In These Hands, Part 2

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       2013 is almost over. New Years is approaching. 2014 is days away. And you’re back! I’m so glad we can share Part 2, after In These Hands, Part 1, was published two weeks ago!  Let’s dive in!

“God dispenses gifts, not wages. None of us gets paid according to merit, for none of us comes close to satisfying God’s requirements for a perfect life. If paid on the basis of fairness, we would all end up in hell… In the bottom line realm of ungrace, some workers deserve more than others; in the realm of grace the word ‘deserve’ does not even apply.”

– Philip Yancey, emphasis mine –

– Perfect Gifts –

God is really good at filling open hands.

If faith is ” two empty hands held open to receive all of the Lord,” as Alan Redpath says, then what is it that we receive?

Most important, if we belong to Christ, the most glorious gift is Him. God with me, God with you, always.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”

 – Romans 8:31-32, NKJV, emphasis mine –

So, “all of the Lord” encompasses not only His sparing us from wrath but also His freely giving us all things.

I’m coming to realize, like a bright dawn that slowly lifts out of the darkness, that open hands are not necessarily empty hands.

Augustine had something to say about this: “

God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them.”

This goes beyond a cotton-candy gospel and reveals that our sins are still clinging to us–or that we are clinging to them. Our self-will, our determination to hold on to our own ways, the control we crave–all of these show our fingernails-dug-in grasp on our idols.

That age-old quest, the prelude to the angelic fall–“I will be like God.”

Like God, able to hold on tight to things. Like God, controlling every detail. Like God–that power would feel so good, fill the empty places. We think so, anyway.

And so, even in our nice Christian wrapping, in our church-face facade, we bow before idols, wrapping our power-hungry hands around their feet.

Our hands are too full of trash to hold the good things.

In order to hold Him, to cradle the Best there is, we have to believe that He rewards the seeker. We have to trust that He is Who He says He is. We have to be awakened to the fact that our idols are coals burning us up even as we hold them tightly. We have to turn away in disgust at the filth we’ve been clasping fondly. Repent and believe. That He is. That He will reward you when you seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

When we open our hands and release what we’re holding so tightly, our Father doesn’t strip anything away without giving us much more. This isn’t a health-and-wealth prosperity gospel or a follow-this-formula princess theology, as worldview teacher John Stonestreet calls it. This is God’s promise.

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”

– Matthew 16:25, NIV. emphasis mine –

When He awakens us and we see that He is a far greater treasure than anything else…

When our eyes open and we stare up into the face of a God  who comes down to our level….

When we throw off all we call life for a Better Prize

He strips off the sin, washes the guilt, pries our fingers off our idols, and then pours abundance into our open palms. He’s a God that blesses the cursing, gives gifts to the thieves, and ransoms the mockers. He’s a God that washes clean our pig-sty hearts and makes us hate the sin-wallows. He’s a God that tells you to let go.

Not because He doesn’t want you to have good things.

The truth is…you will never have good things if you always hold on to your things. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words can penetrate our “God wants to make me miserable” fears:

“The right way to pray is to stretch out our hands and ask of One who we know has the heart of a Father.”

It’s faith again, girls. When we open hands, we have to keep stretching, keep unfolding, keep those fingers pried back. But the good new is that faith isn’t mustered up. You see, even faith is His gift to us.

And one step of faith gives birth to another. Stormie Omartian, a writer of women’s books on prayer, says,

“When we step out in that faith, God increases our faith. In other words, acting in faith begets more faith.…We have no idea what great things God wants to do through us if we would just stop out in faith when he asks us to” (The Power of a Praying Woman, page 232, emphasis mine).

Open hands are the only way, you see, to hold His gifts.

“God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.”

– Elizabeth Barrett Browning –

Open Hands are Brave Hands

When I was a little girl, I loved a book series about a girl stolen away by Vikings. I adored her fortitude and how her faith flourished in exile, as she became so much more than she ever could have by staying safe in the Irish hills.

When I read those books, one of her prayers thrilled me. It still is almost like a heartbeat to me:

“Give me a heart of courage.”

But now I see it’s not just my heart that needs a bravery boost. It’s my hands.

Only brave hands are strong enough to open.

