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

Advertisements

Together We Follow (Genesis 14:1-16)

When we enter today’s passage of Scripture, we find ourselves in the middle of a war in Canaan. There’s rebellion, kings joining forces against other kings, conquests, and invasions.

For Abram, this war brings devastating news: his nephew, Lot, has been taken as a prisoner by the conquering army.

Abram doesn’t seem to hesitate. He mobilizes 318 men and sets off to rescue his family. They pursue and attack King Kedorlaomer’s men, causing this army – this army that has just conquered and plundered the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah – to flee.

To me, this is an amazing story. We’re not told how many men make up the army that Abram is chasing, but we know that this is a trained and victorious group of men. Abram does not let that stop him…it seems so improbable that Abram’s small troop would be able to conquer an actual army – and, yet, he leads them to recover all that had been taken.

Abram is learning — through his faith-fueled action — that there’s nothing too hard for God. He’s learning that impossible odds are overcome when God is in control of the situation. He’s seeing that God reigns over the nations, God sits on His holy throne. (Psalm 47:8) 

It’s a truth he will need, again and again, as he continues his journey.

Isn’t it a truth we all need?

When chaos is all around, when the bad news comes, when it seems that we are powerless – our God is still King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God. (1 Tim. 1:17) Nothing can change who He is. Nothing can change His purpose. His love and His dominion endure through all generations.

When things are difficult, when we have no answers -we cry out to Him because He is the only one who can make a way. This is when – like Abram – we let our faith fuel our actions and we follow Him, even in improbable odds and through impossible obstacles.

I know what it is to worry about all of the things that will be. Right now it seems like we are looking at our nation and seeing a collapse of what is good, a wreckage of discord and hate. In some ways, no matter how the election turns out, it feels like defeat. This could cause us to give in to frustration and fear, throwing our hands up because the wrong-called-right and right-called-wrong is reigning in our land. The world seems scarier and scarier to me. Sometimes I want to take my kids, my family, and hide away from it all.

Abram could’ve thrown up his hands, letting Lot go. He could have said that it was too late. He could’ve feared the risk of losing what was his. He could have said the kings were too strong, the damage was done, it was all too far gone.

But he didn’t do that. He went after his family, believing that the power of God would enable him to take a stand against the enemy.

I have been reminding myself of this over and over again throughout this entire year: For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

In a time that is difficult and confusion seems to carry the day, I’m watching as even members of the body of Christ turn against each other and followers of Christ turn against people in the world who don’t agree with them — people that are loved by God, people that are our neighbors, people we are supposed to love as we love ourselves.

And I’m wondering – are our eyes on the wrong things here? Are we looking so much at the events of this present world that we are forgetting Who we belong to and why we are here? Are we forgetting who the real enemy is? Are we forgetting those authorities of the unseen world that are wreaking havoc in our nation? Are we forgetting the weapons that God has given us for the purpose of bringing down strongholds? Are we forgetting the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the belt of truth and armor of righteousness? Are we forgetting the peace of the gospel, the preparation to share the good news? Are we forgetting the fruit of the spirit, the long-suffering and the joy? Are we forgetting to pray for those who persecute us? Are we forgetting to speak up for the voiceless? Are we forgetting our great commission? Are we letting our fear silence us, control us, wring our hands with worry about the future?

Are we forgetting who we are in Him?

I don’t want to forget anymore, not even for a moment.

We are not hopeless and we are not helpless. We are the People of the Cross, the Redeemed who can boldly approach the throne of grace in our time of need. We are the citizens of a Kingdom that is not shaking and will not fall. We are the sons and daughters of a King whose reign is unquestionable and whose power enables us to overcome the darkness. We are a people of unity and have been given the ministry of reconciliation. Remember – there’s nothing too hard for Him! Remember – all things are possible to those who will believe!

Therefore – WE WILL NOT ACCEPT DEFEAT and we will NOT FEAR when we stand against the schemes of satan. We will NOT cower, but carry our cross with the strength He gives us. We will not timidly shine our light into the world. We will not compromise in love or in truth. We WILL continue to share the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is still the power of God that brings salvation.

