Tag Archives: Hope

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.

Hope Set Free

Easter Sunday must be the most positive day of the year on my Facebook & Twitter feeds. I love that. So many affirmations of hope, victory, and resurrection life (and a lot of spiffy family pics).

Of everything that made me smile or nod or rejoice, this tweet was my favorite:

 

The ridiculousness of confining God! The futility of boxing in the First and the Last!

Who would attempt that?

Oh.

Yeah.

Ouch.

Immediately I have 2 circumstances replay themselves out in my mind.

Yeah. that. and that.

So when a few men decided to ensure the confinement of the Creator of the universe, here’s what happened:

The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”

“Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard (Matthew 27: 62-66).

As evidenced by archeology and references throughout the Old Testament (Genesis 38; Exodus 28; 1 Kings 21; Nehemiah 9; Esther 3 & 8, etc…), a seal was used to represent authority.

Seals were made of wax which was melted and impressed with an identifying mark, typically borne on a signet ring. Closed doors (or tombs) were often sealed to prevent the entrance of an unauthorized person. In the story of Daniel and the lions, the door of the den was secured with the king’s seal (Daniel 6:17).

In the two circumstances that popped into my mind, I remembered the words that came to me from  authorized people.  And I visually pictured them putting their seal upon the closed doors of my long-cherished dreams:

“Given your psychological history, I suggest that you not pursue the adoption application any further …”

“Given the fact that all hospital chaplains must be ordained, I suggest that you move to another denomination.”

My dreams have been entombed. I feel a bare inkling of what the disciples must have felt on that darkest Saturday.

What now?

What can I do? Where can I go?

Where is God?

Oh. That’s right. My doubt and disillusionment are imprinted upon that sealed tomb. Some person in authority has pressed all potential out of me and my deepest hopes. I have boxed God into reasoning that seems logical, realistic, explainable. And human.

It is finished.

And yet, I wonder …

Do you think the enemy of our souls breathed a sigh of relief when Jesus uttered those words on Good Friday?

It is finished.”

Any delight on his part was as short-lived as his demise is eternal.

Because “It is finished” means something entirely different in view of Sunday morning.

Scripture plainly tells us: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins … If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

On Resurrection Day, followers of the Risen Christ celebrate the most critical foundation of our faith: Our hope is not for this life only!

Hope. Security. Joy. Redemption. Freedom. Future.

Have only begun.

When Jesus arose on Sunday morning, He released our freedom to hope. The hope of Christ is so much more than wishful thinking. It is the deepest, most secure and settled reason for living – and living in view of eternity.  I long for my dreams to remain alive. But because Jesus lives, He releases in me a capacity to discover in Him more than I could ever desire, ask, or imagine.

And when Jesus arose on Sunday morning, He proved Himself to be the final authority. History tells us that many people were crucified. But Jesus died in such a way that even His opponents had to admit that His was a noble, even divine, death.

(They hadn’t seen anything yet!)

Glorious Day! One – only One – resurrected!

From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.

Jesus is the Authority. If He chooses, He can command these dreams of mine to be unsealed. Perhaps that’s not His plan. But I have entrusted Him with my very life and eternity; and if that faith is to be authentic, it must include every desire and dream of my heart while I wait in the here and now.

If God wants something to come to pass, it will be.

“The LORD of Heaven’s Armies has spoken–who can change His plans? When His hand is raised, who can stop Him?” (Isaiah 14:27)

My doubt can’t stop Him.

My fear can’t stop Him.

The wisdom and reasoning of this world can’t stop Him.

The headaches and heartaches of Easter Monday can’t stop Him.

And if God chooses for something not to come to pass, that will be better.

As I remember these three days – Good Friday to Resurrection Sunday – I have everything I need to know. Jesus has demonstrated His love. He has proven His power. Everything that comes to pass – or not – in my life is consistent with these truths.

Friends, we are free to hope.

The sealed-off dreams can be trusted to the power of the unrestrained Savior.

Seeming dead-ends can be trusted to the One who defeated death.

The empty places of the heart can be filled with the promise of the empty tomb.

Lord Jesus, please impress upon my life what You will …  Seal in those desires in Me that reflect You and Your purest, most perfect plan for my life. Break loose those areas where I have been discouraged and defeated. Where I have boxed you in, I pray for a resurrection of faith in my heart. I thank You that You have sealed my soul for forever, and there is nothing that matters more. That’s the hope that gets me up on Monday morning. Please imprint eternity in my heart so that every motive, every longing, and every ambition would be aligned with Your Kingdom purposes.

