Spirit & Life

I’m sitting here in the little corner of my room where I like to write. There’s a window in front of me; it’s still light outside, even though the dusk is as gray as the afternoon was. We’ve had a few cloudy days in a row here, with rain falling off and on.

It’s been a quiet day. I’ve done some laundry, helped Kailey take care of her birthday-guinea-pig (our first actual needs-to-exercise and have-attention pet), read quite a bit. I’ve been reading through the book of John again. I come back to John again and again; I love to hear Jesus’ voice in this gospel. When my heart feels a little shadowed, it’s His words that leave no room for darkness.

So when I read John 7:46 today, I had to laugh at what is maybe the understatement of all time. The Pharisees were trying to get local officers to detain Jesus and they wouldn’t do it. “No man ever spoke like this Man,” they said.

 They couldn’t know how deeply true this was, how wholly right they were.

No man ever spoke like this Man, for there had never been a man like Him. Jesus was a son of man, yes, but also the Son of God. Before the creation of the world, He was there. Through Him, it was all made. Through Him, we were made.

And He spoke the heart of His Father into the world, into us.  He spoke forgiveness. Healing. Peace. Freedom. Love.  His words were power. His words were glory. His words changed everything.

And on this regular day that’s turning quickly into night, this quiet Thursday, or whatever sort of day it might be while you’re reading these words…He is still speaking to me and to you.

Maybe now is the time to slow down, to ask Him what He’s saying, to listen for His voice. If you need kindness, if you need Truth, if you need grace…if you need love that doesn’t falter and hope that doesn’t fail – His voice is like no other voice. His words are like no other words.  He said it best: The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. 

 

 

Sustain

Rather than resolutions, some people find a word to focus on throughout the year…a single word to dig into, to learn from. I don’t always do this, but I picked a word this year – or, rather, the Holy Spirit led me to this word in the last days of 2016: sustain.

To sustain is to give support, to supply, to nourish, to keep up, to support, to bear up under, to buoy up…and as the new year dawned, I thought about God’s promises that He is all of this for us, our very present help in every single day.

We can’t know what’s around the bend of time. We can’t plan for what we don’t know is coming our way.  What we can do is lean into His love, listening for His voice and following when we hear Him.

And when the difficult moments show up, He has gotten there first. He is already holding us steady. It is beautiful when we can see it, when we can see how God has already prepared us for whatever may come.

These six months of 2017 have been full of uncertainty, crossroads, grief, and holding onto hope. These six months have taught me more about give us this day our daily bread…I’m learning how to depend on the presence of God to sustain for today, for this moment, for this need.

I’m learning to trust that He has already shown up, already made a way before me.

And what is there to fear if He is the One promising to sustain me every step of the way?

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Maybe it has been a few weeks, maybe a month – I’m not sure how much time has passed since I’ve started playing this song a few times a day, sometimes over and over again. Sometimes this happens. A song will plant itself firmly into my heart and the words will grow into protective branches over my heart, lyrics like leaves of shelter.  And when moments come that would bring anxiety to my heart, the words of truth and grace are already growing wild there, leaving fear no room to grow.

I hope it reminds you, too, that His love has always shown up first and always, always will.

 

 

 

Just As We Are

Tonight, words are few. I’ll be honest – my kids are loud, my house needs a ferocious cleaning, and there are all manner of things on my to-do list that I have not yet gotten done today.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has their share of distractions…I’m sure there are those of us, too,  who would raise our hand to say – my heart is heavy, my mind is too full, my shoulders are feeling weighed down with everything I’m trying to carry or the problems I wish I could solve.

If you’re raising your hand to say ‘me, too’ —

The psalmist says again and again, at different times and in different ways – I cried out to the Lord and He heard me. He helped me. He healed me. He delivered me. He rescued me. Out of His great love, He lifts me out of every dark place and even the deepest pit.

That’s for us, too. That’s for me. That’s for you. When we surrender our pride and our expectations and our try-hard and our figure-it-out  — we are free to cry out to Him and put our hearts in His hands, to have these promises as realities: “weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning…You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, to the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.”-Psalm 30: 5, 11-12

Don’t wait for things to get easier. Don’t wait to make yourself ‘presentable’ or for the ‘perfect’ quiet time…now, in the middle of the noise and the chaos – in the middle of the heartache and the questions – in the middle of everything…go to our Savior and let it all fall at His feet. Surrender every bit of it, because He loves us so much that He wants to bear our burdens. He is already praying for us. He is our safest place. He is our peace. He wants to give joy and comfort, strength and rest. Find Him there, at the throne of mercy. When we surrender ourselves, just as we are,  and lift our eyes to Him…we find arms-wide-open-welcome.

“How great the love, how strong the hand that holds us.”

 

 

Sunday Morning

It is still early here. The sun isn’t showing its face quite yet; when I peek through the window, all I can see is darkness draping the front yard. Street lights burn in their spaces, a porch light is a pool of light across the street…but around these points, darkness reigns.

