But God!

The last year and a half has been 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 his sights on moving away in just a week.

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

Relationships flourish, even be restored, and relationships end.

Health restored and health fail.

Plans come to pass and plans be turned upside down.

And 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.

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.

How many times have we watched things happen out of our control, have we or someone we love been hurt by another, or known what God was asking us to do and yet our response has been a whiney, “But, God….”  And, in that moment, we are that petulant child – quite sure we know better how we would “fix” situations or how we believe we should respond to hard people and life with its occasional (that sometimes feel more like routine) curveballs.

But it is in that moment that, if we will be still and listen and not harden our hearts, we will hear the Spirit of God speak to our hearts and remind us that He isn’t surprised and He actually is doing things we cannot see.  And because of that we can say in a different tone, “Yes, this…”

BUT GOD!

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

He may be chipping away at ours or someone else’s self-satisfaction or self-rule.

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

He may be teaching us to die to self.

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.

There are a myriad of ways that He uses the most difficult of circumstances for His glory and our good.

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)

We have the privilege, the responsibility, and the power as children of God to not grow weary as we pray, as we choose obedience to God even when our flesh cries out to do it our way or respond in like kind, as we re-format our thinking by changing what we put in and what we dwell on, as we speak words of life and truth as well as setting forth an attitude of joy that is not dependent on circumstances or trusting man but is rooted and grounded in trusting our Sovereign God.  Our lives can grow chaotic and we may feel out of control.

BUT GOD!

And now we watch our nation struggle as if it rocks on the edge of a precipice.  If all we watched were the sensationalized news/talk shows, we would think there was no hope, that all consideration of unity and peace is but a vapor, a dream that has died.

BUT GOD!

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

In little pockets all over the country, there is a quiet rumble of those who will not be manipulated into hate.  Instead, they are reaching across imaginary lines drawn by the enemy of our souls who seeks to divide and conquer; to steal, kill, and destroy not just here on earth but for eternity.  (John 10:10)  And, in those pockets, the love and grace of God is being poured out; for we, His image bearers, are able to love and forgive because HE first loved us.  And it is what He commands His people to do – over and above what we, in our flesh, want to do at times. Even those who do not acknowledge Him bear His image because He is Creator; though they mar that image as they exalt themselves.  The powers that desire division want to stamp out hope.

BUT GOD!

He is Hope!

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

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

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

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

Yes, let it begin with me!

An often heard and argued verse from God’s Word is just an echo of His grace:  “If God’s people who are called by His name will humble themselves and pray and turn from their (own) wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven…and heal their land.”  2 Chronicles 7:14   Is He bound to show us mercy?  Of course not.  His judgment may be for destruction.  But, He commands His people who are called by His name, that’s me, that’s you – individual believers who so often look at the “bigger” sins of those around us with a shaking head yet coddle our own rebellion against God, justifying our own pet sins.  He has promised that if we cherish sin in our hearts (be it an attitude or action), He will not hear us (Psalm 66:18)  But, if we will humble ourselves and turn, He has promised to listen.  All we are responsible for is obedience to Him.

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

BUT GOD!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”  Hebrews 12:15

 

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

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

And your vows are being made before God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What will hold you both in good stead is:

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

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

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

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

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

Your responsibility to this couple is this:

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

-Support them in their times of testing.

-Forgive them when they make mistakes.

-Remember them in your prayers.

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

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

   “Together”  by Steven Curtis Chapman

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“It is Finished” Began at Christmas, Remembered

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

But so many things threaten to undo our peace.

Intermittently, circumstances and the pace of life chip it away.  Sometimes it is sin committed against us; while at other times, our own sin unconfessed.  Sometimes we grieve loss of various kinds in a world turned upside down; broken relationships or death that takes one we love far from us.  And sometimes we watch or are the prodigal sprinting to a supposed “safe place,” a place of assumed comfort, only to find it is anything but calm. And sometimes it’s obedience in a long direction.  But, though that “delayed obedience” may take a winding path, when it ultimately returns to the Truth, the enemy of our souls cringes. And sometimes it is loving unbelievers bent on denying the reality of Christ or believers who confess the name of Jesus but think and live like it makes no difference; yet we do not compromise our words or actions to appease in order to make one “feel” better;  but, unashamed, we speak truth out of a great love for them and for our Savior so they will “know the hope!”

And a tremble can be felt.

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

But He cannot destroy us.

We can have rest.

“The weary world rejoices” and so can we as we set our minds on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy”and not let the lies penetrate our soul; all because of the our God penetrating the darkness and coming in flesh on that holy night! Pain is real but so is the Savior who has promised peace for the brokenhearted, a way of return for the runner, rest for the weary.

And even sin does not have to separate any further.   No, we don’t always follow perfectly, but we are in this world to be Christ’s image bearers, light shining in this generation, and we have been given the power to overcome and to grow in that likeness.   When we fail (and we will), we can run to the Savior and humbly go to those we have wounded or sinned against and make it right.  We can admit to those who have witnessed our failure and cynically thought, “Well, there you go – I see there’s really no difference in a follower of Christ” that we have failed and so need the Redeemer but also that  we do live as one being changed by the transforming grace of God.  For the difference is not in us; it’s in our Savior.

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

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

And it all began on that not so silent night!

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

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

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

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

And Emmanuel has come.  It is finished!

They Mock Prayer and Yet…

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

But I will pray because I know He is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They mock me because I pray.

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

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

 

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

To Know and Be Known…Yet Still Loved

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

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

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

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

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

For there we are right in the middle of it…”the pride of life.”  We assume we would have wisdom and discernment and would stand against that old serpent when the reality is, too often we don’t do it today.  He came to them as he comes to us, beautiful and crafty and tempting with “Did God really say?” and then later he took them as he does us on the “rationalization and/or blame game” track.  Yes, we are called to a resolve to stand against sin; God tells us to do so!  But He never says stand alone. Rather, we have power over it in the Spirit of God Himself and with His armor intentionally placed and strategically used in our battle against it; and He has given us each other to be accountable one to another for our protection and joy!

In the area of sexual temptation, however, He doesn’t say stand in it at all…He says flee!   He knows its power and tells us we aren’t even to toy with it. No, we aren’t even to “mention what the disobedient do in secret” (Ephesians 5:12)  nor is there to be  “even a hint of sexual immorality” or “coarse joking (Ephesians 3:5).”  That’s not prude; that’s protective and delightfully freeing!  It’s one of the most strategic places the enemy strikes to “steal and kill and destroy” knowing that our God has created this beautiful gift for marriage to bring us deep intimacy and oneness with our spouse.  God knows that sexual intimacy in marriage is intended to be a precious delight to be guarded at all costs – before and during marriage; the results in failing to do so have far reaching results.

When Adam and Eve sinned, God blessed them with shame!  What? Shame was a blessing?

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

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation (and away from sin) and leaves no regret.”  (2 Corinthians 7:10)   The fearful place is when we feel no shame or, if we do, yet choose to push it down. Either way, justifying our “pet sins” robs us of intimacy with God and with each other.

They hid in the garden.  Then, when God came “looking,” they blamed the serpent and each other but refused to name the real problem – themselves. Not that God really didn’t know where they were. Once again, He wanted them to come out, come clean.  He wanted them to be honest, to own up to their guilt so they could be freed from its power.  He wanted to restore intimacy with Himself and with each other and they had to name their sin so they could confess it and turn.

How many times do we hide behind our facades contriving half truths (let’s be honest, lies) and full blown dishonesty with those we love, especially the one with whom we are to be the most transparent, our spouse.  We justify our actions in our head; but, for the believer, the Holy Spirit doesn’t allow us to be settled with hiding from God so, if  we choose to rationalize our sin, we become restless and either outwardly or inwardly we blame everyone else but ourselves.  God wants to re-establish that confident closeness with Himself and with the one to whom we have pledged our lives, but it has to begin with owning our own failures first before Him and then with our spouse.

And notice, though Eve sinned first (and they both ultimately did so), God called on Adam as the head of the home, “Adam, where are you?”  (Genesis 3:9)   Of course, women are accountable to God for their own sin and must have their own personal relationships with God through Christ; but, in the home, men are to be leading their wives to the throne of grace; setting the example of repentance and restoration rather than hiding their sin and justifying its existence.

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

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

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

God’s desire for His people is a growing obedience not an intentional defiance.  When we choose to pursue that which is after the heart of God, the hearts of two are emboldened to love better and trust more deeply.  But when we make the foolish choice to remain in or return to entangling indulgences, we create a chasm that lies between.

If we share our sins, struggles, and temptations with no intention of giving them up but appearing to do so, we will go deeper into self-centered darkness and secrecy and, not only will trust and intimacy not be restored, they will be seared on an even deeper level. When we choose to cling to those things that build walls in our marriages, we are deceived into choosing love of ourselves more than God and more than our spouse.

But, when we trust enough to confess these to each other and in humble reliance on God, leave them at the cross and tear down the strongholds that keep them active in our lives rather than deliberately continuing in them, we find a renewed intimacy, a deep confidence in each other. We learn to “bear each other’s burdens” and, thus, create a safe place for each.  In fact, our confidence can be deeper and every aspect of marriage more satisfying and rich, as God intended it.

