Things I Can See

Originally published November 9, 2016.

Whenever we talk about balancing faith and sight, somehow it all gets back to recognizing the fence-lines around my Yard of responsibility. Because here in the Everyday, in the realm of my words, my choices, my actions… I reap what I sow. I know this as a fact of life. But I also recognize that outside the fence there is a whole world of things that I cannot control: other people’s feelings and perspectives, even their behavior…and it doesn’t matter how much I love them or how badly I want to help (fix?) them. I could sow all the best things in their lives, with no guarantee of reaping. Their lives are their own, and it is harmful to everyone involved if I go rooting around in their yards. Boundary lines help keep relationships healthy, and keep us humble, realizing the limits to our own power. So I balance living my best, inside my circle of influence, with holding onto hopes for happy endings for the people and the situations I care about.

And I can have hope, because out there in the unseen world– in God’s wide reality– nothing is impossible, and He “is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” (Ephesians 3:20) His Wind blows everywhere and no fence-lines can stop it.  No wish-dreams we hold onto so tightly can get in the way. He plans from beginning to end for the good of all His creation, and His loving-kindness never fails…it falls like rain on every Yard, because it is all His. The Song-Writer David could not find a single place on this planet where God was not at work: “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” (Psalm 139:9-10) So when we talk about living by faith, we really mean acknowledging how small is our Yard and how big is creation, and Who is its rightful King.

