Category Archives: Encouragement

Commencement

In April, we celebrate new things.

Like our new baby birds :)

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Last week

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This week. Hello world! What’s for dinner?

And new flowers – 20140424_101018

New shoots on our lantana. Love to see these come back year after year!

New shoots on our lantana. Love to see these come back year after year!

New babies

Elisabeth Grace

Aww … Elisabeth Grace – my great-niece. Isn’t she precious?

Since this is a season of new things, I’m excitedly introducing a new blog today. From now on, I’ll be writing here – @ Eternity in Our Hearts.

If you’ve subscribed to Dimly Burning, I would be thrilled and grateful for your support of the new blog. You have been dear, patient friends to me as I’ve journeyed through seasons of grief, parenthood (with a tween!), marriage, and faith. These seasons have taught me that in the midst of heartbreak, life continues because – as a responsible adult – I  have to show up everyday whether I want to or not. But in my heart of hearts, I know that this is not all there is. God has placed eternity in our hearts.

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones. A time to embrace and a time to turn away. A time to search and a time to quit searching. A time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace.

God has made everything beautiful for its own time and has set eternity in our hearts, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:1 – 11).”

 April is what we longed for during the long, cold days of January. But sometimes new seasons, with their closures and beginnings, are messy.

For instance:

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“Helicopters” or “whirligigs”

These little maple seed pods are covering our yard, sidewalk, driveway, flower beds, and our lazy dog (no, just kidding).  As a kid, I used to love to throw these things up in the air and watch them twirl to the ground. But now, I have to sweep them or pluck them out of the beds before this happens:

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A tree where I don’t need a tree

Often, when we think of “new” we think of things shiny and efficient. But “new” in life is not like a new car. Many times, “new” blows in with a storm, a crisis. New creates a mess. A new divorcee or the new widow knows this. Anyone with a new diagnosis knows this.

Today I’m celebrating a blog with a new title and a new look. I kinda like it and I hope you do too.

And yet, friend, the sufferings and experiences that I’ve witnessed this week tell me that it may be spring outside, but it’s not necessarily spring in your soul.

My husband and I were recently eating outside at a deli on a beautiful day, and a couple walked past us. Because both of them were formally dressed in black, I instantly thought “funeral.” And I remembered how I wore a black dress not so long ago on a day when lots of other people were stringing Christmas lights.

We live in this tension between merriment and mourning. Those who have trusted in Christ live in the now and the now yet. More than ever, I believe that eternal life in Christ begins the moment we say “yes” to Jesus. Living as if we believe this can change everything about the “now.”

We’re entering the season of graduation. At some schools, this final ceremony is known as “commencement.” It’s the end. Yet the beginning. Life will continue as a series of conclusions and commencements. Some people will be ready for these adventures while others are riddled with anxiety. I’ve been both. I suppose it depends in part upon the season but more fully upon my measure of trust in the Timeless One.

I wrote the following words on a January day when the year was young and my heart felt old. I read these words now and I can’t come up with any different words to close one chapter (one blog) and begin another:

“The cyclical nature of seasons, even in the bleak midwinter, serves a preparatory purpose. Growth awaits. New life. Hope.

Duke Cancer Center, where I’ll be spending the day tomorrow with Daddy, is newly refurbished. It’s pretty and shiny, and no one wants to be there … You go there and realize that while the seasons of climate are relatively predictable, the seasons of physical life are sometimes not.

And so, when we think we know what to expect, we really don’t. In a mortal world, we see through lenses that are scratched and dulled by the jagged edges of sin, brokenness, and grief.

Even still, in seasons we couldn’t and didn’t predict, there are preparatory purposes. Even here, growth awaits. New life. And Hope. The truth, as told in Ecclesiastes, is that we were created for an eternal world. A different set of eyes are needed.

The season of Hope is not contained to Christmas or Easter morning. It’s not boxed in the attic or hauled to the curb.

Because ultimately each of us needs Someone who created the seasons and knows the scope of time from beginning to end. We need His eyes to see beyond the exterior and into the eternal. To see beyond the mess and into the meaning of it all.

The eternal cannot be boxed or packed or managed. One day everything that once looked messy will have meaning. We will see. For now – in whatever season we find ourselves – let us live with anticipation, fully and with purpose.