In James 5:16, God calls us to that transparency, “Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”  There is “freedom in the things we leave behind” as together we run in our pursuit of God’s delight for us, stripping away the sin that so easily drags us down and away from Him and each other.  It refreshes the soul and builds trust in ways like nothing else as we die to ourselves and choose a vulnerability that is rooted in faithfulness to God and our spouse.

Intimacy in marriage breeds confident trust.  Trust begins with truth; it is both a catalyst for and a result of honest intimacy which cannot thrive without complete transparency; no secrets, no walls even if it means putting ourselves before the other, totally vulnerable.  There is a tenderness and a deep closeness that comes when we humbly lay bare our weaknesses with our spouses with the intent to battle them rather than give excuses for them.  Bringing darkness into the light diffuses its power over us and allows us to battle alongside rather than against each other.

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

With intimacy, we grow closer physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  With intimacy, we see our spouses in a more complete way and are able to put aside those hindrances that keep us from loving and trusting well.  We are able to put aside past wrongs, when they are left behind, and look forward to future joy and freedom together!

If, in a marriage, there are deep wounds for which repentance before God has occurred, the pattern broken, and accountability sought, when the enemy rises up to accuse, together we can shut the door on that indictment for it is neither true nor healthy!

In our marriages, we long for intimacy.  So why would we do things that erode it  when Christ has redeemed us not only from the penalty of sin but from the power of it? Why hide from Him and each other when freedom is found in letting go of our brokenness and acknowledging that before God and before each other? There is no intimacy in concealing a part of ourselves, just a restless wistfulness and deeper wounds!

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

Will we, as couples, ban those attitudes and actions from our marriages that destroy intimacy? Will we do whatever it takes, in the power we have in Christ, to see they don’t rise up again? Will we also choose to trust our spouses with transparency and, as the other, will we choose to respond with grace and love so that marriages that need healing can be healed and those that are already healthy can grow deeper?

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

Will we know and be known…yet still love?

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

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

Intimacy

These hands you made to hold yours, my love  

These feet you shaped to walk with you in our garden

These eyes you placed to gaze upon your face

These lips you formed to kiss my beloved

I was made, I was made for intimacy

 These ears you made to hear your rhythm of love

This voice you placed to sing songs of grace

This hair you wove, you numbered every strand

 This gaze you love, it captures you with a glance

Intimacy is what I need, intimacy is calling me

Jonathan David Helser

Continue reading

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 a 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 a 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 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

And 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

Secrets That Rob But Truth That Heals

Secrets.

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

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

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

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

What is behind each is both brokenness and pride.  It has been said that “reputation is what people think of you (what they see on the outside), but character is who you are when no one is looking.”  In an attempt to maintain a stellar reputation while still doing what pleases them, men and women often trade in their character.  The desire to have the applause of man or to do “what seems right” rather than to seek the blessing and smile of God and walk secure is sometimes overwhelming and the slip into a cover of darkness is the enemy’s way of keeping their eyes on themselves rather than on the One Who has formed them, Who knows them, and Who calls them by name.

Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think,  “Who sees us? Who will know?”  You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “You did not make me”?  Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”?  Isaiah 29:15-16

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

Who whispers to them, and often to each of us, that they need to hide but the same liar that told Adam and Eve in the garden that they could be like God.  Who tells them, and often us, that they can control their own lives by “following their heart” and by disclosing only that which will make them look good while doing things contrary to God’s commands?  The same swindler who laughed when Adam and Eve realized they were naked and ashamed.  It’s the age old issue of the deceiver deceiving those who themselves wish to deceive and their eyes that have turned inward being led away only to hide.

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

Secrets divide.
Honesty creates unity.

Secrets are done in darkness.
Honesty dwells in light.

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

Secrets rob.
Honesty abides in truth and restores.

Secrets breed fear.
Honesty gives rise to peace.

Secrets rob.
Honesty abides in truth and restores.

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

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

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

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

Secrets deceive self.
Honesty brings freedom.

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

The father of lies promises peace in the darkness where he knows there is none then mocks the one who is wounded in the battle. But Jesus, Who is Light* and who “dwells in unapproachable light,”** gives the true promise that is ever faithful, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest for your soul.”  Matthew 11:28

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

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

*John 8:12

**I Timothy 6:16 Continue reading

You Are…

Today, I share from a guest blogger who I love and by whom I love to be challenged and encouraged – my husband, Steve!

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You are, not who I am, laid the foundations of this world.

You are, not who I am, was stretched out on a cross and hung for slaughter.

You are, not who I am, defeated death and rose from the grave.

You are, not who I am, sits at the right hand of God and is the ruler of all.

I am who You are when I love my neighbor as myself.

I am who You are when I love my wife as You love the church.

I am who You are when I reflect You well, my Lord.

I am who You are when I follow Your precepts.

I am who I am because You are “I AM.”

Love Them Anyway

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Friends and enemies.

Encouragers and persecutors.

Jesus said “Love them, do good to them.”

Everyone, Lord?

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:44)

Time and again Jesus posed a question following a question and finished with “Go and do likewise.”

And so He gave the perfect example of doing just what He calls us to do.

He submitted to the Father and endured hatred from His enemies and persecution from those who were blind to the Truth out of His love for us…and for them.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  (Luke 23:34)

Then He breathed His last, “Tetelestai!”  It is finished!  The debt we owe was paid in full. Ours is to receive that free gift, humbly seek to live out the love evidenced by truth that paid it, and return that agape love – that gift – to others.

They were kind to me…love them.

They wounded me…love them anyway.

They spoke words of encouragement to me…love them.

They tore me down and maligned my character…love them anyway.

They agreed with me…love them.

They disagreed and would not listen…love them anyway.

They found my words helpful and wanted to hear more…love them.

They ridiculed my beliefs and my love for you, Lord; they rejected you…love them anyway.

They made life easy for me…love them.

They made life miserable for me…love them anyway.

What that love looks like may be different and, yet, always the same.

“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” I Corinthians 13:6

We won’t love our enemies like we love those who love us; still, we love by choice.

Jesus knew that; it is why He said to do both – pray for them and love them, knowing we cannot pray for someone without it changing our hearts to initiate a compassion for them even as we ask Him to transform their lives through a relationship with the living God!

Love can only be achieved by submitting our disdain, anger, hurt, and pride to Jesus who redeemed us, not just to pay our penalty for eternity, but to make us more like Him; to bear His image well and to break our hearts for what breaks His.  In obedience, as we pray for those we consider “enemies,” or for friends who have wounded us, we will supernaturally begin to love like Jesus; we will begin to desire a heart change in them and in us.  If we do not have concern for the lost or reconciliation among brothers and sisters in Christ – regardless of their “reason” or their attitude towards us – we are blind to Calvary love.

Love speaks the truth and does not change it to suit the situation or the audience.  But love that extends from a heart submitted to Christ is kind and patient; it does not pick and choose who is worthy of love. It is hard, but it is good.

Loving someone may mean saying hard things, those that will not “feel” loving or kind; and yet, doing so in a way that reflects the heart of God rather than our prideful one – speaking to bring healing and change rather than to be “right” is love of the purest kind.

Love is bold and responds out of obedience to Christ, so it does not compromise nor does it excuse behavior.  We can be angry about the sin that ensnares their hearts and ours, but the love He calls us to is not haughty, arrogant, easily angered, or rude.  It extends the grace of God but does not cover the offense.  Instead, it offers the reality of what was done at the cross.  It remembers that, apart from the grace of God, we would be His enemies.  Apart from Him softening our hearts and opening our eyes, we would still be blind to the truth – that redemption and the ability to run in freedom from sin is made possible by the love of God through Christ’s work on the cross and His resurrection!

Apart from His grace and our continual feeding on that grace, we are entangled by sin that so easily weighs us down and causes us, in pride, to look and live with our own eyes and hearts instead of His.

If He calls us to something, we can do it!  But it takes the total grace of God, the choice to submit our wills to Him and begin to pray for their heart change and their redemption.  And, when we have opportunity, to do good to them and provide for them even if they don’t deserve it; provide the way out then walk alongside them in the process.  We cannot will ourselves to “feel” love for someone; but we can, by an act of the will, be faithful to do what God has told us to do, even if we don’t “want” to.

Love is bigger than the “rightness” of our cause; it is intended for the redemption and restoration of souls.  It is intended that our “enemies” and our friends see and come to know the living God who has a made a way.

Love is an action.  Love is a choice; a decision to submit our hurt, our wills, and our desire for justice to the God who knows our hearts as well as those of our enemies and our friends.  We act out of that obedience not out of our emotions.  Sometimes it changes their hearts, but it always changes ours.

They are friendly…love them.

They are harsh…love them anyway.

They love truth…love them.

They hate truth…love them anyway.

They love me…love them.

They do not love me…love them anyway.

Then leave the results to the God who is exceedingly able to redeem and transform our enemies…and us!

Set It Free – Forgiving When It’s Hard

“Forgiveness can do much for one; forgiveness can do very much indeed.”

Sometimes it’s hard to let go of legitimate hurt.  You have been let down, wounded deeply by a close friend, and you find yourself reeling from the betrayal.

