Saturday, September 22, 2012

Yielded Up Their Bodies


I am sitting on my bed with fresh clean sheets. I love clean sheets. My wonderful children are at their dad’s house, which means I will have this entire bed to myself tonight. Though, I don’t feel like sleeping. I’ve been in a lot of pain today, but I took a TON of my painkillers and I was able to not only function, but get some really important things done.  I just couldn’t bear wasting an alone day. I can’t take that many painkillers two days in a row, so I’m determined to get as much done today as possible, because tomorrow I am probably going to feel like dying. Life with Lyme….it’s better than no life at all.

I wanted to share something I recently taught the children during our family scripture time. I’m taking the children through the book of Daniel. Yes, again. I really treasure that book. I always wanted to name one of my boys Daniel, but kept naming them after people we cared about that didn’t have children of their own. If I’m ever blessed enough to remarry and have another child, the boy will be Daniel!

The passage I want to write about is in chapter three, so I’ll need to do a quick overview of the first two chapters to put it in context. Maybe I’ll get to do some real posts about the first two chapters, because there is so much rich application in them. For now, here’s the speed version.

Chapter One

The year is around 605 BC. (give or take a year). Israel had been quite naughty for some time. God had patiently and, at times, sternly warned them through many prophets. If they didn’t repent, He would send the Babylonians to discipline them. The Babylonians—a fierce nation, whose very name caused other lands to tremble. Nebuchadnezzar, their king, was a ruthless man. He loved ripping people to pieces, sometimes literally. One of his punishments was to pull two trees into a bent position, tie one of the prisoner’s limbs to each tree and then cut the tension ropes, allowing the trees to snap back into their position, while ripping the prisoner’s body in half. Nice man.

You’d think knowing the Babylonian reputation the people would heed the prophets and repent, but there were also false prophets who kept reassuring the Israelis that there would be peace and the other prophets were just hate-mongers. Persecution of true prophets was rampant. Sound familiar?

Well, the word of God was fulfilled and Babylon came and besieged Israel in three stages. In the first stage Daniel was taken captive to serve in King Nebuchadnezzar’s court along with three of his friends: Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. They are more commonly known by the names Nebuchadnezzar gave them: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. Daniel was about 14 or 15 years old at the time of his capture. The young men underwent three years of training and indoctrination and then were placed in the king’s service.

Chapter Two

Nebuchadnezzar (called Nebby at our house) had a dream that worried him. He wanted his wise men to interpret the dream for him, but he was sure they would just make up an interpretation to appease him. To avoid that problem, Nebby decided to make the wise men tell him what his dream was before they interpreted it, that way he could know they really had the power to help him. The wise men were flabbergasted. No king had ever required that before. It was downright impossible to do. Well, Nebby wasn’t too happy with that answer, so he sentenced all his servants to death.

Daniel, however, had a plan.  He sought favor from God to know the dream and its interpretation, which God granted him. Then he was hurriedly brought before the King. In humility and with great courage he told Nebuchadnezzar that no man is able to do what the King has requested, but there is a God in Heaven that speaks to men and He has let Daniel know the dream and its interpretation.

Basically there was a statue whose head was made of gold, its breast and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of brass, its legs of iron, and its feet was made partly of iron and partly of clay. Each of the parts of the statue represented a different kingdom. Nebuchadnezzar (representing the Babylonian Kingdom) was the head of gold. After him would come other kingdoms. But, then there was a stone. Oh! This stone is so important, I wish I could spend a post just on it! It was cut without hands and destroyed the statue in one fell swoop, then set up a kingdom that would last for eternity. God gave Nebuchadnezzar the dream to give him a glimpse of the future.

Our destination

Now we’ve arrived to the part I’ve been pondering. In chapter three Nebby builds a huge statue. This one, however, doesn’t just have a head of gold. The entire 90 ft. statue is made of gold from head to toe. It is as if Nebuchadnezzar was standing with his fist to the heaven’s saying, “My kingdom will NOT end no matter what you say.” Just to add more unrighteousness to his folly, he required everyone to bow down and worship the statue when they hear music play. The penalty for refusing is death.

