To Every Season…

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It’s 78 degrees here today while in Colorado the snow is falling.

The leaves are floating to the ground, slower here in the south than in the more northern regions, but they are scattered across our yard, reminding me of the new season to come.

Those that fall from the oak trees here are more brown than orange, while in the northwest, the Aspens are arrayed in golden splendor!

Many grumble and complain when they “take over” their yards, but I smile.  They are reminders to me of our creative God, how He uses the seasons He created as part of His design.  Yet they are not the same in every part of the world just as the seasons of our lives are different for each of us.

In the spring, these trees will sprout new and everything will turn green, a beauty of their own.  But for now, the colors have changed, the air has a crispness, the winds are lifting just a bit, and the yard is littered with reminders that everything changes and God is in control of it all, even the smallest leaf that falls to the ground.

Our lives reflect that change as well.  Sometimes it is welcomed and refreshing; while other times, it brings heartache and many a tear.  Yet, in the midst of it all, the steadfast love of the Lord never changes.  He is sovereign.  He is not surprised.  And He is control, walking with us through those changing times and, when we can’t walk another step, carrying us along the way.

He sends rain and sunshine to replenish the earth and He sends us to be His hands and feet into the lives of people all around us.

The seasons of our lives never remain the same.  And that is the road on which we walk.

He opens doors and closes them.

He brings joy and allows sorrow.

He sees our laughter and our tears.

He reveals and He redeems.

He lifts us up and brings us low…but always, He carries His own and makes Himself known to those with eyes to see.

Little glimpses of grace litter our paths every day, God’s touches in the impossible.

Lord, give us eyes to see, hearts to understand, minds that discern, and a willing spirit to sustain us to walk in Your Truth, regardless of the season.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.

Great is our Lord and mighty in power; His understanding has no limit.

The Lord sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground.

Sing to the Lord with grateful praise…

He covers the sky with clouds; He supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills.

He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call.

His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor His delight in the legs of the warrior.

The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love.

He spreads the snow like wool and scatters the frost like ashes…”

     Psalm 147:3-7a, 8-11, 16

“At this, Job got up and tore his robe….Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gives and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised and adored!’”    

                                                                           Job 1:20-21

 

Restrain or Give Way

While at a local store, my husband and I encountered a man in front of us in line that tested my husband’s patience. I was oblivious to the extent of his rudeness because my attention was elsewhere, but I did hear one of his comments and that one was enough to make me raise an eyebrow.

He was caustic and insolent, giving snide remarks and pushy comments to the clerk. Driving home my husband told me it was making him angry to listen and that it was hard not to step in and make a comment of his own.

The situation made us stop and think…when and what do we restrain and when do we give way?

Sometimes we pray for patience (oh, a dangerous prayer to pray) and God gives opportunities to grow that fruit in us. The reality is, He knows we need that pruning and will give us situations even if we don’t ask for them. Yes, our God has a sense of humor, even as some of that pruning is rather uncomfortable; but there is always purpose in our pain in our pursuit and practice of becoming more like Him…be it patience or other areas.

How many times do we restrain ourselves – whether in words or actions – even though our hearts are desiring quite the opposite? And when is that restraint most often practiced? Is it easier to draw back from a confrontational and/or acidic response with strangers? Are we more inclined to give into that “response” to those we love; to let the frustration and anger pour out on friends or family instead? Is it easier to say no to a temptation when we are with a certain group of people more than others or when we are alone?  And when we ought to give way, do we pull back in fear when God is calling us to step out in faith?

Do we live with eyes open, asking God to give us the discernment to see temptation as it rises and the courage and power to not just step back but intentionally respond with the heart of one committed to Christ – to tame a caustic tongue, to turn away from a particular action, to press forward and do the hard thing?

The reality is we all have sinful hearts and are tempted again and again to do and say things that are contrary to the “new creation” we are in Christ or to not do things for His glory that are outside our comfort zone. Face it; we are told to “follow” our hearts, but they are completely deceitful and will, if we are not prayerful and intentional, take us down roads we would never intend to go.

An angry word, a confrontational comment (that is not spoken humbly in love, for the good of the other person), a sinful action in public or when no one is looking, a bitter heart nurtured by murmuring or complaining, or anything that sets itself up against the character of God and His command for us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18) – set them all aside by the same power that raised Jesus from the dead and live out what we know!

As our friend Bill McDonald says, “Be intentional doers of the Word!”

It is at that intersection of choice that the Holy Spirit will be prompting those who are followers of Jesus Christ; He will convict us, remind us, prod us, pull back on us and say, “Whoa!” We will either choose to curtail our impulses, our desires, and our temptations or we will give ourselves over to them and rush headlong into whatever is set before us, often either blaming someone else or a situation or rationalizing that at least we don’t…(fill in the blank) or that we all have our sin bents and we will never be perfect this side of heaven so….!

When we well up with any desire that is contrary to God’s character and His commands, we have a decision to make (and often not much time to make it; it’s why God says “train yourselves” beforehand). Restraint in the face of temptation says we are hearing God’s voice and choosing to “take up His cross and follow” obediently for His glory, our ultimate joy, and the good of those most affected by our choices.

Every time we set a guard over our mouths, our hands, our feet, or our imaginations, we are strengthening our spiritual muscle, making it easier to hear the voice of the Lord and respond well the next time.

Sometimes it will take intentionality beyond what we think we can do or, in our flesh, would like to do. Often it takes a deliberate call out to God and a rebuke of the enemy of our souls who loves to exploit our weaknesses. Ultimately, we have to stand on the truth that God Himself has given us everything we need for “life and godliness,” “to take every thought (and every emotion) captive” – increasingly!

When we stand firm – we ought to celebrate, thank God, and allow someone to rejoice with us! Realize that it is God at work, continuing to “complete the good work He began.” Likewise, when we blow it – take it to the cross, leave it there, don’t keep picking it up or see it as an excuse to toy with it. Instead, thank God that, in Christ, we are forgiven but that He has given us all we need to stand firm, asking Him to remind us of that the next time a snare is set for our souls.

It’s not a “Pull yourselves up by your own bootstraps” or “You can do it because you are strong!” issue! Not at all. We are weak, and the enemy knows our breakpoints; but God, who created us and calls us by name, knows us better and is already there set to equip us, strengthen us, and give us the ability to stand or flee, to speak or be silent, to murmur and complain or give thanks, to sink into despair or cry out for His mercy. Yes, He provides and equips, but it’s our job to take hold of that grace and use it!

Restrain or give way…but do so not according to the tug of your heart and its desires but according the Word of God and the unwavering voice of our Savior!

“…Stand firm and you will see the deliverance, the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today!” Exodus 14:13

“The healthy Christian has a sense of God’s presence stamped deep on his soul, trembles at God’s Word, lets it dwell in him richly by constant meditation upon it, and tests and reforms his life daily in response to it.” J.I. Packer

“A correct view of God is necessary in order to have a correct view of everything else.”

Don’t Miss the Beauty

In the past two months, we have been through and stayed in 15 states, driving just short of 10,000 miles. We have experienced mountains, valleys, canyons, mesas, forests, and wide open expanses; rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans; cities, towns, and wilderness; very hot and extremely cold, sunshine and snow (literally no rain until the last couple of days). We have seen sunsets to amaze and take your breath away, sunrises that whisper, “Good morning.” We have stopped to rejoice in and give thanks for God’s creativity and His awesome handiwork!

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So, tonight, when we took a walk around our neighborhood and on the back road under the canopy of trees, I wasn’t expecting to be awed; I wasn’t expecting to be reminded of the beauty that I call home. But I was!

I looked up and saw the trees and woods all around me and I saw His hand. I looked up and saw a sunset that rivalled many we had seen out west – the colors varied, burst across the sky, and the clouds reflected those colors as well as the shades of dark and light. The Lord reminded me that HIs creativity and glory aren’t limited to a particular region, place, or geological feature – though each, in their own way, have something different to offer. He reminded me to pause in the moment of my every day and be amazed!

So, hello Home – you are beautiful because you have been crafted by the hand of the One who spoke all things into being and said, “It is good!”

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Just As He Said…Revisited

Celebrations abound.

We exalt and lift high the sacrifice of our Redeemer and often mix in with it the traditions of spring, much to the delight of children and adults! Taking pleasure in family, friends, and the life we have been given is a joy, and our God created us to receive with thanks all He has given.

But, don’t miss the greater reality!IMG_0317 FOR BLOG.JPG

The King of Kings came in history, in real time. He chose the nails to give us new life!

Don’t miss the whisper that is actually a roar!

The truth remains. The fact is still…

The grave could not hold Him!

The tomb is empty!

He has risen, just as He said! And we delight in that risen Savior!

“It is finished” began in a manger and was complete at Calvary!

Tetelastai! Our debt has been paid!

BUT, though complete, it didn’t end there!

Jesus submitted to the Father, endured the scorn and separation as He died on the cross; but, in His power, He burst forth from the tomb!

As the angel of the Lord sat on the rock that covered the tomb that, after the crucifixion, held Jesus Christ, he did so in triumph as a witness and a proclamation to the women who came to the place of burial…and to us today!

Death could not hold the Son of God; He went willingly to the cross to redeem His own, but “it was impossible for Him to be held by it!” (Acts 2:24)

And that same power that raised Jesus from the dead is the same power that raises us to new life in Him.  He tells us to come as we are, but He doesn’t intend to leave us as we are!  We are forgiven and redeemed for that new life!

New life that does not hold on to the old.

New life that decimates our shame.

New life that is redeemed by the works of our Savior not our own.

New life that is able to see with new eyes and trust even when we can’t.

New life that exalts in His glory and is amazed by His mercy and grace.

And yet…

New life that is wrecked by freedom from our old; so that our desires are increasingly transformed!

New life that humbly allows the Spirit of God to faithfully calm our fears.

New life that humbly lays down our idols and all we cling to for satisfaction, security, self-worth, and identity to find them in the only capable place – the heart of God.

New life to give the forgiveness and grace to others that we have been given in Christ.

New life to love in a way that makes no sense to the world – loving and serving those who may hate us, even harm us. Love that serves yet never compromises the truth of God, even if it rocks self-defined worlds and shatters man-made perceptions of Him.

New life that humbly allows the Spirit of God to break through our hard hearts and convict us of sins we hold too close; that submits and fiercely battles the sins that so easily entangle.

New life that humbly allows the Spirit of God to then empower us to say “no” to that which has long been our “go to” sins, instead saying “yes” to the increasing righteousness of Christ!  Yes, we stand before the Father in Christ’s righteousness from the moment of surrender; but it is how He intends for us to grow, living out our lives in joyful obedience to His commands that are meant for our greatest good and His glory!

New life that seeks to give new life!

Because He has risen just as He said!

And no “power of hell, no scheme of man could ever pluck me from His hand; for I am His and He is mine, this is the power of Christ in me!”  (“In Christ Alone” – Getty)

The earth has quaked, the veil has been torn in two, the stone is rolled away and true freedom comes for those who lay down their lives, accept the free gift of salvation and the lordship of Jesus Christ, and so, live in the power of the resurrection!

And that roar is heard across the ages!

“God thunders wondrously with His voice; He does great things that we cannot comprehend.” Job 37:5

“…You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” I Corinthians 6:19-20

“Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day…he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.” (Acts 2:29-32)

“The cross is the finished work of Christ, paying the penalty of our sins; the resurrection of Christ is the power and the proof! It’s not the extra point – it is the EXCLAMATION point!”  (Pastor Joseph Wheat)

Speaking to God…and Listening: He is Personal!

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I love knowing that the God of the Bible is personal; that He hears me every time I speak and delights for me to come to Him again and again.  I can pray big and I can pray bold because He is the God who is “able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think…”  (Ephesians 3:20)

As I grew up, praying to and thanking my heavenly Father was something both taught and modeled as active and relational. It was part of life, but it wasn’t “just a tradition.”

As the years went by, I submitted my life to Christ and began learning to live in a more personal relationship with Him, as all must choose one way or the other (…salvation is not a family “gene” to be granted – it is a one-on-one, chosen response to God’s gift of salvation through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus!*). I was encouraged by others, who discipled me and led into a deeper walk with my Savior, to have honest conversations throughout the day as well as intentional time alone with Him; to come to Him in prayer with praise, thanks, and repentance!

Prayer is not a formula; it is coming as we are into the very presence of the living God! And we can do that because of Jesus!

I love to drive down the road, listening to great music, singing out loud! It’s a delight to my Savior to hear me sing songs that praise Him and/or set my eyes on Him, regardless of whether or not it is simply a joyful “noise” to others.  It is, in essence, a musical prayer of praise!

I love to be busy around the house, ride my bike or walk, get in the car and head to work or anywhere else and just talk to my Savior, sometimes through laughter and sometimes through tears. And I know He hears.  I know He rejoices with me when my joy is in Him and in what pleases Him. I know He delights when, in humility, I come to Him in repentance and say, “Forgive me. Change me.” I know He weeps with me when my heart is hurting.

I love to join with other believers laying out our joys and sorrows before the throne of grace and with my husband bringing our children and those we love before this One who knows before we speak yet wants to hear from our lips.

