Late for The Great Appointment

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“Faith don’t come in a bushel basket, Missy. It come one step at a time. Decide to trust Him for one little thing today, and before you know it, you find out He’s so trustworthy you be putting your whole life in His hands.”
― Lynn Austin, Candle in the Darkness ―

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“With the entirety of your heart, trust in Me…”(Prov. 3:5)

Oh, how cerebral is this, my trust! How prone to wander from its Object. My trust has myopia. Its legs are lame.

I’ve prayed and wrestled with a heart that lashes with as much powered angst as the sweeping timber-tail of a Texas gator. To this moody, carnivorous heart, I’ve begged more than once, “Trust Jesus. Trust Him.”

And with mind assenting,

lips confessing,

even heart, at last, bowed

I trust.

A soft, safe mental believing that I’ve fought to wrestle, reason, and generally talk myself into.

If a mustard seed’s portion of faith can shake mountain ranges, I’m ashamed to think how miniscule my own belief’s seed must be. I’m barely shaken myself.

Trembling, a question. “How much trust is enough?”

Cue the calipers, the electron microscopes, a scale so attuned that slightest breath of air sends a shiver through its needle.

Let’s crank up the old faith-o-meter.

“What Lord?” What’s that You’re saying?”

“Lean not on your own understanding…” (Prov. 3:5b)

“Oh–oh no. Not my understand…well, just this analysis, You see. I have to find out how much trust in You I have, and if it’s enough.”

“Oh, you of little faith. Why do you doubt?”(Matt. 14:31)

Flood of images, all He has brought me through. “Well…well, You–that’s my point. I have little faith, Lord. Why shouldn’t I doubt–doubt myself, at least?”

“By grace you have been saved through faith…not of your own doing. It is a gift from Me…”(Eph. 2:8)

“Grace is a gift from You, yes, I know. But faith…”

“It is the gift of God…so no one may boast.”(Eph. 2:8,9)

My deflated ego is fast surpassed by elated realization. “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

“In all your ways, acknowledge Me and I will direct your paths.”(Prov. 3:6)

Some things are too simple for over-analysis.

Acknowledge Him. In all my ways. Just that simple. Just that terribly, terribly difficult.

Ridiculous, this penchant of mine to give God my whole life, but not offer up the next moment, as if my whole future is not made up of myriad present instants. When will I ever serve Him if I always hold one second–the next one–back?

Honestly? It’s easier to “surrender” my general being, pledge my all, than to give up the next breath. Yielding to Him, this “acknowledging Him,” in the present takes more courage, more trust, because it requires immediate response to the belief I claim.

Far easier, to check off the boxes and keep up the monochrome coloring in the lines and let life come to me on my terms.

But He’s challenging me.

Challenging me to enter into my surrender with my whole heart.

My whole, new heart.

I’m not just to lay down my life, but to rise again in new power.

To ask, this instant, for God to meet me in a thousand places,

to show me Himself in a million ways.

To pray for The Great Appointment,

that in every person He takes me to,

something will be sparked.

That the God of this Song will orchestrate my moments

so that the verse I sing will spill music

into other ears.

“You say, ‘But how can I serve the Lord? I’m not important. What I do is common and of little consequence. Anyone can do what I do”….And I say to you: ‘There are no useless, minor meetings. There are no dead-end jobs. There are no pointless lives. Swallow your sorrows, forget your grievances and all the hurt your poor life has sustained. Turn your face truly to the human before you and let her, for one pure moment, shine. Think her important, and then she will suspect that she is fashioned of God.'”

– Walter Wangerin, Jr., from the essay “Edification/Demolition” –

Who are we, we who claim Jesus? Who are we kidding, if our words don’t breathe Him, our faces don’t shine Him, and our hearts do not reach out as His?

Who do we fool, we who claim to be daughters of God? The world is not fooled–we prove ourselves to be just what they suspect.

Empty of power.