Most of us know how this story goes. Daniel’s three friends (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego) were at the dedication of the statue. However, when the music played they refused to bow. Jealous co-workers reported them to the king. Now is when it really gets interesting. Nebuchadnezzar decided to give them a rare second chance. He said they would play the music again. If they bowed great. If they didn’t… “ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?” Daniel 3:15b

These three amazing young men didn’t even blink. Here is their response to the King:

“O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O King. But if not, be it known unto thee, O King, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” vs. 15-18

The King was beyond angry. The scriptures tell us that even his visage contorted with rage. He ordered the furnace heated seven times greater than normal and had the three young men bound and tossed into the flames. The intensity of the heat was so powerful that the soldiers ordered to carry them to the furnace perished.

Instantly, Nebuchadnezzar was on his feet in astonishment. He saw was four men walking freely in the furnace. He called them to come out of the furnace. The King and his court were amazed. Not only were the men unharmed by the flames, but neither their hair nor clothing was singed. They didn’t even have the smell of fire on them.

Here is part of the King’s response:

“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who hath sent His angel, and delivered His servants that trusted in Him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God. Therefore I make a decree, that every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, shall be cut in pieces…”

When these young men committed their lives to serving God, they did not insert qualifiers. They belonged to God, body and soul. Whatever He did with them was up to Him. We are called to make that same commitment, and like these blessed Israelites we are to yield up our bodies as well. How do we do that?

It’s not just the BIG things like sacrificing our lives for the gospel. First, it is simply obeying the things we already know to do. Keep our baptismal covenants. How that is lived out daily is different for each of us. I had to give up a lot to get baptized. The life I am left with is aging me much more quickly than I would have if I had remained at my old church. I’m plain tired and worn out, but I don’t regret it for one moment. Beauty means less to me than righteousness.

Yielding our bodies also means how we fulfill our desires. Do we keep the law of chastity? I’m 43 years old and single. I am not and will not be in a sexual relationship with a man until I am married. Is that always easy? Not really. I often get offers for “entertainment” at one of my jobs. Men invite me out. But, they are not the type of men I would spend an eternity with, so I decline. Periodically, someone tells me I should go out with them just to have some fun. You know, live a little.  It doesn’t have to be serious- they say. I think that is a stupid idea. What kind of fun can I really have with them? Men of that type are not going to be content with dinner and conversation. That is all I have to offer.

Yielding our bodies also means doing our best at every responsibility God has called us to. My primary responsibility is to be my children’s mother. I’m in the unenviable position of having to be father also, but mother is my first role. I take it very seriously. Don’t survive your parenting. Be purposeful in it. Make sure you can give a righteous account of the stewardship you were offered of your children. I have other responsibilities too. I’m an employee, which means I am to do my job with excellence and integrity. I also have a home to run. I want to do it in a way which honors and reflects well upon the glory of my Father in heaven.

I want you to reflect upon what yielding up your body means for you in the life God has called you to. Are you doing it well? Are there areas you want to improve? Maybe there is an area that needs to change all together.

In a later chapter of Daniel, he is promoted to second in command of the kingdom. Jealous men tried to find an area of neglect and couldn’t. Daniel fulfilled EVERY responsibility with diligence and excellence. I wish I could say there are no areas of neglect in my life. Just one look at my laundry basket will tell you there is. However, I am striving toward excellence. Hopefully, as I learn to yield more and more, I will give glory to Him in everything I do. Even if I never quite make it in this lifetime, it is a worthy goal in which to pour out my life.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Accepting Help


I was a newlywed in my twenties. Three times a week I would care for our youth pastor’s son. They didn’t need me to watch him, he said he liked his exposure to me. I’m not sure exactly sure what that meant, but I wonder if he changed his mind when young Taylor starting coloring in their Bibles after watching me mark in mine while I study?

This particular day, my then husband and I were driving back to our apartment with little Taylor in the back seat of our beat up old Chevy Impala. Taylor was a delightful preschooler, but very energetic and friendly. I was meditating fiercely on the passage about being kind to strangers because you could be entertaining angels unaware. I was wondering how to teach Taylor that passage without putting him in danger with a different kind of stranger.