And I love to leave the distractions and find my quiet place alone to pour out my heart to my Father while opening His Word to hear His voice as well!

God is personal; He is ABBA, Daddy! And He knows me, my heart, and my thoughts better than I know myself.

So today, sometimes I pour out praise and sometimes pain. But, if I’m honest, sometimes I simply complain.

I want answers and, too often, I want them in my timing and the way I think best; and, if not, I want to know why. It’s in those complaining moments, I wonder if I am too casual with God Most High!

Yes, he wants to hear my hurts – but complaining can lead towards spewing it all out with little or no desire to hear His response in return. He is my tender Savior, but also my Mighty King!

The Lord doesn’t mind my “whys,” but He wants me to learn to submit them to Him when He doesn’t give an answer…or at least not the answer I want. But it isn’t the attitude of a dad who says, “Because I said so!” and walks away disgruntled or irritated by the question.

No, it’s very much – “I AM God and I said so!” But with the tender protective attitude of “I hear you, but I know what you don’t know. I see what you don’t see. I want more for you than you want for yourself – because I know what that looks like so much better than you. Yes, it is for Me, God Almighty, to get the glory because I am worthy of honor and praise! (That’s not arrogant – it’s fact!) But I answer according to My will because I love you that much. I love you enough to sometimes say ‘Yes,’ sometimes ‘No,’ and, at other times, ‘Better’ – you just may not recognize the difference…yet!” (To be clear, I know those words are not “quotes” of God from the Bible; rather, a conversation I imagine He might have with me – based on His Word).

As with any relationship, we know and love one another, and increasingly so, as we talk to each other, speak, and listen. If all we do is talk, then walk away or tune out as the other is sharing their heart, not really interested in their thoughts or assuming we know what they will say, do we really know someone? Can we truly love them well? Is it any different with God?

Often, I’m brought up short as I consider the words of a favorite song, “…I’ve tried to hear from Heaven. But I talked the whole time…” (“What Do I Know of Holy?” – Addison Road) when God just wants me to simply “Be still and know that I AM God…” (Psalm 46:10).  And so, as I am reminded of this truth, I’m still learning to pray and listen well…seeking to be still, asking Him to renew my heart and give me a steadfast spirit and open eyes and ears.

More and more, I recognize I DON’T “get it” a lot.  But I don’t have to always understand what God is doing. He is God; I am not. And that is good.

As I have been praying lately for family members, close friends, and some situations for which I have no answers and with outcomes I can’t control, I recognize how my expectations are too small in light of the power of the God of the universe! I see how I unintentionally attempt to limit God when I think my prayers are just the right answer. I miss the fact that, in His timing and ways, He is doing 10,000 things I can’t even begin to see!

I have watched Him turn certain situations around 180 degrees from how I thought they needed to be “accomplished” for a certain outcome and He provided that outcome or better…without doing things my way. How thankful I am when He adjusts my heart to His will, tunes my heart to see His answer in that moment, and doesn’t always give me what I ask for.  I have seen Him soften and transform hearts I had doubted would ever be changed!

But God!  Oh, to see with His eyes always.

We can come as a child, believing yet, at times, asking Him to help our belief; waiting in expectation!

From the outset, we are told to come into His presence with praise (Psalm 100:4) and thanks (Philippians 4:6)!  Don’t our hearts begin to hear His heart as we first choose to put our eyes and our focus on the goodness of our Savior before we lay out our requests, our pleas, our hurt?  We can walk on the churning waters and call out for His help with eyes fixed, not on the circumstances around and beneath us, but straight ahead at Jesus, as Peter did and was able to walk on water!

We are told to “come boldly to the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16) with our confidence fully placed on the One to whom we pray. It is not our words that change things; rather, it is the actions of the only One who hears! There are no “perfect words” or “professional pray-ers;” none so eloquent as to peak the interest of the Almighty. He hears the hearts of those who come to Him in humility and recognition that HE alone is able! He hears those who say, “I believe; help my unbelief.” He hears through our tears and our joy!

I have found myself more and more asking the Holy Spirit to “intercede (before God’s throne) for us with groanings that are too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)  So often I don’t know the words to say as I pray, but He has them and they are perfectly tuned to the heart of God.

And, I take pleasure in being able to pray, “Jesus, take what I’m praying and adjust my words and my heart to be in unity with the heart of the Father” – asking Jesus to intercede for me and for those I love as well because He is at the right hand of God doing so for us! (Romans 8:34)

Equally, God has called us to pray for our enemies; for those who have hurt us or those we love deeply and for those who have sinned against us, spoken falsely about us, or attempted to harm us. It is by His grace we can do so and it is His mercy that changes us and enables us to long for their heart change (and, as needed, our own).

I am also humbly being reminded to pray, “Not my will but Yours, God” – all the while asking Him to adjust my heart to pray that faithfully and honestly. Jesus wrestled with the Father’s will in the garden so much so that he sweat drops of blood and, yet, He submitted and went to the cross for us. I pray God will give me a submissive heart to pray and live those words well.

Praying the very words of God back to Him, even inserting names and places, is powerful and effective but also extremely personal. We are entering the throne room of God, bringing His Word to bear on our lives and the lives of those for whom we pray. We know that His Word is living and active and doesn’t return void. We know His Word is His will, so we know we can pray humbly yet boldly and intimately, such as:

“Lord God, I ask you to “fill (insert “me” or another) with the knowledge of (Your) will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that (he/she) may live a life worthy of the Lord and please (You) in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of (You),God,  being strengthened with all power according to (Your) glorious might so that (he/she) may have great endurance and patience…” (Colossians 1:9-11)

I’m learning (again) that God wants me to have open hands, not hands that seek to fix anything (though there are times He wants us to be His hands and feet). Rather, He calls me to, before all things, lay people and situations at His feet, step back, and remind myself as I tell Him, “Yes, Lord, they are Yours; yes, Lord this is Your situation to do as You will. It may be easy or it may be hard, but it will be from Your hand!”

We can honestly pour out our desires and our questions then leave them in the strong Hands that are good, even when it doesn’t “look” or “feel” good! We can fully trust the One Who Himself is Faithful and True.

I will still crank up the music and sing out loud as I drive down the street because it resets me heart! It takes my mind off me and whatever weighs on my heart and exalts Him!

I will still choose to give thanks to the Lord in all circumstances when I “feel” like it and when I don’t! (I Thessalonians 5:18)

I will still pour out my tears before God, as David did in the Psalms. “My tears have been my food day and night…” (Psalm 42:3) and as Jesus encouraged us to “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

I will still pray without ceasing for broken bodies, wounded hearts, devastated relationships, self-pleasing lives and choices (recognized or not), and unredeemed souls. I will wrestle before the throne of God on their behalf out of great love and through tears, as Paul did for and wrote to believers in 2 Corinthians 2:4, “out of great distress and anguish of heart…(out of) the depth of my love for (them).”

But, in the end, I will cease my striving, open my hands, and with thanksgiving in advance of or in spite of the answer, say, “I will trust You, Father!  Speak for me, Jesus! Holy Spirit, intercede with groanings and longings I can’t express…pray as I don’t know how to pray.”

He will hear. He will do just that.

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard (my) heart and mind in Christ Jesus!” (Philippians 4:7)

*You can have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. You can learn more about that relationship and chat live with someone at https://needhim.org/knowing-jesus/  or feel free to ask questions here.  I would love to have a conversation giving you reason for the hope I have in Christ!

“All have sinned and come short of the glory of God…” Romans 8:23  But God has provided a way:  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

Words Matter

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Many years ago, when our children were younger, one of my closest friends, who is now in the presence of our Savior, renamed the two of us: Miss Construed and Miss Understood. For a time, conversations we would have with a couple of other people often seemed to break down and, despite our best intentions, what we meant to communicate was not what they heard; the uneasiness between us all was palpable.

We would nervously laugh and say that Miss Construed and Miss Understood were simply not making themselves clear or that the others were merely “deaf” to our actual thoughts. But neither of us found humor in the division and it wasn’t funny when our own friendship was strained a couple of years later by words that were misunderstood and misconstrued.

Throughout that time, the Lord was teaching me, in hard ways, the importance of words spoken (and even unspoken), how they are said, and how they are “heard.” I am thankful that, by God’s grace, she and I forgave each other and recognized that words can so easily build us up or tear us down; but they can also be used to reconcile and grow us.

Truth spoken instead of a lying tongue.

Certainty of fact spoken with kindness instead of a caustic comment.

Life-giving remarks instead of soul-starving declarations.

Words matter.

We can hear them through our own filter or we can choose to hear with a heart bent towards seeking to understand. We can speak rashly, harshly, or just honestly without love or we can learn to think and, even more wisely, to pray before we communicate our thoughts.

Truth be told, I can be reticent to speak when I know it is important but uncomfortable to do so. Sometimes I am more inclined to avoid conflict and “keep the peace” than address significant issues that need to be discussed. That is neither healthy nor loving.

It is why I am trying to make it a practice to ask God to direct both my spoken and written words; to “set a guard over my mouth,” to “keep watch over the door of my lips,” (Psalm 141:3), and to cause “the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart to be acceptable to You, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer!” (Psalm 19:14) – even as I ask Him to make me bold, when necessary, to speak the truth – that challenges – in love!

I am refreshed to hear words of encouragement and it is my desire to give life-lifting breaths to family, friends, or a random stranger! When I know my words have been soothing to a soul, my heart smiles and I thank God. But when I know my words have broken the heart of another – for whatever reason – it breaks mine as well.

Unfortunately, that desire to encourage sometimes falls flat when I know my intentions, but the words that I speak arrive at another’s ears with a completely different perception. I have to be cautious about how I express myself lest my words be misconstrued. Yet, I know that even well thought out sentiments can be equally misinterpreted.

That’s why humble hearts are also needed on the receiving end as well as people willing to sit face-to-face and heart-to-heart to communicate what was heard, what was meant, and how to go forward with that. Sometimes that will lead to healing and unity; other times, it is a point on which to agree to disagree but without leaving a bitter root.

Hard but important words can feel like salt in a wound and, nevertheless, be just what is needed. Sometimes words of caution or challenge are needed from another to me or from me to another. The balancing act is how to bring them in such a way that we do not come across as either being caustic or seeking to be the Holy Spirit, which is never my intent.  How can we give words that may sting, but not close the door to continued conversations that will hopefully bring change.  In fact, as I write or speak to anyone in any way, I pray that the Holy Spirit will take my words and use them as He sees fit or cause them to be silenced if they dishonor God or would be received in any way that would not be “helpful for building others up according to their needs.” (Ephesians 4:29)

That being said, I know there are times, the Lord will want to use challenging words; yet the intended heart is not ready to receive correction or, because of a preconceived opinion, will not see the facts and will be resentful of the “messenger” or will seek to justify why the words that pierce their soul are either “hateful,” “hypocritical,” “hurtful,” or “completely off base and judgmental.”

I must also check my response when others bring loving confrontation to my life; I must not be resentful of the “messenger.  Rather, before all things, I have to measure my response to any sting I might feel and ask the Lord to show me if and where the message is consistent with what He wants to see moved out of or into me.

There are times to remain silent, to pray diligently for another while refraining from words.

But if we love deeply, there are times, that to remain silent is not loving and can even be a hindrance to the person or a relationship.

Still, our words and our motives must be submitted to God; our conversations taken to the throne of grace before and after. And, if our words are met with resistance and anger, we aren’t to respond in the same way. Instead, we must, in that moment, take the person and their reaction to the Lord and resubmit our own hearts to Him, asking Him to cover any words wrongly spoken and to give us wisdom in moving forward.

“A word aptly spoken (in the right circumstances) is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”  (Proverbs 25:11)

Throughout Proverbs 25, we read of the “goodness” of both a messenger of good news and one who must speak truth that is hard. And yet, it concludes with not seeking one’s own glory and the utmost importance of self-control (both in our actions and our words)!

I know, for a fact, that some of those sweetest “apples of gold” have come from people who have loved me so well that they have spoken hard truths to me; they have challenged me in my attitudes, actions, and/or words. But they have done so for a greater purpose, for God’s glory and my good! They were “faithful wounds” (Proverbs 27:6) and, while it felt like a tearing down in the moment, ultimately God used them to rebuild me, grow me, and strip away those places in my life that were not pleasing to the Lord and were keeping me from my greatest delight in Him and in others!

We speak the truth in love for a purpose!

That purpose is not to prove we are right.

That purpose is not to exact revenge.

That purpose is not to exalt ourselves or the justice of our cause.

That purpose is made clear in Ephesians 4:15 when Paul writes that we are to speak the truth in love – not love of ourselves, but love of God and, so, love for the other person – that “we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ.”

We speak the truth that is grounded not in our own opinions or anyone else’s, for that leads to being “tossed back and forth by waves, and every wind of teaching and the cunning and craftiness of people (including ourselves) of deceitful scheming” (v 14).

Rather, the truth is rooted in the very character of God, revealed through His Word that never changes; His story of redemption from beginning to end.

It is not old and outdated as some would claim but is “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12), written by the very One who created us and knows so much better than any man how He designed us to live as individuals, with Him and with one another.

