Lay It All Down

There are arms always open to you. There is always One who is listening. There is always a place to find rest.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”-Matthew 11:28-30

“Catch the Wind”

 

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These are strange days. Do you feel it? Do you feel the uncertainty of this season, the cacophony of voices constantly clashing around us? Do you feel the opinions flying fast and furious, fear tightening its grip, discord having its day?

But deeper than all of that – beneath the surface of frenzy and friction – do you see the hearts longing to know that they are seen and safe, that the future is secure, that someone is for them? Do you see hearts looking for hope?

It can be hard to know the right thing to say or the right actions to take because, in a time when it seems like everyone is choosing sides over something, we are still called to be peacemakers. We are called to act justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. We are called to love as we have been loved.

I think this brings one conclusion — we need wisdom greater than our own. We need vision that sees further, deeper, and clearer than our own. We need a love that is wider, deeper, longer, and higher than our emotions or opinions. We need ears to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd.

Over these strange days, our God is still sovereign. His are still the words that are not returned void. His purposes still stand. His heart is still set on kindness that brings repentance. He is still looking for every lost sheep…His love is not wavering, His mercy has not run dry.

We know that His kingdom is unshakeable. We know that our Savior still meets every heart that longs for rescue and calls out to Him. We know that there is love that never fails.

So you and I, we are hope-bearers and we must not be distracted or deterred from this calling.

When we aren’t sure how to proceed, what to say, how to act — this is when we press in to His presence.  We open His Word and let our roots deepen in Truth that endures…we open our hearts in prayer and let Him change us until our lives flourish in love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We abide in Him and He abides in us — this Holy Spirit, comforter and teacher, lives within us. And this is what my heart is yearning for, what I know I desperately need – to  walk in step with Him, finding my source of help in His sustaining grace.

In and out of changing times, the victorious light and love of Jesus remain unshaken. Secure in His faithfulness, we are to take this life day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. We lean in and we listen for His voice…we wait on the Lord when we are unsure of our next step. We live interruptible lives, open to changing course and trusting that He will lead us when we ask Him to order our steps, to show us His way.

Maybe it won’t always look logical. Maybe it won’t always make sense. But this is faith — walking in the Spirit instead of our own reasoning.

May our part in these strange days be one of remarkable, bold grace. Let it be our part to share peace that surpasses understanding, compassion that reflects our Jesus who gave Himself to bear the pain and sorrow of all people. Let it be our part to hear the cries of the hurting, not turning away, but drawing close in the power of God that works in us to heal the sick, to feed the hungry, to proclaim liberty for the captives. Let it be our part to act in fearless and unintimidated obedience when God leads us into action. Let it be our part to share unwavering truth in love. Let it be our part to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, to care for those who are forgotten and lonely. Let it be our part to intercede in prayer, knowing that God honors and responds to the prayer of His people. Let it be our part, above all, to never stop sharing the good news of a Savior who gave His life so that we can find forgiveness of sin and eternal life.

Let us be brave. Let us be strong in the power of His might.

We have been given the freedom that comes with redemption, the abundant joy of God’s presence, His strength in our weakness — so let it be that our lives are living epistles of His hope. In these strange days, may it be said of us that we have loved like we were first loved…whole-heartedly, holding nothing back, freely giving what has been given to us.

“…that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”-John 3:6-8

If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.-Galatians 5:25

Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.-2 Cor. 3:17

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.-2 Timothy 1:7

We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.

By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us.

God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.
Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us.-1 John 4:6-19

 

Together We Follow (Genesis 15)

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Genesis 15

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”

But Abram said, “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!”

And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”

And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.

Then He said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.”

And he said, “Lord God, how shall I know that I will inherit it?”

So He said to him, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying:

“To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates— the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”

There’s a lot going on in this chapter of Genesis. The covenant between God and Abram sets a story into motion that is still happening even now, so it’s an important moment in for us to understand. (You can find a reminder of what the word covenant really means when it comes to humanity and God here). We will come back to this chapter again, zooming in on a few details, but for now I want to focus on this: God initiated this relationship. He offered His presence and His promise for the future to Abram – and Abram didn’t have to accomplish some feat of valor to receive God’s blessings. He didn’t have to become worthy in his own goodness or strength.

What did he do?

He believed.

He took God at His word — and this faith of Abram’s was ‘accounted to him for righteousness’. It pleased God that Abram chose to trust Him.

Upon this foundation of faith, God made a covenant with Abram: his descendants would be given land, a home, a place to belong.

In the time of Abram, covenants or agreements were made legally binding in this way: the two involved parties would “slaughter some animals, carve them up, and arrange the pieces in two lines. Then both parties would join hands and solemnly walk together down the middle of the path. By so doing they would pledge in the presence of blood and suffering and death, their intention to keep the terms of the contract.” (Willmington’s Guide to the Bible)

You read today that Abram did, in fact, follow God’s instructions to set up this formation to confirm their covenant. But afterwards, Abram did not walk down the middle of the two lines. Instead, God – His presence represented by fire – passed through alone.