Our apartment was gated, with a passcode, so I was a little surprised to see what appeared to be a homeless man in our parking spot as we pulled in. The verse I was just thinking about came quickly to my mind. What if he is an angel? Oh, but what if he is not? I think I’ll keep Taylor away from him just to be safe.

As I walked Taylor toward our building the man approached my husband.

“God told me to give this to you,” the stranger said, handing him a five dollar bill.

He held up his hand in refusal. “No, you need it more than I do.”

The stranger retorted, “If you don’t learn to ask for help, you’re going to be in a lot of trouble.”

When I next looked around, the man had disappeared. I mean literally disappeared. We couldn’t find him.

I have treasured that experience up in my heart for years.  I wondered if ironically, while I was thinking about angels, the Lord sent one to us. The gate to the apartment never opened and he was no where to be found. If he was an angel, I didn’t know if the message was intended for me or my then husband, but I tried not to forget it.

A few years went by and my first born arrived. I had been yearning for a child of my own for five years, so he was very welcome indeed and the joy of my heart. I had big plans for this child. My hero growing up was Caroline Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie. To me, she was the perfect mother. Just as Proverbs 31 teaches, the teaching of kindness was on her tongue. Her gentleness and service to her family never tired. That is the kind of mother I wanted to be. I was going to rise early and make homemade baby food. I was going to cheerfully teach and play with my son all day, then my husband would come home to a spotless home and a delicious home cooked meal.

Some days I could pull it off. Each day, I tried. For some reason, though, I couldn’t shake my tiredness. No matter what I did the exhaustion was overwhelming. I was even napping during the day when I could, and still I felt like my body wasn’t working. Oh the guilt I felt. Why couldn’t I tirelessly serve my family? I began memorizing passages on slothfulness in hopes of shaking the horrible desire to rest all the time, but it didn’t help. What was wrong with me?

Then, when Dillon was six months old, I was diagnosed with Thyroid cancer. That at least explained the tiredness. But, it didn’t help with my circumstances. Now I was facing surgery and radiation on top of this incredible exhaustion. My dreams of being the perfect mom went out the window. I was shattered and frightened. I wanted so much to raise my son. What if I didn’t survive the illness? The night I received the diagnosis my husband was out of the state. Alone on my bed, looking at my son, the joy of my heart, I cried out to my God while opening my Scriptures.

The passage I came to was the Virgin Mary after the angel had just given her the message that she would deliver God’s Son. Her life plans had just been shattered too. How did she respond?  Mary said, “Behold, the handmaiden of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word.” My heart was pierced and my prayer went something like this:

“God, I want to have Mary’s heart. I want to say be it done to me according to your word. I’m just scared to. I want to raise my son. However, if you’ll help provide the courage, I’ll say the words. I am your bondservant. Be it done to me according to your word.”

There was no magic button that made my heart courageous. But, day by day, I would cry out to him for grace to obey, as well as mercy to raise my son.

I got really sick and had a hard time keeping up with responsibilities. I felt like a failure, until one evening the words of the stranger came back to me. Maybe there is nothing wrong with me asking for help.

I told my friend, Emily Barefoot, I was having a hard time. Two days later she and her mom came by and did some ironing and helped with my floors. I felt some of the pressure alleviate. I learned asking for help was acceptable.

You’d think with such a powerful lesson I would be good at accepting help. But alas…. I am a slow learner. Let’s fast forward almost twenty years. I’m now in my forties. I’m a single mom with four children, plus one teenaged house guest for a semester, who needs some extra help with her homeschooling. I’ve been diagnosed with Lyme disease and am struggling with the effects of the treatments. I’ll be on three antibiotics for a year. I keep getting fevers and the pain is hard to deal with, which makes me move significantly slower than I normally would. Once again I am not keeping up well.

If I were intelligent and humble, this paragraph would have said, “I called my Relief Society President, told her what I needed and am now graciously accepting the service of others.”  But, alas, I was not intelligent and humble. I wanted to do it on my own. I wanted to feel like a success.