Unless our surrender is more than a token and our repentance is more than a show of tears.

If God’s grace settles down deep and we bow to its transformation.

If we embrace the faith He has measured out for us as a glorious gift.

And if we live for Him NOW.

Now, our all our ways must demonstrate in Whom we have put our trust.

Not someday. Not tomorrow. Not later in spare time.

Now.

“But when anything is exposed and reproved by the light, it is made visible and clear; and where everything is visible and clear there is light.Therefore He says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall shine (make day dawn) upon you and give you light.’

Look carefully then how you walk! Live purposefully and worthily and accurately, not as the unwise and witless, but as wise (sensible, intelligent people),

Making the very most of the time [buying up each opportunity], because the days are evil.Therefore do not be vague and thoughtless and foolish, but understanding and firmly grasping what the will of the Lord is.”

– Ephesians 5:13-17 AMP, emphasis mine –

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In what way is God calling you  to leave behind your own understanding and trust His leading?

What step of absolute belief must you now take?

 

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Thank you, Petr Kratochvil and Public Domain Pictures, for the lovely photo.

 

Wind, Light, and Forest Footholds

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“The steps of faith fall on the seeming void, but find the rock beneath.”

– John Greenleaf Whittier –

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One thing is certain as I get older. Uncertainty. That ever-constant wind.

Sometimes that wind is warm and robust with adventure.

Sometimes it makes me afraid. Its fingers are cold and its face is wet and its chill wraps around and leaves me shivering.

Years ago, I set out on a path, led there by a Guide, the only One who knows–who is–the Way. Staying in that right way is hard; migrating off the course seems to come as naturally to me as to the dark, overhead arrows of south-veering geese.

Faith is a lesson that has come to me in these places, hunted me down, like Heaven’s Hound.

Faith has trailed me and found me in the dark, in the strange, lonely places where my feet slide in the path-edge crumbling. Many a weary time, I’ve looked down at the winding little trail, only shadows painting the ground beyond my current footholds. It’s true, those words–it seems there is “just enough light for the step I’m on.”

And for that one, I still have to squint.

Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom, Lead Thou me on! The night is dark, and I am far from home – Lead Thou me on! Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see The distant scene, – one step enough for me.

– John Henry Newman –

For some reason, in a journey’s thin light, my memory fades. If I were honest–if I were conscious–of all the places my Guide has brought me through before, maybe that next trembling footstep wouldn’t take so much out of me. If the way behind me wasn’t all fog and more shadows–shadows of dim remembrance–I might be able to hold a little bit less of my breath for the plunge forward into the unlit places.

So it is, that when I am hesitating here on the precipice from known to unknown–and I am here at this place, a thousand times today and yesterday and tomorrow–so it is that my Guide is all I have to go on. My Guide, and feeble rememberings, and grace that brings just enough light.

“All the way my Savior leads me,
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who through life has been my Guide?
….For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.

– Fanny Crosby, emphasis mine –

Sisters, all of us have forests with dark paths that wind into the distance. In my forest, I often travel alone–at least, alone with my Guide. But really, we are all together in this forest deep, threading through dim footpaths that intersect and mingle for a way and sometimes merge to go on the rest of the way together. We all have forest places where grace is our only light and faith our only foothold.

Let us look up, see the stars over the dark woods.

Light pinpricks, shapes of a thousand things to point us on and give us hope.

The adventure-wind whispers in the pines and dances in the oaks and shivers through the beeches and perches on my shoulder, trickling, tickling with its soft-breathed words. “The Guide who made these stars knows their names, each one. The Guide who grew this forest traced with His finger these meandering trails. The One who set your feet on this path counts the number of the strands of your hair shivering and streaming and shimmering in my breath. This Guide smiles on this direction you travel and braces your steps on the rocks with His own trail-worn hands and has promised to take you safely through this wood.”

“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy…be glory….”