The seasons, those present or those that have passed away, hold for us purposes unfolding and promises coming.”

I hope you’ll join me for new seasons at Eternity in Our Hearts.

And if you are in a place where it’s not spring in your soul, I’d like to pray for you … If you want to leave a comment with a request, it’s truly my honor to lift your concerns to our Father.

Holy and eternal Father,

Thank You for being the God of all seasons. I praise You for being the same yesterday, today, and forever. You are before all things and in You all things hold together. I pray today with thanksgiving for the community I’ve come to know through Dimly Burning. I lift these dear ones up to you and ask that You would hold their hearts, especially those who are in a season when circumstances and hope seem dark. Lord, would You open their eyes to Your Word, Your faithful and good character, and Your promises? Give them grace to trust that You are the Guide who makes a stream in the desert and a path in the wilderness. Where they feel weak, rekindle a new dependence upon You that makes a dimly burning wick shine as a lantern for Your glory. When storms blow in, may Your hope be the anchor of their souls. Allow their hearts to rest in the love of the cross and the promise of the empty tomb. May they stand on the truth that any suffering on this side of heaven is nothing compared to everlasting joys that await believers in Christ. May we give all new opportunities and circumstances to You – whether we rejoice or grieve – in the faith that Your unfailing purpose is to make beautiful, eternal things.

Amen.

I Think You are Courageous – Another Letter to my Daughter

First of all, I’m sorry. The Bible provides timeless principles for raising kids but I haven’t yet found specific instructions for “what to do when your child wants to do something really hard for a sixth grade project.” And so, being a little overwhelmed for you, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about your project, was I? Truthfully, we know that I tried to talk you into doing something different – something easier.

Sweetheart, I’m learning so much as your Mom. While you are an imaginative, positive, creative thinker, I’m realistic and sensible.

You dream up a project and say “That has potential!”
I consider your ideas and ask, “Is that possible?”

It’s my responsibility as a parent to be reasonable and practical. I think about costs and time and effort. Some people would say that’s being “down-to-earth.”

And yet, honey, I never ever want to ground your dreams to fly.

I was afraid that you would be disappointed. And that your idea might be a failure. And you’d be working on Plan B at the very last minute.

But now I understand that protecting you from failure doesn’t serve you well. The time for you to fail is now. Doesn’t that sound weird? It’s not that I want your ideas to fall flat or I’m hoping that you will miss the cut. But my better responsibility as a parent is to be a safe place when you try. If you fail, if you don’t make the team, if you don’t make the grade, if you’re disappointed after the big audition, I will love you. And support you. And cheer for you anyway.

I want you to try.

As you walk with Jesus, He will take you on a narrow road. You might think that this was just a history assignment, but I’m proud of you for not shying away from a difficult choice. Take it as a life lesson — as part of your own story.

Of course I want you to think and plan and practice wisely. Learning how to do this is a process of growing up. Learning how to let you learn is a process of growing as a parent. You’re just beginning middle school, and your decisions are going to become much bigger than what to do for a school project. We have a lot of learning and growing to do together.

We’re going to make mistakes. I just did, as a mom. I’m writing about it. Failure is not final. I think somebody famous said something like that. Oh, Winston Churchill. (I just looked it up.) You’ll probably learn about him this year.

Ok, here’s what he really said: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

So, all day long, on Saturday you worked. And shed a few tears. And continued.

“I can do it, Mommy.”

Sweetheart, I think you are courageous.

Kids and parents are discussing the life application of courage this month at our church. How appropriate, huh? Last week, our leader asked us to talk at home about things that have been hard and scary. I told you that, for me, 2013 has been a year of hard things like going on a mission trip without you and Daddy, taking a class on pastoral care at the hospital, and watching our dearest loved ones go through surgeries and chemotherapy.

At the class in the hospital, I had to go into the rooms of strangers and offer a word of hope or prayer. Sometimes those strangers were thankful and friendly and sometimes not. The director of the program knew that this was hard for a shy person like me.

“I think you are courageous,” he said.

His words gave me encouragement. Get it? En-COURAGE-ment. Just hearing that someone considered me courageous made me feel courageous.