For those that we know are caught up in the chains and the traps of the enemy –it is the power of Jesus Christ that will release the captives and set the prisoners free. It is the power of Jesus Christ that opens blinded eyes and brings life from death. It is the power of Jesus Christ brings anyone that will believe into the family of God.

The election will come and the election will go, but GOD REMAINS. Whatever the outcome, we will trust Him in it. We will know that His purpose will endure. Our calling to work and build the Kingdom of God does not change…our calling to love does not change…our calling to be peacemakers does not change…our calling to live in grace, mercy, justice, holiness…none of these things are changing.

We are the bearers of the gospel, the sons and daughters of God with open hands overflowing with HOPE. His victory that is eternal – spanning far behind and beyond what we can see with our eyes – reigns in us. The Kingdom of Heaven –  that is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit – reigns in us. We are the LIGHT OF THE WORLD.

He is still Emmanuel – God WITH us.  

The Lord is high above all nations, His glory above the heavens.
Who is like the Lord our God,
Who dwells on high, Who humbles Himself to behold
The things that are in the heavens and in the earth?-Psalm 113:4-6

Therefore, whom shall we fear and why should we be afraid?  The Lord is our light and salvation. The Lord is our stronghold. (from Psalm 27)

Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.-Ephesians 6:10

fullsizerender-17

Genesis 14:1-16

About this time war broke out in the region. King Amraphel of Babylonia, King Arioch of Ellasar, King Kedorlaomer of Elam, and King Tidal of Goiim  fought against King Bera of Sodom, King Birsha of Gomorrah, King Shinab of Admah, King Shemeber of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (also called Zoar).

This second group of kings joined forces in Siddim Valley (that is, the valley of the Dead Sea). For twelve years they had been subject to King Kedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled against him.

One year later Kedorlaomer and his allies arrived and defeated the Rephaites at Ashteroth-karnaim, the Zuzites at Ham, the Emites at Shaveh-kiriathaim, and the Horites at Mount Seir, as far as El-paran at the edge of the wilderness. Then they turned back and came to En-mishpat (now called Kadesh) and conquered all the territory of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites living in Hazazon-tamar.

Then the rebel kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela (also called Zoar) prepared for battle in the valley of the Dead Sea. They fought against King Kedorlaomer of Elam, King Tidal of Goiim, King Amraphel of Babylonia, and King Arioch of Ellasar—four kings against five. As it happened, the valley of the Dead Sea was filled with tar pits. And as the army of the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into the tar pits, while the rest escaped into the mountains. The victorious invaders then plundered Sodom and Gomorrah and headed for home, taking with them all the spoils of war and the food supplies. They also captured Lot—Abram’s nephew who lived in Sodom—and carried off everything he owned.

But one of Lot’s men escaped and reported everything to Abram the Hebrew, who was living near the oak grove belonging to Mamre the Amorite. Mamre and his relatives, Eshcol and Aner, were Abram’s allies.

When Abram heard that his nephew Lot had been captured, he mobilized the 318 trained men who had been born into his household. Then he pursued Kedorlaomer’s army until he caught up with them at Dan. There he divided his men and attacked during the night. Kedorlaomer’s army fled, but Abram chased them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. Abram recovered all the goods that had been taken, and he brought back his nephew Lot with his possessions and all the women and other captives.

Together We Follow: Genesis 12: 11-20

fullsizerender-16There have been moments in my life when I feared that my past sin would alter God’s willingness to use me for His purposes. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever worried that your past would change God’s mind about you or render His plans for you null and void?

If you’ve ever felt this way, then I hope that today’s reading will help to reassure you of your place in God’s heart…

As he was approaching the border of Egypt, Abram said to his wife, Sarai, “Look, you are a very beautiful woman.  When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife. Let’s kill him; then we can have her!’ So please tell them you are my sister. Then they will spare my life and treat me well because of their interest in you.”