We may be annoyed by a stranger or an acquaintance speaking against us or acting in a way that hurts, but the close friend knows our hearts and we have allowed them a place of intimate confidence.  Trying to trust again can be daunting because “…only a friend comes close enough to ever cause so much pain.” (Michael Card)

In the midst of that situation, I have found myself shaking my head, yelling into an empty room to “get it off my chest” but knowing the words spoken would not be helpful were I to speak them directly, especially in the same tone.  They would not “be useful for building (the other) up according to their needs.”  (Ephesians 4:29).  Rashly speaking my mind might feel good for the moment, but it is not God’s intent and can ultimately deepen the rift and impede the settling of my soul as well.  But simply maintaining silence can be equally as painful to both parties; there is a better way.

I have been humbled by the Lord’s gentleness, bringing me down from my rant and calling me to His heart; reminding me that holding on to hurt wounds me deeper and could hinder the healing process between me and my friend.  Bitterness is not the answer.

Jesus was betrayed; that was the focal point of the Michael Card song above and, while I did not betray Jesus as Judas did, I have betrayed Him with my own sin more times than I can count.  Yet, He died for me and forgives me every time I bring my ragged self before Him as I seek to relinquish my sin more each time.  He has called me, to no less; and, if He calls, He equips.

If I choose not to forgive, no matter how large or small the infraction, then, as Amy Carmichael wrote, “I know nothing of Calvary love.”

But does that mean we simply ignore the injury that caused the pain, whether it be intentional or unintentional on their part? Is that amnesia helpful to the other or do we each need, at times, to give the loving accountability of one who wants the best for the person who offended me but also for the relationship as a whole. Are we willing to receive the same?

Certainly, there are times the intent of another is laser focused and meant to injure; but far too often the other person has not denied self or has allowed self preservation to open a breach in wisdom.  The result?  A word spoken too quickly, a confidence given up, an action that defies reason when at the hands of one we have entrusted.

“Real love demands pursuit…The Bible never says ‘Make it easy for others to sin against you.’* (Lane and Tripp)  Rather, we are called to pursue peace through reconciliation.

As Mathew 18:15 says, “If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him – work it out between the two of you.”  But we go prayerfully, with the goal of bringing truth to light and unity back to the relationship.  We humbly pursue, asking the Lord to show us if we have played any part in the conflict.

Certainly, in the case of old wounds, we may simply have to lay past hurt at the cross and walk away from the pain that we feel if not the person.

But, when the wound is fresh and we fail to honestly seek a better resolution, we run the risk of pressing it down without bringing complete healing and the danger is two-fold.  It can leave the one who offended us feeling as if they did nothing wrong, which is not healthy for them.  And it can create a bitterness we do not even realize exists until an incident later arises that causes the pain to resurface and our response to be even more pronounced.

God calls us to reconciliation with one another.  He calls us to bring conflict into the light where nothing is hidden and the darkness can be dispelled.

Proverbs 27:6 says, “faithful are the wounds of a friend.”  Words that bring healing, painful as they may be, are “truth spoken in love” but aptly so.  In this conversation, the words are intended to bring our sister or brother to understanding, to see behind their actions or their own words to the “why” so they can have eyes that comprehend and a humility that leads to repentance first to God and then to the one offended.

Certainly, we must ask the Lord to give us words that are healing, that are constructive; not with the intention to crush but rather to restore.  Words that bind up not tear down.  And in that time of asking God for our own heart to speak wisely, we cannot fail to ask that He be working in their heart as well so that they will receive it as intended.

What will it take to put aside our own pride for the good of our friend or one we love? Is the healing of a relationship worth the effort?  How can we step out of our comfort zone to a place where conflict might result but restoration and reconciliation will likely follow?

We know that bitterness hurts our own relationship, first with Christ and then, not just with the other person, but with all to whom we are close.

The ease with which we slide into placing that same mistrust on another is frighteningly simple; the way the enemy of our souls causes us to “see” with blind eyes and “hear” with deaf ears things that are not so is far too subtle and swift.  So, the question is not how can we put aside pride and the fear of conflict, but how can we not?

Sometimes we want to feed our bitterness; to stand in our “right” when they are “wrong.”  But perhaps, before a word is even spoken, it would be more beneficial to choose something about the person for which to give God thanks even if it feels like a chore to do so and even if it is a small thing.  A minute by minute dose of gratefulness will do much to re-order our hearts and attitudes.  Our hearts are made more pliable by obeying His command to be thankful even as we ask for healing.

“…in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”  (Philippians 4:6)

It can transform bitterness into deeper forgiveness.  Small obediences can change our hearts.

In a conflict with a friend, the totality of “love” is put on the line and only God, who is perfect in love, can empower us to work through the wounds of one who has acted unlovingly and seek repair through a love rightly expressed by words and actions.

“Love does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”  (I Corinthians 13:5-7)

The enemy desires to stoke flames of bitterness between believers because it hinders each person’s walk with the Lord and each person’s focus on the God of grace who has forgiven us so much and equipped us to walk securely.  Even as we hope for the other person to have a humble heart, to “take every thought (word and action) captive,” and to speak and hear truth for the purpose of reconciliation, we must be willing to do the same.

Friendships, relationships, can be messy; but they are also opportunities for seeing God’s grace firsthand and for extending it to another.  It is often costly. We may not receive the response for which we hope, but our call is to obedience and to reflect the Savior well regardless. God cancelled our debt on the cross through Jesus; we must be willing to do the same.

And, if they have humbly asked for forgiveness, can we do less than accept their offering? The enemy loves to push us to stoke anger and let it develop into bitterness, doing further damage to our hearts and the relationship.  But God calls us to extend His grace to restore a cherished relationship.  We give and receive a gift when we forgive, no matter how big or small the offense.

In this situation and in others that will arise, I pray for eyes to see and a heart that increasingly seeks the best for whoever I find myself in conflict with; trusting that God can take what the enemy meant for evil and make it even more beautiful and redemptive in His time!

“Forgiveness is both a past event and an ongoing process into the future.  It is a past promise you keep in the future…When we choose to practice true forgiveness, the relationship is not just brought back to where it was before the offense; it actually moves further down the road to maturity.”  (*Timothy Lane and Paul David Tripp, “Relationships: A Mess Worth Making”)

FORGIVENESS by Matthew West

It’s the hardest thing to give away

And the last thing on your mind today

It always goes to those that don’t deserve

It’s the opposite of how you feel

When the pain they caused is just too real

It takes everything you have just to say the word…

      Forgiveness

      Forgiveness

 It flies in the face of all your pride

It moves away the mad inside

It’s always anger’s own worst enemy

Even when the jury and the judge

Say you gotta right to hold a grudge

It’s the whisper in your ear saying ‘Set It Free’

      Forgiveness, Forgiveness

      Forgiveness, Forgiveness

      Show me how to love the unlovable

      Show me how to reach the unreachable

      Help me now to do the impossible

      Forgiveness, Forgiveness

It’ll clear the bitterness away

It can even set a prisoner free

There is no end to what it’s power can do

So, let it go and be amazed

By what you see through eyes of grace

The prisoner that it really frees is you

      Forgiveness, Forgiveness

      Forgiveness, Forgiveness

I want to finally set it free

So show me how to see what Your mercy sees

Help me now to give what You gave to me

Forgiveness, Forgiveness

Thoughts on Walking in Forgiveness

  • Stop. Pray.  Ask God for a heart to see own sin even as we go to another; pray for both hearts.
  • By keeping account of wrongs, we do not let it go. Share our hearts, open doors for restoration, and move on.
  • If we nurse bitterness, we are sinning against our brothers and sisters and we are sinning against God ultimately hurting ourselves. Choosing forgiveness over nursing wounds will bring healing.
  • When you walk away in anger from anyone who does not agree with you or assigning evil intent to that person, you are missing the grace of God that seeks truth.
  • When you grow angry with anyone who confronts you and either use your anger towards them or cut them out of your life, you are missing the grace of God.
  • Choose to “think on” and listen to music and other “inputs” that remind us to forgive as God forgave us.
  • Choose to cultivate thankfulness.

The Steady Gaze – A  Darkness That Needs Light

50 Shades.  Just one of many examples of movies, tv shows, and a myriad of visual “entertainment” where spiritual and physical darkness is cloaked as “innocent romance” yet is anything but that.  Portrayed as a “guilty pleasure” with no consequences.  But, as Ron Hutchcraft says, “There are a thousand shades of dark, inviting us to what looks like a party. But ends up a prison.  A prison Jesus Christ came to save us from. To show us we are more than a body to be used. We are a soul to be cherished. Too precious to degrade or defile. Worth dying for.”

The truth is that it is a symptom as well as an illness; for our culture continues a feeding frenzy to see “just how far” we will go.  Much of our entertainment these days is characterized, on a much more subtle basis, by sexual immorality or right on the outside of the guardrail, along the edge of the cliff.  Most of it is not built on true intimacy but on a cheap imitation that leaves one hungry and assuming that more of the same will satisfy when, in reality, the only sexuality that satisfies is one grounded and lived out in the truth of God’s design!

True intimacy is something to value, to long for, to wait for, and to pursue!