It is the life-giving, God-breathed Word that is able to refresh and restore our souls and it profits us by teaching us what is true, making us realize what is wrong in our lives, corrects us in that wrong, and trains us (as an athlete trains for a race) to do what is right and good (2 Timothy 3:16) – for God’s glory and our greatest joy!

We have been created to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever!” How awesome is that!

But we need His Word and His Holy Spirit to see Him as He is and to show us what that glorifying and enjoying Him looks like in light of His redemption of sinners just like us! And He has given us each other to “spur one another on” with shoulders to lean on and words of encouragement and challenge as we “do life” together and as we “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

May my words and yours increasingly be life-giving, always pointing to Jesus!

“Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”   I Thessalonians 5:11

God Is More Than Able

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“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be the glory…”  Ephesians 3:20-21

God is able.  We know that.  We don’t doubt it.  We want our lives to reflect a deep assurance in Jesus so that others will know the God in Whom we trust.  And yet, there are times we forget and allow our fears to overtake what we know and step off our firm foundation to a place of shifting sand.

It’s so easy to trust, when our eyes are fixed on Jesus and when we “feel” His presence.  But when the winds shift and the waves get wild, too often we shift our gaze inward to self or outward to circumstances and we falter.

Can’t we, at times, relate to Peter, the disciple who boldly declared his allegiance to the Savior, yet later ran in fear when asked if he knew Him?  It wasn’t his intention; but, in that moment, he hesitated.  He had moments of both trust and the lack thereof throughout his life.

In Matthew 14, he boldly declared his faith by looking intently at the Savior and, thus, was able to walk out to Him on the water when Jesus said, “Come.”  But when Peter began to focus on the raging storm around him, taking his eyes off Jesus and putting them on what he could see, he began to sink.  It was Jesus who had to save him when all he could do was cry out; just as He is faithful to do for us when we call out in our weakness.

God lovingly commands His children to keep our eyes on Him – yes, because He is worthy and yes, because He is good!   But it is also because God knows that we are only steadfast, confident, and able to stand firm when our eyes are completely fixed on Him through His Word, the Bible, and our daily, even minute to minute, communication with Him through prayer.

These aren’t legalistic rituals or “spiritual” exercises to soothe the soul on the surface. Rather, it is time to climb into the lap of our Abba Father, our Savior, our Comforter and to rest instead of wrestle; to put our confidence in the hope that is grounded in a Person, namely Jesus, not a “hope without substance” philosophy devised by man.

It might be a designated time or an impromptu moment of praise, an outpouring of our pain or doubt, or a humble moment of repentance when His Spirit convicts our hearts and we must set our sin aside so we can again firmly walk in truth.  When we are in relationship with the living God through Jesus Christ, we can come at any moment – He desires it and beckons us to it.

God loves for us to bring Him praise, unburden our hearts, pour out our fears, and lay ourselves bare before the God who knows us intimately, even better than we know ourselves.  When we don’t understand the circumstances around us, we have a Father who is not afraid of our questions and who even allows us to ask “why.”  But then He tells us to trust in what we cannot see rather than demand that He change our situations or readjust His will and His ways to suit ours.  We are called, as children, to open hands; to a humility that says, “Not my will, but Yours, Lord.”

And, we are invited to a greater hope and purpose that says, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)  Many cling to that verse as if it is quick fix – that if we delight ourselves in the Lord, He will do whatever we want Him to do.  But it is so much richer and more redeeming than this short-sighted view.

The paradox is that if we truly grow in our delight of the LORD – if we earnestly seek Him and know Him – our desires will be transformed to reflect His desires, our wills will be changed to want His will.  In so doing, we will receive the double satisfaction of having a heart after our Redeemer and He, in turn, will fulfill His renewed purposes and our redefined desires.  Through it all, He gets the glory and we receive the joy!

We see the chaos; He sees where He has said, “this far and no further.”  We often miss seeing the mercy and grace in situations, but make no mistake, everything that touches us is full of both, even when we don’t see or feel it.

Our covenant keeping God sees the full picture clearly, from start to finish.  We see only where we stand in a moment’s time and even that imperfectly.  If we will trust the heart of the One who, in His great love for us sent His Son to redeem us and make us His own, we can rest, even give Him praise, in the middle of the moments that sometimes rock our world, the daily grind of the ordinary, or the difficult life situations that are part of our everyday, because we know that what He does and what He allows has a greater purpose now and in the future.

As Oswald Chambers writes, “We have the idea that God is going to do some exceptional thing, that He is preparing and fitting us for some extraordinary thing by and by, but as we go on in grace we find that God is glorifying Himself here and now, in the present minute.  If we have God’s say-so behind us, the most amazing strength comes, and we learn to sing in the ordinary days and ways!” 

And again, Chambers states it so clearly,“Faith for my deliverance is not faith in God. Faith means, whether I am visibly delivered or not, I will stick to my belief that God is love. There are some things only learned in a fiery furnace.” (from Love: A Holy Command)

Yes, He is preparing to do exceptional things even as He is already doing in the present.  Indeed, he is doing much in and through us, though we may not yet touch that reality and though we may, at times, hold up open hands through tears!  We know that because, as we look back, we can often say, “Now I see what God was doing all along and it was flawless!”

Through it all – past, present, and future – He gets the glory and that’s just how it should be because He is more than able; He is good!  And that is not dependent on His answer!

“…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus…”  Hebrews 12:1-2

MAKE MY LIFE A PRAYER TO YOU  by Keith Green

Make my life a prayer to You, I want to do what You want me to,
No empty words and no white lies, no token prayers, no compromise.
I want to shine the light You gave, through Your Son, You sent to save us
From ourselves and our despair, It comforts me to know You’re really there.

Oh, I want to thank You now, for being patient with me,
Oh, it’s so hard to see, when my eyes are on me,
I guess I’ll have to trust and just believe what you say,
Oh, you’re coming again, coming to take me away,

I want to die, and let you give Your life to me, so I might live
And share the hope you gave to me, the love that set me free.
I want to tell the world out there You’re not some fable or fairy tale
That I made up inside my head –
You’re God, The Son, You’ve risen from the dead.

(Originally posted June 2013)

Wonder

Having gone to sleep with a dusting of snow forecasted overnight, I woke up to the ring of a text from my daughter, “Snow Day! School is cancelled.” She lives about 20 minutes away, but they had been forecasted to have several inches. The reservoir between us was supposedly the “difference maker!”

So, I got up that morning hoping to see at least a few flurries. Instead, what met my eye was literally a winter wonderland and the snow was still falling hard. I’m not ashamed to say, I squealed softly, did somewhat of a little dance/jump while the corners of my mouth lifted in a big smile and my eyes must have twinkled as I stood there taking in the wonder. Yes, I’m a big kid when it comes to frozen precipitation!

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I know for those areas of the country where the presence of snow is common and the forecast of more is met with a deep sigh, this is an odd response. But for this native Florida girl now living north of the panhandle, but still in the Deep South where it is a rarity, it evokes not just a little excitement.

Though a couple of our kids were home for the holidays, as was my 4-month old granddaughter, they were still completely unaware and sound asleep under the covers. I resisted the urge to run upstairs and toss a few snowballs into everyone’s rooms to “share the joy!” (Yes, I have been known to do that in the past when we had a snow or two and my excitement to “play” in it exceeded everyone else’s. It did elicit the response I desired in that moment as I was followed outside for “revenge” and everyone ended up having fun in the process).

This time, however, I enjoyed a cup of coffee and the peaceful silence of watching it fall, anticipating everyone else’s “ooo’s” and “ahs” to come.

One by one, everyone woke to see the world outside their bedroom windows “raining” snow and covered in the “white stuff,” so we were joined by more who shared in the amazement of the unexpected and who were quick to build a small “Frosty,” to engage in a little target practice with one another as the snowballs were formed, and to attempt to catch my son’s Husky who may have been the most delighted of all!

And, as with all things during a baby’s first year, we watched with anticipation as my granddaughter experienced her first taste and touch of the “cold stuff” along with her first snow ride atop her comfortable and protected perch in the sled that her daddy pulled around.  And we all stopped to watch; smiles and laughter.

Funny how the “small things” of life can bring such joy…and wonder!

A baby’s smile.

A comforting hug.

Sunshine after days of rain.

A hand up after falling down.

A smile instead of a frown.

A bicycle ride or a walk through the woods.

A crackling fire on a cold winter’s night.

The deep quiet hues of a sunrise or sunset.

And then there are the larger “wonder” inducers of life as well…

A vast mountain range.

Waves upon the ocean shore.

A hike or a motorcycle ride along a mountain cliff.

A raft down a river, sometimes gentle and other times over tumultuous rapids.

Making one’s way through an open field, gentle breezes blowing as waves of grain or colorful flowers sway.

A ride down a majestic tree-lined road.

A sail across an open bay, wind moving it forward across the silent sea.

A still night, darkness all around and yet the stars and moon bursting out in bright array, declaring the glory of God.

Wonder.

“A feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.”

Wonder.

Delight.

Taken for granted, “it is what is” and no more. Stopping in the moment, we recognize it for what it really is – the fingerprint of God! His gift within His creation, a moment to ponder in our hearts.

Wonder.

Refreshment.

Eyes to see.

While out west, we were mesmerized by the open desert, the deep canyons, and the majestic mountains. And, yet, I spoke to someone who had been caught up in the wonder of the “greenness” that dominates our state when they visited, in contrast to the rocky barrenness of their own desert landscape.

And I’ve read of those who live where rainfall is virtually non-existent that are enthralled by the sound of raindrops on the rooftops and the feel of precipitation against their skin. Those who long for the warmth as they bundle up against the frigid cold and those who long for “seasons” and the arctic air in the midst of their tropical temps.

Perspective has a lot to do with wonder.

Do we miss the opportunity to marvel in our everyday?

The people. The places. The experiences.

Do we ignore the glory in the ordinary…because it is, well, expected and “usual?”

Do we lose sight of the amazement of what’s in front of us and yawn at the familiar because we have grown accustomed to it and have lost sight of its own wonder, its own delight?

There is a “wonder and wildness” to life, as Michael Card sings, and freedom for those who “obey, who “forget not the hope that’s before (them) and never stop counting the cost!” There is a joy in the journey as we intentionally take hold of the amazement that is “life.”

I’m not just talking about the “life” that pumps adrenaline through our veins, though there is a great excitement and definite delight in that. I love those big moments, preparing for them and squeezing every moment out of them. And I love seeing God use those times in our lives for refreshment but also as opportunities for us to be used by Him.

But I love the quiet moments of life as well; those “treasures in jars of clay.”

Can we take delight and rest in what makes up most of life – the ordinary days where God is at work in the sometimes mundane and longs for us to see and delight in even that?  Can we grab hold of the amazement of recognizing what is right before our eyes, not losing sight of the awe of the familiar? Can we prize the moment and the circumstances that are ours and see beyond the surface? Can we be intentional about not allowing discouragement or anger or bitterness or boredom or desire for the “extraordinary” to cause us to lose our joy in the “now,” to lose our wonder in the everyday?  Does that seem like an oxymoron?  Not with God!

Perspective. Wonder.

We may look and see the ordinary; another may look and see the treasure.

We may look and see the expected, the norm; another may look and see something worth grasping and cherishing.

We may look and see routine; another may look and see opportunity for delight in our commonplace.

We may look and see “what is”; another may look and see what it really is and what it could be.

We can look in front of us and see wonder.

We can look in front of us and see delight.

We can look in front of us and be refreshed.

Here. Now.

Because He is in the midst of these moments, “doing a thousand things we cannot see.” (John Piper)

And there is wonder in it all!

“The whole earth stands in awe of the great things You have done. You make the going out of the morning and the evening shout for joy.” Psalm 65:8

“In Wonder”   Newsboys

So much wonder

Carved in Your coral seas

So much wonder

Shaded by ancient trees

I consider all Your hands have made

Every newborn’s eyes, every new sunrise

No power can tame Your presence

No light can match Your radiance

Let all creation sing in wonder

Every sea, every creature, every star

You opened up my eyes to wonder –

What a vision, what a wonder You are!

Such a wonder

Ordering time and tide

Such a wonder

Bridging the great divide

I consider all that You had, all You gave

And all that You endured

From this rebel world

What a wondrous cross You chose to bear

What a wonder You would even care.

Let every rock cry out

Let every knee bow down

You opened up my heart to wonder

What love, what a wonder You are!

No power can tame Your presence

No light can match radiance

Such a wonder!

“Many, LORD my God, are the wonders You have done, the things You planned for us. None can compare with You; were I to speak and tell of Your deeds, they would be too many to declare.”

Psalm 40:5

“Fear Not,” Said Daddy

The day was clear and the sun was shining; all seemed perfect for a family outing at the amusement park! To me, there was no better place in all the world to just enjoy being seven years old.

We quickly got our tickets and, with me way ahead of my brothers, sisters, and parents, we entered my “perfect world.” I ran first to the race cars, then the airplanes, the boats, the water flume – all the rides that were just my size. For one with so much enthusiasm for adventure, it was almost overload!

After about an hour, my parents led me to what they said would be the “most fun of all.” As I stared up at the monstrous creature before me, tears filled my eyes! My “perfect world” no longer seemed so perfect and my enthusiasm all but vanished.