But I know the light is coming. I know, at the right time, the sun will begin to dispel the darkness. I know the strength of that bright star will end the night. Even now, even as the darkness seems to cover us, the sun is on its way and so I do not fear. Its power has never been overwhelmed by the night; instead, darkness flees from its presence.

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I’m turning my eyes this morning to the One who is steadfast, to the God whose strength always, always overcomes the darkness. Our prayers are heard by the God who reigns above all…our God who is able and good is still with us — even when it seems like our situation is dark, even when it seems like the night is long.

I do not fear because He is faithful.

I know that He is bringing a Day that will chase away the darkness forever. I know that, one day, night will be no more.

In the meantime, we let Him shine through us. We are the porch lights and the street lamps and the candles and the stars. In our lives, darkness has no hold.

Lord, let us shine ever brighter and ever bolder. Let our lights shine until others see Your glory, Your love, and Your power even in the night.

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Even now, the darkness is thinning and the sun is changing my view…before it fully shows its face, I know that morning has come.

Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge Him. As surely as the sun rises, He will appear; He will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.-Hosea 6:3

The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.-Romans 13:12

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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

Together We Follow: Genesis 16

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Genesis 16 is a heartbreaking twist in the lives of Abram and Sarai. Although God had shown His faithfulness already to them, there was a promise — the promise Sarai had been waiting to see fulfilled — not yet made reality. After years and years of waiting, her arms were still empty. It isn’t hard to understand how fear, doubt, and grief filled her heart. More than anything, a child was what she wanted. More than anything, she wanted to be a mother. She wanted to see Abram hold his son, an heir to all of their love.

With the promise of God to Abram of a great number of descendants, hope was sparked in her soul after, most likely, she had nearly (if not completely) given up on the idea of motherhood. But the years kept passing by and still there was no child…and she let the spark die into ashes.

She began to doubt that this promise was meant for her. In an attempt to fix the situation, looking for a solution of her own making, she sent her maid into Abram’s arms. It was not long before Hagar had something that Sarai did not have: life growing in her womb.

Sarai was unhappy, Hagar was unhappy, and although we aren’t told how Abram felt at that moment — it seems safe enough to guess that he was unhappily in the middle of this conflict. Because Abram and Sarai made this choice, together, to ‘fix’ their problem instead of waiting on God to fulfill His word to them, everything became more complicated.

I can put myself, at least a little bit, in each of their shoes and understand how hard it must have been in that season of their lives. I have tried so many times to make things happen in my own power and ended up in a mess of regret and shame…I have doubted God’s timing…I have wondered if it was too late for me to see His purposes fulfilled in my life…I have been on the other side of someone else’s mistake, living with the hard consequences of decisions I didn’t make for myself.

But in the middle of all these doubts, bad choices, and fears…we find a beautiful moment.

Hagar ran away from Sarai’s presence, ending up in the wilderness. She was alone, pregnant, and scared…but not for long. An angel met her there because the Lord heard her affliction. In her moment of need, in her time of despair, God reached out to her and let her know that there was a plan for her, there was hope for her future.

God saw her anguish and cared about her pain…and that’s what Hagar called Him: “You-Are-The-God-Who-Sees”.

Wherever you are today – He is still the God who sees. He sees me. He sees you. He is the God who hears our cries and meets us in our wilderness.  He is the God who draws near to the broken-hearted, the God who bears our burdens on His own shoulders. He is the God who knows you by name, your life of immeasurable worth to Him. He is the God who redeems us. We might have sparks of hope and faith that we’ve left to fade into a pile of ashes  — but He is the One who blows fresh life into us, making even what was dead live again.

Friends, whatever your situation might be – He knows your affliction and He isn’t leaving you alone in it…He is our ‘very present help in time of need’.

Hagar still had a hard road ahead of her…and, sometimes, so do we. But from that day, she could walk with the knowledge that God knew her and that He cared for her…she knew that He was making a way for her life…and that’s the truth we hold, too. We are loved – and He will walk through every wilderness, every hard-to-understand season with us. On the other side, we will be able to say with certainty: The God-Who-Sees works all things together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.

Hold onto your hope.

You are not forgotten.

You are not discarded.

You are not useless.

You are not abandoned.

You are never, ever alone.

Genesis 16

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar.  So Sarai said to Abram, “See now, the Lord has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai. Then Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan. So he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes.

Then Sarai said to Abram, “My wrong be upon you! I gave my maid into your embrace; and when she saw that she had conceived, I became despised in her eyes. The Lord judge between you and me.”

So Abram said to Sarai, “Indeed your maid is in your hand; do to her as you please.” And when Sarai dealt harshly with her, she fled from her presence.

Now the Angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. And He said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

She said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.”

The Angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.” Then the Angel of the Lord said to her, “I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude.” And the Angel of the Lord said to her:

“Behold, you are with child,
And you shall bear a son.
You shall call his name Ishmael,
Because the Lord has heard your affliction.
 He shall be a wild man;
His hand shall be against every man,
And every man’s hand against him.
And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.”

Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said, “Have I also here seen Him who sees me?”  Therefore the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; observe, it is between Kadesh and Bered.

 So Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.

“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