From the Basement

November 17, 2010

Little Drummer Boy

“Little Drummer Boy” is one of most humbling songs. It articulates a little boy’s desire to give a gift to the baby Jesus – but he has no gift “that’s fit to give a king.”

Most of the time, I don’t feel that I have a gift that’s fit to give a king. He gave me gifts, but they are so often tainted and limited by my own humanity – my own pride, selfishness, fear, doubt.

But he has given us specific gifts for a reason – to glorify him, to build up the body – and we are called to play our best for him. The first card my mom ever sent me at college had a quote from Max Lucado on the front: “In the great orchestra we call life, you have an instrument and a song, and you owe it to God to play them both sublimely.”

I long to be able to say, wholeheartedly and without any doubt, that I played my best for him, that He may say “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

He has given me a drum to play. As I struggle through the writing my writing sample for grad school apps (which are coming due very soon), I cling to such verses as Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” And verse 19 follows, “And my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” And Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works to the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” He has hedged me behind and before (Psalm 139:4) and he has a plan to give me a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).

The sermon this last Sunday exhorted us to guard our hearts – to plant those seeds of scripture in our hearts and nurture them, to zealously guard them and not allow doubt and attack to crowd out the harvest that is reaped when we believe on such verses as “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Cling to the promise. Trust the promise. And live like you trust it.

“Then he smiled at me” – he loves us. When we use the gifts he has given us in a way that honors him, he is pleased. He is delighted when we rejoice in him! And he delights to bless the gifts he gives us. I have asked him for focus and strength today, and these he has provided bountifully; I have asked for breakthroughs in the paper and he has allowed me new insight. Matthew 7:11: “If you, then, being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

When we are afraid that we cannot play our drum, or that our playing is not good enough, remember Psalm 34:1-10, and be assured of his goodness and strength… remember that he is worthy to be praised.

I will bless the LORD at all times;

His praise shall continually be in my mouth.

My soul shall make its boast in the LORD;

The humble shall hear of it and be glad.

Oh, magnify the LORD with me,

And let us exalt His name together.

I sought the LORD, and He heard me,

And delivered me from all my fears.

They looked to Him and were radiant,

And their faces were not ashamed.

This poor man cried out, and the LORD heard him,

And saved him out of all his troubles.

The angel of the LORD encamps all around those who fear Him,

And delivers them.

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good;

Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!

Oh, fear the LORD, you His saints!

There is no want to those who fear Him.

The young lions lack and suffer hunger;

But those who seek the LORD shall not lack any good thing.

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May 25, 2010

Choosing Faith

Over the last few days, I’ve asked God, “What do you want from me?” (you know, sort of like the Adam Lambert song). The response every time has been, Faith.

When I was dipping my feet in the pool of abjection, faith seemed like a ludicrous and trite answer to such an enormous question. But really, in reflection, it’s the only answer that makes sense. It’s the only answer that can give hope.

I worship a God who does not deal in specifics when it comes to answering my prayers. That is, I never get a direct telephone line, “Just wanted to let you know that x, y, and z will be happening today. In case you’re wondering, spend the most time on x!” I trust that, even though I can’t see what’s coming, he knows the specifics; “For you formed my inward parts; you covered me in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). And from the same Psalm:

O Lord, You have searched me and known me,

You know my sitting down and my rising up;

You understand my thought afar off.

You comprehend my path and my lying down,

And are acquainted with all my ways.

For there is not a word on my tongue,

But behold, O Lord, You now it altogether.

You have hedged me behind and before,

And laid your hand upon me. Psalm 139:1-5, italics mine

My favorite Psalm. Verse five is my favorite: “You have hedged me behind and before, and laid your hand upon me.” A hedge is a form of protection. “Behind and before” implies both foresight and hindsight; he knows the scope and span of a life, of my life, of your life. He knows us intimately, sees the darkness, and protects us anyway.

It’s funny how in the mist of despair, in the midst of temper tantrums, in the midst of anger toward God, we can lose sight of his goodness and faithfulness to us. In my experience, anger and sadness are pretty much inevitable in any relationship, and since we’re human, it stands to reason that at some point, we will be angry or sad with something we perceive God has done/is doing. The danger is that when we lose sight of his goodness, of his glory, we cannot see the light, and if we cannot see the light, then we are in darkness.

I’ve been angry with God and still praised him (“Blessed Be Your Name” is a good song for those times). But this last week was a time when I felt angry, betrayed, rejected, a good for nothing … and there was no light. There was no glory. There was no praise.

A conversation with my mother reminded me that the quickest way out of darkness is praise, because darkness cannot remain in a room where the name of Jesus is being lifted high. She also exhorted me with that verse about the mustard seed and the mountain (Matthew 17:20) and challenged me: can you summon the faith of a mustard seed? Because even a small faith can move mountains in your situation.

In the gospels, we have numerous examples of situations where, by faith, people were healed and – this is crucial – the nature of Jesus was understood. By having faith in who he was and by acting in that knowledge, people were healed. The woman who bled for twelve years and reached out to touch the hem of his garment. The Roman centurion. And various others. They reached out to Jesus, having faith that he was the only one who could bring light and healing into their situation. They opened the door and invited his presence in.

Conversely, fear (among many other things) can cripple the power of an action taken in faith. When Jesus called to Peter to walk across the water to come to him, Peter was afraid and, taking steps in fear, began to sink. “And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’” (Matthew 15:31). Peter doubted, so he sank, thus preventing the awesome experience that Jesus had called him to. But – and remember this! – immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him. Immediately, Peter was caught by his loving Lord. Immediately, Jesus acted and came to the rescue, catching his friend and pulling him back into the boat to recover. Immediately. Even when we doubt him, even when we’re fearful, even when we don’t believe him, Jesus catches us.

He knows us intimately. His love for us is vast and unfathomable. Even in our failure, he catches us, hedges us – protects us.

And still, faith is a choice. The fact that we choose to believe him or not – the fact that he gives us the option – continues to astound me. Even after salvation, everything is a choice. Prayer. Worship. Digging deeper. Having faith that he will come through in a difficult situation. Having faith that he will heal what has been broken. Having faith for x, y, or z. Opening your bible to read. Choice. At every step, we have the option of choosing him or not choosing him.

When we continuously choose to walk in light, the fruits of the spirit (Galations 5:22-23) are evidenced. While I often remember that patience, gentleness, and self-control are fruits of the spirit (a.k.a., things I have trouble with!), I so often forget that faithfulness is also a fruit. Faithfulness is one of those things that grows every time you choose it. It’s like a muscle; it grows when it is exercised. When we choose faith (or love, or joy, or peace, etc.), it grows. God is faithful to us even we are not faithful to him, but when we are faithful, the reward is great. More peace. More joy. More faith. And hope. Above all, hope.

Jeremiah 29:11-13: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”

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