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 meDoesn’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

A Tale of Life-Changing Prayer

Originally published March 9, 2016.

Whenever I read Hannah’s story in the Bible, I pause to wonder over the fact that she gave up her sweet boy. After praying “year after year” for him (so the story goes), she finally promises to give him back if God will just hear her prayer for a child. It is reminiscent of the desperate promises that lead to tragedy in some of our best folk-tales, except this one seems to be told with joy and we hear her song of praise, get to see her leading the little boy to the Temple to live with old Eli, watch her making wee garments to take to him when she visits once a year and sees how much he has grown. I chose her words of faith as our own commitment when we dedicated our children: “I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.” (1 Samuel 1:27-28) And I meant it, but I always wondered how she could bear to leave Samuel there to travel back home, after waiting so long to hold him. I always thought how she must be a stronger woman than I am.

Once you get past the main attraction here, that God answered a weeping woman’s prayers with a miracle baby, other valuable features of the story come to light, the first of which is that it is not really her story at all, but the beginning of Samuel’s. He himself is writing down the story he must have heard dozens of times– probably once a year when his parents came to visit. (I have it on good authority that parents tend to tell and re-tell their favorite stories about their children…you know we all do it.) And he records it with good reason, in all its detail, because his mother’s struggle has shaped his life– poured the foundation for who he is and the role he will play in the nation of Israel.

The first years of Hannah’s marriage read like an ancient soap opera, with two wives and one good-hearted husband caught in the middle. One wife loved, but barren; a second-choice wife (and probably younger) having child after child, but all too conscious of where their husband’s affections lay. Not surprisingly, their home becomes the grounds for some pretty serious rivalry and drama. Hannah weeps and prays and fasts. The husband gives gifts and coaxes her with declarations of his love. The other wife taunts and shows off her pregnancies and her children, jabs at Hannah’s faith year after year. You can’t help but wonder why Hannah kept praying: she keeps going to the Temple to worship, keeps asking God and does not give up. On the surface it appears that when Eli finally notices her praying in a public place, he casts his favor with her, and God at last gives her what she wants. But the year after year of praying without answers is a key element in the story that we would not want to miss.

We can feel it with her, the monthly cycle of hoping and praying and being disappointed yet again. Every month watching others flourish while she waited on her own body to bear life. Month after month pouring out her heart’s desires and believing that Someone out there was listening and could help her, despite every visible circumstance to the contrary.  And I wonder how her prayers began to change as she wrestled. We only catch glimpses of what was happening in her heart: Certainly she prayed for a child to fill her arms…to affirm her womanhood…to bring joy to her life. Surely she prayed for a child to please her husband and validate his love for her. Perhaps she prayed for a child to silence the neighbors’ whispering tongues. To restore her honor. Year after year, the narrative says. Her persistence speaks loudly of her devotion to God and her determination not to turn elsewhere for answers, and in the shape of her prayers we hear how God met her in those wilderness years. “… for the Lord is a God who knows, and by Him deeds are weighed….He will guard the feet of his faithful servants….” (1 Samuel 2:3,9)

She kept on giving her pain and her longing and her dreams into God’s care, until finally she just laid it all down– gave up her ideas of what should happen and why, and said Not my will but Your purposes be accomplished in my life…This child will be from You and for You, and this miracle will be for Your glory. And Samuel did belong to the Lord from the moment he was born, dedicated to serve Him as the last of the judges and the first of the prophets– the one who would guide the great kings of Israel’s Golden Age. Both mother and child were overshadowed by the Holy Spirit so that Hannah could prophesy “My heart rejoices in the Lord; in the Lord my horn is lifted high….for I delight in Your deliverance.” (1 Samuel 2:1) 

Maybe this is how she could give up little Samuel to be trained in the House of the Lord– because she had already surrendered her life and her son into the Lord’s good purposes for them. A thousand years later, Jesus will describe the rightful and appropriate cost of obedience this way: “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for My sake, you will save it.” (Luke 9:24) So Samuel begins his book here, with the faith and perseverance and worship of a strong woman who understood her purpose to know God.

