Time Well-Spent

In this season when familiar everyday life has put on a new unfriendly face, I think we all are trying to figure out how to live here. How to do our jobs when work has invaded our personal space. How to fill up our time when we’ve just crossed off entire weeks of appointments on our calendars. How to sleep at night and fend off stress and creeping fears. How to find enough patience and kindness for the people we live with. It can feel like only so much trouble and wasted time. But this question of how to live well– right here, right now– follows me around these days, and I’m looking for answers.

I often think that the writer James sounds like a practical big brother, who doesn’t have any trouble telling you how you ought to live and what you should be doing. And there he is, starting his letter right off with “Dear brothers and sisters,when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.(James 1:2-3) Honestly, where we are right now I’d probably be satisfied with just staying calm, keeping everyone entertained, mopping the kitchen floor, and finding something for dinner from what’s in my pantry…maybe a phone chat with a friend along the way to maintain sanity. But clearly God has bigger ideas of what should be happening in times of trouble. Maybe this isn’t just a matter of waiting and surviving. Maybe this blatant interruption to life could be an opportunity for growth, a pressing on into new life. I can almost feel the Spirit knocking on my heart, pushing down walls, shaking what is to make way for what could be. And I can hear His still small voice: “For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?” (Isaiah 43:19)

This week I picked up a magazine that has been lying on the end table for a month, waiting for a spare free moment, and there’s this unexpected word from a well-known house and home writer about her life’s journey. We have to believe that where we were yesterday and where we find ourselves today matter for who we become tomorrow….What is there to learn here and now? How can I make this time significant? If we can lean into that perspective, it can make all the difference between whether it feels like a season wasted or a season well spent. (Joanna Gaines) She may have been talking about her career choices, but I know perfectly well the message is for me right here, right now, as clearly as if it had been written in the margins. And I know it feels easier to settle into survival mode and wait this out, but what if the way we figure out these new paths is to realize they are not unexpected in any way that matters, and we are here for a reason?

The same God who created us rules all things. The same God who “…reduces the rulers of this world to nothing…. gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.”(Isaiah 40:23, 29) The Musician-King reminds us of His attention to detail with his song: “You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book.” (Psalm 139:16) He knew that we would be exactly here at this time and place at this point in our faith-journey…knew how the shifting of our lives would call out the best and worst in us, and how facing this difficulty would shape our perspectives and choices. And now it’s a little easier to see the joy that James was talking about, in knowing we are entirely secure in His hands. The song lifts again, “He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.” (Psalm 91:4)

This week I am hearing women say that they appreciate the time to step back from busyness and think; they are spending time in prayer, reading more. Families are playing games and baking, working on house projects together. Friends are sending cards to those who are isolated, making phone calls. People are taking the time to sit on the porch with a cup of coffee and admire the world coming back to life after the Winter. They are living intentionally in the here and now, choosing to make this time matter. It will make all the difference. James says it is shaping who we become. I can choose whether I spend today on myself or others, the words I speak, where I set my heart…. I can look around to see what God is doing in this time, and cooperate with Him to make this season well-spent. The best way to live well no matter how life looks is to stay close to Jesus.

The Musician-King’s songs are lifting high: “You make known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.” (Psalm 16:11)

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In these days and weeks of quarantine, each of us will be tempted to seek our own pleasure in isolation rather than seek our own good or the good of those around us. We will be changed by what we choose. The patterns of life we adopt while our regular responsibilities are on hold will shape who we will be when this is all over.

Philip Johnston

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For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:5-8

Finding a Safe Distance

So we are into our second week of “temporary isolation,” and already the culture is molding into a new normal. The ads coming onto my screen have shifted from Easter outfits to cozy pajamas for staying home. Recipes in my inbox are all about comfort food and using pantry staples. People who have been too busy pursuing life to stop and chat are suddenly sending texts and Friend requests as if they would love nothing better than to catch up. The jokes keep getting better. And we finally have the time to watch our favorite TV series on Netflix, paint the living room, or learn to crochet.

