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, to reveal or conceal.

Trust is shaken when truth is known, as the proverbial “elephant in the room,” yet no attempt is made 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 only 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, 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 choices. And trust is solidified.

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 the wounds they have inflicted and errors made yet 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 trust further erode.

We tend to fear that the truth we need to reveal will not be received with forgiveness, love, and grace.

We fear losing the reputation we have created and protected or the strong position we have fought to maintain. 

But we have to decide which is more important: our reputation or our integrity; our standing or the health of a relationship.

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 uncomfortably 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 – both our actions and our spoken or unspoken words.

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 “unspoken” between two or more.

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 or reestablish trust 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.

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 “life spins out of control!”

“Let’s remind ourselves of what we know is true!”

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?’ (…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 with which I might not agree or is contrary to what right and true and so 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!
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Just As He Said

Just as he saidCelebrations abound.

Rightfully, we exalt and lift high the sacrifice of our Redeemer and sometimes blend it in while enjoying the newness of God’s creation 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

In Christ Alone

“…This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save
‘Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live, I live.

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
Till He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.”

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 in 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 well remember 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, LORD, 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.

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 as a young mom of, then, just one (with two more to come later) time has, indeed, been swift.

Now, as each one of them are adults – walking out their own relationships with Christ, which each person must do, 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 must 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, challenge, and 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 is shorter than we think.

Our season to give them a hunger for His Word and a delight in His presence is precious but, in light of eternity, not long.

Our opportunities to teach them of His holiness and justice but also His mercy and love with words and actions are limitless as we “walk along the way” (Deuteronomy 11:18-19) but also momentary.

Our treasured times to instill in them that it is our God who gives us true joy and who loves our laughter and who will give us discernment and desire, even the courage, to walk with Him when the world calls us away is now as we delight in Him.

So take those moments and enjoy them. Don’t allow the enemy of our souls to tell you what you are doing wrong and how you aren’t enough. Ask God to take every seed planted and make it fruitful in their lives; to forgive our error and show us what we need to do, by His transforming grace, but then trust that same grace to do the good work in them that He intends!

Take these little ones to Jesus and lay their very lives at His feet.

Enjoy the ordinary moments with them without continually looking to next big thing.

Take them on your lap or to your side and just be still.

Open the Word of God and bathe both your soul and soul of your child with His unchanging Truth.

Let them see your tears and watch you take them to the throne of grace.

Grab the moments of silliness and laugh together, even at the little annoyances.

But discipline the defiance. Remind them that the Lord “disciplines those He loves” (Hebrews 12:6) and will not turn a blind eye to our self-rule and willful disobedience. Then wrap them up and remind them of their need, as well as your own, for the Savior!

Remind them over and over that it is our God who first gave His grace to us so that we can display and lead them to that same grace of God by extending to them that same forgiveness. Then we point to the grace-filled discipline to turn their hearts and our own to what is true and not just what we and they feel or 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 redeeming 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

loving well.jpgLast weekend I attended the wedding of a friend. At each marriage between two followers of Christ there should be the desire and purposeful pursuit 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 (Romans 6), 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 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.

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) and be willing to do what it takes to make it so.  

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.  

Cultivate your desire for your bride and her beauty in your eyes by keeping them on her, not allowing other women to fill the recesses of your thoughts and imagination.  She will grow in beauty and your desire for her will increase as you tame your temptations.

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

feet-for-blog-londone-and-caleb

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 with whoever is in close proximity, roaming through the room with multiple dance partners catching your eye, 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. Though there will be times we do “miss the beat” and trip over one another’s feet, the goal is then to reset sooner than later and as often as needed to keep in 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 one had to literally carry the other.

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 the one we love will 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 about choosing 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 as well as on 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 holiness just as He says – being set apart to live in this world as His reflection – 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, He takes them, redeems them for His glory, and sets about daily transforming us for our joy and His praise!

“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.”  Those weren’t mere words.  Her purposeful honor of Naomi in obedience to her directives set her redemption in motion as she was, in essence, faithfully following God upon she had set her heart and her life.

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)

So, 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 as well as 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 with a way out…but we must act on that and take that “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 “put off,” “put to death” 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.  As their love for God increase, their love for sin decreased and actually grew cold.

“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 refreshing 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 “old man” desires that we too often allow to set up residence in our souls, that we justify 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 (and God never gives us that latitude though 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 that allows us to say “no” to what God says is contrary to Himself and “yes” to the joy of our salvation and “letting go.”

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 – in our weakness – 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 seamless joy with every day we walk in His Truth instead of according to our own selfish desires and passions (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 my often stubborn 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 veils 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 mine and 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…so we can all walk in freedom and live with one another unhindered!”

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)

“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 that they see what God’s redemption and transformation actually is!  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

Beneath a Silent Night

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In the cool of the evening,

In the chill of the night,

The stars, they are brilliant

And Heaven’s Hope is my light.

The stillness is settling

The quiet so deep

The whisper of God,

“Sleep, my child, sleep.”

“No worry can harm you,

No scheme decimate,

No sorrow defeat you

When in Me, you do wait.”

“The joys of this earth

Are mere shadows before;

The blessings, a taste

Of what I have in store.”

He brings rest for the weary

And sight for the blind,

Hope for the hurting

Calm for the mind.

He transforms our delights

To reveal more of Him;

Leading us away

From self-satsified sin.

To once again savor

The wonder elusive –

The babe in the manger

God Himself infuses

The joy and delight

Of that first silent night

When the angels announced

“Peace with God now in sight.”

As He settles my soul

And wraps me around

My Savior reminds me,

I’m not lost, I am found!

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.”  Romans 5:1-2

Returning to a Proclamation and a Promise

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“Peace on earth; good will towards men.” A proclamation and a promise.

But so many things threaten to undo our peace.

Intermittently, circumstances and the pace of life chip it away. Sometimes it is sin committed against us; while at other times, our own sin unconfessed. Sometimes we grieve loss of various kinds in a world turned upside down. And sometimes we watch or are the prodigal sprinting to a supposed “safe place,” a place of assumed comfort, only to find it is anything but calm for neither addictions, denials, nor hidden places where we seek to bury our shame offer the peace for which we long.

Sometimes it’s obedience in a long direction. But, though that “delayed obedience” may take a winding path, when it ultimately returns to the Truth, the enemy of our soul cringes. The light of Truth dispels the shadows of the dark places and we find grace!

And sometimes it is loving unbelievers bent on denying the reality of Christ or reaching out to believers who confess the name of Jesus but think and live like it makes no difference. Yet, we do not compromise our words or actions to appease in order to make another “feel” false comfort or misplaced confidence. Rather, unashamed, we speak what is true out of a great love for them and for our Savior so they will “know the hope!” Boldly, we approach the throne of grace on their behalf.

And a tremble can be felt.

We are setting holiness in motion; allowing God to reign and work. The enemy of our souls can wound our spirit, make us uncomfortable, insert sadness, stoke discouragement, or prompt tears.

But He cannot destroy us.

We can have rest.

“The weary world rejoices” and so can we as we set our minds on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy!” We choose, in faith, to reject the lies (and sometimes even what is reality) that pierce our soul; all because of the our God penetrating the darkness and coming in flesh on that holy night! Pain is real but so is the Savior who has promised peace for the brokenhearted, a way of return for the runner, rest for the weary.