Only brave hands can open and then receive God and all His gifts that He delights to shower.

And only brave hands can use those open fingers to reach out and grab another hand.

We can’t reach if our hands are balled into fists. We can’t receive anything. And we certainly can’t give. Closed hands reveal a closed heart. Whatever the reason for withdrawing, closed hands close off relationships.

Join me, will you? Join me in opening my hands from now on.

And those of you who are already working up New Year’s resolutions? Forget 2014 for this one.  A year’s too small. Let’s make this the Life of Open Hands.

Open, Gift-filled, Brave, Blessed Hands.

The prying-back might hurt. But can’t you see how much it’s worth?

And it all starts with saying yes to Him, in this moment.

“Yes Lord.”

Always yes.

“Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise….

Take my hands, and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love….
Take myself, and I will be,
Ever, only, all for Thee.”

–  Frances Havergal, emphasis mine –

 

Thank you, Atalie, with Atalie Bale Photography, for today’s photo!

Why We Must Zakar

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“He was created of a mother whom He created. He was carried by hands that He formed. He cried in the manger in wordless infancy. He, the Word, without whom all human eloquence is mute.”

 – Augustine of Hippo –

Zakar is Hebrew for remember.

Some things must be remembered.

One set of people holds these things dear by celebrating them all year long, because these things permeate all days, not just one or two.

Others recognize this, but also value a set-apart day–needing a reminder of the wonder, a day to refresh all the year’s living.

One of these days is Christmas.

We’ve always celebrated it at our house. And yet, dear friends choose not to.

It’s okay, really. One of those things God lets us choose—let those who celebrate the day, do it to the Lord.

And those who don’t—they do it for His glory as well.

And truly—Christmas. Christ with us. Emmanuel, always—not just on one holly-decked square on the calendar, but forever.

It’s the same with other days.

It’s impossible to cram into one day the wonder of His rising, of His death-quenching. It’s ridiculous to think it can be stuffed into a hundred thousand Easters. Millions of Sundays would not suffice.

A day of Thanks—as if all the other days were to be full of complaining? Not at all. But something in the soul is refreshed that the idea is important enough to have a day of remembrance. A day when the whirling-away  and the head-spinning and the busy commercialization must stop so that thanks can snuggle deep into the soul.

Just as a friend is every bit as special the rest of the year as she is on her birthday. Just as special. But to have a special day to say it? This is good. Maybe your friend knows you love her all the time. Friendship—her life—is just as much to be celebrated any other day. But that one day is for you—not her—in a way. Yes, on that day you thank God for her. But really…who is it that needs reminded of the wonder of having a friend? She may get presents on that day, but it is you who receive the greater gift. You are reminded of just how much you have, on her birthday.

Isn’t it the same for His birthday? The date does not matter. The tinsel does not matter—neither do the molasses-dark cookies shaped like pudgy men or the lights twinkling or the cinnamon drifting from the kitchen or the gifts nestled under an everlastingly-green tree.

The Tree

Ah—but the tree can remind us, help us Zakar. Some call it pagan. Whoever, ages ago, worshiped a tree or chronicled it as a symbol of paganism—this man did not corrupt God’s trees. The trees on this planet still lift leafy faces to the heavens. They don’t hang down or die away because their purpose has been stolen away. Not at all. Still, tree crowns grow high, pointing skyward to a Creator enthroned beyond our glory-stealing schemes.

And that one spicy pine or fringy spruce or musky cedar with which the halls are decked–its green fades a bit when the life is cut off at the roots. The holder of lights, stretching out limbs to cover everything, guarding the secrets till the Christmas dawns. An everlasting tree dying. Something like an Everlasting God-Man dying, cut off to be the gift. The Holder, Maker, Shaper of light, stretching out His limbs to cover it all, to flood every sin with bloody grace.  The great Secret of the ages, foretold in a host of whispered, echoing prophesies, now shouted out to the world. Emmanuel! Emmanuel! He’s here, with us. With us!

The Gifts

The gifts remind us. Those oddly-shaped packages swathed with way too much metallic wrapping paper. The little tucked-in-the-stocking goodies. Every tiny sneaked-in item that a relative crept around the store with, trying in vain to keep secrets on a mass shopping trip where every family member ends up hiding, arms full, in a separate checkout line.