Fortunately, my Heavenly Father gave me an incredible Relief Society President, Jennifer Schwartz. She called me one day and said she feels like they should be doing more for me. I told her that though I don’t feel well, I think it is my responsibility to care for my family. She disagreed. I even tried using the scriptures. I pointed out the passages that talk of putting your house in order. I brought up the passages that say God doesn’t give us responsibilities without giving us the power to accomplish them.

Jennifer is a pull no punches kind of gal. I really like her and we get along great. But, that personality meant that she wasn’t going to let me use Scripture as a means of covering my pride. She said, “Yes, Annmarie, and it says in those passages to do it all by yourself, doesn’t it? Do you really want to deprive us of the opportunity to grow and serve you?”

“Now you’re making me feel guilty for not letting you serve,” I replied.

“Good.” She said.

We’ve compromised. One night a week, people are bringing us a meal. Normally I take a delightful elderly woman grocery shopping once a week. She’s providing someone to take her two of those times so I get a break. She’s also asked if occasionally someone can come in and help me with the house chores. I’m working on putting my pride aside for that one.  We’ll see…

You may be asking what is the point of this long post. I can tell you what the point is in my life. The Lord is trying to teach me several things.  First, I am not a failure if I need help. He tried to teach me that before I actually needed the help, but I am a slow learner.

You are not a failure if you need help either. Maybe you are like me. You want to be perfect. You want to excel at everything you try. You want to accomplish great things and be useful. There are times in your life when you won’t be able to do it all and someone will get the opportunity to serve you. Both of you will be blessed for the lessons learned during the time of service. So, if you are in the admittedly undesirable position of needing a helping hand, remember to put your pride aside and accept service graciously. I’m trying to learn to do that now.

Secondly, I will hopefully remember what if feels like to need service, but feel like a failure if you ask. I want to apply that in my service to others. How can I serve those around me in a way that makes them feel useful and successful as well? I’m writing down the things that would be helpful in my current circumstances, so when I encounter someone else struggling, I’ll know better how to be of service to them.

You can do the same. Look at those around you…or better yet, pray, because we are often good at seeming like we have it all together, when in reality we are drowning. Ask God who needs your service, then get in there and serve. To be honest, I HATE it when someone asks, “What can I do to help you?” Why? Because even though there are things I need help with, I feel too guilty asking them to do it. Instead, think about what would be useful and then say, “I would like to ____________. When can I come over?”

At least, those are some of the things I’ve been writing down for my service to others. Hopefully, we’ll all be good at both giving and accepting help.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Dealing with Wrongs


One of my favorite Christian thinkers is C. S. Lewis. I wish I could have been present at the Eagle and Child when he and Tolkien sat around discussing their writings, sharpening one another’s skills. I long for someone of his intellect to sharpen my own with, but alas, I must content myself with his writings…..

I recently read an essay an essay he wrote extrapolating two views on judgment in the Scriptures: the Hebrew view and the Christian view. I was glad to see he later pointed out they are both present in one another. It would be too simplistic to divide them. Plus, if our God really is the same yesterday, today, and forever (which we know Him to be) than there must be some homogeny between the two.

The Christian view was said to be one of dread. After all, we have the parable of the sheep and the goats, and the judgment seat of Christ. Protestantism also has sermons like Jonathon Edwards’ Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. When Mr. Edwards read his sermon to his church, the congregants were clinging to the columns of the building for fear of falling into the flames of hell on the spot. I myself sometimes tremble when I read Scriptures that teach that we will even be held to account for every thoughtless word uttered. Can you think of any thoughtless words uttered you’d like to take back? I can and am ashamed by them.

The Hebrew view, however, is said to be one of rejoicing. God is the Righteous Judge who will avenge all the wrongs. They look forward to His judgment. “O Let the nations be glad and sing for joy: for thou shalt judge…” Psa. 67:4 As Lewis pointed out, judgment is great if you are the plaintiff and not the one “in the dock”.

The reason judgment is accurately portrayed as something we should both dread and rejoice in, is because we are consistently in need of both. I have often said that what we humans really want is justice for ourselves, but mercy from others. Though, it really should be the other way around. We have all done things, often inadvertently, that harmed others. On the flip side, we have all experienced wrongs done to us. Some wrongs, like a scraped arm, are easy to overlook. Other’s leave gaping wounds that need attending to or we could perish.