Even sin does not have to separate any further.   No, we don’t always follow perfectly, but we are in this world to be Christ’s image bearers, pursuers of His excellent way, and we have been given the power to overcome and to grow in that likeness.   When we fail (and we will), we can run to the Savior and humbly go to those we have wounded or sinned against and make it right. We can admit to those who have witnessed our failure and cynically thought, “Well, there you go – I see there’s really no difference in a follower of Christ” that we have failed and so need the Redeemer. But we do not live in the expectation nor resignation of failure! We live as one redeemed and being continually changed by the transforming grace of God. For the difference is not in us; it’s in the Savior, born that silent night who would die and be raised by the same divine power that “…has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence!” (2 Peter 1:3)

We have not only the obligation but the privilege of laying whatever entangles us at the cross, reminding those who watch that our hope is in Jesus and our desire is to become more like Him daily, to increasingly want His will not ours, and to understand and live out the beauty of His holiness a little more with each passing day and year. And by His grace, we have that One who forgives us, picks us up, embraces us, brushes us off, then sends us out to “go and sin no more.” We are great sinners, but we have a greater Savior! (paraphrased from John Newton)

And so, in the moments, there are times we will have a settledness in our souls and others when restlessness will haunt us. But, for the follower of Jesus Christ, we are at peace with God through the finished work of His Son, who came as babe in that sleepy town, crashing through the barrier between those who bear His image and our three times holy God, devastating death there on the cross with “Tetelestai” – “It Is Finished!” The condemnation of our sin is paid for, defeat by discouragement has been decimated, and we, who long for the Savior’s return, keep “working out our salvation with fear and trembling” so that we are growing deeper in His truth and in His love, able to enter that respite and “shake off our fears.”

And it all began on that not so silent night!

We long for His return even when we feel too attached to this world.

“Peace on earth; good will towards men.” A proclamation and a promise. The now and the not yet! Gazing on the babe in the manger, we remember what was to come – His finished work on the cross and His resurrection to life! And we await our soon and coming King once more!

This is Christmas! The longing for Jesus to break through darkness and discouragement, hold us near to His heart, and equip us to rest even when circumstances cause our spirits to sometimes faint, even falter!

Christopher West says it well, reminding us of the reality of hope we find even in our weariness: “This is the Christmas story in a nutshell: The Infinite One has wed himself to our finite humanity. This is what we’re preparing ourselves for during Advent. And this is why Advent is a time of desire: The bride is longing to be filled with the eternal life of her bridegroom. And so she cries in union with the Spirit of God: “O come, O come, Emmanuel.”

And Emmanuel has come. It is finished!

 

Of Colorado Mountain Passes & Marriage

IMG_4721.JPGWhen you set out on adventure, you never know exactly what will come! 

We set out on adventure over thirty years ago, and we have watched two of our three children do the same this year. 

We have hit some of the highest highs and the lowest lows in that time, but we have done it under the watchful eye of our heavenly Father, and so will our children.  

It is an adventure worth sharing, and the love and commitment I have for this man is greater today than when we first began.

Marriage is not for the faint of heart nor the uncommitted; neither is it for the one who is content and even set upon life and circumstances always being about “me” and “my needs and wants.” 

It is for the humble of heart, the tender in spirit, and the one with the tenacity to say, “We said ‘I do’ forever and that’s what I still intend…no matter what!”

It is for those not just willing to “be” together but for those hungry to live and grow and change together in the power of Jesus Christ; to love more deeply, to increasingly trust and create trust, to “outdo” each other in serving, showing, and telling of that love, to reveal more of who we are and who we aren’t because we know we are “grace-fully” loved as well. 

It’s not just about staying but praying and fighting tenderly and fiercely for the other because, ultimately, the two have been made one and when one falters, the other one feels it; each can provide that secure place to land.

So, as we headed out on a motorcycle adventure this past week, I couldn’t help but, once again, enjoy the road ahead behind the man with whom I have walked alongside most of my life, taking into consideration how so many parts of that adventure were a picture of marriage specifically and, often, life in general.

As the road and the mountains loomed ahead of us, I couldn’t help but take in the beauty and also consider it as a picture of the life we have lived together, remembering God’s faithfulness and His grace poured out all over us! 

Sure, we knew when we started that there might be things up ahead to fear on the roads of Colorado (let alone the day we married, looking ahead to the roads of life and marriage), but I chose to trust this man, my husband, knowing he would never put me or us in danger.  And, if he found himself or us in a precarious situation of his own making or otherwise, he would do whatever it took to get us safely back on track, more secure than before.

We headed up to Last Dollar Road and over to Sawpit for the ride to Telluride.  The last time we drove Sawpit, it gave both of us not a little apprehension.  Street tires carried us over rock and gravel, steep climbs and equally precipitous descents.  It felt treacherous as the drops from the edges were sharp and deep.

But the views were magnificent, breathtaking, God’s fingerprint on it all!  And, in the confines of my helmet,  I sang as I did the last time, “This is my Father’s world; I rest me in the thought of rocks and trees, of skies and seas.  His hand the wonders wrought!”  And instead of fear I chose to see the glory – I couldn’t help but do so – it was so evident! 

“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”  (Isaiah 55:12)

It was no less treacherous, perilous, steep, or breathtaking.  But we had traversed the obstacles once before, faced it together and, knowing the concerns, we took the steps to face it “more prepared.” 

The scary parts felt less scary as we rode on tires more equipped for terrain such as this.  Still, one bad patch, one false turn, and what was glorious and fun could be turned upside down, literally and figuratively.  We made our way, he doing what he knew he had to do to get us safely to the other side still keeping our eyes open, but, all the while, with our gaze fixed on the One who ultimately has our lives in His hands.

Life is sometimes equally treacherous.  We often stand at the precipice of frightening situations externally but also internally as individuals and as a couple.  We “knew” the dangers ahead in marriage and now we have seen them more clearly. 

Even today, we aren’t sure what will follow at times and how we will always move forward.  We can choose to look over the edge at the “what could be’s,” but that isn’t how the Lord intends for us to live our lives nor walk in marriage. 

We set our gaze “straight ahead; (we) fix (our) gaze directly before (us). “We give careful thought to the paths for (our) feet and (choose to) be steadfast in all (our) ways!” (Proverbs 4:25-26) 

Then we live!

We enjoy the wonder that is this life the Lord has given, regardless of the ease or the difficulty!

And as we “live, we don’t keep record of wrongs nor grow fearful of the “what ifs.” Fear is dangerous on a motorcycle, and it is even more so for a marriage.  Instead, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, (we) press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called (us) heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)  We may tremble and wonder what’s ahead at times…

But God!

We can look at the difficult circumstances or we can look at the glory of God being worked out through them!  Secure in who we are in Him, we can look beyond the hard to His hand and we can lay ourselves bare first before Him and then before each other, knowing we are “grace-fully” loved.  We are not alone.  The One who is more than able to do exceedingly and abundantly more is in the midst doing just that. 

“For better or worse” can encompass so much, but when we choose to trust each other, look beyond the now to the not yet, forgive offenses, and be each other’s greatest advocates when life’s difficulties close in, we provide that “sure” footing, those “better tires” to get us over the rocky ground where we may get “stuck,” the unstable gravel where we may slip, and return to the more secure ground…together.