“Christmas is based on an exchange of gifts, the gift of God to man – His unspeakable gift of His Son, and the gift of man to God – when we present our bodies a living sacrifice.”

– Vance Havner –

Gifts remind us that God stepped down out of splendor to be curled and vulnerable in a womb. Christmas is a refresher course in generosity, a day when prayers seep in deep and stinginess can seep away. A special set-aside time when a hunted-for gift is placed in quivering, open hands and delight begins its ecstatic dance in two pairs of eyes. Close your eyes and remember. Zakar for a while.

“For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given…”

– Isaiah 9:6 b –

The Nativity

Okay, so the wise men weren’t really there that first night that the angels proclaimed the royal birth. But a glance at the manger, at the faces bowed in awe, they too can help us Zakar.

“He lived among us…He made a throne out of a manger and a royal court out of some cows. He took a common name—Jesus—and made it holy. He took common people and made them the same. He could have lived over us or away from us. But He didn’t. He lived among us.

He became a friend of the sinner and brother of the poor. He touched their sores and felt their tears and paid for their mistakes. He entered a tomb and came out and pledged that we’d do the same. And to us all…He shared the same message. “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me….I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also’ (John 14:1,3)

Some pretend that He doesn’t exist….Others hear Him, but don’t believe Him. It’s not easy to believe that God would go so far to take us home….But then a few decide to…venture out of their corners….”

– Max Lucado, from When Christ Comes

While the contagious laughter rises around you and the coffee mugs clink together in the sink and the lights on the Christmas tree twinkle off the glittering ornaments, remember why He came. To seek and save the lost, so they could come home. Isn’t Christmas a foretaste of a forever-home?

“Some pretend He doesn’t exist.” That He never came. That Christmas is about hullabaloo and December 26th sales, chubby mall Santas and seasonal eggnog.

“Others hear Him, but don’t believe Him. It’s not easy to believe that God would go so far to take us home” (emphasis mine).

Zakar. God did “go so far to take us home.” Remember this, savor it with all your might. He came once. And He will do it again.

“And when we give each other Christmas gifts in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans–and all that lives and move upon them. He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused–and to save us from our foolishness, from all our sins, He came down to earth and gave us Himself.”

– Sigrid Undset –

For this Christmas, and every other, remember all His goodness.

Zakar. Always.

Thank you to Atalie with Atalie Bale Photography for today’s lovely Christmas photo!

In These Hands, Part 1

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“Hold everything in your hands lightly, otherwise it hurts when God pries your fingers open.”

― Corrie ten Boom ―

Even Christians do it.

Some call it “snapping shut to grace,” the way pain and sin curl our hands into unbreakable fists of control (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts).

Toddlers do it, tightening hands until faces redden and screams peal for their way.

Angry people do it, when a leering face just beckons for that balled fist to take its best shot.

And fear–fear just constricts all of a person, doubling them until their curled-up body looks nearly ready to hide in the safety of a womb again. A vulnerable fetal position can quickly become the default position.

And I do it. Fearful, perhaps. Controlling, yes. Angry even, sometimes.

Yet, this week, my mind keeps drifting back to two ideas.

1. Unfurling Fingers

“I know not what He is about to do with me, but I have given myself entirely into His hands.”

– Catherine Booth –

First, that I must open my hands to Jesus. It’s hard, even in stillness, to be brave enough to open my fist and bare them to the cold air and expose them in vulnerability.

It seems that He asks to see what is in my grasp. There’s so much. Future. Dreams. People I care about. Ideas I don’t want stolen. Hopes I fear will be broken.

His prompting has continued for years. It still persists, my Savior’s call to unburden and release and open my hands. He took my wicked soul and made it new. But now I clench old again. He speaks.

So I uncurl my fingers.

It hurts a little. They’ve clenched too long. They’re stiff and a little unaccustomed to bending at His command. My fingers are numb and cold. I wonder, with a heart bounding, whether I’ve made a mistake.

Yesterday, I opened my hands again.

It’s something I’ve had to do a lot.

My journal tells the story, from a few months ago:

“My heart seems to be slamming on the brakes.

I am so full, so full–and my tether seems to be flying, coil upon coil.

