Tag Archives: Trusting God

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.”

You Have Messages Waiting

So I’m thinking of something I learned yesterday from my phone (of all things). While waiting for cycle class at the Y, I tried to check my email. I’ve only had a smart phone for a few months, and the constant accessibility is something that I see as both blessing and curse. (Anyone with me?)

Sometimes I’m amused by my feeble attempts to wrap my mind around the ways of God when I cannot understand all of the features of this phone. It’s very likely that the settings aren’t set correctly. I had 3 new email notifications, but none of them were showing up in my inbox. So I refreshed and refreshed and refreshed again. No new messages.

Now something like this drives me crazy. I mean, I need to know immediately what those 3 messages are. What if I am missing something life-changing?

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I tell you, the Holy Spirit is sharp (duh) and does not miss an opportunity. Because while I was fretting about my unread email, He whispered to my spirit that I had rushed away from home, leaving fresh messages from His Word unread . 

God had messages for me yesterday. Life-changing messages. Words that could refresh, renew, and transform me if I would take time to open and read.

 Oh, that my heart, mind, and soul would be constantly accessible to the Words of the Spirit. God wired us for connection. When my phone alerts me to a new message, I enjoy the thought that someone wants to communicate with me. I’m disappointed when it turns out to be some lame, impersonal notice like my library book is overdue.

But God is eager to communicate with me. And you. Every day. Every moment. His Word is living, active, relevant, and always personal.

Lately my heart is heavy just thinking about my birthday next week. Yes, my birthday. Not because of my age, but because of the memories. On my last birthday, my Daddy and I sat together for hours on end while my Mom was in emergency surgery for an aortic aneurysm. It was a grueling day. Daddy taught me how to play Free Cell on my tablet to pass the time. We watched the breaking news about the Boston Marathon bombing until Daddy said, “I can’t watch anymore.” We ate lunch and dinner and sat and waited and said nothing and said everything. When we finally saw Mom, looking in very grave condition, I remember how Daddy said, “What will I do without her?”

Oh, Daddy, I can barely believe that a year later, here we are, doing life without you. How I long just to sit in your presence. I didn’t know then.

How desperately I need to be in a Father’s presence and say nothing and say everything. And the Founder of the universe allows me to come to Him as child comes to a Father. What extraordinary mercy! What an incomprehensible gift! He has messages that my heart needs to hear. How can I leave them unread?

Today, I have a choice. I can rehearse my problems or I can refresh myself in Jesus’ presence. My problems tell me that life is stressful. Jesus’ presence tells me that He is sufficient. Which message will I choose to receive?

As I walked from the hallway into my cycle class, I checked my phone again. 3 new messages in my inbox! All it took was a change in my position (and yeah, the messages weren’t all that important).

Sometimes my soul requires a change in position. When my heart and my mind and my willfulness are rushing ahead, I must pause and make a u-turn. And wait. And admit my needfulness. When I open God’s Word and allow it to permeate my soul, the Holy Spirit can send the notification that the message is there – whatever the need is and whenever it arises.

  • Humility helps me to hear.
  • Dependence draws me to His Word.
  • Obedience opens my eyes to His vision.

Life-changing messages are waiting.

May we pause and position ourselves so that the Holy Spirit will refresh us to receive them.

Psalm 119: 35 – 37.

Direct me in the path of Your commands,
    for there I find delight.
36 Turn my heart toward Your statutes
    and not toward selfish gain.
37 Turn my eyes away from worthless things;
    preserve my life according to Your Word.

 

 

 

 

 

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

If You’re Carrying Extra Weight, Part 2

“The Weight of  My Worth” – The title, in these five words, captured the previous five years of my life. I had the opportunity to share my story with a women’s magazine, and “the weight of my worth” summarized my journey into perfectionism, brokenness, and finally healing.

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After years of taking baby steps forward and giant steps backward in my recovery from an eating disorder, a Christian counselor introduced me to a book that opened a door into freedom. Having absolutely nothing to do with nutritional guidelines or eating habits, it was unlike any book I had been advised to read.

Here’s a quick excerpt:

Anytime we think we can find salvation in our hard work, we are in grave danger. If our hard work fails or (worse yet) if it succeeds, we are stuck with ourselves for a god. That means we have destined ourselves to journeying through life’s wilderness assuming that the solution to every problem is to try harder.” *

If you haven’t struggled with an eating disorder, you may wonder how this statement relates. But I can tell you that it does.  The sense of control, accomplishment, failure, or success is measured by the number on the scale.  That number says:

“Yes – you’ve been good!”