God was both extending the covenant terms AND taking it upon Himself to fulfill it.

The promise of Home for the descendants of Abraham became an unconditional covenant sealed by God Himself.

This stream of grace is the same that flowed from the garden and continues to flow into the salvation we are freely given — the salvation extended by the Father and accomplished by Jesus for us.

And just like Abram, we receive this gift by choosing to believe. Just like Abram, we put our faith in the Father and find ourselves at Home. His grace invites us into His heart, gives us a place to belong.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us.-Ephesians 1:7

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.-Ephesians 2:8

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.-Titus 2:11

 

Together We Follow: Genesis 14:17-24

We last saw Abram in a moment of victory. With improbable odds, he took on a rescue mission to save his nephew, Lot, from kings who had conquered and kidnapped the people of Sodom.

Despite the greater number of men, weapons, and experience that his men faced, Abram was victorious in the battle.

We pick up after the victory, when Abram meets Melchizedek – priest of the Most High God, King of Salem (a place later to be called Jerusalem).

 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said:“Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”

And he gave him a tithe of all.

Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself.”

 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’—except only what the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men who went with me: Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion.”

As I’ve thought about this moment in time, I tried to put myself in Abram’s shoes. This is not a period of time in which many know the Most High God. Abram came from a family and a place that worshiped idols…. we aren’t told that he encountered anyone else on his journey so far who professed a relationship with the God he had come to know.

What encouragement, then, it must have been for Melchizedek to come to him. What unexpected grace and confirmation of God’s faithfulness it was to have this priest of the Most High minister to him.

We can’t know what Abram was feeling or what, exactly, his heart was in need of after facing such a battle to win back his family.

But even while Abram was still in the fierce fight, God was already moving to spread a table before him…God was already guiding Melchizedek to prepare for Abram’s visit…God was already providing what Abram would need.

Melchizedek gave nourishment for body and soul — bread and wine, blessing, reminder of the One who had given Abram the victory.

And so when the king of Sodom offered Abram the spoils of battle, Abram said no. He knew the One who was making a way for him in this strange new land. He was seeing, day by day, the power and goodness of his God…and he wanted no confusion about the source of his strength.

I believe that our Father takes delight in preparing good things for us, in being the One we look to for what we need. Whether we are in the heat of battle, in a place of peace, in a moment of victory, in the day-to-day paths we walk — God is the One who nourishes us, who knows what we need before we can even realize it ourselves.

God sent Melchizedek to meet Abram, to refresh and encourage him…as I thought about how loving this was, it dawned on me — for you and I, God came Himself. Through the work of Christ on the cross and the coming of the Holy Spirit into our lives, we have an ever-abiding comfort and sustaining power. The Father looked ahead and saw our needs…and for us, He prepared an open invitation to His table, to His Word, to His presence, to the throne of Grace.

This is the love of our God toward us — He Himself became our bread and wine, our living water that satisfies every thirst, our blessing, our portion.

It’s my hope that we will center our trust and our dependence upon Him so that we will understand, more and more, His faithfulness to sustain us…and when anyone looks at our lives, they will know – everything we have and everything we are has come from our Father.

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We Are Held

In some ways, I am feeling unsettled, uncertain, and unsure as 2017 dawns. Maybe you are, too.

We can’t know what to expect from this new year, but we do know that this is the life of faith – taking one step after another in confidence that the Way-Maker goes before us and leads us exactly where we need to go.

Whatever may come – The Lord is our portion, therefore we will hope in Him. (Lamentations 3:24)

Here’s what I want for this year, for me and for you – I want to keep seeking. Keep knocking. Keep coming to the table where He has set a place just for us. Keep following Jesus, wherever He leads.

If we keep our eyes fixed on Him alone and our hearts open before Him no matter where we are, no matter the season…what I think we will keep learning soul-deep is this: He will sustain us.

Behold, God is my helper;
    the Lord is the upholder of my life…-Psalm 54:4

Even to your old age, I am He,
And even to gray hairs I will carry you!
I have made, and I will bear;
Even I will carry, and will deliver you.-Isaiah 46:4

You Came

It’s not labeled as a Christmas song, but the words of this song are Christmas to me…

He came. Jesus came when I needed Him. He woke up my heart and breathed life into my soul. I couldn’t walk out of the tomb of sin and shame on my own, I couldn’t unbind the fear that kept me from moving, that kept me stuck in the darkness…

He unwound the fear with perfect love, set me free.

He sang over my life and loved me with whole and perfect love until I began to believe what He said about me: that I was wanted. Cherished. A daughter of God, beloved. He loved me into days like this one, days when I can dance through my house with joy, wild and uncaring about awkward limbs because it is my heart that is leaping without worry, without shame….because it is His song that moves my feet and my voice.

The Light, the glory, the holiness of the Father…it’s given to us, revealed through this Savior whose selfless, all-encompassing love led Him into Bethlehem…to the cross where He took my pain, my sin, my death and gave me righteousness, strength, and life  — life overflowing and never — never, ever, ever — ending.