This is where Hannah’s story intersects our own, because whatever we long for most, and whenever we labor long in prayer and wait for answers, we can know there is much more at stake than the object of our desire. We can be assured that God’s purposes are much larger than ours, and that He will allow us to wrestle with our emotions, and our circumstances, and His answers, until we are ready to surrender to His right to rule. And we can know for sure “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) 

Hannah understood that if she turned away, He would not be diminished in the least; it was her own everyday experiences that would be affected most by the blessing or loss of His presence. She declared her commitment to draw near to Him: “There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.” (1 Samuel 2:2) Year after year she chose Him, and gained everything that mattered, for both her and for her little boy Samuel. May we be as strong and as faithful.

And we can hear Hannah joyfully singing, “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; He seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor.” (1 Samuel 2:8)

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Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:25-26

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He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.

Jim Elliot

Real People–Real Christmas

Coming into these final days before Christmas, maybe we are realizing the truth of what we’ve been telling ourselves all these years. That Christmas is not about the piles of gifts and the parties and the picture-perfect holiday homes and plates of goodies. That the true meaning of Christmas lies beyond the holiday trimmings– reaches down into the depths of collective history and collective longings of humankind, into the everyday dust of real place and time. We all know this in our heads, but it’s easy to say while we gather with friends and family in the comfort of our own living spaces, when the birth of the Savior can be one more blessing to add to our very rich lives.

This year when familiar traditions are suspended, and families are separated on purpose, the earthiness of the real Christmas story meets our very real needs. If there are no happy holiday gatherings, there is still a Child lying in a manger and angels singing the unending good news to the whole human race: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people….a Savior has been born to you.” (Luke 2:10-11) God’s favor has been turned toward us, and our stories are bound up in His happy ending.

And there are families in quarantine, and loved ones in hospitals, and even the decked out stores are not very merry with shoppers. But there’s a Baby’s cry in the dark and a mother’s soft voice, and we hear God’s declaration: “’The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means ‘God with us’).” (Matthew 1:23) The One who created us all is right here, in the middle of real life, and we are not alone. In the middle of uncertainty and anxiety and grief this Christmas stand the rough-hewn timbers of stable and manger and cross, where God’s favor pours out in real life and death. Love and grace are not abstract sanitized words at all, but rugged real choices in the real world.

And maybe for the first time some of us have the chance to experience a very real Christmas, undistracted by the busy-ness and the glitter. Let go of the customs and comforts we hold dear and turn to the One who holds us. The prophet murmurs truth to our hearts about the everlasting God: “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young….Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” (Isaiah 40:11, 28-29)

This is Christmas, that a very real God is with us in real life. The rest is just decoration.

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Preparing for Christmas means turning from the aches & worries and weariness of this world to focus on the One who came to be with us in it and save us from it.⠀
Even when life doesn’t look like we wanted it to—especially when life doesn’t look like we want it to—we can celebrate Christmas because we have a Messiah who came into this messy world to suffer on our behalf and secure the gift of eternal life.⠀

Lisa Appelo

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The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14

Running for Cover

We all know how quickly the ordinary can take that sharp left turn into chaos…how your days can slide into hard with the inevitability of so many lined-up dominoes, and before you know it the Enemy of your soul is whispering in your ear that well-worn soundtrack of how you’ll never be enough for this life. And I know all about his lies, but somehow he still manages to catch me unawares at times.

But I am learning that when you have been blindsided by the Darkness, all you really need is enough presence of mind to run to the Father and lean into His love. Because we who stand in His presence are being given the power “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…” (Ephesians 3:18) And the Father promises that whenever we make the choice to turn away from the Accuser and toward Him, He will be our shield and protection.

It’s downright strange how long it takes for us to learn that spiritual life-skill, considering that it is one of the first lessons we learn in the tangible world. We teach our children that when danger threatens, you turn and run the other way, into the safety of someone bigger who can protect you. I wonder why that is so much more difficult in the spiritual world. Is it that we cannot clearly distinguish the danger? Or that we are hesitant to trust the source of our safety? Or maybe it’s just the mistaken notion that grown-ups don’t need help any more. And I know how suddenly the attack can come and how you can get paralyzed by the spiral of circumstances: grown-ups or not, any one of us can get swallowed up in the darkness if we aren’t careful. Jesus’ friend Peter warned the early believers from his own experience: Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8) He knew firsthand how easy it is to fall victim to the Enemy’s lies, and how much he needed a Savior to rescue him.