“Uh oh, you haven’t been good.”

When something other than God becomes a gauge for your goodness, it becomes a god.

Besides a set of scales, our culture is filled with other measuring sticks:

  • the number of your social media friends & followers
  • your grade point average
  • your salary
  • a sticker on your car that reads 13.1 or 26.2 (or 0.0, in my case)

And some measuring sticks aren’t attached to numbers, yet they remind you that you’ve come up short (again). The job went to someone else or you missed the cut or the invitation never arrived.

Yet if we will accept by faith that we are loved immeasurably by a limitless God, all the other measures that say “you’ve arrived”/”you’re accepted” or “you’ve not arrived”/”you’re not accepted” are limited in their power to define or dishearten us.

Consider these words from C.S. Lewis – “ … to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.”

While we are preoccupied with making ourselves worthy of love, God has loved us all along.

Are you weary, friend, of trying so hard? The weight of your own worth will exhaust you of any enthusiasm and joy in life. Are you discouraged because you can’t fit your own definition of goodness?

The truth is that God loved you before you could move the scales of goodness or worthiness one single ounce.  Knowing that we can’t do it on our own, He placed the burden of measuring up to His holiness upon His Son.

A gauge that becomes a god says “try harder,” but grace that comes from THE God says “Trust Me.”

The original meaning of the word “glory” is “to be heavy” or “to weigh upon.”  God’s glory is weightier – or more momentous, more powerful, and more significant than any created thing. We see in Scripture that God’s glory knocks people right off of their feet.

The weight of God’s worth knocks away all the props that once held us up.  And when we find ourselves on our faces, we come to realize that trying harder is like putting a band aid on major cracks in the foundation. As one who has been face down in the debris of a broken life, I want my story to remind us that God’s love cannot be achieved.

God’s love is meant to be received.

In return for this priceless gift, God doesn’t ask us to prove that we are worth it. He desires us to worship. And in doing so – in ascribing the highest honor and worth to Him and not ourselves – we are freed to let go of our controlling and striving and let God be God.

When we live as if we truly believe that God delights in us, our load lightens. Instead of grasping for another rung on the status ladder, our hands become offerings of grateful worship and service.

The apostle Paul, who had once been laden with self-righteousness, was transformed – literally knocked off his feet (Acts 9:4) – by the weight of not his own glory but the glory of Christ:

You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4: 5 – 7).

Paul describes us as jars of clay, and the treasure inside is the precious message of the Gospel. Our credentials, abilities, and winsome personalities are dim flames compared to Jesus’ glorious, dark-dispelling light.

Through the fragility of a clay jar, with its flaws and cracks, the glory of God shines. If we can’t trust that we are accepted, we can’t be authentic. But if we will forget that gauges that once measured us and if we will receive grace, we will be vessels for God’s glory – flawed, perhaps, and fragile, but genuine.  I truly believe that God is glorified when we are genuine – when we authentically share our lives and our struggles and our weaknesses – and allow people to see that we can only press on because inside of us lies a hope and a strength that is not our own.

In the words of Saint Augustine: “When God is our strength, it is strength indeed. When our strength is our own, it is only weakness.”

So when the weight of my worth is based upon what I do, it is weak and unable to withstand the pressure of failure, doubt, and criticism.

But when the weight of my worth is based upon who I am – a jar of clay that contains the light of Christ, it is strong and reinforced by His acceptance.  It doesn’t crumble under the strain of self-reliance but relies on the Light within to radiate God’s glory. It doesn’t need to try harder. It trusts.

So today, remember with me that the weight of our worth is a load we are not meant to bear. That burden was pounded into the ground with the Cross.  Join me there as we exchange this weight for worship.

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

(Paul continues in 2 Corinthians 4 to speak of suffering in comparison to God’s “eternal weight of glory.” In Part 3, I’ll share why this gives me hope).

“The only thing you can grasp without damaging your soul is My hand.” ~ Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence by Sarah Young (entry for February 5).

Resources:

* When God Interrupts by M. Craig Barnes, pages 157 – 158

C.S Lewis, “Weight of Glory” sermon published in Theology, November 1941. http://www.verber.com/mark/xian/weight-of-glory.pdf

T.M. Moore – “The Weight of Glory,”  http://www.colsoncenter.org/the-center/columns/viewpoint/20387-threads-in-the-tapestry-of-truth-2

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

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