“Come on, honey,” Daddy shouted, “You’ll love it!”

“I can’t, Daddy! I just can’t!” I cried, “It’s too big, too fast! I’m just a little girl!”

“You can do this…But I’ll let you make that choice; wait for us here while we go,” he said as they all ran excitedly up the ramp and towards the enormous roller coaster.

I sat on the bench with my head in my hands and cried, not only because I was having to wait alone and I wanted to not be afraid but also because I knew how disappointed Daddy would be in his little girl. He knew my love for trying new things so I’m sure he was surprised when I stood resolute. I’m also sure his heart broke a little when he saw my tears falling.

But my daddy knew this moment in time was bigger than what loomed before me; he knew it was an opportunity to teach and to train. And it was the way he raised us – taking those teachable moments wherever they arose.

So, when they all got off and were getting in line again, he tried once more to convince me. “You don’t have to be afraid; I’ll be right there beside you.” But I stayed firmly planted on the bench while everyone else ran back around for the second time with smiles and laughter.

As Daddy got in line for the third time, he felt a tug at his shirt.   Looking down, he saw me staring up at him with a cautious smile.

“I’ll go, Daddy, if you’ll sit beside me.” I barely got the words out when it was time to board the ride.

Eyes closed tightly, hands gripping the safety bar, I snuggled close to him as the ride started off with a jolt. We were sent soaring, higher and faster. Slowly my eyes opened a little at a time.  It was terrifying but so much fun.

This little girl who loved adventure, climbing, and proving she could do what the big kids could do and love it, was in her element. But first I had to face my fear.

Too soon it came to an end and we had to get off. I ran to the end of the line and, with great boldness, declared, “If you don’t mind, Daddy, I think I’ll ride alone this time!”

And sitting in the very first car all by myself, eyes wide open, and with a great big grin on my face, I was off on the first of many wild roller coaster rides without my daddy.

In fact, it was just the beginning of a lifetime of “facing my fears,” one of those life lessons my dad brought home to my heart over and over again.

Most of my life, if I said I was too unsure or afraid to do something, his immediate response would be, “Then you need to do it!”  And when I would tell him of an experience where I had to put that encouragement into action, I could see his smile and hear his joy through his words, “That a girl!”

In the moments when he was there at bedtime and we would be making up stories and talking about the day, in the opportunities when we would be driving in the car on a quick errand or a long trip, he would remind me that we face our fears – every time – because we don’t want fear to cast a shadow over our lives, we don’t want to miss opportunities, and we can know that, because we are His, God is with us, bigger than our fears.  He would remind me that I could face the impossible because He is bigger than the impossible. He would remind me that the scary things of life can be and should be faced knowing God can be trusted to walk with us and give us the courage to do or to endure.

The roller coaster was one of the first of many “face your fears” moments in my life. But it wasn’t the biggest nor the last.

Sometimes I have risen to the occasion and sometimes my fear has caused me to “stay firmly planted on the bench.” And always, I heard and still hear my daddy’s voice, “You can do this…I’ll be right here beside you.” And, while I know my dad has not been right beside me in each of those moments, I have known his encouragement and have always known that my Abba Father, God who is my tender heavenly Daddy, is indeed right here with me.

I hear the voice of my Heavenly Father say, “Fear not…”

I’m thankful that my dad began to instill this truth of God in my heart that day and, as I grew, he brought it back to Who gave him the courage to face his fears – though it was sometimes hard to imagine that the man who pushed the limits on adrenaline pumping experiences and new challenges had any fear. His confidence began with the One who walks us through adventures and valleys, thrills and incredibly stifling places, strong, healthy bodies and those broken and racked with evidence of the curse.

And, I’m thankful that, in some of his last days here on earth before he stepped into eternity where, for those redeemed by the work of Christ on the cross and His resurrection, fear is extinguished forever, before the God he loved and proclaimed, I was able to spend time by his side.

And I had the privilege and joy of speaking that truth to him, his once strong body and sound mind now frail, “You’ve told me all my life and I’m going to remind you now, Daddy: You don’t have to be afraid. I’m right here for now, holding your hand. But, most of all, Jesus is right here with you walking you through it all. Our God has told us, ‘Fear not…’ Hold on to and keep your eyes on Him!”

He looked at me through tired but still twinkling eyes, with that winsome, crooked smile that was uniquely my Dad’s and whispered, “It’s good to know I was heard; I guess I’m getting it back now. And that is good.”

Thank you for giving it in the first place, Daddy. Thank you for pushing me to step out beyond my fears as a little girl and also as a young woman, and, in the frightening moments not to look at the circumstances. Thank you for reminding me to look at Jesus.

You have no fear any longer, Daddy; I’ll see you when God calls me home and, in that moment and in the meantime, I’ll remember not to fear.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind and self-control.” 2 Timothy 1:7

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand!” Isaiah 41:10

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you…when you walk through the fire, you will not be burned…for I am the Lord your God…do not be afraid, for I am with you.” Isaiah 43

“…do what is right and do not fear anything that is frightening.” I Peter 3:6

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“You can grieve for me the week before I die, if I’m scared and hurting, but when I gasp that last fleeting breath and my immortal soul flees to heaven, I’m going to be jumping over fire hydrants down the golden streets, and my biggest concern, if I have any will be my wife back here grieving. When I die, I will be identified with Christ’s exaltation. But right now, I’m identified with His affliction.” RC Sproul

1998 Dad and Me

Believe It or Not: God is Good and That’s No Lie

Do you enjoy being lied to? And, when you know you have been lied to, do you want to follow that person?

I think we can generally agree that the answers to those questions is: no!

And yet…

We believe lies.

And, too often, we act on them and allow them to shape our view of God, ourselves, and others.

We listen to and believe the lies from the very enemy of our souls.

Take that in.

We believe our ENEMY.  We believe the father of lies, the disrupter of truth, the deceiver, the one who has come to “kill, steal, and destroy,” the evil one, the one who is as a roaring lion seeking to devour and destroy.

And, in so believing that his ways will satisfy our longings, in essence, we don’t believe that God’s will.

Insomuch as we shape our view of ourselves and others by those lies, we fail to see each of us as God does, created in His image.

In so listening to and believing the deceiving whisper of the enemy, by our actions, our thoughts, and our words, we live as if we don’t believe God Himself!

In so responding to the crafty perverter of truth, for all intents and purposes…

We don’t believe our good, good Father, the Author of Truth, the One who Himself is faithful and true, our Rescuer, our Comforter, our Provider, our Redeemer, our Savior, the One who went to the cross, and endured the shame and pain for our redemption, the One who created all things and said, “It is good,” the One who has given “every good and perfect gift.”

We don’t believe God’s promises that are woven through and are the foundation of His commands nor His great love for us behind them; that His precepts are intended to do us good, not harm; give us life, not death. That His covenants with us and those covenants between ourselves and others that He also inhabits are intended to give true joy and true contentment while bringing Him glory.

We don’t believe that actual happiness and contentment come from, as John Piper puts it, “a superior pleasure in God.”

We don’t believe that God can change our minds and hearts to hate the sin that He hates, to love what is “true, noble, right, pure, excellent, and praiseworthy,” and to desire the greater gifts. And we don’t believe that God’s greatest gifts are found in obedience because, only then, are we living as we were created and enjoying His creation – people and things – as they were intended to be enjoyed.

We don’t believe that when we blow it, His grace is sufficient to forgive us while not giving us the latitude to cling to it and continue in it.

We don’t believe that God can change the heart of “certain” sinners just like us; that He can take a weary, wounded soul and breath life into them.  We don’t believe He can move the heart of those who have wounded us or those we love and bring restoration.  Or, if we believe it, do we storm the gates of heaven expectantly and literally without ceasing?

We don’t believe that everything God allows in our lives has to first be sifted through His hands and that, when we walk through the deepest valleys and the most stifling places, He goes before us and even carries us through; that He has a purpose for His children in the midst of suffering, regardless of the intensity or the type.

We don’t believe that He has given us all we need for life and godliness when we say, “I can’t help it; it’s who I am, it’s not big deal – it’s only…” But God says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:3)

We don’t believe that He does good to those who take hold of the promise and choose to “do good” out of a growing love for and allegiance to Him.  “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.” (Psalm 37:3)

We don’t believe that we will not fully hear His voice if we are harboring, cherishing, hiding, keeping our sin close to us and coddling it as a beloved possession. (Psalm 66:18)

We don’t believe that we are called to obey as a result of our love for Him – in public and in private – and that, in pursuing this goal, we run in freedom. Too often we say we believe that, but our choices don’t reflect it.

Temptation may remain, but what we do with that temptation is evidence of whether or not we believe God when He tells us to “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Hebrews 12:1

Instead, too frequently, we choose to believe the enemy’s lies. They “seem” more enticing, they “seem” more satisfying, they “seem” more comfortable, they “seem” more exciting…in the moment.  But we miss the truth of what “seems right” – it leads to death. (Proverbs 14:12)  It may be a physical death when we choose practices that take a toll on the body, it may be spiritual as we grow cold to all or parts of God’s Word, or it may relational as it affects our relationships with others.

When we put more confidence in the lies of the enemy than in the truth and the promises of God, we settle into temptations and choices rather than battle them. Like a well-worn blanket, we believe they will comfort and satisfy our restlessness, not realizing how scratchy the blanket of sin, unwise decisions, or heart attitudes that arise towards those who have hurt us really is and what it is doing to our souls; not recognizing that the temporary balm turns bitter and blinds us to the goodness of God before our eyes.

We miss the treasure hidden in plain sight, the gifts He has given and longs for us to enjoy that are either ignored or embraced as “idols.” But we cling to that scratchy blanket, cover our heads, and miss the grace that equips us to recognize and shutdown the lies and has the power to transform us day by day, more and more into the likeness of His Son.

We try to run shackled, encumbered, weighted down by the sin that so easily entangles and wonder why we are spiritually, relationally, and physically exhausted; why His joy eludes us. It’s hard to run with perseverance, in freedom, and with joy when we, who are called by His Name, keep our eyes fixed on ourselves and the world that seductively beckons rather than on Jesus and the true goodness of God.

It’s impossible to have a contented rest and delight in our blessings when we continually choose that which is contrary to His character, the parameters He has set for His children, and the guardrails He has put in place to warn us. When we run in our own strength and our own passions rather than in the power of the Holy Spirit and His intentions for us, the chains bind; they cut and they hurt. But we weren’t redeemed to stay in chains!

We hide from God, as Adam and Eve did in the garden, and from those who love us well, hoping we will never be fully known, believing (falsely) that if we were completely known, we would not be loved but that if we maintain a façade, we will be accepted.  We hide from each other lest someone love us enough to speak truth into our lives and give us that hard grace, desiring for us what God also desires, even as they hold out the healing grace of forgiveness.  Or we hide because we love our deeds and don’t want to part with them.

All the while, we fail to hear the voice of the Lord, “Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, ‘Who sees us? Who will know?’” (Isaiah 29:15)

But God says that He is light and “in Him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.” (I John 1:5b-7)

We choose a “freedom” that is no freedom at all because God’s Spirit does not reside in darkness, in hidden places; He calls us to “have nothing to do with fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:11), to “confess (our) sins to each other and pray for each other so that (we) may be healed,” (James 5:16), to “put off falsehood and speak truthfully to one another.” (Ephesians 4:25) For where the truth dwells, so the Spirit of the Lord abides as well, “…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17)

But God!

He pursues! He calls out! He redeems us and He calls us by name!

He created us to hear His voice instead of the lies and, like the Shepherd with His stubborn, foolishness, forgetful sheep, He reorders our steps so we can and will hear. “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)

He disciplines us because He loves us and intends for us to return to Him, not to keep running the same tired, pain inducing, God defying patterns, but determined and confident that we can run a new race, leaving behind all that has ensnared us and been a hindrance to our relationship with Him and with others.

The enemy heaps on shame that cannot be healed; our “old man” self wants to “feel sorry” when it is evident our ways are “known.” Neither produce peace. But our Redeemer call us to “godly sorrow that leads to repentance and leaves no regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10). As Pastor Tim Armstrong says, He calls us to a change of mind that leads to a change of choices, actions, attitudes, words, and behaviors and gives us the Holy Spirit to make it so.

He enables us to recognize those who love us well and who are determined to walk the hard roads with us and to show us grace when we sin even as they desire His greatest good for us; to allow us to embrace those who love us with a love that “does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (I Corinthians 13:6-7) But that kind of love is not blind nor ignorant and it will humbly “speak the truth in love,” sometimes even in tears, to redirect us and, as needed, to restore us to our Savior and any with whom we have broken relationships.

It has been said that insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” When we listen to and choose the lies of the enemy over the voice of our Redeemer, the very Lover of our souls, we are the epitome of the Proverbs 26:11 “fool.” “As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly.” And we are fools when we believe the enemy’s lies about any number of things and mistake the fleeting pleasures of sin as delicacies thereby missing the true treasures that God designed and has given to actually delight us.

