“When I am weak, then I am strong.”

I haven’t written anything here in a while, but I don’t want you all to think I’ve fallen off the face of the earth or anything. It’s just that I am currently dealing with writing my final (final! as in never again until grad school final!) papers, studying for exams so I don’t mess up my chances of graduating Summa Cum Laude, coming to terms with the fact that my 91-year-old grandfather’s heart is a ticking time-bomb that could suffer a massive heart-attack at any minute, and counting down the last 23 days until I am married. I have spent a lot of time letting people minister to me recently, rejuvenating my own soul instead of really reaching out to others. The Bible studies I’ve been doing recently haven’t really struck me as anything I could make helpful to anyone but myself: I’m sure that many of you out there would benefit from studies on marriage as much as I can, but having no experience as of yet, I don’t really feel comfortable writing how-tos.

But here’s something I have had quite a bit of experience with lately: attempting to relax and let the Lord take over.

Those of you who know me may be laughing right now at the very thought of me “relaxing” and letting anybody take over. I am usually the most extreme micro-manager on earth; whether it comes to my own responsibilities or groups I’m involved in, I am far too paranoid to delegate responsibilities to anyone else. But in an attempt to avoid a mental breakdown from all the stress that could potentially result from my current situation(s), I have simply decided not to worry about it, only pray that God will take my life into His holy hands.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Phillipians 4:6)

I am sure we have all heard that verse too many times to count, and I don’t know about you, but it didn’t have quite the impact it should have on my life until quite recently. For the longest time, whenever I would worry about something and someone quoted that verse to me, I only worried more, this time not only about what had been previously bothering me, but about my own inability to trust in Christ. I’m confident that was not God’s intention when He gave out such divine instructions.

I am also confident that God knows better than we do what we are capable of.

It is only within the past few weeks, when more burdens than I have ever held have been handed to me, that I have been able to truly say, “Lord, I can’t. You can.” And maybe those words are supposed to be spoken in a different context; maybe I still haven’t truly given all my life up to the Lord’s work, but I have certainly been able to stop worrying about the most distracting earthly things (the wedding, my final exams, my grandfather’s sickness) because I know that if they are important, God will take care of them.

I do not think it’s a coincidence that when I actually have things in my life worth worrying about, I can entrust those things to God.

7To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
– 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

God’s power is made perfect in weakness!

The answer to why I haven’t been able to trust God with my worries until this point is that they were not worries that weakened me to my core; they were issues I believed I could handle on my own. Now, when I am truly weak and I know for a fact there is no way I can make it through each day without the Lord carrying me accross the sand, He has granted me the grace to trust in Him. In fact, He has withdrawn all other options from my life.

And now I can only praise God for allowing me to suffer afflictions frightening enough that I am forced to stand back and watch as the Lord handles them, and pours out blessings.

I know this is not quite a message of ministry or an organized devotional or study, but I hope that it inspires you. The Lord is good, and all-powerful, and there is no affliction on Earth that He cannot handle. And when there is a time in your life when you feel you can’t go on alone, you will not have to. If you are realistic enough to realize that you cannot, you will not even try. Remember that “the Lord will provide.” (Genesis 22:8)


The Hate Squad Walks Again

My father went to Virginia Tech.

The first boy I ever liked, back when I was four years old, goes to Virginia Tech right now. His name is Todd and he lived up the street from me.

I thought about going there myself.

And now it is the sight of the largest gun-massacre in the history of the United States. Thirty-three people died on Monday; that is thirty-three souls and thirty-three families, thirty-three funerals and thirty-three mothers whose children will never come home for dinner again.

That is an exponential amount of pain.

And now, Fred Phelps, of let’s-build-a-statue-stating-that-this-poor-murdered-boy-is-in-hell fame, of God-hates-fags fame, and of a “Church” that claims “Christianity,” is going to rub his foul-smelling politics in the faces of those victims’ families.

The ideas this man propagates are lies. He is not a Christian; this is not what we believe. God does not rain down wrath on innocent human beings because the world is in sin. A man, a deluded and mentally ill man, took thirty-two lives on Monday – not as a judgment for anything they had done, but because he was sick.

This is not to say that God does not judge, or that God does not have the right to judge, but to imply that thirty-three people’s lives were the payment for the world’s sin is to completely deny the fundamental Christian value that Christ – and only Christ – paid for our sins on the cross.