Amen … Let it be.

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Beautiful words from Ann Voskamp on “The Truth You’ve Got to Know About After Easter:”

What’s been wearing death clothes in a life can get up and walk, what we’ve felt as wounds, by His wounds, are being healed, what’s being burnt to ashes will birth beauty. Ashes are always the papery birth announcement of beauty rising.

Us bound in that sin that’s always been, us with that heartbreak that just won’t take a break, us who feel locked up in these patterns and someone’s thrown away the key — we’re the people who’ve seen that the stone’s been rolled away.

We’re the Resurrection People who push back against the dark of impossible, because we’ve seen the impossible stone’s been pushed back against the dark. We’re the Resurrection People who walk in strong hope because we’ve seen the strong stones moved and Hope come right out to meet us and move us.

He is Risen indeed – because I want Him to be risen in me.”

If You’re Carrying Extra Weight, Part 3

Yesterday, our pastor’s message was birthed out of the second chapter of Matthew – a Scripture that we usually study as we are merrily remembering Jesus’ birth and singing “We Three Kings.” Yet, in the midst of February (not the merriest time of year) I found it all the more meaningful to remember the pure earnestness of the wise men’s adoration for Jesus.

What better time than a February morning – after edgy days of cabin fever, after January’s resolutions are just a memory and December’s expenses have come due – to worship?

These are the days when I remind myself that worship is a response, not to changeable circumstances, but to an unchanging God.

And later in the morning our Bible study lesson came from John 20, when Jesus rose from the grave, appeared to His disciples, breathed on them, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

These are the days when my heart longs for worship to be as natural and consistent as breathing in God’s grace and breathing out His praise. Not boastful of my own worth. Not matched to my own preferences (or favorite songs). Not limited to a time or place or style. Not conformed to my mood. Not arising only from the mountain top experiences.

If my worship depends upon any of these things, then resurrection power and freedom are sucked right out of my spirit. Worship becomes another joyless load heaped on a weary, self-sufficient soul. What my heart needs instead is for the weight of God’s worth to be breathed out of the limitless, liberating, life-sustaining gift and expression of the Holy Spirit…

And so yesterday, later in the day, while thinking about Jesus’ birth and resurrection, the realization hit me that we are almost halfway between Christmas and Easter. I thought of this after walking away from Daddy’s grave.

What better place than the cemetery to cling to the incarnation message of God with us and the resurrection truth of us with God, eternally?

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This is a rainbow charm that I chose to be a part of my “living locket.” * At last week’s jewelry party, I looked over hundreds of charms that could have been chosen. To me, this rainbow is a tiny representation of the mysterious ways of God and of a journey of faith that began almost two years ago when we learned that Daddy’s cancer had returned.

The Fourth of July fell a few days after the scan showed the unmistakable spot on his spine. Despite the stormy evening, my parents, husband, daughter, and I continued tradition, hoping that the clouds would break in time for the fireworks. Our usual spot was the top of a tall parking deck in the center of our city, not far from where the fireworks were ignited. We rode the elevator to the top, and as we exited to the parking deck, before us was the fullest, brightest rainbow I had ever seen. Immediately my heart leapt with hope. Taking that brilliant rainbow as a sign, I locked arms with Daddy.

“Look, Daddy! Everything is going to be alright.”

Many months later, I look at a rainbow charm perched on my finger and I think of Daddy. You and I know how things turned out. How could I have said that everything would be alright? How would I know that? How could I claim that? I was just a Daddy’s girl who, wanting more than anything at that moment for that ugly spot to vanish, grasped for any promise of hope.

My Daddy is alright. He is. The cancer IS vanished. No, this is not the way I wanted. Heaven wasn’t the healing I hoped for at the time. Now it’s February. My feelings are not merry but my mind is made up. It has to be. This is the only way I know how to do faith. Perhaps it’s not always natural and consistent. But the Holy Spirit fills my spiritual lungs with grace and mercy every single day. This is the air that travels to the deepest parts of my soul and resurrects trust within my heart and mind.

One day the storms will pass, the clouds will part, rainbow colors will spill through, and hope will be fulfilled. Whether a particular hope is realized on this side of Heaven or not is not up to us, but God does what is right and good. His faithfulness is as sure as the star in the Bethlehem sky and the scars on Jesus’ hands.

