"With such a vast sea of articles, quotes, blogs, and YouTube videos - a thousand voices vying for 30 seconds or 30 minutes of life's repository of time - why write? Why add to the noise, the clutter, the distraction? Why - when you have nagging, unanswered questions yourself - why would you attempt to speak faith into the life of others? Who do you think you are?" taunts my Enemy. He seeks not explanation, but to intimidate and germinate seeds of doubt and fear.
What voices of discouragement are nagging and dragging your thought-life through the mud? Has your path been one marked by seemingly insurmountable resistance? Have temptations or threats from your opponents caused you to loosen your grip, losing sight of the glory of the gospel? How can you hold on when hope has decreased and daily pressures increase?
A summer ago, my faith began a descent into unknown depths. Reeling from the unexpected loss of loved ones, diverted dreams, tectonic mid-life hormones, and academic fatigue, I stared at my life's landscape and despaired of yet another valley. The hope-rope once securely tied to my waist was not longer belayed. Frayed beyond function, it had to be discarded. Spilled and spent, I didn't know if I could go on. I didn't know that I wanted to go on.
Maybe this brings to mind a time in your life when what you faced seemed far greater than the faith you possessed? Or perhaps it pierces your present? Consciously we know that hope includes patient expectation on our part. But subconsciously we resist the very experiences that will expand, realign, and secure our faith to the unwavering reality and truths of God.
Always in the past, through craggy ups and downs and despite great pressure, I persevered - striving for the summit. But now it felt like I was no longer anchored to my once-secure point. After pursuing God's voice, calling from the mountaintop, I no longer could hear. Bone-chilling fog rolled in, and no longer could I see. I didn't know the way to go. Without vision, I was perishing. And so alone.
Then I heard the voice of the Lord asking,
'Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?'
And I said, "Here I am, Lord, send me."
Tears stung. Drawn from the Book of Isaiah 6:8, this was one of my first clear impressions of the Lord speaking directly to my young heart. The promise professed so confidently and boldly in youthful - but untested - zeal, has now been exposed to hard labor and deep loss. But 40 years later, by the grace of God, I still fight to faithfully embody these words of worship.
Like Isaiah, I have glimpsed the glory of the Lord. I have experienced His deliverance from sin and heard His purposeful calling. I've been blessed to share His burden for His people who: "keep listening, but do not understand, keep looking, but do not see, turning not to the Lord to be healed." (par Isaiah 6:10). Yet for all my determination, "Send me, Lord," has been an impossible vow to fulfill.
Then this truth of Scripture illuminated my mind, "Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ... standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel. Be not afraid of your opponents, this will be a clear sign of their destruction, but of your salvation, which is from God." (Phil 1:27-28)
I am reminded of Nehemiah who faced immense pressure, an impossible task, and taunting opponents tempting him to turn back. How his love for the Lord and his heart, broken for his people, would not let him quit. Day by day, he and the people stood side-by-side to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem so they could make her, once again, a place of One-God worship.
Though pressure prevailed from his enemies, Nehemiah persisted. He found hope in humility, "But now, my God, strengthen my hands." (Neh 6:9) Nehemiah knew: no work, no wall; no wall, no worship. But he also knew his strength came from the Lord. Though he offered his hands, he resolutely committed the work to God.
What work are you facing the temptation to turn from? Is it building a life - or a ministry - on God's blueprint? Or maybe, it's tearing down one built on your own? Maybe it's overlooking an offense or forging forgiveness? Is it waiting on the Lord? Bearing the burden of illness? Loving the unlovely? Serving in secret? Accepting the past? Embracing the unknown? Or just being patient in your - or with someone else's - process?
Nehemiah offered his life, but he committed the completion of the work to God. Have I been doing that? Have you? Or have we been overlooking this marvelous facet found in the glory of the gospel? Have we believed for so long and been diligent in doctrine, but yet deceived? Have we drifted into thinking our own strength is required to fulfill the promise?
This time of great pressure, has reminded me that whether I am on a mountaintop or in a valley - building walls or surrounded by rubble - my manner of life must be worthy of the gospel. That is: dependent on the finished work of Christ. No only believing in the gospel, but living the gospel. This is done by standing and striving with other believers in faith, and being not afraid - but believing the strength, salvation, and glory are the Lord's.
I write to you, still in the valley, but now I am able to thank the Lord for this season of rest from laborious striving in my own strength. For reminding me, "It has been granted to you on Christ's behalf not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for him." (Phil 1:29) For reawakening me to the wonder of His gospel, that not only saves from sin, but also from slavery to self-generated ideas and identity.
I don't think it's unusual or out of the ordinary that we sometimes imagine things about God, the church, or the Christian life that are super-heroic, but supra-biblical. They offer excitement, appeal, and a form of the truth, but they lack substance. They won't hold up to the real pressures of life, because often the outcome is designed and dependent upon us.
Peter profoundly experienced this after he and the other disciples had a scuffle about their position and importance in the future plans of Jesus (Lk 22:24-30). Jesus' response gives us some insight into the purpose of pressure: "Simon, Simon - Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." (Lk 22:31-32)
Faith falters in the furnace of affliction, when that faith is generated in the imagination of man. But when our faith is found in God, it forms the foundation of true joy.