I just feel it’s important to say to all of you, whether you are Christian or not, that this man represents a fringe-group whose theology we do not recognize as Truth. As far as Christians are concerned, the God of wrath became antiquated when Christ died on the cross. Forgiveness is the center of our religion now, and love for each other, not condemnation, is the only way to practice it.

Tips for Counting Your Blessings: Where did you glean today?

The pastor at my church is currently taking the congregation through the book of Ruth, and we recently covered the section that contains the verse, “Her mother-in-law asked her, ‘Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blesssed be the man who took notice of you!” (Ruth 2:19) Those of you familiar with the book of Ruth probably remember this verse as the moment when Ruth brings home an abundance of barley after a day of gleaning from the what the harvesters left behind in Boaz’s field.

For those of you unfamiliar with Ruth, it’s valuable to note the context of the situation here. Ruth was the Moabite daughter-in-law of a woman named Naomi (whose name meant “Pleasant,” but who had begun to call herself Mara, meaning “bitter” because her husband and sons died and she felt that God dealt bitterly with her). (Ruth 1:3-5; 1:20-22) One of Naomi’s sons was married to Ruth in Moab. Instead of staying with her people in Moab and finding another husband after she became a widow, Ruth followed Naomi back to her home in Bethlehem where she could be devoted to Jehovah God.

The heart of the matter is this: Naomi followed the God of the Israelites from the time she was born; Ruth converted to the Israelite tradition when she married Naomi’s son. But while hardship and bitterness led Naomi to blame God for her problems, saying “The Almighty has made my life very bitter” and “The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me”, Ruth only asked that she be allowed to return with Naomi to Bethlehem in service to God. (Ruth 1:20-21; 1:16) Even in a time of hardship, Ruth did not turn her back on the Lord. Instead, she followed His commandments and worked patiently to care for herself and her mother-in-law.

When Ruth returned home from gleaning in Boaz’s field and had, literally, gallons of extra food, and Naomi asked “Where did you glean today?” there was only one acceptable answer. Ruth gleaned in the Field of Faith, where “Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” (Matthew 13:12)

I’m sure you are all familiar with the phrase “You reap what you sow.” It comes from the book of Galatians: “7Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-8) It is shocking to me, though, how many people use these verses only as ominous forebodings and never as encouragement; yes, the verse does say that some will reap destruction, but that does not mean we should ignore the second half of the verse: “the one who sows to please the Spirit from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

Our heavenly Father made a promise to us the day that His son died on the cross. It is an unbreakable covenant that guarantees us eternal salvation and freedom from sin. But we cannot find joy in these things if we are looking in the wrong places.

For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.” (Romans 14:9)

Christ died to bring us forgiveness, certainly, but also so that He would have the authority to be master of the living and the dead (and that’s everyone)! For “you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:20)

Are you acknowledging Christ as the Lord of your life? Are you a slave to Him, submissive to the One who saved you? Are you reaping joy, blessings, and abundance from the faith you have sown into your relationship with Jesus Christ?

. . .Or are you wanting?

If you are unhappy, angry with the Lord, or suffering feelings of bitterness and resentment toward Him, I challenge you: ask yourself, “Where did I glean today?” If you gleaned from a field into which you have sown self-serving ideas about what you want for your life instead of trust in the One who made you, is it any wonder you are not harvesting that which He promised you?

I am a firm believer that it is our outlook, not our circumstances, that determines what joy we take from life. If I am dissatisfied, it is because I am not fully trusting God to provide all that I need, and am questioning whether or not His grace is truly sufficient. (2 Corinthians 12:9) If I am blessed, it is not due to the absence of sorrow or pain in my life, but because I devote myself to my God, and know that if He sacrificed His son for me, He would not ask me to endure unnecessary pain. I know from my daily communion with Him that He loves me, and teaches me obedience through my sufferings. (Hebrews 5:8)

But I know it can be difficult to see God’s mercy and grace through troubled times. And sometimes, scripture verses and uplifting comments from friends make you feel more jealous than encouraged. That is why, I present:

Five Practical Ways to Count Your Blessings

  1. Actually do it. Count them. The best way, in my opinion, to accomplish this is to keep a daily journal. Add a few extra minutes to your quiet time or just make a list before you go to sleep of all the ways in which the Lord blessed you that day. Read it when you’re feeling depressed or sorry for yourself.
  2. Write a letter to the person, place, thing, or idea that is causing you pain. Tell him/her/it why you are angry. Be as hurtful as you feel like being. Burn it.
  3. Pray honestly. Tell the Lord that you are angry, hurt, and that you don’t understand why you are afflicted with your circumstances. Then pray that He will help you to see the path He has laid out for you, and that He will soften your heart toward those who are trying to help you.
  4. Become a servant to others around you who are hurting. If you look for them, you will find other people suffering around you who you may not have noticed because your eyes were focused on yourself.
  5. Read Matthew 27:27-66. Compare your sufferings to those of Christ. Remember that they were for you.