The ways of God are mysterious alright, but would I want it any other way? I can barely comprehend all the features on my phone, so if I’m honest, I don’t want a God that I can figure out. This God, who is beyond my understanding, is able to do beyond what I can see or put into prayers or claim for this life. And while that can be frustrating, it ultimately is my comfort. Because if hope were for this life only, it would be a mocking burden beyond what I could bear.

The Apostle Paul spoke of burden – or weight – in 2 Corinthians. The Greek word “baros” means anything pressing physically or spiritually upon oneself. In 2 Corinthians 1:8, Paul used the verb form of “baros” when he wrote “We don’t want you to be unaware, brethren, of the affliction which came to us in Asia … we were burdened (bareo) excessively beyond our strength so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.

While Paul was heavily, frequently burdened by all kinds of persecution and weaknesses, his story includes many physical and spiritual deliverances. But not always. It was through dangers and darkness where Paul found Christ’s strength in weakness and imperishable hope in a perishing body.

So later in 2 Corinthians, Paul used the Greek noun “baros” when he wrote:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight (baros) of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16 – 18).

In months of suffering, there was nothing “light” about Daddy’s illness. There’s nothing “light” about our present grief. Except that “light” is not meant in terms of importance to us in the here and now but in comparison to the glory, victory, and freedom that we will know then.

In this passage, it’s clear that Paul’s mind is made up. His hope and his worship don’t arise from his feelings but from his focus upon God with us and us with God, eternally. The glory to come will be so momentous, so weighty that words to describe it are mere wisps in the air.

Eye has not seen nor ear heard what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

In the words of theologian A.W. Pink – “One breath of Paradise will extinguish all the adverse winds of earth.”

Lord Jesus, breathe on me. Breathe faith into me so I can trust that all my burdens are as light and momentary as a human breath in comparison with the glorious joy and healing of Heaven. Breathe worship into me. Let all my hopelessness, pride, distractions, and idols be crushed by the weight of Your worth and eternal glory. Thank You for the promise that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. I am so grateful for signs of Your love and Your power — the star in the Bethlehem sky, the nail-pierced hands. And rainbows. In You, Lord, everything is going to be alright.

Amen and Come, Lord Jesus.

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“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

Resources –

John MacArthur, Comfort in Trouble – http://www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/47-4

A.W. Pink, Affliction and Glory – http://www.sermonindex.net/modules/articles/index.php?view=article&aid=1147

W.E. Vine – Reflections on Words of the New Testament

* “Living Lockets” and Origami Owl custom jewelry – http://jccollins.origamiowl.com/parties/jennifercollins169479/how-to-build.ashx

God Leaves the Light On

My daughter has one of these cool new nightlights – the kind that projects a beam of light onto the ceiling. A flashlight stays within reach of her bed too. She’s not alone in her fear of the dark – a lot of kids and even adults say that they’re uneasy when the lights go out. In a survey of 2000 adults, 40% reported being frightened when walking around their own houses in the dark.

When asked: “Why are people scared of darkness?” a panel of Yahoo users gave these answers:

  • “That’s the stuff horror movies are made of.”
  • “People are not afraid of darkness. People are afraid of the unknown.”
  •  “When I was afraid of the dark, I used to say: It’s not the dark I’m afraid of… it’s what’s IN the dark I’m afraid of.”
  • “Because they can’t afford night vision goggles” (wise guy).
  • “Read Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness.”

The last response reminds me that as a teenager I was riveted by the depiction of spiritual warfare in This Present Darkness. Frank Peretti’s book disturbed me into the awareness that this dark domain is more active than I had imagined –

(“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this present darkness and against the spiritual forces of evil…” Ephesians 6:12).

But these days I’ve been aware of another kind of darkness. It’s not of this dark dominion. It’s not eternal darkness. I’m convinced that the Light of the world makes this darkness flee –

“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in Me should stay in darkness.” – the words of Jesus ( John 12:46).

“For (God) has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves.” (Colossians 1:13)

While this is an assuring guarantee for Christ-followers, we still have to live in a world where the shadow of sin and death is far-reaching. At times darkness falls across our paths through illness, grief, loneliness, rejection, sadness, fear, weakness, loss, and uncertainty. The way ahead is unknown. Sometimes a veil clouds our awareness of God. We can’t see Him. We wonder – does He see us?

The honest laments of the psalmists, as in Psalm 88, assure us that godly people aren’t exempt from these struggles and doubts –
“I am overwhelmed with troubles …. My eyes are dim with grief … Why do You hide Your face from me? Darkness is my closest friend” (verses 3, 9, 14, 18).