Would we be willing to cry out in faith, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” And humbly say, “Show me my where I have believed satan’s lies over Your Truth, O God. Create in me a clean heart. Give me a willing spirit to sustain me.”?

Would we recognize truth behind the lies and say with David, “Surely God is good…it is good to be near my God.” (Psalm 73:1, 28)

Would we be hungry for what actually pleases and fulfills us – God Himself – to then say, “Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces, but He will heal us; He has injured us but He will bind up our wounds.” (Hosea 6:1)

“Walking by faith means defeating sin’s pleasures with the promise of a superior pleasure in God!”    John Piper

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Pictures of Grace: Truth and Trust

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Trust. “An assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.” (Merriam Webster)

In relationships of every kind, trust can be a tenuous idea or a steadfast assurance; both based on the confidence one has or lacks in another and is often substantiated not only by what is said but on what is done in relation to those words.

And trust is significantly important whether it be between coworkers or those in authority over us, friends, parent/child, family, and especially in marriage.

Trust is based on the integrity of two people; that is, truth is not just what is said, it is established or shaken by whether or not the actions that follow correspond with those words spoken or implied. It is the intention of the heart to either bring something into the open or or keep it in the shadows.

Trust is further shaken when truth is known to the one deceived yet no attempt is made by the other to bring it to light; rather, the greater effort is made to keep it in the dark and, if possible, bury it further.

Yes, when one has professed a statement to be believed and it is compromised, trust can be restored as there is a genuine humility and a conversation to set the record straight, speaking the truth rather than keeping it covered to protect one’s pride, reputation, or personal gain; then followed by actions intended to reset the course.  Depending on how greatly the confidence has been shaken, it may take time; but, by God’s grace, it is possible.

I’ve seen both at work through many in workplaces, among friends, in families, and in marriages.

I rejoice when every effort is made to maintain vows and promises among people so that the character, not just the reputation, of another is the very foundation of their choices in both their private and public actions and trust is never shaken. It is a beautiful picture of intentionally choosing the “kingdom of God over the kingdom of self” as Paul David Tripp says. It is a delightful display of loving God and loving another so well as to deny self and the draw to “me-centered” desires. And trust is strengthened.

I give thanks and take pleasure when I see a heart softened and humbled not by mere regret or a desire to get something off their chest but, instead, by a true godly sorrow that sees wounds inflicted and errors made and seeks restoration with another by saying, “I was wrong. Please forgive me. Help me make it right and keep it right.” It is a beautiful demonstration of the grace of God redeeming and transforming lives as well as relationships to be all God intended. And trust is restored.

I grieve when I watch the enemy of our souls gleefully convince people who have wronged another that it is better for them (and even for the other) to keep the offenses in the dark; the spiritual forces in the heavenly realms do battle against our souls to lead us to exalt position and reputation over integrity. Love of self and a good name and/or a desire to continue in the same pattern sometimes convinces us it is better to let the truth be buried and so hinder relationships rather than bring truth into the light and seek reconciliation . And trust is shattered as foundations of confidence begin to erode.

We tend to fear that the truth we need to reveal will not be received with forgiveness, love, and grace even from those who have freely given just that in the past.  We fear losing the reputation we have created and protected or the strong position we have fought to maintain.  But we have to decided which is more important: our reputation or our integrity.

We can know the difference between godly sorrow that leads to repentance, shame that leads to fear and a deeper burial of the truth, or pride that leads to digging in deeper.  The former is from the Father who desires light to shine in the dark places to bring redemption and restoration of individuals and relationships.  The latter two are from the enemy whose only desire is for darkness and fear where there is no freedom and where individuals and relationships are broken down with every secret.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  John 10:10

We need not fear being truthful, even exposing our weaknesses and sins against each other.  It’s the only path to complete trust in relationships.  But it cannot happen in a vacuum; it cannot happen unless we are willing to lay down whatever is hindering the relationship so that reconciliation and trust can be restored.

How do we know if we have done something that would be harmful or hurtful to another whether it be in the workplace, a friendship, or home? If it is not clear, there are some questions that would be helpful to ask.

Would I want them to know my words or my actions?

Am I afraid the truth will be revealed to them?

If I were confronted with it, would I want to make excuses, justify it, or shift the blame?

Do I think about ways to “cover my tracks” or have I done that?

Would I be okay if the same thing were done to or said about me?

“Love delights in the truth.” (I Corinthians 13:6)

The truth is not always comfortable. Sometimes it is downright messy.  But our God is truth and He “desires truth in our inmost parts and teaches wisdom in the secret places” (Psalm 51:6). He desires we live that way with one another in truth and trust as far as it depends upon us! (Romans 12:18) We are not held accountable for the response of others; but we are answerable to God for the truth or lack thereof in our lives.

Our God is truth and those who worship Him must do so in Spirit and in truth. We cannot worship well if we are hindering honesty with any other; we cannot pray and expect God to answer if we are actively maintaining the presence of “half-truths” in our lives.  (Psalm 66:18)  It is so important to God that He says in Matthew 5:23-24, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

We cannot build solid relationships on a shaky foundation. We cannot maintain anything healthy if we are being less than truthful. We cannot interact with confidence when we know the truth yet the truth remains “out there,” even sometimes being the “elephant in the room.” We build walls when we allow the seeds of distrust to be scattered by the winds of false faces.

Does truth matter?

Does trust matter?

Regardless of what others do to us, will we be true?

Will we be image bearers of the One who Himself is faithful and true?

As far as it depends on us, will we do whatever it takes to maintain trust in      our relationships with others?

Will we allow God to reveal and strip us of our little kingdoms that we have built behind the scenes to satisfy our desires at the expense of others, even if we think our actions adversely affect no one?

Will we allow God to open our hands and forgive when we have been sinned against just as Christ died to forgive us of our own offenses and rebellion against Him?

Will we be willing to ask God to take the blinders off our eyes and see if we have done anything to shake another’s trust?

And, if we know we have already done so, will we ask God for a heart to grieve that which grieves Him and humbly seek reconciliation with that one?

Regardless of whether or not truth is ever spoken and trust is ever allowed to be rebuilt, bitterness is not an option for the believer who has been hurt. It is yet another tool of the enemy of our souls to further wound us by our own hand on top of the offense against us.

Whether we are the one who has broken the trust of another or are on the receiving end, by the equipping of the Holy Spirit, we are to intentionally “…strengthen feeble arms and weak knees. Make level paths for your feet, so that the (wounded) may not be disabled, but rather healed…” We are (to) see to it that “no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Hebrews 12:12, 13, 15

Truth and vulnerability may reveal the uncomfortable, but they also reveal grace.  And grace shown in the midst of honesty and a move toward restoration is evidence of Christ in us, the Hope of glory!  Together they open the door to a greater openness and a deeper desire to make and keep things right.

Truth brings freedom as grace abounds; truth restores trust as it is hand in hand with repentance. Yes, it may be that trust has to be rebuilt, but by the grace of the God who desires and calls us to shine light into our own dark places, He is more than able to transform lives and equip us to forgive and to stand firm.

Even When Trembling, Stand

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A friend is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. A family member lives day to day with a debilitating disease. A family we love is torn apart, a marriage marred. An expected outcome comes to a heartbreaking halt. Across the nation and the world, news flows that brings a shadow on the soul.

Yet, through it all, I am reminded that this world is not our home and this generation is, as every generation before, in need of truth and hope.  That “truest true” – the one faithful, constant, factual hope that has stood and will stand is Jesus Christ and the power of His death and resurrection to free us from the penalty, power, and guilt of our sin but it is also is able to redeem our fear, our pain, and our limitations because He is more than able.  It is not always a physical freedom or a restoration of how we desire things to be, but it is life giving on earth and in eternity.

What causes the redeemed child of God to face sorrow without despair is the intimate knowledge of and our relationship to the One who tenderly and firmly holds all circumstances in His hands both now and forever and allows nothing that will not ultimately be for His greatest glory and our good.  Though it is not always “good” as we define the term and His “better ways” for us may not always be visible to us at first glance, it is so. For everything that touches us is sifted through His strong hands that hold us and His wise fingers that filter as only He can. He is the only one who well knows our frame (Psalm 103:14) and the number of our days (Psalm 90:12) and He is the Lover of our souls!

God’s Word upholds us because it is not just “comfortable quotes” that can be framed and hung on a wall to make us feel lighthearted and at peace for the moment; it is not a crutch that allows us to hobble along.  It is rock solid truth on which we can “hang” our very lives and which causes us to walk steadfast, to stand and, when we have done all else, to continue standing firm, hidden in Christ…regardless.

From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Psalm 61:2

We take in and hide the Word of God in our hearts because it is “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16) just for us and we choose to not only believe it but to live it out even when our steps are trembling. Our God who is mighty makes us secure, our footsteps steady, as He reminds us of His very great and precious promises.  (2 Peter 1:4)

Even when we are “in the presence of our enemies,” “in the shadow of death,” or any situation where “weeping lasts for a night,” we can trust and hold steady.

So evident was this in Martin and Gracia Burnham’s lives as she recounts their ordeal and God’s tender mercy to bring to mind what was written on their hearts.

Read and be encouraged for the days when life is “just as it should be” but also when “live spins out of control!”

How do we manage when life spins out of control in a single day? What do we do when all our plans and goals are put on hold, when everything we had intended to do and see and accomplish gets swept aside, and we don’t know if we’ll ever get back to familiar ground? How do we keep our sanity? How do we avoid slipping into a personal canyon of despair?

‘I remember a particularly frightening Thursday morning in the jungle, the day of Gun Battle Number 13. We endured seventeen of these altogether, where our little group would be spotted by the Philippine military, who were trying to rescue us hostages but were ill-trained to do so. While their intentions were good, their technique was altogether dangerous, not only for the terrorists but for us as well.

On this day Martin and I had just built a small fire to heat water for a cup of tea. Our recently washed clothes were strewn out on bushes to dry in the sun. Suddenly, gunfire erupted. We had to get out of that place immediately. Normally, we tried to keep our belongings fairly well consolidated for such emergencies. But in this moment, our stuff was everywhere. We were totally unprepared. We instantly hit the ground, of course. As bullets continued to whiz past our heads, Martin gingerly reached up to pull the cord that tied one end of our hammock to a tree. He then scooted along the ground to do the same to the opposite cord. We squashed the hammock into our backpack and then dashed for cover, abandoning nearly everything else—extra clothes, cooking utensils, my hairbrush, and other necessities.

Soon we found ourselves wading through a swamp that came up to our waists. We emerged on the other side and flopped down to rest. I looked at my husband with total exhaustion. In that desperate hour, my wonderful husband said, ‘Gracia, let’s remind ourselves of what we know is true.’

We had no Bible to consult; we could lean only on what we had stored in our memories. From that reserve, we began to recite: ‘If God be for us, who can be against us?’ (Romans 8:31). One of us said, ‘Where does it say in Scripture, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love?’ (It’s in the Old Testament, Jeremiah 31:3.) ‘And then what about that part at the beginning of Ephesians: ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ?’ (Ephesians 1:3)

We went on sharing Scriptures such as these, trying to anchor ourselves in the truth we could trust, the truth that God is with us through the tunnel, through the valley, through the gun battle. He stands with us through the medical prognosis that terrorizes us, through every horrible thing that life throws our way. We don’t go through these things alone. We walk with our hands in the hand of the One who turns night into day.’

(***From “To Fly Again,” by Gracia Burnham who is also the author of “In the Presence of My Enemies,” the true story of Martin and Gracia Burnham who were kidnapped in the Philippians and held hostage in the jungle for over a year.  I would highly recommend both starting with the latter.)

“Therefore my trust is in the Lord,
And not in mine own merit;
On Him my soul shall rest, His word
Upholds my fainting spirit;
His promised mercy is my fort,
My comfort and my sweet support –

I wait for it with patience (Wait for it with patience);

I wait for it with patience (Wait for it with patience).”

(Lyrics from Psalm 130 (From Depths of Woe)

A Quick Update and Thank You to My Blog Followers!

First of all, I want to thank you for taking the time to read and follow “Joy in My Journey.” I truly am humbled and encouraged that you would take a part of your day to engage with me here and, as some of you have shared, that God would be pleased to use these blogs to encourage and/or challenge you. We are on this journey together in Christ and I’m always thankful for feedback received!

You may have noticed that the web address has changed (or maybe it was seamless so you haven’t)!  Recently, I realized that, with the Word Press plan I had, random ads were sometimes seen when you visited my site. As I had no voice in what those were and did not want to be advocating for something I might not agree with or that might be a  distraction to my readers, I changed my plan and the address is now: joyinmyjourney.blog

If you click on or type in the old address, it will redirect; but I wanted to pass that along as explanation

Also, I know some email followers will simply read the blog in their email.  Again, thank you! But, from time to time, I will edit the blog after I have posted it. So, if you choose to read it a day or two (or longer) after you receive it in the email, you will get the most current content by clicking on the link to the website.

As I close, I’m asking the Lord to give each of you HIS joy, a renewed desire to seek and follow Him, and a fresh view of His grace to do just that!  I appreciate you being a part of my blog “family” and hearing from you!  I would also count it a privilege to pray for you as you have need and share it with me.