The question “What’s your guilty pleasure?” can really be worded more honestly, “What’s the thing you want to do that is totally contrary to what God wants you to do, but you’re going to do it anyways?” justifying it with phrases such as “It won’t hurt; it will actually help my marriage,” “If I watch, I won’t actually do anything,” “I’m single; I need outlets; no harm,” “Grace gives me freedom.”  They may sound good, but an arrogance, that says we can stand where God says we cannot, drips from every word.

Certainly, there is a difference between the “guilty pleasure” of an unhealthy food that would be better to avoid or taking a break from a laborious chore to do something mindless and that to which God directly or indirectly says “No” particularly in the area of sexuality.  The enemy will tell us from a myriad sources that God is a killjoy who calls sex sinful and that biblical sex is boring. But what God says “No” to is never intended to kill our joy but to increase it.  As the one Who created us, He is far more aware of what will bring us true satisfaction than what we or the world believes. And, indeed, the mind, soul, and spirit are inextricably connected to the mind so that which we “think” on affects every part of us.

If “what’s your guilty pleasure?” in the realm of sexuality is asked with a giggle and a feigned hushed tone, does it somehow make it okay?  And if we can find someone we consider “godly” or “more moral” than us that is willing to engage in it, can we justify being a part of it?  Not if we are allowing Jesus to be Lord of our life and our choices. And, if that one we raise up as “godly” is leading us towards something from which God says to “flee,” then they are not ones we should follow.  They are also guilty before God of being a stumbling block and harming their own walk with Christ.  If we are that one, then God will hold us accountable for leading someone away from His Truth thus hindering their joy in marriage, present or future, and, above all,  keeping them and us from a healthy relationship with the Savior.

For God’s design for sexuality is, as one author puts it, “red hot monogamy!”  Knowing that in marriage you can explore the depths of the soul and body as He planned it, one on one, leaves no room for questions of the heart.  It is a safe harbor where two can increasingly, over time, know and be known and experience great contentment; no breach in the secret places as each protects their own sexuality and that of their spouse or future spouse.

When we set up guardrails for sexual intimacy, as one married or one looking towards marriage in the future, we hold fast to God’s command to “flee sexual immorality” and we protect the genuine. To either not avoid tempting situations or to not run if we find ourselves in them is never positive. To choose a “guilty pleasure” in regards to sexuality, whether it be emotional or physical, of the mind or in time and space, is never helpful nor justifiable!  Stepping over guardrails to flirt with the edge as one relates to sexuality and the opposite sex opens doors that lead to edges that are anything but harmless.

– a look, the clothes we choose, an “innocent” touch, words that stroke the ego

– pornography – visual or literary that makes an indelible mark on our brain

– a movie like 50 Shades and other media that aren’t so quickly dubbed “dangerous;” yet, while  not as deviant, are equally as sexually tempting

– internet sites, magazines, and catalogs that promote a sexual worldview that seems so “freeing” but as God’s word says are “nothing new under the sun”

It all leaves those who act on them wounded and hungry for the “real thing” found only in a sexuality that God designed for marriage. It also wounds those to whom they are connected.  Within marriage, enjoyment can be nurtured, fulfilled, and lived without regret!  It is where the soul and the body become one and true delight follows.  It takes effort, but the joy that follows as each learns to love and serve one another in every aspect, including sexuality, reaps a contentment unparalleled. Certainly, where past sexual sin of any kind has been a part of a life, God is more than able to bring healing and redeem it; but it must be laid at the foot of the cross and left there.  The enemy will say, “what is done is done…might as well do it again.”  Jesus says, “On the cross, I paid the price!  It is finished! Don’t keep picking up sin you have laid here and continue in it.”  We will not find healing and freedom from guilt if we consciously pursue it but will always be “just” missing the joy without reserve if we continue to make choices that, by their very nature, deny the goodness of God for us!

Today we are on the precipice of a temptation that threatens to undo the hearts and minds of so many; a temptation that has the capability of leaving an emotional mark on the soul of individuals and an entire generation.  The danger is greatest for those who minimize its potential and for those who will listen to those who diminish it, choosing to view it themselves. If it isn’t “so bad,” would we want our sons or brothers to be like Christian Grey, in all his sexual deviancy; or our daughters or sisters to date someone like him?  And, as we watch and listen to other forms of media, our filter must always be the Word of God where true freedom is found.  Is it true, right, pure, admirable? There is a pitfall when we “peek” and allow a “hint of sexual immorality” to invade our thoughts, even to just “see for ourselves;” for it is as James 1:14-15 says,  “…each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”  Sin always begins with what we allow in our minds; it is at that point we can choose to either shake our fists at satan and not give up ground or begin the slow fade of giving in to choices that will leave us empty.

And if we truly love family and friends, we will not keep silent about that which has the potential to harm them physically and/or spiritually nor will we join them in things we know break the heart of God.  Rather, we will “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) and “expose the fruitless deeds of darkness” (Ephesians 5:11) so that, as far as it depends on us, they will  hear that truth and have one  who will come alongside as a protective hedge to shed light into darkness. And we will not be wounded ourselves or held accountable for being a obstacle to their relationship with Christ.

True delight is found in sexual intimacy with one in marriage. For the one who is single, purity of the body and mind is no less important.  But for the one who claims Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, sexual purity is also tied to an unhindered relationship with God and with other believers.  We are not saved by our actions but by Christ’s work on the cross alone; however, our actions reflect the health of our relationship with Him and they are a barometer of how much we trust, fear, and are in awe of Him; and it is evidence of a life redeemed and transformed.

             “Oh, it’s hard to imagine the freedom we find, in the things we leave behind!” (Michael Card)

**  Further Resources:

As we “think on these things,” we must always do so in light of God’s word not as we perceive them.  These verses from Scripture are a jump off point, a place to start praying for the courage to stand boldly on Truth, on the goodness of God for His created and very much loved ones!

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”  Philippians 4:8-9

“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”  Galatians 1:10

“Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.  Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;  you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” I Corinthians 6:18-20

“Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure.”  Hebrews 13:4

“Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or any kind of impurity…you are light in the Lord…find out what pleases the Lord.  Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” Ephesians 5:3, 8, 11

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”  Jeremiah 17:9 (and the heart will say, there is no harm in much of what we watch and listen to, but we have to ask God what He says…and look at it from His word)

“Flee the evil desires of youth” (2 Tim. 2:22). When you flee evil, you don’t keep turning around and asking, “Is this far enough?”  (Randy Alcorn)

“So much of the power of sin is found in its secrecy, Guard yourself with godly friendships and Gospel accountability. God designed sex to be relational…Let us give ourselves to His design and reclaim godly marriages.”   (David Platt)

Specifically in light of 50 Shades:

http://familylifetoday.com/program/fifty-shades-of-deception/#resources

http://www.authenticintimacy.com/

Special Offer:  Exchange your copy of “50 Shades of Grey” for Dannah Gresh and Judi Slattery’s “Pulling Back the Shades” at   http://pullingbacktheshades.com/

Resources on Pornography for Men and Women:

Tim Challies book recommendations for men and women:  https://www.challies.com/recommendations/pornography

Tim Challies Wife’s Plea to Christian Men: https://www.challies.com/articles/my-wifes-plea-to-christian-men

10 Verses to Help Defeat Addiction (Men and Women): https://husbandrevolution.com/10-verses-help-defeat-porn-addiction/

Fight Pornography Like a Man (A Transparent View): https://fiercemarriage.com/fight-sexual-addiction-like-a-man

Corrosive Influence of Porn on Women: http://www.focusonthefamily.com/marriage/divorce-and-infidelity/pornography-and-virtual-infidelity/corrosive-influence-of-porn-on-wives

A Letter to Sons:  http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/a-letter-to-my-sons-about-pornography

Men and Women both:  “We need to stop treating pornography like a fly at the picnic and start treating it like a viper in the bedroom.”

Lessons Remembered From the Back of the Bike…Marriage and the Journey

IMG_3814     It was an excursion of many miles.  We drove through sun and storms along many terrains – some smooth and easy, some rocky, steep, and rough while others were jarring,  almost treacherous.  Yes, there were far more dangerous trails, far more difficult roads; but I had to deal with my own reservations for the ones we were on. Several times I was tempted to say, “This is too hard; too scary.”

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But the reality was, I didn’t want to get off.  I didn’t want to miss the adventure, the majesty, the soul soaring delight even in the unknown. To get to some of the most breathtaking views, we had to cross adrenaline pumping, heart pounding terrain.  There were narrow roads and sheer cliffs, winding pathways that gave way to slippery slopes.  And there was beauty.

IMG_3834     The joy was in the journey as well as the destination alongside the man I have loved for over 30 years, but I had to get beyond my fears and trust him to choose well for us, to take us where he knew we could go safely.  But I also had to trust God to bring us over and through those things he might not see or know; and I called out to the Lord and sang songs of praise from the back of the bike and smiled knowing He was directing our every mile.

And such is marriage.  Every marriage goes through changing weather of moods and circumstances, the smooth and easy paths as well as the steep, rough roads; times of laughter inducing smiles and moments of difficult tears.  Periods of sweet peace and unity and times when the chasm created by two sinners in need of grace feels enormous and the weight of it is jarring.  And sometimes one or the other whispers “This is too hard; too scary.”