But I couldn’t ultimately depend on courage coming from within myself or from the words of another person. An unkind word could just as easily dis-courage me. Before I could raise my fist to knock on another hospital room door, I had to rely on a promise that the Lord gave to Joshua:

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

The Lord is with you, sweet girl. By His Spirit, you are courageous. Continue in hard things.

I remember now where I saw that quote from Winston Churchill. It was posted in a room where your Poppy received a treatment for his cancer.

Cancer is a hard thing. Your Grammy knows that too.

Poppy and Grammy are courageous. Sometimes you have to be courageous about things that you don’t choose.  But no matter what, God chooses to love you and stay with you, just as He continues to do so for your grandparents.

It is the courage to continue that counts.

Colossians 1: 6 – 7 says, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in Him….”

Continue on, sweetheart. He will give you roots and let you fly.

When You’re in the Valley

Psalm 23, the beloved Shepherd Psalm, is perhaps the best-known chapter of the Bible. Several months ago, at Easter in fact, I read a blog post that drew my attention to Psalm 23 in a new way by placing it in the context of the psalms that surround it. In “Living in the Valley – For Now,” Jonathan Parnell writes that Psalm 22, 23, and 24, when we look at them together, say something even more meaningful about Jesus’ devotion and authority as our Shepherd.

As we read Psalm 22, we recognize Jesus right away in verse 1, especially His agony on the cross:
My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” (22:1; see Matthew 27:46).

“… scorned by everyone, despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads” (22: 6 – 7; see Matthew 27:39).

“… people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment” (22: 17 – 18; see Matthew 27:35).

As Psalm 22 depicts Jesus’ cross, Psalm 24 describes His coronation:

Who is this King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
the Lord mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, you gates;
lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is He, this King of glory?
The Lord Almighty—
He is the King of glory (24: 8 – 10).

Psalm 22 reminds us of Jesus’ sacrifice. Psalm 24 proclaims Jesus’ sovereignty and strength. As Jonathan Parnell put so well: “If Psalm 22 is a Good Friday meditation, Psalm 24 is our Easter morning song.”

But between Friday and Sunday, there is sorrow, uncertainty, disappointment, and confusion. There is a valley. There is a shadow of death.

But it is a mere shadow. As Charles Spurgeon said, “Nobody is afraid of a shadow, for a shadow cannot stop a man’s pathway even for a moment.” Sunday’s a-coming. The Light of the World will dispel every shadow of darkness and death. The King of glory is coming.

I wholly lean on the triumphant hope of Psalm 24.

But today …. Today has felt like a valley. On days like these my head knows that Sunday is real but my heart is stuck in Friday. There is sorrow, uncertainty, disappointment, and confusion. I pray for vision yet I am short-sighted. There are steep and rugged mountains in the way.

In Psalm 22, I remember Jesus as Savior. In Psalm 24, I trust Him as Sovereign. But today I find myself in Psalm 23. And I need a Shepherd.

The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want.

Between the images of Jesus’ cross and His crown, here is my Comforter. The Messiah is in the middle.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.

I fit the characteristics of a sheep – stubborn, needy, timid, and prone to wander (Isaiah 53:6). Yet, as I see in Psalm 22, the Good Shepherd bought me with a very high price.
Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

“The position of Psalm 23 is worthy of notice,” said Spurgeon, “It follows the twenty-second, which is peculiarly the Psalm of the Cross …. It is only after we have read, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” that we come to “The Lord is my Shepherd.” We must know the value of blood-shedding, and see the sword awakened against the Shepherd before we shall be able truly to know the Sweetness of the good Shepherd’s care.”

Because this Shepherd is willing to care for me, a sheep,  at such a tremendous cost to Himself, I can trust Him. Because this Lover of my soul is a Shepherd King – a King of glory – I can rest in His ability and authority to command all circumstances and lead me into places for my good – even the valley.

Though I walk through the valley … You are with me.

As a real-life shepherd, Phillip Keller explains that sheep are led to the mountain tops through the valleys because it is the well-watered route. In the valley there are rivers, streams, and still waters. The Shepherd who called Himself the Living Water (John 7:38) will refresh me again and again. Hope quenches my thirsty soul.

And as I’m here in the valley, I remember that the Shepherd is leading me through it. This is not a stopping place. One day I will join Him in Psalm 24.

I am the gate for the sheep,” Jesus said, “Whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture … I have come that they may have life and have it to the full (John 10: 7 – 9).

