Plod On Faithfully

A TRAIL HEADER IMG_2155Some days are ordinary.

Some days are mountain tops.

And some are just hard.

It’s the stuff of which life is made. And it is good…whether we feel like dancing through the day, putting one foot in front of the other, or just sitting down.

We are called to move forward, and there is joy in recognizing that His mercies are new every morning. It is our call to run our race with perseverance (Hebrews 12:1-2); but not just any race, “the race marked out for us.”

My life, my walk with Christ, my place in the world and the people in it will not be like any one else’s. It may be similar, but God has made me and each of us, in His image yes, but uniquely us; our circumstances are just what He intends for such a time as this.

And, He who has “marked out” a race for each one will not leave those He calls His own to run it alone but will prepare us for the journey, come alongside, even carry us at times, and use it all for His glory and our transformation!

A couple of months ago, we were in Colorado and decided to do what we thought would be a semi-short, fairly laid back afternoon hike in the mountains around the perimeter of the town close to where we were staying.

It began relatively easy and, early on, I found myself running up some parts of the path, exhilarated by the beauty and eager for the adventure. Rather quickly, however, we realized it was not all going to be a smooth, well-defined path with little elevation change. There would be places where the climb was grueling, the path beneath us rocky and at the same time, slippery, and the markings not so clear. The corridor would get narrow and the edges steep. We would grow thirsty, having not brought as much water as we probably should have.A TRAIL IMG_2086

It was soon evident that we would come to more than one crossroad where we had to decide whether we would persevere and finish the course or take a short cut and miss completing the much anticipated afternoon of exploring we had undertaken.

There was actually no way either of us would consider cutting it short; even if, when we grew weary from the varying conditions of the trail and the heat, we had to plod from time to time. That was part of the beauty and adventure of it.

In the end, it was closer to nine miles and the temps soared in the lower elevations; not particularly long but more rigorous than we anticipated.

Still, had we chosen the “easier” way, we would have missed the green pathways where we stopped to watch a young doe moving unafraid under the trees. We would have lost the opportunity to look out over the highest point of the trail at 8,557 feet, to watch a hawk catch the wind, sailing across a chasm, and to view the various peaks and valleys that declared the glory of God simply by their presence. A TRAIL IMG_2158

We would have failed to come across both the rushing waters and steady flow of different waterfalls and a cool mountain lake that alerted all our senses! Our encounters with a man who shared his story and a mom and dad with eager teenagers who joined us for a time would have been missed. The sheer joy of the journey and finishing what we had begun and endured would have been wasted as well!

It was not just the experiences from the hike that we remember and in which we have satisfaction but, in finishing; what it did “in” us and what it taught us about ourselves and, more importantly, about God and our relationship with Him. It was also a reminder that we need each other in this journey as we regularly encouraged each other to press on.

The paradox was that we were so tired yet so refreshed! And isn’t that part of what perseverance does in us?

“Let perseverance finish its work (in us), so we will grow, lacking nothing in Christ.” (James 1:4)

Perseverance isn’t dependent on the circumstances in which I live and breathe but upon whom I rest and find my ultimate satisfaction. And that One calls His people to be, as Joseph Wheat has said, “faithful plodders.” We are not called to be stoic in the face of sorrow, slap on a fake smile when our hearts are breaking, nor be arrogant in our demands that God answer every prayer in our timing and according to “our will.”

He knows our sorrows, allows us to weep, brings others to share our tears, and holds us in the darkest nights. He allows us to ask questions but then calls us to trust Him for the answers even when we can’t see and our hearts don’t understand.

He knows we live in an easily shaken world that defies Him and that can so easily distract us from a determined walk with Christ that is distinctively different and provides a firm foundation as it is grounded in His Word, Truth.

He knows we are continually faced with things and people that seek to rival our affection. He understands the enemy of our souls tempts us to satisfy our hunger and cover our shame, hurts, and loneliness with substances, experiences, and the noise of mindless activities rather than learning to be still, seeking that redemption, healing, and satisfaction in the only One that is not a temporary fix but a lasting transformation, and spending time with others who find joy in desiring the same so we are mutually encouraged to stay the course.

He knows we need the exhortation of one another so we “may not be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13) nor overwhelmed by the sheer exhaustion of living in a world that seeks to call good, evil and evil, good.