And sure enough, when Abram arrived in Egypt, everyone noticed Sarai’s beauty. When the palace officials saw her, they sang her praises to Pharaoh, their king, and Sarai was taken into his palace. Then Pharaoh gave Abram many gifts because of her—sheep, goats, cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.

But the Lord sent terrible plagues upon Pharaoh and his household because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. So Pharaoh summoned Abram and accused him sharply. “What have you done to me?” he demanded. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ and allow me to take her as my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and get out of here!” Pharaoh ordered some of his men to escort them, and he sent Abram out of the country, along with his wife and all his possessions.

Today we see Abram, the man who surrendered his future to God, in an act of deception. Seeing the power of Pharaoh, he allowed fear to motivate his actions. He allowed this new circumstance to intimidate him. Fearing that the Egyptians would take his life in order to take Sarai into the house of Pharaoh, Abram called her his sister – withholding the full truth of her identity as his wife.

Not trusting that God would protect both he and his wife, Abram chose the wrong path to control the situation himself. His short-sighted decision led to Sarai being taken to the palace – it was God, in His mercy, that protected Sarai and brought her back to Abram’s side.

This was a moment for Abram to understand the faithfulness of God…this was a moment for Abram to see the grace of God.

Instead of ending in catastrophe under the wrath of Pharaoh, this incident leads to Abram and Sarai leaving Egypt to go on with their journey into the future God had promised them. God’s faithfulness did not change when Abram’s focus faltered. His promises did not disappear because Abram chose deceit.

This is grace.

When we don’t deserve it, God comes to rescue us. It’s exactly what Jesus did on the cross. It isn’t our righteousness that prepares us for God’s purpose, but His redemption power in our lives.

If we decide to sin and go on without repentance, without turning from our wrong, then we are the ones to walk away from our place in God’s plan for us…we can, in our continued disobedience, miss out on the abundant life God would intend for us. Paul tells us in 2nd Corinthians sorrow without repentance leads to spiritual death…but Godly sorrow that leads to repentance results in salvation.

When we didn’t deserve it, when we didn’t earn it – we received rescue from our sin… and this grace that God has given out of His great love continues to affect every aspect of our lives.

Don’t let regret about the past keep you from His promises for today. 

Our past sin? Our sin that has been forgiven? Our sin that has been removed from us, as far as the east is from the west? (Psalm 103:12) Those wrongs may have changed us, may have taught us, may have taken us the long way around our dreams, may have brought the discipline of the Father to us…but those sins no longer define us. His mercy does. His redemption power is stronger than our sin – and so, YES – He will still use you for His glory. YES, He still has a purpose for you. YES, He will be true to His promises.

Our lives become a story not of our sin, not of our losses, but of His grace and victory in us. Our lives become a story of transformation, of a new creation made in us. Our lives become a story of hope – knowing what He has done for Abram, for Sarai, for you and for me…He can do for anyone who will believe.

 

 

I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with Himself depends on faith. I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.-from Philippians 3 

A Light Not Overcome (Beatitudes, Part 14)

overcome

When the news broke on Sunday night that twenty-one more Christians had been executed for their faith, I sat in silence. I was speechless in the jarring juxtaposition between a game of charades with my family and that image of men kneeling in the sand, a moment away from death.

Families lost their husbands, fathers, and sons because they were men of the cross.

And it isn’t easy to face it. It isn’t easy to see this pain and this escalating persecution…it isn’t easy to bear witness to the unmerciful hands of hatred and evil. It’s one thing to know that, theoretically, there is persecution in the world. It’s quite another thing to see it before our eyes right after we tuck our kids into their beds.

The thing is, though – this isn’t new. These are not isolated events. Organizations like Open Doors track and minister to oppressed and persecuted Christians around the world – they estimate that 322 Christians are killed because of their faith each month. But unless we make an effort to know what is happening around the world, it is too easy for most of us to simply not think about it. We aren’t directly affected and we feel helpless to make a difference…and, maybe, we don’t quite understand why God allows it all to happen. So it is easier to stay focused on our own lives.

But, friends, I think that this is the time to shake ourselves awake, to throw off complacency. We must see this unfolding season with eyes open, praying for wisdom and understanding.