But, as with our mountain adventure, we don’t want to miss either the journey or the destination.  We know that. We just want someone to smooth the rough spots so we can get to the beauty of marriage!   We want someone who can take our moments of brokenness and create beauty out of mistakes made, words spoken too quickly or too harshly, self-focused pride.

The joy is that we have One who can and does; our hope is in God alone!  Our fears are assuaged by His mercy and His hand brings light to dark places.  It isn’t always comfortable and the heart may pound as He chips away at each one’s selfish roots; painful and glorious all at once.

His goal in growing two into one is bigger than just a beautiful marriage; that is an amazing by-product, a gift.  His greater purpose is to make us more like Himself, more in love with Him and, thus, more humbly submissive to Him, becoming all He created us to be. But it doesn’t come without some discomfort, some shaping that is outside our comfort zone.  As we grow in our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, He changes us and causes us to set aside our self focused agenda, to forsake all others and to love, serve, honor, and cherish the one to whom we made our vow, to the glory of the One before whom we made our vows!

Marriage is “about learning how to love selflessly by learning to know the One who loves sacrificially.  Marriage is about covenantal love.  It’s about a love that stems from the much greater, more intense, and immensely more pure love of God. Marriage is one way God refines us into people of holiness, and makes us aware of His unconditional grace and love. Marriage has more to do with eternity than we ever fathomed.”  (FierceMarriage.com)  On the back of a motorcycle, riding the roads of Colorado, I thought often of how an adventure such as this, blended with much excitement and some risk, parallels the adventure of this “holy refining,” this mystery called love that draws two hearts to become one in marriage.

I love spontaneity, but I also like knowing what’s ahead.  Call me schizophrenic, but the two can actually co-exist!  Every morning in the mountains, as we set out on our next exploration, I wanted to know, to some degree, what I could expect.  That was often something that was frustrating to my other half who would set a course and not wonder what was around the next bend until we got there.  Would there be sheer cliffs on narrow, rocky paths where I would enjoy looking up and out but not down or would we simply be traveling on wide, gravel roads with spectacular vistas that I could take in at any angle?  Sometimes things changed or, while we knew the destination, we didn’t completely know what the means to get there would entail and I had to rest.  I had to learn to sit back, enjoy the journey, trust my “driver,” and relish the excitement and the grandeur but take any fears of the unknown (or known) to the Lord.

DSCN1248     Such is life in our place called “home.”  I have one who has chosen me for his bride; who has promised to love and protect and I willingly choose to trust that he will.  But we still need to take our marriage, each other, and life in general to Jesus, moving forward but sitting back and trusting. Too easily, we can fear the “what ifs” and miss the “what is.”   We find an unexpected opportunity and we take it or we make plans and move towards them; either way, there can be unforeseen happenings ahead, but we can look at the days without fear when we walk them together, knowing Who holds each one.

When in the majesty of the mountains, I could have chosen to focus on the fear of some of the places or I could have complained about the places we didn’t go or the flaws of the places we did; and I would have failed to see a myriad of delights big and small!  I could have missed the simple but completely wonderful evenings of staring up at the sky where a million stars danced above us, a cool, crisp morning sipping a cup of coffee with the one I love in the shadow of a magnificent mountain, or even short little walks hand in hand across the campground late at night.  Simple moments yet some of my sweetest memories.

DSCN1336 46     In our day to day, we can miss the treasure of the ordinary, the delight in the daily alongside the one to whom we said, “I do.”  We can nurse our unrealistic expectations and fail to recognize the treasure in jars of clay.  We ask God to “give us this day,” but when He does, too often we are so busy looking for the “next big event,” the extraordinary that we miss what He’s given us as well as who He has given us and what He wants to do with our “ordinary,” hand in hand with the gift right by our side.

We could have complained when we locked ourselves out of the trailer late at night or when various little incidents rose up to steal our joy.  But, instead, we faced them together.  We even laughed at some of them in the moment, all of them later. Admittedly, a few of them caused our self focus to become pronounced and we squandered those times in frustration.  But God is a God who redeems, who buys back wasted moments and uses them to strengthen us at the time and prepares us for what’s ahead.  It’s the stuff of which memories are made and stronger bonds are forged; it’s the training ground for the bigger moments, the more difficult disruptions!

Back in our little corner of the world, life comes at us in various ways and again threatens to steal our joy!  But when we choose to face them, putting them in the hands of our Father who knows us so well and is using “all things for the good” of we who “love Him and are called according to His purpose,” we can laugh at life’s little interruptions and hold on to one another in the big ones. We can shake our fists at the meager attempts of satan to take eyes off the One who is not caught unaware.  We can choose joy in spite of circumstances or emotions even if we have to choose it, even fight for it, daily or minute by minute!  “Weeping may last for the night; but joy comes in the morning!”  (Psalm 30:5)

Up on Yankee Boy Basin for the second time, this time in the truck, we kept climbing higher and higher and being more amazed at the grandeur of God’s incredible creation!  We went up one way and chose to come down another, just a little off the first path.  The road was impassable; damage to the undercarriage of our truck would occur if we proceeded.  We couldn’t get down without “making a way.”  Hubby got out and moved the rocks around, placing them in such a manner so that the broken places could be restored and our tires had a firm place on which we could move forward towards even more beauty!  Ultimately, we continued back down the trail again basking in the wonder of all that was around us.

IMG_3947     God always provides a way out of the desert, of the impossible path, out of the “no way out,” out of temptation and, with that provision, a firm place to stand.  Sometimes He calls us to act and, thus, to help make the foundation stronger, firmer.  Sometimes He simply calls us to go a different way or provides a way out and tells us to step out in faith and take it.  “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!  No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”  (I Corinthians 10:12-13)  Just as on the mountain road where we thought we had a firm place to drive but came upon a broken place in the path; in marriage, we have to keep our eyes open, aware of the potential broken places ahead that would threaten to take us off the right path and derail our marriage.  We aren’t to do so fearfully; rather, we are told to ask God for wisdom, discernment, eyes to see, and feet to run when they need to run!  And then we get the freedom to run together along that steadfast path, laughing as we enjoy the view!

As we followed the roads out west on the motorcycle, I was surprised to see how many riders wore no helmet.  It’s not the law there, so they chose to experience “freedom” instead of protecting themselves for what might lie ahead and, should it, would likely cost them their life.   Another thing that caught my eye on the Million Dollar Highway was the lack of guardrails as you careened up and down and around the mountain passes, twisting and turning.  A friend who grew up in the area said that, driving that stretch, she would often see cars and trucks who had plummeted over the side into the deep canyon below.  They thought they could handle the pass, maneuver the turns but they either had gotten too close to the edge or, ill prepared for danger of the sudden steep grade, their brakes had failed.

.DSC_0096     Marriage needs protection.  The culture shouts the wrong kind of “freedom” even within marriage; freedom to think more about ourselves than our spouse, freedom to make our choices completely independent of each other, freedom to fill our time with things that are contrary to strengthening a marriage and that can make us discontent, freedom to develop lives apart from each other, and set us on a course for disaster, freedom to be unforgiving; freedom to dismantle the guardrails that are intended to slow us down and remind us of God’s design for this holy union, this “oneness” that must be treasured, nurtured, cherished, and shielded.

Marriage needs safeguards, shelters. Praying with and for each other, protecting time each other, holding each other accountable, having other friends who are committed to God’s design for marriage with whom we can have mutual encouragement, learning to say no to self and finding ways to build the other up, each growing in the grace of God and their relationship with Him, each putting a hedge around their minds and hearts that keeps out whatever sets itself up against a strong and safe place for the two.

Grounded and established in the Truth of God’s blueprint, guardrails in marriage, as on a mountain highway, won’t keep us from falling over the edge; but, if we choose to keep our distance, as is their intention, we can avoid more than just the inevitable fall.  We can actually make the journey smoother, the ride less fearful, more delightful, and far more fulfilling for both of them and for those they encounter!  They will be as a hedge of protection from significant spiritual and emotional injury not only to the marriage but also to each individual, even as preparing for the steep places and a helmet will protect a driver from injury or death.

In the weeks before we left, it appeared that many situations were coming together that might make us have to cancel our trip.  We were more than disappointed in the thought as we had been thinking of and planning for this anniversary celebration for so long!  We dug in and fought for that time!  Hubby spent extra hours over the weekend and at night getting things finished at work so nothing would be left undone and we could take off on our adventure!  I made arrangements that would clear the road on my end.  A few things still loomed and we had to make some adjustments, but we didn’t let that keep us from making it work out!  We changed the days, but we didn’t give up on what was important to us – our long planned time together!

