When You Need a Clear Path Through the Wilderness

We mark our way through November, silently counting as this strange year winds down to the end. Counting off the days, counting up the blessings “coming down from the Father of heavenly lights.” And we can count ourselves blessed that when everything around us shifts and quakes until we hardly recognize the life we are living, still He “does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17) The very act of thanks-giving plants our soul in the truth of the Giver’s goodness, of His unchanging nature. Make no mistake, gratitude is warfare– one simple constant refrain that shuts up the Enemy’s whispers about whether God is actually on our side.

It is as simple as this: the act of paying attention to God’s gifts and saying thank you opens my eyes to see Him present and active in my life. I need that constant reminder that I am His beloved child, especially when the winds blow hard, because the only way to get through the howling storm is to keep my eyes fixed on Him. And I need to remember over and over that all is gift, because it is so easy to slide into a sense of entitlement about what I have.

When I start to be consumed with the things I lack, or to obsess over what I might lose, or to compare what I have with what someone else has been given, it’s like losing my compass, and who knows what sad and hurtful paths I’ll tumble down before I finally come to my senses. After you get lost in the dark enough times you start to learn the importance of staying close to the Shepherd, to feel how good is His care. Being thankful re-orients my heart’s affection on the Giver of all things…reminds me that the very air I breathe is grace.

And when I can’t think of anything to thank Him for, I know it’s my focus that has shifted away from the Father, not His attention toward me. It is the red-flag warning that my vision is clouding over; I am trying to write my own story, instead of following where He leads. Funny how quick we are to criticize the wandering Israelites for being so blind. How could they keep whining about the good old days of planting cucumbers by the Nile when they were eating food God literally rained down on them? It seems like we all suffer from a blind eye–wanting a quick fix to our problems, an escape from the wilderness, any attractive thing– instead of cherishing the daily miracle of manna. Gratitude opens my eyes to see the bigger picture of God’s amazing plans.

It always surprises me how the Weeping Prophet could be living through a tragedy, but still could say somehow, “Yet this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:21-23) When I choose to be thankful for God’s daily lovingkindness, I am setting aside my ideas of how things should be, and submitting to what He wants to do. Choosing to be thankful declares that I trust His loving rule. Telling Him I am thankful brings peace to my heart. Such a small simple practice that anchors the spirit in hope and blazes a trail through the wilderness.

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Let all the earth, let every heart,
Come and sing how great You are;
Not even death could overcome
Jesus Christ, the King of love.
The curse of sin is broken now;
No fear, no lie will hold me down.
The Son of Man reigns over all–
Jesus Christ, the King of love

All my praise could never be enough
To give You thanks for all You’ve done.
Forever I will lift You up,
Jesus Christ, the King of love.

King of Love, Jesus Culture

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And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise….Then the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9

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

When You Just Need to Stop and Listen

Originally published March 29, 2016.

There was a time in my life when I was afraid of the silence. So I understand when people tell me they need the TV on when they are at home, and how the radio in the bedroom is the only way they can fall asleep. I know what it’s like to turn the music up the whole way in the car and sink into it, lose yourself for awhile. There is no shortage of sound and color and sensory stimulation that we can pour into any hunger.

Maybe we depend on the background noise, to keep us from hearing the thoughts we’d rather not think. Maybe this is why we welcome every pleasant distraction in the world, to avoid the full brunt of our regrets, our disappointments, the big questions of how to make our lives mean something. When in doubt, cover up the unease with noise and more stuff. The problem is, when you pile enough on there to dull the pain, you are liable to cover up the very answers that you so desperately need. I’ve been there, and I know how the fear of stopping to listen can seem bigger than the weight you are carrying around.

Jesus isn’t afraid of our wounds and our baggage. He isn’t deterred by our commotion and clamor. He has already seen it up close, “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,” as the Prophet Isaiah called Him. He would rather pull us in, touch our dirt-streaked face and bent limbs with His own hands, and speak into our ears Himself–the way He did with the hundreds that came to Him for healing when He walked this earth. “What do you want me to do for you?” He asked the two blind men who were calling out to Him by the roadside. And this is what He asks us, still. “What do you want me to do for you?”