Because I think that these are the moments when we decide – do we believe Jesus? Do we believe Him when it isn’t just theology and Sunday morning church, when it becomes clear that the cost of following Him actually changes our lives? When it comes to seeing the reality of what it can look like to follow Him even unto death, will we choose to trust Him?

This is when we must know in Whom we have believed so that our actions are a result of our faith in Him. This is when we must trust that the Light who was not overcome by the darkness shines still — undeterred, unfaltering, undefeated.

*******

Jesus spoke words of warning and promise, preparing us for days just like these.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says this: Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt. 5:10-12)

Later, in Matthew 24, Jesus teaches the disciples what the end of the age will bring. He tells them plainly: Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. (Matt. 24:9)

And this is a crossroads for many of us – because He goes on and says At this time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

We cannot brush over these verses, thinking that they will never apply to us or to our families. When we read the Word of God, it is clear that this world will be shaken before the coming of God’s Kingdom. We are in a battle, daily, against “the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil”…and as the day of the Lord’s return draws nearer, we cannot know what hardships we might be asked to endure.

In John 15 and 16, Jesus speaks again of persecution so that we will not be caught off guard: If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me….But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning. These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me. But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them.

Although Jesus was speaking to the disciples – and His words came to pass, for many of those followers were put to death for carrying His name – I believe the principle applies to us, too. If the day comes when our choice to serve Him carries consequences of persecution, we will bear witness – through the power of the Helper, the Holy Spirit – to His name and to His love. And no matter what happens to these bodies of ours, our souls are safe in His hands.

Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:27-31)

*****

Even if the people we know by name – our families, our friends – never go through this kind of persecution for their faith in Christ, our brothers and sisters around this globe are facing danger every single day.

We are one. Jesus prayed for our unity. Our love for each other – love that should cross borders, languages, and cultures – points directly to Him, for we are His body.

For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many…But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.  And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. -1 Cor. 12

Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also. – Hebrews 13:3

We feel helpless, like we can’t help those who are hurting – have we forgotten that if we have even a little faith in our God, He is mighty to move mountains? Are we deceived, somehow, into believing that our prayers for each other can’t make a difference? Do we forget that the prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective? We cannot physically reach those around the world, but we can boldly come before the throne of grace – we can reach God and God can reach the captives and the broken-hearted. Only He knows the plan and purpose for each life on this earth – and although we may not understand why some will face persecution, even to the point of death, we can pray for His peace and His strength for our brothers and sisters in all these things. We can pray that they will have the assurance that He is with them, always. Matthew 18:19-20 says this – Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.

These are the words of our Savior and I have to ask myself and I have to ask you…do we believe Him? Do we trust Him enough to turn our belief into movement, into prayer, into interceding for each other?

*******

And our calling does not end with praying for our brothers and sisters in Christ. I tripped over Matthew 5:44 as I was reading through these passages, because Jesus was telling me to do the exact opposite of what I was feeling at the time. But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.

It is one thing to know, theoretically, that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. It is quite another to see those men, faces hidden, swords in hand – and to pray for them even while they plan and plot more evil against innocent men, women, and children.

I stalled on this verse…and I remembered how Jesus was hanging on a cross, body beaten and battered – and how He prayed for the men who sent the whip across His back, the nails through His hands and feet. He prayed that they would be forgiven.

And He was there, to begin with, so that I could be forgiven.

I was reminded that the lives of those who hold the weapons, those lives being controlled by evil – they are being completely destroyed by sin. Their souls are in darkness, enslaved to the enemy.

And didn’t Jesus come for every single person? Do we really believe that His mercy is for any who will call upon His name?

It is not impossible for a man, even one who has persecuted and killed in the name of his religion, to find redemption in Christ Jesus.

If it were, we would not have these words of Paul in 1 Timothy….This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.  However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.

One encounter with Jesus changed Paul – and I believe that Jesus can still encounter men and women, wherever they are, and His grace can transform them. Jeremiah tells us this message – “I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?”

