the One who sustains

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This is a lesson God has been teaching me for a long time now, one I need to re-learn from time to time: the expectations or approval of people, the labels of ‘success’, the fluctuating waves of my own emotion and opinion…none of these things are where I can find true motivation or real purpose.

Trying to meet the standards of others (for me, that ‘other’ is usually my own self) is draining and leaves me weary. It fills me up with doubt and fear, leaving me vulnerable to defining my value by other people and their lives.

But comparison, inferiority, and insecurity lose their grip on my heart when my sights are set on honoring Him alone. When life becomes about living as the person He created me to be, His words (not mine, not the enemy’s, not anyone else’s) define my worth. His promises inspire and comfort me. His delight in my response to Him becomes more than enough to satisfy my heart.

It is life-infusing and heart-restoring to surrender to Him. He expects no more and no less than my everything…and the pleasure of His Father’s heart when I offer back to Him all He has given to me is the source of strength and perseverance, confidence and peace.

This is what has the power to sustain my soul: His joy in my obedience, His always-abiding presence. This is the grace that upholds my heart, the truth that brings contentment: I am known, fully, and wholly loved.

 

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Come and See Something Good (encouragement for your Friday!)

Philip’s life changed with two words from Jesus – “Follow Me.”

What an unprecedented, unexpected marvel – he had found the Messiah! He ran to share this amazing turn of events with his friend, Nathaniel. “We have found the One Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

I can imagine that Nathaniel’s excitement grew with every word out of Philip’s mouth – could it be true that the Messiah was among them? But then…he heard Nazareth and I can just picture his shrug of dismissal, his incredulous expression, his let-down spirit. “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”

For whatever reason – whether it was because Nazareth was a tiny, unpolished town or because its reputation was less than stellar – he just didn’t think it was a place that could produce anything good. It was a middle-of-nowhere, unremarkable place.

His question dismissed the possibility of something good – something God-given – because Nazareth was of no earthly importance.

This voice sounds familiar to me…because, sometimes, when excitement fills my heart about the possibilities God has in store for my life – there is a dismissive shrug of shoulders, a cynical shake of the head, and I hear – How could anything good come from you?

Have you ever heard this voice? It reminds me that I am unqualified. It tells me that I don’t have the right connections, the right degrees, the right bright and shiny words. It tells me that I am unremarkable and that my past is (way) less than stellar. This voice is disdainful and undermining, with its easy dismissal of value. The votes are in, it says, and the results are clear – you are too unimportant to be of worth in this world.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? If so, then please let these words sink into your heart –

The voice that tries to steal your joy in what God is doing in your life, the voice that tries to kill your faith in His love for you, and the voice that tries to destroy your hope for the future in Him? That voice belongs to the enemy. Satan wants to see you side-lined for the rest of your life in a fog of self-condemnation and worthlessness. He wants to dissuade you from living in the freedom of God’s love and moving forward in faith.

This is why Jesus warns us in John 8:44 that the devil is a liar – the father of liesand there is no truth in him. (John 8:44) The NIV translation says that when he lies, he is speaking his “native language”.

The thing is – satan is skilled in twisting truth. It’s a dangerous kind of deception.

Because Nazareth was a small town, wasn’t it? There wasn’t much going on that was note-worthy…it was far from Jerusalem and without any grand connections, as far as most Israelites were concerned.

And when I look at my own life, I recognize that I am – by cultural standards – unremarkable. I actually do live in a tiny town. I don’t have a perfect past or a resume overflowing with amazing experiences…I am just me. Just an ordinary woman in an ordinary town with an ordinary life.

Odds are, you are pretty ordinary, too.

Can you see how the enemy takes this and twists it with his lies, trying to convince us that these facts equal his conclusion of inferiority, worthlessness, unimportance?

Can you hear the question echo – can any good thing come from us?

Let’s check back in with Philip and Nathaniel. Philip is not deterred by Nathaniel’s doubt. His confidence is not shaken and his belief is not hindered. He doesn’t try to argue. He just wants Nathaniel to take a look for himself, knowing that the presence of Jesus would change everything. So he says – Come and see. Nathaniel is willing and – after only two sentences from Jesus – the one who wondered if anything good could from Nazareth is confessing that Jesus is the Son of God, the King of Israel.

Suddenly, something good – the best Someone, actually – has come from Nazareth. This tiny, insignificant town was chosen as the place for the Son of God to spend his childhood days…it didn’t matter to God what anyone on this earth thought of Nazareth. It was designed and used for His purpose.

So come and see, friends….