And so, out of His great love and tenderness, He appeals to us not to neglect meeting together. Rather, give one another confidence…

“…to press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of (us)… forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead…” (Philippians 3:12-14)

Though my “hard” may be different than others, my temptations may not mirror another’s, and my places of rest might not look like yours – every redeemed child of God is called to that same perseverance because each of us is called to fix our eyes on the same endpoint – Jesus, the Author and perfecter of our faith.

We aren’t given a view of what is ahead or even just around the next corner.

God doesn’t call us to plow ahead, full speed, beating out every other runner nor hold back in fear.

Instead, He equips us for and calls us to an unwavering…

Endurance.

     Steadfastness.

          Diligence.

In order to run the race with perseverance without burning out, to be able to “mutually encourage,” and to be a “faithful plodder” who knows that our help comes from “…the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1), we must first learn to “Be still and know that (He is) I AM, God!” (46:10)

In fact, we have Jesus’ example to follow. Even He, God in the flesh, had to get away from the crowd! Spending time with others is a good thing, but getting away, talking to and hearing our Father’s voice; feeding on and savoring His Word as though our lives depend on it, because they do – is life-giving. Resting in our Abba, who stands ready to strengthen, equip, and just hold us when we are weary with the race or when temptation increases, allows us to take that next step.

As we grow in our understanding of what is needed for faithful perseverance, our longing should be for more of His presence and His Word for which Jesus commended Mary. While Martha ran around meeting needs, a good thing, Jesus said that Mary had chosen what was better and it would never be taken away.

At times, we may need to ask Him to restore that longing, but it is in those times when the hunger wanes, we must run even more intentionally into the arms of the One who is able to restore the joy of our salvation and our very souls!

The “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (none of which comes from the Father) but from the world” (I John 2:16) will distract us from keeping “our eyes fixed on Jesus” so we must also be deliberate about guarding that which has been entrusted to us; turning from “godless chatter and opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge” (I Timothy 6:20) that explodes all around us but is nothing more than the Deceiver whispering across the ages, “Did God really say?”

The more we idly engage the world, its ideas, and its systems in direct opposition to and defiance of the very character of God, instead of “renewing our minds” (by His Word), “taking every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5), and answering accordingly, the more we will soon realize we are no longer just “in the world” but “conformed to it.” (Romans 12:2)

In that conformity, the less we will persevere, the less faithful we will plod, the more we will turn our gaze from the Savior and soon find ourselves “sitting in the seat of mockers.” (Psalm 1)

There is nothing that robs us of joy more.

It is God’s mercy that the Bible warns us through the life of Demas, who was, at one time, in ministry with Paul as a faithful “fellow worker” in the gospel, but who, not being watchful, became in love with this present world” and deserted Paul. (2 Timothy 4:10) He quit running the race.

It is God’s grace and power, that gives us “everything we need for life and godliness, through our knowledge of Him who called us…” (2 Peter 1:3), that calls us to be diligent and devoted to His Word and sound teaching (I Timothy 4:13-15), that pursues us and infuses us with joy then beckons us to use every opportunity to encourage each other to the same.

There is joy in this journey on which God has called us – this life lived for Him. But there are times we won’t “feel” it and will, instead, have to choose it. It isn’t an emotion or a reaction as a result of a circumstance; it is an abiding rest in knowing who we are and whose we are. It is leaning into the One who has not only marked the race for us but runs it with us, infusing us with the very breath we need.A TRAIL IMG_2239

As we set our hope on Him, God will renew our strength that, at times, will falter, so that we will “soar on wings like eagles, run and not grow weary, walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

By the work of His transforming grace, don’t give up, flee to Christ and what is before us, that very race He has marked out for you and me!

Flee to redemption and His purposes for us rather than to the very things that are killing us spiritually!

Don’t miss the joy! Look up and see Him who is doing a “new thing” we can’t perceive!

Look up and see Him who is faithful!

Plod on Redeemed Followers of Christ and finish your race! But plod faithfully, purposefully, deliberately, intentionally bringing others along with you!

“He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.” (Philippians 1:6) 

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of evil one.” Ephesians 6:10-11 

“I have hidden Your Word in my heart that I might not sin against You.” Psalm 119:11 

“Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them…” I Timothy 4:16

Restrain or Give Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Is More Than Able

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MAKE MY LIFE A PRAYER TO YOU  by Keith Green

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

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

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

(Originally posted June 2013)

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

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

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

And yet…

We believe lies.

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

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

Take that in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But God!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pictures of Grace: Truth and Trust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Am I afraid the truth will be revealed to them?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does truth matter?

