Garments of praise

Six years ago a good friend of mine was suddenly killed—I still feel tears in my eyes when I talk about her. Now her sixteen-year-old son has posted an insightful piece that I’ve asked permission to re-post. I praise God for insight like this in one so young.

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To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that HE might be glorified. – Is. 61:3.

This verse is my testimony from the past couple months.  God has been teaching me about struggling in valleys of life, and how we respond to those things. In my case, I’ve been struggling with sin.

I seemed to always have a heavy spirit about, well, everything. It seemed like I was always getting things wrong, not necessarily in school or things like that, but on the inside. It seemed like I was constantly struggling with not being selfish, not being prideful, not seeking the respect of man, not being lazy, not getting wrong thoughts. . . . You get the picture. These are real things that we struggle with, but it seemed like these problems just kept popping up all the time; like I kept falling and failing time after time. And as much as I desired to not do those things, I did them.

So I’d admit my sin to God and confess. But eventually those confessions became just words to me because they didn’t change my heart. Instead, I just tried harder not to do the bad thing. But that just made the problem worse. By the end of every day I was so down because of my failure that I had basically given up. And thus, I was down nearly all the time.

But God has been giving me comfort and showing me that these problems are things that we struggle with our whole lives. We don’t overcome them in an instant and for good. Sanctification is a battle, a good fight. But in the fight He’s been teaching me that it’s not right for me to become entrenched and obsessed with battling those things. He’s been teaching me that physical effort and strength is worthless. The important thing in our struggles is faith.  That’s why in 1 Timothy Paul advises Timothy to “fight the good fight of faith.” So He’s been teaching me that I’m completely inadequate, and I need to trust in Him when I’ve failed. I need to trust Him that He knows my heart and will help me stand back up and defeat the problem.

The other thing that He’s been teaching me is basic: giving it over, and devoting myself to prayer and praise. And that’s where the verse at the top of the page comes in. It tells us to lay aside our struggling and mourning. Cast our pain and anxieties on Him. And obviously when we’ve failed at anything, we’re not going to feel good about it, so I’ve learned to start singing and praising Him.

There are two different responses to our problems: faith or fear. Repentance or arrogance. Surrender or physical effort. Prayer or worry. Praise or anger. Ultimately, we need to stop our anxiety over any problem, even if it is a real problem. God’s been showing me that we need to turn around, repent, entrust the problem to the Lord, ask Him to show us how to defeat it. If we’re confused, we ask Him to show us the way. We then need to devote ourselves to prayer for grace and strength. Then we praise Him. That He might be glorified.

Continue reading “Garments of praise”

Is praise really a sacrifice?

“By Him, therefore [Jesus, the one who suffered outside the camp], let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, even the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His Name. . . . For with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”

One time in church we were singing the song Blessed Be Your Name, which tends to make me cry. A young friend later said, “That’s really hard to say. It’s hard to say ‘Blessed Be Your Name’ when everything is dark and hard.” Continue reading “Is praise really a sacrifice?”

Acknowledging my inability

It was three years ago this month that I participated in the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers’ Conference. I listened to speakers talk about how to write nonfiction, the merits of self-publishing, and how to be a dynamite storyteller. I chatted with experts at the dinner table.

During such an empowering week, it’s always hard to get away for quiet time. But in a corner of the beautiful lodge, I discovered a little desk tucked away. Continue reading “Acknowledging my inability”

Life lessons from Bill Nye

Yes, the Science Guy. That one. The zany one who makes half hour programs that teach a modicum of science. [I used to have a photo of him here, but removed it for fear of recriminations from Disney, about which I’ve been hearing so much lately.]

One day, while Bill was teaching us that wetlands are wet, he held up two sponges, one dry, one damp.  He told us that a wet sponge will soak up more water than a dry one. Even if you don’t actually do the experiment, you can picture a dry sponge and a damp one both being plunged into a big bowl of water and removed. Continue reading “Life lessons from Bill Nye”

The joy of Joy Ridderhof

Update February 2015: Joy Ridderhof’s biography became the second in the Potter’s Wheel series of Christian biographies for children. You can see the book here and read a sample chapter here. I’ve written here and here and here and here and I guess especially here about how important I believe it is to give children good examples of Christians who “do exploits” for the Kingdom of God.

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A woman named Joy garnered fame
So different was she from her name.
Vindictive and rude,
Bitter venom she spewed–
But oh Joy! She was never to blame.

(This comes from being in bed with the flu. Sorry.) Continue reading “The joy of Joy Ridderhof”

On reading through the Bible in 2011

I’m a New Covenant Christian.

I say this without shame, with full understanding of the implications.

I believe that the New Covenant is not simply a new administration of the same covenant as the Old, but rather is a truly and radically NEW Covenant, based on the blood of Jesus Christ, completely fulfilling the Old. As we’re told in Jeremiah, Hebrews, Galatians, Colossians, and other places, the Old Covenant, by design, was not good enough. The New Covenant is better. Better. Better. In every way. Continue reading “On reading through the Bible in 2011”

Leviticus: My Wilderness Book

Through the years, every time I read Leviticus, I felt as if I were wandering in the wilderness. It seemed vast, dry, and dead. And may I add, pointless?

I was reading through the Bible, over and over and over, and I knew that in order to really read through the Bible, I shouldn’t skip Leviticus, even though I really wanted to, every time. All the sacrifices . . . and so much detail . . . ugh. Why did I have to read all that? I struggled to keep my mind from wandering, usually without much success. Continue reading “Leviticus: My Wilderness Book”