If we do something foolish on the motorcycle, as in life, we will have consequences and we may have great pain often leading to the injury of the other.  We may gently lay down a bike and find we have a few bruises and little scrapes or there can be a violent crash that may take months if not years from which to recover. 

The same can be said of life choices – an annoyance or an unintentional action that is little more than hurt feelings or a minor offense can and should bring quick apologies, forgiveness, and recovery. 

A deeper wound from a succession of hurtful words, actions, or betrayal needs to be quickly turned from, honest apologies given, and intentional changes made, but forgiveness must be given, even if trust may take some time to be rebuilt depending on how the circumstances are handled.   Unforgiveness is not an option; it is the seed of bitterness and erects walls that are hard to scale.

We cannot expect that unwise and/or sinful words or actions will leave no scars; but, over time, if not mortally wounded, scars are reminders of God’s grace to us and our grace to one another. 

When I’m on the back of the bike, my husband has specific instructions for me for our safety – move with him in the curves, come up close to the front and lean in while on gravel, and never ever put my foot down to the pavement (yes, that instruction came when, in fear one time, I did).  Likewise, he knows what he must do to keep the bike upright and maintain our safety regardless of the terrain. 

There are “rules” for safe riding and personal accountability as well as an accountability for both of us, one to the other.  And we do them…together.  If we get out of sync or if I choose to respond as I “feel” in the moment, the results will not be good.

In marriage, we are called to be “in sync” with one another in every way; when we aren’t, the clash is inevitable and, depending on the situation, can be light and momentary or devastating.  We are called to be answerable to each other, to keep our marriage “upright and safe” as it were.  There are to be no areas of secrecy, no areas where we are allowed to “go dark,” no areas that the other is not allowed to “see into” – that being intimacy in every space. 

Is it comfortable to share our weaknesses, our failures, and our struggles?  Of course not.  We want the other to see as little of our “worst” as possible.  But, it is that truthfulness and vulnerability, especially under the cover of God’s grace, which brings ultimate unity and defeats the schemes of the enemy of our souls that would weigh us down and keep us hidden from the one who has our heart. 

As Matthew Jacobson writes, “Your wife is the accountability partner God provided you.  And, wives, your husband is the accountability partner God provided for you.  According to Him, you are one entity (the two shall become one…in every aspect)…”  

You share all while not clinging to “worthless idols” or justifying intimacy-destroying habits that need to be eradicated from your life; you take them to the cross and leave them there…together!  That sets your relational feet on more solid ground.

If we are to have a secure relationship built on mutual respect, mutual trust, and mutual tenderness, there can be no hidden places.  The reality is that, if you are close in most areas, your spouse will sense when a part of you is not right, when a struggle is rearing its head, and where there needs to be a restart.  Don’t run from that; let the grace of God draw you to Himself and to one another to make you and your marriage stronger.

When we choose to hide our hurts, struggles, and temptations, we live with a guardedness that keeps us from total intimacy and the greatest joy that God intended. 

When we are fully known yet completely loved, we experience the kind of completeness in marriage we were designed to have!

Don’t hide.  Don’t go deeper into the darkness.  That is the rocky ground where the enemy can heap shame and temptation again and again.  God’s word is so clear – true restoration and healing comes in the light.

Returning to our cabin over Last Dollar Road, we laughed as my hubby skillfully maneuvered his way over more gravel, rocks, and muddy puddles.  But, while my ultimate trust was in the God of these rocky places, I trusted my husband and the joy and laughter that followed is a memory I will not forget.  It took us to one of the most beautiful vistas I have ever seen and one I really didn’t want to leave!

Marriage is like that.  When you traverse hard places together, deal with them rightly, and survive them by the grace of God and the firmness of commitment, you find an increasingly greater beauty in the covenant you entered and vowed before God, a deeper love that is forged by fire. 

Challenges have the power to destroy a relationship or strengthen it – it’s a choice.  Where will we fix our eyes?  On whom?

“…we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance/perseverance, and endurance/perseverance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us!”  (Romans 5:2-5)

When you turn your back on selfish desires and choices or join hands when physical, financial, or emotional difficulties come, and together you plow through the rocks and the mud and the cold rain, you find yourself on a marital vista that equips you to more easily say “no” to selfish desires and “me-focus” responses the next time and “yes” to the Savior, ultimately yes to your bride or groom. 

Yes, I will cherish you.

Yes, I will protect you.

Yes, I will stand beside you. 

Yes, I will increasingly say “no” to my self-promoting, self-loving choices. 

Yes, I will more intentionally say “yes” to those choices that honor the Lord and benefit us both.

Yes, I will lay myself bare to you and let you “see into me” without deceit.

Yes, I will go to the Savior with you.

Yes, we will go through the fire together with Him and not be burned.

I would be the first to say we are not perfect, not even close.  We have failed each other more often than I would like to admit; there have been tears and valleys.

Selfishness has reared its ugly head too often; at times, a lack of “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” – the five most important words in a marriage – have led to deserts where the chasm between us has been wide and the loneliness deep.

But we have a Savior who lifts us up, shows us our shame not to defeat us but to point us back to the cross where we can be restored to Him and to each other.  And, time after time, He has taken what the enemy meant for evil, to make us stronger. 

We have a Savior who has not only restored us but deepened our love for and our enjoyment of Him and each other!

I wouldn’t choose or orchestrate any of those circumstances, but I have seen the Lord chip away at the rocky places in our lives, making something beautiful in the valleys so we could come over the passes into the beauty of the mountaintops and stand amazed.

“This is my Father’s world!  Oh let me ne’er forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God IS the Ruler yet!” 

In His creation, in this world, in our lives, in our marriage…and in yours!

But God! Part 2

img_9633Once again, we watch our nation struggle as if it rocks on the edge of a precipice.

If all we watched were the sensationalized news/talk shows, men and women bent on creating a narrative based on their own ideological views rather than on what is factual, and we would think there was no hope, that all consideration of unity and peace is but a vapor, a dream that has died.

BUT GOD!

He is not wringing His hands over or bound by angry mobs, insidious plans, self-loving talking heads, rabble-rousing “inciters,” corrupt and conniving people in authority.

In little pockets all over the country, there is a quiet rumble of those who will not be manipulated into hate.  Instead, they are reaching across imaginary lines drawn by the enemy of our souls who seeks to divide and conquer; to steal, kill, and destroy not just here on earth but for eternity.  (John 10:10)  And, in those pockets, the love and grace of God is being poured out; for we, His image bearers, are able to love and forgive because HE first loved us.

And it is what He commands His people to do – over and above what we, in our flesh, want to do at times. Even those who do not acknowledge Him bear His image because He is Creator; though they mar that image as they exalt themselves.  The powers that desire division want to stamp out hope.

BUT GOD!

He is Hope!

He is Healer of the broken-hearted and sin scarred.  Those living in shame and regret need not anymore.

He is Restorer of the breaches. He is able to repair what the enemy of our souls has broken down.

He is the Mighty One, able to save and redeem, but also Mighty to judge and bring true justice.

His judgment may just be to lead us to repentance rather than judgment so we must hear His voice and let Him devastate our self-rule and, in humility, say, “Speak Lord, I am listening…create in me a clean heart oh God, and renew a right spirit within me…search me and know me; see if there is any wicked way in me…(Psalm 51 and 139) and transform me God!”

