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

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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Even When Trembling, Stand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Lyrics from Psalm 130 (From Depths of Woe)