Christian Friendship

I am currently in the midst of a devotional book called Who I Am In Christ by Dr. Neil T. Anderson. It’s really helping me out a lot. I feel like I never really got “Relationships with God 101” until I picked up this book. But I should mention that there are some sites out there online that take great exception to Dr. Anderson’s work, and I’ve noticed a few odd trends in what I’ve read so far as well. What I can say so far is that I don’t think you should completely discredit him based on the inclusion in his books of some of the more occult areas of faith, but I think you should (as always) read critically.

Plugging aside, I’ve recently covered the chapter in the above-mentioned book entitled “I Am Christ’s Friend.” This chapter really touched my heart, due simply to some personal things going on in my own life right now (God truly does provide exactly what we need for us, by the way), and it also got me thinking a lot about what true friendship really is.

I don’t mean to discuss only friendship between a person and her God, or the fellowship to be found among Christians, but the friendship that predominates most of our lives: friendship between a believer and another person – anyone – regardless of faith. But like all aspects of our lives, we can learn more about how to handle relationships here in the world by understanding our heavenly relationship with the Father. The more we practice these principles of the Kingdom of God in our daily lives, the more success we will have in finding joy and peace here during our earthly days.

The following verses not only illustrate that we can receive joy through submission to the will of God, but they also provide the perfect lesson on friendship.

29The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30He must become greater; I must become less.” – John 3:29-30

The context of John 3:29-30 is that John the Baptist’s followers have just approached him in a frenzy because they have heard that Jesus of Nazareth is baptizing. They are loyal to John and his ministry, and do not appreciate this newcomer’s encroaching on what they feel is John’s territory. John responds that he is unconcerned, even joyful, because he knows that now, the one in whose name he has been baptizing has arrived.

Out of context, and in our Christian lives, the verse is only a tad bit different.
Keep in mind that we are trying to learn about earthly friendship from spiritual, heavenly friendship, what is our “friendship” relationship with God? Let’s examine the verses.

Again, the verses are: 29The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30He must become greater; I must become less.” – John 3:29-30

As Christians, we are called to be both “the bride” who belongs to the bridegroom (as the Church), and “the friend who attends the bridegroom.” Because so many allusions are made to the community of God as “the Church,” and because this is a study of Christian Friendship, I’m going to ignore the responsibilities of “the bride” for now, and focus more on the responsibility of the “bridegroom’s friend.”

What makes John the Baptist Jesus’s “friend” in terms of the verses above? The two do not seem to be engaging in any type of “friendship” as we know it today; they are not sharing hobbies, or discussing ideas they have in common, or even doing the things Christian men and women tend to do in the lightest of moments – engaging in fellowship over tea or going fishing. Instead, the essence of John’s friendship to Jesus lies in the joy he finds in Jesus’s success.

Remember that John’s followers are scandalized that someone else is baptizing in the name of the Messiah. John could easily have become jealous of Jesus, or chosen to receive him as an adversary instead of a leader. But he humbled himself, and graciously made a path for Jesus’s ministry to overtake his own.

8Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” (1 Peter 3:8)

John gave Jesus the most important gift of friendship anyone can give another: precedence.

Of course, Jesus is the Lord. It was only right for Jesus to be superior to John, and for John to acknowledge His authority. And obviously, all Christians should follow that example.

But shouldn’t we also grant our friends precedence?

14Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:14-15)

It is our responsibility to love one another un-selfishly, to exalt others over ourselves, and to do so humbly, without bitterness or resentment. The world will tell us that we are number one, that we should look out for ourselves; that is not Biblical. We are directed to serve each other, “28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)

Therefore, go and take joy in each others’ successes. Pray for graciousness and humility, and that the Lord will soften your hearts toward others. Pray for a servant heart modelled after Christ’s own.