It’s strange how a crisis will bring out both the worst and the best in people. I think every one of us wrestles with anxiety… feels the gnawing uncertainty of the future. And maybe it is easy to think of our own family’s needs and risks as being most pressing. But it’s not all bad. If this pushes us to pray more about where we are, and depend on God, then we are a step ahead of where we were a month ago. If this causes us to appreciate family and friends more, or to engage in deeper conversations with others, then we are growing into a healthier and better place. If our hearts go out to others and the burdens they are bearing, whether financial or physical or emotional, and we extend ourselves toward those needs, then we are learning how to be the hands and feet of Christ in real life. If this separation from all our everyday pursuits allows time for families to work together and play together and talk about serious life issues together, then are we not building stronger homes in our togetherness? It seems that distancing from our busy lives and personal pursuits might give us a nudge to draw closer to the relationships that really matter.

As I listen to different voices speak about the current crisis over the past week, the contrasts are striking. Voices of alarm and anxiety. Voices of wisdom and hope. There is beauty in hearing the Family of God giving thanks, in hearing their words of encouragement and appreciation to one another, in expressing love and unity and a desire to serve. And what if this is how we grow into who God wants us to be? This very situation and how we respond to it can be the cultivating fertile ground of the next level of growth in our faith. Maybe it really is all a matter of distance– and I’m thinking the safest place to be right now is as close to the Good Shepherd as possible. I can hear the promise written down for us: “Come near to God and He will come near to you.” (James 4:8) He is always right there, as close as my next breath– it is me that must practice opening my eyes to see Him at work…slowing down enough to pay attention…being quiet and still to hear His voice.

That’s one thing that has not changed: We can always have more of Jesus, if we are willing to pay the price. Because saying yes to one thing always means saying no to something else, and I get to choose what I want more. So in this time of saying no to so many things, let me say yes to His doing a new and deeper thing in my life. And help me seek out the certain things He has for me to do in this strange new season of life.

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What we think, how we feel, our motives, and both the large and microscopic choices that make up our days are the environment the Spirit’s work is planted in. When the environment is right, the fruit of the Spirit grows. We are asked, even commanded, to cultivate a place where the Spirit of God remains.

Heath Adamson

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Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:12-17

Peace Is A Choice

Originally published on October 28, 2013.

“…you and I make the sacrifice of trust when we face the painful and distressing realities of our life and then choose to trust God instead of panicking and falling apart. When circumstances in my life might tempt me to panic, feel terrified, become a nervous wreck, or be filled with dread, I can choose either to give in to those feelings or to trust in God and present myself to Him to be filled with His peace. And I must make this conscious choice each and every day….” (Elizabeth George)

This is the practical truth of God’s Word applied to our everyday. If Jesus is our Prince of Peace, then dwelling in His presence is all the peace we could ever hope for. Not the absence of stressful circumstances but the presence of the God who holds all things in His hand. When I know down deep in the very core of my being that He is Who He says He is, then I can echo the song-writer: “The Lord is my light and my salvation— so why should I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)

I see this, that if I am worried and frightened, it says more about the state of my heart than it does about either my surroundings or about His ability to do all things well for me. So each day I will choose to lay down my fears at His feet, sacrifice my fretful worries on the altar of faith, trust the One who is bigger than all of us.

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You hear me when I call;
You are my morning song.
Though darkness fills the night,
It cannot hide the light.
Whom shall I fear?
You crush the enemy
Underneath my feet;
You are my sword and shield
Though troubles linger still.
Whom shall I fear?
I know who goes before me;
I know who stands behind;
The God of angel armies
Is always by my side…

Chris, Tomlin, The God of Angel Armies

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Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

When Nothing Seems Certain

The familiar path of Lent winding in and out of weeks toward Easter has led us into unfamiliar landscapes this year, and it’s easy to feel like we are suddenly adrift. But I open the curtains to greet a new day and the morning rains have soaked the ground again. Daffodils are pushing slim green stalks out of the ground and the birds are twittering in the puddles. The earth is coming alive around us, no matter what the Evening News said last night. It anchors my spirit, seeing how these simple things do not change…and maybe they are the largest most important things of all, because they are the foundations on which we stand.