Will we let the love He has shown to us…the forgiveness He has given to us…transform our hearts and teach us the ways of grace until we can pray that all- even those who hurt and despise us –will come to the knowledge of salvation? (1 Tim. 2:4)

************

Why do we choose to follow Him, even when we know that first we lay down our will…and may be asked to lay down our very lives? Why do we choose to trust Him, when He may lead us through the valley of the shadow of death?

Although I could give you scriptures to explain it – I think I’ll start with my own life, my own reasons.

There was a time when I was afraid (of nearly everything) and convinced that I was worthless. I believed I was a failure, my sins and their consequences the theme of my life. I had no hope and no joy.

But Jesus reached out to me. And His love – His grace and His gentleness – transformed my heart and gave me new life. He set me free from fear that crippled me, from condemnation that overwhelmed me – His mercy called me beloved and chosen. On a day-to-day basis, He is my strength and my peace. I have seen miracles in big and small things…I have seen glimpses of His glory and I am left changed. I will follow where He leads because I know that He is with me.

He became the Man of the Cross for me. I don’t carry around my shame, my sin, my guilt, my broken pieces – because on Calvary, He bore them all for me. He gave up His life, willingly, so that I can have life in abundance.

So even if the promise was only His presence here in this lifetime…friends, it is enough.

But there is more in store for us, because we are not made only for this time and place. Like Paul said – to live is Christ, but to die is gain…for when we depart from this life, we will be with Christ– face to face, forever. His death may have looked like a battle lost, like light overcome – but He rose in power, the authority over hell, death, and the grave in His hands – and He went to prepare a place for me, for you, for all who will believe in Him. The Light was never overcome and never will be.

In all of this – in the uncertainty, in the gathering storm clouds, in the darkness – Jesus is our hope! Our promises in Him are the Light we live by, the anchor for our souls. We cannot forget the words of Matthew 5:10 – Blessed are those who are persecuted….rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.

The twenty-one young men who lived out their last days refusing to deny their faith in Christ? Their eyes closed to this earth, but they opened to see the Savior and I know that they heard the Father say – well done, my good and faithful servants. Enter in to the joy of your Lord. To the world’s eyes, it may look like they were defeated on that beach – but, in reality, they won their battle there — they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. (Rev.12:11) Those men of the cross will be given the crown of life (Rev.2:10)…and The Lamb will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Rev. 7:17)

There, in His presence, they will wait for the day when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord. They will wait for the day when sin, death, and satan are destroyed and evil is no more. They will wait for the day when all things are made new, the curse broken, and darkness is a thing of the past. For there, in that unshakable kingdom whose architect and builder is God (Heb.11:10), there is no night. Our weeping will forever pass, and this Morning will bring only joy.

And as we, too, wait for that day –may we live by faith and not by sight…our actions speaking our trust in His Word and in His promises. May we make up our minds now to follow Him, finding that He is ever-worthy of our trust. May we learn to pray for the body of Christ and those who come against it…may our hearts be softened so that we mourn with those who mourn, willing to step into what is uncomfortable so that we can love like He does. No, it isn’t easy – but it is our calling and He is our help, our comfort through every step we take to follow Him.

May we have a deep, unshakeable confidence in Him – the One who already has our victory firmly in hand, the One who has already overcome the world and makes us more than conquerors with Him. Let’s believe Him. May we live in expectancy of His return, working for His glory and looking for His unshakeable Kingdom, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. (Rom. 13:11-12)  May we understand that we do not have to endure and stand through our own power, but through the power of the Holy Spirit. May we live in freedom, unashamed and unafraid to share the gospel of Jesus Christ – no matter the cost. May we live boldly in His love, starting now. May we be people of the cross.

************

For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.

 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.

 Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you.

 But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you.  All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.  For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. -2 Cor. 4:6-18

*****

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.  For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written:

“For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,  nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.- from Romans 8

Music Monday (Someone to Trust With Your Heart)

Good-Shepherd-Jesus-The-Free-With-Resolution-83628

As a little girl, I ended nearly every night saying these words to my parents – “Goodnight…I love you…check on me!”