If we are not afraid to be still, to stop and listen, to be honest about our pain and the things that bind us, we will find Him standing right there next to us, ready to begin the work of healing. But it’s up to us to weigh whether it’s worth hanging onto the pain that we know, for fear of the change that we don’t know….up to us to still the noise of our own need and listen for His voice calling. “He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’ The Lord Almighty is with us….” (Psalm 46:10-11)

And yes, it is a fearsome prospect to stand in silence with the Lord Almighty. Because like the old hymn says, “the things of this earth will grow strangely dim,” in His presence, and all the masks we wear get stripped away. And we can see who we are “in the light of His glory and grace”…and Who He IsBlessed are you when your sense of need outweighs your fear, and when you have come to the end of yourself so that all you want is Him. As Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

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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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I’ve tasted the world, seen more than enough
Its promises fleeting;
Of water and wine I emptied the cup
And found myself wanting.
But there is a well that never runs dry:
The water of life, the blood of the vine…
Cause all I know is everything I have means nothing,
Jesus, if You’re not my one thing,
Everything I need right now.
All I need is You right now.

One Thing, Hillsong

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

The Fear Factor

Originally published May 9, 2013.

I remember the conversation as if it happened only a little while ago, one of those pivotal moments when your perceptions change everything. It was one of our first adult conversations; he was no longer the professor on a pedestal and was becoming a colleague in ministry, and I felt brave enough to confide in him. “I have been struggling with fear. I think Satan is attacking me with this.” He thought for a minute and said in his gravelly voice, gentle and hesitant despite his many accomplishments: “Well, that is possible. But you know what another word for fear is?”  I waited. “Isn’t fear just another way of saying you don’t trust God?” Everything stopped…and turned… right there over lunch, and my life changed.

How could I say I loved God if I didn’t trust Him to take care of me? How could I believe Him for something as large and someday as eternal life if I could not believe that He was at work right here today in my life? For the first time I realized I could believe a lot of stuff about God with my head and never let it trickle down into my heart, could still wonder down deep if He was good and if He loved me…which made no sense at all. And the girl who was always so cautious and fearful told God she was sorry and wanted to change, though she didn’t know how, echoed the father’s prayer when he brought his son to Jesus: “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

This has been my faith walk ever since, “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18-19) And the further I go the more I find that when it comes right down to the bare roots of us, we are all on that path. Because the real question our hearts are figuring out is if we believe that He is Who He says He is. It was the very first question in the Garden and still every new situation is a crossroads of faith: “Can I trust Him in this? Does He love me still? Can I depend on Him to do what is best here?” It’s a growth process, and it’s also a cycle. The more I see Him clearly, the more I trust Him…and the more I trust Him, the more I love Him; and “Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear.” (1 John 4:18) 

No wonder this faith-journey takes an entire lifetime of experiences and situations. I am a slow learner, it seems, and life has cut deep in more places than I realize, taught my heart all the wrong things. But now when the fear creeps in and tries to take up residence, I know that this is what it feels like to not-trust– and with all my heart I want to be so convinced of His love and goodness that His peace will rule there. It takes purposeful cultivating of faith, and intentional choices to trust in each new situation, and when fear is clawing at me so that it is hard to breathe, it sometimes takes jumping off the cliff into reckless faith regardless of the way I feel. “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”

Someone shared with me recently, “Our whole lives have been this way, one thing after another, and you have to wonder when we will ever get a break? When can we just live and be happy?” I thought of our clean small town in light of the orphanages and the refugee camps and the cancer wards and the slums of the world. I thought how hard it is to trust anywhere, in the face of loss and pain, and told her that maybe there is no such thing as just living happy, and maybe that’s not what life was all about anyway. How you experience life is more about what you see when you look at the world; more about Who you are learning to trust. You can see the hurts and wonder where He is… or see that all is gift and Love standing right there in our midst with blood and tears running down. Maybe life is really about seeing Who God is and knowing we can rely on Him in everything…. “help me overcome my unbelief!”