Later in 1 Peter 4:12-13, Peter - our biblical poster-child for, "No pressure, no diamond" - explains, "Dear friends, don't be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes to test you - as if something unusual were happening to you. Instead, rejoice as you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may also rejoice with great joy when His glory is revealed."
Trials, tests, ordeals, and valleys are all part of the purification - the proving of our faith. That our faith and our joy may be found in the person of Christ, the work of Christ, and the purposes of Christ - not in our self-made identities and ideas of spiritual success.
While the voice of the Enemy may tempt and taunt you with words that wound and cut to the core. Cling to Jesus. Remember, Jesus is the Diamond who has undergone every temptation to man and not failed, but prevailed. So you can believe with confidence, that as we are in Him, and He in us - He will strengthen our hands and our hearts. He will complete the good work He's begun in us! (Phil 1:6)
I'm fairly certain the first flakes of snow were laughing as they landed on my lashes. The breeze off Long Lake was biting my hands. I steadied the camera just in time to capture the reflection of autumn's leaves as they softly fell to sleep for a season.
Seasons always arrest my attention. They capture me speeding through my days, avoiding the red dot-black arrow, "You Are Here," of life. It's a frustrating question. But one, that if progress is to be made, we must ask. Where is "here"? Inquiring minds want to know, because "here" happens to be an integral part of knowing who "you are".
Knowing "You Are Here" helps us to assess who we are, where we are, and provides a clue of where we are heading. When times are good, current coordinates must be calculated in order to stay the course or chart new adventures. Or when there are those terrifying times, when you feel lost - adrift upon an aimless, endless ocean you cry, "How did I get HERE?!?"
Have you ever scanned the horizon for a sign of safe harbor, but your Strong Tower was hidden from sight? I can't think of anything more frightening than the thought of being cut off from God. "Cut off from God?" you rightly question. "That's not possible!" And I would have judiciously agreed ... until I experienced it for myself.
"Your iniquities have SEPARATED YOU FROM GOD and your sins have HIDDEN HIS FACE FROM YOU so that He will not hear." (Is 59:2)
This is a word not to unbelievers but to God's children. A word I've recently had to take to heart and let bring me to my knees. No, God does not leave or forsake us (Heb 13:5), but when we have trouble seeing Him, believing He is there, this compass points to a decisive divergence seldom spoken of by seasoned believers... that we can believe in God and be going in the wrong direction. That we still need seasons of assessing where we are, being honest before the Lord and asking Him to expose the motives of our hearts, and confessing and repenting where we have been wrong.
I hate being wrong. I hate thinking I've been right, and have had a right to maintain and defend my position, only to find out there was a bigger picture of which I was assuming the outcome - usually most pleasing to myself. I was not considering the biblical principal that the path of most resistance is often where God produces great glory. Let's first look at the perfect picture:
"While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God. Even though Jesus was God's Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. In this way God qualified him as the perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him. (Heb 5:7-9)
Now let's be honest with ourselves. Regardless of how long we've known and loved Jesus or how much we've done in His name; we still struggle to obey (Luke 6:46). We still fall short. We still sin. But if we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse us from our sins. (1 Jn 1:8-9) Let this arrest your attention: "If we... He is..." I want us to catch the not so covert contingency and acknowledge the fact of our responsibility.
If you're a fairness fighter like me, I wonder if you would agree that we have an uncanny ability to gradually drift into an abyss when we think we are always right? We can be convinced that knowledge and duty and a morally clean record somehow outweigh the ungoverned (and - to be fair - sometimes unconscious) tendency to be the determiner of a specific destination. We have taken the helm from God and are navigating on our own sense of "good and evil". Is it any wonder as we wander that our spirits soon hang heavy with frustration and resentment?
In Isaiah 58 there is a conclusive line drawn between true and false worship. God's people are going through the motions of worship thinking they are doing right, but they are going determinedly and disastrously in the wrong direction. Instead of their lives humbly reflecting God in His goodness, they are living in a way that has made them right in their own eyes.
God's gaze penetrates into the human heart. The reality is, right living (following the rules) in the wrong way (for power, position, promotion or some personally predetermined outcome) will result in pride. Pride has two razor-sharp edges. It not only separates us from God, but flips us in direct opposition (Js 4:6) to Him and His way of humble love. This is why Isaiah 59:2 says, we lose sight of His face and our prayers fall on deaf ears.
God graciously gives His people guidelines and guarantees that if they obey, "Salvation will come like the dawn, your wounds will quickly heal, your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. Then when you call, the Lord will answer. "Yes, I am here," He will quickly reply." (Is 58:8-9)
What could be more comforting? The Lord has you covered - your future, your past, your forward, and your back. And when you call on Him, He not only hears, He quickly replies. God hears the prayers of those who "reverence" or trust in Him. Are you here? Or have you been trusting too much in yourself?
Have you lost sight of God and His goodness? Do you wonder whether your pleading prayers are being heard? Where are you? What more do you need to get your attention today? What will stop you in your tracks of trying to control the outcomes... and let God be God?
I know seasons we wish we didn't have to endure come, but I also know firsthand that it's no use clinging to something God no longer has for us. Like magnificent messengers, let's listen to the lesson of the leaves: let go when it's time. Surrender. Fall into the arms of the Father. You are His. And there's no better place to be than here.