I find that in the balance of understanding my Yard better, there is a different kind of Hope, something more than wishing hard. God’s overarching plans are for sure and certain, like the sun coming up in the morning and the way Winter always melts into Spring, whether or not we can see how it works. We can build our lives on Hope like that. And it is prayer that bridges the gap between the two worlds. “The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right, and His ears are open to their prayers.” (1 Peter 3:12) Big-brother James goes so far as to say that “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16) I have no delusions of power– the older I get, the more clearly I see all the things in this world that are outside my control– but I understand that prayer allows me to participate in the work of an almighty God, to reach beyond the fence-lines of my small Yard. This kind of Hope motivates me to turn fears and concerns into prayers, balances how helpless I feel at times, because the King’s plans are real and good and indestructable. Faith says that all I have to do is take care of my own Yard, and for everything I cannot do, there is Grace and all the Father’s good gifts.

~~~~~~~

And far be it from me to not believe
Even when my eyes can’t see
And this mountain that’s in front of me
Will be thrown into the midst of the sea
And through it all, through it all
My eyes are on You
And through it all, through it all
It is well….
So let go my soul and trust in Him
The waves and wind still know His name

It Is Well, Kristene Dimarco

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So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.

Matthew 6:31-33
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Hidden Treasures in Hard Times

It is remarkable to me that the man in the Bible with the most healthy perspective on suffering also speaks the most about joy. It’s like Paul had some secret reservoir of joy that carried him through the hardship of being a pioneer messenger of the Cross. Or maybe he discovered joy along the way, because he had learned how to speak truth to himself in suffering. He would probably answer Yes to both ideas. When you read his letters to the early believers, and see how instruction gives way seamlessly to worship and thanks-giving, you catch a glimpse of the inner streams of joy that energized him. And is it any wonder that the bulk of what we call the New Testament comes from this man? It’s like God laid out Paul, his life and experiences and all that wisdom for us, and said “watch and learn, people.”

Lately I have been pondering the way we avoid hardship and pain at all costs. We chase happiness as persistently as our neighbors, even while nodding our heads that this world doesn’t satisfy, and all we really need is Jesus. Wouldn’t you think that people who follow the One called “man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isaiah 53:3) would be a little more comfortable with it themselves? Paul seemed to take hardship as a matter of course– and sure the ancient world was a difficult place to survive, but maybe we rationalize his perspective away too easily as a function of his surroundings, and assume that if he grew up in America he would have more modern expectations for his life. Have we lost some valuable perspectives along the way, in our all-out pursuit of happiness and prosperity?

I know well that the gap between what our heads believe and what our hearts want can spread impossibly wide, and it isn’t until the hard times come that you have to choose which direction to leap. And I have found myself holding on for dear life to the words of Scripture, not so much out of certainty in what I believed, as in the knowledge that if I let go of this faith there was nowhere else to turn…nothing else that rings this true. The father looking for his child’s healing was in the same white-knuckled place when he cried out, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) Here is stripped-bare honesty, a man pushed to his limits, and though he does not have the eloquence to say it in theological terms, he is hanging onto the same truth the famous Church-Planter learned. Paul wrote it out this way: “for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Clearly he had learned some valuable secret in his life-struggles, and although it sounds like an absolutely terrible marketing slogan for a new belief-system, it does ring out with the authority of experience. Here is a man who has learned that when you hang onto the Savior, you have everything you need.

And it is strange but true– when you run out of your own ability and throw yourself upon the mercy of God, suddenly what felt like giving up becomes a solid place to stand. Not the kind of thing you learn while lining up your ducks in neat rows. I wonder, if our lives were all comfortable safety, would we ever even realize the fatal gap between the theology we believe with our heads and the theology we live out in the everyday? And isn’t that discovery, and the opportunity to grow up into what we believe, totally worth it, in the long run? No wonder Paul could write “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…” (Philippians 3:7-8) Considering that the only thing that will last in this world is our life in Christ, that kind of Ah-ha moment can turn suffering into priceless gain.

I remember the exact day I realized that Paul wasn’t just saying all the right things, setting up ideals and principles for people to follow. It was a grasping-onto-straws kind of day, and one of those moments when you read a familiar passage of Scripture and suddenly the light turns on. Paul wrote “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation….I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13) Somehow it stepped right out of the flat impersonal page and into the mess of everyday life. I do know what it is to cry out for help, to need wisdom, need patience. I also know what it is to have a happy day when everything is running smoothly. The one constant in both situations is the presence of Jesus’ Spirit and His power at work in me. This I know because I have lived it. Paul’s secret to getting through any situation was to live through both good times and terrible times, experience them fully, and find God standing there with him in the middle of it all. And when you can say honestly, because it is tried-and-true, “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need” (Psalm 23:1), there is joy.

See, Paul understood that when you are desperate and at the end of yourself, you are in exactly the right place to experience the riches of the Kingdom of God. The same inexorable grace that washes the rags of beggars clean drives nails into the hands of God, and the same persistent mercy that heals the outcast lepers trims away our self-indulgence so that we can fall headlong into the Everlasting Arms. I am slowly, slowly learning how big is the over-arching power of God and how consistent is His attention to detail. How good are His intentions toward me, how seriously He takes them, and how little I understand what He is doing. But what I need to know best is His heart, and that He has already given me, laid bare at the Cross. That I can trust.

A wise man once told me that trust and fear cannot live in the same place. If I want to know the secret of joy in suffering that Paul talked about, then all I need is to release my death-grip on the life I think I need, and accept the childlike life of trust that Jesus died to give me. Let my hands simply open.

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Because I AM is unbelievably with us, we can say even now: I am unbelievably safe.

Ann VosKamp

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Anyone who intends to come with Me has to let Me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow Me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, My way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?

Matthew 16:25 (The Message)
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Prying My Fingers Loose

Originally published June 25, 2018.

It seems instinctive, this fear of loss, this near-stranglehold on what matters to us. Of course we’ve learned to cover it up well, to give it acceptable labels: we are concerned about the people we love; we value our friendships; we want to be good providers for our families; we want to take care of our health; we work hard and just want to unwind. We’ve learned to live with fear and to work it into our cultural norms quite well. But no one wants to dig below the surface and face the howling insecurities that drive us all.

So it goes against all sensibility, the way Abraham turned to Lot and said “Choose which land you think best for your flocks” as they looked out over the hills stretching away into the horizon– the land God had already given him.  And Lot chose and Abraham just nodded and let him go his way–Lot taking the best of land that wasn’t his to take and Abe giving what had been given, holding his Promised Land with open hands.

Makes me think about the things I hold onto, and why it is so hard to let go.

Maybe it’s the illusion of control when I hold onto things, the deception that still whispers that if I try hard enough I can shape my own destiny and keep my own heart safe, and the ones I love.  Because if I lose that security blanket (however flimsy) what is left is just me and my small concerns in a huge universe, at the mercy of the Creator, and is that really enough?  It is the same whisper of doubt that has echoed in the hearts of men since we first heard that lie in the Garden…. seems like we would have realized by now just Who is in charge, and how much better things were before we fell for that line.

But mostly it’s the fear of losing, when I hold onto things– fear that what is precious can be ruined and my heart can break at the loss.  Fear of not having enough that drives me to hoard and grab and fight for what is mine, like any starving child. Only it has far wider application than physical food; it’s about all the things I think I need: security, love, respect, significance, some meaning in this world. Life feels like a battle, most days, and we have all suffered casualties. We came right out of the Garden knowing how fragile life truly is, and how you can lose it all in a few warped moments. Ever since, we have been clutching onto everything good with both hands as it runs through our fingers, trying to hold on and never lose it again.

But Abraham didn’t, even though he had left home behind and come so far to get what had been promised him.  He knew that it was all gift anyway, so he let his nephew take what he wanted, and kept on trusting the Giver to be faithful to His promises. Traveling through the harsh desert should have made him more wary, more mindful of loss, but somehow blessings overflowed into thankfulness enough to fill up his heart and open his hands. It strikes me as the best way to live, out of wholeness and contentment instead of fear….the only way to live, if we truly believe that when we have God we have everything good that is needful, and all things are working together for good, according to His promise.

So pry these fingers loose from the things I can see and touch. Deliver me from the instinct of Self-preservation, and the fear of losing that springs from mortality.  Let me live in full thankfulness, because all is gift, and there is a Giver who does not grow weary; I do not need to hold on tight, because You hold me and all the things I love in Your own love-scarred hands.

