Thursday, September 27, 2012

Biblical Timeline: Lamentations

God can take great tragedy and use it to ignite great creativity.

I wonder how many works of prose, poetry, photos, paintings, or other passionate endeavors are the result of the author's or artist's anguish and suffering? Perhaps more than we think.

We fear the valleys we encounter along our spiritual journey, but maybe these are the impetus behind masterpieces. Inserted into our reading of the book of Jeremiah is the prophet's other work, the book of Lamentations. Written at a time of great sorrow, the Holy Spirit uses the grief of the "weeping prophet" to artistically compose 5 poems. I suspect this isn't unusual.

The book of Lamentations is not usually recognized by readers as being a collection of acrostic poetry because it does not maintain its alphabetical integrity when translated from Hebrew into other languages. Unlike the segments of Psalm 119 which show each corresponding letter of the Hebrew alphabet (22 of them), Jeremiah's poems do not. Actually, chapter 5 is not an alphabetically ordered acrostic like the other 4 chapters. Also chapter 3 does not end in 22 verses, one verse per letter, but is composed of 66 verses, a trilogy of three verses per letter.

As horrible as the situation was that Jeremiah witnessed, he did not abandon his faith in God. "Great is thy faithfulness" (3:23) is the basis for his own hope and the inspiration for Chisholm's great hymn by the same name.

Also, contrast Jeremiah's reproach in 2:15, "All that pass by clap their hands at thee; they hiss and wag their head at the daughter of Jerusalem, saying, Is this the city that men call The perfection of beauty, The joy of the whole earth?"  with what the psalmist, David, wrote in Psalm 48:

"Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness. Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King. God is known in her palaces for a refuge. For, lo, the kings were assembled, they passed by together. They saw it, and so they marvelled; they were troubled, and hasted away. . . . Let mount Zion rejoice, let the daughter of Judah be glad, because of thy judgments." (verses 1-5, 11)
As you read, remind yourself of the devastation that Jeremiah witnessed. This was war in all of its ugliness. He had been warning the kings of Judah for 40 years that it was coming and he had also privately counseled King Zedekiah how to avoid the razing of the city when that king sought word from the Lord but to no avail. After the city fell, the dead lay in the street, the royal family was abused, the city burned. Jerusalem, the city that Jesus would later stand and cry over, was a vivid illustration that "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).
The time of the last campaign and final destruction of the city of Jerusalem by Babylon was in July and August 586 B.C.  These mourning poems would most likely have been completed between that time and a few years later when Jeremiah was forced to accompany other exiles into Egypt.
Sources: as always, I have used notes from The Open Bible and The MacArthur Study Bible when preparing this synopsis. This time they were useful for understanding the acrostic poem format of the book. The devotional material and scripture comparisons are my own.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Blind Love and Blessings: Excerpts From My Journal

The author's private journal
Victorian Journals
Brownlow Publishing Co., Inc.

Before I blogged, I kept a journal. Like my blogging, my journaling was sporadic because I wrote only when the mood struck, which wasn't on a regular basis.

I am going to share appropriate excerpts from the above journal that detail a personal comparison I made concerning my own situation and that of someone I love. Her name has been changed to Jane (as in "Jane Doe") in order to protect privacy, but her identity will be recognizable to many.

November 15, 1997
. . . After being wigless for 13 months, it has been an adjustment these last 2 days. Actually my hair loss is not as bad this time as it was during my previous episode, but I could tell my wig-free days were numbered. At least I'm getting used to this by degrees.
I'm ashamed of my own vanity when I think about Jane's cancer surgery in 2 days. She has already lost her nose. Now she will lose her left eye, half her palate and teeth. . .
Lord, spare Jane. And thanks for the wig.
Fast forward a couple of years:

August 30, 1999
I'm still wearing a wig even though I have run the gamut from losing almost all of my hair to gaining back as much as I had. . . I've learned to compensate for activities I enjoy.
As for Jane, she is still fighting cancer with prayers, radiation, chemotherapy, and a great attitude. . . It has been a hard year for Jane.
The next entry that I'll share has this verse inscribed at the top of the page: The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. PSALM 126:3.