If you’ve never read the “About Me” section of my blog, this is the heart of why I began and continue to write “Joy In My Journey!”

I am thankful for the road on which God continues to lead me as wife to one and mom to three grown “children” and two more added “in-loves” (aka in laws) who delight my heart (as well as a first grandchild on the way)! I’m still growing in grace, finding joy in my family and friends as well as those God puts in my path, whether it be a small child I have been entrusted to teach, a young mom to whom I have the privilege of listening, a fellow believer walking the road alongside me, or a “random” stranger that enters my world for just a moment and either challenges and encourages me or I have the honor of doing the same. And I rejoice in seeking to find how He wants to use me in what He is up to in my little part of the world! My truest joy comes from my relationship with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. His Word is my source of comfort but also that which confronts me and chips away at whatever is not in line with Truth, and I pray that everything I say and do reflects His love and grace well!

My prayer is that the name of our Mighty God will be praised through my simple journey and through the words that flow from my heart and are expressed in print.

Equally, my prayer is also that, as I write and as each person reads this, they will be drawn to the heart of God through Jesus Christ and be able to find His joy in their journey through a relationship with Him regardless of life circumstances.

Walk this road with me and be encouraged even if also challenged!


  

Just As He Said

Celebrations abound.

We exalt and lift high the sacrifice of our Redeemer and sometimes blend it while enjoying the newness of Spring.  Delight in family, friends, and the life we have been given is a joy, and our God created us to receive all with thanks for all He has given.

But, don’t miss the greater reality!

The King of Kings came in history, in real time. He chose the nails to give us new life!

Don’t miss the whisper that is actually a roar!

The truth remains. The fact is still…

The grave could not hold Him!

The tomb is empty!

He has risen, just as He said! And we delight in that risen Savior!

“It is finished” began in a manger and was complete at Calvary!

Tetelastai! Our debt has been paid!

BUT, though complete, it didn’t end there!

Jesus submitted to the Father, endured the scorn and separation as He died on the cross; but, in His power, He burst forth from the tomb!

As the angel of the Lord sat on the rock that covered the tomb that, after the crucifixion, held Jesus Christ, he did so in triumph as a witness and a proclamation to the women who came to the place of burial…and to us today!

Death could not hold the Son of God; He went willingly to the cross to redeem His own, but “it was impossible for Him to be held by it!” (Acts 2:24)

And that same power that raised Jesus from the dead is the same power that raises us to new life in Him.  He tells us to come as we are, but He doesn’t intend to leave us as we are!  We are forgiven and redeemed for that new life!

New life that does not hold on to the old.

New life that decimates our shame.

New life that is redeemed by the works of our Savior not our own.

New life that is able to see with new eyes and trust even when we can’t.

New life that exalts in His glory and is amazed by His mercy and grace.

And yet…

New life that is wrecked by freedom from our old; so that our desires are increasingly transformed!

New life that humbly allows the Spirit of God to faithfully calm our fears.

New life that humbly lays down our idols and all we cling to for satisfaction, security, self-worth, and identity to find them in the only capable place – the heart of God.

New life to give the forgiveness and grace to others that we have been given in Christ.

New life to love in a way that makes no sense to the world – loving and serving those who may hate us, even harm us. Love that serves yet never compromises the truth of God, even if it rocks self-defined worlds and shatters man-made perceptions of Him.

New life that humbly allows the Spirit of God to break through our hard hearts and convict us of sins we hold too close; that submits and fiercely battles the sins that so easily entangle.

New life that humbly allows the Spirit of God to then empower us to say “no” to that which has long been our “go to” sins, instead saying “yes” to the increasing righteousness of Christ!  Yes, we stand before the Father in Christ’s righteousness from the moment of surrender; but it is how He intends for us to grow, living out our lives in joyful obedience to His commands that are meant for our greatest good and His glory!

New life that seeks to give new life!

Because He has risen just as He said!

And no “power of hell, no scheme of man could ever pluck me from His hand; for I am His and He is mine, this is the power of Christ in me!”  (“In Christ Alone” – Getty)

The earth has quaked, the veil has been torn in two, the stone is rolled away and true freedom comes for those who lay down their lives, accept the free gift of salvation and the lordship of Jesus Christ, and so, live in the power of the resurrection!

And that roar is heard across the ages!

“…You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” I Corinthians 6:19-20

“God thunders wondrously with His voice; He does great things that we cannot comprehend.” Job 37:5

Even When We Cannot See

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“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Exodus 14:14

There are days when to be “Be still and know that HE is God!” (Psalm 46:10) is so easy.

In those times, my heart and my head agree with each other, and I almost dance with joy in experiencing both what I know and what I feel in tandem.

Certainly, I experience it when there is much to be celebrated. To lift my hands to the One from Whom all blessings flow is easy and immediate.

There are other times when what I “know” about our very good God, what I “feel,” and how I respond clash loudly! In those times, I, for all intents and purposes, choose not to be still. I don’t always ask “why” well and, I have to admit, my “why” is more like the rant of a petulant child.

But, to be in the midst of turmoil of my own or another that I love or to watch the world turn upside down in a variety of ways and yet to “be still” is not a reflection of my own strength. Rather, it is a supernatural gift of a gracious God who, in the middle of my pleading, of laying my heart bare before the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, lifts my eyes and my heart to “see” Him instead of the moment. He holds and steadies this child, tenderly, even when He chooses not to calm the storm. And, in those times, He is also in the process of refining my heart.

We often have a desired outcome, an expectation for our circumstances; a way we believe is best and right.  At times, it may deal with the externals and the “haves or have nots” to which God says, “There is a way that seems right to man but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 14:12).  Yet, when it comes to physical illnesses, most would not argue that our requests are reasonable.  But, God’s ways, that sometimes “seem” difficult or mistaken to us, always lead to “life that is truly life” (I Timothy 6:19) because they are grounded in the firm foundation of His loving sovereignty that knows the end from the beginning and sees what we cannot. And, even when it doesn’t “feel” good, we can “know” it is.

All too often, I (and I think it is safe to say, “we”) “feel” – regardless of what we “know” – that for God to show His love, He must answer our requests exactly as we ask, fulfill our every desire, especially if they are “good” desires. Or, if He doesn’t, that He will immediately provide an explanation for us to see what He’s doing, not just with eyes of faith but with our physical eyes!

But it is not always the way of our Father. He says, “Trust me” even if it hurts. He says, “Trust me” even if it makes no sense. He says, “Trust me” and let me do “exceedingly and abundantly more” – not only more than we can think or ask but also more than what we can perceive with our eyes.

What the Israelites could “see” was a vast army heading in their direction to bring destruction. And yet, Moses told them to “be still” and watch God fight for them!  What? They had a clear view of the immediate danger, but they could not “see” what God had in store, how He would protect and defend them. Even so, indeed, as He did time and again, He delivered them.

The same is true for His children today; He calls us to “be still” and watch Him fight for us; even if His deliverance is, at times, hard. He calls us, often a forgetful people, to remember His faithfulness in the past so we will stand on that same promise of faithfulness in the present.

“God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them…Not only may you see a tiny fraction of what God is doing in your life; the part you do see may make no sense to you.” (John Piper)

The other day, as my husband and I talked about and prayed for a situation that someone we love is facing, he reminded me of Joseph, sold as a slave by his brothers yet, in time, raised to a place of prominence to be an avenue of provision and protection. Could he “see” the faithfulness of God in that moment when he was taken away? Did he “feel” the love of God in that instant? Or did he cry out with an honest groan, “Why Lord?” And, yet, as we are given a view into his life, we are able to observe his faithful obedience to God. We watch his trust in the One he knew to be the sovereign Lover of his soul. We witness God honor that one who learned to “be still” and watch the Lord fight for him. And, through His Word across generations, we now get to see many of the “whys” to God’s ways; that He allowed Joseph’s hardships so he might be a place “for such a time.” God was doing “good” long before the “good” could be seen!

“But you will not leave in haste or go in flight; for the LORD will go before you, the God of Israel will be your rear guard.” Isaiah 52:12

Knowing that the Lord Himself is going before us and behind us is not a small thing nor is it a fanciful hope; it is the reality for those who are redeemed children of God, loved deeply by the One who doesn’t always give His demanding children just what we want but always gives just what we need and what will ultimately be for our good and a glory to Himself! And when what He gives is painful, He walks through the fire with us, He holds us close, and He says, “Be still and know (hold onto and experience) that I AM God.”

This side of heaven, we will not always do that well. But, by His grace, may we be found faithful, trusting, and “still” more with each day!

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Excerpt from “Even If” by Mercy Me   (Music and lyrics so often draw my heart in…as do these.  So thankful my son shared this song with me some weeks ago)!

 It’s easy to sing

When there’s nothing to bring me down

But what will I say

When I’m held to the flame

Like I am right now

 I know You’re able and I know You can

Save through the fire with Your mighty hand.

But even if You don’t.

My hope is You alone.

 …God, when You choose

To leave mountains unmovable

Give me the strength to be able to sing

It is well with my soul. 

I know You’re able and I know You can

Save through the fire with Your mighty hand

But even if You don’t

My hope is You alone.

I know the sorrow, and I know the hurt

Would all go away if You’d just say the word

But even if You don’t

My hope is You alone.

 You’ve been faithful, You’ve been good

All my days.

Jesus, I will cling to You

Come what may.

‘Cause I know You’re able

I know You can.

I know You’re able and I know You can

Save through the fire with Your mighty hand

But even if You don’t

My hope is You alone

I know the sorrow, and I know the hurt

Would all go away if You’d just say the word

But even if You don’t

My hope is You alone It is well with my soul

It is well, it is well with my soul.

 

 

At the End of the Day

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He gets in my lap and I give him a hug;

Safe in my arms, quite secure and loved.

The day has been busy as has the child;

I will remember well the laughter and smiles.

I tuck him in bed and I kiss him goodnight,

I trip over toys as I turn off the light.

Reminders that childhood will escape all too fast,

Wanting most to impart the things that will last.

So, I say a prayer that he’ll know what is true;

I talk to God and say, “Make him steadfast for You!”

I’ve got to admit I’ve got so far to go –

The good work He began, He will finish I know.

But I fail oh so often in the way that I teach

Not numbers and letters but with my life, do I reach?

With thankful heart, I lay him down

At the foot of the cross where grace abounds.

Grace to redeem him and grace to transform,

Grace to give wisdom, his choices inform.

Grace to repent and grace to forgive,

Grace to take hold of the LIFE You do give.

So, sleep now my child, Your Savior is near;

Tomorrow is new, full of mercies, my dear.

Each day is a gift, give it back to Him.

Embrace His heart, run your race and then

Know that one day, when you leave our home

You will leave my arms, but you’re never alone.

While cleaning out papers recently, I came across this poem I wrote many years ago.  As I read and thought through what was on my heart at that time, obviously for one of my sons, it is equally so for my daughter and time has, indeed, been swift.

Now, as each one of them are adults – walking out their own relationships with Christ in different  places, it is no less true.  They are never alone.  Whether they walk on mountain tops or in the midst of valleys.  They are never alone.  When they can “see” what is ahead and when they simply must “walk by faith and not by sight.”  (2 Corinthians 5:7)  They are never alone.

As they walk unhindered and when they have to lay down their self-rule at the foot of the cross.  It is the presence of their Savior that holds them fast.  It is the grace of God by which they are saved and in which they now live.

“Therefore…as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” Philippians 2:12-13

As with every adult son or daughter, their dad and I no longer train and transfer the truth of God day in and day out; but we are there to boldly take them to the throne of grace every day, throughout each.  And we are there, now as brothers and sisters in Christ, to encourage, cheer them on in that walk, just in a different role.

That time passes quickly and our time, as parents, to instill the truths of God from His Word is in each minute of laughter or tears and each moment of discipline, reminding them that it is our God who gives us true joy and who loves our laughter is shorter than we think.

And it is our God who first gave His grace to us so that we can display and lead them to that grace of God by ourselves extending to them that grace that forgives as well as to each other but also the grace-filled discipline to turn their hearts to what is true and not just what they feel or what they desire in that instant.

Remind them of your love when they feel unlovely or when the world feels like it is crashing down around them.  But remind them, even more, that though you will not always be there in person as the years go by, our God will never leave them and that Jesus will walk with them through every joy and every sorrow, even redeem each of those sorrows for “those who love Him and are called according to His purpose!” (Romans 8:28)

The time to stop in those crazy moments, to savor them and ponder them in your heart, is now.

 

Loving Well…A Continuous Call

Last weekend I attended the wedding of a friend. As each marriage between two followers of Christ should purposefully pursue, she and her husband have the desire to have a union that honors both God and each other. It is our call to continuously and increasingly desire the same, to intentionally seek after that pursuit, and to love well in the face of life as we expect it as well as life with its unexpected twists and turns.

It takes being deliberate about our choices personally and with our spouse, tenaciously choosing to submit to the Lord which includes loving and respecting our spouse more than we love ourselves and our own desires.

It’s one of the things I enjoy about going to weddings where I know the vows taken and the challenges given to the bride and groom are based on God’s Word; that I might continuously be encouraged and challenged in my own marriage.

