Making All Things New

He was an unpromising hero, keeping his head low to avoid unwanted attention and trying to be safe, even while on the inside he re-told the old stories of legacy and glory, miracles and powerful deliverance. He had no intention of stepping out of the familiar, even though the everyday was almost unendurable and fear was in the very air he breathed. Until one day God showed up on his doorstep (or more accurately in his field) and called him “mighty warrior,” as if he were not just a young farmer trying to feed his family. And Gideon scoffed, but there was this thrill of adrenaline and hope, this seed of change that might sprout into something bigger.

See, God knew Gideon better than he knew himself– the way he was wired, what he admired and longed for, what held him back. God knew Gideon because He had put him together. More than that, God knew how Gideon’s particular personality strengths and weaknesses interacted with his environment and shaped his perspectives, knew the exact circumstances it would take to spark change, move him along in his growing process. The Musician-King sang of God’s personal involvement in our shaping, His intimate knowing of who we are and who we are becoming: “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:15-16) 

In these days after Easter, with each branch sending out new green and flowers springing up in corners everywhere, it seems like anything is possible, a thrill of change in the air that might take us from where we are into something bigger and better. The women I know are cleaning out basement storage totes and upstairs closets, opening windows to air out bedrooms, and sweeping off porches, gathering up the accumulated debris in the yards from the Winter storms. And who knows where we could go from here as the world comes back to life? But the visible clutter is the easy part; on the inside we may be stumbling over piles of debris we think no one can see but us. And The Living One Who Sees Me (Genesis 16:14) knows just what it will take to get rid of the stuff that gets in our way: our reason, our self-sufficiency, our achievements, our to-do lists…..and our self-doubt, our past failures– all the ways we measure ourselves in this world and fall short.

God knows how we are made, what we long for, and who He intends for us to be. God shows up on our doorsteps and calls us by the name He gives us– no matter how crazy it may sound or how unlikely it may appear, as of yet. So Gideon the farmer is called Mighty Warrior, stumbles out of a winepress-turned-threshing-floor, and becomes the leader of a miraculous army that can set his people free, because God goes with him. Turns out that having no visible qualifications is just the material God is looking for, to accomplish the impossible.

I know a little boy who loves crawly things with a surprising amount of focus and passion (and entirely undeserved, considering the objects of his affection). One poor creature has made a cocoon despite its less-than-comfortable accommodations. It is in a countdown to transformation, the improbable cocoon a testament to the miracle of rebirth…and the Little One eagerly waits to see what will emerge from the tomb-wrappings. He has more faith than many of us older, who tend to forget that New Life is more than just a season of the year.

Maybe we have grown used to the baggage cluttering up our insides, learned to live crippled because we don’t know how to clean it all out…or maybe we are just afraid of the change and what might come next. Like Gideon, it seems better to keep your head down and stick with what you know (no matter how it presses and chafes) than listen for Someone calling you to a new name that makes no sense and means stepping out into the unknown. The older you get, the more transformation can feel impossible.

But this is the other side of Easter Sunday, and the angels are reminding us “…the child to be born will be called holy— the Son of God. For with God nothing shall be impossible.” (Luke 1:35, 37), and “He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay.” (Matthew 28:6) No one is too old, too broken, too jaded for a resurrection. And a little boy waits beside a cocoon for a new creature to emerge, and the Holy Spirit keeps on blowing this wind of change, calling us to throw open the windows and let Him make us new.

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…we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at Him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it!

2 Corinthians 5:16-17, The Message

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My future hangs on this
You make preciousness from dust
Please don’t stop creating me….
Oh Your cross, it changes everything
There my world begins again with You
Oh Your cross, it’s where my hope restarts
A second chance is Heaven’s heart

Second Chances, Rend Collective

Courage to do the Hard Things

We are all looking for a change, here at the start of a new year, and only in a good way. More peace, better health, less grief, calmer waters to navigate. I keep thinking about that One Word to adopt for the year, and how I would like it to be an easy word, just for once this time. And I know we all feel the same way, that life has been too complicated lately, too much to handle, and we could use a break– and who hasn’t felt the deceptive longing for “back to normal” (as if we didn’t used to feel stressed about life at all?). But let’s face it, if we are looking for growth, and becoming our best people, easy doesn’t look that good on us.