Does trust matter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ready, Set, Live…

God has given me a love for words and I have found throughout my lifetime that I often express my heart and soul best through that gift of the written word far more clearly than the spoken. I love to encourage and exhort; express and delve deep into a thought through the musings of my pen to paper.

Recently, I was asked if I have a blog or had one in the past. Though I write often and share with individuals and in other social media formats, I have never published a blog. But God has been challenging my hesitancy.

Could it be that I, who find some of my greatest delight in the written word, have opportunity to share what is on my heart and, in the process, encourage another?  I am well aware that I do not have all the answers and I am under no delusion that I am the most eloquent wordsmith.  What I do know is that God has every answer for every question and it is my desire to use what He has given me to point others to that knowledge as well!

There may be many or few that read it. My heart is that those who do would be encouraged to seek the God of all Creation and His Word more closely and that they would either be led into a relationship with Him and/or drawn closer to and steadfast in Him.

And so my mind continues to embrace the idea and the same theme persists – my life has been and is a journey that God has orchestrated and on which He has remained faithful to lead, direct, encourage, challenge, and grow me…quite often in spite of me!

And into that life, he has infused music in general, song lyrics in particular – at times a balm for my restless and weary soul, at others a challenge to my willfulness, and, at still other points, a reflection of the inexpressible joy I have in walking this road.

Two songs in particular continue to echo in my head in relation to this idea of blogging. The lyrics to Sara Groves’ “This Journey Is My Own” and Michael Card’s “Joy in the Journey” have long been expressions of my heart. (Below you can read their words and find links to listen).  For truly “I am not my own; I have been bought with a price” (I Corinthians 6:20) so the journey on which I find myself is one I walk primarily with my Savior; it is to be the tool of the One Who created me, Who has known me since before time began, and who is in the process of “completing the good work He began” in me.  (Philippians 1:6)

I wrestle, I rest, and I rejoice because of Him!  And, as I walk with Jesus Christ and am changed by His Word, it is my prayer that it increasingly transforms my every thought and informs every conviction I hold, every decision I make, and every action I take; that it causes me to see each person I encounter as one created in His image, each needing a relationship with the Savior.

On this journey, there is great joy in the midst of both immense victory and periods of deep sadness. Indeed, there is a “wonder and wildness to life!”

It is in the context of that “wonder and wildness,” “freedom,“ and “joy” that I live! It is in relying on Him to make me willing and able to grow in my knowledge and love of Him, and thus, in obedience; it will not save me nor make me more acceptable to the three times holy God, but it is part of the journey on which He has released me to live!

Obedience is not always comfortable or convenient, but it is the evidence of a life redeemed by the Savior who is “able to do immeasurably more than we could think or ask” (Ephesians 3:20) and a joyful expression of my reliance on and thanks to Him in whom I find my truest satisfaction.

It is in this life that I long to “give reason for the hope that I have!” (I Peter 3:15)

So I begin another part of my journey and invite you along. Walk with me if you will as I post and if you are encouraged to seek the one true God of the universe and walk closer to the Savior, then my joy will be made even more complete.

I am always ready and eager to talk with anyone who asks me to give that reason or who wants to share their own journey that we might “mutually encourage” each other!

BLOG PHOTOS road journey Ready Set Live 
JOY IN THE JOURNEY By Michael Card

There is a joy in the journey; there’s a light we can love on the way.
There is a wonder and wildness to life and freedom for those who obey.
And all those who seek it shall find it, a pardon for all who believe.
Hope for the hopeless and sight for the blind.

To all who’ve been born in the Spirit and who share incarnation with Him,
Who belong to eternity stranded in time and weary of struggling with sin.
Forget not the hope that’s before you and never stop counting the cost.
Remember the hopelessness when you were lost.

There is a joy in the journey; there’s a light we can love on the way.
There is a wonder and wildness to life and freedom for those who obey…

THIS JOURNEY IS MY OWN by Sara Groves

When I stand before the Lord, I’ll be standing alone; this journey is my own.
Still I want man’s advice, and I need man’s approval; this journey is my own.

And why would I want to live for man and pay the highest price.
And what does it mean to gain the whole world, only to lose my life

So much of what I do is to make a good impression; this journey is my own.
And so much of what I say is to make myself look better; this journey is my own.

And I have never felt relief like I feel it right now; this journey is my own.
‘Cuz trying to please the world, it was breaking me down…

And now I live and I breathe for an audience of One (repeat)
‘Cuz I know this journey is my own

And why would I want to live for man and pay the highest price.
And what does it mean to gain the whole world, only to lose my life.