I always wanted my mom or dad to come back and make sure that I was still okay. Curled up beneath the covers, giant teddy bear in my arms, something inside of me needed to know that my mom and dad would be back to check on me, to make sure that I was safe. I needed the promise of their presence to comfort me in that dark room. I couldn’t go to sleep until I knew that my parents- bigger, stronger, and wiser than I was – were looking out for me when I couldn’t look out for myself.

******

I don’t think that any of us ever outgrow the need to feel secure…to know that there is someone who cares about us and looks out for us.

For many of us, the longing to know that someone bigger, stronger, and wiser is standing with us only grows as we get older and can fully understand that life is full of uncertainty. Because things get shaky, don’t they? Our trust in people or our circumstances or what we think we know can come undone in an instant…in this world, there are so many times when we are not capable of controlling or changing our situations. We can’t always look out for ourselves – and in a world dark, unsettled, and broken by sin, this can be a terrifying feeling.

But in the darkness, we have the promise of God’s presence to comfort us.

People may let us down – things of earth that we try to depend upon will let us down – but He never has and He never will. Jesus came into this world and gave His life for us…when the Enemy would have kept us bound in fear and the death that sin brings to our souls, our Savior came and gave Himself for us. He was looking out for us when we could not look out for ourselves…and He made the way for our hearts to be forever-safe in the Father’s House.

We can trust Him, this Savior who came to bring us life…this Savior who is with us still, ever-interceding for our sake and working all things out for our good.

We do not have to be afraid because, as He says in John 10, He is the Good Shepherd and we are His sheep.

A shepherd stands guard over his flock. The sheep are not capable of taking care of themselves and so the Shepherd takes that burden upon himself – he leads them to the water, to the food that will help them to grow. He protects them from the danger that would encroach – even if it means facing the danger himself. He tends to their injuries, to their pain. If one wanders away, he finds it and brings it home again.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock.  The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.”

 “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. – from John 10

Our Good Shepherd is always bigger, stronger, and wiser. He is always faithful – never abandoning us, always looking out for us.

So, tonight, if you are feeling less than brave or less than loved…if you are feeling alone or if your heart is hurting…

You have a Savior – a Shepherd – who will hear your call to Him. He knows your voice…and if you begin to talk to Him and listen, you will know His. There will be hard, impossible-to-understand, frightening moments in this life – but nothing can separate you from His love. Your heart is safe with Him.

Just like that long-ago-little-girl who went to sleep in confidence that she was cared for…unafraid because someone who loved her was looking out for her…you can have peace. You can rest, even if the room is dark…even if the night seems to be going on and on…even if you’re not sure what tomorrow will bring.

Because you, friend, are loved without measure…and the God who brings the sun up in the morning and steadies the moon by night…the God who knows if a sparrow falls and causes the seasons to change…the God who sits enthroned above the circle of the earth…the One who laid the cornerstone of the earth while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy…the One who holds all of creation together in His Wisdom, in His Power, and in His Love – He is holding you, too.

He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young. –Isaiah 40:11

On Watching My Daughter Stand Alone Outside of Her Classroom

At my daughter’s school, it’s a bit of a walk from the drop-off point to her first grade building. Although teachers are posted along the sidewalk from one place to the other, I still have the habit of pulling into a spot near Kailey’s building where I can see her walk up the ramp, across the porch, and through the door into the safety of her classroom. She can’t see me – and doesn’t know that I pull over to watch her little trek – but I can see her. It gives me peace of mind to know that she is where she is supposed to be.

It has been a hard transition for her to go from Christmas break back to the every-day of school. Although she quickly adjusts and enjoys her days at school, the actual separation from home is difficult for her on some days. Yesterday, I had to actually walk her into the classroom – crying – because she didn’t want to get out of the car by herself and she didn’t want to stay at school. She was unhappy about leaving home again this morning, but she made her way out of the car when the time came.