In his book, “What Did You Expect?,” Paul David Tripp says that many marriages that have lasted for years often forget the need to be intentional about nurturing – not just time spent with each other, which is vitally important; but also about heart issues – honest conversations, growing in grace, truthfully but kindly speaking to one another, among other things.

Tripp also reminds that every marriage needs “radical commitments” and the “regular rescue of grace” for the minor grievances and the major wounds. That doesn’t allow us to act badly or sinfully so grace will abound, but grace is needed to choose well and to rescue our stubborn but (hopefully) repentant hearts when we don’t.

Whether you are not yet married, have been married a short time or a lengthy one, we are all to be “mutually encouraging one another” to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.” And our marriages, even more, are to be a reflection of the grace of God, the power of God, and the love of God.

We never expect to “disrupt our dance” and, hopefully, neither do most brides and grooms so it is good to come back to the heart of the marriage vows again and again, good to come back to the heart of God for a man and woman making covenant vows and becoming one.

As I listened from the balcony where I was taking some photographs for her, I was compelled to pick up my phone and write down some of the encouragements and challenges given by one of the pastors performing the ceremony. In light of Tripp’s book and my last blog, “The Dance,” I decided to share some of them here.

May these words of great joy be used by the Lord for you! (Where he used their names, I have replaced them with husband/wife, bride/groom)

It is evident you stand here in love with and in the joy of one another! Continue in that love and joy in the days ahead – the easy and the hard, the strong and the weak, and in those moments of temptation…

Guard and protect each other fiercely. Don’t trust yourself; keep your eyes on the Lord and His ways for your marriage. When you hit a conflict or wound each other, run to the Savior and work and walk through it in prayer…together. Don’t attempt to handle temptations, fears, and wounds alone; God did not intend for that – He gave you each other.

Be willing to dream and live for the desire to see your marriage be all God designed for marriage in general, your marriage specifically, and watch it grow (sometimes even through the hardest of circumstances).   Dare to believe He will do it in the two of you as you stand firm and are two who speak truth to each other and are quick to say “I’m sorry” (and mean it) and “I forgive you.”

Be intentional not to let hope and great expectations lessen. Honor God through your marriage in every way when you are together and apart, in public and in secret.

I now charge you both as husband and wife – but know that each charge can and should be applied to the other.

I charge you, as the husband:

-“Praise the Lord for all who fear God are blessed beyond expression, they find great delight in His commands!” (Psalm 112:1)

The beauty of your bride should call you to see the beauty of God and to listen to Him. Do not miss that beauty nor cover her beauty with your own sinful passions and so cover the glory of God.

Listen well to the Savior out of love for God and gain praise for His glory especially in the eyes of your bride.  Listen to God; don’t close your heart and mind to Him and to His truth. The increase of His glory and your delight will happen as you listen, act, and grow.

 -Darkness will fight to gain control of your heart that you might sin against her. Fight it in the power of the Holy Spirit; He is already yours in Christ and we have everything we need to fight and flee if necessary, but we have to do it; He won’t pluck us out. It’s our responsibility to put a guard on our mouths, our hands, our eyes, and our mind.

When you fail each other, sin against the other – learn to say “I’m sorry” out of true sorrow not a desire to get out of “trouble.” Learn to resolve conflict without dismissing the other. Give and receive grace freely.

You are each less than perfect so you need to FIGHT to keep light in your marriage – the light of truth, the light of grace, the light that keeps us from going down a dark path of sin and then secrecy, some of which will continue to damage as it is kept in the dark.

Your marriage is to be a reflection of the light of grace; she deserves to feel safe and secure with you!

 -“Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.” (Psalm 112:8)

Fight foes, of all kinds, together. Don’t try to fight your temptations, your fears, your concerns on your own. The Lord has given you a bride, a helpmate, an accountability partner. Let her be that and you be that for her as well; be her warrior and give her the freedom to be vulnerable and to share her concerns without critical pushback taking care not to build walls of prideful secrecy.

Instead, see how God wants to speak to you through your bride. Her differences are an expression of the mystery of God, the wonder. Learn to appreciate who she is; don’t let the differences become a stumbling block or an area of contention or frustration.

 -“They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.” (Psalm 112:7)

Every day is an invitation to worry; don’t give in to that invitation. Take yourself and your bride to the cross, minute by minute and day by day!

The opposite of love is not hate but fear. Fear will wound love at best, kill it at worst. Be courageous in giving her a safe place. At various times, each will need to be the anchor of faith, stability, and confidence for the other – as the leader and as the helpmate. 

-“They give generously to those in need…” (Psalm 112:9)

Yes, be a marriage that sees the needs of others and, together, provides for them as able. Serve well together as opportunities arise where God has place you.

But also, be generous in your love for your wife! Be quick to protect her in every way – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Speak well of her in public and to yourself. Guard her dignity in public and private. Guard yourself when alone and, in such a way, cherish her.

 A Charge to the Wife

-You will not be the perfect Proverbs 31 wife, but in every way, determine to pursue it deliberately. “If you find a truly good wife, she is worth more than all the jewels” (and everything that “sparkles”). (v 10)

Help your husband to be all God desires Him to be. He needs your nurture and your care, your prayers and your encouragement. Helping your husband will cost you your life but will help your husband to be the leader God desires and intends.

Let him have full confidence in you and bring him good not harm all the days of your life. Let him have no reason to lack confidence in your faithful, respectful love. (v. 11)

Be clothed with strength and dignity, able to see the best in him and in the days ahead even when he struggles to see either. (v. 25)

Be a listener, a forgiver but also act and speak wisely; be compassionate. (v. 26)

Above all fear God and trust Him to work in your marriage and to change you and your husband. (v.30)

 -Trust God for your marriage.

Trusting God will be the measure of God’s work in your life. Trust God to fulfill and complete the good work He began in each of you and in your marriage. Trust God to fulfill the dreams you have for your marriage on this your wedding day (don’t forget those dreams, those desires, those vows).

 -Express your thoughts and desires, your fears and concerns!

Your husband will learn much from you (and vice versa) when each listens in humility and has an increasing desire to grow. But speak with humility as well and, as you express concerns and fears, do so in a way that reveals the heart of love. Caustic criticism will destroy the heart so be assertive in sharing what you need to but do so with gentleness and respect. Some things may be hard to share and hard to receive but Proverbs 31:26 says that when she speaks, her words are wise. Choose your words carefully.

-Be wise in establishing your home. Be used by God to bring direction to your husband your family.

Let your gifts be used with wisdom as you give your heart to your husband. Time with God alone in His Word and prayer will enhance your love for the Lord and so for your groom (and time with God alone in His Word and prayer, husband, will enhance your love for the Lord and so for your bride).

– Love your husband in a way that enhances his strength and courage. Love in a way that encourages him to love Jesus well.

There will be times he will feel weak; take him to the Lord daily, even more so in his hardest times.  Let him know you are beside him and love him well even when your own eyes can’t “see” and your strength is “small.”  Let him draw strength and  courage from you as you receive strength and courage from our Savior.

Again, let both hear the charges and apply them to yourselves as well as your spouse. Commit to love and protect each other. Commit to growing in grace. Commit to Jesus being the only firm foundation for marriage – everything else is shifting sand. Keep that foundation firm by keeping your eyes and your hearts on Him.

 

The Dance

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If you are married, you were born to dance. Not the “every man for himself” bobbing up and down with no purpose, running into and catching the rhythm whoever is in close proximity, roaming through the room with multiple dance partners in your view, but the steady, seamless cadence of being in step and moving as one.

You were born to dance in time with the one you love. When you dance in such a way, it is exhilarating; far better than the exhaustion that comes from dancing out of step.

Yes, we were born to dance but also to run the race. Not to win as in competing against our spouse; rather, as a team, coming together, side by side, cheering each other on.

In the past, dance marathons were a common occurrence. Two would begin and dance both fast and slow until the end…together. They didn’t change partners or walk away no matter how weary one of the two may have gotten, even if the other had to virtually carry the one.

We are called to lift our spouses. “Carry each other’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) Just, as at some points in a dance marathon, one or the other may be able to move with more energy or strength, in marriage we will have times where one or the other is stronger and can “carry” the other more easily. There is no shame in that nor is it to be a contention; it is a gift.

Spiritually, there are times we each need the other to spur us on to look at the cross and to live in the power of that grace, to be challenged but oh to be encouraged! Yes, mutual love, mutual respect, mutual encouragement but, at varying times, each will bear the other’s burden more intensely. God specifically gives us our husbands and wives to do just that, not in a condescending way or with a sigh, but in a joy infused way that is faithfully and tenderly restorative.

“Your wife is the accountability partner God provided for you. And, wives, your husband is the accountability partner God provided for you. According to Him, the two of you are one single entity (the two shall become one)…” (Matthew L Jacobson, “Who is Your Real Accountability Partner?”)  Again, it’s a gift, not a burden.

Part of keeping the rhythm is keeping all things that can cause us to stumble or create a gap between us cleared out from under our feet; secrets, hurts, weaknesses, fears, distractions from the outside pressing in. If we keep the ground clear, we can maneuver through them together; if we don’t, they will cause us to trip and sometimes fall and we can’t hide that from our dance partners no matter how much we try; we weren’t meant to.

Have you ever seen “extreme” dancing where the man spins the woman out, lifts her high, pulls her around? That takes trust. At times, we may feel like our dancing is “extreme” and, in those times, we have to know we can trust the one gripping our hand, that the grip is sure and secure. Trust is built when we know we are holding each other up and, when we begin to or do fall, we have a spouse that is there to lift us up, hold us close, show us grace, and restore the rhythm of the music.

The more we each seek to serve the one we love, even in the hardest moments – be it physical distance for an extended time, illness, the busyness of life, the temptations that bombard, conflict, or sin that has insidiously made its way in – the more our desire to love and serve them will increase and the more God will chip away at our selfishness and cause us to love them rather than ourselves more deeply.

Additionally, the more we each set our intimate sights and imaginations on our spouse rather than on others, the more attractive will the one we love be to us – not just the physical appeal but every aspect. He or she will captivate us and draw us in.

Choose to remember what led you to them and intentionally be on the watch, even list out, those things about your spouse that are a joy to you and others! Don’t be distracted by “shiny things” but choose to be fascinated by your “one and only” once again. Guard and keep your eyes – literally and figuratively – only for them. Deliberately find ways to increase that wonder!

On the other hand, the more we look around and intentionally or unintentionally compare our spouses to unrealistic images and expectations and/or the deceptive pull of a situation or a person – be it face to face or in some form of media, the less content we will become and the more the enemy will whisper in our ear – “There is more that will satisfy if you just look for it, go for it; what will it hurt?.” Slam the door on that whisper! Don’t entertain the lie and don’t for an instant believe that it is true!

Most importantly, the more we take our spouses, our marriage, and our own hearts humbly but boldly to the throne of grace, the more our God does exceedingly and abundantly more than we could think or ask, first in us and then in the heart of the one we love! Whether it be as the dance is sweet and perfectly in time or at the first hint of the dance being interrupted, lean in and pull your bride or groom closer, even if they are far away physically, emotionally, or spiritually. Call out to the One who can battle for you and put a hedge around the dance floor!

Yes, some days and in some seasons, we will be out of sync; but we must never accept that as the norm or allow the enemy of our souls to make us think the music has ended and it is time to add lines to our dance cards or stop dancing altogether. That is not the melody of delight! In those times, we should be deliberately taking the hand of our one. Then, if we stumble over each other’s feet, it will be together.

It takes two to dance an intimate slow dance.  Whether it be dancing or walking as one, we must be intentional to not step on each other’s toes or be afraid of the other’s next move. Rather, we should be able to trust because grace has done and is doing a work in the lives of each of us.

Dancing with abandon because redemption has followed repentance and forgiveness in the small little irritations of life and the bigger, more hurtful situations.

Dancing with joy because we have “found the one whom my soul loves” (Song of Solomon 3:4) and we are growing in that love that is able to stand the test of time and the shifting winds that blow.

There is something beautiful about intentionally choosing each other again and again; there is something about keeping our affections for and on our one. There is wonder in rekindling desire with the one to whom we said “I do” when life has made us weary. There is delight in transparency made possible by grace. And there is great joy in picking up the beat of the music and the rhythm of their hearts, choosing once again to keep in step.

Hear the music and move as one. If the music has grown faint or even silent, be deliberate about making melody together again. You will be amazed at how your love, attraction, and desire for your husband or wife will rekindle and how refreshed your marriage can be.

But don’t stop there! Keep choosing! Keep pursuing! Keep fixing your gaze first on the Savior and, immediately thereafter, on the one with whom you walked the aisle and promised, yes even vowed, to love, honor, and cherish.

See the beauty! See the holiness, the sacred delight of dancing with the one you love… all the way to the end!