For behold, the winter is past;
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree ripens its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away (Song of Solomon 2:11-13).
Lord, through all generations you have been our home!
Before the mountains were born,
before you gave birth to the earth -
from beginning to end, you are God!
Seventy years are given to us,
some even live to eighty,
but even the best years
are filled with pain and trouble;
soon they disappear and
we will fly away!
Teach us to realize the brevity of life,
so that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Satisfy us each morning with
your unfailing love,
so we may sing for JOY
to the end of our lives.
(Psalm 90: 1-2,10,12,14)
Forty-eight years have been given to me, so far. The first thought on my birthday mind this morning was, "Thank YOU, God!" Then like a silent picture show, scene by scene and name by name the people who have been my life-shapers came to mind.
My parents - oh how you've loved and guided this determined first-born. You've encouraged my love of cats and dogs, sea and sand, and all things outdoors, and respected my introversion, introspection, and need for quiet reflection. You've understood well the gaping chasm where my personality dwells between big ideas and big fears, and yet you have challenged my courage and helped me form a foundation of faith.
My husband, you couldn't have known all you were in for when you first said, "I do." But I'm sure glad you did! You've been my champion, my lead sled-dog, and the wings where I find both shelter and a higher perspective. Your melodies shake and stir my melancholy and often resuscitate my weary soul. Thank you for your patience, listening to my processing and day-dreaming about redeeming everything I see, you mean so much to me. Thank you also for sharing your two, tow-head boys, who are now both growing, godly men - which brings me great joy!
I love my, and Andy's, siblings, spouses, and their offsprings. The picture above was taken just a week ago, at Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes with my rambunctious, youngest niece. She loves "dirt and rocks" like me, and she said, that makes us twins.
I think about my aunts and uncles, cousins, the Kiwi girls, so many friends from West Side and Grace Spring churches. Co-workers and co-laborers in the kingdom. Teachers and authors. Pastors and worshipers. Some who have flown away to their eternal home, and some from whom I still have much to learn.
I think about Cindy, Michele, Colleen, Jenny, Hillary, Inga, and Ingi Thor, some of my dearest, long-time friends who have shared life's highest adventures and with whom I've walked some dark valleys. Faithful friends.
Sandy, Sara, Sherry, Debbie, Michelle, Miranda, Shelby, Kim... I'm so glad we didn't hesitate, but dug our hands into the soil of life and planted seeds, which only needed one-year to take root, but will produce a lifetime of fruit. Many more could be added to this list, you know who you are.
For new and old neighbors. For new and seasoned sisters who have opened their hearts and lives to me. I love that you have shared your story, your heartbreak, your hopes, your questions... and as we struggle to solve life's riddles, I'm all the wiser because we walk it out together. We may try, but we know we will never mine the depths of life's Majestic Mystery, but when we ponder the brevity of life... our hearts find their rest and their nest in the Lord, who is our Home wherever we go.
"The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume." -- Prov 27:9
"A friend loves at all times." -- Prov 17:7
"Share one another's burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ." -- Gal 6:2
"Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another." -- Prov 27:17
"As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as signs of God's grace." -- 1 Peter 4:10
There are so many of you that I would like to name personally, you know who you are, each and all of you have been a gift to me. And I thank God, the giver of all good gifts for YOU!
"You are a royal priesthood... God's very own possession... so that you can show others the goodness of God, who called you out of darkness and into His wonderful light." 1 Pet 2:9
When I lived in Iceland, I jumped at the opportunity to climb some majestic mountains. I still recall standing breathless, imbibing the wonder of a world beyond my comprehension. A summit powerfully reminds me how small I really am. How insignificant my existence seems in the overarching theme of humanity. What am I but dust... yet I must never forget... I am made in the image of God the creator, saved from myself by His one and only Son, and empowered by His Spirit for the purpose of displaying His glory.
I find this personal relationship with God, confirmed in the grand redemption theme of the Bible, to be the most thrilling fact of life. And this is why I treasure the gift of preaching. My pastor works diligently to bridge the gap that no mountain ever could between earth and eternity. He is anointed and appointed to proclaim God’s truths to those who will hear. But the glory of the Gospel can't be limited to just the Sunday service, so what about those who never cross the threshold to hear the Word of God preached?
This is where Scripture helps me to realize it's not only my pastor's responsibility to share the Gospel. I also have a personal responsibility to explore the foundations of Christian faith and the vastness of God's love while becoming a true image-bearer. To do so means keeping the compass of my heart aligned with God's grace.
For by grace we have been saved, and here’s what is so stunning, Ephesians 2:6-7 says, “For God raised us from the dead along with Christ, seating us with Him in the heavenly realms... so God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of His grace toward us.” As we live in awe and gratitude for His grace, we become God’s COMPASS for others who wouldn't even know where to begin this journey.
The Apostle Paul says in Romans 10:13-15 (par) everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But they cannot call on Him unless they believe in Him. And they cannot believe unless someone is sent to tell them. He is saying, while there is equal opportunity offered; it still must be delivered.
We, as God’s compasses – His messengers, are sent into the world to preach the Gospel with our lives. Our living testimonies are meant to draw others into His marvelous light. We are often uniquely positioned as an arrow to point someone in need to the Sunday gathering of fellow sojourners around God's Word for worship. And, while we may never fully comprehend the mystery, our message may reach one who wouldn't hear of such heavenly horizons anywhere else.