~~~~~~~

He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

Romans 8:32

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The more I submit my desires to Jesus while letting go of outcomes, the more He seems to answer the deepest longings of my soul. His abundance always surpasses my imagination and fulfills the prayers I didn’t even know I needed to pray. 

Shelly Miller
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But Still, Easter

There is a pile of Easter candy here on the table that was meant to go out to children this happy Sunday. And a flowery Spring dress hanging in the closet. And I hardly know what to do with myself this weekend without a pile of music to learn, and cinnamon rolls to bake, and meals with family and friends. I keep going back to the strange thought that It doesn’t feel like Easter… and yet that isn’t right either, because Easter never was about all those extra things. Makes me realize how intertwined our own traditions have become with the ancient story. Maybe Easter is more real than ever, this year, with these trappings stripped away, so that only iron and splintered wood, blood, and old rough rock remain. At the center of it all there is truth, and I know the Resurrection story is more ruggedly real than any of the pastel Springtime fairy-tales we have woven.

Maybe that’s what these times of upheaval do best: they peel away the trappings of a busy life, to find what is real and true beneath it. We would probably never choose to step back for this long and examine ourselves and the choices we are making. But when the noise stills and the merry-go-round slows its whirl, there is no other option but to step off and look around at what you have built. It can be slightly terrifying, and an odd relief, all at once. I feel a little like the woman near a well in ancient Samaria, asking, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” (John 4:15) There is no more distraction for the things that are broken, no more ignoring the disappointments we’ve been covering up, no more substitutes for the restless longing for something More. Just the need for real life-change. Somehow the Resurrection feels so much more ruggedly real when we are facing our own mortality– when I am vulnerable and small before the things I cannot control, cannot avoid. And the Church-planter writes with assurance that “The Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11) and I am trying to figure out what that means in the everyday mess and upheaval of this particular Easter.

That same Holy Spirit with the power to kill Death lives in my failing body. The same Holy Spirit who the Father sent to guide us into all truth lives with me here today. The Holy Spirit who Jesus sent to His disciples calls me a child of God and banishes fear. It is the same Holy Spirit who was in Christ Jesus, and the Church-planter Paul writes again that “…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) This is earthy, real, everyday miraculous stuff, and maybe it is good for us to peel away all the brightly colored shell of it and remember what is actually true. On that first Easter Sunday a body impossibly stepped out of its grave and suddenly new Life became a powerful reality.