Beneath it I wrote the following:

August 18, 2000
It is with tears in my eyes and in my heart that I read the verse above (blog note: I had underlined the word "joy" in the verse at the top of the page). Jane went to be with the Lord last night and I am trying desperately to feel the joy. I know she has joy, and here at the end I've prayed for God to take her quickly so that she wouldn't have to suffer any more.
The entry goes on to say that August had always had it's share of joy but especially it's share of sorrow as my family had buried my maternal grandma, my uncle, and now Jane in various years. Having been just a year older than I, in childhood Jane was my playmate and companion. In adulthood she was my friend and confident. As adults, Jane and I lived many miles apart but we corresponded regularly. We remained close enough friends that in early 1999 Pastor Dad drove The Bear and me the 8 hours that it took to reach her bedside after one of her surgeries. I was concerned about how the preschool-aged Bear would react to her irregular appearance but she was so joyful that he was quickly sitting on her lap!

Here is another part of that same l-o-n-g August 18, 2000 entry, 6 pages actually, where I poured out my heart:

. . . I have several emails from Jane, the last one sent on July 4th wishing us all a great day. I got to see her at Christmas and encourage her. We even sent emails back and forth where I shared my "hair secrets" with her since she was feeling rotten about wearing a wig [after losing] her hair to chemo.
Did you catch that? My dear cousin, who had lost an eye, her nose, and part of her palate to cancer had been mortified when her hair fell out! Even more astonishing was that I was able to encourage her! It was then that I began to realize just how devastating hair loss is for all women, even those who have had their appearance altered in other ways or were fighting life-threatening illnesses.

In years to come the Lord would put me in contact with several women suffering hair loss who needed encouragement. All, including Jane, responded with the words, "I had no idea you have this problem, too!" when I empathized with them by sharing details of my own illness, one that paled in comparison to what some of them faced.

It is interesting how the Lord placed these ladies in my path and what He used to get the conversations started. I was never the one to broach the subject but at various times and in odd places (at the craft store, for example) an acquaintance would reveal that she had just left the wig shop, or shopping for a hat, or the beauty salon, and her story would erupt like the sodium bicarbonate - vinegar mixture that explodes out of elementary science experiments. As private as each woman wished to remain, each needed to release the emotion by talking to someone and the Lord somehow arranged a meeting between us.

I will not share their stories, but like Jane, some of them now experience great joy because their journeys have ended. Others are still on their pilgrimage but with the knowledge that they are not alone. Not only does the Lord share their sorrow but I and others like me are blessed to help bear their burdens.

Part of the bearing of each other's burdens has been sharing information and tips. In the future I hope to tell what I do to help compensate each day or in special circumstance as per the above referenced journal entry. For now, I will close with the quote that is at the bottom of that six-page entry, one that complements well the verse that began it.

Be a life long or short, its completeness
depends on what it was lived for.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Forever Charming: Counting My Blessings Once More!

Last Sunday was Grandparents' Day. In honor of the occasion I went to the jewelry store and purchased the charms for my 2012 grandbabies. My cup (and my grandmother pin) runneth over with love!

The charms resting on the Family Bible where their names are inscribed inside

There's room for Lisa's baby boy to be added and perhaps one or two more charms before I upgrade the brooch to a bigger one. As Grandad says, "Yeehaw!"

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Blind Love and Blessings: Perfect Vision

picture source

When last we met I revealed a few of the problems I have encountered as a pastor's wife suffering from a disfiguring illness. I know that most of my readers are concerned that I exaggerated at best or lied at worst, but fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your perspective, I could produce several witnesses since onlookers were necessary for the desired maximum effect. I hope that won't be necessary.

Let me also reassure you about another possible concern. There is no need for any friend or reader to respond like the disciples did at the Last Supper when Jesus revealed that one of them would betray Him. No, you are not one of the offenders. Most likely, you are the exact opposite, one of the people in whom I find great comfort.

For every person whose motive was malicious there were (and still are) many people who bless(ed) me with ointment for my hurting soul: those who held me as I cried, helped me rearrange or artificially replace my hair, empathized with me (there are many besides myself that suffer similar symptoms), and privately counseled me. These include hair dressers, cancer patients, other alopecia sufferers, medical professionals, other pastors' wives, and fellow church members. My support network far outnumbers the bullies.

