Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Retreat to Climb Upward

This past weekend, I reconnected with women from the Evangelical Free Church of Hershey, Pennsylvania where my husband and I attended when we were first married.  The ladies retreat was a rejuvenating weekend geared toward propelling women upward in their lives.

About seventy-five women, including young singles, moms, middle-aged women, and grandmothers embraced the weekend's theme: Thriving While Surviving.

From a feminine perspective, we talked about the walls humans face in life: problems with finances, children, health, relationships...  By looking at two biblical biographies, one about Job and the other about Ruth, we focused on the Lord's mercies in difficult climbs and his amazing, abundant, gracious provision for those journeys.

My Friday evening talk was titled "God's Merciful Rock Holds for Life's Steep Climbs"and Sunday morning I spoke on  "The Complete Equipment the Lord Provides for the Climbs of Life."

The retreat was held at Kenbrook Bible Camp in Lebanon, Pennsylvania about half an hour from Hershey  

 and was organized by Donna Nilson, director of women's ministries.  

Amanda Fletcher, the church's executive secretary for administration and discipleship, helped with logistics--printing handouts, coordinating publicity.

Karen Kennedy, an administrator in the worship and music department at the church, together with her team led the women in music and worship.

Joan Sproul (whose husband, Bob, is senior associate minister for music and worship at the church) played the keyboard, and her daughter, Gretchen, sang.  (Seeing Gretchen, now married and all grown up, was especially fun for me, because I taught her Public Speaking  at Lancaster Bible College  when she was a senior in high school, taking a college class.)
The summit of the weekend was communion on Sunday morning,
when we thanked the Lord for his death and resurrection, for it is because he lives, we can face the climbs ahead.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Cozy Cottage, a Spacious Place

This week, our eldest daughter and her husband reached an agreement on buying a home. We are so excited for them. After several difficult years, the Lord has blessed them with a cozy cottage in which to nest.   Here is a peak at the exterior:

When the two of them were enduring some extremely difficult trials, on several occasions as I was reading the Bible, promises seemed to leap off the page with their names inscribed over them. Have you ever experienced comfort like that from God's Word?

The particular verses are in Psalm 18:16-19. They were penned by David when he was delivered from the hand of King Saul.

David's Camp at Engedi by William Brassey Hole

"He reached down from on high and took hold of me; 
he drew me out of deep waters.  

He rescued me from my powerful enemy, 
from my foes, who were too strong for me.  

They confronted me in the day of my disaster, 
but the Lord was my support.  

He brought me out into a spacious place
he rescued me because he delighted in me."

When I find a promise especially applicable to a situation, I note the name of the person it is for and the date in the margin.  Beside this particular psalm, I grabbed a pen to write April 2010.  Imagine my delight when I noticed our daughter's name and the date November 2009 already there.  

What is more, on another occasion when her and her husband's path seemed particularly steep, I opened my Bible to 2 Samuel 22:17-20. What do those verses say?  Exactly the same thing!  Now, June 2010 joins the other dates in my Bible's margins.  

Incredibly, on a fourth occasion, in November 2010, when I was particularly anxious about their situation, the same passage was the theme of an article read aloud to me by a friend. 

How comforted I am when God repeats a promise.  If he says something once, we can rest on it.  When he says it again, we can tether our hopes to it.  But when he repeats it a third and fourth time, he is setting his promise in concrete!

Last night, as I was preparing a talk on Job called "Climbing Life's Walls Clinging to God's Merciful Rock Holds", these verses  in Job 36:15-16 again bolstered my confident faith: 

"But those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; 
he speaks to them in their affliction.

He is wooing you from the jaws of distress 
to a spacious place free from restriction..."

How good the Lord is to deliver in suffering, in affliction.  Somehow the distress frees us from ourselves and brings us into a spacious place. 

 I will always look at this cozy stone cottage as a spacious place, but depth of character, spiritual maturity, and freedom from self-centeredness are truly the spacious place!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Meeting God when Abused, Finding Comfort

While I have been thankful for the sentencing of the officers who raped women in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I am sure the judgment has not totally healed their hurts. The world closes the chapter after the verdict is announced, but the abused who have been violated are left with social rejection, physical pain, and personal anger.  Even condemnation of the crime by judges is not enough; these women need deeper healing.  
Several biographies in Scripture reassure us of the Lord God's knowledge of and love for victims. In the Old and New Testaments, we read of innocents who were comforted by the living God. He did not shun the abused; he elevated their status.  What is more, the Sovereign of the Universe blessed them with his own precious presence.  