I look back over the past twelve months, and see the difficult paths we have walked, and how we have found God there, and unexpected grace leaking out of every weak and broken place. I wonder if I would trade any of it, given the chance. There have been holy treasures hidden along the way, and the beauty of shared burdens. We are not the same people we were a year ago, thanks to these hard things, and that’s not all bad.

I used to tell my kids “just because something is hard, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it,” and “anything worth doing, is worth doing well.” Because I wanted them to know that the longer, harder way is usually the best way. Better results in life, and better for our inner life of heart and spirit and mind. We were created to do the hard and wonderful things: to steward this created world for God’s glory, to walk with Him and worship Him with our whole selves, to image His beautiful nature. A high calling. A weighty responsibility. The biggest challenge is not getting distracted by shiny things that look more fun, or listening to the whispers that you deserve a break, just a little more me time.

The writer of Hebrews could have been standing here with us looking out at the year ahead, when he encouraged his readers: “So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.” (Hebrews 12:12-13). It’s solid wisdom for anyone: Pause and regroup, take a fresh hold on your life, and make a sensible plan for moving forward so that you will grow strong and not stumble. And he knew we needed that reminder that God is for us, acting with love and purpose– that what He does is “always good for us, so that we might share in His holiness.” (12:10)

There is nothing that can happen in the coming year that can overwhelm me or destroy me, if He is working good for me– so why would I fear? Just take the next step, into the unknown, and know that He will walk there too. And I can hear the promise that the Prophet Isaiah recorded for his people, still ringing true: “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior...” (Isaiah 43:2-3)

I am here, Lord, at the beginning of a new year, and you have my full attention. Everything may change this year, for all we know, but we know You will not. You are “the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). And You will be right there in the middle, whenever we look for You, just as You were this past year. No matter what we face, You will shine brighter. In every clamor of voices, You will speak more clearly. Regardless of how steep the path or how deep the valley, Your hand will uphold us. Only let us fix our eyes on You and run joyfully.

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Your love surrounds me
When my thoughts wage war;
When night screams terror
There Your voice will roar.
Come death or shadow,
God, I know Your light will meet me there.
When fear comes knocking,
There You’ll be my guard;
When day breeds trouble,
There You’ll hold my heart.
Come storm or battle,
God, I know Your peace will meet me there,
Again and again.

Prince of Peace, Hillsong United

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…let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus….For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

Giving Thanks

The cobalt glass on the windowsill.
The tree slowly turning to flame across the way.
The smells of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger.
Crisp, juicy-sweet apples.
Hugs that let me know I am not alone.
These are things I am thankful for today–
The offerings of praise lifted up
To recognize Your beauty, Your goodness,
painted across the canvas of Your creation.
I can taste and see that You are good,
And I will lift up my worship against the Darkness,
Hold fast to the Truth that has overcome.
There is hope that waits for the Morning,
And thanks-giving is our battle song.

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I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth….I sought the Lord and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.

Psalm 34:1, 4-5

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…’God is good’ is not a stale one-liner when all’s  happy but a saving lifeline when all’s hard….And every time I give thanks, I confess to the universe the goodness of God.

Ann VosKamp

Of Leaky Boats and Honest Faith

I gave up on church-going faith a long time ago. It just wasn’t big enough to carry me and all my baggage. Mind you, I loved it dearly, because it was a part of me from my earliest remembrance: the hymns that I knew by heart, the words of Scripture that convicted and encouraged and told me what life was supposed to be like, the kind smiling faces of the people who believed it, the gathering together many times a week, the long prayer lists of needs that we lifted up to the Heavenly Father…all these things framed my life and shaped my thinking from the beginning. And every bit of it was good.