The valley is the gateway to the fullest Life we will ever know. Jesus the Savior, Shepherd, and Sovereign makes it so.

Resources:
“Living in the Valley – For Now.” Jonathan Parnell. April 8, 2013. http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/living-in-the-valley-for-now

Psalm 23 in The Treasury of David by Charles H. Spurgeon http://www.spurgeon.org/treasury/ps023.htm

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller

 

Our Refuge and Strength

It’s NFL kickoff week (hooray for fall and football!) I recently attended a Panthers preseason game, and although it was only an exhibition, there was plenty of pre-game activity to excite the crowd. As an announcer with a bellowing voice introduced them, 11 starting players from the Panthers emerged out of gigantic jaws and ran onto the field. But as the inflatable jaws started to sink and were hauled off the field, I was puzzled.

These players made up only half of the team – the defense.

Where’s the offense? Are they playing tonight? (Feel free to insert your own sarcasm here).

We don’t go to many games, so maybe this is the way it always is. Perhaps the offense gets the big introduction for the next home game.

I asked my husband, thinking that surely he knows these things. His reply:
“I was kinda wondering myself.

Oh.

Obviously, the offense showed up (not the regular starters – they took the preseason night off). But the reserves played well, and our team won.

I recently read something in my current devotional that I found so reassuring * –
(Based on Psalm 46:1) – “God is your refuge and strength – a refuge to protect you and a strength to help you overcome. Both defense AND offense.”

God is truly our ever-present help in time of trouble. Scripture assures us that He is both behind us and before us (Psalm 139:5). Our Defender and our Fighter. Whenever we feel vulnerable or afraid, we may rely on His certain character as a mighty Fortress.

In the Psalms and Proverbs, “refuge,” “shield,” “fortress,” and “rock” are often used together to describe God:

Psalm 18:2 – My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Psalm 62:7 – My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge.

Psalm 71: 3 – You are my rock and my fortress.

Psalm 94:22 – But the Lord has become my fortress, and my God the rock in whom I take refuge.

Psalm 119:114 – You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in Your Word.

Proverbs 30:5 – Every word of God is flawless; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.

When everything else is insecure and uncertain, our God is immovable and unchangeable. I’ll take His protection over a 300 pound lineman anyday :)

Like any battle, offense is essential. In real life there are no preseasons, so Scripture tells us to remain alert and armed (Ephesians 6:17 – 18).

Hear David’s confident readiness in Psalm 18:

“God is my rock, my fortress, my deliverer … He shields all who take refuge in Him … It is God who arms me with strength … He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze … You arm me with strength for battle; You made my adversaries bow at my feet.”

God promises that the weapons that He gives us have divine power to demolish strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4). He arms us with His very Word. The sword of the Spirit is the believer’s surest weapon against –

Accusation – “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Insecurity – “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Weakness – “… we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”

Hopelessness- “I consider that our present sufferings are not even worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

Doubt – “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”

Loneliness – “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”

Fear – “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear but you received a spirit of sonship.”

Since all of these “weapons” are found in just one chapter of the Bible (Romans 8), imagine how well-armed we are with all of Scripture! With God’s Word in our hearts and minds, we can stand firm.

But, just being honest, there are times when I am too emotionally, mentally, or physically spent to wear my game face. The battle seems too much. Thankfully, in Romans 8, I find that God understands:

“We don’t know what we should pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (v. 26).

The Holy Spirit fights for me.

In 2 Chronicles 20, we read King Jehoshaphat’s desperate prayer as the Moabites and Ammonites threatened the people of Judah:

“We have no power to face this army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do but our eyes are on You.”

God gave Jehoshaphat words of hope:

“Do not be afraid or discouraged. The battle is not yours but God’s … You will not have to fight this battle … Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.”

So Jehoshaphat trusted God and commanded men at the head of the army to sing:

“Give thanks to the Lord. His love endures forever.”

Worship was their offensive weapon. The enemy may loom large, and I may be weak, but I can worship. I am called to worship. Praise changes my perspective. It opens my eyes to see Who fights for me.

2 Chronicles 20 ends with verse 30: “And the kingdom of Jehoshaphat was at peace, for God had given him rest on every side.”

On every side. He is behind us and before us. Our defense and our offense.