If we step away from the busy-ness and the little pleasures and the many hats we wear, what is left is just the rough reality of who we are on this earth before our Maker. In these stripped-bare places we get to choose what we believe as real and powerful– whether to trust that the same Spirit who raised the Son of God can also resurrect our relationships…turn sorrow into joy… redeem our wasted time and give us second chances. And one young mom says how they have found healthy rhythms with a houseful of children by the grace of God, and it seems so right to have everyone together at home. And a friend writes that he has spent time alone with God this week dealing with hard things from the past, finding forgiveness and healing in the cross of Christ. And all around, people make the effort to reach out to the hurting with encouragement and hope. This is the power of the Resurrection at work in us.

It’s Easter weekend and the azalea bush out front has suddenly burst into wild purple glory fit for a king.

~~~~~~~

So let the ruins come to life
In the beauty of Your Name,
Rising up from the ashes–
God forever You reign!
And my soul will find refuge
In the shadow of Your wings;
I will love You forever,
And forever I’ll sing.
When the world caves in
Still my hope will cling to Your promise;
Where my courage ends
Let my heart find strength in Your presence…

Glorious Ruins, Hillsong Worship

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I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

John 11:25-26
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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
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Grace is the One Word You Need Most

I look around this small group as they talk about how life turned out differently than they thought it would, this past year, see the unspoken sorrows and unexpected joy in the paths they have walked. And we try to put into One Word our goal for the New Year, knowing full well that we do not know what lies ahead, only that the One who goes with us has already provided what we need. It is His promise to us, from the pen of the Church-planter Paul: “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

This we can trust, that no matter what word we choose, our loving Father will be working in it and through it, both for our benefit and for His glory. This is His bountiful Grace, to walk amid our days and soften the sharp edges, lift up the weary head, light up the dark places. Grace is the biggest and best word He will give to meet us when we offer up this year to Him. That One Word became flesh and blood in the person of Christ Jesus, so that we could see for ourselves what Grace looked like in this everyday world. Nothing will take Him by surprise in this year, and nothing will take Him from our sides. So we will be okay, whatever comes. Because the Good Shepherd calls us by name and leads us on.

May we only be faithful to follow.

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“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
(2 Corinthians 12:9)

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“You don’t need to be perfect; you need to simply feel His perfect love. You don’t need to be in control; you need to simply be in Christ. You don’t need to be more because He is all you need.”
(Ann VosKamp)

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The Method in This Madness

I can’t even count the number of times someone has said to me, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle,” as if the saying of it would magically cut the situation down to size, or at least bolster their flagging spirits enough to overcome.  And I really hate to burst the bubble, but the fact is that every day Christ-followers face circumstances that are too big, too much, too overwhelming for any sane mind. Chemo that makes you weak and nauseous. Spouses that break faith. Babies that come too early. Pain that wakes you up at night and hounds you during the day. Children with seizures. Raging fires that swallow up whole towns. Three-year-olds with tempers the size of Wyoming, and teenagers that are bent on doing life their own way. Siblings that act like you are the enemy. Parents that cannot live on their own any more. The power of addiction. The dark valley of grief.

If we are honest, there is a whole world of things that we cannot control, and that leave us feeling rather helpless and confused about what to do next. And yeah, telling myself that I can handle this because God gave it to me really doesn’t help. Since when is He in the habit of limiting Himself to my own small resources?

Jesus never spoke as one delivering self-help goals– or even inspiring ideals. In fact, Paul admits freely that the gospel does not make sense to the human mind: “…the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18) Jesus’ teachings were life-changing and difficult, and He understood that He was turning the world upside-down for the sake of Heaven’s reality. And yet Jesus meant for us to take Him at His word, to put into practice what He taught us. 

And I can hear the echoes of all His impossible-seeming standards: “…love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44)…. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)….”Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)….”Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds…”(James 1:2). There’s not a one of them that I can handle, no matter how much I psych myself out about being a new creature. Oh I can fake it for awhile…put my best foot forward and be the saint people expect to see. Or I can rationalize that these are  good things to strive for but maybe not meant for everyday life. Or I can even dodge a sense of failure by comparing myself to those around me, rather than to the standards that measure me short. But when life really gets tough the only way to handle anything is just to come running to Jesus and confess very honestly that this is too much for me. 

That is exactly the point, and the answer is right there after all: “If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) A long time ago, someone’s well-meaning emphasis on productivity gave me the idea that Jesus was talking about the work of ministry here…good works and what you can accomplish for eternity. Focusing on what we can do for Jesus is probably a good motivational tool, but I have found that His power, His presence is actually what I need for Life itself.