But at some point everyone will find themselves in the middle of a storm, and when the darkness closes in, you just have to ask the hard questions, lean right into this Truth you’ve known all your life and find out if it is big enough to carry you. Because if the words God says are true, then they should make a difference in everyday life– or else what good are they? If they are real and living, like He says they are, then they need to apply to me and the real situations I am in, and to be as powerful as they were when He first said them to people long ago. Going to meetings won’t stop the waves from crashing into the boat. Doing all the good work won’t keep the creeping fear at bay, or help me sleep at night. Singing the songs and going to fellowships won’t change my home-life. When your boat threatens to go under, then you begin to see what really matters, and there is only the raw cry of need: Find me, change me, meet me here or I won’t make it through. If I have to pretend that everything is all right in order to fit into my faith, then I’m the one who is adrift in a leaky boat. The Musician-King David had no trouble being honest and raw about his need, and he knew that mere church-going wasn’t anywhere near enough. “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in His word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning….” (Psalm 130:5-6)

I see friends struggling with faith in wilderness places, and I get it. When the walls are crashing down and gut-wrenching prayers seem to go unanswered, it makes you wrestle with what you believe about the Person in charge of all this and how willing He is to get involved… in a way that a pedestrian list of public prayer requests never will. It makes me think that faith is a deeper, wilder, more frightening leap than we are led to believe. But when life brings you here, there is no turning back from the questions, and I can hear the Musician-King still singing, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” (Psalm 46:1-3) If God’s help and strength is more sure than the earth beneath us, then it is big enough for what I am facing, and at some point I need to stop seeing those as poetic words to read in church, and either choose to believe them, or not.

Once I stop relying on the church-going stuff and really start listening to what God is saying to me, I hear Him saying everything I need to hear. The Church-planter Paul recorded God’s promise to him when he was going through hard things: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) And I have to decide whether that answer– that promise– is big enough for the problems I face. Is it just a good church-going verse to memorize? Or is it a truth that is actually sturdy enough to hold up when I come pounding on the door in the middle of the night, with needs big enough to swallow us whole, and gritted-teeth reminders of the promises He made? Paul shared the hidden riches he discovered in his own hour of need: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” Somehow the way God met Paul in his storm made the pain worth it, in the long run. That speaks volumes to the needy heart.

So maybe there is a strange mercy in the storms that drive you to examine what you really believe God is doing, and what you are expecting from Him. And maybe the bravest thing you can do is to leave behind the faith you’ve always had, trade it for something bigger….finally give up on the tidy organized church-going-things that you can do yourself, and fling yourself heart and soul on the One who can do all things. Jesus’ words still ring through the raging storms with all authority, “Peace, be still.” (Mark 4:39) Not even the blessed existential peace of shalom, but the nitty-gritty everyday command to hush the clamor, stop the shrieking of chaos, still the frenzied activity… because the Lord your Maker has come to you. And some days that kind of practical peace is exactly what we need.

The wind and waves obeyed Him because they were His; it was that simple. Seems to me that our lives would be simpler too, if we had that relationship with our Maker; if we listened to what He said and obeyed just because we are His, bowing down to His power in complete trust and worship. I am gradually learning that this is a deeper faith: to fasten my eyes on Him and trust that His words are for me, that He is right here with me. It feels a little like stepping right out onto the waves, but I do believe His Kingdom is real life, and I choose to bend everything I see, and feel, and think, to fit with that Reality. Nothing safe and tidy about it, but honestly, it is finally big enough to carry me.

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Teach my eyes to recognize You;
Teach my lips tp glorify You.
Guide my feet so I can find You,
Wherever You are.
Be my way; I’m lost without You.
Be my light, shining through
My every breath, my every move,
Till every thought is You.

No Other Name (Unhindered)

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O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh faints for You, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

Psalm 63:1-2

Reminders for The Race

There is just this to say, to those running hard in the faith-race and maybe losing perspective:

You are never too far along to shed your skin and be made new. And neither is anyone else.  Because “we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18) He is still calling people closer to Him and He will not stop till the final breath. Don’t give up on our ability to change, in the Creator’s hands.

God’s promises are not too big for ordinary people to lay hold of. His resurrection power is at work in this world, and in us, whether or not we have eyes to see it. He is the Creator of all this ordinary who says “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3), and promises that He is working every last little thing into His good plans for us, and the ordinary will all be made extraordinary, in the end. That’s why Jesus came down here, remember? “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

The words He gave us are not simply inspiring thoughts and lofty ideals. No, they are  breathed out by His Spirit into the concrete limits of ink and paper, and yet by His power remain “living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword…and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) They are wisdom and reality, meant for us to take hold of and put into practice, despite what society may call normal and our experiences may tell us to settle for.