God clearly intends for us to be able to stand against these attacks, because the Church-planter Paul took a lot of time detailing for the early believers the armor of defense and the weapons that have been given to us; it is the body armor of a foot soldier on the front lines. Take them up, he says, and stand firm. I look at this inventory and see how they are all connected to Christ and what He has accomplished for us: the truth of His Word, righteousness, peace with God, faith, salvation– and my job is only to receive them. And for the first time I am seeing that this isn’t an action-filled battle strategy of things I have to do and remember. Paul’s injunction is to “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” (Ephesians 6:10) I tend to focus on the being strong, but Paul is focusing on our relationship with Christ.

Our job is to stay close to Jesus, and remember we belong to Him, because He has already won the victory in this battle. I can’t think of a better foundation of truth to build a life on, and who doesn’t want to stand strong and sure, in Heaven’s protective gear? James talks like everyone’s big brother, and he too puts it in relationship terms: “… humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you.” (James 4:7-8)

And maybe it is James who gives us the key, when he puts humility in first place. When I am listening to all the wrong voices and in danger of losing my way in the dark, it takes humility to admit that I need a truth-check. When I feel like a failure or less than I want to be, it takes humility to accept that I am indeed not all-sufficient. Humility runs for the shelter of the Almighty in the howling storm instead of trying to figure it out myself. Childlike humility knows that I need someone to rescue me. And the same humility that says Yes to God says No to the Enemy’s lies, and in the split-second of my reaching out to Him, Christ already has my back. When the darkness presses in all around, I can press into Him and know that after the battle I will still be standing in the Light.

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No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For 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 8:37-39

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We will not be moved
When the earth gives way,
For the risen One has overcome;
And for every fear
There’s an empty grave,
For the risen One has overcome.
He shall reign forever–
Strongholds now surrender,
For the Lord our God has overcome.
Who can be against us?
Jesus our Defender–
He is Lord and He has overcome.

Overcome, Elevation Worship

Faith Must Be Brave

There’s something about faith that is rather like dying, only no one ever tells you that. I imagine that Job felt it. Ask him what he thought…what he felt…what he was looking at, when he said “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised. (Job 1:21) Abraham carried the weight of it in his spirit when he was climbing that mountain and telling his precious son “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering…” (Genesis 22:8). Mary must have felt it keenly in the reactions of her family and friends when she told them that she was pregnant. With the son of God? Oh sure.

But all three of them looked right past what was going on around them and into the unseen world to believe a Bigger Story. In the middle of the circumstances that unfolded from one day to the next, the way life does, there was an aspect of waiting to see what God would do. It’s like having one foot planted in the tangible here and now and the other foot in the unseen reality of where He will lead. Believing in the unseen world means releasing my version of reality, with all the things I am planning and working towards, and all the ways I feel about the life I am living. It means giving up any illusion of control, free-falling into whatever impossible and unexpected things God wants to accomplish. And there might be a flaming bush, or a damp fleece, or a voice in the night– or there might only be quiet waiting for a door to open, for a sudden shift in the-way-things-are. Sometimes it can be exhilarating. Sometimes, quite honestly, it feels like dying, and maybe that’s the way it should be.

The Letter-Writer to the believing Jews explained faith this way: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1) Faith is seeing things with the eyes of the spirit– things the physical eye cannot see. So whenever we look beyond the good things of this world and see the Giver, faith is at work. And every time we look at the painful broken things around us and can still see Jesus, there is faith. And in seeing Him and giving thanks, in both the good and the bad, self-sufficiency and self-pity are put to death and we set our hearts on the invisible kingdom where Jesus rules forever.

Faith allows this world to be turned upside-down, for the joy of finding the right-side-up kingdom of heaven, and I can hear Jesus saying, “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.” (Matthew 10:39) And if the waiting and hoping are painful at times, still we believe we have found a Truth worth staking our lives on, and a Love worth pursuing with our whole hearts. Like Job and Abraham we are “longing for a better country—a heavenly one.” And the Letter-Writer says “…God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:16)

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Walking around these walls
I thought by now they’d fall
But You have never failed me yet
Waiting for change to come
Knowing the battle’s won
For You have never failed me yet
Your promise still stands
Great is Your faithfulness, faithfulness
I’m still in Your hands
This is my confidence, You’ve never failed me yet

Do It Again, Elevation Worship

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For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!