This earth in all its complexity, springing forth from nothing at the words of a Creator God, is held in its rhythms day by day with the strength of His will, and all of us are born and die within its seasons. I can get wound up in the worries and needs of my own life, and forget the larger perspective. It is good for me to stop and look at the softening ground and the budding trees that continue to do what God made them to do, despite the growing stresses of human governments. It calms my spirit to remember that the Winter was turning to Spring without fail, long before I was born, and that my own seasons have come and gone through the years. Time will flow on– what presses so hard now will soon only be memory, and I will change and grow within its movement. This is truth that remains. The Musician-King said God wrote His name in the skies as a reminder for us: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth…” (Psalm 19:1) And isn’t this the purpose of Lent, to slow down and listen, pay attention to the truth woven into creation and remember that we were made to worship Him?

So today I remind myself that the days will keep counting down to Easter resurrection, and nothing can change the miracle that happened in that Garden Tomb so long ago. This is big-picture truth to hang onto, an unmoving foundation for our spirits no matter what comes into our everyday life. We cling to this promise, that “…He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of His Spirit who lives in you.: (Romans 8:11) Our lives are bound up in Christ’s death and resurrection, a miracle much too large to be affected by the shifting curves of statistics or the fears of what if. We do not know what the next months hold, but God does, and He is already working all things out. His song echoes down through the centuries, “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)

The grass is turning green this week under the grace of rain, and the Creator’s compassions are new every morning, as they have ever been. Easter is coming.

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Grander earth has quaked before,
Moved by the sound of His voice;
Seas that are shaken and stirred
Can be calmed and broken for my regard.
And through it all, through it all
My eyes are on You;
And through it all, through it all
It is well…

It Is Well, Kristene DiMarco

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Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet My unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor My covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

Isaiah 54:10

Almost Spring

Originally published on March 26, 2014.

Here in this season of Lent, instead of fasting and acts of self-denial, we are counting our thanks out on paper, feasting on grace. We are looking ahead to Easter and the resurrection, and rejoicing in the Giver of life.

And I find this to be true, that when eyes are wide open to see “Every good and perfect gift…from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17), there is joy welling up that has little to do with visible circumstances. The Musician-King’s song echoes here: “You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11) Maybe not that we get some unspecified list of treats, as if we were spending the weekend with grandparents, but that the more we live in His presence, the more we experience the depths of His grace and goodness. No wonder the saints of long ago wrote down that the primary purpose of man was to glorify God and enjoy Him forever…getting to know an Eternal Almighty Being is liable to take forever, and the Psalm-Writer says it is all joy.

And you can tell, when you spend time with people, the ones who get this mystery of thankfulness, because the daily choice to recognize grace– when you name it in every little manifestation and offer your praise back up to the Giver– has a way of changing you on the inside. The daily discipline of humble thanks-giving stocks my Thought Closet with more of Him and less of me. Thankfulness chases away resentment and discontent, calms the spirit, focuses my thoughts on the things that are true and honorable and lovely, just like the Apostle Paul advised. He made that same connection between rejoicing and thanksgiving– said it should shape our lives and our prayers, promised good results: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

So as we prepare for Easter and look forward to new life springing out of the ground into green, we go on counting, day by day, tuning our hearts to see the gifts around us, to sing God’s praises–and it’s like we are setting the cross of Christ in the middle of all our days. Because these many little blessings are only glimmers of that one great rugged signpost to grace, where God’s Passion made everything new.

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Speak to me…
You’re the only voice I want to hear.
Walk with me…
Show me who You are as I draw near.
If You’re not in it
Then I don’t want it;
Let all else fade away.
Take the whole world
But give me Jesus;
Let all else fade away.