When I pulled around, it took longer than usual for her to make it to the ramp leading to her building. She was walking slowly and when she reached the door, she just stopped. Instead of opening it, she took a step to the side, her head bowed and shoulders slumped. From across the field and the parking lot, this mama’s heart broke. My girl was sad and, for whatever reason, could not find the courage or will to go through that door. She stood there, alone, and didn’t make a move.

I contemplated my options. I knew full well that what was best for her in the long run was giving her the space to make the decision to walk through that door, but I still just wanted to leap from the car in a wild dash to her side so that I could scoop her up and keep her by my side all day long.

But then something wonderful happened. Another little first-grader made their way up the ramp and onto the porch. Instead of rushing by Kailey, that child stopped at her side and began talking to her. I guess I’ll never know what words were said, but after a few moments…Kailey’s classmate opened the door and they went through it, together.

**********

On Monday, when I was reading about Simeon in the second chapter of Luke, a phrase caught my attention. Luke tells us that Simeon had been waiting for the consolation of Israel. I did a little digging and found that consolation comes from the Greek word of paraklesis.

I already knew that the idea of consolation was one of comfort, but I loved finding out that its root can be described in the simple Greek phrase of para-kletos: a call to one’s side.

When Simeon was waiting on the consolation of Israel, he was waiting for the Messiah to be called to their side, to aid and encourage…to support them and to be their advocate.

The words of Zechariah’s song over his son (and Jesus’ cousin) – bold and passionate John – seem to light up on the page while I am thinking about this Consolation – you will prepare the way for Him, to give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace. (Luke 1:76-79)

My daughter needed a consolation this morning. She needed someone to come to her side, to encourage her to take the steps she needed to take so that she could make it to the place she belonged. At a moment when she could not make her own way, someone did come along to help her through that door.

And that’s exactly what Jesus did for us. We were standing outside of God’s presence, unable to make it through to where we really belonged.

The Father, there all the time, knew we needed help. He knew we were alone, broken, and home-sick. And although I didn’t have the ability to send someone to Kailey’s aid this morning, God knew exactly who to send to our sides – His own Son. And while He gives us the free will to take those steps toward Him…we have the chance to choose Him because He could not bear to see us remain in our darkness, in our sorrow. He could not bear to see us alone, our hearts home-sick for Him. So He spoke the word and Love leapt down from Heaven in a wild dash to rescue us.

Jesus came to us, “personally alongside us”*. He stopped where we were. He spoke words of encouragement, words of truth about God and about us. He not only held open the door – He became our Door, our Way to the place we were meant to be. He “guided our feet into the path of peace”. He became, in every sense of the wonderful word, our consolation.

And although Jesus is not here, today, in flesh and blood to be by our sides, He told the disciples it was expedient – needed and best – for Him to go away so that He could send the Comforter to them. (John 16:7) Just as the Father sent Jesus to us when we needed Him most, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit so that we would have an advocate to help us and to be with us forever. (John 14:16) This word- Comforter – for the Holy Spirit has the same background as Consolation – again, it is parakletos. The Holy Spirit is with us, always, as our comfort and our teacher. (John 14:17)

In other words, we are never without the love of our Father, whose tender mercy saw us far away – even when we couldn’t see Him- and brought us close through the blood of Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 2:13)

Whatever you are going through today – if you feel like you are alone and unsure, standing in front of an obstacle that you can’t quite face – please know that you are not standing there alone. You have a Friend right there at your side and He will wait with you. He will strengthen your heart and help you take your next steps. He will go through every door – every circumstance – with you.

Yes, Jesus came to be the consolation of Israel…and today – right now – He is ours, yours and mine – He is the consolation of our hearts. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. –Deut. 31:8

(*this phrase is from a word study on parakletos, found on beyondthepulpit.org)

Of Signs & Seasons

DSC02907

Cotton-fields are white again and our southern roads are framed in golden stretches of tobacco.

Trees are shaking their branches, hues of red and yellow glinting, and letting loose their leaves.

Mornings are chillier and darkness settles earlier and earlier each day.

Yes, the season is changing and the signs are all around us.