2 Corinthians 4:17

Heart Remodeling 101

The question that keeps coming back to us is How do we live this out? What does trusting God, and glorifying Him, and realizing He is sufficient for us actually look like in everyday life? And I understand this sneaking suspicion that spiritual truths are not entirely practical. We are not questioning whether they are beautiful and inspiring and worthwhile, but how in the world do they intersect with work projects and arguing about chores and relatives, and the never-ending task of cleaning up the kitchen?

It’s like faith becomes a room we have added onto an already full house, and life is going on at mad pace while we try to get away for some refreshing moments (in there where it all works) before coming back to our messy lives. We even try our best to bring bits of it out with us, to decorate our space. Or maybe we add more rooms on, like doing ministry, and helping our neighbors, and teaching Scripture to our kids, and supporting missions– as if we can make the faith portions of our house large enough to eclipse the everyday stuff. But don’t you keep wondering if that abundant life Jesus offered is possible without getting exhausted? And what if we could instead just bust down some walls and live free in the light? I am beginning to think that these spiritual truths are the most practical of all, and it is our perspectives on life that need remodeling.

I keep hearing the echo of Church-Planter Paul’s simple instructions to the early believers in Philippi: “Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear.  For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him. ” (Philippians 2:12-13) We often take a detour at “work hard”….take a sharp left into self-effort and get lost in feelings of failure and guilt. But the working hard is all about focus and intentionality in life, not about our attaining anything. And Paul’s instruction is meant to be simple and straightforward– just look how he reduces all of life to worship and obedience toward God. This is the one thing we are to do, and even that is not depending on our desire and effort but on His. All that is up to us is to bow our hearts to the rightful King, Jesus. The constant refrain of the Kingdom is His “Not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42)

It gives us a different starting place. Instead of starting with my life and trying to apply faith to it, I can start with faith in Who He Is and what He is doing in me and then respond with awe and humility in all the down-to-earth details of everyday life. Regardless of season of life or marital status or where my work takes me, real life begins in my heart and where it is focused. The Wise King wasn’t just composing poetry when he wrote “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23), but speaking truth for our souls. Whether we are looking for a life change, or a heart change, or an attitude change….it isn’t about doing more good things. It is simply seeking the reign of Jesus over all things.

Simple and uncomplicated, but not easy by any means, and at times painful. The life we are building needs to come falling down so that He can build a new one on the foundation of Grace, with Himself in the center. So in faith we agree that His plans are best and true. By faith we throw Self down off the throne again and again, in obedience to King Jesus. In faith we persist in putting into practice what He says. One day at a time– in our work and our marriages and our parenting and our words– even when it runs counter to everything we are used to. By faith we swim against the current of popular opinion, and listen to His perspectives on reality and meaning and satisfaction and beauty, because we feel certain that having Him is better than having anything else in this world. By faith we trust the Creator and Architect who gave us life the first time to give us the abundant new life we long for.

We simply worship and obey… and miracle of miracles, we find that His Spirit is working out in us all that we cannot do for ourselves.

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Out of the overflow of a properly aligned heart, the mouth speaks and the obedience follows.

Christine Hoover

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For we are the temple of the living God. As God said: ‘I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be My people.’

2 Corinthians 6:16

The Safest Place

Originally published August 17, 2018.

On days when you are trying to be brave, holding onto faith for dear life, but there’s this frantic whisper in the back of your head that circumstances are more than you can handle right now, and what in the world does a person have to do to catch a break in this tempest, let this truth sink in deep: Jesus is standing beside His Father in Heaven paying attention to everything that concerns you. He is holding you securely in His strong arms, and even before you reach out to Him, He is praying for you.

The writer of Hebrews wants to make sure we understand the richness of our inheritance in Christ, and all the ways He fulfills the promises of God. The Law was God’s gift to Israel as His chosen people; but Jesus is the Father’s precious gift to all who believe– God giving Himself to us forever. The author of the book of Hebrews says it this way: “…He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them.” (Hebrews 7:25) 

Rest in this, that you are His own, and He is acting on your behalf. If you make your spirit comfortably at home in this truth, you will find all that you need for this day.

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The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

Lamentations 3:25-26

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Jesus lives to endlessly, relentlessly and flawlessly pray for you….Jesus is praying for your holiness because He knows holiness is your ultimate happiness….Jesus is praying that you’ll be brave when you’re about to break, that you’ll turn from what’s tempting, that you’ll stand against what’s strangling, that you’ll escape into Him instead of trying to escape in a thousand unfulfilling ways.

Ann VosKamp