Fade Away, Passion

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“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32)

Faith Answers the Door

Originally published on March 10, 2014.

Fear came knocking this week. I am not by nature a brave or adventurous person, so I know that visitor well. I am very familiar with it in all of its manifestations, have learned in the trenches to fight back with the Truth of God’s Word, found that maybe faith isn’t so much about banishing fear as it is about stepping off the cliff anyway and believing that there is Someone whose everlasting arms are beneath you.

Nevertheless, this week fear showed up on my doorstep again. It underlined the uncertainties of trying something new, pointed out all the ways this could flop sideways into chaos and frustration for a whole roomful of people, and I would be responsible. It called on the telephone with a whole list of what if’s for the future, all the possibilities for pain and loss. It chirped in text messages about questions left unanswered and days long waiting, wondering what end will be written to their stories. It tied itself in knots about wrong choices made that will have any number of miserable consequences, and fretted about people not having more sense. It crept in through the cracks… seeping into my dreams at night, hovering in the background of everyday activity, piling up in my heart till I could hardly breathe under the weight of it.

And by the end of the week I could see how George MacDonald was right in that old classic children’s tale, when he observed “But that is the way fear serves us: it always sides with the thing we are afraid of.” (The Princess and The Goblin) And I see yet again how fear magnifies the waves around me, drains my strength, makes me forget the One who walks with me and speaks “Peace, be still” to the storm. I am no Peter, to jump out of the boat at a moment’s notice. Never mind that he actually managed to walk on water with his eyes on Jesus for even a few minutes; the fear-tentacles pulling Peter down into deep dark water is what always stands out to me in that story, and the way Jesus grips His hand hard. ” ‘You have so little faith,’ Jesus said. ‘Why did you doubt me?’ ” (Matthew 14:31)

See, it wasn’t about the stormy waves at all. It was about what a man could trust and where he could plant his feet solidly enough to stand. And if there is one thing I have found, it is that Jesus keeps calling us into the unknown, asking us to follow Him, and we need to know what to stand on. Someone remembered in our small group about a saying she always heard at home: “When fear comes knocking, answer it with faith.” Indeed, faith is the only good answer to that familiar, unwelcome visitor. Faith ignores all the uncertainties, all the what-ifs, all the unknowns and mistakes and regrets, and does what is right anyway. Faith stands in the middle of the dark amid crashing waves that threaten to swallow up the world, and fixes its eyes on Jesus, finds peace.  Paul wasn’t writing a pleasant Thought for The Day when he said “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done.” (Philippians 4:6) He was telling us what to do when fear rises, giving directions on how to find calm when storms surround.

Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7) Pray, ask specifically for help, give thanks…. it reads like a prescription for peace.

It’s a choice, of course, like everything else in our faith-growth process: which voices we will listen to, what we will focus our thoughts on…how to answer the door when fear comes knocking.

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For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

2 Timothy 1:7

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You call me out upon the waters:
The great unknown, where feet may fail.
And there I find You in the mystery;
In oceans deep,
My faith will stand….
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders;
Let me walk upon the waters,
Wherever You would call me.
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander,
And my faith will be made stronger,
In the presence of my Savior.

Oceans, Hillsong United

The Moment of Truth

One of the worst things about adding on the years is that feeling that you are running out of time– to get it right, to fix the broken things, learn how to live well– and after all this time, shouldn’t you be getting better at all of this? What if there simply aren’t enough second chances in life, or even third, fourth, or fifth ones? Maybe after all the blind alleys you’ve run down, and all the winding detours, you just stop wherever you are someday, and that’s as far as you get. It’s a recurring thought that haunts me.