Just because you haven’t found your happy ending, doesn’t mean there is no such thing…and let me tell you this: your story is not over yet. Life in this world may have wounded and disappointed, time and again, and I know what it is to build walls against the hurt, and to learn to walk carefully, but how can you live Real and still keep the deepest places walled up?  There is a choice there, and you have to know there is Someone who intends to be those protecting walls for you– the sooner you learn to run to Him as a safe place to hide, the healthier your heart will be.

The Musician-King knew all about loneliness, and grief, and betrayal, and his songs are about his own real life journey: “Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the LORD: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; He is my God, and I trust Him….He will cover you with His feathers. He will shelter you with His wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.” (Psalm 91:1-2, 4) God defines what is right and good and beautiful and true with the Person of Jesus, and all this is His Story, from beginning to end– the Hero who slays the dragon, rescues the girl, and brings her home to His Father the King to live happily-ever-after.

See, when you are still in the middle of your story, where the action and the conflict is, it is easy to forget that all of us Jesus-followers get happy endings. What you see now is only a few chapters so far, and all the characters aren’t even fully developed yet. The Author is the only One who sees the entire story from Beginning to End– so don’t get sidetracked, muddling through the pages, and conclude this is all there is. I’m with the Church-Planter Paul, on this one: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18) 

So pick yourself up when people disappoint, and life hurts… and keep on running. Fasten your eyes on Jesus, pour out your heart to Him, and don’t give up. “…Hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5) 

Remind each other of this, and keep on keeping on.

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Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25

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Your vow’s a covenant unbroken
You’ve made it known through history
Your love will never be unfaithful
Never walk out on me…
I have no reason to doubt you
Who You’ve been You’ll always be
And though the future’s still unfolding
With everything I’ve seen
How could I not believe?

You are a promise keeper
Your word will never fail

Promise Keeper, Hope Darst

Dying to Run Well

With all this talk of what we believe, it might be easy to think that is all there is to living out our faith: just believe what is true and right and good, and off you go, running fast and straight. But Jesus said it clearly to anyone with ears to hear, that receiving His Words was only the first part of a process. “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24) We can listen and learn and accumulate understanding as if we are stockpiling treasure, but growth will not happen until our hearts and wills are engaged to put what we believe into practice– and this is where things get sticky. I heard a preacher say once that “Transformation occurs when we bring truth to bear on our souls….[it] is an active engagement, not a passive by-product.” (Rob Reimer) Change from the inside-out is more akin to battle…or the messy hard work of remodeling…or the labor pains of birth…actually, Paul says it is a death by execution. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there.” (Galatians 5:24) 

It’s easy to skim over that sentence, make it symbolic and spiritual because it is hard to hear in that matter-of-fact tone, and it is definitely not the kind of thing I want to write on my To-do list for today. The thing is, the passions and desires of my sinful nature live fully and messily in this everyday world, and we can pretty much guarantee they will not go quietly to an execution. There is no tidy way to go about this process, and Paul doesn’t really make it optional. It will take God’s radical interior makeover of my heart to make me want Jesus more than I want my happiness/comfort/convenience….to make me begin to shed those hindrances that so easily entangle a runner’s feet.

No question about it, putting what we believe into practice might be the hardest thing we ever do. Bending mind and will and emotion to conform to ideas that go against your very nature (no matter how lovely and true they are), will not feel like a good choice in the heat of the here-and-now. It will require the battle gear of Faith’s shield and Scripture’s sword, determination to run this race well, and a steady focus on the end goal of pleasing our Father the King; it will require running this faith-race of life the way Jesus did…in complete trust of His Father’s love and plans. “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

It is not a coincidence that Paul sandwiches his gory, earthy observation about the cost of living out our faith between detailed explanations of what it means to live in the power of the Holy Spirit. He knew that the only way we would ever have what it takes to put Self to death was by depending on our Divine Helper. He ends with this challenge: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25) The very One who made us alive again and calls us to follow Him, also makes His home with us and enables us to run this race. If I believe that, and am willing to plant my feet on that bedrock of Truth to wrestle with my wild emotions and destructive thoughts till they bow in obedience to that Divine Power, Jesus promises to make it happen.