The best way for us as believers to learn to serve our King is to first learn to serve each other.

I Am Forgiven!

It may help you to read one of my earlier blogs before reading this one.

Did you know that the Bible never refers to Christians as “sinners”? We are called Children of God, Beloved, Brethren, and a lot of very complimentary things that we don’t deserve, but we are never called sinners.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that we do not sin. In fact, we sin a great deal. We still need forgiveness, and we still need continual grace even after we’ve accepted Christ as our savior, because we are not made perfect until the day we walk through Heaven’s gates. It is for this reason that we must come humbly to God, and to others – we know that we have sinned and are undeserving of God’s love.

The pastor at my church recently defined humility for the congregation as something close to “looking at life, and others in your life, through the lens of your own sins” and reminded us that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6) I think that is a beautiful way of looking at humility, and personally, sometimes I need to be reminded that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) “All” includes me.

But it has been on my heart recently to make something known to you all: being humble is not the same as feeling guilty!

Allow me to explain.

True joy in life comes from knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God has forgiven you for your sins, and will forgive you for your future sins if you only confess them (1 John 1:9). “It is finished” (John 19:30); there is nothing left for us to do in the matter. We are saved by Jesus’s blood on the cross, and we cannot add anything to His sacrifice to make it more meaningful. It would be arrogant for us to believe that any number of good works on our parts could possibly earn Jesus’s death for us, or to think that His death is not enough.

Most Christians acknowledge the above points fairly easily. Where we stumble is on what is not so obvious – the flip-side of the same coin. If we cannot add works to Jesus’s suffering to further our own salvation, we cannot subtract them (by adding sins) to reverse the process, either. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) No matter what you do now, Christ will forgive whatever sins you confess to Him, because you are a Child of God.

The devotional I’m currently reading, Who I Am In Christ by Dr. Neil T. Anderson, says that we are not “sinners who are forgiven,” but “saints who sin.” In reality, “saints who sin” are sinners, because a “sinner” is one who sins. But the distinction Dr. Anderson is making isn’t necessarily one that matters in reality, but only in our perception of ourselves. If we consider ourselves sinners, we will go through life feeling worthless, guilty, and undeserving of the salvation of Christ. But if we realize that we are loved by the Lord, that He accepts us the way we are, and that we are in fact His “saints,” it is much easier to recover from a fall, because we know that we are on the right path, even if we stumble or get a little lost along the way.*

I say to you that humility, and taking joy in Christ’s love for you, are superior attitudes to guilt. Feelings of worthlessness and discouragement are not what God has designed for you; in fact, they can be tools of the Deceiver himself. If we focus solely on our own sinfulness and the reasons that we should not have salvation, our continual failures will only lead us down a road that will try to convince us that it is futile to even continue trying to cultivate a relationship with Christ. It is possible to become so disheartened that we will turn away from God, believing that we are too sinful, that He must be exasperated with us, and that the Christian life is too hard. This is never what our Father wants for us!

Instead, we are instructed to be encouraged, not discouraged. Take joy in the sacrifice Jesus made for you, despite the fact that you do not feel you deserve it. If you allow yourself to love the Lord instead of feeling constantly indebted to Him, you will be so much more useful to Him as a vessel of His goodness and glory. (Philippians 1:6).

Therefore, do not feel unworthy of Jesus’s sacrifice for you. God knows all; He knew what He was doing and who He was saving long before He even sent His son to Earth. But He did it anyway; He did it because He loves us. (John 3:16). Do not reject the sacrifice of what was so tender and dear to Him simply because of feelings of guilt – those feelings are not inspired by the Lord.

“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3:13)

*A distinction must be made here between Dr. Anderson’s assertions and those made in Caleb Osborne’s Christ Through Me, which I argued against in the blog linked at the top of this page. The theses appear similar, but they are in fact markedly different. Whereas Dr. Anderson argues that we should not consider ourselves “sinners who have salvation” but “saints who sin,” Caleb Osborne simply asserts that we are no longer sinners. Mr. Osborne also asserts that Christians no longer need forgiveness, and that we should not change our behavior when we become Christians. There is a big difference between believing that we have God’s grace even though we sin (Dr. Anderson’s assertion), and believing that we do not sin (Mr. Osborne’s assertion).

Helpful Linguistic Hints: Cavalry vs. Calvary

I’ve decided to share my gift with all of you.