Why do I share with you my journey? Not out of a sense of bravado! I would not tell any of this unless I was convinced that the Lord wants to use it for His glory and my good because the telling of it is not the catharsis that I might wish it to be. I don't exactly know how the glory and growth will be accomplished, and I may never know until I reach Heaven, but the Bible makes it clear that I do not think like God.

8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. 10 For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: 11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. Isaiah 55:8-11 (KJV)
It is only because I do believe that God will eventually make all things work together for his glory and my good (Romans 8:28) that I swallow my fear of the ungodly and trust God's perfect love for me.

18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18 (KJV)
I also do not tell this story in order to retaliate, as one might assume, although I do offer it as a warning. Even Paul experienced mistreatment at the hands of church members. In my case, since I obviously am not up to the caliber of the apostle, my story reminds me that I am also a great sinner who has hurt others at times. The conviction of my own wickedness grieves me more than being the recipient of another's wickedness.

3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? 5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye. Matt 7:3-5 (KJV)
It isn't enough that my God, family, and friends have developed blind love for me. I need to develop blind love for others. Everyone has a situation in their life that causes hurt. Often the cause is not immediately evident as we become more sophisticated at hiding behind the facade we present to the world. Sometimes it takes time to peel back the layers but when we are successful we should treat each situation with love.

In the future I hope to share with you some of the ways that God has allowed me to minister to others. I always rejoice when God uses my infirmity to help someone cope with their own situation. It is those circumstances that God uses to develop in me more perfect vision.

The steps are there in scripture! First, remove the obstruction of sin from my own eyes so that I can see more clearly to help someone else and then seek out the hurting and love them blindly through eyes of faith.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Blind Love and Blessings: A Private Problem in a Public Arena

picture source

Pastor Dad and I observed our 34th wedding anniversary this summer. What can I say about having been married to a pastor for that many years? Plenty! But I'll rein myself in and keep most of it to myself except where it deals with the topic. What I will say is that I was very naive about being the wife of a pastor before I actually was one. Very naive.

In my mind the wife of the pastor was just that: a woman married to a pastor. It seems that it goes beyond that. Oh,it goes far, far, far beyond that.

Living in the proverbial fishbowl is uncomfortable. I think this political season clearly illustrates this. It is true that any leader's family reflects on him, but sometimes that sense of "ownership" that a congregation or a nation feels for it's first family crosses over the lines into territory far beyond the bounds of propriety or decency.

You might be surprised - or you might not be - when I tell you that there are people in a church who feel they can make any comment at any time about anything concerning their pastor's wife. If she defends herself in any way she will be the one labeled "unchristian" and her husband will be judged accordingly. That was what I found out soon after returning from our honeymoon and it only got worse after I became afflicted with my autoimmune system disorder. Living in a fishbowl progressed to being viewed under a microscope.

For example:
  • Having someone smugly say in a very LOUD whisper, "I LOVE your new wig. Oh, yes! I know your 'secret!'" And now so do the 50 people near you. And guess what? I guess there is no "secret" anymore so you can't pull that prank again, at least around the same people!
  • Along a related theme, having someone ask, "Is that your real hair today or are you wearing a wig again?" Back in the day when I would go back and forth I often heard this and I always wondered why it mattered. Idle curiosity? Is that a good enough reason to embarrass someone?
  • But the worst was having someone sneak up behind me to yank the wig off my head to prove to her friends that I was wearing one. Praise the Lord I wasn't! At least, not that day. I went home with a small headache and a big heartache but that was the extent of the damage.
I tell you about these completely true and unexaggerated incidents so that you can understand why this already shy gal has had a hard time leaving the safety of her home at times. Yes, even to go to church. (I do go, and faithfully. You should, too.)

When we first began this series I mentioned that this affliction has helped me to understand what real love is. Were the preceding individuals showing me the type of love found in I Corinthians chapter 13?
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not, charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; . . . (I Corinthians 13:4-5)
No, I don't think so, but I cannot respond in kind or I will show that I neither love others nor believe in the scriptures.
But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. (Luke 6:27-28)
This is not an easy thing for me to do because - pastor's wife or not - I am a sinner who desires revenge on those who hurt me. But if people will know I am a Christian by my love I cannot be unloving, and therefore unchristian, in return no matter how badly I wish to retaliate.


I have experienced great blessings, too. I have been the recipient of phenomenal love and compassion from caring friends and family members who have encouraged me when I really, truly needed it.