Come and see that it does not matter what ‘importance’ this world sees in you – God will use us for His glory if we are willing to surrender our lives to Him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. (1 Sam. 16:7)

Come and see that Jesus died for us – for every single one of us – and His Spirit dwells within us. That is all the qualification we need to come into the very presence of God, to say with confidence that we are made righteous in His sight. We have the only connection that truly matters – to Him.

Come and see that we belong to a remarkable, extraordinary, awesome God who (lavishly!) loves us and calls us His children.(1 John 3:1) We have value and worth because we are His!

Come and see that the potential for our ‘good’ in this world does not depend upon our ‘platforms’, our awesome reputations, or our resumes. We have a work to do for Him – a future designed to bring others to Him, to bring Him glory, because we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Eph. 2:10)

So when it comes to the plans God has for you, don’t let the voice of the enemy stop you from walking on the path He has made for you. Your worth is not given by man, but by God Himself. Here’s the conclusion that He comes to when He see you:  in Christ Jesus, you are loved, set free from sin, and created so that something good will come from you.

And just like a small boy slaying a giant, just like fishermen turning the world upside down, just like an ordinary girl giving birth to the Messiah – our willing hearts can be used, through the power of God, to do Kingdom-building, eternal-difference-making things…leaving no doubt that all of the honor and glory belong to Him.

Come and see what God has done, His awesome deeds for mankind! -Psalm 66:5

Wednesday Wisdom from Pete Wilson

 

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago. ~Ephesians 2:10

If you are struggling to understand your purpose, a little unsure about that deepest dream in your heart, or struggling as you try to live out your purpose…this current series from Pete Wilson is for you.

Here’s a clip of the first message that was a much-needed reminder for me today…and the entire series can be found here.

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Hope Fulfilled: “It is Well”

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We have a few days left in this month of October and I want to spend them in remembering what we have been promised. What, exactly, is it that we hope for?

This song is the perfect place to start…because we are created with the hope of a relationship with our Creator. And this hope is fulfilled in our Savior. He came to die in our place so that our sins would be forgiven and no longer hold us back from the presence of God.  We can know that it is well with our souls  because Jesus Christ “shed His own blood for our souls”.  Because of His grace, we are welcome and at home in the arms of God.

“Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once  were far away have been brought near  by the blood of Christ.”

But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,  made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”

(Both verses from Ephesians 2)

“It’s the word of faith that welcomes God to go to work and set things right for us. This is the core of our preaching. Say the welcoming word to God—“Jesus is my Master”—embracing, body and soul, God’s work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That’s it. You’re not “doing” anything; you’re simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That’s salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: “God has set everything right between him and me!” (from Romans 10, the MSG)

In Which We Start the Week with Awe (and another Music-Monday)

Psalm 96

Sing God a brand-new song!
Earth and everyone in it, sing!
Sing to God—worship God!

     Shout the news of his victory from sea to sea,
Take the news of his glory to the lost,
News of his wonders to one and all!

      For God is great, and worth a thousand Hallelujahs.
His terrible beauty makes the gods look cheap;
Pagan gods are mere tatters and rags.

 God made the heavens—
Royal splendor radiates from him,
A powerful beauty sets him apart.

 Bravo, God, Bravo!
Everyone join in the great shout: Encore!
In awe before the beauty, in awe before the might.

 Bring gifts and celebrate,
Bow before the beauty of God,
Then to your knees—everyone worship!

 Get out the message—God Rules!
He put the world on a firm foundation;
He treats everyone fair and square.

 Let’s hear it from Sky,

With Earth joining in,
And a huge round of applause from Sea.

   Let Wilderness turn cartwheels,
Animals, come dance,
Put every tree of the forest in the choir—

  An extravaganza before God as he comes,
As he comes to set everything right on earth,
Set everything right, treat everyone fair.

What You Can Count On

We are told that the world is unraveling. We are told that the economy is unstable, diseases are without cure, depression and anxiety more prevalent than ever before. We are told that there is no guarantee of safety, no guarantee of provision, no guarantee that a new disaster won’t befall us when the new day dawns.

We are told all of these things from the media sources that speak into our homes…in the plots of our ‘entertainment’…we can overhear the conversations in restaurants and grocery stores…in our twitter feed…on facebook. We hear the endless sounds of despair and the incessant arguments of political solutions that bring no peace and no optimism. I’m sure that you could add more to the list I made, more worry-planting seeds you’ve heard…and these seeds fall easy into the soil of our broken hearts.