Marriage is like that!  It is worth fighting for, worth the rugged climb at times. The person to whom I said I would “love, comfort, honor, and keep in sickness, and in health, for better and for worse, forsaking all others so long as we both shall live” is worth fighting for!   Marriage to the one to whom we have devoted our lives is important enough to do whatever it takes because the “we” of marriage is worth it!  Many things, circumstances, and people will vie for our affections, our time, our attention; but by God’s grace, we will fight!  We will stand with and for each other. We will honor each other by continuing to develop trust; trust that is achieved through honesty, through transparency; laying our souls bare before the other because we can trust they will be nurtured and kept safe. Truth, no matter what the cost even to our own pride, expressing itself in love.  No walls, no deceptions.  When we fail each other (and it will happen), the one who offends must be quick to, in humility, ask for forgiveness and leave the offense behind them, not picking it back up nor continuing in it. The one offended must then commit to forgive.  Both will act in the power of the One who equips us to live and love by grace!

Our time in the mountains was, like marriage, a collection of moments; various experiences, people, and places. Moments that were thrilling but also those that made us step back and take a deep breath.  But blended together, they created a grand design.  “Marriage is a mosaic you build with your spouse.  Millions of tiny moments that create your love story!”  (Jennifer Smith)  A true love story will not just be made of beautiful, carefree moments; a true love story will often be forged over time, grounded in Christ through both the tender and tense, the ordinary and extraordinary; how we respond to them will determine how beautiful the mosaic will be.

I’ll be on the back of the motorcycle again, behind the one to whom I entrusted my heart so many years ago; and, as I do, I’ll stop and be thankful that I get to keep riding life alongside this man, thankful that I get to show him again and again the fierce heart of a woman who loves him, trusts him, and is ready to walk every road with him; thankful for the privilege of being his bride, able to share all that we are, all we are not, and all that comes our way together as we daily recommit to and strengthen our marriage in our one sure and unfailing foundation which is Christ, regardless of the terrain!

“You cannot love a fellow creature fully until you love God!”  C.S. Lewis

“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”  Song of Solomon 6:3

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Your Kingdom Come

IMG_4010   Circumstances. They bring joy or sorrow. They are fleeting or constant. They change and can threaten to undo us emotionally, physically, financially, spiritually. We can be laughing one minute; wringing our hands the next. We can feel peace and turmoil all within the same hour. We are told not to worry, but how do we steady ourselves?  How do we maintain our joy? I have often spent time in the Word of God, talking to Him and asking just those questions.

For God has indeed created us to “glorify Him and enjoy Him forever,” but He also created us to be relational people living between the “now and the not yet.”   And when, in the course of being human, pain comes either from a broken relationship, a frightening medical diagnosis, a wait that takes longer than we would choose, our own choices or choices of ones we love that cause heartache, or other scenarios that lead to sorrow, we often ask how we can glorify Him and enjoy Him in the midst. But it is in laying that hurt bare, unashamed before our God who sees, in total need of His grace, that we begin that journey to joy regardless of the circumstances.

At times, I am able to rest well in the arms of my Savior, to lay myself and the burdens and idols of my heart on the altar as a living sacrifice and say, “They are yours, Lord; I give them and my striving to ‘fix’ the situation up to You.” But there are other times I find myself either trying to “crawl off the altar,” as Pastor Randy Pope has said, or pull back those loved ones or circumstances I have given over to the King of my heart as if I can make something good happen in fashioning them according to my design!

No, there is only One who, by His grace, can make something beautiful of stifling situations or bone wearying loss and, it is when I find my joy in the hope of Christ in me, of Christ working “all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose” that I can, once again, let it go into the hands of the One who can do immeasurably more than I can think or ask – each time a little longer than the last.

And that is growing in grace; when we rest a little better, strive a little less, and trust a little more with each situation.  We are growing more and more into the likeness of the Son! Scripture abounds!  While it is good and helpful to have the Word of God set before our eyes so we can commit it to your hearts, they are not simply nice little sayings to put on a Pinterest craft.  They are the very words of God “alive and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; judging the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12), “ God breathed…useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

When I focus on the circumstances around me instead of focusing on the “joy set before me,” I tremble much; and fear and worry threaten to strangle my joy and hope in Christ! God doesn’t mind our wrestling, but He longs to hear His children humbly cry out our deepest longings, fears, and pain; for He knows our hearts better than we ourselves do.  He longs to hear us say, “I believe; help my unbelief, Lord.” (Mark 9:24)  He is not surprised by our humanness and our lack of “wholeness.” But, ultimately, He desires for us to grow in that wholeness, to grow in that holiness.  He desires to take us in His arms and bring comfort even when He chooses not to settle the storm that rages, when He calls us to wait and then wait a little longer, or when He allows things we don’t understand to continue or to find their conclusion in a way we would not have chosen.

God does not call us to deny that pain exists or to stuff our emotions.  But that pain and those emotions are often His way of driving us to our knees, breaking through our self reliance to send us before the throne of grace, humbly but also boldly because of the work of Christ on the cross and our relationship with Him!  “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  (Hebrews 4:16)

Paul gives us the example of one who cared deeply, even agonized over the people he loved; and then He left them and the events swirlings around him in the hands of the One who alone can change hearts and circumstances. “Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.  Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”  (Acts 20:31, 32) “For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.” (2 Corinthians 2:4)

It’s often a matter of where I allow my heart to dwell – on my circumstances or on my Savior.  If I hear the promises of God yet continue to say,  “I get that, but…” I am never satisfied, which leads to a deeper heartache.  But if I keep reminding myself of the truth God has given me and made known time and again, I may not “get it,” but I can say with confidence, “I may not ‘feel’ your presence or understand your ways, but give me a heart of wisdom, a heart that trusts You more, Lord, even if I cannot ‘see’ what You are doing in the middle of it all.”

Richard Rohr says it well.  “To pray and actually mean ‘thy Kingdom come,’ we must also be able to say ‘my kingdoms go.’” My hands are open, Lord.  Help me let my kingdoms go so Yours can fully come.  I wait in expectation!

“But courage, child: we are all between the paws of the true Aslan.”   C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

From Wrestling to Rest

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Our God sees.

Our God knows.

Our God  reigns.

Our God never changes.

Our God is immovable.

Our God is the God of all comfort.

Our God is not surprised by our circumstances, our choices, or our wrestlings.

Our God upholds us with His powerful right hand!

Our God is a consuming fire and a quiet Peace!

Our God is our Rock and our Fortress!

Our God lifts us from the muck and mire of wounded hearts and broken spirits.

Our God devastates our little kingdoms to give us an inheritance in His greater kingdom.

Our God pursues us when we run and gently holds us until we are still, resting in His embrace.

Our God redeems.

Our God restores.

Be still.

A Life Well Penned

Life.

It is a story in the making.

How and by whom our story is written makes all the difference in the world.

Often, we believe we can write our own, unhindered by the counsel of others or the wisdom of God.  That is always to our detriment.

Or, as we compose our narrative, the intersection of lives causes our own to be edited; at times for the better and for our joy, at other times, to our loss, and, sometimes, both.  But our hearts are always shaped by those with whom we share the page during our lifetime.

For the follower of Christ, we know it is God who is the “Author and Perfecter of our faith,” but also the Author and Perfecter of our stories.  For some the ‘plot’ is more erratic as He seeks to woo and restore scratches on the page.  In other cases, it may be more direct with less editing necessary; but always in need of the Redeemer.

One thing we can be sure of is that, even if there are edits to our pages that come our way unexpectedly, they never take our Father by surprise.  And He intricately weaves the joy and the pain together, sometimes restoring what has been lost and sometimes gently prying our fingers from it, for a beautiful tapestry.  It is an illustration of exquisiteness, from disorder to delight.  It is as if the scribbles of a child on a page become elaborate calligraphy – extravagant beauty and clarity on our hearts – as He causes “all things to work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28) regardless of the outcome.

As God writes our stories, there are times He does so in ways we have to stop and wonder from where that part of the ‘plot’ came. But, because He is our all knowing, all loving God, we know He is working in us and preparing us for the ‘rest of the chapters.’ Some surprises are comfortable; some are not. But every ‘word’ comes from the palm of His hand; that same palm that demonstrated the greatest love, sacrificial as it was. And He will weave every circumstance for His glory and for a greater joy and good in our lives than we can even anticipate!

I love lyrics to music; they often verbalize my life story or my response to it.  Several songs draw me back to the reality of God’s ultimate, perfect control even when my life or the lives of those I love are seemingly not being written the way I would have authored them.  “The God of Every Story” by Laura Story is one of those.  He is, indeed, the God of every one of our stories and can be trusted to complete the good work He began in each of His children (Philippians 1:6).

Ultimately, I know that whether or not I always “love” the way my book is being completed, I am thankful that the One who knows me best and has already seen the end of my novel is the One who is preparing my current chapters and the ones ahead of me!

He’s the God of every story, He sees each tear that falls.

We may not understand but one thing is certain.

He is faithful, He’s a faithful God.

His ways are higher than we could ever comprehend.

When our world is shaking, He holds us in the palm of His hand…

You’re the God of every story no matter what I’m going through.

I may not understand, but You are God and I am just a man…

I’m forever trusting in Your plan.  One thing is certain;

You are faithful, You’re faithful God!

(Laura Story)

When God Shouts, There Can Be Laughter and Joy!

Sometimes I listen well.

Sometimes God needs to get my attention.

Sometimes God shouts!

Today He shouted!

It wasn’t in anger.  It wasn’t in chastisement.  It was from the tender heart of my God Who sees, Who knows my weaknesses, Who knows my sometimes fearful heart but Who loves to pull me close, steady my heart, and remind me of Who He is and what is true.