Always remember, while we may seem small and insignificant in our own eyes, His grace is perfected in our weakness. It pleased Him who created the mountains and galaxies to choose the very dust of earth to reflect His glory.
“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
I long, yes, I faint with longing to enter the courts of the Lord.
With my whole being, body and soul,
I will shout joyfully to the living God.
Even the sparrow finds a home and builds her nest
and raises her young at a place near your altar,
O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, my King and my God!
What JOY for those who can live in your house,
always singing your praises!” -- Ps 84: 1-4
The Psalms are deeply loved because they reflect realities, giving rich, emotional expression to that which is common to our experience as children of God. The psalmists often share of some desperate need of deliverance, of being awestruck and then celebrating the goodness of God. And they also illustrate for us a way of life that can carry us through on the wings of praise too.
Last spring I had just such an experience. I was engaged in one of those Bible studies that swiftly shatter false notions.
The question was asked, “What do you think God sees… when He sees you?”
Let me ask this question of you, before you go on. Think about it but not too long or too hard. What is the first word, image, or thing that comes to your mind? My startling discovery was that the God from whom nothing is hidden, who knows the secrets of my heart, and before whom I can stand completely exposed and emptied of any image management sees… a scared, little bird.
This is a far cry from the fond memory my parents share of how their baby girl would wake before the sun came up - and well before they wanted to get up - and like a little songbird I would sing the day into existence. I don’t exactly know when or why that changed for me, but when I examine my heart... worry often outweighs worship and genuine joy is elusive. I so desperately want that to be different.
I know I’m not alone. Many of us struggle with our own smallness and overwhelming expectations and circumstances of life we find our loved ones and ourselves in. Then there is also tremendous grief and loss, which needs a deeper treatment of the Scriptures than what I'm addressing in this blog.
My question to take in hand today is: how are we to ascend on wings of joy when the rigors life gets us down? Psalm 84 shows us that there is a way. The message we find here is that the greatest joy in life is found in the presence of our Lord and God; dwelling in a place near His altar results in active faith, inner courage, and joyful dependence.
The psalmist says he would give anything for it. “Better is ONE day in your presence, than a thousand elsewhere (vs 10).” God’s nearness and personal proximity mean everything to him – and can also to us – not only when things are going well, but also especially when we are feeling displaced, weak, and hopeless.
Another probing question for us is, do we hear these words and cling to them as life lessons or do we dismiss them simply as pretty poetry? Do we take them, as we should, as the very words and wisdom of the Spirit of God? These words were written through the life-ink of a soul - just like ours - who has at last recognized the enormous value of his smallness is how it magnifies the greatness of God!
Let’s look at three treasures to be obtained in the presence of God:
When I meditate on the first four verses of this Psalm, it occurs to me how disordered my life can quickly become. I flit and flutter around here and there, consciously trying to do everything as “unto the Lord,” but unconsciously end up trying to do everything and be everything to everyone. I vacillate between trying to appear calm in the face of the storm, but deep inside feeling small and wanting just to find rest. “How lovely is your dwelling place… I long, yes, I faint with longing to enter your presence – your rest.” (v 1-2, par)
Just today, as I showered, the flickering lights hinted, the predicted typhoon-ish storm was passing through. To my surprise, when I drew back the curtain one dog was about to dive into the shower with me and the other was wildly – albeit unsuccessfully – attempting to hide behind the stool. When I stepped out and into the room, they both instantly calmed. Even though the storm still swirled, and the whites in their eyes confirmed the fear was still present, in my presence they were able to rest. In their simple doggy way they seem to know, no matter what comes; I will always take care of them. I am their safe-place.
God promises rest and joy for those who trust Him, but sadly, some fail to experience it. (Heb 4:1-9). The rest God has prepared for us is not only regarding an eternal destination, but it is also meant to be a present application. However, in both cases, it can only be obtained by faith. Not faith in our own sufficiency or in an anxiety-free or adversity-free life, but faith in another life: the life and work of Jesus.
Did you happen to notice where the fragile birds establish their nest? At a place near the “altar” of God. Now, this phrase in a New Testament sense must mean something different than the blazing, flame-filled area around the altar of sacrifice alluded to by the psalmist. A dried nest, not to mention a living bird, could not dwell safely in such a place.
The psalmist, prophetically conveying timeless truth, gives us this most glorious secret: when we live in view of the “altar”, which means when we live with a constant awareness of how the sacrifice and the Good News of Jesus Christ has forever transformed life – we need not ever be afraid. For here, at a place near the altar, is where we can “abide in the shelter of the Most High. For He alone is our refuge, a place of safety. He will cover you with His feathers. He will shelter you with His wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.” (Psalm 91)
“Do you see the great lesson here? The Christian life is a life of day-by-day, hour-by-hour trust in the promises of God to help us and guide us and take care of us and forgive us and bring us into a future of holiness and joy that will satisfy our hearts infinitely more than if we put our trust in ourselves or in the promises of this world. And that day-by-day, hour-by-hour trust in God's promises is not automatic. It is the result of daily diligence.” – John Piper
Such diligence is founded on present, active faith fixed upon God Himself. Not on your finances or your retirement account. Not in your health or your strength. Not on perfection or performance. Not on your husband or on your child and not even on church, or good works, or on being a good person - these are some of the good things that can deepen our relationship with Him, but when they become our central focus – more often than not – they draw our attention away from Him.
