Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Reasons to Hope: Hope in Acceptance

Reasons to Hope: Hope in Acceptance: "I am finally at a point in my life where most of my memories center around the years when my children were small, instead of when I was. Ou..."

Hope in Acceptance

I am finally at a point in my life where most of my memories center around the years when my children were small, instead of when I was.  Our first year of marriage was the beginning of ancient memories, and the memories of all of those years are my most treasured times.  I remember being young and having my own knees, that I didn't even think about!  I remember sitting in chairs all folded up and contentedly reading books--all of the way through in one day!  I remember staying up late with Don and our couple friends on Friday nights, laughing, playing cards, cooking, eating, going to the laundry mat late at night together, and then sleeping until noon Saturday morning.  I remember waking up next to Don and feeling like we were luckiest people in the world to have found each other, and I still feel that way..  I remember Don, when he was in his twenties and could jump over Volkswagons in a single bound.  We would be walking along, and he would fly over my shoulder and land in front of me, all of while explaining that his long toes were like springs that propelled him.  I remember after each of our babies were born, how it felt like God had given us the most miraculous gift in each of our boys....the newness of the little soft heads and sturdy little boyness of our babies.  I loved how, when they learned to walk and talk, they would run for the front door the moment I announced, "Daddy's home!"
      I remember four little boys, running ahead on the walking path, headed toward the park, running away from us....running toward their lives.  And there we are now.  I am thankful for those memories, and I miss our young family.
      God witnessed all of those days...the good ones as well as the ones that weren't so good.  He witnessed the deterioration of my knees and some of my dreams, and He provided new knees and new dreams.  He sees my heart and what I miss about my youth.  He knows that Don and I need some newness again.  The beginning of the families of our married children is a type of newness, but it is their beginning.  We need our own separate beginning, a newness for our old age.
One thing I love about being a Christian is that every day we can start new....a day with possibilities of its own, separate from all of the others.  But, first we have to leave the day before, in order to have a new day.
    So there it is--it's time to leave behind the family of our youth and become the family of our golden years.
Don and I were not a young married couple long before we became a family of three.  We were married a year and three months when our oldest was born, and that was the beginning of a wonderful time of fun and family.  We needed every ounce of that youthful energy to raise and provide for our four sons.  Now we are both tired and not liking it much.  But we still are a family, and we still have dreams!  More than that, as long as we have life, God has given us a purpose and a hope for forever!  And we also have memories of our youth together, and the promise of being one for the rest of our future!  And in a week, we will have spent 36 years together as husband and wife!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Finding Hope in not judging--not even ourselves!

Our minister preached about judgmental Christians yesterday, and I'm guilty, I'm ashamed to say.  God's been working on me for a long time, and last week He continued His work as I read the book of Job.  I've always considered the book of Job to be a story of perseverance, and it is.  However, at this reading I discovered the message of human judgment.  To sum it up:  we get it all wrong, every time!

If it's been a long time since you've read Job, I'll sum it up for you.  Job was a righteous man who lived long before God called the Israelites a people unto Himself.  He lived in a day when any man, like Abraham, could offer sacrifices for sin.  Job was so righteous that he not only offered sacrifices for himself, he offered them for his grown children who might have sinned without knowing!

God blessed Job, and, on a day when the angels presented themselves to Him,  the Devil came into God's Presence.  God mentioned to the Devil, "Have you considered my servant Job?"  The Devil then challenged God by basically saying, "Sure Job will be righteous as long as you keep blessing him, but what if...."  So, God gave the Devil permission to bring harm to Job....but only to a point. Job's property, children and servants were all lost.  Job did not sin in what he said, although he questioned God.  Then the Devil convinced God to allow him to plague Job with sores, but God would not allow him to take Job's life.  After that, we find Job, a broken man, sitting in the ashes scraping his sores and being nagged by his wife, accompanied by friends. who couldn't speak for three days, because of the depths of Job's suffering.  And then they spoke.