In the wee hours of the morning, I woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep.  Fear.  The things that were waging war on my mind are real, but they are not outside the hand of God; they are insurmountable only as I try to, in my mind and often actions, fix them or worry them into submission.  But in the hands of the Redeemer, they are just instruments to chip away at my control, my self sufficiency and point me back to the true King, the true Salvation, the true Peace!  He is doing HIS good work, not my own, in the each of them.

After what seemed like hours (and may have been), I asked  the Lord to help me stop “thinking” so I could sleep; I eventually drifted off.

The morning light came and with it was evidence upon evidence that God heard my cries in the night. He listened to my cries, and He has been shouting all morning long, “I love you!  I am not caught unaware!  I am still on my throne and I am still making all things new!  You may not see, but ‘Be still and know that I AM God!’”

Circumstances may not have changed in the world around me or in my world as I rose out of bed, but they are known and being sifted through the hands of our very good God  And, even as I write this, I laugh and I cry tears of joy that my God is faithful in all things and loves to point His children to the truth again and again as a reminder!

In preparation for getting everyone off to their day, I headed to the kitchen.  Before I had my first cup of coffee, God was already putting things in front of my eyes to strengthen my heart!

First, came a morning “tweet” over my phone from Kevin DeYoung, “To start the day without prayer is to suggest the devil is feeble, God is irrelevant, and we can handle things on our own.” After which God brought Psalm 5:3 to my mind, “In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.”

And again He had me recall, “I have set the LORD always before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” Psalm 16:8

That first cup in hand and waiting for my son to come down for work, another friend “tweeted.” “Say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come … He will come to save you.’” Isaiah 35:4  I hurriedly grabbed my Bible and opened it to Isaiah 35 and read more.  And before that, verse 3: “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way” and THEN, “Say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come!”

Feeling a little more refreshed and with a knowing smile on my face, I saw opened a devotion.  No surprise…I was beginning to expect God was having “fun” with me that morning!  Another grin.  “Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.”  Exodus 14:13.  I read on and couldn’t help the tears of joy that fell as I realized the Lord was holding me in His arms and saying, “Keep listening child; I’m speaking to you!”

“These words contain God’s command to the believer when he is… brought into difficulties. He cannot retreat; he cannot go forward; he is shut up on the right hand and on the left; what is he now to do? The Master’s word to him is, ‘Stand still.’… Despair whispers, ‘Lie down and die; give it all up.’ But God would have us put on…courage, and even in our worst times, rejoice in His love and faithfulness… Precipitancy cries, ‘Do something. Stir yourself.  To stand still and wait, is sheer idleness.’  (It says) we must be doing something at once—we must do it so we think—instead of looking to the Lord, who will not only do something but will do everything….But Faith (in the One true God)…hears God say, ‘Stand still,’ and immovable as a rock, it stands. ‘Stand still’;—keep the posture of an upright man, ready for action, expecting further orders, cheerfully and patiently awaiting the directing voice; and it will not be long before God will say to you, as distinctly as Moses said it to the people of Israel, ‘Go forward.’” (Charles Spurgeon)

And, as if that were not enough, as I was pulling up that devotion to share in this blog, He continued to pour on the encouragement and challenge,

“So don’t lose heart. Have the same kind of confidence as the widow (in Luke 18). Pray with the confidence, not that precisely what you’re asking will be given, but that God will give what He knows is right. Perseverance is less about getting what we want, and more about believing that God hears us and will provide what we need — which is oftentimes something we have to grow into, especially when we ask, full of good intentions…God is never bothered when we pray by faith. Never. And perseverance is trusting this truth, as we keep asking for what’s right as far as we know, until God does what is right — either by giving us our desire or correcting it.” (Keep Praying that Prayer by Jonathan Parnell, Desiring God)

Coincidence?  No, you see God has said that His Word “will not return to (Him) empty, but will accomplish what (He) desires and achieve the purpose for which (He) sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)  He also said in Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you wonderful things that you did not know!”  And He has promised that when we call out to Him, He hears and responds.  “I call on the Lord in my distress, and He answers me.”  (Psalm 120:1)

So He sent a variety of people who had no idea how what they shared was going to be used but who were faithful to do so.  Equally true, He has used the Word stored up in my heart that He alone can bring to my mind as I need it;  His words repeated back to me, to encourage, strengthen, equip, and calm His child!

I honestly laid it out to Him that I knew I wasn’t battling those fears well but that I needed to hear His voice.

And as I stand in awe that the God of the universe who loved me enough to redeem me through the work of His Son on the cross would also choose to speak to my heart and steady my “feeble arms and weak knees,” He reminds me yet again, “Be still and know that I AM God; I will be exalted among the nations.  I will be exalted in the earth.”  (Psalm 46:10) 

And He takes me back to another time long ago when concerns weighed on my husband and I as we talked while driving around town with our two children at the time.  From the back seat came a little voice.  I can still hear our then three year old daughter singing “I cast all my cares upon You; I lay all of my burdens down at your feet.  And any time I don’t know what to do, I will cast all my cares upon you.”  It was His voice through hers then and now, a child singing faithfully with steadfast, solid truth from I Peter 5:7.

My confidence is in the fact that “He who began a good work in you (and me), will be faithful to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 1:6)  He is isn’t weary of my wrestling.  He isn’t shaking His head saying, “Do I have to remind you of My faithfulness again?”  No, He is carrying me to completion, gathering me in His arms, and reminding me in a myriad of ways that He is faithful, that He hears when we call to Him, and that He answers even if our fainting hearts sometimes cannot or do not hear.

So I “go forward” even as I am praying that I will continue to learn to just “be still” and rest in Him rather than look at circumstances beyond my control.

The conclusions to the “details” of  life that can cause my heart to tremble and grow weary may not be my timing or my ways, but my God is indeed making all things new, beautiful in His time and according to the riches of His grace;  amazingly writing my story, with its twists and turns, within the greater story of His redemption from creation to His return.

This Adventure Called Marriage

It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.  And, in between, the ordinary days that make up “life.”  That’s the adventure of marriage that I have shared with this man beside me for the last thirty years.

And I am thankful!

The beauty has not been in the perfection, for it has been a blending of two sinners, saved by grace, but sinners indeed.  The beauty has been in the commitment despite the imperfections.  The joy when life and relationship have been relatively easy and smooth but also the joy of reconciliation when selfishness of one or the other or both has disrupted the flow and caused the two to forget the “feeling” of love.

We live in an age when people “quit” everything when it gets hard, when it no longer satisfies them, or when the next “new thing” catches the eye and causes the heart to race in a different direction.  Sadly, marriage has been a victim of that same mentality.   Hurt feelings, “self awareness,” “outgrowing” each other, “boredom,” or just plain lust has led to the mantra, “the thrill is gone and so must I.”  My heart grieves for those who are there not of their own choice or have been the one in a marriage trying to put it back together, trying to selflessly show mercy and grace to another who has already checked out and moved on.   Yet, I have also witnessed two again made one; marriages restored and made beautiful through the fire.

And, over thirty years, I have been honored to walk this road with one who took his vows before God seriously, one not willing to “quit” when times were difficult or emotions were raw.

I am thankful!

Thirty years ago today, I married the man who surprised me with the offer of a first date, who chose to live and work for a summer in a city that he wouldn’t have chosen just to continue his pursuit, who laid out his heart’s desire under a starry night and asked if one day I might join him, who slipped a ring on my finger some months later and asked me to walk by his side for the rest of our lives wherever God, who brought us together, would lead us.

Thirty years ago today, we stood in the presence of the Lord and made vows that we would be joyfully bound to and which would hold us fast in the years ahead.  And we walked down that aisle to the adventure of commitment!  You see, he promised to love me regardless of feelings or circumstances and I entrusted my heart to this man.   We pledged to fight for our marriage instead of against the other.  We determined to never use the word “divorce” as a weapon or even in joking because we had seen and have seen that word become a spark which has ignited a massive fire of destruction.  He gave his word to protect my heart and to guard our marriage.

I am thankful!

Together we have enjoyed sweet times of refreshment in the big adventure moments and in the steady pace of daily life and learned to enjoy each other’s presence even when no words are spoken.  We have shared laughter and wiped away tears.   We have had the romantic moments and the ordinary.  Through sickness and health, richer and poorer, we have soared on mountaintops and weathered storms.  He has stroked my head and held my hand in some fierce battles of fear when illness came and when my emotions ran deep.  He has drawn me up close and asked for forgiveness when he has wounded me with actions or words.  We have come together and been restored after other times when both of us dug in our heels stubbornly and the “feelings” of love were negligible, sometimes with tears and sometimes with laughter at each of our own childishness.  Repentance before the Lord and the one offended is the path to healing an individual and forging a deeper bond in marriage.

I am thankful!

Blessed with three children we both love fiercely, we have battled through differences of opinion in “how” we should raise them in different circumstances all the while showing a united front.  The times we have tried to each do it our own way have never proven positive and we have had to return and restore that unity, coming together before the One who is more than able!  And we have come together before the throne of grace to ask God’s grace over these children, now grown, entrusted to us for a time and yet always, in a sense, part of who we are.