The Scriptures are clear in what to do on both sides of judgment. If  you’ve sinned against God, repent. If you’ve sinned against man, repent and make it right. If you’ve lied about someone, correct the lie. If you’ve stolen, pay restitution. Sometimes you need your bishop to step in and help with this, if the issues are serious enough. Other times they can be dealt with between one another. However, human help sometimes fails. So, what do you do then?

I once sat in the car of a woman who was in distress and needed an ear. After we talked about her current situation, I told her she should go to her bishop. This was serious and needed more authoritative ears than mine. She began crying and told me stories of former bishops she’d had dealings with that handled things….well, badly, is the only word I can come up with, and she was afraid to go to her bishop now for fear of the same thing happening. My heart ached for her. Her testimony was shaky because of those previous instances. She wondered how the gospel could be true if those bishops didn’t hear the Spirit correctly and know who was lying in her situation. After all, don’t they receive a special endowment of the Spirit to be the judge in Israel?

While it is true they are set apart for their position, it is na├»ve and, I will add, unfair, to think they will do their job perfectly. After all, I am set apart for my callings at church. Does that mean I will never miss a beat while conducting music, or that I will always have an answer when someone asks a tricky question during one of the times I’m teaching? Absolutely not. I’m human, and I suspect everyone around me knows it very well. So, are bishops. They will make mistakes, so don’t judge them too harshly. It is a fallen world and none of us are immune.

The problem is, we have to live in this fallen world. What if you are the one with a gaping wound and everywhere you turn there is no help? I think that is how the woman who spoke to me felt. I have had some gaping wounds myself. This last year I have run many times to my Jehovah-rapha, the God who heals. A wrong had left me feeling like someone had ripped out all the essential parts I needed to live. I no longer trusted anyone. But, I’m not the kind of person who wants to live like that. I want to love people, to serve them, to communicate with them thoughts and ideas. So, I went to my Father in Heaven and asked Him what to do.

He took me to His Son. The Savior, who had lived His life in service to His people. Think how many weary days He spent teaching and healing them. Then, when they were there for so long that they ran out of food, he miraculously fed them all too. He gave away many of His nights too. They ate up His service, following Him everywhere. Everything He offered they took. For a while they adulated him, even laying palms at his feet as He rode into Jerusalem. Then, just a few days later, these same crowds cried, “Crucify Him!”

They abandoned him to the Roman barbarity guised as justice, called Him a heretic, and allowed Him to be executed. Even those friends who were closest to Him abandoned Him. The horrible agony He felt at His crucifixion must have been intensified by the emotional pain He felt being alone. Then, when things could get no worse, even His Father in Heaven had to leave Him briefly, something neither you nor I will ever experience. 

There have been times in my life, weary and wounded I have knelt in prayer, and felt His hand on my shoulder saying, “I understand.” Normally when people say that, they don’t. But He does. Yet, He came out whole and righteous, still able to love and serve His Father. How did He do it? The first epistle of Peter tells us how:

“For even hereunto were ye called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps:

Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth;

Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously;”  I Peter 2:21-23.

There is that Hebrew sense of judgment again. There is a judge in Israel who does not err. When you deal with the wounds of others righteously, it makes you more like Christ. You come out as a shining star leading others on a path of righteousness. You can do that, because you know there is a God who will one day right all the wrongs.

I’ve spoken the above passage to people many times. Once a woman said, “Good. I hope he never repents now and gets a taste of what he did to me at the judgment.” I don’t agree with that line of thinking. It wasn’t Christ’s thinking. He wanted them to repent. Even in the midst of His suffering He asked His Father to forgive them. We should too. Pray for those who’ve wronged you. I try to diligently pray for those who’ve harmed me, though not always as graciously as I could. Fortunately, He pricks my heart when I’m feeling callous. One day, if they repent, we can sit down in heaven together. Hopefully they’ll repent quickly and I can trust them even sooner and even sit down on earth with them-with all wrongs put aside.