For instance, I've experienced such tenderness from all 4 of my children and have kept many things, including the following incidents, in my heart:
  • Karen, who turned around, pulled my hoodie up, and tied it before I could do it myself as we boarded a roller coaster. I didn't scream on the coaster but I sure did weep!
  • Lisa, yelling when she was a teenager having a bad hair day, "Arggh! I wish I was bald!!!" before catching my eyes in the bathroom mirror and following up her complaint with, "Sorry, mom! I forgot." Ah! The fact that you forgot in my presence is actually a compliment.
  • The Princess's reaction when her exuberant toddler was climbing all over my head and neck while being a little too demonstrative with his love. That look she gave me that said "I'll protect you both from an embarrassing situation" meant volumes. Being able to breathe again was great, too.  :)
  • The Bear who told me recently, "I go years without remembering your problem. To me, you're just my mom." Aw! What a sweet talker you are! Those of you with teen aged sons know how unexpected it is to have them converse with you! To say something nice is an added bonus!

I told a friend of mine that my life as a pastor's wife is no harder for me to live by the grace of God than it is for anyone else to live their own life. I believe that. God brought Pastor Dad into my life and I had a choice as to whether to marry him or not. I made the choice without understanding what would lie ahead and would do so again, but everyone is blind when making major life decisions. Ours is a walk of faith, not sight.

It isn't for us to know what lies ahead but there is Someone who does and we are to keep our eyes on Him as He leads the way. He promises that His love will guide us and that He will be with us through the whole journey.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Old Testament Timeline: Pre-Exilic Books

This week we began reading "The 11th Hour Prophecies" of Zephaniah, Habakkuk, and Jeremiah within the context of the last few chapters of II Kings.

This prophet is unique in that he traces his lineage back to royalty! He was the great-great grandson of King Hezekiah (called Hizkiah in 1:1 of the KJV) though not from the line of rulers. For those of you who enjoy genealogy (okay, that would be me and probably only me) Zephaniah was the second cousin once removed of King Josiah, the child-king of Judah that followed the wicked reigns of Manasseh and Amon. Zephaniah prophesied in the days of this righteous distant cousin.

King Josiah's reign lasted from 640-609 B.C. Since Josiah implemented serious religious reform in 628 B.C. when he was 20 years old, it could be that Zephaniah's prophecy predates those changes.

The wickedness of Manasseh and Amon were so great that the nation had endured 55 years of idolatry and paganism of large proportion. Even the Godly Josiah could not bring about a spiritual change through the outward physical changes he brought about in national worship.

The book of Zephaniah is known for the phrase "the day of the Lord" and although the Messiah is not specifically mentioned in the book it is only He that can fulfill the promises at the end of Zephaniah's message. Zephaniah ends on a high note about the triumphant reforms of his Distant Cousin, the Messiah, another descendant of the royal line of Judah.

Not much is known about the person of Habakkuk the prophet but the fact that he ended with a psalm that includes the word Shigionoth, a word similar to the shiggaion of Psalm 7, might mean that Habakkuk was somehow involved in the music ministry of the temple at Jerusalem.

As for the time of writing, Habakkuk does not name the specific king on the throne at the time of his prophecy but indications are that it was during the reign of either Jehoahaz or his brother Eliakim/Jehoiakim, both evil sons of Josiah. This would place the time of writing at about 609 B.C. since the campaign against Jerusalem began within a few years of Josiah's death.

Jeremiah began his prophetic ministry in the 13th year of the good king, Josiah, and continued until the destruction of Jerusalem during the reign of Zedekiah. This place the dates between 627-586 B.C. Jeremiah was himself the son of a priest by the name of Hilkiah.

The life of Jeremiah was a hard one! He was branded a traitor to king and country for the judgment that he pronounced. His message later brought hope to at least one captive, Daniel, as he read the prophecy and came to understand that some of the exiles would make their way back to Jerusalem at the end of 70 years captivity.

The book can be divided into three sections, the first occuring while Judah was being threatened by Egypt and Assyria, the second covering the threat by Babylon, and finally after Jerusalem was conquered. The last section was a time of ministry to the occupied inhabitants of Jerusalem and later those who rebelliously made their way to Egypt, forcing Jeremiah to accompany them.