I am thankful!

Our hearts have been knit together over time watching God, who called us both by name and made us His, continue to complete the good work He began in us as individuals and as two made one.

And that is it – time!  It didn’t happen overnight.  Both of us have had moments where faithfulness and commitment had to take the lead so feelings could follow.   Each of us has, at times, had moments of such great discouragement that the one had to hold the other up.

If we were to measure a marriage and determine its course by the emotions of a single moment, it might not appear to be healthy or even worth fighting for because in some moments, the depth of discouragement can be great.  Indeed, those single moments have devoured many.   When you drop those instances in shallow bucket of a few months or years, they can seem to fill it with tears and raw emotions; but when you drop those same instances into a deep bucket of time, unless one chooses to draw them out of the depths, gaze upon them, and fondle them to stoke the fires of disappointment, hurt, and frustration, they do not stand out in bitterness but rather blend in to shape and flavor the whole with a soul satisfying thankfulness.

It is those moments, when put into the hands of our Redeemer and left at the cross, that can actually cause the foundation of a relationship to strengthen over time instead of crumbling under our feet.

I am thankful!

Our bucket is deep and I look forward, by God’s grace, to it getting deeper.  He has brought us thus far and I rejoice and am glad.  But I also rest in the surety that while we are still growing individually and as one in Christ, with teachable spirits and forgiving hearts, together we will continue to fill that bucket with increasingly grace-filled moments that nurture and strengthen not just ourselves but those that God weaves into our lives as well.

Thirty years.  Yes, I am thankful!

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“It is Finished” Begins at Christmas

Restless…

So many things threaten to “undo” our peace.

Sometimes it is sin committed against us, sometimes our own sin unconfessed; sometimes we grieve loss of various kinds in a world turned upside down; sometimes we watch or are the prodigal sprinting to a supposed “safe place,” a place of assumed comfort, only to find it is anything but calm. And sometimes it’s obedience in a long direction.  But though that “delayed obedience” may take a winding path, when it ultimately returns to the Truth, the enemy of our souls cringe. And sometimes it is loving unbelievers bent on denying the reality of Christ or believers who confess the name of Jesus but think and live like it makes no difference; yet we do not compromise our words or actions to appease and “make nice” but firmly speak truth out of a great love for them and for our Savior.  And a tremble can be felt.

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

But He cannot destroy us.

We can have rest.

“The weary world rejoices” and so can we as we set our minds on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy”and not let the lies penetrate our soul.  Pain is real but so is the Savior who has promised peace for the brokenhearted, a way of return for the runner, rest for the weary.

Sin does not have to separate any further.   No, we don’t always follow perfectly, but we are in this world to be Christ’s image bearers, light shining in this generation, and we have been given the power to overcome.   When we fail (and we will), we can run to the Savior and humbly go to those we have wounded or sinned against and make it right.  We can admit to those who have witnessed our failure and cynically thought, “Well, there you go – I see there’s really no difference in a follower of Christ”and we can live as one changed.  For the difference is not in us; it’s in our Savior.

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

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

And it all began on that no so silent night!

We long for His return even when we feel too attached to this world.  This is Christmas!  The longing for Jesus to break through darkness and discouragement, hold us near to His heart, and equip us to rest even when circumstances cause our spirits to sometimes faint, even falter!

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

And Emmanuel has come.  It is finished!

Repairing Burned Bridges

God’s grace given and received repairs burned bridges, dismantles bitterness, and restores peace to the soul.

I love the times when God gives me the grace to step out of my comfort zone so He gets the glory.  Sometimes that involves a task for which I don’t feel equipped.  Sometimes it means reaching out to someone either I know dislikes me, for reasons real or imagined, or to someone I have hurt or who has hurt me.  Either way, it is taking God at His Word and watching Him do “super abundantly more than I can think or ask!”

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The enemy of our souls loves to make us fearful of situations and to take wounds we have received to nurture bitterness in our hearts towards others.  He loves to feed our insecurities and/or our indignation.

But God says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”  (Romans 12:18)  Not peace at any cost.  Not peace at the expense of Truth.  But where we are able to take that step and allow God to repair bridges that have been burned by hurtful actions or words; where we can say “Please forgive me” or “I forgive you,” that is where the healing begins not only for the other person but for ourselves.  And that is where God is glorified.

Our God shows His power in our weakness.  He urges us, by His grace, to act and asks us to respond to His promptings.  Will we ignore and choose to feed our resentment or our apprehension?  Will we justify our response?  Or will we, in humility before the Father, act according to His Word and reap the blessing of obedience?

Sometimes that blessing will come in the form of a healed relationship and sometimes it will be realized in the peace God gives simply because we have said, “Yes, Lord” and left the ultimate outcome to Him.

Recently, fear almost got the best of me.  I encountered an acquaintance who had become angry with my husband and I over a situation that we had not intended but had since taken measures to correct.  I knew I needed to speak – God made that clear and I was willing…until she got closer; then fear started to creep in and my desire to avoid the possibility of her anger again almost took over.  I began to justify my hesitance with thoughts such as “What does it matter now?” and  “Why put myself out there; we are only acquaintances not friends.”  But the Holy Spirit’s nudging continued and I moved towards her.  What ensued was nothing less than more of God’s superabundant mercy.

Understanding replaced anger; a common ground replaced fearfulness.  A burned bridge was rebuilt with a surer foundation.

I could have turned the other way and continued to nurture an attitude that probably never would have hurt the other person, for truly our paths rarely cross.  But the reality is that the attitude left unchecked would have changed me.  My self protection would clearly have been contrary to God’s call 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 12:15)

The enemy of our souls loves to take that which we leave unfinished, the small “root of bitterness,” and from it create a chasm by way of an unloving and unforgiving spirit.  Whatever part we have in the smoldering bridge, we must bring it to the cross and let the grace of God change us rather than let it slowly burn, eventually touching even our closest relationships.

There will be times, as has been the case before for me, that apologies will not be accepted, that another will not allow a passage to be rebuilt, that the relationship will not be restored.   But that is the “as far as it depends on you” part of Romans 12:18.  As we act in obedience and ask God to bring the healing and restoration as only He can, we are also modeling the grace of God before the other.  It is not our responsibility for them to accept that outreached hand, but it is the call from our Redeemer to offer it.

And, if the bridge is restored, we are to be the one to take the first step across and walk towards another for God’s glory and our great joy!

“Only love for Christ has the power to incapacitate the sturdy love for self that is the bane of every sinner, and only the grace of Christ has the power to produce that love.”      Paul David Tripp

 

Caretaker for the King

Sometimes glimpses into the past give us a renewed vision for the present; sometimes they are reminders of what we know is true.

Over the past months, I have been culling through a multitude of papers and journals in an attempt at reorganizing.  As I have read quotes from the mouths of my little ones, now grown, I have laughed and cried at the memories.  Reading journal entries of my own, I am reminded of the joy and the struggle that came from being a new mom and from later years when it was a new phase in the role which I had grown to love and cherish and for which God’s grace was much needed.

In the midst of the cleaning, I found this piece, “Caretaker for the King,” which I wrote 21 years ago when we had just two…a third would come along a year and a half later.   I post it on my blog as it is my heart’s desire for it to encourage those yet in the trenches and remind those of us with children now grown (and still growing), that these things remain true.

“I am no one extraordinary per se.  Whatever my children become, whoever they be – they are the Lord’s and I am a caretaker for the King.

That’s not to say that being a caretaker is not challenging or unimportant.  On the contrary, it is probably one of the most monumental and fulfilling challenges I could ever face.  But in the moments when I hold on too tightly or allow my children to become “idols,” I must stop, step back, and refocus.   A caretaker needs care as well.  For when my heart and eyes are on the King, I am a more effective caretaker in all ways. 

God has equipped them, provided each one with talents, gifts, and unique personalities.  Our job is to nurture that which He alone has instilled and is still unfolding in their lives.  We seek to direct and guide based on the infallible guidance we have received in God’s Word but which will always come through fallible hands – our own.  We are to model the King for our children so they will believe what they hear because of what they see. 

Mistaken at times.  Failing too often.  Yes.  Living between the now and the not yet, the frustration of my failures is, at times, overwhelming.  But God’s grace covers so much!  And through our foibles we are able to point the way to a forgiving Savior – the only perfection – and His power to grow us and make us more like Him.

Our two children have been given to us but for a time which oh so rapidly speeds by.  I want to redeem the moments, each small in and of themselves, but the multitude of which make up life and are immense.  Tyrannized by what “must be done” or by what the world says I deserve to do for myself, I often miss a teachable moment – for them or for myself  (sometimes, they are my “teachers”). To use these moments for God’s glory and their good or against God’s will and to their detriment — that decision is important and is made daily.  The task is rich and made possible only in Christ’s strength.

How will God use them – their talents, abilities, gifts, personalities, understanding?   Will they live them out for His honor?   However He may choose, may we be caretakers who encourage them to seek that goal, to press towards it, long for it, strive after it, and achieve all for the glory of the King and for the souls of men!  May we teach them well, taking great pleasure and joy in being caretakers of these little lives for the King!”