Are the problems real? Yes. And yet this is not the entire truth…because, contrary to what it may seem — the problems are not or never will they be the end of the story.  They are not the whole story. And here’s what is left out of the conversation:

We have a Savior and this is what He says about our earth so undone –

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Jesus Christ is the same today as He was on the day that this world was spoken into existence. He is the same today as He was on the day that saw a sea parted for a way of escape, a sun standing still for the victory to be won, three hundred men defeating an army with nothing but jars to break, torches to light, and trumpets to sound. He is the same today as He was when one stone knocked a giant to the ground, when the captives returned from exile, when the wall was rebuilt no matter the obstacles that came. He is the same today as when one lunch became a feast for thousands, when Lazarus walked from death into life, when the mute and the lame were suddenly shouting and leaping. He is the same today as when He spoke peace to the storm, opened blinded eyes, and He is the same today as when He rose from His grave and ascended in power and glory to the right hand of the Father.

What I am trying to say is this: no matter how many times this world turns, no matter how sin destroys and divides, no matter how much power the enemy thinks is in his hands — there is one King of kings and He is in control. He has always been the Author of this story – He began it, He unfolds it, and the ending is His and His alone.

If trouble arises, we can acknowledge it and then we can say – This, too, is in His hands. When fear or sickness or problems invade our lives, we can say – He is Lord of my life and this, too, is under His authority.

There is nothing — not one thing on earth, in hell, or heaven —  nothing that is not under His reign.

I do not understand the sorrow and tragedies that come into our lives, but I do know that in His power – there is nothing that can’t be redeemed.  I know that this life is not the end. I know that He is sovereign and I know that He is love — so we can face the turmoil without bending beneath the burden of fear. He is the same as He has always been and the same as He will always be – Mighty. Holy. Full of mercy and full of grace. Healer. Exalted above the heavens – all power belongs to Him even while He is loving enough to dwell in our hearts.

Remember! — the Savior who sings in delight over you has overcome the world! All of the sin and the enemy who would destroy everything innocent and good? Defeated. The troubles that plague our days?  Defeated. The death and despair that shout out into our world? Defeated. 

And I know that, sometimes, it doesn’t seem like it. It can feel like things are spiraling and that good is being drowned out – but we must trust Who we know and not our vision of now. The defeat of our enemy isn’t something we can always see in fullness, but one day we will. Our God knows the day and the hour and the second when He will step back into our sight here on earth, bringing eternal peace with Him….and so we trust in Him and we put our faith in His words, in His purpose and the future He has planned.

And in the meantime, we live with hope!  We get to walk in joy and peace because we know who He is — and that in itself is victory over darkness. Satan would have every child of God allowing those worry-seeds to blossom, wilting beneath his plans, but we can stand against him in the power of the Holy Spirit. For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds,  casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (from 2 Corinthians 10)…yes, stand boldly in the victory of our Savior and allow Him to weed out every anxious thought, every fear. Let every single piece of bad news be laid down at His feet…plant seeds of faith and watch His harvest of faithfulness grow wild and beautiful in your life.

In this way, we live rejoicing and free even while troubles increase – because our Savior is here.  He is here and He isn’t leaving us, not ever. He is here and He is good. He is here and He is in control.  So don’t forget to sing! Don’t forget to smile! Don’t forget to see His beauty and to declare His good works! We are tired of hearing bad news – so let us stand up and speak the Good News – the hope of a Savior for every one of us.  Jesus Christ is our portion and this is hope that should not be held close and covered, but radiated in every step we take. He is the Light of the world and it is our honor to shine…our calling to open our hearts, our hands, and our voices to tell the other side of the story in this conversation of our world…the story of  ‘how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.’ Or maybe you know it like this – ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.’

Whatever we hear and whatever unfolds — He is the Truth that will not waver, the Love that will not fail.

“‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet My unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor My covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”~Isaiah 54:10

“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness
and who seek the Lord:
Look to the rock from which you were cut
and to the quarry from which you were hewn;
look to Abraham, your father,
and to Sarah, who gave you birth.
When I called him he was only one man,
and I blessed him and made him many.
The Lord will surely comfort  Zion
and will look with compassion on all her ruins;
he will make her deserts like Eden,
her wastelands like the garden of the Lord.
Joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the sound of singing.

“Listen to me, my people;
hear me, my nation:
Instruction will go out from me;
my justice will become a light to the nations.
 My righteousness draws near speedily,
my salvation is on the way,
and my arm will bring justice to the nations.
The islands will look to me
and wait in hope for my arm.
 Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
look at the earth beneath;
the heavens will vanish like smoke,
the earth will wear out like a garment
and its inhabitants die like flies.
But my salvation will last forever,
my righteousness will never fail.” 