Can we know how deep, how wide, how long, how high His love is?

Didn’t He begin to show us when the virgin glowed with expectation, when a baby leapt in the womb of the old, when the wedding feast was saved, when the net was filled with fish, when the bellies where filled with lunch, when the blind eyes opened clear and full of wonder, when the deaf ears heard music in the wind, when limbs helpless and frail strengthened to running, when demons ran back to where they belonged, when life was called from death, when He carried the cross in our place, when the tomb stood empty and the upper room was filled with Spirit?

He comes to our need, our miracle-working, beyond-expectation, mightiest, nothing-is-too-hard God.

Turn our fear into faith, God — help us to see who You are again – again and again, let our hearts burn within us until we know that we stand in Your presence.

He has life enough, love enough, joy enough, peace enough, grace enough, healing enough, power enough — for me, for you, for every one who will ask for Him to come….for every one who will believe Him.

We begin in rags, we begin broken, we begin alone and orphaned, we begin hiding in shame, dead in our sin, slaves to our fear.

But Jesus came.

And we come out of the grave, blinking in His brilliant light, washed white and purified…we come out of the grave, free and unfettered, wearing beauty for ashes. We come out of the grave, a child of the Most High God. We come out of the grave, made whole. We come out of the grave, loved. We come out of the grave, alive.

And what can separate us now from the love of Christ?

... I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8: 38-39 

In The Storm

Things look a little different around here these days. There are trees, their leaves now golden-brown, bowed low to the ground along the highway. Ditches are deeper, wider. Cracks and widening gullies have appeared on the edges of the woods near our house. Water lines stain buildings in town. Gaps appear where trees used to stand and, in one spot, an entire row of pines has disappeared.

Hurricane Matthew may be long gone, but the evidence of it still remains. Our land is changed. We have been marked by the storm.

I know I’ve been absent here on the site over the past little while. I’ve been watching and waiting as this storm of contention continues to hover over our entire nation. I’ve been wondering what the long-term affects will look like…I’ve been wondering how our land will change…I’ve been wondering how my life will be altered.

We can’t control the storm or the changes time will reveal…but I’ve been thinking a lot about the landscape of my own heart in a time when wildfires of anger are hot and fierce, ignited by careless words…in a time when hatred and fear are raining down…in a time when the ground beneath us seems to be cracking under the pressure of it all.

My instinct is to find shelter, to avoid the storm as much as I can, to keep change at bay.

But I’m reminded, as I watch the constant flow of painful news stories, that Jesus willingly stepped into our storm. He came into the pain, into the sin-filled world, to bring His peace. He didn’t avoid the chaos, but pursued our hearts in the middle of it. He came into the mess of my mistakes so that I could know His life-giving love.

If I am following Him, I cannot pile sand-bags around my heart to maintain my own safety. If I am committed to loving people like He loves people, I have to be okay with exposure to the gales…and I CAN be, because I know that the Peace-Speaker, the One whom the wind and the rains obey, always holds my soul steady in His hands.

We’re all enduring a storm and, one way or another, we’ll be marked by it. But I don’t want to be marked by fear, apathy, anger, or confusion. I want it to be the Holy Spirit teaching and shaping the landscape of my soul as this season continues.

Instead of hardening toward those I disagree with, I want my heart to soften in compassion. I need to strengthen my resolve to become quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, and the first to love. I want to tend even more diligently to these roots so that I am firmly planted in truth, immovable by even the fiercest wind. I want to remain bowed low in prayer. I want a deeper desire to intercede for others who need Him. I want to be more vulnerable, to throw up the windows and open the doors even as the rain pours and the thunder bellows — because I  want to be faithful to go into the world…into the storm…with the good news of Jesus Christ.

We are the children of God, the body of Christ, the citizens of the kingdom of light — so let us live unafraid and undeterred by the schemes of the enemy. Don’t let the cacophony of the storm persuade us to stop singing the song of mercy, grace, and redemption we have been given…it may seem powerful and overwhelming at times, but ‘all authority in heaven and on earth’ belongs to our Savior. His voice cuts through the chaos. His truth does not falter. His power and His love do not fail.

Our world will keep changing – but the One who holds its purpose remains steadfast.

He has entrusted us with the call to shine into the darkness, not just to light up our own safe circle…and we can follow where He leads us, knowing that there is no storm strong enough to extinguish the Light of Jesus Christ within us.

Knowing You are with us, we can boldly declare Your name to this world.  Knowing how You love us, we yield to the changes You make in us…conform us to Your image, Jesus, and let our lives glorify the Father.  Remind us, Lord, of who You are…in our hope in You, we can stand firm through every storm that comes into our lives.  

“Death could not hold You,
The veil tore before You
You silence the boast of sin and grave
The heavens are roaring
The praise of Your glory
For You are raised to life again

You have no rival
You have no equal
Now and forever God You reign
Yours is the kingdom
Yours is the glory
Yours is the Name above all names.”

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.  Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer…

 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble…

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – from Romans 12