It’s more than knowing what resources to turn to, when I run out. It’s letting God make me new on the inside, choosing to rely on Him instead of myself, trusting that He knows what is best in all those impossible things. It’s living out the truth that the Church-planter Paul talked about: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:2-3) 

Maybe all those situations I can’t handle and all those big commands are supposed to be just that impossible, because God isn’t looking to hand out super-charged batteries to help me accomplish what I want to do. He wants to live in me with His resurrection power, to accomplish what He wants to do. So when I can’t figure it out myself, or make things happen with my own strength and determination, then there’s nothing left to do but draw on God’s strength and seek His face, and I am right where I should be. His promise still stands: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) 

He knows that the best way to live is in utter dependence on the Christ who has already overcome– the One who made you and loves you with an everlasting love– and in Him you can do all these impossible things.

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“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

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“Give me faith to trust what You say,
That You’re good and Your love is great;
I’m broken inside, I give You my life,
‘Cause I may be weak
But Your Spirit’s strong in me.
My flesh may fail;
My God You never will.”
(Give Me Faith, Elevation Worship)
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Of Forgiveness and Faith

We have been talking about forgiveness from the perspective of obedience, as the right choice of any serious Christ-follower. As the natural outflow of the Grace that forgives us. And it is, unquestionably. But from another angle, you could just as easily call it an act of faith.

It takes faith to look beyond the hurtful situation to see all the ways it might change if we can be brave and work through this together. We need faith to remind us that we are not stuck in our weaknesses– we are all growing up under the Spirit’s care, and it is never too late to change. Faith has the eyes to see that God is at work, even here, and hope for what good things He will accomplish. It hangs onto the promise, “And we know in all things, God is working for the good of those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Faith is the missing piece that transforms forgiveness from spiritual discipline into a fresh start.

So here I stand before You, God, and say “I do believe; help me to overcome my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24) I can trust You to be strength for me in the relationships that are hard for me, and to carry the feelings that are too much for me. Give me enough faith to keep praying for the person who wounds, to keep throwing resentment away and embracing the Cross of Jesus, and He is saying“The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17b)  Help me to believe everything You say about me.

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All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 5:18-19

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“You say I am loved,
When I can’t feel a thing.
You say I am strong;
When I think I am weak;
You say I am held,
When I am falling short;
When I don’t belong,
You say I am Yours.
And I believe…
I believe,
What You say of me.”

(You Say, Lauren Daigle)

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A Debtor to Grace

It means a great deal to us that God’s love comes no strings attached– matters greatly that the love of the Father is unconditional, if only because love like that is so hard to find. The people we care about have immense power to harm us, precisely because they can pull their love out from under us in the turn of a word, smash our hearts into a billion little pieces. Relationships are terrifyingly fragile, for all that we treat them like fortresses. The worst of it is, we know we aren’t good enough, can’t always measure up to people’s expectations and wishes, and it is only a matter of time before they find out who we really are and what if they leave? I wonder how much of life is our trying to be enough to deserve the affection we desire. But God is different than that. “…God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) It is the very picture of love undeserved.

And yet, our understanding of what God’s love means gets a little fuzzy in everyday use. Somehow no strings attached translates as no demands in our thinking, until we get to feeling like we are pretty lucky to have this great gift and still be able to pursue a good life by winning people’s approval….it’s like having the best of both worlds, and at least this is one relationship we might not have to put effort into. But while unconditional love may mean that there’s nothing I can do to gain more or less of it, it does not necessarily follow that unconditional love will not require something of me. Love doesn’t have strings that manipulate, but it very definitely has ties that bind; and although God doesn’t require me to do anything to earn His love, still I will be working gladly to honor that great gift for the rest of my life. Anything less would disrespect the Giver.

Grace means that God accepts me right where I am, knowing full well that I am not enough and can never measure up. But He is not about to leave me in that sorry state. As Paul explained it to the first believers, “God knew what He was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity He restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in Him. After God made that decision of what His children should be like, He followed it up by calling people by name. After He called them by name, He set them on a solid basis with Himself. And then, after getting them established, He stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what He had begun.” (Romans 8:29, The Message) That is a pretty big agenda, and not optional, much to my frequent surprise.

So from the moment of my adoption He was already working to change my life. Grace is a relieved freedom from trying to get somewhere on my own, but it is hardly freedom to do what I like. God’s love allows me to become who I was always meant to be, and that person was designed and created by Him to be whole and healed and beautiful in Jesus’ light: alive with His love, His joy, His peace, His patience, His kindness, His goodness, His faithfulness, His gentleness, His self-control. It costs me nothing to receive, but it will cost everything to live it out.

And we will not regret it even a little.

