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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Lyrics from Psalm 130 (From Depths of Woe)

Fight to Be Faithful…Refreshed and Ready

Recently, I read something from Kevin DeYoung, “As a pastor, everything seems more important and more urgent than being in the word and prayer. We must fight to be faithful.”

Indeed, in ministry there is often the tyranny of the urgent and many expect the pastor to be available to them as needed. It is, without a doubt, the pastor who is faithful to cultivate his time in the Word and prayer that best nurtures his congregation, best ministers in his community, and best expounds on the Bible in teaching and preaching.

The same could be said for the believer in every sphere of life. Regardless of the age or level of activity, we often justify our “me” time, our “down” time, but that’s the irony of it all. For the believer, our greatest rest and reward is in His Word. Our best “me” time is nestling up to our Abba Daddy and hearing His heart. We are better equipped for all of life when we listen to our Lord’s heart and let Him hear ours. The opportunity to revitalize, restore, and refresh is found in the presence of our Savior. And yet, we all succumb to satan’s whisper too often flowing from our own bent – “I just don’t have the time.”

I remember being so exhausted when I was the mom of young children, especially once I started homeschooling, that I didn’t think I could wake up early and function. And, if I stayed up late, it was to finish tasks undone during the day.  I just needed rest!

Yes, that is legitimate! Jesus rested and called his disciples to do the same, so that is good. But some of my sweetest times were either sitting alone quietly and letting God’s Word be a balm for my weariness or having a little one snuggle up next to me asleep (or not) and having it open while I held them, sometimes reading aloud so it would also penetrate their head and heart as well. I was always amazed at the refreshment I got from it; so much more so than if, when holding one of my sleepers, I turned on a mindless t.v. show for the noise factor.

And, then the days would get hectic again and I would forget how life giving it was as I got back to the demands that seemed to claw at me.

Today, there may be opportunities for a prolonged time to bask and there may be other times when I have to grab five minutes. But oh the strength gained regardless!

One of the ways I find to hide God’s Word in my heart throughout the day, both now and when I was busy with preschoolers all the way up to my high-schoolers was by way of music.  Music that is drawn from God’s Word – all genres from kids’ praise to Christian rap to bold music with solid truth to quiet praise and worship – has always penetrated its way into my heart in a manner that God often brings it back to my mind to refresh and even challenge me at just the right moment. We can be sure of the promise found in Isaiah 55:11: “…so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”  Music has a unique ability to pierce through the noise of life and adhere to our hearts and minds.

Paul reminds believers, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (I Peter 5:8) Not only does disciplining ourselves to be in God’s word and prayer refresh us, it makes us ready for the inevitable clash; for truly every believer has times when life is fraught with discouragement and pitfalls – times when, in our weariness, we are more vulnerable to temptations and less likely to be “ready to give reason for the hope that we have,” let alone be salt and light. It is the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God that equips us to battle through those things that threaten to unravel our worlds.

The more we are in God’s Word, the Bible, the more we realize that it is our very life and breath. It is His gift of strength for our journey, for our conflicts, and sometimes for the tediousness of the everyday when we fail to see His beauty in the grind, the revelation of His glory in the commonplace, and His call for us to be His ambassadors of grace to the soul thirsty world among whom we live and move. The more we are in His Word, the more effective and content we will be in our individual lives and roles.

In Luke 10:38-42, Martha was busy doing good things; but Jesus said that Mary had chosen what was better and it would not be taken away from her. She was drinking in the Savior while Martha was serving and missing out on the refreshment. Her work of service was good, but Jesus knew that time with Him was better and was what she needed.

Work, service, recreation, and fellowship with others are right and even necessary; we were created for it all! We should nurture our families and enjoy them. We should care for our bodies and enjoy God’s creation. We should foster the talents and gifts God has given us. His Word calls us to be in fellowship with other believers and to be a conduit of God’s mercy and truth to the unbeliever. We can laugh at a funny movie and cry at a sad one. We can wisely tweet and Facebook and Instagram and enjoy it (as long as it does not control us)!  We should make an impact in the places we call “our world” and abroad. And, yes, we need time to just be still or even nap.  All of this is good!

But, if you are anything like me then or now and if we are honest, though there may be seasons of life where those things are hard to come by, it is often not that we have too little of those opportunities and have to fight for them. Rather, we often have to choose to pull away from some task that must be done “now” or some relaxation into which it is easy to settle and, instead, fight to be soul satisfied; not as a legalistic checklist but to enjoy our Redeemer and to “do” life well!

So we must, as Kevin DeYoung says, “fight to be faithful” – fighting our complacency and self focus.  Instead, relying on God’s strength, we choose the self discipline His Spirit provides that leads to fulfilling our true heart’s hunger, comforting our soul with the peace that will come, not from another triviality with which we often fill our time but from the Word that is living and active. It will come from pouring out our hearts to the One who is ready to take our burdens and give us rest.  Lifting hands of praise for the goodness He provides.  Laying before Him those things from our hands and head that draw us away from Him.

What will satisfy our true thirst? What will be our key to discernment, to choosing wisely, to relating well to others, to enjoying God’s many gifts to us, and to serving but the Word of God dwelling in us richly?

Like Mary, there are times we need to stop doing “Martha” things and sit at the Savior’s feet, soaking in His truth and basking in His presence. The journey will be sweeter and more delightful with the new perspective and we will be refreshed and ready!

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?  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 God 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!

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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.