In the first book of the Bible, we read of an abused Egyptian servant, Hagar (Genesis 16). She was taken into Abraham's home and moved from her country to serve his wife.  This woman, Sarah, knew Jehovah as the only true and living God, yet she doubted His promise of a child.  Since she was infertile,  she convinced her husband to have a child with her servant, Hagar.  Undoubtedly, the girl felt totally used.

In fact, after Hagar had Abraham's child, she despised her mistress, and so Sarah treated her harshly. Consequently, Hagar ran away.  However, the text says that the angel of the Lord found her and promised to multiply her descendants because "the Lord has given heed to your affliction."  So, Hagar called the Lord who spoke to her, "the God who sees." 

Later (Genesis 21:1-21), when Sarah miraculously had a son of her own, the tensions between the two worsened. Ultimately, the once-kind and godly woman sent Hagar and her son away into the desert. 

Fear, hurt, and hopelessness overcame this abandoned woman.  She cried, "Don't let me see the boy die."
Hagar and Ishmael by Jean-Charles Cazin.
A second time,  the angel of God spoke to Hagar, and said, "Do not fear; for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is." 

Hagar and her son were not forgotten, abandoned, rejected.  They were on God's radar screen, and he would meet their needs. What is more, God promised to make her son into a great nation. Most importantly, Hagar's abuse became a blessing, for Hagar came to know the God who sees and hears.

Another biblical biography which reinforces the fact that God hears the cries of the abused comes from Daniel's life story.  As a young man, Daniel was taken captive by the Babylonians (Daniel 1:1-6) and most likely made a eunuch.  (We can surmise this, because he was put under the care of the master of the eunuchs. Further, Isaiah 39:7 prophecies that young men will be taken away from Judah and made "eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.")

Such abuse of one of God's children did not go unnoticed by the Lord. The book of Daniel is replete with the Lord's gracious care for this abused young man.  Over and over, Jehovah heard his pleas, answered his prayers, and revealed his knowledge to Daniel.  

As a youth, we read in chapter one, "God granted Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the commander of the officials...God gave them knowledge and intelligence in every branch of literature and wisdom; Daniel even understood all kinds of visions and dreams." 

When he was older, we read how God gave Daniel the ability to tell Belshazzar the meaning of an inscription (Daniel 5).
Belshazzar's Feast, Rembrandt, 1635 (National Gallery, London)

As a reward, "they clothed Daniel with purple and put a necklace of gold around his neck, and gave him authority as the third ruler in the kingdom." 

The Lord preserved Daniel's life and faith to old age in a wicked kingdom.  Through abuse, peer pressure, and attempts on his life, the Lord was with Daniel "and he enjoyed success" (Daniel 6:28).

The final biography confirming the Lord's presence with victims is found in the book of Acts (8:26-40).  An African, an Ethiopian eunuch--the treasurer  of Sheba, was on a journey for queen Candace.  The account opens with him in a chariot reading the scroll of Isaiah, searching for truth and comfort in God's Word.  God's action on behalf of this victim is nothing short of miraculous. 

Philip and the Ethiopian, Alexandre Abel Denis de Pujoi, 1848 (Musee des Beaux-Arts, Valencinnes)
The Lord sent the apostle Philip to the desert road where he encountered the Ethiopian in a chariot. The official was studying this passage which must have resonated with him.  "He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.  In his humiliation he was deprived of justice..." (Isaiah 53:7,8). 

When the treasurer asked to whom the passage was referring, Philip was able to explain the good news about Jesus. The apostle explained that Christ,  although  he was innocent was crucified, died, and was buried, but also was raised from the dead to proclaim justice for those deprived of justice.  

Upon hearing the truth, the eunuch believed, and as soon as he and Philip came to some water, he was baptized. 

How do these three anecdotes help the rape victims in the DRC?  How do they help anyone who has been abused?  

The three biographies reinforce the truth that God cares about victims. In fact, he came to bring justice, to heal, and to lift up those treated unjustly. Certainly, when God repeats something three times, we can bank on it.  God repeated the lesson these biographies teach, because he wants us to get it:  We can safely trust the Lord who sees, hears, lifts up, and rights wrongs. This is truly deeper healing.

"For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through patience and encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope" (Romans 15:4).