Yes, let it begin with me!

An often heard and argued verse from God’s Word is just an echo of His grace:  “If God’s people who are called by His name will humble themselves and pray and turn from their (own) wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven…and heal their land.”  2 Chronicles 7:14

Is He bound to show us mercy?  Of course not.  His judgment may be for destruction.  But, He commands His people who are called by His name, that’s me, that’s you – individual followers of Christ who so often look at the “bigger” sins of those around us with a shaking head yet coddle our own rebellion against God, justifying our own pet sins.  He has promised that if we cherish sin in our hearts (be it an attitude or action), He will not hear us (Psalm 66:18). But, if we will humble ourselves and turn, He has promised to listen and, according to His glory and goodness, act.  All we are responsible for is our own obedience to Him even as we show the way to others still setting their foundations on shifting sand.

We’ve been a nation divided before.  Yes, there was a remnant of noble men and women, but there were also many who wanted to destroy; the spirit of lawlessness appeared to have taken over.

BUT GOD!

It was He who changed hearts and minds and brought reconciliation and healing where there was none and no one believed it would ever be so.

It was He who transformed souls by His grace and brought revival to a thirsty land.

It is in our arrogance that we would deem to exactly know the mind of God, to throw up our hands in resignation and say, “We might as well admit it – all is lost” when God says pray, repent, live before God and man righteously with His grace, His peace, and His love, speak truth in a way that draws men to Himself and restores lives!

What we do know is that He is merciful to us when we don’t deserve it so who are we to think He might not yet relent, soften hard hearts, take the scales from blind eyes, and redeem this rebellious generation!  He is able to do exceedingly and abundantly more than we can think or ask.

And because He is…we can have HOPE, we can choose JOY!

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And HOPE does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.  Romans 5:1-5

 

We Said “I Do” and Meant It – That’s the Beauty of Grace

32 years and a couple of months ago, my hubby and I said “I do.”

We had no idea what that would mean, but that’s beauty of saying “I do” in the power of Christ!  It’s just one aspect of the grace God pours out on relationships between two who love and fear Him.  The grace to grow up together, make mistakes together and apart from one another, the grace to love when it’s hard, the grace to forgive and be forgiven, the grace to laugh and the grace to cry – always together!  It’s the beauty of grace.

Very soon, we look forward to our only daughter making those same vows to a young man we have prayed for all her life, though we didn’t know his name.  God’s answer, with this particular young man, is a gift to both our daughter and to all of us.  And, one day, the Lord will bring those wives for whom we prayed, to our sons.

As they prepare, we pray diligently for them both knowing the great joys and the sorrows will come; it is both that shape and solidify a relationship that is grounded in Christ and that is committed to intentionally saying and “doing” “I do forever.”  It is the relationship where both choose to grow in their walk with the Lord and to being humble and transparent with each other, no matter how hard it is or what it exposes; never hiding parts of ourselves.  For it is when the two are one in every way, even in humility and trust, sharing their strengths and struggles, wrestling and battling with and for each other (Ephesians 6:10-18), that the enemy can have no room for deception and division.  It’s the beauty of grace.

Recently, I watched our own wedding; the video tape etched with the years but the words, from the heart of God, still bold and true.

32 years and a couple of months ago, my hubby and I said “I do.”  As I listened to these vows and the charge from our pastor while my hubby was away on business, I sat in the living room and prayerfully and thankfully said “I do” again. And, yes, through the good and hard times – and, as with all, there have been both – I would do it all over again with this man, “the one whom my soul loves.”  Song of Solomon 3:4

I share these words for encouragement and challenge, whether you are married now or not.  If so, commit to your spouse again; if not, prepare your heart and mind, make your choices wisely, and realize that every decision we make has an effect on the one to whom we have said or will say “I do.”

Choose to love intentionally, deeply, faithfully, fiercely!  It’s worth it!

And when you blow it – big or small – don’t hide.  Take it to the cross together quickly.  Don’t let it linger.  Learn to say, “I blew it.  I’m sorry,” not “I’m sorry, but…”  And learn to say, “I forgive you.”  That’s the beauty of grace.

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 12:15

In 1983, these words were spoken to a young bride and groom:

“The vows you are about to take are not a statement of feelings.  You are not saying to each other: “This is how I feel about you.”  You are saying, “This is what I intend to do.”  You’re making a statement about commitment, not about your feelings.

And your vows are being made before God.

One day you will stand before Him and you will give account for how you lived up to the vows you’re about to make.

S, when you marry D, you’re not just marrying another girl.  You’re marrying a child of God.

Similarly, D, when you marry S you marry a child of God.

And one day, He is going to ask you, “How did you treat my child?  How did you love her/him?  Did you fulfill your vows to one another?

What gifts do you bring as a statement of the purity and permanence of this marriage relationship…the rings.

When you look at marriage, perhaps the surprising thing is not that one out of every two marriages is failing.  Perhaps the surprising thing is that one out of two manages to succeed.

That when you join two sons of Adam, two sinners who have their peculiar way of doing things and their own selfish ways and mix them up and put them in the same room, it’s not surprising that there are problems…

But you have a great advantage.  You are Christians, you are children of God, and you have a pattern set before you. 

And the pattern is this, that you S are to love your wife.  The main point is – you are no longer individuals; you no longer are separate.  There’s been the creation of one person.  You no longer have your separate ways and separate dreams and separate goals and separate identities.  The two have become one.  The creation of one new person. 

So from here on out you are to think in terms of the unity.  You no longer have say over your own body anymore.  That belongs to your spouse.  And the two of you belong to one another.  You are to love your wife as you love your own self.

You spend all your time, money, and effort on yourself if you’re the average person, even if you’re the average Christian.  You are to love your wife with the same kind of attention you love yourself and treat her with the same kindness and tenderness you want for yourself.

You’re to love her as Christ loved the church.  Christian love does not seek its own.  Learn to say “no” to me (and my selfish desires) and yes to us.

And, similarly D, you’re called to be subject to and respect your husband.  To “be subject to” is not merely taking orders.  You’re being called to a voluntary submission or subjecting of yourself to S.  It’s used in the military context.  You are to subordinate yourself to the direction of the team; to work as a team going in the same direction.  Willing, positive, willful giving of yourself for S.

The apostle Paul says a woman was made for man so you are called to be a helper, a comfort, an encouragement to him; to make his dreams your dreams.  Most men need a cheerleader and that is something to which you are being called.

What will hold you both in good stead is:

1 – Be tender to each other as you speak sweetly and gently and kindly and never indulge in harshness or cruelty or abruptness.  To never allow yourself to act in an angry or harsh treatment of one another.

2 – The most important words you’re going to need to know and say are “I’m sorry” and “please forgive me.”  That you should be quick to admit guilt because you’re going to be guilty.  You’re going to fail and you’re going to fall short and sin over and over again.  So, it’s incumbent upon you, if you’re going to have a happy life and a happy marriage to learn to say, “I’m sorry” and “I was wrong, please forgive me for what I have done.”  And then to be quick on the other hand to forgive. 

You have a great advantage.  God has given you a pattern.  But even better than that He’s giving you the power.  He’s giving you His Holy Spirit.  And, as you seek Him, in DEPENDENT prayer, you realize that apart from Him you can do nothing, apart from Him you will fail, you will fall short, your marriage will end up on the rocks.  But, with Him and the power and the patter He has given, you stand.  You succeed. 