Here’s to a winning season!

* Experiencing God’s Presence by Chris Tiegreen. Devotion for Oct. 2

The Strong Love of a Father

“I’m kinda scared,” my girl confessed as we stood at the ocean’s edge. The day ahead had the potential of a dream-come-true for this eleven-year-old who had long yearned for sand and salt water.  It’s a bummer for Caroline that her parents are mountain people. Tell me and John to “take a hike,” and we say “gladly,” as long as we can follow a trail along winding streams under a canopy of trees.  But this weekend at the beach was a free gift offered by hospitable friends, and Caroline was ready to dive in. Well, maybe not literally. The crashing of waves and the tug of the tide gave her pause, but John was ready to play. At her dad’s urging, Caroline cautiously braved ahead, and after hours of wave riding, all fears were joyfully conquered – as long as John was near.

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As I watched, I thought of a devotion written by my favorite author, Elisabeth Elliot, titled “Learning the Father’s Love.” Mrs. Elliot described a childhood memory of a vacation at the beach with her parents and younger brother Dave. For two days, her father urged young Dave to enjoy the ocean, but Dave stubbornly refused. On the final day Dave finally relented, but his newfound delight was almost ruined by dismay over all the fun he had missed. “Poor Dave!” writes Mrs. Elliot, “His father could have forced him to come into the water, but he could not have forced him to relax and enjoy it. As long as the child insisted on protecting himself, he could not trust the strong love of his father.”

On Father’s Day, I especially appreciate the strong, protective love of fathers – that special kind of devotion that hangs on through high tide and low tide. The steadfast commitment of a father to his children gives them a kind of safety and security like no other. It’s a love that’s meant to image the love of a Heavenly Father.

Pastor John Piper describes the example of a father’s love like this:

The overarching guide for every father should be to live in such a way that his children can see what God the Father is like. They ought to see in their human father a reflection—albeit imperfect—of the heavenly Father in his strength and tenderness, in his wrath and mercy, in his exaltation and condescension, in his surpassing wisdom and patient guidance. The task of every human father is to be for his children an image the Father in heaven.”

That’s a BIG task! But on Father’s Day, we honor our dads who do just that, not by being perfect but by being present.

God gives us glimpses of His love through the fathers who shoo monsters from under the bed, toss a ball in the backyard after a long day at the office, coach the soccer team, attend countless recitals, stay up late and rise early, make sure the college student’s car is properly maintained, write the checks, write the checks, write the checks….

I learned a long time ago that I can’t out-give my Daddy. He is the most generous person I know. Not just financially but in every way. He has poured himself into his family. He has taught us to work hard, to love Jesus and love people. He cheers for us in his own quietly proud way. His gift to his family has been his presence. He has been lovingly committed to his wife for 61 years. He serves as an example of trustworthiness and integrity.

When we are afraid, we remember that Daddy reads his Bible and talks to God.

When we are tempted to give up, we remember that Daddy has been fighting cancer for a long time, and he trusts God.

When we celebrate, we remember that Daddy has given us a legacy of family and faith – the gifts most worthy of celebration.

When we feel like failures, we remember that Daddy calls us “sugar” and “honey,” and nothing will change that.

When we need help, we remember that Daddy has a cell phone.

For me and Daddy, some of our memories were made, not at the beach but in the amusement parks. From Daddy I learned to love roller coasters and fast rides (but not spinning rides – they made him sick). I remember, as a little girl, feeling brave and big with anticipation as we entered the line of Space Mountain or the mine train. As the coaster cranked up the hill, I was afraid, but Daddy was there, so I figured it would turn out all right. I trusted the love of my father, and it gave me great joy. I remember how he laughed as we sped around the loops and corkscrews.  My heart was full just to know that he enjoyed being my dad.

Life, as we now know it, offers a different sort of twists and turns and things that are scary. Some days we don’t feel so brave. But together we trust that our Heavenly Father is here, and it will turn out all right.

I realize that some people didn’t have the love of a dad like I did. I understand that this can make it harder for them to comprehend the love of the Heavenly Father.  If it’s true for you, I hope and pray that your empty place can be overcome by the amazing gift of fatherhood that God offers to you through Jesus Christ.

When you are afraid, remember that “The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103: 19 – He is in control!)