And Micah the prophet lamented, “What misery is mine! … I sit in darkness” (see Micah 7).

In his book When I Don’t Desire God (an honest title that intrigued me) Pastor John Piper reassures his readers that seasons of darkness are normal in the Christian life. Remember that most people’s discomfort with darkness is primarily a fear of what they cannot see or anticipate. While we rely heavily on our sight to navigate the physical world, this Christian journey is one of believing and not of seeing (2 Corinthians 5:7). When clouds of fear or doubt obscure our view of God, we must anchor our faith in His character, not our feelings or senses. As Piper says, “…the darkest experience for the child of God is when his faith sinks out of his own sight. Not out of God’s sight, but his.”

My faith rises and falls. God’s faithfulness does not rise and fall. I may not always see Him in my circumstances but I will trust His character:

“When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
my anchor holds within the veil.” *

What helps me in dark times is to remember that God is not absent when I can’t see Him. In fact, throughout Scripture, He shows Himself working out a glorious plan in the midst of darkness.

Exodus 14 –
“Then Moses stretched out his hand over the (Red) sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.” (verses 21 – 22).

Mark 6 –
Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and Jesus was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn He went out to them, walking on the lake …. when they saw Him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed …” (verses 47 – 51)

Acts 12 –
The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists (verses 6 – 7).

Acts 16 –
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. (verses 25 – 33)

A dawn of deliverance and deepened faith awaited Moses and the children of Israel, the disciples, Peter, Paul, Silas, and the jailer. Whether chased by an angry army, bound by prison chains, or rocked by natural forces, these people experienced God making a way. And when morning came, they were changed. Their stories still speak of a God who moves in the darkness.

Scripture promises us that what seems dark & hidden to us is plain to Him (Psalm 139: 11 & 12). Even as He keeps dawn on the horizon, He choreographs a timetable and a plan for the midst of the night. Perhaps like Peter He will give us rest. Or like Paul and Silas He is calling us to worship and drawing those around us to the Gospel. It could be that like the disciples we will experience Him in a jaw-dropping way. Perhaps like the children of Israel, He is preparing a miraculous story that will be shared for generations to come.

And although we experience the shifting of shadows here on this earth, the Day is coming. There will be a new dawn of deliverance as the inexhaustible Light cuts through the darkness. It will be so pure that nothing will obscure it. No more shadows of sin and death. We see dimly now, but on that Day we will know and see fully.

When it comes to the dark, I don’t know what’s there but I know Who’s there. So I won’t be afraid. And as surely as the sun (Son) rises, morning is on the way!

Isaiah 60:19 – 20 – The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end.

Revelation 22: 3 – 5 – No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”

Psalm 139: 11 – 12 – If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

Isaiah 61:1 – “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners” – a prophecy fulfilled in Jesus (see Luke 4: 16 – 31).

Isaiah 42:16 – “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”

Isaiah 50:10 – Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of His servant? Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on God.

Psalm 30:5 – …weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning.

2 Corinthians 5:7 – We walk by faith and not by sight.

Sources –
“Why Many Adults are Still Afraid of the Dark” http://www.bps.org.uk/news/many-adults-are-afraid-dark

“Why Are People Afraid of Darkness?” http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20060616005052AAZjM7U

This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti – http://frankperetti.com/

* My Hope is Built on Nothing Less (The Solid Rock) hymn lyrics by Edward Mote

When I Don’t Desire God by John Piper – http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/books/when-i-dont-desire-god

Why this is not “the end”

There’s been a lot of buzz this week about TV series finales. I’ve never watched Breaking Bad but I’ve heard a good bit of talk about the way that this series ended – “cleanly” and “decisively” – according to entertainment fans and critics. The closure of Breaking Bad has prompted a lot of chatter about famous final episodes of shows like M.A.S.H, Dallas, Lost, Seinfeld, The Sopranos, etc…

I find it interesting to listen to these conversations about open-ended finales versus settled endings. I never watched The Sopranos either, but couldn’t help hearing all about its infamous end. The black screen sparked outrage from fans. What happened?!? We’ll never know. There’s no definitive answer to Tony Soprano’s fate.

Seems to me (for the most part) we want to know the end of the story.

Today, I’m preparing to teach a high school health class on the topic of eating disorders. It’s a subject I know all-too-well from personal experience. And yet, I take sharing my story as a tremendous privilege and opportunity. While it pains me to remember and reflect on that part of my life, it also gives me hope. It’s redemptive. Eighteen years later, I can look back at that season of suffering and give thanks that it wasn’t the end of my story.