You need to realize how much you need Him.  Then commit to praying together and studying the Scriptures together, seeking Him daily that He would enable and empower to lead godly lives.

And, charging the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, assembled to watch this union.

Your responsibility to this couple is this:

-Rejoice with them and celebrate on this day what God is doing in their lives! 

-Support them in their times of testing.

-Forgive them when they make mistakes.

-Remember them in your prayers.

-Seek God’s blessing on their lives and on their marriage.”

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   “Together”  by Steven Curtis Chapman

Here we stand, here we are
With all our wounds and battle scars
From all the storms and all the wars we’ve weathered together
We had no way of knowing when
We started way back there and then
How the road would twist and turn and bend
We just knew we belonged together

And if it wasn’t for God’s mercy and His grace
There’s no way we would be standing in this place
But because He has been faithful
Every step along the way
Here we are together

We’ve climbed up mountains higher than
Were ever in our hopes and plans
We’ve held onto each other’s hands
Watched miracles unfold together
And we’ve crawled on our hands and knees
Through valleys cold and dark and deep
Sometimes not even sure if we could make it out alive together

And if it wasn’t for God’s mercy and His grace
There’s no way we would be standing in this place
But because He has been faithful
Every step along the way
Here we are together, together

And if it wasn’t for God’s mercy and His grace
There’s no way we would be standing in this place
But because He has been faithful
Every step along the way
Here we are together, together

“In the marriage journey, (relational health and) healing follows where humility and true repentance have been.”   –     Matthew L. Jacobsen

“It is Finished” Began at Christmas, Remembered

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“Peace on earth; good will towards men.”  A proclamation and a promise.

But so many things threaten to undo our peace.

Intermittently, circumstances and the pace of life chip it away.  Sometimes it is sin committed against us; while at other times, our own sin unconfessed.  Sometimes we grieve loss of various kinds in a world turned upside down; broken relationships, financial stress, or death that takes one we love far from us.  And sometimes we watch or are the prodigal sprinting to a supposed “safe place,” a place of assumed comfort, only to find it is anything but calm.

At times it’s obedience in a long direction.  But, though that “delayed obedience” may take a winding path, when it ultimately returns to the Truth, the enemy of our souls cringes at redemption coming to fruition. And now and again it is unbelievers bent on denying the reality of Christ or believers who confess the name of Jesus but think and live like it makes no difference; yet we do not compromise our words or actions to appease in order to make one “feel” better. Unashamed, we speak truth out of a great love for them and for our Savior so they will “know the hope!”

And a tremble can be felt.

We are setting holiness in motion; allowing God to reign and work.  The enemy of our souls can wound our spirit, make us uncomfortable, press in on us with sadness, stoke discouragement, or prompt tears.

But He cannot destroy us.

We can have rest.

“The weary world rejoices” and so can we as we set our minds on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy”* and not let the lies penetrate our soul; our God came in the flesh, penetrating the darkness on that holy night!

Pain is real but so is the Savior who has promised peace for the brokenhearted, a way of return for the runner, rest for the weary, reconciliation with Himself.

Even sin does not have to separate any further.  No, we don’t always follow perfectly, but we are in this world to be Christ’s image bearers, light shining in this generation, and we have been given the power to overcome and to grow in that likeness.  When we fail (and we will), we can run to the Savior and humbly go to those we have wounded or sinned against and make it right.  We don’t exalt in our sin or demand a “right” to it.  Rather, we set our eyes on that One who came to set us free from those things that threaten to undo us.

We can honestly admit to those who have witnessed our failure and cynically thought, “Well, there you go – I see there’s really no difference in a follower of Christ” that we have failed and so need the Redeemer; that we do live as one being changed by the transforming grace of God…a little more each day.  For the difference is not in us; it’s in our Savior.

We have not only the obligation but the privilege of laying it down and reminding the watching ones that our hope is in Jesus and our desire is to become more like Him daily, to increasingly want His will not ours, and to understand and live out the beauty of His holiness a little more with each passing day and year by the power of the Holy Spirit.  And by His grace, we have that One who forgives us, picks us up, embraces us, brushes us off, then sends us out to “go and sin no more.”  We are great sinners, but we have a greater Savior! (paraphrased from John Newton)

We can reach out to the weary, the hurting, the brokenhearted over life circumstances and loss, to be the hands and feet of Jesus; we can listen and we can love.

At various times we will have a settledness in our souls and there will be others when restlessness will haunt us; but, for the follower of Jesus Christ, we are at peace with God through the finished work of His Son, who came as babe, crashing through the barrier between those who bear His image and our three times holy God, devastating death there on the cross with “Tetelestai” – “It Is Finished!”  The condemnation of our sin is paid for, defeat by discouragement has been decimated, and we, who long for the Savior’s return, keep “working out our salvation with fear and trembling”** so that we are growing deeper in His truth and in His love, able to enter that respite and “shake off our fears.”

And it all began on that not so silent night!

We long for His return even when we feel too attached to this world.

“Peace on earth; good will towards men.”  A proclamation and a promise. The now and the not yet!  Gazing on the babe in the manger, we remember what was to come – His finished work on the cross and His resurrection to life!  And we await our soon and coming King once more!

This is Christmas!  The longing for Jesus to break through darkness and discouragement, hold us near to His heart, and equip us to rest even when circumstances cause our spirits to sometimes faint, even falter!

Christopher West says it well, reminding us of the reality of the hope we find even in our weariness:  “This is the Christmas story in a nutshell: The Infinite One has wed himself to our finite humanity. This is what we’re preparing ourselves for during Advent. And this is why Advent is a time of desire: The bride is longing to be filled with the eternal life of her bridegroom. And so she cries in union with the Spirit of God: “O come, O come, Emmanuel.”

And Emmanuel has come.  It is finished!

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They Mock Prayer and Yet…

They deride prayer because they think God isn’t listening.

But I will pray because I know He is.

They scoff at prayer because they think it is a waste of time.

But I will pray because I know it is my best use of time.

They mock prayer because they say it is just speaking words to an empty universe.

But I will pray because I know that the One to whom I pray is He Who created the universe and is sovereign over it.

They ridicule prayer because they say that, if He exists, He is uninterested in the affairs of men.

But I will pray because I know His interest is so great and He is so concerned that He sent His Son to a defiant humanity so He might redeem us from our self love and sin soaked lives.

They scorn prayer because they fear, not God but man, and their foolish hearts have been darkened, hardened.

But I will pray because I know that apart from His grace and mercy giving me eyes to see, I might very well respond out of fear and the evil intent of my heart too.

They mock me because I pray.

But I will pray and, when I do, I will pray for all those who mock me and God Himself. And I pray the Savior reveals Himself to them, to see Him as He is – merciful and loving, yes, but also mighty and just; a God who forgives, redeems, and transforms – so that then instead….

They will pray because the scales will have fallen from their eyes and they will have seen the one true God in all His majesty and fall to their knees in rightful fear, joy-filled awe, and worship!

 

“At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; His kingdom endures from generation to generation…praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”  Daniel 4:34-35, 37

To Know and Be Known…Yet Still Loved

DSC_0264“Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”  I Cor 13:7

If we are honest, we all long to be known.