Yet we do not worry about these transitions. We know that the world spins in the Creator’s hands and His rhythms are for our good and His hands give this earth what is needed. Instead of finding fear in the changes, we look for reason to celebrate them. We rest in the knowledge that the next season, too, is secure when He reigns over it.

It feels like there is another season changing – call it a way of life, a culture, a chapter in God’s Time – whatever the right name for it may be, it seems like there is a shift occurring all around us. And this season-change, too, comes with signs.

Maybe you know that Jesus said He would return to this earth and that, one day, this span of time as we know it will come to an end. Maybe this is a new idea to you…whether or not you are familiar with this promise, this is the time to examine it. Jesus Himself spoke often about His return – and His words are what we must know and hold as the true foundation for our faith and our every-day lives. This Savior who gave His life and rose from the grave is the King who will bring the children of God into His eternal-Kingdom.

No, we cannot know when, exactly, Jesus will return to earth. No one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows. (Matthew 24:36) But Jesus knew we’d understand the familiar cues creation gives us…maybe that’s why He said this in Matthew 24:32-33: Now learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branches bud and its leaves begin to sprout, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see all these things, you can know His return is very near, right at the door.

He spoke of some of the initial signs in Matthew 24:4-12… Jesus told them, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in My name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many.  And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world.  But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come. Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers. And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other. And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people.  Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold.

These words of Jesus resound in my heart every single day when I open my eyes to our world. Every sign He said would come to pass before His return is happening.

So as we see these cues and feel the changes of this season– how should we live?

It could be easy to get bound up in fear and discouragement when we see the problems abounding everywhere we turn. It could be easy to hunker down in our corner and hide from it all, closing our eyes to the changes and the turmoil.

It’s interesting, to me, that Jesus compared this last season to the time before the Great Flood (Matthew 24:37). I can imagine that Noah and his family, before receiving their directions from God, tried to stay out of everyone else’s way. I can put myself in their shoes – living in the middle of a people violent and cruel, set in their own ways – and think that, perhaps, it was safest to blend in. But building an ark required action. To trust in the promise of salvation that God had given him, Noah had to set out into the world in obedience. He had to make proactive decisions based on faith and not on what he saw around him. He had to risk drawing attention to his family and he had to trust in God’s ultimate wisdom every step of the way.

Noah could not shut out the world. He could not give fear control of his life.

And neither can we.

As frightening as it can be to watch events unfolding around us, we can take heart because Jesus has overcome the world and nothing – trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword, death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation – will separate us from the love of God. (from John 16:33 and Romans 8) This is His promise – if we stand firm to the end, we will be saved. (Matthew 24:13)

It’s time to be proactive in our faith – like Noah, we must listen for the voice of our Lord and obey, even if it seems risky…even if He takes us away from our safe routines.

Please know – there is peace in following Him, in having eyes and ears open to Him. He gave us these signs so that we could look forward to His appearing! As we understand that His return is ever-closer, we put our faith in Him and not in our circumstances.

Jesus gave us these signs so that we could be prepared, so that we would understand God’s sovereign hand at work. He said that we should be like wise servants, faithful over what He has entrusted to us in this life until the day of His return. As we watch for Him, we are able to offer hope of salvation to the people around us. 2 Peter 3 tells us that He is not slow keeping His promise, but patient – not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. Peter encourages us, as we wait, to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus.

So as the world continues to sink into a place of conflict and hatred, of discord and suffering, there is no better place to look for instruction than in the words of our Lord. As it becomes more and more culturally unacceptable – life-threatening in so many places – to wear His name on our lives, we must know what our Savior has told us to do.

From the beginning, He called us to take up our cross and follow Him, to love our enemies, to pray for those who curse us, to live holy lives. From the beginning, He let us know that our way of life would appear upside-down and inside-out to a world that would not receive Him.

Still, we can rest in Him – secure in knowing that He reigns over everything the next season of our lives may hold.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”-Isaiah 41:10

{Please come back and visit…over the next week or so, we will be revisiting the Beatitudes and listening carefully to the words of Jesus about how we should live – and shine! – in our world.}