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.  But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up….Though one can be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”  Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, 12

We Will Dance   Steven Curtis Chapman

I’ve watched the sunrise in your eyes And I’ve seen the tears fall like the rain You’ve seen me fight so brave and strong You’ve held my hand when I’m afraid

We’ve watched the seasons come and go We’ll see them come and go again But in winter’s chill, or summer’s breeze One thing will not be changin’

We will dance When the sun is shining In the pouring rain We’ll spin and we’ll sway And we will dance When the gentle breeze Becomes a hurricane The music will play And I’ll take your hand And hold you close to me And we will dance

Sometimes it’s hard to hold you tight Sometimes we feel so far apart Sometimes we dance as one And feel the beating of each others hearts

Some days the dance is slow and sweet Some days we’re bouncing off the walls No matter how this world may turn Our love will keep us from fallin’

And we will dance When the sun is shining In the pouring rain We’ll spin and we’ll sway And we will dance When the gentle breeze Becomes a hurricane The music will play And I’ll take your hand And hold you close to me And we will dance

The music will play And I’ll hold you close And I won’t let you go Even when our steps Grow weak and slow Still I’ll take your hand And hold you close to me And we, will dance

His Rescue is My Reward…and My Joy!

dscn1098-stubborn-sheep-manualIs our God not so gracious?

We are “half-hearted creatures,” as I quoted C.S. Lewis in my last blog post, “My Only Boast is You.”  But the God who has redeemed His children is a “wholehearted God,” a God who rescues and restores from beginning to end!  Even as His stubborn sheep often run from His protective care, He promises and we can be confident that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus!”  (Philippians 1:6)

Is there any greater joy than to know that, on our most faithful days and our most defiant, He is the God who pursues us!  No, He doesn’t allow us to stay in our rebelliousness and will permit whatever it takes for the blinders to come off our eyes, the scales to come off our hearts, and the humility before Him to restore our spirits. Yes, that is authentic love that dares to rock our world and to rescue us from ourselves and our propensity to rationalize our attitudes and our actions.

How sweet the peace when we surrender to His correction!

We can trust Him to do that because He has been doing just that throughout time.

We are sinners. BUT God in His mercy…sent His Son to die in our place giving us freedom from the penalty of sin but also the power of sin in our lives.

We are sinners. BUT God in His mercy…invades our self-satisfied souls and leads us to repentance. He is not calling us to perfection but to actively and intentionally pursuing it as we grow in our knowledge of and love for Him and our increasing desire to follow more faithfully. That’s not legalism, that’s the grace of sanctification!

We are sinners. BUT God in His mercy…takes our messes and redeems them for His glory!

“Redemption happens once we leave our ‘stuff’ behind! God meets humility and repentance and does the work of transformation. Repentance doesn’t keep pressing under and forward with sin, it doesn’t continue in it and hide it but, rather, exposes it to the light of God’s saving and sanctifying grace.” (Joseph Wheat)

As we gaze into the Word of God, we come face to face with “messes” who also humbled themselves before the Lord. He used even those to complete His story of redemption in Christ. But He didn’t leave them as they were.

Though Rahab was a prostitute, once living in defiance to the one true God, she was obedient to protect the Israelites then turned from her false gods as well as her way of life.

Ruth left behind her homeland and her Moabite gods to live with her mother in law saying, “Your people will be my people; your God will be my God.”  Her purposeful honor of Naomi in obedience to her directives set her redemption in motion as she was, in essence, faithfully following God.

When David was confronted with his sin by Nathan, he didn’t lash out in anger at him, deny his sin, or make excuses for it; God softened His heart and he was humble before the Lord as he repented.

Against You and You only have I sinned, Lord, and done what is wicked in Your sight…

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.

…My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. (from Psalm 51)

And that is why David is known as a man after God’s heart; not because he was perfect, not because he wasn’t a mess. But because, by God’s grace, He didn’t stay in his mess. David didn’t continue in his sin. He laid it at the feet of God, confessed it, turned from it, asked God to give him that willing spirit to sustain him in continuing that obedience, then opened himself up to be used by God to turn others away from sin and back to the Lord.

We have a tendency to want to hold onto certain sins in our lives while doing lots of “good things” for God, to make “atonement,” even barter with Him, for what we don’t want to let go. But David, whose chaos God used in the lineage of Jesus, laid it all down and knew it wasn’t any “good works” or “burnt offerings” God desired – it was repentance, a “broken and contrite heart.”

God knows our hearts and He knows our greatest temptations and our greatest propensities to give into them so He doesn’t call us to go into battle alone. When we humble ourselves before the Lord and come to a place of letting go, God promises His faithfulness in the battle, “…He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape…” (I Corinthians 10:13) and then He equips us to take that way out.

How awesome is that!

I appreciate the way Trevin Wax describes it, “God understands our temptations. He knows our hearts better than we do. He sympathizes with our ignorant attempts to find joy apart from him. But in his great love, he refuses to affirm us in our misdirected ways. To do so would be to abandon us to the leash and lamppost, where we would strangle ourselves.” (C.S. Lewis Talks to a Dog About Lust*)

God forgives and gives us the power to defeat sin in our life but never to excuse it. Some choices have greater consequences for us and for those we love and we need to ask God for the ability and the will to battle them more intensely and purposefully; yes, not just to set them aside for a time but to kill those areas of our lives for good. I have watched men and women be completely freed from devastating sins; not necessarily from the temptation at first but from the power those temptations have on them. And, over time, as they battled in the power of the Holy Spirit, the intensity of the temptations lessened as their “self-control muscle” was strengthened with use.

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” (Acts 3:19)

What “gods” of our own making (those pet sins we coddle or those good things we make the “ultimate things” that we pursue with our all heart, soul, and mind), do we need to leave behind so “times of refreshment might come?” What areas do we hold on to that are a hindrance to our walk with the Lord and our most intimate relationships as well as other interactions?

It’s so easy for our eyes to be blinded by and to our own “old man” desires that we too often allow to set up residence in our souls, that we justify them as “part of who we are.”  We rationalize that, since we won’t be perfect this side of heaven, we can actually have sins we don’t address. But when we continue to allow the same sins over and over (God never gives us that latitude and there are some with greater consequences to our souls and the lives of others), we make light of that amazing grace; in essence, we mock God and make less of His mercy.

Repentance is a miraculous work of God because it is He who calls us to it and equips us for it and, when we are humble enough to submit areas of “sin entrenchment” to His surgical hands, we are given the freedom in Christ not just from the penalty but also the power of sin. Sadly, we often think that letting go of a pet sin will be a loss to us – that is a lie from the enemy of our souls! Rather, when we trust God, true belief and true repentance will bring us satisfaction from soul hunger.

Yes, we run hard into the arms of our Savior when we fail!  And God can and does use our failures, but He won’t leave us in them and He doesn’t intend for us to grow comfortable with them. Out of love for us, He will rip them from our hands by whatever means possible, as He allowed Nathan to “expose” David not to shame him but so that “godly sorrow would lead him to…repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:10); even if it means revealing them to others who will love us enough to give grace but not to give us a “pass.”  Will we respond with the same humility?

God is the God of new beginnings; He is at work putting the “old man” to death. He is the God who makes us “new creations” (2 Corinthians 5:17) – first, in our position before Him because of Christ’s death and resurrection but, then, as we view Him and our sin in a completely different way; and, finally, as he softens our stony hearts so that truth reigns in our relationship with him and others.

As with David and so many more, repentance is an opportunity of great praise because it is in this that the power of God is made perfect in us and so evident! He can destroy the chains of choices that drag us down so we can increasingly live faithful to Him and with those in our lives…not perfectly but a little more intentionally and “seamlessly” with every day we walk in His Truth instead of according to our passions and desires (Galatians 5).

At times, the initial step is hard but oh the joy of letting go!

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

“Grace often grows strongest where conviction of sin has pierced deepest.” (Sinclair Ferguson)

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins…But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen!” (2 Peter 1:3-9 and 3:18)

My Only Boast is You!

“Hallelujah! All I have is Christ! Hallelujah! Jesus is my life!..

So Lord, I would be Yours alone and live so all might see,

The strength to follow Your commands could never come from me…”

(Sovereign Grace Music)

Indeed, that ability to follow the Lord’s commands could not come from me; it is the power of the Holy Spirit convicting the heart and enabling me to love the Lord my God more deeply so that I can increasingly hate what He hates and love what he loves; a great portion of that is the sin in me and those I love that veil our vision of the Savior and leads me to say, “My only boast is YOU!”

When God puts an exclamation point on all He has been emphasizing through various means over a period of a couple of weeks with a sermon that both challenges and encourages, it is like a child climbing onto his/her daddy’s lap while He gently exposes his/her heart all the while revealing His own.

God is the God who redeems sinners, those who decimate the “Plan A’s” of this world, the perfection. That would be me. That would be you.

Time and again I have thanked God that He takes our broken stories and uses them for His glory. I have thanked Him for redeeming not only my greatest failures but the greatest hurts that have come from others’ choices. And I continue, even in the midst, to say, “I know You are able, God! Do exceedingly and abundantly more! Show me my sin and cause me to hate it as much as you do! Then do the same for others that I love.”

Time and again God has been faithful to show me my “messes” so that I am not blind to them, so I can leave them at the cross! It is He alone that gives me the will to do just that for it is not His desire that His children remain enraptured with any “pet sin,” anything that sets itself up against the holiness of God; rather, that we get a greater view of His glory and a more abiding love for Him so our attraction to the empty baubles lessens with time. Then, tenderly He says…and now “about this…let me do a little chiseling…” It’s not always comfortable nor without pain and sometimes He has to pry our fingers away from that which we hold so tightly, that which we think satisfies, forgetting that sin never does. But that pruning is always accomplished through the fingers of the loving Father who never fails.

That’s what God did with the lives of men and women in the Bible; He took their messes and brought forth miracles! Just as He does for us.

As our pastor taught out of the book of Ruth, the people of the Bible were not perfect but, indeed, sinners just like us for “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). When God breaks through in our lives, I call it a HALLELUJAH moment! Literally, a time to stop and give praise to the God who is at work in this world and in His people! This HALLELUJAH moment is two-fold. Because it doesn’t end with the failures of God’s people then or now! HE did and continues to do the work of wooing men and women to Himself, redeeming them not because of how “perfect” or “lovable” they are, but because of His great mercy through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus! He provided the way and redeems us for His own, but He never intends that we stay where we are. He uses our messes as He has His people across generations and always does so hand in hand with repentance!

Somehow, along the way, we have, at times, chafed at that word. When someone is offending us, we long for them to repent. When we see someone we love running hard in a dangerous direction, defiant even to God, we pray for them to repent and be redeemed, restored. But, too often, when it is used in conjunction with a sin we love so well, we sometimes squirm and try to brush it off as unnecessary, even legalistic. We have forgotten that repentance is a command but it’s also a joy; that repentance is an integral part of salvation but also our continuing walk with Christ, and it is freedom! “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord…” (Acts 3:19) and “This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…’“ (Isaiah 30:15)

That is something to celebrate! Who doesn’t want to be refreshed? Who doesn’t want rest and strength, quietness and trust? Who doesn’t want an unhindered relationship with the living God and those we love? The reality is if we are pushing back against God’s call for repentance, we are missing what He delights to give us. We are, as C.S. Lewis wrote, “…half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

If we are honest, don’t we sometimes tend to think His commands are “burdensome” when they collide with our desires and what we have already deemed “acceptable?” Don’t we sometimes continue to coddle certain sins, living as if we think God is trying to withhold something so amazing from us? But, if we would see with His eyes and respond in “quietness and trust,” we would find that our desires are far too small, they are cheap imitations of the beauty waiting in obedience. Because in repentance and obedience, we see Him as He is and we find that all we were trying to substitute with was actually less than delight and was making us restless, more dissatisfied, and more blind to what God has wanted to give us all along!

It is not about perfection in and of ourselves; it is about seeing our Savior more clearly, loving our Father more deeply, and pursuing the likeness of Jesus more intently, being re-fashioned by God’s spirit to be image bearers as we were designed. “In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.” I John 5:3

We lay down our pride and He takes over our messes and empowers us to leave them behind, making them and us beautiful and useful for His glory, our good, and quite possibly the restoration of someone else who needs to taste and see that the Lord is good and completely possible God’s redemption and transformation actually is! And, in so doing, we find that even the good things we have experienced encumbered, with the blinders are off, can be enjoyed fully as God intended.

He calls us to “throw off those things that hinder and that sin that so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1) not to rob us but to free us! He is not a capricious God who gives us commands that we cannot fulfill or just because He can! If He commands it, it is because it reflects His character well, it allows us to experience His gifts with joy, and He will equip us to do it. And often, in the most difficult areas, he will bring another to race alongside us, cheering us on and reminding us to keep our eyes on Jesus as we throw “it” off so that we are able not in our ability but His! If we are married, God intends that first cheerleader be our spouse, as the two are one. Repentance is a gift just like the gift of salvation; His work that enables our response.

We aren’t to make light of sin nor fear we cannot win against it. Sin is dangerous; we have to acknowledge that instead of giving it so much room to nest in our lives. BUT God…He is more than able! His strength IS made perfect in our weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

“God’s grace IS overcoming! God’s best doesn’t come through perfect, plastic people but through ordinary sinners who trust God, repent, and believe!” (Joseph Wheat)

Won’t you join me in asking God to take the “messes” that we are and transform us as He delights to do?  And will you then, with me, joyfully boast only in Him?

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts.  See if there be any grievous, offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”  Psalm 139:23, 24