We were made for intimacy; to know and be known…yet still loved.

It was in the garden that God formed man and woman and they had intimate fellowship with Him and with each other.  Yes, and for the man and woman, that included physical intimacy, given to them for one another as God intended that “know” each other.  It was the two becoming one in every way; body, soul, and spirit.  There was no shame, no hidden agendas, no secrets; they were known by each other and by God – it was delight!

But, as we know, the “lust of the eyes and the pride of life” (I John 2:16) snuck into even the most perfect of situations. Lest we step back and say, “Ah yes, if only I had been there, I would never…” we need to stop and remember.

For there we are right in the middle of what drives all our wrong decisions – “the pride of life.”  We assume we would have wisdom and discernment and would stand against that old serpent when the reality is, too often we don’t do it today.  He came to them as he comes to us, beautiful, crafty, and tempting with “Did God really say?”  Words that seem to soothe the soul, blending truth and error; that “seem right in our own eyes” in the moment.  Later, he took them as he does us on the “rationalization and/or blame game” track.

Yes, we are called to a resolve to stand against sin; God tells us to do so!  But He never says stand alone. Rather, if we are in Christ, we have power over sin because of and by the Spirit of God Himself, with His armor intentionally placed and strategically used in our battle against it; and He has given us each other, most prominently in marriage, to be accountable one to another for our protection and joy!

In the area of sexual temptation, however, He doesn’t say stand in the middle of it at all…He says flee!   He knows its power and tells us we aren’t even to consider it, to toy with it with our eyes, our minds, or our actions. No, we aren’t even to “mention what the disobedient do in secret” (Ephesians 5:12) nor is there to be  “even a hint of sexual immorality” or “coarse joking (Ephesians 3:5).”  That’s not prude; that’s protective and delightfully freeing!

It’s one of the most strategic places the enemy strikes in order to “steal and kill and destroy,” knowing that our God has created this beautiful gift for marriage to bring us deep intimacy and oneness with our spouse.  God knows that sexual intimacy in marriage is intended to be a precious delight to be guarded at all costs – before and during marriage; the results in failing to do so have far reaching results and create void unlike any other.

When Adam and Eve sinned, God blessed them with shame! 

What? Shame was a blessing?

Yes, and when we sin and feel shame, it is a good thing because it tells us we are still tender to the Holy Spirit’s promptings.  It is evidence that we are hearing that still small voice that calls sin out for what it is and calls us to return to the heart of God; and, if we have sinned against another – in any way – to come clean and make reconciliation with them.

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation (and away from sin) and leaves no regret.”  (2 Corinthians 7:10)   

The fearful place is when we feel no shame or, if we do, when we choose to ignore it, to push it down. Either way, justifying our “pet sins” robs us of intimacy with God and with each other.

Adam and Eve hid in the garden.  But God sought them out.  He came “looking;” they blamed the serpent and each other but refused to name the real problem – their own hearts.

It’s not that God really didn’t know where they were. Once again, He wanted them to come out, to reveal rather than conceal the wrong they had done. 

He wanted them to be honest, to own up to their guilt so they could be freed from its power.

He wanted to restore intimacy with Himself and with each other, but they had to name their sin so they could confess it and turn from it and to Him.

How many times do we hide behind our facades, contriving half truths (let’s be honest, lies) and full blown dishonesty with those we love, especially the one with whom we are to be the most transparent, our spouse. 

We justify our actions in our head; but, for the believer, the Holy Spirit doesn’t allow us to be settled with hiding from God so, if  we choose to rationalize our sin, we become restless and either outwardly or inwardly antagonistic as we blame everyone but ourselves.  This response comes out in a myriad of negative ways that, unless dealt with, over time sears the soul and wounds those nearest and dearest to us.

God wants to re-establish that confident closeness with Himself and with the one to whom we have pledged our lives, but it has to begin with owning our own failures, first before Him and then with our spouse.

And notice, though Eve sinned first (and they both ultimately did so), Adam was not guiltless. He was there. So, when God sought them, He called out for Adam as the head of the home.

“Adam, where are you?”  (Genesis 3:9)  

Of course, women are accountable to God for their own sin and must have their own personal relationships with God through Christ; but, in the home, men are to be leading their wives to the throne of grace; setting the example of honest repentance and restoration rather than hiding their sin and justifying its existence.

We assume that if we are fully known, we will not be fully loved.  In so doing, we love our reputation and our self-righteousness more than we love the God who has redeemed us and more than the one we promised to “love, honor, and cherish.”  The unhindered bond of trust and love can only be enjoyed when we lay ourselves bare before the Lord and then before our husband or wife.

But we do them and ourselves a disservice when we assume they won’t give grace and will love us less.  We show no trust in them and, thus, brick upon brick is layered on the wall of our hearts keeping us from the true intimacy for which we were made.

Transparency frees us to forgive and be forgiven. Transparency frees us to set it change in motion; for God to begin to transform a marriage into the beautiful, unhindered delight He always intended!

We are sinners in need of grace, and so we will fail each other; but God never expected us to use that grace as a license for sin or for minimizing it.  He never intended us to use the too oft spoken, “That’s just who I am; I can’t help It; it’s not that bad” rationale or to give our male/female propensities as an excuse for our choices and offenses. “You know, all guys are like that.” “You know, it’s what women do.”

God’s desire for His people is a growing obedience not an intentional defiance cloaked as a human weakness.  When we choose to pursue that which is after the heart of God, we are strengthened by the Holy Spirit and the hearts of two are emboldened to love better and trust more deeply.  But when we make the foolish choice to remain in or return to entangling indulgences, we create a chasm that lingers between. Sometimes it is an uneasiness that neither can put a finger on because it is at the soul level where we have refused to submit to God.

If we share our sins, struggles, and temptations with no intention of giving them up but appearing to do so, we will go deeper into self-centered darkness and secrecy, a greater hardness of heart, and, not only will trust and intimacy not be restored, they will be seared on an even deeper level.

When we choose to cling to those things that build walls in our marriages, we are deceived into choosing that love of self more than God and more than our spouse.

But, when we trust enough to confess these to each other and in humble reliance on God, leave them at the cross together and tear down the strongholds that keep them active in our lives rather than deliberately continuing in them, we will find a renewed intimacy, a deep confidence in each other that grows.

We learn to “bear each other’s burdens” and, thus, create a safe place for each.  In fact, our confidence can be deeper and every aspect of marriage more satisfying and rich, as God intended it.

In James 5:16, God calls us to that transparency.

“Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”  

There truly is “freedom in the things we leave behind” as together we run in our pursuit of God’s delight for us, stripping away the sin that so easily drags us down and away from Him and each other.  It refreshes the soul and builds trust in ways like nothing else as we die to ourselves and choose a vulnerability that is rooted in faithfulness to God and our spouse.

The same can be said for the one to whom sin is confessed; we each must be ready to give grace as grace has been freely given to us by our Savior.  When we have been hurt, it may feel costly, but it is the greatest treasure to choose forgiveness and to set aside any bitter root.  Choosing forgiveness does not negate the hurt, but it also does not allow the hurt to define the relationship nor pain to create a chasm that God desires to repair and restore.

We can and should share the effect of the hurt, not to shame the other but to reveal the consequences they may or may not have realized they have inflicted and to bring them to repentance and restoration. Then, both the offense and the hurt are taken to the cross and laid before the feet of our dying yet resurrected Savior!