Little bird, let me speak tenderly from personal experience, putting faith in our own works (even the work of 'pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps') is a constant and dangerous temptation. Putting faith in your own abilities or anything or anyone other than God creates anxiety. Anxiety is an indication that faith must supply a trust deficit – a fear that God will not or cannot take care of us. For Jesus clearly says, “Not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” (Matt 10: 29-31)
The opposite of fear is not self-courage; it is faith – which is courage anchored in the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. Many of us unknowingly place our faith in our perceived ability to control external circumstances. Scripture says, “You will keep her in perfect peace, the one whose mind is fixed on You, because she trusts in You.” (Isaiah 26:3)
Why do we falsely live as though the outcome we desire is solely dependent upon us? We who overthink frequently know that chronic worry will eventually sweep us away into the depths of unbelief, distancing us from the very peace we seek. "But I've been anxious all my life," you say. Or "I can't seem to get my mind out of this rut." This is where you CAN do something, and that is replace worry with the Word of Truth.
The Apostle Paul, who continually fixed his mind on Christ even though he had more than a lion’s share of uncontrollable circumstances, says, “Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Think on things that are true, honorable, right, lovely and praiseworthy…tell God what you need and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we could possibly understand!” (Phil 4: 4-9 par)
Ahhh, but there is more…
“Keep putting this into practice and always be FULL of JOY in the LORD!”
Which brings us to the third treasure: praise offered to God has a soothing effect and the ability to produce the most profound joy! The sparrow not only finds peace and rest in the Shelter of the Almighty, but she also desires to raise her chicks here. To the next generation, not only her own chicks, she shares this secret: great joy can be found within community, in view of Jesus, singing His praises! Yes, He, who sits enthroned above the world and cares for every solitary sparrow, also inhabits the praise of His little birds. (Ps 22:3)
I pray you can you begin to grasp the marvelous mystery unfolding here. When we choose to “live” in God’s presence, feeding on His promises, experiencing His all-surpassing peace, praising Him with our whole being … He inhabits, “lives in,” that praise! And while it is reciprocal, sister - do not think it is equal. For our teacup of joy overflows and is filled over and over again as we are filled with the continual fountain of His joy! (Jn 16:9-12)
What we come to experience is:
“What joy?” (question mark) becomes: “What JOY!” (exclamation point)!
I don’t deny there are troubling times, while we are still in the midst of a trial or turbulent storm, that we must offer a “sacrifice of praise”. It is a sacrifice precisely because it costs us something at the altar. Surrender the outcome in the faith of Abraham and receive the wise words of Oswald Chambers, “God does not give us overcoming life – He give us life as we overcome.” The very stresses and strains - and even the sacrifices - of life build the wing-strength needed to fly. If there is no strain – there can be no soaring.
The Bible references God’s saving and strength-renewing power as being “carried on wings like eagles.” (Ex 19:4, Is 40:31) There is all the difference in the world between the false notion that you - a little bird - must soar yourself above life’s adversities. Compared to the joy and freedom found as you discover you are being delivered and restored through them! Yet this is precisely how the small sparrow can bring great glory to God.
What JOY for those whose strength comes from the Lord!
What JOY is found when little birds, in faith and trust, are carried on wings like eagles!
"So let us not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we do not give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone - especially those in the family of faith." Gal 6: 9-10
I relished the opportunity to have a couple hours to myself one evening last week. Life, once again, was spinning out of my (perceived) control and I was distancing myself from my emotions - trying to keep the agony from awakening. It seemed, if I allowed the dam to break and let loose the torrential waters of all that was happening... surely I would be overtaken. But if I could just let the sorrow sleep, the loss lie low, then soon this season too shall pass and I would come forth wiser for the wear and tear.
My neighbor, the farmer, atop his green and yellow Deere was plowing, preparing the soil to sow. As much as I wanted to finish the final pages of "Seeking the Face of God," by the masterful Martyn Lloyd Jones... my thoughts kept pulling me to the window and the upturned field. The golden arches of the sun's last strength fizzled, but the diligent farmer continued his work from dusk until dark.
God is always at work. He is upturning the soil of hearts hardened by sin - perpetually present in the world and in the self. He is always cultivating opportunities for our character to reproduce the fruit of His Spirit, because the seed of Christ has been sown in hearts that are His. Scripture says, if anyone is in Christ, we are a new creation and the old seed has passed away and the new seed of the Spirit has been planted (2 Cor 5:17 para).
Another field just down the dirt road already has symmetrical rows of sweet corn, straining through the soil. Only 3 or 4 tender inches have emerged but just enough to reveal what they will become - 10-foot tall sturdy stalks that will produce a hefty harvest.
The seed is a miracle. A kernel of powerful potential. Maybe your understanding, experience, or knowledge can comprehend its mystery better than I can - but I don't need to understand it really - I just love to marvel at it and reflect, in my introspective way, on how it teaches us principles of the heart of God, the law of Christ, which is love.