But we talk around the table about recognizing the real Enemy of our souls. About fighting the real battles in life instead of the flesh-and-blood people we see everyday. And how we have been hearing the roaring lies of that Adversary all our lives, until it is just so much background noise. We encourage one another to examine the words we tell ourselves, and replace the lies with Scripture-truth, one line at a time. A habit has to start somewhere, so we take the first step again and again every day. It takes practice to build any skill, and the beloved disciple John reminds us that it is our responsibility to seek out truth and walk in its light, because “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). He is crystal clear about the outcome of our efforts: “…if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7) And as we ask for wisdom and eyes to see, the truth takes root in our souls.

A sister-mentor writes this week in startling black and white that “you aren’t all you want to be and neither is anyone you love” (Ann VosKamp), and there is a sudden burst of clarity– what CS Lewis called undeception— that reveals my haunting fear as nothing more than the Enemy’s roaring in the night. Every glossy magazine article out there, each stunning decorating idea and delicious recipe we pin, every beautiful photo in a blog post, each crammed-full calendar page is subtle pressure to measure up. Every opinion from someone we care about, even the helpful book on how to improve this-or-that weighs in on the phantom scale measuring the worth of our lives. It’s no wonder that women suffer from anxiety and depression. But you know, even if everyone is convinced of the same lie, it doesn’t make it any less false. I could work myself to the grave and never satisfy those impossible standards. I bow broken to realize that I will never be enough….we are all not-enough…. and that is the bare truth that takes a certain kind of courage to face. It feels like fighting my way through the shell of this world, splintering through the veneer of perfection into a freedom that admits my inability and is content to be real and imperfect, because Christ is sufficient in all of His glory. Happy are the poor in spirit, who know they are beggars in every way that matters, for the King of Heaven has come down to them with outstretched arms.

Who I am is not about what I have done but about the Creator who made me and knows me by name, calls me His own and beloved. Nothing I fear, and nothing I have done will change who He is or how He sees me. This is truth to stand on and truth that can fight the Enemy’s lies. For every misdirection the Adversary throws at me, there is an answering Word of Scripture that solidly defends against his attack. The Church-planter Paul sums it up in one of his most beloved paragraphs, and I can only imagine the joyful tears and hallelujahs that were offered up in the gathering when this letter was first read aloud to the early believers: “Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us….I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:34, 37-39) Amen and amen.

The years of my life will be full of mistakes and detours and slow-learning lessons. But they will also be full of the grace and lovingkindness of the Savior. And there will be just the right number of years for this honestly real and not-enough girl to do the things He has for me to do. The Church-planter writes confidently, “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1:6) He will be enough for me in whatever time I have left.

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Shame takes what we’ve done and uses it to attack who we are….Shame can only operate in the shadows of our fears, but when we bring those fears to light they lose their power….See, truth does the opposite of shame. Truth takes who we are and uses it to attack what we’ve done….We do all of this with God’s word because nothing is truer than what God has said.

Paul Jenkins

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In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one…. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

Ephesians 6:16,18

Wise Women Build Strong Houses

(Originally published January 29, 2014.)

It really does matter what you believe down inside. It is neither abstract nor separate from everyday life. It’s what the Wise King warned about: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23) It’s easy to apply that to the importance of keeping a heart pure from sin, but his caution is so much deeper and more vital than that. Above everything else you do in life, guard what you believe to be true, for that will form the framework of the life you build; it will determine the way you perceive the world around you, others, God, yourself.  What you believe about reality will determine your values, your goals, your decisions. What you believe will shape your responses to everything you experience, so be careful and guard your heart– this is vital for living.

And yet, when you think about it, how unconsciously and gradually those beliefs and perspectives were built, most of them when we were too young to even question or evaluate them. My worth depends on my performance…or my looks…or my possessions…or my position. My happiness depends on being loved and approved of…or being in control…or satisfying my desires…or having everything go well. All childish sandcastles that could never sustain the weight of a real life. It doesn’t matter precisely how or when we acquired them– they are all only variations of the first lie we listened to, way back at the beginning of time, when the Serpent whispered in Woman’s ear that maybe God wasn’t really Who He said He was, wasn’t really enough for them. Try something else, he said, and she did. And we did. All of us, building fragile on things that shift with the tide.