Intimacy in marriage breeds confident trust.  Trust begins with truth; it is both a catalyst for and a result of honest intimacy which cannot thrive without complete transparency – no secrets, no walls even if it means putting ourselves before the other, totally vulnerable. 

There is a tenderness and a deep closeness that comes when we humbly lay bare our weaknesses with our spouses with the intent to battle them rather than give excuses for them.  Bringing darkness into the light diffuses its power over us and allows us to battle alongside rather than against each other.

As Francis and Lisa Chan have said in You and Me Forever, “Being in war together may be what keeps us from being at war with each other.”

If, in a marriage, there are deep wounds for which repentance before God has occurred, the pattern broken, and accountability sought, when the enemy rises up to accuse, together we can shut the door on that indictment, for it is neither true nor healthy!  But to do that together, there must be that raw honesty that is part of being known.

In our marriages, we long for intimacy.  So why would we do things that erode it when Christ has redeemed us not only from the penalty of sin but from the power of it?

Why hide from Him and each other when freedom is found in letting go of our brokenness and acknowledging that before God and before each other?

There is no intimacy in concealing a part of ourselves, just a restless wistfulness and deeper wounds!

Adam and Eve listened to the first lie, then assumed the second and hid; broken intimacy led to lack of confidence in God and each other.

With intimacy, we grow closer physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

With intimacy, we see our spouses in a more complete way and are able to put aside those hindrances that keep us from loving and trusting well.

With intimacy, we are able to put aside past wrongs, when they are left behind, and look forward to future joy and freedom together!

Will we, as couples, ban those attitudes and actions from our marriages that destroy intimacy?

Will we do whatever it takes, in the power we have in Christ, to see they don’t rise up again?

Will we also choose to trust our spouses with honest conversations and will we choose to respond with grace and love so that marriages that need healing can be healed and those that are already healthy can grow deeper?

It is when we are intimate with God, unhindered by sin left at the cross, that we are free to have intimacy with our spouse!

Will we know and be known…yet still love?

“Real love is lived in the reality of two sinners LEARNING to love and forgive as each transgresses the other and each forgives. The words ‘I love you’ are easy. The sacrifice of ‘I love you’ is hard because we battle our own selfishness and that is where life is often lived.” (Joseph Wheat)

“Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.”            Proverbs 3:3

Intimacy

lyrics by Jonathan David Helser

These hands you made to hold yours, my love  

These feet you shaped to walk with you in our garden

These eyes you placed to gaze upon your face

These lips you formed to kiss my beloved

I was made, I was made for intimacy

 These ears you made to hear your rhythm of love

This voice you placed to sing songs of grace

This hair you wove, you numbered every strand

 This gaze you love, it captures you with a glance

Intimacy is what I need, intimacy is calling me

Jonathan David Helser

 

Exposing to Heal – Tender Mercies

“Grace will expose things you want to deny but won’t leave you in despair, filling you with new found hope and courage.  When we hide and deny our sin, we’re not defending the gospel. No, we’re contradicting its central message. Our sin and weakness don’t mock the message of the gospel. No, they confirm the necessity of the gospel….Grace will require you to face your wrongs but won’t leave you condemned, granting you complete forgiveness; complete and eternal forgiveness… Grace will show you what a mess you are, then clean up your mess with divine, transforming power.”  Paul David Tripp

Not too long ago, my daughter and I stripped some furniture of its old tired paint, sanding it down and getting below the surface.  It was a slow process, scraping and peeling away layers built up over time.  But once done, the wood beneath was exposed and the process of transforming a worn-out piece of furniture into a fresh, new creation was underway.  The end result brought great delight!

Our hearts and lives are sometimes like that.  While there are various experiences, choices, and decisions that create beauty, richness, and strength that increases with time, there are also those that create layer upon layer of pain, weariness, and self focused striving and choices that wear upon our souls.  What is really needed is a tearing away, stripping down to the core to restore the loveliness of life and the strong beauty found in one grounded in Christ and living according to His will not our own.

When, in the course of making decisions in our lives, we base them on our deceitful hearts, choosing what “seems right” to us and what we allow ourselves to believe will enhance us and fulfill the longings we crave, we begin to form layers that detract from delight.  Rather than enrich and develop the God designed beauty for our lives, the consequences will start to bleed out and that which we found so attractive in the beginning will lead to lives faded, cracked, chipped, and in dire need of restoration.

Our choices have also, at times, led to an infection of our souls leaving us drained and afraid.  Continuing in the same pattern with an occasional cessation is like putting a band aid on an injury that is highly infected and needs to be cut away.  At those times, there is much pain in opening those wounds and allowing the contamination to seep out so healing can begin; but to get to the root so that our souls and relationships can be restored, sometimes pain is a necessary part of the heart repair.

So, too, there are times the Lord must bring pain to our lives in order to open our eyes to the truth of what our choices are doing to us and to those around us.  Out of His great love for His children, He chips away at our layers and even, at times, must lance the destructive contagion warring on our hearts.  It is not comfortable and we can sometimes assume that it is an external force causing our pain rather than the loving hand of the Father disciplining and calling us to return.

It is His grace – so rich and so full, so much more than we often allow to penetrate our deepest sins and injuries. Yes, it is the gift undeserved freeing us from the penalty of sin, paid for by the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross and by His resurrection, defeating ultimate death!

But, if we stop there, we miss out on so much.  It is as if we open a gift bag, take out the first thing we see, and never look below the paper to the myriad of treasures beneath.

His grace “exposes us” and allows us to see the depth of need so we can truly understand the great gift we, who are in Christ, have received.  But it goes beyond a mere exchange of guilt to empowering us and freeing us, with the “same power that raised Jesus from the dead” (Ephesians 1:18-20, Romans 8:11-14), to live new lives, to give “hope and courage,” to walk not according to our sin-layered desires but according to the will and heart of God where true joy and true freedom are found.

Hidden sin gains power over our soul in darkness, but it is not benign. It does far more damage than we dare to believe for we begin to think deeds done in secret have no consequences.

The enemy of our souls wants to keep our “layers” out of the light of truth and transparency; to make us fear that if we are “known” we will not be loved.  That same enemy, the “roaring lion (who is) ready to devour” (I Peter 5:8), tells us that we either can’t change or don’t need to, that we are able to “handle” our rebellion against God’s design; and he perverts grace by telling us that, because of it, we are free to choose and do as we please without consequences.  He seeks to convince us that we are free to step outside God’s protective boundaries, also known as His wisdom and His commands.  It is the same lie spoken long ago in the garden; the lie that says we can “be like God” and lures us to question without seeking the true answer to: “Did God really say…?”

But, if we grab hold of His grace, we can know what God has spoken! And if we trust God, who knows us intimately and has called us by name, we realize that He has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3) and we have the Truth found by abiding in Him and in His Word alone!  Not long before His time on earth was done, Jesus asked the Father to “Sanctify them (that would include His redeemed children today) by the Truth; Your Word is truth.”  (John 17:17)  His Word is part of His grace to us –  His gift so that we can know!

For the follower of Christ to say we are unable to break free, to exercise self-control, to act apart from our sin nature is to call God a liar and deny the power that raised Jesus from the dead.  For if He has set commands before us for His praise, the good of those we love, and our own good, then He has also provided all we need to increasingly live them out faithfully including taking steps towards mutual accountability.