When I was a little girl, my parents put me in a private school. In private school, at the age of eight, I learned how to differentiate between the parts of speech, how to diagram sentences, and the absolutely pertinent information that “one persuades to, and convinces that.”

The consequence of all this is that I have a pitiful obsession with grammar. Tragically, this consumes my life. But lucky for you, this means receiving helpful (if unwelcome) linguistic hints every time I get feverish over a typo.

This week’s topic: Cavalry vs. Calvary

Calvary, for those who don’t know, is the hill atop which Christ was crucified. You can read about it on handy-dandy wiki here. (Those of you familiar with the movie “Dogma” may know it by another name.)

Cavalry are infantrymen in state militias. The great Mel Gibson, for instance, headed up the cavalry in “The Patriot”; the smash hit blockbuster “We Were Soldiers” was also all about cavalrymen.

Henceforward, please make a distinction between the two. If I have to watch one more documentary on the History channel on which learned “historians” discuss the way that the calvary charged in and won a battle, I will have to quit the English language altogether.

Thank you.

P.S. – The word “definitely” does not have an “a” in it anywhere.

Hinds’ Feet on High Places Christian Study Guide

“The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to go on the heights.”

– Habakkuk 3:19

The book club I am in is reading Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard this month. The book is an allegory, wherein the main character, Much-Afraid, takes a journey up a rocky mountainside for which she must develop “hinds’ feet” to reach the “high places.” She is encouraged on her way by the Chief Shepherd, who comes to her aid whenever she calls, and is accompanied by the companions he chose for her, Sorrow and Suffering.

The theme of this book is crucifying your own will for that of your Lord. Every acceptance of His will is an altar of sacrifice that helps us to progress and mature in our walk with Him.

I would invite any of you who stumble across this blog to read the book and consider some of the things I’ve mentioned below. The first and longest portion of this guide is a simple summary of the book, with scriptural references for expansion on what the allegory is really attempting to say. But personally, I feel that the most important part comes in the few questions at the bottom. Asking myself these questions as I was reading was what was truly helpful to me in applying the lessons Much-Afraid learned on her journey in my own life. Remember, as the introduction states: the “High Places” are not meant to signify heaven or life after death, but the rewards God gives us during our lives here on Earth if we follow the path chosen for us.

MuchAfraid’s Journey – A Summary:

