disobedience.  Why didn't they just listen to God?!  How could they do "that" again?!  Don't they know??  I know I would have done better than was so easy and clear, of course I would have obeyed.  Or would I?

As I read through God's Word and reflect on the history of God's people, I am keenly aware of how much I am like them...and forgive me for saying so--you are too.  We fail and disobey as often as they did.  And I would have to think that we actually have it easier than they did.  In our time, we have the Bible to guide us and the living presence of the Holy Spirit, and yet we still disobey as well.  I still find myself right alongside Paul saying, "I just don't understand myself!  Why do I do those things I don't want to do, and don't do those things I desperately want to do!!  God help me!"  I could have given those Israelites a run for their money!  I am pretty sure I would have ended up in Babylon too.

So where is my hope, and our hope, in all of this?  Once again, it is in God's Word.  Thankfully, and as always, the scripture does not end with just questions.  There are always answers.  All the way through, this is true.  I love it in the Psalms when David cries out to God in despair, questioning his circumstances and his pain, that he always comes back to the solid truth that God is sovereign and in control, and our hope is in Him.  The same is true for Paul, and for us, in the book of Romans.  Paul may have started out by asking those questions of himself about his own sinful choices and behavior, but he ends that same passage with a statement of hope and deliverance.  He concludes, "What a wretched man I am!  (boy, can I relate!) Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!" There is our hope--in Christ.  We are not lost to this endless struggle with sin, because with His death on the cross and resurrection from the grave, Jesus delivered us from it!  Because I have put my faith in Christ, I am delivered from my sin.  Praise God!

Yet, as long as we are on this earth, on this side of glory, we will still struggle with sin.  But we struggle with the hope of knowing that sin and death are conquered in Christ, and that because of His power in us, we get closer and closer to glory each day.  On many days, I can still relate to Paul's angst, but I know with confidence that the struggle is different than it once was, and God's work in me has made me stronger in Him.  So, I may still be an Israelite, but I choose blessing, and I am heading to the Promised Land!  I hope you are too!