For the past year, several women have been sowing love-seeds into my life. Meals, laughter, learning together, serving, sharing and bearing burdens, opening homes and hearts, and revealing Christ within. None of them would think that they had done anything miraculous; it would seem so seedling small. Yet little did any of us know that the upturned soil of my recent relocation provided just the right conditions for those seeds to take root and begin to grow a grander, more relational faith walk.
I fear, like many of us, that the crushing circumstances of life will harden my heart. I fear that when I have been reduced to the smallest kernel of self that I will not have what it takes to continue. But this is the opposite of what we learn from Jesus. As He approached His imminent death He said, "Unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But it's death will produce many new kernels - a plentiful harvest of new lives." (John 12:24)
This verse is clearly about a loving Savior who humbled Himself and became man and died the death we deserved to reveal the relational nature of His Father. He who "didn't want heaven without us, so Jesus you brought Heaven down"1. But the principle is for us too. You see, we reap relationships when we also - like Jesus - sow love. While we give something of ourselves away, the return can be so rich!
We should not get tired of doing good to others; we should be inspired! We will reap relationships when we sow love. When we bear one another's burdens, we are spreading the seed of Christ's sacrificial, actual, practical - roll your sleeves up and sink your elbows in - love. This is how the Holy Spirit produces in us His fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22). What is important, proclaims the great Apostle Paul, is faith expressing itself in love (Gal 5:6).
In a world conditioned to withhold ourselves out of fear, how brilliantly the faith of these women - expressed through their love - has shown. This takes theology right off the black and white page and births it into full color! It is true, I love - and desire that everyone would love - theology. But the old adage, no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care, comes to mind.
In closing, here are a few treasures of Scripture that can help our faith stay rooted in love:
We read in Jeremiah 4:3, “Break up your fallow ground …” Understand that the difficulties and trials in life are often ways that the Lord is using to break the hardness that has crept into our hearts. Maybe that hardness is the result of unforgiveness or bitterness? Maybe it is that we have become too comfortable with ways and a walk that are out of step with the Spirit? I read recently that we often pray for God to change our circumstances, but maybe He has allowed our circumstances to change us.
In Psalm 126:6 we read, “They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return for the harvest." We are to sow the seed of the Word of God and the love of God first into our own hearts and then also into our relationships. Farmers know there are seasons. And there are seasons for us as well. Times of weeping provide the opportunity to sow seeds of faith - that God will bring good to pass out of what now does not seem good. Often the JOY we reap after the summer days of sunshine is a result of faith seeds sown in a season of despair.
Hosea 10:12 reveals God's words, as He says, “Plant the good seeds of righteousness; and you will harvest a crop of love. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the Lord that He may come and shower righteousness on you.” Did you catch that? As we plant our feeble seeds of right living and right loving, the return on our investment is a SHOWER of His righteousness! And again, we see that after the hardness has been plowed, a harvest of love is yielded!
These principles are so profound for our relationships. I can't express it any more clearly; we reap relationships when we sow love. And these relationships are then the seeds sown back into a world without a hope and in desperate need of our Savior. See the root of relationship is God, Himself. We don't just have or experience relationships as a means to an end, but to reflect the relational, incarnational, love of God - His righteousness - back into the world!
God is the root. Relationships with God and others are both the seed and the subsequent tree. And love is the fruit. They are all connected. This is why we will reap what we sow... so go, and simply sow in love! There is much to be harvested!
I would like to just take this moment to thank the wonderful women of gracespring Bible Church in Richland, Michigan for this past year. I had no idea when we moved here last summer that I would only have a season with you (Debbie, Tammy, Kim, Sandy, Sara, Michelle, Miranda, Shelby, Sherry, Reina, Mikayla, Amy, Alanna, Robbi, Lori, Karen, Erin, Jaci, Julie, Stephanie, Ashley and many more). You see, the Lord didn't let me go to my book about seeking His face, because as I reflected on the farmer and the field that evening, I realized that I saw His face in YOU! Your willingness to throw your arms wide open, share your lives with me, and sow love into my fallowed heart has revealed the love Christ more fully than anything else I've ever experienced. In returning to Traverse City, know that I carry the seeds you have sown, and anticipate God will bless the harvest in all His Church. May our labor of love have eternal impact!
I also want to express my deep gratitude to Alongside, a restoration ministry for pastors and missionaries, for allowing me to come alongside and learn from their love for God, His global Church, and eternal kingdom. I have never had such meaningful work and such fertile soil to sow my seeds of love. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to catch a glimpse into how far, wide, and deep is the love of God.
1 Lyrics from the Song, Wonderful Name, by Hillsong
Gethsemane and Golgotha teach us that Jesus’ perfection and passion release God’s power but in different forms. The garden of Gethsemane echoes the haunting cries of the Suffering Servant, “Lord, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” We can hardly imagine a more desperate, desolate prayer. We know of no other – not one – who perfectly loved the Father and lived without sin. And yet the plea of the Son does not deter the Father from His sovereign purposes.
Several horrendous hours later, Golgotha’s hills and highest heavens hear the Savior gasp, “Father, forgive them.” As His body is broken and blood poured out for the sin of mankind, the veil in the temple – representing man’s separation from a holy God – is torn from top to bottom. Access to the Most Holy Place has been purchased for those who will look on Christ, believe – and so choose to follow Him, and be saved.