We may choose to ignore it or distort it to fit our purposes or desires, but if we are a child of God, His Spirit will not allow us to stay layered in darkness.  By His grace, He will confront us, making us restless and uncomfortable in order to bring light into the dark places, causing us to relinquish control and follow His design. If necessary, He may remove something that blocks our view of Him and of His truth. He delights to see His children, even if we come limping home; He runs to us and embraces us as we are, in humility setting our brokenness before Him.

But, if we choose to ignore His promptings or seek to stay in the shadows of our choices, out of His great love for us, He may allow further pain or cause another to see our need for change and repentance, prompting them to  “speak the truth in love” for the purpose of restoration.  Whatever it takes to peel away the layers of sin that are hiding the magnificence of His design for us, He will do.  He loves us that much.  He desires an undivided heart and relationship with Him and He will accomplish it!

His pursuit is His tender mercy!  His open arms to receive us as we are also His strong hands that don’t intend to leave us in “it.”  His intent is to re-establish our footsteps and again set us on the course He designed for us, that we might boldly and securely live out and reflect Him not only in our outward lives that people see but in the secret places of our hearts, in the hidden places where we have, at times, compromised truth.  It is for His glory and our greatest joy!

“God is working on something deep, necessary, and eternal.  If he was not working on this, He would not be faithful to His promises to you…Because He loves you, He will willingly interrupt or compromise your momentary happiness in order to accomplish one more step in the process of rescue and transformation, which He is unshakably committed to.”  (Paul David Tripp)

“Blessed is the one whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. For He wounds, but He also binds up; He injures, but His hands also heal.”  Job 5:17-18

Grace heals relationships as well; it teaches us and equips us to love and forgive and it allows us to receive that same love and forgiveness.  Grace enables us to know and be known so that in this journey we travel – one sinner among a world of sinners – we can give that healing and transforming grace.  We can forgive where others have wounded us, intentionally or unintentionally, because we know we have been forgiven much by the Savior.  We can speak into lives that are being crushed by the deceitfulness of sin and unwise choices because we know His grace is more than able to heal, bringing much needed transformation and the peace that is so deeply desired because we have been lifted up by that grace!

And, even more deeply, in marriage,  where two sinners have chosen to live as one both in body and soul, by grace we can each remove the protective veil over our hearts and lives and the layers that at times obscure transparency, allowing the very depth of who we are and what we do to be seen.  In God’s grace and in humble growing reliance on His control, we can be vulnerable with one another, knowing we will still be loved and, through Him, we will walk together and grow in the strength and unity of that grace that is still in the process of forgiving, healing, and transforming us as individuals and as a couple into the likeness of Himself.  We grow in our delight of each other as we grow in our delight of His grace!

We can bend our knee.  We can lay down our layers unafraid and unashamed because His grace is far more amazing than we realize and exceedingly more powerful than we can imagine!  His tender mercies expose us so that His love can transform us and the joy that comes from that transparent fresh start will be delightfully palpable!

“But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that becomes visible is light.  This is why it is said:“Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”  Ephesians 5:13,14

“Restore Me” – Kutless  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9HtQ1W7uA0

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Secrets That Rob But Truth That Heals

Secrets.

Those intended to surprise and delight bring joy to life, to every journey. They invigorate the soul!

Those intended to mislead or to withhold truth do anything but refresh. Instead, they threaten to deplete the joy not only from the life of those they seek to delude but, ultimately, from the secret keeper’s life as well.

It might be an action or words undisclosed or keeping information that would reveal the truth or it might even be an outright lie.  Either way, it is an attempt to deceive for whatever reason.  And, in the process, they are deceived themselves, justifying every step until they have lost sight of what truth really is.

We see it all around us.  You can’t turn on the radio or the tv without seeing some form – either in the news, through various forms of entertainment, and even opinion pieces.  We see it in the people we encounter around us as well – acquaintances and close relationships. And, we watch, wanting to say, “Don’t you see?” as the people involved become more wounded with every progressive step deeper into the deception because, once it has started, it takes a life of its own and has to be fed.

What is behind each is both brokenness and pride.  It has been said that “reputation is what people think of you (what they see on the outside), but character is who you are when no one is looking.”

In an attempt to maintain a stellar reputation while still doing what pleases them, men and women often trade in their character.  The desire to have the applause of man or to do “what seems right” rather than to seek the blessing and smile of God and walk secure is sometimes overwhelming and the slip into a cover of darkness is the enemy’s way of keeping their eyes on themselves rather than on the One Who has formed them, Who knows them, and Who calls them by name.

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?”  You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “You did not make me”?  Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”?  Isaiah 29:15-16

They forget, don’t realize, or simply don’t care that there is a God who sees and stands ready, not just to forgive but to lift them out of that darkness and set them on His secure and solid ground.  He shines light into the dark places not to shame but to restore; to woo those caught in the web of dishonesty back to the way of truthfulness, the only way that is right and good, the only means to relationships that are safe, strong, and trustworthy.

But He is also the God who, when one is not willing, will discipline His children and judge those who are not. Why? Because truth is not just a “nice concept” that brings safety and trust to relationships and order to all else, it is, in fact, central to the very character of God.

But who whispers to them, and often to each of us, that they need to hide? None other than the same liar that told Adam and Eve in the garden that they could be like God.  Who tells them, and often us, that they can control their own lives by “following their heart” and by disclosing only that which will make them look good while doing things contrary to God’s commands?

Is it not the same swindler who laughed when Adam and Eve realized they were naked and ashamed.  It’s the age old issue of the deceiver deceiving those who themselves wish to deceive and their eyes that have turned inward being led away only to hide.

We watch and we long to bring light to the darkness. We grow weary of the constant barrage on the news or weep as we watch a friend on either end of the ruse.  Secrets begin to control the secret keeper as they submit to the false god of self rule; transparency and honesty cannot dwell with the hidden things.

Secrets divide.
Honesty creates unity.

Secrets are done in darkness.
Honesty dwells in light.

Secrets build walls of distrust.
Honesty provides a safe haven.

Secrets rob.
Honesty abides in truth and restores.

Secrets breed fear.
Honesty gives rise to peace.

Secrets rob.
Honesty abides in truth and restores.

Secrets grow from a self centered heart where “I” am on the throne.
Honesty develops from an other-centered perspective where God is on the throne.

Secrets result from a vision of “me.”
Honesty looks beyond self and circumstances to God who is in control.

Secrets take the secret keeper deeper down often unaware of his/her erratic course.
Honesty finds its journey straight and clear on the high ground.

Secrets say “I love me.”
Honesty says “I love you.”

Secrets deceive self.
Honesty brings freedom.

Secrets never stay secret and regret follows.
Honesty lays all bare so there is nothing to hide and there are no regrets.

The father of lies promises peace in the darkness where he knows there is none then mocks the one who is wounded in the battle.

But Jesus, who is Light* and who “dwells in unapproachable light,”** gives the true promise that is ever faithful, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest for your soul.”  Matthew 11:28

 “Be self controlled and alert; your enemy the devil prowls around like a lion ready to devour.  Resist him standing firm in the faith.”  I Peter 5:7,8

“Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”  John 17:17

*John 8:12

**I Timothy 6:16