~Isaiah 51:1-6

What Matters

It has been a week of busy days…a week of need-to-do and want-to-do and never quite feeling like enough has been done…but I take a deep breath and remember Kailey’s laughter as she chased rainbow-lace-bubbles floating over the grass. I remember Christian’s voice singing all boisterous and free after choir practice at school. I remember the gleam in Sean’s eyes as he sketched a still-life of a lamp in the living room, his pride as he showed me the finished picture. I choose to remember moments like these…the laughter of an inside joke with Neil, the adventure of stopping at a thrift store to see what might be found, the peace of all three kids involved in their books, the joy of all three singing out praise-songs on the way home from church. I will be thankful for these moments, for the time given to me so that I can give it to them. I have had to learn to let go of tightly clutched agendas because love must come first. Everything else that has been marked off a list or is still waiting…most of those things aren’t going to make a forever-impact. But love does.

Investing time…investing attention and heart-focus….investing you  — it matters to the people around you.

And it matters to our Father.

Earlier this week, this was the devotion Christian read aloud at bedtime:

“Am I listening for God’s voice? Or am I listening for my own? I would love to do big things. And maybe I will. But is God really shouting, ‘Go and do big things’? Or is He simply whispering, ‘Come to Me’? Matthew 11:28 says – ‘Come to Me’.”

He wants our hearts listening to Him as He listens to us. He desires communion…He desires to share in our joy and our sorrow. He wants relationship over accomplishments. And in time with Him, we find He smooths away the ragged edges of striving and fear. He soothes the anxious heart. He bears our weakness and gives His own strength.  Instead of being so caught up in doing, we can rest in what He has already done for us…and we can simply be.

For He doesn’t examine what has been marked off your list, but the motivation that made that list in the first place. He doesn’t find your value in what you’ve done, but in who you are…a man or woman made in the Father’s image, surrendered to Him.  That’s the heart He works through…the one pursuing Him and not another checked off goal.

Maybe you will do ‘big’ things. Maybe you will mark every ‘small’ thing off your to-do list…maybe we will simply do the things that must be done for our days to cycle onward in a responsible manner.

But the biggest thing of all, every time, is how we are already loved by our Savior…how we love Him…and how we love the people in our lives.  What matters at the end of every week…at the end of every day…at the end of every life…are those things that will be carried forward into eternity.

For our weekend – I pray that we will quiet our hearts, even if the schedule is busy and the house all chaos, and put our focus on Him. I pray we will see His love in the ever-changing sky, in the Words we see by, in every thing He has made and given. I pray we will find joy in the small things and grace in everything. I pray that we will be so filled with His love and His presence that we will overflow peace and gladness, a water-fall of love over the ones who share our time and our space. I pray that we will love as we are loved.

(And this song is like finding a treasure – because it is the prayer I feel, the words I wanted to find.)

“Day is Dimming”

The day is dimming and I’m yearning for You.
I won’t be satisfied till I see Your face.
Every victory, every loss,
every tick, every cross –
You can put them all in place.

It seems I’m finding more of why
in these moments
I feel like I’m made to sing of how good You are.
The more the years swell by and pass
each seconds more than last.
It’s true by far.

That no profound thought or clever rhyme,
no soaring grand, melodic line.
No theory, philosophy or sign
can explain it,
can explain.

Where You are, I wanna be.
It’s Your love that has changed me.
I’d give the world, and all it’s charms
for a moment in Your arms.
Better is one day with You
than a thousand elsewhere,
a thousand elsewhere….

I still remember what it felt like before You.
I’m grateful every day for how things have changed,
I’ll thank You every way I can
’cause my life only began
when I heard You call my name.

Now, no praise of man,
no great acclaim,
no humble looking kind of fame,
no power, wealth or worldly gain
could satisfy me,
could every satisfy.

Where You are, I wanna be.
It’s Your grace that has raised me,
I’d give my whole life to honor You
in whom I live,
in whom I move.
Better is one day with You
than a thousand elsewhere.

Better is one day in Your courts,
better is one day in Your house,
better is one day in your courts
than anywhere else, oh-
lead me, lead me,
lead me to Yourself…
lead me to Your heart.

Where You are, I wanna be.
It’s Your love that has changed me.
I’d give my life, to honor You
in whom I live
and whom I move.
Better is one day with You
than a thousand elsewhere,
a thousand elsewhere….

Lead me to Yourself,
lead me to Your heart.
I’ll be found in You,
I’ll be found in You.
Here is peace,
here is joy,
here is life,
here is freedom, freedom.

~Brooke Fraser