The power of God is released in Gethsemane by impartation of inner strength to accomplish God’s will. Jesus said, “Not my will, but yours be done.” But on Golgotha, God’s power was released on behalf of Jesus into the external circumstances of man to purchase the forgiveness of sin, redemption from death, and reconciliation with the Father. God’s power provided everything Jesus needed to accomplish the greatest triumph the world will ever know.
God’s power was exhibited in different forms in the garden and on the hill, but for the same purpose: that His perfect will, will be done. And there comes a point in the Christian life where what’s true of Christ will also be true of us, because Christ lives in us. Christ is not only our payment but also our pattern.
There's an old song, God Moves in a Mysterious Way, by William Cowper that puts it far better (and in fewer words) than I ever could... the essence that God's sovereign will is so unfathomable, interrelated, and so full of unimaginable grace that we only... need... to... trust. (Click on the song title and it will take you to YouTube - Jeremy Riddle - modern version.)
We often want to experience power in prayer to remove some burden or to secure something we desire. But we feel so achingly powerless, so weak, so contorted around our own will - even for good things. And still we pray. We believe. We look to Him who defies all expectations and explanations - who works in mysterious ways.
One of those mysteries is that God works in and through His children. To be sure, the prayer is ours, but the power is always His! God is always looking for someone to stand in the gap through prayer so His saving power may be released. That someone is Jesus, who stands at the right hand of the Father in glory and lives in us through the power of the Holy Spirit!
I recently attended a funeral where the popular and stunningly beautiful song, now a hit movie, "I Can Only Imagine," was sang through raw throats and burning eyes. It passionately and poetically conveys the believer's desperate longing to see Jesus face to face and be surrounded by His glory. But, I almost couldn't contain myself, I wanted to jump up on my chair and shout, "You don't have to ONLY imagine! You don't have to wait until you get to glory! You can walk with Him and talk with Him and be in His presence now, because our Savior lives!!!"
This Easter, look again to Jesus and His saving sacrifice, God’s greatest power displayed. But don't look at a corpse on a cross. Your Savior lives!!! He is alive. He lives to make intercession for us. That means you can ask anything you want in His holy name, knowing your prayers are not dependent on your passion or perfection, but His, and believe that His power dwells in you to accomplish God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.
“God Moves in a Mysterious Way”
by William Cowper
God moves in a mysterious way,
his wonders to perform;
he plants his footsteps in the sea,
and rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines,
of never-failing skill;
he fashions up his bright designs,
and works his sovereign will.
Ye fearful saints fresh courage take,
the clouds that you much dread,
are big with mercy and
will break in blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
but trust him for his grace;
behind a frowning providence,
he hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
unfolding every hour;
the bud may have a bitter taste,
but sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err,
and scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
and he will make it plain.
Ye fearful saints fresh courage take,
the clouds that you much dread,
are big with mercy and
will break in blessings on your head.
A tree grows from the life of the seed that gave it being. I was created before the foundations of the world in the image of God but, because of original sin, I was born physically alive and spiritually dead. The life that grew from this seed was one that saw no need for God, wanted to be my own god, or – minimally - desired to create and have a god made in my image.
The first necessity of prayer, and to have a life worth living, is for this old life to be uprooted and a new life implanted.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness (not wanting God as He is) and unrighteousness (wanting myself to be god-like) of men, who by their unrighteousness (wanting to create life according to ‘me’) suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world (Rom 1:18-20).”
The primal prayer of men is to acknowledge God as one’s Creator and Savior. To “express” is the opposite of “suppress”. When we express our allegiance to the One who not only gave us life, but also gave His life so that we could be “born again, not of perishable seed, but imperishable seed, through the living and abiding word of God (1 Pet 1:23),” our new life begins and is strengthened and sustained by Him as we abide in Him.
Prayer is the means of abiding in the written and living Word of God. Through prayer our spiritual lives are infused with strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow and we produce fruit in keeping with our roots. Without prayer, we are prone to return to our former roots, where - being spiritually severed from Christ - we wither and break under the pressures of sin and life.
This is why the exhortation to “meditate on God’s word day and night,” is often repeated and Jesus himself said, “If you abide in me, you will bear much fruit to my Father’s glory. As the Father has loved me, so I love you. Abide in my love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete. (see Jn 15).”
Prayer is the parallel, the mirror, between God’s glory and our joy. It is a seed with unlimited potential for a spiritual life that reproduces. But far too many of us, after praying the salvation prayer, languish in an "ask-only" prayer life and the vitality of our prayers slowly withers. Without a heavenly vision for our prayer journey we will soon be wandering in the never-never land of endless requests.
In his wonderful book called: Prayer, pastor Timothy Keller suggests a very simple, easy to remember method for balancing and maturing our prayers: upward, inward, and outward.
Healthy church ministry is always empowered by the Spirit of Jesus. Modern ministry is still a continuation of the ministry of Jesus, handed off to His Apostles, and now passed on to us. When commissioning His disciples, Jesus provided a Harvest Vision and Values for achieving healthy church growth:
“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” Matt 28:16-20
Too often churches get turned upside down by focusing only on techniques and practices – what the church must “DO” to grow. But the Bible teaches us to focus, first, on principles – what the church must “BE”. We must be a people who:
How well are we following Him when it comes to leading our churches? Have we truly accepted His hand-off, to carry the commission and commands faithfully into our future ministries? If not, it's not too late to start now. Our churches are healthy only to the extent that we are following Christ and what He said matters.