Because I can’t keep focus for two minutes straight.

I don’t seem to be able to breathe without my eyes and heart going back.

And my eyes fill and heart clenches. And I fall again. O God, how many times today can I be laid out?

How many times, how thin can I stretch from something I’m giving over to You every minute it seems and taking back with more longing every other minute?”

What do I need to do? Yes, lay open my hands again. Hannah Whitall Smith has something to say about this:

“What you need to do, is to put your will over completely into the hands of your Lord, surrendering to Him the entire control of it. Say, “Yes, Lord, YES!” to everything, and trust Him to work in you to will, as to bring your whole wishes and affections into conformity with His own sweet, and lovable, and most lovely will.”

I’ve found that saying yes is not a one-time prayer.

It’s a way to live. More than that, in the hardest moments of surrender I have ever faced, I’ve found that it is a way to breathe.

When your heart is about torn in half, sometimes all you can do is breathe yes. “Yes Lord, Your will and not mine. Yes Lord, whatever the cost. Help me give over more. Yes Lord, I believe. Help me believe more. Yes Lord, I still love You. Help me love You more.”

The storm eventually drips and drains away. Wreckage strews your life in the aftermath. Things are blown a bit askew. You can hardly hope that you’ll ever be able to walk straight up again, after so many hours of leaning into a beating wind.

But it all fades. The pain of one moment or the dull throb of grasping at something that vanishes into vapor. When the ache seeps less and less, one things still remains. God was there with you. And in that hour you learned how desperately you needed Him to be there. Even more, you caught a glimpse of how much you need Him to carry you all the way through this life.

Trials that make us want to clench our fists can be one of two things. They are the tormenters that incapacitate us, or they are the teachers that show us how much our God can do. The question: Will we lay ourselves open, or close up tight and shrink from His touch?

“I have held many things in my hands, and have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.”    — Martin Luther

For those of you who really paid attention, though, I did say there were two things I’ve been pondering. Opening hands, yes. But what more?

Will open hands cradle only air?

You see, God is really good at filling open hands.

How He does that will have to wait until “In These Hands, Part 2.”  But first, next week we’ll talk about the Christ who makes Christmas an all-year celebration. And I, for one, can hardly wait for that.

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind….”

– Romans 12: 1-2a, NASB, emphasis mine –

Thanks to George Hodan and Public Domain Pictures, we had another great image for today’s post!

Recognized

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“The council was caught by surprise by the confidence with which Peter and John spoke. After all, they understood that these apostles were uneducated and inexperienced. They also recognized that they had been followers of Jesus.”

 – Acts 4:13, CEB –

Something about Jesus takes the uneducated and inexperienced and transforms them.

The way He always works–choosing the weakest, the poorest, the most shattered–to proclaim Him.

In the last few days, I’ve been at a College Plus student event in Texas.

Eighty or so of us, all gathered to learn and fellowship and go away refreshed.

Some call us smart or extraordinary or “weird homeschoolers.”

Here, they say we are drastically different from the rest of college students.

But I’m not so sure it’s the fact that we test out of classes or know how to do college in our pajamas or that we have a better hiring rate than other graduates that makes us so drastically different.

Maybe, instead, these things are outflows of the overarching difference–we have been followers of Jesus.

Whatever level of education, whatever amount of experience–these things mean nothing without the Christ that puts a new song in our mouths and gives us a reason to keep on living.

Without Him, College Plus needn’t bother. Their passion for preparing students for life would not be worth anything. Only with Him, through Him, does anything matter.

This, then, is the only thing that can fill us and flow in us and make us stand separate in this world: that the joy and peace of Jesus flows in our spirits.

His Spirit, in us, is the only power that will breathe life into our days.

The results–better education, more experience, skill, and wisdom–are just tools or expressions of the change that’s been made in our hearts.

You know what I want this sin-filled, crazy world to say of us?

I want them to be caught off guard by just how much confidence we have because of our Savior. I want them to stand speechless because the foolish, the weak, the broken are proclaiming freedom to the sin-captive and strength to those lamed by unforgiveness and healing to those whose hearts have been bruised with ache.

They may call us uneducated. They may call us inexperienced, socially inept, out of sync with the culture.