The children sing on Sunday morning, little fists thumping gleefully one atop the other as they lay up bricks: “The wise man built his house upon the rock, the wise man built his house upon the rock, and the rains came tumbling down…” Because the storms do that, in life, full floods bursting in when you least expect it, or even just the slow steady dripping that rises till it is mountain-high, and that’s when you get to see what a house is really made of, no matter how it looks on the outside.  I ask the children if the song is really about building houses and they quickly shake their heads no. They anticipate my question now, because we talk about it every time we sing the song. We talk about how we are building our lives, and it matters what we build on; any foundation other than Jesus’ teachings is shifting sand, like sandcastles on the beach when the waves rush in. “The foolish man built his house upon the sand, and the rains came tumbling down.” The little ones love to crash to the floor at the end, laughing at how the house on the sand collapsed as the floods came up.

But I have seen whole lives collapse under the weight of losing a career…the sheer pain of carving up a marriage…the inexorable advance of cancer…the slow despair of years that eat up dreams. Those kinds of floods bring utter ruin, unless your house is built on solid Truth.

No matter what I have or don’t have, my house can stand if I have this: “Be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ ” (Hebrews 13:5) Regardless of what sorrow comes, and no matter how hard the winds blow, we have an unshakable foundation: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Relationships may fail to nourish, and people we should be able to trust can prove wildly undependable, but Peter shouts out joyfully that we are valued and loved by the One who sent His Son to die for us: “… you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9) There is Truth to put down in the center of our hearts and guard with all our might, if we know where to find it.

James urges his readers: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5) Just go looking in the right place, the Elder Brother says…go right to the source, and you will find the wisdom you need.  But you had better be ready to look deep inside yourself and confront what is really there, because many of us have learned the right words– what we say we believe– even while living out a different set of beliefs at the core of us. It’s easy to convince ourselves that we are building strong, when all we are really doing is painting the same old flimsy structure and planting flowers. No wonder the writer of Hebrews emphasizes the power of Scripture in our lives, calling it  “…alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) If you want to know what you really believe, God’s Word is the measuring stick and the light that shines into the darkest, most hidden closets.

And the Wise King waxes eloquent about the benefits of building strong. “By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.” (Proverbs 24:3-4)

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In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid Ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

In Christ Alone, Keith Getty

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A wise woman builds her home, but a foolish woman tears it down with her own hands.

Proverbs 14:1

Who Are You?

(Originally published on January 18, 2014.)

It’s odd, really, the way we define ourselves in terms of what we do and who we know. Daughter of these parents…accountant for this firm…mother of this child…horse-lover…nurse…artist…wife…good cook…best friend. We spend our whole lives looking for where we fit in, searching for the labels that will tell us who we are and make us feel good about ourselves….and then hanging onto those for dear life, because what if we lose those definitions and have nothing left? I guess when we come into this world under the proud gaze of two young parents, the first label is already waiting for us with the name they choose, and it never even occurs to us to stop collecting as we go, to step back and question the whole mind-set.

But we who know the Creator have a larger picture to consider, because our lives are not bounded and defined by what happens on this earth. Long before we were laid in our parents’ arms, Someone dreamed us up and designed us down to the smallest detail, saw all of our decisions in all of our days, knew what we would do and who we would become, chose where to put us down into those parents’ arms. “I am God’s workmanship. I am valuable to God.” He who calls all the stars by name and holds them in their places knows the real me– the person I am on the inside– and loves me for that, just because He made me. “I am God’s treasure. I am capable.” And we who know the Savior have an identity that He gives us– Truth to live by that is so much bigger than what we do, or who we know. “I am forgiven. I am free. I am being transformed. I am welcome in Gods’ presence.” Because when you know God for Who He really is, you can begin to know yourself for who you really are.