~~~~~~~

God gives you grace and acceptance before you overcome your sin.
Because it’s His grace and acceptance that let you overcome your sin.

You don’t overcome your brokenness to have God’s love.
It’s God’s love that has you overcoming your brokenness. (Ann VosKamp)

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“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:8)

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A Beautiful and Dangerous Good

This week I heard a worship leader tell his story, how Jesus came and found him when he was wandering lost, and picked him up and carried him safe Home, because He is good like that. And some stranger walked up to us out of the blue yesterday and shared how he thought he was doing okay in life until God knocked it all down around his ears, and in the rubble he found faith that could carry him. He told us his thanks to a good God for the ruin that brought about his restoration.

And I see how the same Goodness that gathers up the broken and the desperate also roars in the storm, and still we are loved and we are held. The prophet Isaiah wrote down God’s promise to us: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God…” (Isaiah 43:2-3a) And there is this wild, fierce Love that pursues, that goes to any lengths to obtain our hearts; an inexorable Goodness that will not be satisfied with our comfort or our sincerity, but is willing to see everything on earth shaken for the sake of what will last.

It underscores to me that we don’t always know whether something is good or bad for us until we’ve lived through it and gained the wisdom that comes from time and perspective. It makes me pause on that reaction to call things good or bad because of how I feel about them. I want the Good Shepherd to come find me when I am lost– I am quick to justify the effort spent, the blood spilled– because the result is my rescue. But shouldn’t I also be willing to celebrate when the Good Gardener cuts back the branches– smashes all these pretty golden idols– so that I can become who He wants me to be? I find my faith is still so small and selfish; it wants what is good for me and only if it is not too difficult.

Jesus said you can recognize Goodness when you see it, because it spends itself for the sake of others: “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) This is the axis of our faith, that Love and Goodness has been poured out for us in such unthinkable abundance that there is truly nothing that we need to fear or grasp for, beyond Himself….nothing that can stand against us in all heaven and earth. Or as Paul told the early Believers, “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) All our faith revolves around the Cross and the earth-shattering event of what Jesus accomplished for us there. So maybe it shouldn’t surprise us that the good and the hard of life look different now.

If it is true that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him,” (Romans 8:28) then why should I lose my wits when the things of earth are shaken? Let me rather hold onto Truth and open eyes of faith to see His hand at work everywhere, and no end to His Goodness. If “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,”  then let me stand here in this Love that defies reason, and wait to see what He will do for me in whatever comes. If “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” (Romans 8:34), then I can trust that I have all I need to live well on this earth.

I feel like a child holding a kaleidoscope up to the Light, and I could spend my whole life gazing at the way He moves. The Musician-King said it best: “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4)

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 “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity..” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

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“He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane–
I am a tree,
Bending beneath
The weight of His wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden
I am unaware of these
Afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realize how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.
Oh how he loves us so…”
(How He Loves, John Mark McMillan)

 

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