Amy Carmichael went to India alone as a young woman over a century ago, and spent her life rescuing the children sold into temple prostitution while her own strength slipped away in long illness. She spent many of her later years confined to her bed and used the time to write to her little flock about her relationship with God. Her utter trust is so childlike in its simplicity that you would think it came easily to her, but when you read Amy’s story you see how her trust was forged and pressed in hardship and pain and danger…every situation a crossroads of choice, and she kept saying yes to Him. I am learning to recognize that fear is the opposite of trust, and even if I can’t always change the feelings, I can at least choose to say “Yes, I trust You” and move ahead in spite of them.  “I do believe…”

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The LORD is my light and my salvation–so why should I be afraid? The LORD is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble?

Psalm 27:1

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…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.

Amy Carmichael

The Power of The Cross

Originally published on June 20, 2015.

On days when the weight of the past is crushing your spirit (and you wonder if you’ll ever grow beyond this ugliness, ever learn to be someone different), the first place to go is back to the Cross. Seems strange to revisit death when all you really want is a new life. But that’s the thing about resurrection power, that it can’t burst out of the grave until something dies. We should know this by now, because God has built it right into the framework of our natural world, the Creator showing Himself in everything He has made: dried up seeds are buried and sprout with new life, every day the sun sets us into night and then rises again so we can begin again, Winter keeps turning into Spring. In the same way, the pain of the cross leads to the resurrection: no shortcuts, no easier route to glory. “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)  It’s my self-preoccupation that needs to die a little more every day, so that the Holy Spirit can re-make me. Jesus’ haunting question persists: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26)

So there is no use wasting time trying to figure out how to fix yourself, or hiding the gaping holes so that maybe no one will notice…or worse yet, wallowing in regret till it drags you under. Welcome the discomfort as a necessary step of growth and keep following it straight to the Cross, the only real solution in heaven and earth. There are some things you just aren’t strong enough to deal with on your own, and your own messiness is one of them. Better to admit that, sooner rather than later– better to leave the pride behind, so your hands are free to reach for the Grace that flows down from the Beloved’s sacrifice for us.

Because Heaven already planned a solution for human brokenness; there is a Savior, who came to earth because “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. (Hebrews 9:22) He knows the grip of fear. He understands the way people can wound, and how difficult it is to trust. He knows the shame of failure, and the darkness we carry around inside, and how it presses the hope from a person’s lungs.  He knows because He already picked it all up and carried it for us, wept for how it holds us captive. He fastened the entire hideous mess to the Cross with the spikes that pierced His own flesh, wrestled it the whole way into the tomb and left it there so it couldn’t bind us any longer. The prophet Isaiah heralded the coming of a Savior “…He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

So take courage, dear heart, on the days when you see clearly how far short you fall. Let humility rush you again to the foot of the Cross and beg forgiveness. Allow Mercy and Grace to heal your battle wounds, wash away your brokenness, and speak peace to your spirit. “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” (Ephesians 1:18-19)

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What, then, shall we say in response 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, along with Him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 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. (Romans 8:31-34)

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All this pain…
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way;
I wonder if my life could really change, at all.
All this earth…
Could all that is lost ever be found?
Could a garden come out from this ground, at all?
You make beautiful things…
You make beautiful things out of the dust.

Beautiful Things, Gungor

In Everything

Originally published May 26, 2013.

“That’s why He tells us to give thanks in everything,” she said. I knew her story, and it was on her face too, just then, as she thought it through. “Because He takes things away and it seems all wrong, but maybe you don’t really know….He gives things too, and you wouldn’t even have the one if it weren’t for the other.” She knew the secret of giving thanks in all things, and she was so right, that it wasn’t about what you could see in front of you, but Who was present with you. Not about what was happening now but what He was planning. Except that it is hard to keep in mind when the earth drops away and we can say with Job “What I always feared has happened to me. What I dreaded has come true.” (Job 3:25)