Eliphaz, his first friend starts out by saying, "Job you were such a big shot...pious...a teacher, but what innocent man ever suffered as you have?"  In other words, "Job you've always acted as though you were something special, but look at you now!  You must have done something to deserve what is happening to you!"
I have heard it said  that Christians are the only people who shoot their wounded.  The first time I heard it, I thought that was funny.  That was because it is true!  I have been wondering why we are so harsh in our judgment of each other, and I have come up with a few reasons:  If we can make whatever happens to another man's family something he could have prevented by a more righteous life, then we can avoid such a disaster in our own by being....or convincing ourselves that we are...more righteous than he!  Control!  None of us have it, but we all want to believe that we do!  Job lived a righteous life, noticed by God Himself.  And yet his "friends" were ready to heap misery onto his suffering by blaming him for all of the harm brought on him by the Devil!  Maybe jealousy was their motivation, or the horror of disaster falling on their friend.  But, before we condemn his friends as "no friends at all", consider how many times we have said of our own friends:  "She wouldn't have gotten cancer if she'd made all of her doctor's appts."  or "What was going on in that home that their kid turned out like that!"  Our preacher is right, we think we're okay as long as we precede our commentary with, "Bless his heart...."  Don't be blessing my heart...I'm just sayin'!  :)

Job's friend, Bildad, was indignant!  "How long will you say such things?" he asked Job.  Bildad was threatened by Job's questioning of God.  He accused Job's children of sinning and basically said they got what they deserved!  Job's kids were dead!  How nice of Bildad to comfort Job that way!  I had a friend from another church whose son committed suicide.  I'm not sure of the chatter surrounding the death of their son, but I do remember the minister's wise words at the funeral.  He basically said that we all depend on the mercy of God. None of us knows the eternal destiny of another.  What good would it do for those who are left if we set ourselves up as judge and jury for this young man's eternal destiny?  Job needed comfort from his friends, but instead they blamed him and his dead children for the losses brought into his life by Satan.

Job's friend Zophar basically told Job to shut up and suffer in silence!  He accused Job of secret sin and deceit.

I love Job's response to them, probably because sarcastic comebacks get me every time, I should be ashamed to admit.  "Doubtless you are the people and wisdom will die with you!"  I love it.  Then Job insists, "I am not inferior to you!"  Job has one on me there.  Whenever misfortune hits, I tend to crawl in a hole and draw the hole in with me for a bit.  I usually have to chase myself out of the hole, but more often God drags me out kicking and screaming.  Always I blame myself and feel inferior.  But even if Job would have felt inferior, the opposite was true.  It was his righteousness that caused the Devil to bring disaster his way, and that made God confident in Job's ability to withstand the tumult.  Job didn't allow his friends to chase him down a shame spiral.  I admire him for that!

Of all of his friends, I dislike Eliphaz the least...in fact, I kind of like him.  He spoke of the greatness of God, truthfully.  His praises were still an admonition to Job, and he still was without understanding of the causes of Job's trials.  How often do we admonish our friends with the greatness of God, rather than comfort them with it.  I have been guilty of this.  It's almost like saying, "I don't have time to listen to your belly-aching, so let me throw some truth about who God is at you!"  How loving is that?  It is as our minister admonished US yesterday:  "Sometimes the best way you can convey God's love is to listen!"  Yes, it is hard to listen to our friends...or even acquaintances....suffer, because it scares us!  If we hang around very long, maybe their suffering will rub off on us.  Or, if we truly believe that they are suffering through no fault of their own, then we could find ourselves in their position.  Perhaps that is why we are told in the Scriptures:  "Perfect love casts out fear." 1John 4:18.  If we love our friends, we will bear their burdens, even if they are suffering through the things we fear most in the world.

My favorite part of Job is where God speaks.  He Himself reminds Job of who He is, how He created all things, possesses all power and that Job himself was created by Him.  Job acknowledges God's power, wisdom and the superiority of His will.
And then God gave it to Job's friends!  He said, "I am angry at you (Eliphaz) and your two friends because you have not spoken of me what is right, as Job has!  So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves.  My servant JOb will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly.  You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has."  So Job's friends obeyed God, Job prayed for them and God accepted Job's prayer for them.  Talk about grace!  There was God's grace and willingness to forgive Job's friends, and then there was the confidence on God's part--well, He does know all things--that Job would be willing to pray for his friends.
That speaks volumes.  Then Job had the grace to pray for his friends, and they had the humility to bring the sacrifices before Job after maligning him unjustly.

And then God blessed Job, restored all that he had lost, and made the second part of his life better than the first part.  Of course, he never got back the children or servants he lost, though God gave him more children and servants.  Job accepted God's grace, and he forgave his friends for judging him in his time of sorrow.  Grace.  We all need it.  Judgment....belongs to God alone!