Paul says that living in Jesus’ presence not only enables us to throw off the old ways of thinking, but also causes new habits to spring up: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”  (Galatians 5:22-23)….Jesus’ own character traits taking the place of what has died, and enabling us to run the race like He did. Let’s just be careful not to confuse what is good with what is easy.

My free will, and His power and sovereignty, working together to produce transformation on the inside? It is Mystery, and it is Truth. This is way too big for my To-do list for today– but it is on God’s agenda for me, so the only question is how well I will cooperate. Lord, help me to grow in my understanding of You and to put it into practice, even when it means the death of Me and what I want. I want You more.

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Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear.

Philippians 2:12

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 The greatest burden we have to carry in life is self. The most difficult thing we have to manage is self. Our own daily living, our frames and feelings, our especial weaknesses and temptations, and our peculiar temperaments– our inward affairs of every kind– these are the things that perplex and worry us more than anything else, and that bring us oftenest into bondage and darkness….You must hand yourself…all over into the care and keeping of your God, and leave them there. He made you and therefore He understands you, and knows how to manage you, and you must trust Him to do it.

Hannah Whitall Smith

Up Abraham’s Mountain

When Big-Brother James lays it out like he does, it is as plain as any road sign, and we’re all shaking our heads over how easy it is for us to lose sight of the simple Truth: faith and actions are entwined the way body and spirit are, and together they make up the life of a Christ-follower. Ignore either, and you are as lifeless as a corpse. It’s sad how in our sincere desire to be good we can detour off the path into wanting to be good enough or better than, until we find ourselves halfway up a useless tower with a hammer in our hands. It’s as if we’d never even heard the words of the ancient song, ” Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain…” (Psalm 127:1) And it’s just as likely that we will veer into a careless swamp of familiarity with Grace that lets us indulge our emotions, our desires, above obedience to God’s ways. James is warning us that both are the subtle bent of the Enemy. How tragically ironic that among the ranks of the gloriously Born Again there would be those who are walking dead and deceived.

No wonder Jesus can state unequivocally, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21) That may sound narrow-minded to modern ears, but He is only stating the facts, that you can spout all kinds of knowledge about God and build ministries that impress people, and still be dead as a doornail inside. Obedience that springs from a trusting heart is the only proof-positive of genuine faith. It’s as simple as that, and the signs of Resurrection Life in a person are that obvious: “… every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit….Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:17, 20) Big-Brother James challenges us to recognize fruit for what it is, and keep a close watch on our lives and on the Family of God in which we live. He warns, “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom…”(James 2:12)

We might not be so surprised at the way real faith manifests itself, if we think back to the Beginning. Eve looked long at the beautiful fruit, and listened to what the Enemy whispered about it… let the doubts grow in her mind that maybe God was taking something good away from her, and maybe He did not have her best interests at heart, and maybe if she wanted to get what she desired she should reach out and take initiative, show herself strong and intelligent and capable of plotting her own course in life. She let emotion and desire grow large, and when she acted she revealed what she truly believed– what she was willing to stake her life on. But just because you stake your life on something doesn’t make it true, and even a woman made with God’s own hands can lose sight of His love. We’ve been following in her footsteps ever since, captive to our ancestry in both our living and our dying.

So James holds up heroes for us as examples of real faith; Abraham and Rahab both faced the same tangle of emotions that Eve had– the same strength of desire, the same confusion about God’s intentions. And like her, their choices also revealed what they truly believed, because they stepped out in blind obedience, trusting that His Words were true no matter what their circumstances were screaming. Abraham climbed up that mountain with his precious son and a bundle of wood because the God he knew told him to make the sacrifice. Rahab trusted a couple strangers to protect her family when the city fell because she believed in a God she did not know.

In their hearts, faith was both proven and strengthened by their choices to obey; in their actions, obedience was an offering of worship to God as Maker and Ruler. They declared Him powerful and just and righteous when they held onto His promises instead of their desires. They declared His glory when they valued Him over family and home and culture. They declared His right to rule by following when it didn’t make sense, by trusting the future to His plans. “And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend.” (James 2:23)

And isn’t that what Jesus did for us in His suffering? He came to earth in order to obey God fully– in every confusing and painful circumstance, against every opposition, in spite of every human emotion He had. He trusted hard and said “Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Mark 14:36) And He looked forward to our trusting obedience and the righteousness He was providing for us, and He called us friends who would follow His example. He proved once and for all that obedience is the best way– the only way– to demonstrate what we truly believe.