Maybe that’s why God gave us these promises of His good intentions, His own word to us “For I know the plans I have for you….”They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) Spell it out for us, so we wouldn’t wonder what He was up to, remind us that “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28) Truth to anchor into and hang all our weight on, when we just might fall over the edge completely. He says I can get through whatever comes, just because He is there with me. Paul knew it by firsthand experience in the jail cells and hiding places, the hunger and cold and scars on his back: “For I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

In all the dark winding paths, as I walk toward the light, this thing I have learned is most necessary, to give thanks. Because when you acknowledge that All is Gift, you acknowledge your surrender to the Giver. And when you give thanks, you acknowledge that He is good and worth trusting. It’s the words themselves that matter, regardless of whether the heart is spilling out joy and the thanks are overflowing– or whether they are sheer act of will through teeth clenched with pain. Pick something and give thanks for it, willfully and intentionally, no matter how small, because everything around you is Gift and Grace. And then find another good gift, and another, as many as you can think of, until your heart lightens and hope sparks again.

The long-ago saints would have called it a discipline of the Christian life, perhaps. I only know it is necessary for survival, to keep heart and mind whole. Constant connection with the Light-giver. Constant dependence on the Maker. Constant recognition that He is good, regardless of the circumstances. He wants us to give thanks in everything because in everything He is there, and in everything He is working for our good, and in everything He is accomplishing His purposes. I can trust this and be thankful.

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“When you are a believer — and you stop counting blessings? It’s like blindfolding yourself and wondering why everything’s black.” (Ann VosKamp)

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“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)

When It’s Hard to Give Thanks

Originally published on April 7, 2014.

Joy is the particular province of the broken-hearted. It sounds contradictory, but it is one more paradox of the Kingdom of God, in which He turns everything we are accustomed to upside-down…or maybe it is Right-side-up, after all.

Jesus said it to the crowds gathered on the hillsides: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.” (Matthew 5:3-4, The Message) This is a joy that comes in the face of loss, when you go looking for Something More than this world, and find God’s presence. It is completely counter-intuitive (and utterly true) that those who suffer the most can find the deepest joy, because their very loss is an unexpected opportunity to discover the riches of God’s provision.

Joy shines brightest in people who are struggling to survive in one way or another, who face silence and uncertainty and grief, and realize that there is still Someone close who whispers words of comfort to the soul and does not sleep, and He is Enough, after all. It is the secret the itinerant Church-planter Paul learned, amid the dangers of traveling over ten thousand miles through the ancient civilized world in the course of his adult life — often bone-weary, in constant danger, harried and pursued, driven out of town and stoned and threatened. “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, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13) When all my supply runs out and I am entirely dependent on God’s, then I am coming to the heart of what it means to have a relationship with The Almighty. “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand  and satisfy the desires of every living thing.” (Psalm 145:15-16) 

It is easy to celebrate and give thanks when things are going well for us, and of course God delights in hearing our enjoyment of His blessings. But if we wait until we feel happy to count our blessings then aren’t we only putting a label on our response to the circumstances? Anyone can look at the sun and say it is a good thing it is shining; may as well look at a cloudy day and observe that we don’t like the rain. When the needy and the grieving look at their world and choose hard to praise God, to give thanks for His grace and kindness to them regardless of painful circumstances, they are bowing to His rule, giving a sacrifice that costs something. God holds that gift precious, and joy kindles and endures in the offering. This is beyond response to circumstances; this is the obedience and surrender and trust of a genuine Christ-follower.

In the face of any grief there is always a new morning, and the world all around, shelter and food and friends, and the small kindnesses of others– unaccountable blessings un-looked for, and unceasing. “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.” (Psalm 3:5) Accepting those small things with the simplicity of a child, choosing to give thanks (because even they are grace undeserved) gives Him our undivided attention– opens the door to God’s loving presence in all the seasons of life. The Giver is always worthy of our praise, and we can keep on counting all the evidence of His love.

God doesn’t avoid or ignore pain. He sings a louder song over it. And He invites His hurting people to sing with Him.

Aubrey Sampson, THe Louder Song

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“Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to His name. And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.” (Hebrews 13:15-16)

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

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