God treasures our commitment to the Great Commission and Great Commandment. By beginning with His Harvest Vision and Values, we end up with a church and ministry that is pleasing to Him. He has not only handed this vision down, but He's handed it off to us - our generation - it's in our hands now.
I giggle. I just caught myself reading French. I don’t expect you to have even the slightest interest in this little tidbit. But to make a point, my toothbrush is souple, which – says the English version – means soft. It’s silly but I’ve been noticing other languages printed on signs, products, and labels (and now you will too, sorry about that!). No, I’m not learning French. I wasn’t looking for it. It’s just, now that I have noticed, I see it everywhere!
It is pretty awesome to think, from my Hickory Corners home in the middle of the mitten state, of all the other languages and people groups in the world. These people and languages exist. They are there, somewhere, it their little corner of the world. And more awesome yet, that the sparrow-watching eye of the Creator is upon them, just as it is on you and me.
Whether we think about it much or not, France exists. One doesn’t have to have set foot in the City of Lights to discover that the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum, or Arc de Triomphe are real landmarks, with a real history, in a real place, surrounded by real people searching for real meaning in life – as we all are. All this reality exists regardless of our appreciation or lack thereof.
There is another place I think a lot about and another language I’ve been learning over the past 17-years. It really does make me giggle and sometimes cry. It makes me slow down, take a deep breath, and smell the wildflowers. It helps me surrender a compulsive need for control, cast off anxieties and insecurities, and relinquish past regrets and future fears. I am able to surrender loved-ones and annoying-ones and ones who refuse my help. I often find myself inexplicably soaring above momentary afflictions and willing trade everything for a treasured field called the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt 13:44-46).
The language of this kingdom is – as you may have guessed – love. Not the romance language of France or the movie-making version of “love,” proffered to our culture like worthless, wooden statues in days of old. Nor is it the “dissect your Bible, have all the right answers, speck-picking love” either. But – and there’s no easier way to say it – the “turn the other cheek, lay your life down, forgive them,” impossible-love of Christ.
I suppose I could have started with the lite-version of “one another love”: “build up, bear with, encourage, don’t grumble, be humble.” The problem with this love-list is that it’s an easy one for me, and maybe for most people, to self-score and never turn in to the Teacher.
Many of us genuinely want to love better. We want to learn the language of love – less like tourists and more like residents. If that’s you, like it is me, then it seems we will need something like “whole-person immersion” into the culture of the Kingdom. I don’t believe there is any other way to grasp the inconceivably challenging reality of how vastly far, vastly “other than,” the Kingdom of Christ is from our personal kingdoms on earth. But before that, and more than that, we need first to immerse ourselves – again – in the Gospel.
If our starting place is God’s radical grace offered daily to recovering rebels like us, and extended once for all through Jesus: His perfect life, sacrificial death, resurrection-restoration, and gift of the Holy Spirit to be our Advocate, Comforter, and truth-Teacher… then learning love becomes an invitation to possibility based on His ability – not mine, not yours!
God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live and love through Him. Love less like a feeling, and more like a divinely inspired way of relating. How might our relationships be different if we lived from the daily awareness that we are empowered to love because He first loved us? Read (1 Jn 4:7-5:5).
Dallas Willard says in Renovation of the Heart, the journey of perfect love looks like this (my paraphrase): God loves us. We love God. Others love us because God’s love is in them. And, finally our love is perfected, when we love others (even our enemies) because God’s love is in us has become our natural way of relating in life.
For all of us with hearts having been wounded and hardened by imperfect love, this revelation of God’s love has the power to souple (soften) our souls so that we can experience and offer love in an entirely self-giving way! It’s an irresistible invitation; God is with us – perfecting love, offering freedom – every step of the way!
You see, His Kingdom is much more wondrous than we’ve thought or feared. It’s a glorious place of grace… filled with His presence – from the brightest to the darkest corners, from Kalamazoo to Kathmandu – in a world that Jesus is progressively and purposefully making new (Rev 21:5).
This reality exists whether we think of it or not. Whether it is appreciated it or not; it exists. And God has lovingly allowed humans freedom of choice: present-day passports with definite expiration dates can be relinquished and a new, never ending citizenship can be obtained. We are offered an exchange from “only this time on earth” scarcity scrambling to secure Kingdom living. Choosing God changes EVERYTHING!
The invitation to this new heavenly position has been offered. And accepting it opens us up to an unimaginable opportunity to live as permanent residents of the Kingdom of God. People will know we’re “not from ‘round these parts” because of the words we speak and the clothes we wear. When our citizenship has been exchanged, we begin wearing the King’s righteousness: fashions such as compassion, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, humility, and – above all – love (Col 3:12-14).
So how can believers become fluent in this new language and land?
You may not have been looking for it, but I hope you now see it everywhere: God’s Kingdom and His people living the language of love, pointing others to the life they are desperately longing for. If we listen closely to Jesus’ prayer to His Father, who art in heaven, we discover that God’s goal isn’t just that we die and go to heaven, but that we should die to self and bring heaven here. Step more deeply into this reality. Allow the Holy Spirit to teach you His language and renew your heart. And may the joy of Jesus be yours, as others come to experience God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven through your love story.