**For Abraham’s story, read Genesis 22; Rahab’s story is in Joshua 2.

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But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8

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As I walk into the days to come
I will not forget what You have done
For you have supplied my every need
And Your presence is enough for me
Doesn’t matter what I feel
Doesn’t matter what I see
My hope will always be
In Your promises to me
Now I’m casting out all fear
For Your love has set me free
My hope will always be
In Your promises to me

Your Promises, Elevation Worship

When to Stop Praying

Originally published on March 8, 2015.

I remember her standing there in her driveway, confessing to me with a little laugh and a shake of her head: “I’ve been fighting with God about something for a little while now, and I should know better….I know He’s going to win in the end.” My mother-in-law was seventy-two then, and I remember smiling with her in rueful acknowledgement of divine sovereignty and human emotions–the lesson that takes a lifetime to learn. I think of her often in my own storms, when it gets hard to be still and know that He is God. Even when you know all along Who is in charge and to Whom your heart will bow in the end, still the heart needs time to process, time to find new perspectives and lay down its natural reactions. These don’t come naturally, and there is wisdom in that admission– that prayer isn’t the suspending of our wills, but the bowing down of them. Not the denying of our emotions but the sharing of them in intimate relationship. And it is the willingness to go through the changing process that is our offering of worship to the King. As Paul wrote to the Romans “…let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

This is where prayer is so invaluable to us, because in that private space we can honestly pour out every thought and feeling without regard for how correct it is, or how mature, or how admirable.  It is the one safest place to be real: in the presence of the Person who made us, the One who went through death and back, for us. As long as our end goal is to please Him and do things His way, He is unfailingly patient with the process of getting us there. And as long as we are opening the door to Him in prayer, we are allowing Him the opportunity to interact with us, grow us, help us understand Him better, which is what He wants most of all.

When all the words have run out and the storm of emotion has run dry, there is left a quietness in His presence, and the comforting of His Spirit. The situation may not have changed at all, but the heart waits, knowing that He understands, and stands alongside. This is the gift of prayer. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6)

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Practically then, I say, Pray as He did, until prayer makes you cease praying. Pray until prayer makes you forget your own wish, and leave it or merge it in God’s will.

Frederick Robertson

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Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Trusting Love

Originally published on February 3, 2012.

If I had a nickel for every time someone told me “I have trust issues,” I would be rich right now. And besides, don’t we all, in one way or another? Especially after this last year of world-wide upheaval and craziness. When I look around at all the ways our broken hearts hurt each other…and the sting of rejection each of us has felt for not being Enough …and the sheer insistence on self-promotion and self-interest and self-wellbeing in every area of life, the real question is how any of our scarred, let-down, betrayed hearts could be healed enough to trust. And it is a vital question, because our very lives depend on it. I keep thinking of how Jesus pulled a little child close and told the disciples: “…unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3). If it takes the innocence and inexperience of a small child, we are all of us coming much too late to the table.

But what if trust is not a matter of how much we know of life’s ugliness, but how well we know we are deeply loved? What if it is not about keeping a heart whole, but about giving up trying, and accepting the brokenness and the weakness as the reason to run to Someone Bigger? It is the humility and transparency of a child that brings us to the Kingdom; the utter unselfconsciousness of knowing our need and knowing that we belong to Someone who will take care of us. In the kingdom, trust equals surrender to the King, and it makes me think that often our trust issues are more a matter of how well we know HIm and what we believe about Him.

I often think of Amy Carmichael, a pastor’s kid in the mid-1800s, who grew up involved in ministry to the poor of Northern Ireland– a girl who knew the presence of God from childhood.  When she was 20 she heard the missionary pioneer Hudson Taylor (founder of China Inland Mission) speaking in England, and followed God’s call into missions work herself.  Not to China, but to India, where her heart was torn open at the discovery of young girls sold into prostitution in the Hindu temples. The Dohnavur Fellowship that she began there, soon became orphanage and school and home to eventually over a thousand children that she rescued, all of whom called her Amah (“mother”). It is an inspiring story, but what stands out about her most is the intimacy of her relationship with God and how it shaped and defined her life.

