But God!

 

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Several years ago, we had a particularly full year and a half or so – a whirlwind of highs and lows.

We saw our daughter marry, our youngest son graduate college, and our oldest son completely change career paths, setting in motion significant change.

Then and even now…

In and outside our family, we’ve seen beauty and brokenness.

Relationships flourish, even restored, and relationships end.

Health return and health fail.

Plans come to pass and plans be turned upside down.

Sometimes the roller coaster of happiness and weariness has felt overwhelming.

BUT GOD!

Oh, how I love those two words that hold such truth! For in them is abiding joy…regardless of circumstances.

His call is to lay down our burdens. He may not always give the answers we want, but HE will BE our peace and HE will give us rest in the midst.

How many times have we watched things happen seemingly out of control?

How many times have we or someone we love been hurt by another?

How many times have we known what God was asking us to do, and, yet, our response has been a whiney, “But, God…”? And, in that instant, we are the petulant child – quite sure we know better how we would “fix” situations, what will make us “happy,” or how we believe we should respond to hard people. In general, we plow ahead, confident of how we think we should react to life with its occasional (sometimes feeling more like routine) curveballs regardless of God’s direction.

Yet, it is also in that moment that, if we will be still and listen. If we will run to His Word and not harden our heart to His voice, we will hear the Spirit of God speak as He reminds us that He isn’t surprised by any unexpected turn, any unmet expectation, any physical pain, or any hope deferred, even if unforeseen or unanticipated by us. Our Lord and King, our Adonai – God, whose tender love for His children never ceases, is actually doing so many more things than we can see.

Because of that we can say in a different tone and with a humble, submitted heart, even if through tears, “Yes this…BUT GOD!”

And it is good!

He may be disciplining us, His beloved children, who often need a reset, yet sometimes fail to see it.

He may be chipping away at ours or someone else’s self-satisfaction or self-rule that directly or indirectly affects us or others.

He may be preparing something far greater for us than we can know or begin to imagine.

He may be using circumstances and even wounds from others to make us more like Himself and able to empathize with another, help another heal, or show the same grace and mercy we have been given.

He may be teaching us to forgive even if the hurt is never acknowledged and we are never asked for forgiveness.

He may be teaching us to die to self.

He may be working through our response to our circumstances to point a watching world to Himself.

There are myriads of ways that He uses the most difficult times for His glory and our good. But always He intends that we set our gaze on Him instead of what we see with our eyes or feel with our hearts.

Always, He is seeking to draw us near and set our feet on the firm foundation of Truth.

So, He calls us to “not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

As redeemed children of God, we have the privilege to not grow weary as we pray, as we set our hope on the faithfulness of our El Shaddai – our all sufficient One, the unchanging truth of God’s Word, and the “LIVING hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” so that we are “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (I Peter 1:3, 8) even when, at times, our hearts are breaking and the very breath of life seems to be sucked from our lungs.

We have the responsibility and the power to not grow weary as we choose obedience to God even when our flesh cries out to the contrary, to do it our own way or respond to hurtful people in like kind.

We have the God-given charge to not grow weary as we re-format our thinking, not allowing the temptation to think outside God’s Word to set up camp in our hearts and minds but rather, to “…demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and (to) take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). It may be that we are to ask the Lord to show us our faulty thinking in the moment and intentionally remind ourselves of what is true and/or it may be a proactive choice to change what we allow and choose to put in our minds and dwell on which then permeates our thoughts and how we respond to our emotions and temptations.

We have the opportunity to not grow weary as we speak words of life and truth as well as setting forth an attitude of joy that is not dependent on circumstances, trusting man, or gaining our identity from another’s opinion or treatment of us, but is rooted and grounded in trusting our Sovereign God.

Our lives can grow chaotic and we may feel out of control.

BUT GOD!

We do not rest on what we see. We do not rest on what we feel. We rest on truth…

He is faithful.

He is merciful.

He is Redeemer.

He is the Mender of the brokenhearted.

He is Healer – sometimes of our broken bodies but always of our broken souls as we call on and submit to Him.

He is the Father who disciplines and sometimes lets us have our own way to show us the deceitfulness of sin and our need of Him.

He is our Abba Daddy who is ready to restore us to Himself and draw us near as we repent and return.

He is unchanging.

He is our peace.

He is good.

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…

“Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”  (C.S. Lewis, Aslan being a character picture of Christ in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses (sin), made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus!”  Ephesians 2:4-7

 

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.

 

Beneath a Silent Night

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In the cool of the evening,

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

 

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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Cries of the Heart

There are times we cry.

Yes, we long for and delight in tears of joy, but what of the moaning of the heart? 

Tears may be tender and quiet; at other times they come almost violently, physically draining -weeping of deep sorrow. 

The grieving may come from the physical pain of illness, loss of life, the betrayal of a friend or a loved one, the death of a dream, watching a loved one wrestle and drift, the waiting that does not fit our time table, or a myriad of other reasons.

Great joy does not always exclude sorrow.  There are times my greatest joy has come from my deepest sadness and loss when it meant that God had torn away something that was not for my ultimate best. 

At other times, the profound sorrow led to a deeper understanding of and dependence on my tender Savior.  He has often turned my “mourning into dancing.”  (Psalm 30:11)

But sometimes I have had to wait for that dance.

Seasons of life have arisen when my own compromise with that which I know God had called me to or away initially created a more comfortable place. But no lasting comfort, satisfaction, or pleasure comes from being the prodigal – either running to the far country or just outside the walls of His protection. 

Tears that flow from leaving behind something that was not His best or was totally contrary to His heart are dried in the reality of the sure hope that my God knows what is the most excellent path for me and will bring it to completion. It becomes my call to simply surrender and trust. 

His course may not always be easy, but it is, ultimately, the most pleasant.  It may not come with immediate relief, but He does promise the “still rest” as we remain steadfast waiting for our faith to become sight.  And, oh that amazing view! 

But even if it never becomes sight this side of heaven, it will be worth the surrender of my will.

The cries of the heart often stem from the longings with which we were created and which, when fulfilled, will be satisfied – but only partially here.  

As glorious, pleasing, and satisfying as they are now and will be in this life, they are only dim reflections of things we cannot even imagine!  They are gifts that delight from the hand of our good and gracious God, intended to point us to a greater love, a grander gift, a deeper joy!

“Now we see through a glass dimly…but then we will see (clearly) face to face…now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.”  (I Corinthians 13:12)

Will I allow the cries of my heart, the tears that have fallen, to be dried by the hand of my Redeemer and King as I rest in the hope of a greater promise?

“And in Your hands the pain and hurt look less like scars and more like…character.” -Sara Groves, “Scars”