There is stability in knowing who you are on the inside, in laying aside the outside labels that come and go, that may be ill-fitting and even destructive, or may not ever fully materialize the way we wish they would. There is a freedom in being who God made you to be, laying down the worry about what others want you to be. There is security in knowing you are completely loved, no matter whether you succeed or fail.

And when we go around the room and read these truths to one another, I see it on each face, hear it in the voices soft and reverent: the power of Truth to nourish souls. “I am a new creation. I am gifted with power, love, and a sound mind. I am an heir of God. I am God’s delight.”

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The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become – because He made us. He invented us. He invented all the different people that you and I were intended to be. . .It is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.
 

CS Lewis

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Before the throne of God above,
I have a strong and perfect plea;
A great High Priest whose name is Love,
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands;
My name is written on His heart.
I know that while in heav’n He stands,
No tongue can bid me thence depart…

Before the Throne of God Above, Bob Kauflin

Of Snowfall and Forgiveness and All Things New

They keep calling for snow, and it happens this way every year, waiting for the first deep blanket of white to hide the bleakness of Winter. It’s like the world has been reduced to its bare bones, and shivers beneath the gray sky, waiting for a covering. And after the rushing around and the beauty of the holiday decorations sometimes it feels like everything has come to a dead stop. You can catch a glimpse of huddled hearts, just trying to survive in this world…putting on a good face and waiting for something to change…feeling like a failure…wishing for a chance to start fresh.

The tree and the holiday decorations are still here, because now I can actually slow down and soak them in. The lights shine bright in the Winter gloom. Every time I see the field of stars and the soaring angel in the nativity, I remember telling the children about Jesus’ birth, and how creation itself sang out, “Welcome, welcome, we are so happy You are here!” It was the best present ever. I think of how often I have yearned for the happiness of Christmas to cover all the aching broken places– but there is only so much you can fix, and don’t we all wish the Peace on earth, goodwill to men could go on after the calendar page turns? I want to believe that the wounds of this world can heal. It’s seeing hearts change, and souls mended, lives turned around for good that keeps me hanging onto hope. And as I contemplate the rough wood of the stable in this Winter light, I see the cross there, too– it is beautiful awe-full Mystery, how the stuff of creation becomes an altar upon which the Creator offers Himself up.

And January hangs on the wall: an invitation to new beginnings, the anticipation of new possibilities whispering in our hearts because of Emmanuel, God with us forevermore. Listen hard, and you can hear the longing for God to make a way where there seems to be no way, as we search for our One Word, and dive into new projects, and refocus on healthy habits. We are all in the same boat, wanting reassurance for the regrets of the past year, and a hope for the year to come…that somehow these months will be meaningful and count for something of worth in the long run. By now I have learned that filling in those days with my own ideas and efforts is only a recipe for exhaustion; it is His presence that covers each moment with significance. So I wait and listen for His voice. And the song of the Musician-King keeps running through my head: “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; He leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to His name….” (Psalm 23:1-3) I couldn’t want anything better for the New Year.

The snow comes in the night, silently overlaying yesterday’s footsteps, and we wake to a world made new. It makes me think of what we have been talking about in our small group, how the original meaning of the word righteousness was more about God making things right than about us doing things right. God is showing His righteousness when He delivers His people from the enemy; when He provides for them; when He brings justice and upholds the needy; when He covers them with His love and says I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15) Blessed are the people who hunger and thirst for righteousness the way a dying man longs for water, because God has given us Himself at Christmas, to make everything right again. The past that you wish you could escape; the loss you are trying to survive; the fear that hangs over your head; the hard angry feelings you just want to let go of…this is why Jesus came, to bring us His righteousness, His making-things-new, and He’s saying Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

We walk into the New Year, and there is His covering of grace everywhere I look.

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 43:18-19

Can’t go back to the beginning;
Can’t control what tomorrow will bring;
But I know here in the middle
Is the place where You promise to be.
I’m not enough unless You come–
Will You meet me here again-?
‘Cause all I want is all You are–
Will You meet me here again?

Here Again, Elevation Worship