When you are tempted to give up, remember that “… from everlasting to everlasting, the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children” (Psalm 103: 17 – God is FOR you. He promises His love, wisdom, and righteousness to His children in Christ.)

When you celebrate, remember to “Praise the Lord, my soul; and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103: 2 – 5)

When you feel like a failure, remember that “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103: 8 – 12).

When you need help, remember that “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103: 13 – 14 – God understands!)

And if you’re a father, remember your family doesn’t need you to be perfect. They need you to be present. Wait in line for the roller coaster. Go in the ocean.

Become the image of a Heavenly Father who holds on – through the highs and lows and through the waves. In His grip, it will turn out all right.

Resources –

Elisabeth Elliot, Learning the Father’s Love. March/April 1992 newsletter – http://www.elisabethelliot.org/newsletters2/mar.apr.1992.pdf

John Piper – Fathers Who Give Hope. Sermon, June 15, 1986 – http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/fathers-who-give-hope

Pursued

Maybe if I hadn’t been in middle school, I would have thought it was funny.  But when you’re in sixth grade, it’s hard to laugh when others are laughing at you.  I remember hearing an outburst of laughter and surprise when suddenly I realized that MY DOG was in my classroom! There was instant chaos as Charlie bounded over to my desk. There was no mistaking him for anyone else’s dog. Oh, he was thrilled to see me! My classmates thought this was the most energizing thing to happen at school in weeks. But my teacher and I… well, we weren’t exactly excited. My mom was as shocked as I was when I had to call her from the school office and ask her to come get Charlie.

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Charlie was a boxer mix – a big dog and a good dog. I loved him although I didn’t appreciate his amazing sense of smell, especially when he did it again. He escaped from home and ran about one and a half miles up Providence Road (two lanes back then, but heavily traveled) to my school. After a twelve-year-old accomplice let him in the building, Charlie somehow found me – this time in science class. He was so happy to see me that he knocked over the teacher’s potted plants with his tail and jumped up and down in the soil.

Remember “Mary Had a Little Lamb?”

He followed her to school one day, school one day, school one day. He followed her to school one day which was against the rule.

It made the children laugh and play, laugh and play, laugh and play. It made the children laugh and play to see a (dog) at school.

 Just how every sixth grade girl wants to be known.

Oh well, I couldn’t stay mad at Charlie for long. That’s how dogs love.

Now we have a “Toby” in our family. As I walk around the house, he bumps his wet nose against my ankle to remind me that he is literally right on my heels. Dogs win our hearts with their joyful devotion.   As Charlie showed us, they’ll go to great lengths to show love.

A few nights ago, after I came home from a study of Romans and snuggled up with Caroline and Toby for bedtime, Caroline asked me to tell her the story about Charlie (again).  As Caroline snickered at the scenario in her mind, I remembered Romans and our small group discussion:

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

 “I can hardly comprehend how He loved me, chose me, and sought me out.”

“God loved me and drew me to faith before I ever had a thought of Him.”

“It amazes me that God pursues me.”

It’s true – without the initiative of God, we couldn’t recognize or value His love. As Thomas Aquinas described Him, God is the “first mover.” God goes before us even while He pursues us.

“You go before me and follow me.” Psalm 139:5

“Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what He wanted to do, and it gave Him great pleasure.” Ephesians 1: 4 – 5

 “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins…. We love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4: 10, 19

Words can’t even describe what an astounding thought it is that the God of majesty would intentionally seek me. But the Word assures me that this is very reason Christ came. Luke 19:10 says “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

There’s nothing in me that would draw God to me, except that my sin magnifies His mercy.

In his commentary on Romans 5:8, John Piper says: “God’s love is shown in this—exactly in this—that His love did not wait for any moral improvement in us.”

God pursued me, not because I am lovable but because He is Love and without Him I am lost.

Hear His Shepherd’s heart in Ezekiel 34:

“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land… I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak…”

And again in Luke 15:

“Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’

Once again in Psalm 23:

“The Lord is my Shepherd… I have everything I need. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul…. Surely Your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life…” (New Living Translation).

The Message puts Psalm 23:6 this way:Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. “

All the commotion of a canine in the classroom is just a small picture of our Father’s joyfully persistent love for us. Let’s open our hearts to receive and return it abundantly!