I think about loved ones – dearest family and friends – and the suffering that so many of you are experiencing right now. Your hearts are heavy and your spirits are weary of illness, chronic pain, broken relationships, confusion, financial uncertainty, and grief. Life has been interrupted. With you, I cry out to God. We seemingly stare at a black screen and wonder – what happened? Is this the end…

of a dream?
of security?
of being able to do things we used to enjoy?
of family as we’ve known it?
of hope?

(Jeremiah 18: 1 – 4)  – “This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:  “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.”

Ever felt like a lump of clay? Me too.

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(“But now, O Lord, You are our Father, we are the clay, and You are the potter, and we all are the work of Your hand” – Isaiah 64:8)

Ever felt broken, humbled, crushed, messy, and marred? Me too.

“Marred” is an unusual word, I think, that we don’t use very often.

 “… the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.”

To be “marred” means to be spoiled or disfigured, and there’s one other place in Scripture (that I can find) that uses the word “marred” –

See, my servant will act wisely;
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness …” (Isaiah 52:13 – 14).

This is our Messiah.

About this Scripture in Isaiah, Matthew Henry said: “His visage was marred more than any man’s when he was buffeted, smitten on the cheek, and crowned with thorns, and hid not his face from shame and spitting. His face was foul with weeping, for he was a man of sorrows; he that really was fairer than the children of men had his face spoiled with the abuses that were done him.”

While His essence was unspoiled and holy, Jesus willingly became disfigured and broken. On the cross, He suffered for our sin and our suffering. Because we are marred, the Messiah became marred.

It means everything to remember that the cross was not the end of the story. Because of the empty tomb, we believe in the patience and the power and the purpose of a God of new beginnings.

On the potter’s wheel, the marred lump of clay isn’t discarded. The soggy mass doesn’t get tossed aside. The wise and gracious Potter takes the marred clay into His hands. He reworks and shapes it as seems best to Him. The mess is not the end of the story. God turns the mess into a message.

I don’t how our stories this side of heaven will end. But I do know that on the other side of heaven our stories will have just started. They’ll be no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun.

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then He said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.” (Revelation 21: 3 – 6).

This illness, this brokenness, this uncertainty and fear, this grief and heartache. These sufferings are not the end. We know the End.

The One who says that He is the End is also the Beginning.
I am making everything new!”

Resources –
Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Isaiah 52: 13-15
Lysa TerKeurst – “When you give your mess to the Messiah, He can turn into a message.” from What Happens When Women Say Yes to God. See also “Turning North” – http://lysaterkeurst.com/2011/03/turning-north/

A Prayer for My Mother on her 80th Birthday

Heavenly Father,

You are the Giver of all good gifts. I praise You for Your abundant goodness, unfailing strength, and limitless faithfulness. I have experienced these gifts without measure or merit. My joy is fully known in things eternal, and yet You have extended Your love, loyalty, and goodness to me here on earth. Day after day, I receive these beautiful gifts in large part through the love of my family.

Lord, today I’m especially thankful for my mother. Her children, and her husband, arise and call her blessed. As a woman who fears the Lord, she has given her family a firm foundation upon which You have built our faith. Without ever wanting to draw attention to herself, she gives, cares, serves, and encourages. For almost 62 years of marriage, she has exemplified what it means to be a godly wife. She has devoted herself to enriching her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, family, church, friends, and neighbors. In the face of uncertainty and trials, it steadies us to know that she looks to You as the anchor of her soul. Her family could not be more blessed or more thankful.

Lord, would this day – her birthday – be the beginning of a year in which my mother knows the deepest peace and richest joy?  I pray with thanksgiving for the promise that You are the strength of her heart and her portion forever. May she be sustained daily by the comfort that You are the eternal refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

And Lord, I pray for the simplest but most meaningful joys to come her way – such as sweet times with Daddy and with her family.

For laughter. And more opportunities to explore an open road.

For days to enjoy good meals with good friends. For many more victories on the court or on the field for her favorite teams (Your help is especially needed here, Lord!).

I pray for precious memories made with the little ones. For weekends to watch swimming practice or go shopping or eat ice cream with her granddaughter. For the satisfaction of knowing that these shared experiences are creating a lasting legacy.

Perhaps this year, more than any other, has impressed upon us that life is not to be hurried. We cherish each day, and thank You, the Giver of all good gifts.

Thank You, Lord, for gifting me so well with my mother. You have done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.