  • Part 1: Weeping May Endure for a Night (Psalm 30:5)
    1. Invitation to the High Places: The chief shepherd offers Much-Afraid salvation from the Valley of Humiliation and all of her “Fearing” relatives who plague her existence. He sows the seed of divine love in her heart so that it may grow and blossom into Perfect Love.1 He tells her to be ready at a moment’s notice to drop everything and follow Him so that he may lead her to the High Places, the Kingdom of Love.2
    2. Fearing Invasion: Much-Afraid is besieged at her home by a mob of “her terrible relatives”, who blame her for estranging her family and attempt to persuade her that her husband-to-be, Craven Fear, only needs her help to change his manner and that this is her responsibility. It is during this moment of weakness and confusion that the Chief Shepherd chooses to come for her, but she is paralyzed by her fears and unable to go with him.3
    3. Flight Into the Night: Later, with the help of Mrs. Valiant (her neighbor), Much-Afraid is able to overtake her cousin Gloomy and escape from her relatives. Even though she was not ready to follow the Chief Shepherd when he came for her, the Shepherd waited and did not leave without her.4
    4. Start for the High Places: The Shepherd uses the beautiful wildflowers to teach Much-Afraid a lesson: the flowers offer up their beauty completely and willingly even though it seems that there is no one to appreciate them.5 He tells Much-Afraid that once she has ascended to the High Places, she will have the power to take all that she is given and travel between the High Places and the Valley of Humiliation. After teaching her these valuable lessons, he discusses with her that he will leave her with two guides who will help her ascend the mountain, but that he will never be out of her reach.6 At that, he leaves her with Sorrow and Suffering.
    5. Encounter With Pride: The relatives Much-Afraid left in the Valley of Humiliation have allowed themselves to be consumed with bitterness that she has escaped and begun her journey with the Chief Shepherd. In their efforts to make her return, they send her cousin Pride up on the mountain to discourage her. In talking with Pride, Much-Afraid does begin to question the validity of the Shepherd’s statements to her, but when she remembers the covenant he made with her, she calls upon him and he comes to her aid.7
    6. Detour Through the Desert: Sorrow and Suffering begin to lead Much-Afraid down instead of up, and when she calls on the Shepherd, he tells her only that she must trust his word. This is where she builds her first altar. Once she concedes to go down into the desert with him, the Shepherd shows her the process by which grain is refined: it is beaten and bruised over and over until it is fine enough to bake the best bread.8 In the desert, she finds a flower called Acceptance-with-Joy and decides to accept her Lord’s will and work for his purposes.9
    7. On the Shores of Loneliness: Much-Afraid, left alone with Sorrow and Suffering on the shores of the Sea of Loneliness, rather enjoys her time in the desert until more of her relatives appear with the intention of retrieving her: Resentment, Bitterness, and Self-Pity. After recognizing that they are attempting to manipulate her, Much-Afraid begins to attack her assaulters. But even though she tries to resist them on her own, she is unable to defeat them without the Shepherd’s help.10
    8. On the Old Sea Wall: Much-Afraid lays down her will on a new altar as her adversaries look on. She glories in the victory the Shepherd has in her. She finds the little flower Acceptance-with-Joy growing in herself, and sacrifices her heart on an altar. The Shepherd tells her that she must be ready for something new, and that he will soon be taking her to the High Places.
    9. Great Precipice Injury: Much-Afraid, along with Sorrow and Suffering, come to a cliff blocking their path. The only way they can continue is by following the path of the deer. Much-Afriad truly believes that it is impossible for her to follow the path any longer as her cousin Craven Fear appears on the mountaintop. Sorrow and Suffering urge her to call the Shepherd, but she hesitates because she is afraid that he will send her up the cliff. She does call him in the end, and he encourages her. She lays her will, dread, and shrinking on an altar and makes the decision to ascend wherever the Shepherd would have her ascend because his desire for her life is more important to her than her own.11 She must now surmount Mount Injury bound to Sorrow and Suffering, helped along the way by the Spirit of Grace and Comfort.
    10. Ascent of the Precipice Injury: In a cave where the travelers are to pass the night, Much-Afraid finds the flower Bearing-the-Cost (Forgiveness) which has borne injury and not ceased to love. Much-Afraid builds another altar and dedicates herself to forgiveness. Later on their journey, Much-Afraid takes a fall that can only be healed by the Spirit of Grace and Comfort.12
    11. In the Forests of Danger and Tribulation: Much-Afraid and her companions weather a storm and fight against Craven Fear with strength. When the storm returns, they are safely protected in a hut provided along the way.13
    12. In the Mist: Spurred on by Resentment and Bitterness, Much-Afraid works herself into a frenzy believing that they are not ascending at all, and that they have missed the path up that they were supposed to take because of the fog surrounding them. Only when she becomes so tired of stumbling and feeling miserable that she begins to sing a song of worship does the mist lift, and the Shepherd come to her aid.14 After spending time in quiet conversation with him, she invites him even to deceive her if it be his prerogative.
    13. In the Valley of Loss: Sorrow and Suffering lead Much-Afraid, again, into a valley instead of up higher, and she honestly considers abandoning the Shepherd’s path for her own. But the idea of a world without the Shepherd’s love and guidance is so terrifying and dismal that she gives herself completely to him.15 It becomes clear to her at this moment that the only thing that matters to her is faithfulness to her Lord.
    14. The Place of Anointing: Much-Afraid learns that as much work as her journey has been, the last part is simply surrender, trusting the Shepherd to carry her all the way up – she rides a suspended chair all the way to the top. From the waterfalls of love she learns that the spirit of the citizens of the Kingdom of Love in the High Places lies in their desire to give.16 At the mountaintop, the Shepherd reveals himself to her as the King of the Kingdom of Love so that she will see the truth. Finally, she spends time there preparing herself for the last part of her journey, which she does not know is death.17
    15. The Floods: The Shepherd commands Much-Afraid to go up to the top of the great waterfall at the top of the mountain. On the way they meet Fear, Bitterness, Resentment, Pride, and Self-Pity on their way down the mountain, fleeing a storm at the top. But Much-Afraid refuses to turn back; the Shepherd has prepared a place for them to take refuge until the storm passes. Throughout the storm she is tempted to stray yet again from the path set before her, but instead examines the stones she has collected in memory of the sacrifices she has made on her altars along the way and refuses to forsake any of them.18 After the storm, she continues to ascend to the heights.
    16. Grave on the Mountains: Much-Afraid casts herself down onto an altar to sacrifice her offering. With help, she tears human love from her heart and lays her life on the altar.
  • Part 2: Joy Cometh in the Morning (Psalm 30:5)
    1. Healing Streams/Hinds Feet: Much-Afraid awakes in the High Places with Hinds’ Feet. Called by the Shepherd, Much-Afraid realizes that she is able to leap out of the canyon she is in with her new powerful hinds’ feet. The Shepherd fulfills his covenant with Much-Afraid by giving her a new name – Grace-and-Glory – and bestowing upon her the divine love that has blossomed in her heart.19 He also transforms the common stones she collected as memory of her sacrifices into jewels from which to fashion her heavenly crown. Finally, he introduces her to her new companions, the transformed Sorrow and Suffering, now called Joy and Peace.
    2. High Places/Return to the Valley: Despite the lessons Grace-and-Glroy and her companions learn in the High Places, and the trouble they took in getting there, they decide that their new responsibility is to help others reach the High Places as well.20