Amy was sickly and weak all her adult life, never married, a prolific writer from her bed where she was often confined, loving and self-giving, and brave as a lion when it came to rescuing a child who needed help.  She once said that missions work was “a chance to die”….to self, to comfort, to all but the love and life of the Savior.  And in that hot, dusty, hard place in southern India, she found the love of God a never-ending fountain of Living Water, enough to quench her own thirst and enough to heal the hurting children she loved.

Despite the poverty and disease and children bearing unthinkable things, Amy could say “…cruelty and wrong are not the greatest forces in the world. There is nothing eternal in them. Only love is eternal.” She devoted her life to pursuing her Savior and loving others as He had loved her. She saw the reckless love of God that leaves Heaven to find the lost sheep; she knew His heart, and could not say no when He said Go to far-away India to rescue the little ones sold into slavery. That same endless love runs to the ends of the earth for me, to redeem my life from the darkness. And I hear the Beloved Disciple John’s words: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him.” (1 John 4:9)  How could we not trust a love like that?

Amy Carmichael spelled out faith like this: “…we trust all that the love of God does; all He gives, and all He does not give; all He says, and all He does not say.  To it all we say, by His loving enabling, I trust.  Let us be content with our Lord’s will, and tell Him so….The more we understand His love, the more we trust.” (Edges of His Ways, p.175) Giving up control to someone else is easy when that Someone loves you more than His own life, when you know Him well enough to put all your doubts to rest.

I choose to trust You today, Lord; help me to trust You more.  Not only what You bring to my doorstep, but also the things You say No to.  I trust that You are good and that You love me deeply, and that the things You give me are what I should have this day, no matter whether they seem happy or sad.  Even when things don’t make sense, I choose to say I trust You just because I know Your love.

**For more about Amy Carmichael, read A Chance to Die, by Elisabeth Elliot.

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I wait for You now
Like the desert waits for the rain;
Like a child at the end of the day
I know You’ll come through.
I trust what You say,
As a treasure no one can take;
Every word so steady and safe
You always come through.
And all You’ve ever shown
Is love that’s willing to go
To the ends of the earth for me.
And all I’ll ever need
Is who You are to me
This love that’s willing to reach
To the ends of the earth for me.

Coming Through, Kim Walker-Smith

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For this reason I bow my knees before the Father…that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith– that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  

Ephesians 3:14, 16-19

Where Do We Go from Here?

If the difficulties of the past year have stripped away the comfortable veneer we wear– exposed what we actually value, what we actually depend on for well-being and security, and where we look to for deliverance– then the start of the new year begs us to consider what we will do with what we have learned. And my influence in the big wide world may be limited, but here in my heart I can choose to make a difference.

In the light of upheaval, my daily routines are thrown into sharper focus, and I find myself wanting to leave behind careless habits and mindless old grooves worn deep. As I step away from the lifestyle I took for granted, I can see how often I have done things to please others or to find comfort, and how slow I have been to learn wisdom. Difficult times have a way of shining a spotlight on just how flimsy and foolish is the shelter you are building, and how unreliable the foundation can be. As the calendar turns, I don’t know what this new year holds, but I want to know God better through His Word, and to build stronger… to pursue more wholeheartedly the things He values. There is freedom in a fresh start– whether it is a clean unwritten page in a planner, or the dawn of a new day in which to find His mercies poured out– and here within the boundaries of my heart I am free to change, to make better choices, and to grow.

This year I can choose to trust God more in what He gives and what He does not give. I can choose self-sacrifice, and generosity, and giving thanks in all things. I can choose above all to hope in His goodness, and to be awake to the transforming presence of His Spirit. The Church-planter’s words are ringing in my ears as he says “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2) And if it is tempting to point fingers at all the institutions and individuals out there who have let us down in the past twelve months, then let us take responsibility to do better…be better…in our own circles in the months to come. Let us choose to turn our eyes on Jesus and what He is accomplishing through these difficulties, and let us rejoice in all the unexpected ways He provides for us, when we seek Him.

The Church-planter is laying it out plain as day for us….

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.  Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

Romans 12:9-16

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Scripture is filled with real people who had real failures, real struggles, real inadequacies, and real inabilities. And God shook the earth with them. For it is not so much from our strength that God draws, but from his own invincible might.

Scott Sauls