– Jude 1:24, NASB –

So it is that I am still stepping, my friends. I am still living an adventure here in this forest often dark, this forest called life. Sometimes the sunrise floods the silvered branches with light and I see the remembered shapes of what my Jesus has done and all it is that He has promised to do. I still close my eyes into the stiff, bright chill of the adventure-wind, smiling and hoping and praying.

This place, right here, is where I live.

Putting one step out in faith, waiting for the next glowing illumination of grace (2 Cor. 12:9). Jesus has never failed me, you know. He does all things well.

Even for this straying daughter who can’t seem to remember her way home.

Won’t you step out too?

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“Nothing does so establish the mind amidst the rollings and turbulences of present things, as to look above them and beyond them – above them, to the steady and good hand by which they are ruled, and beyond them, to the sweet and beautiful end to which, by that hand, they will be brought.”

– Jeremy Taylor –

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A big thank-you to John Luty at Public Domain Pictures for this lovely photo!

The Bridegroom She Abandoned

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“The quality of mercy is not ‘strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath.”

– Williams Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

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You can see her pausing at the dark doorway, staring into the calmed dust of the street. Dark eyes search the night. Her heart thumps at a rustle of cloth in the house behind her back. She freezes, waiting for her husband to roll over in their bed. She lurks there in shadows, half-way between home and the city.  Finally his breathing deepens, steady, even.

She slips into the dark. The faint laughter of midnight carousing makes her spine tingle. Lamps flicker, a few streets away. Men’s voices shout, muted in the foggy air. A hungry gleam shines in the woman’s eye as she slips into the dark, unseen.

Her business was committing adultery.

Certainly not a very nice subject.

And yet God set aside a book to tell her tale, a story of her and the bridegroom she abandoned.

Unexpectedly, this woman’s story brought my soul to its knees.

The man showed incredible restraint, if you ask me. He married her, knowing full and knowing well how much she was a creature chained to the night. It called to her. The night called… and she always, always went back.

And so did he. She would run away from home, relapse to the old ways and the new men and the over-and-over auction of her soul. And each time, he went to find her.

How much love does it take for a betrayed husband to keep seeking?

I imagine that sometimes she hid, curled in an alley, silently cursing his relentless pursuit. And yet, when food ran out and men scorned her and she received kicks instead of payment, he was there, picking her up. Again, coming with the rescue she did not want.

Perhaps, when he took her in his arms again to take her back, his bride, she would wonder just why she left him at all. Her head would fall heavy on his shoulder and perhaps they both had tears in the dark when he carried her back home.

Shaming the name of her husband was how she lived.

Every day she flirted on the streets

Every day her actions spat upon his honor.

Yet still he unbarred the door and set out into the mud-slung streets and called in the dark for his rebel bride.

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The unexpected twist in my heart came as a memory forgotten, just rising to the surface.

Because, light flashed, and I was that woman huddled in the alley, abandoned by all the lovers who had promised me happiness.

It was my husband calling me in the darkness, his voice strained and kind and full of sorrow.

Jesus calling, calling, calling.

Because I’d gone straight back to the mud after being cleansed. And it wasn’t the first time.

“After Gomer ran off with another man, God sent Hosea to buy her back and bring her home.  Then God said about Israel, about us, dead in our sin: “…I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.  There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.  There she will sing as in the days of her youth…”  The word Achor means “trouble”.  From the ashes of the Valley of Trouble came new life, green and lush.  Forgiveness. Rest. Resurrection.”

 – Andrew Peterson –

So in a dark, dirty ally, my Bridegroom crawled to get to me, through all the filth of my betrayal and foolishness.

And so, my eyes opened and in the story of a forsaken Israelite man and his traitor-bride—in Hosea and Gomer—I found a mirror.

Jesus, my husband, my Hosea.

Here I am, your wife, your daughter, your Gomer.

Praising you with my lips and so often chasing other gods with my heart.