1 “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear. . .” 1 John 4:18
2 “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matt 16:24
3 “My sheep listen to my voice. I know them and they follow me.” John 10:27
4 “I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my words and have not denied my name.” Revelation 3:8
5 “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love on another.” John 13:35
6 “The Lord replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Exodus 33:14
7 “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” Ephesians 6:13
8 “For you, Oh God, tested us; you refined us like silver.” Psalm 66:10
9 “The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” 1 John 2:17
10“Jesus answered, ‘It is written, “Man does not live on bread alone.”’” Matthew 4:4
11 “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:3
12“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:35
13“But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.” 2 Thessalonians 3:3
14“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18
15“And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.” 1 Chronicles 28:9
16 “The Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Acts 3:617“Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him. . .” 2 Timothy 2:11
18“The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” Matthew 7:25
19“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John 4:10
20“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though god were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’sbehalf: Be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:20

Christian Lessons from the High Places

  • Accept with joy.
  • Bear the cost of forgiveness without bitterness.
  • God does not regard you as you are, but as you will be when you become what He wants you to be.
  • Even the most evil things can be overcome with goodness and love.

Some Questions to Consider:

  1. Where is your “Valley of Humiliation”? Have you returned there, since you received salvation, to bring the gifts God has given you to others who need them?
  2. How do you respond when God asks you to sacrifice for Him? Do you build the altar he requests of you with joy or resentment in your heart?
  3. What stones do you carry in your pocket to remind you of your personal covenant with God?
  4. What was your name before you allowed God into your heart? Where you a MuchAfraid? Bitterness? Resentment? Self-Pity? Who were/are your most persistent enemies?

I’d like to leave you with a quote from Chapter 89 of the monk Evagrius’s The Praktikos (rules for monastic life from the early Middle Ages). Of course we know that goodliness and Godliness can be measured in more ways than any man could enumerate, but here are just some of the ways in which surrendering ourselves to God’s will can manifest blessedness – signs that we are on the right road – in our lives:

“According to our master, that man of wisdom, the rational soul is composed of three parts. When virtue comes to birth in the rational part it is called prudence, understanding and wisdom. When it is developed in the concupiscible [earthly, rebellious] part it receives the names of temperance, charity and continence. Justice, however, is located in the whole of the soul. The virtue of the irascible part is termed courage and patience. Now the proper work of prudence is to war against the hostile powers and to protect the virtues, to draw up its forces against the vices, and to arrange affairs according to the requirements of the times. The province of understanding is to direct all those things which lead to our perfection in such a way that they harmoniously achieve their aim. Wisdom governs the contemplation of the meaningful structure of both corporeal and incoroporeal objects. Temperance has the function of enabling us to look upon those affairs which cause irrational phantasms, remaining the while free of passion. Charity has the role of showing itself to every image of God as being as nearly like its prototype as possible no matter how the demons ply their arts to defile them. Continence has the power of refusing with joy every pleasure of the palate. The work of courage and patience is to know no fear of enemies and eagerly to endure afflictions. Finally, justice produces a certain harmony and symphony among the various parts of the soul.”
Evagrius Chapter 8

All scripture verses are quoted from the New International Version of the Bible using The Bible Gateway – an extremely useful tool!

Newer entries »