Proverbs 31: 28 – 29 – Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”

Hebrews 6:19 – We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.

Psalm 73:26 – My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Romans 15:13 – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Deuteronomy 33:27 –The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

Psalm 126: 3 – The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.

God Uses Broken Things

My family enjoys American Pickers – the History Channel show where viewers follow Mike & Frank’s treasure hunt across the country that takes them into junkyards, abandoned barns, and garages off the beaten path in search of memorabilia.

According to the American Pickers website, pickers are “modern archeologists” who “drag valuable relics out of obscurity and into our stores, museums and living rooms.” I like the show because Mike and Frank always uncover something that looks like a piece of junk to me but it’s a gem to them.

They get really excited over rusty and broken things because, despite outward appearances, they have an eye for value.

I’m thinking about broken things lately. And not only because the toaster oven wouldn’t warm up this morning or because the mechanic called to say that the lawn mower is beyond repair.  Although inconvenient, I wish these were the only broken things in my life. But no, honestly, there are things that can’t be tossed away in a junk pile and forgotten. Like deep disappointments, persistent weaknesses and fears, fractured friendships, and sorrow over sin and suffering this side of heaven.

A few years ago, as I was preparing a lesson on “jars of clay,” I first understood the significance of Gideon’s unusual weapons of warfare. Last night, as I read from the Gideon Bible study by Priscilla Shirer, I returned to this story:

Judges 7: 15 – 16 – (Gideon) returned to the camp of Israel and called out, “Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.”  Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside.

When you consider that Gideon’s 300 men were outnumbered 450 to 1 against the well-armed enemy camp, their torches, jars, and trumpets seem pretty useless.

Judges 7: 19 – 21 – Gideon and the men with him reached the edge of the camp … They blew their trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands. The three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars. Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled.

God uses broken things.

Made of clay, the jars in the soldier’s hands smashed instantly at Gideon’s command. The frailty of the jars served their purpose – piercing the darkness with a blinding flame and surprising the enemy into retreat.*

2 Corinthians 4: 6 – 7 – For God who said, “Light shall shine out of the darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.

As Priscilla Shirer says, “The weaknesses we often despise are required for the light of Christ to be seen and for the darkness to be dispelled. Without the limitations and deficiencies of our vessels, we would not serve our purpose well.”*

What Gideon’s story tells me is that there is purpose in the pain of brokenness. There is a divine reason behind my disappointments. There is treasure in the midst of my troubles.

It is the surpassing greatness of the power of God.

Jars of clay, back in biblical times, were as common for storage as plastic containers are to us today. But when a clay jar became broken, it didn’t get tossed away. Instead it was turned into a lantern.

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Those times when you and I feel useless, weak, broken and beyond repair are the very times for the hope and the power of Christ to shine.

Last evening, as I was finishing my Gideon study for the day and thinking about all these things, I reached for a book by my bedside. The devotional Streams in the Desert has often soothed my thirsty soul. In the index, I searched for “brokenness,” and this is what I found:

(October 15) – “It was not until Gideon’s three hundred specially chosen soldiers broke the jars that were in their hands, which symbolized brokenness in their lives, that the hidden light of the torches shone forth, bringing terror to the enemies. It was once the poor widow broke the seal on her only remaining jar of oil and began to pour it that God miraculously multiplied it to pay her debts and supplied her means of support (2 Kings 4)….It was once Jesus took the “five loaves and broke them” (Luke 9:16) that the bread was multiplied to feed the five thousand… It was when Mary broke her beautiful alabaster jar of very expensive perfume (Matthew 26:7), destroying its future usefulness, that the wonderful fragrance filled the house. And it was when Jesus allowed His precious body to be broken by thorns, nails, and a spear that His inner life was poured out like crystal clear water for thirsty sinners to drink and live….It is not until a beautiful kernel of corn is buried and broken in the earth that its inner heart sprouts and produces hundreds of seeds and kernels. And so it has always been – God uses broken things.”

Psalm 51:17 – The sacrifice You desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

You and I may be broken, but our Heavenly Father has an eye for value. As jars of clay, our worth is not determined by our composition but by our contents.* May it be the blazing flame of Christ – with His hope, victory, strength, and glory.

Let it shine!

Resources:

* “Unusual Weapons” in Gideon by Priscilla Shirer, pages 121 – 125.

Streams in the Desert by L.B. Cowman, devotion for October 15

American Pickers – http://www.history.com/shows/american-pickers/articles/what-is-picking