Resource: John Piper – http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/the-depth-of-christs-love-its-undeserving-objects

I Am Redeemed

Have you ever had a chance encounter with someone from the past who takes you back to a long-ago place in your life? Sometimes it’s a good place with happy memories, but other times it’s a really uncomfortable place that you would rather be forever left in the past. I had that experience yesterday.

On Sundays, my husband and I serve in the “Next Step” reception at our church, where we greet guests who stop by to talk with someone about a prompting that God has placed in their hearts.  Yesterday, a lady approached me during the Next Step reception, and although she seemed somewhat familiar, I didn’t recognize her at first. Thankfully my husband remembered how we knew her, from many years back – maybe 15 years ago. We chatted, and out of blue she said, “You look so much better.”

Although I was surprised by that, I thanked her, and we continued to talk. While I tried to see if she had any questions about our church, she said again – and again – five times at least: “Really, you look much, much better.”

Ordinarily you’d think a person would really enjoy comments like that. As if I had some kind of makeover – perhaps a great new hairstyle, a new wardrobe, or some “work done.” But I knew what she meant, and I was uncomfortable. Every time she repeated, “you look so much better,” in my mind I was hearing “…cause you used to look so bad.”

Of course she didn’t mean it this way, and I don’t remember how aware she was of my situation 15 years ago. Maybe she remembered me as having some kind of illness. Whatever she remembered, she was right, whether she had said it explicitly or not – I used to look really bad. Sick. Painfully thin. Standing at death’s door.

Honestly I don’t know why her comments drew out such awkwardness in me. I’ve spoken and written openly about my past struggle with anorexia. Truly I am beyond grateful and thrilled that God has brought me into freedom. Perhaps I look better on the outside, but more importantly, the Lord has healed me on the inside. Whatever my outward appearance may be, He has brought beauty from ashes just as He promised (Isaiah 61:3).

I tried to be gracious to this lady, but I’ll admit being very, very relieved when she walked away.

Why? I wondered. Why didn’t I just say something that would speak of God’s healing work in my life? I thought about this all day long, and I mentioned it to my husband. “She was just trying to encourage you,” he said. And he was right. I was letting myself focus on the negativity – I was hearing the horrible voice of condemnation. You used to look so bad.  You messed up. You wasted years.

But God is so good. The Holy Spirit gave me the grace to redirect my mind onto all the other messages I heard in church yesterday:

Through the Word shared by our pastor:

“By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us” (1 John 3:16).

“God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His Son into the world, so that we might live through Him” (1 John 4:8).

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).

Through the lesson we taught to our fourth grade class in Sunday School:

“In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16).

Through the words of the song “Redeemed,” recorded by the group known as Big Daddy Weave:

Seems like all I could see was the struggle
Haunted by ghosts that lived in my past
Bound up in shackles of all my failures
Wondering how long is this gonna last
Then You look at this prisoner and say to me “Son,
Stop fighting a fight that’s already been won.”

I am redeemed, You set me free
So I’ll shake off these heavy chains
Wipe away every stain, now I’m not who I used to be
I am redeemed, I’m redeemed.

While I’ve reflected on these messages since yesterday, I’ve decided to firmly replant myself in the truth and utilize the shield of faith. When the enemy reminds me of the past, I’ll remind him that I live in this present and eternal reality:

* God loves me. Nothing will ever, ever separate me from His love. He gave His Son that I can be free. There is no need to fear or shrink back or be bound by shame. I am a conqueror through Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1, 31 – 39).

* My hope is in my redemption through Christ. He wipes away my stains and removes my chains. I belong eternally to Him (Titus 2:13 – 14).

The Holy Spirit also whispered “Psalm 107” to my heart…a psalm I often think of as if it were my own story:

Some were fools through their sinful ways,
and because of their iniquities suffered affliction;
18 they loathed any kind of food,
and they drew near to the gates of death.
19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
20 He sent out his word and healed them,
and delivered them from their destruction.
21 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
22 And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!”

As I re-read Psalm 107 this morning, the Holy Spirit drew my attention to the first two verses:

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He has redeemed from trouble.”

This is my story; this is my song. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!

Yesterday I failed to say so, but today I will –

“…. thank the Lord for His steadfast love, for His wondrous works to the children of man! For He satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul He fills with good things!” (Psalm 107: 8 – 9).