But after their laughter dies away and we still stand strong in grace before them, what will this world say then?

Whether we stand there before them facing persecution or triumph, may one fact be without question:

“Those people,” they’ll say. “We know what it is. We know what’s different. Even though they’re uneducated and inexperienced.”

“They are followers of Jesus.”

“The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.”

 – Ferdinand Foch –

Thanks to Robert Kraft and Public Domain Pictures for today’s photo.

Half-Frozen Lake

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“It’s wonderful to climb the liquid mountains of the sky. Behind me and before me is God and I have no fears.”

– Helen Keller –

My future is a half-frozen lake.

I’m standing on the edge, where the who-knows-how-thick present meets the sheer ice of what is to come.

When I lean forward, the frozen platform crackles, portentous.

Once upon a time, I dared to dream.

I took a step out onto the fragile thinness ahead and thought perhaps it too had crusted over. Safe to bear my weight at last. The first whispers of dreams were coming true—culmination of years of education and spiritual training and heart-to-heart talks with my family. In so many ways, my life was budding into what I thought it was to be. Calling, vocation, life service, my passion. Maybe it would all come together smoothly. So far, so good.

So I was out there, out on the just-frozen water, for a while. Dreaming that maybe these future paths could be real.

From the heavens, just yesterday, fell a stone.

Rough, ragged, sharp. The too-thin crust began to shatter.

Tears welled up, trickling warm on my pale, cold cheeks.

One of my dreams broke. Crumbled beneath my feet until my very heart depended on how fast I could leap back onto the thick, solid surface behind me.

I jumped and landed in a skid. I knelt on firmness as a thousand shards of ice-dreams floated away in the pale ripples.

I wasn’t heartbroken. Just sad, left with a dull ache of losing something I never had.

I wasn’t angry. Just disillusioned and disappointed. Disappointed with friends. Disappointed that I had fooled myself yet again. Disappointed that I thought life was clicking into place. Disappointed, yet left clinging to my best Friend of all.

As the little crystal pieces of hope drifted off, I held on to a song.

That the “trials of this life are [His] mercies in disguise.” Even “when friends betray us.”

And I’m thankful. So thankful, that my heart had not been tossed into that chilled lake when the future-ice gave way. So thankful, that wisdom had come through the words of a counselor all along, and kept me back from throwing all my weight onto the thinness.

So, again, I’m on the ledge. It seems like the thin places reaching across from the opposite bank are slowly stretching to meet my solid place.

The pieces of a future dream are melting into the past.

But now I fear stepping out again, fear testing the ice crusting over in front of my hesitant toes.

What if my dreams break off again? Isn’t it easier not to dream at all? The heart-sickness of hope lost is too much of a gamble, isn’t it?

That ice coming across the gap, smooth and sheening, enthralls me. It’s so beautiful. My eyes hurt with hoping that it’s not a mirage.

Future is fast merging into present, tomorrow becoming today.

Soon, the ice in front of my timid feet will cloud, translucent.

God never waits for the ice to go hard through, opaque.

He will call me to step out while the layer is still thin. While the dreams are tender and the hopes are fragile and I wonder if I really can stand it again.

“There are times in our Christian life when we cannot see beyond the next step. At that point, we have to trust God and venture out on the basis of His Word.”

– Alistair Begg –

One day, my feet will be on a solid bridge, a hope and a future that will not be cut off.

Ultimately, this hope is unshakable, eternal. Forever.

“We were saved in hope. If we see what we hope for, that isn’t hope. Who hopes for what they already see?But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait for it with patience…..The one who searches hearts knows how the Spirit thinks, because he pleads for the saints, consistent with God’s will. We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose. We know this because God knew them in advance, and he decided in advance that they would be conformed to the image of his Son.”

– Romans 8:24-29, CEB –

Grace, a frozen merging of all my todays and tommorows.

I’m learning not to fear thin ice.

After all, I’ve got a Savior who walks on water.

“Strength of my heart, I need not fail,
Not mind to fear but to obey,
With such a Leader, who could quail?
Thou art as Thou wert yesterday.
Strength of my heart, I rest in Thee,
Fulfil Thy purposes through me.”

– Amy Carmichael –

Thank you, David Wagner and Public Domain Pictures, for the great shot!