I don’t know why you keep bringing me home.

“Let Thy grace Lord, like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.”

– from the hymn “Come Thou Fount” –

“Oh, that my ways were directed to keep your statutes” (Psalm 119:5), my Hosea, my God.

Forgive me; forgive those traitorous kisses to idols.

Jesus, I am Yours, forever.

“I stumbled and fell in the road on the way home
Hosea, Hosea
I lay in the brick street like a stray dog
You came to me like a silver moon
With the saddest smile I ever knew
Hosea carried me home again, home again

You called me out to the Valley of Trouble
Just to look at the mess that I’ve made
A barren place where nothing can grow
One look and my stone heart crumbled
It was a valley as green as jade
I swear it was the color of hope
You turned a stone into a rose, Hosea

I sang and I danced like I did as a young girl
Hosea, Hosea
I am a slave and a harlot no more
You washed me clean like a summer rain
And you set me free with that ball and chain
Hosea, I threw away the key
I’ll never leave”

-Andrew Peterson, from his song “Hosea”

The redemption of Gomer is the story of my redemption. This love is more than I can understand. What did Jesus have to go through to buy you back from justice’s auction?

“….Just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her…that he might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”

– Ephesians 5:25,27, NKJV –

Thank you, Public Domain Pictures and Petr Kratochvil, for today’s photo.

Joy in the Desert

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“Listen to the birds sing…Do they ever sound alone?
Do they spread their wings and yet question their strength to fly?
I’m trying hard to trust You Lord, but it’s safer said than done
So won’t You feather my faith
With a love for the open sky?”

– Andrew Peterson, “If I Wanna Walk” –

 

I wake up in painful dryness.

I whisper a few words into the dark and they seem to echo back to me, unheard.

Where is He? He said He would meet me here.

Of course, I wonder what exactly I have done to cause Him to be so distant. I haven’t been reading my Bible enough, I haven’t been praying enough–surely I can muster up the spiritual strength and then He will return. What have I been doing wrong?

There’s a sandstorm in my eyes as I try to read. Every word seems purposely difficult and obscure.

My prayers turn repetitive and restless, a desert wind wailing in the night.

Where are you, God?

I want to be thirsty for Him, but I can hardly choke down Scriptures that in greener days were full of glory.

How long will the swirling sand hide You from me?

How do I seek Jesus when everything feels mechanical and forced and drained of power?

How do I find joy when all I can see are weathered boulders and shriveled grass and endless, endless sand?

I have been wrong. Joy is a very different thing that what I thought.

It is easy, when water and good moods and inspiring writers are present, to think that delighted tickle of understanding and wonder is Joy.

Joy is in it, yes.

But that is not Joy.

Joy can still happen when I stand on a hill in a barren wasteland.

Joy can still be found when I’m huddled in the dark chill of a desert night.

And Joy can be there still, when the morning slips over the purple shadows of the mountains and the hot sun begins once again to scorch.

Thirsty, I just want to know how. How do I meet with Jesus in this place that seems so empty? How do I thrive when the cloudless sky beats down without relief?

Working harder. Pleading for His presence. Trying to conjure up an emotional response to the Bible reading.

Sometimes, these things still leave me dry.

Somewhere along the way, I’ve slipped into thinking that when I can’t feel God, then He must not be around.

If His presence is not powerfully stirring me, then I feel abandoned.

But God never promised us a cartload of pleasant emotions. Jesus stated facts–beautiful, strong, unshaken facts: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

In the desert, Joy is an act of belief, not a dance of feelings.

So when I rise in the morning and open my Bible and stare at pages unfeeling, I can still smile and bow my head to my Maker. I can still pray for the fountains of His delight. I can still believe in His promises, whether I feel them to be true or not. They are–and they must be my anchoring places.

Some mornings, this act of Joy may feel forced. Jesus told us to rejoice. So I can look around and thank Him–perhaps without the leaps of my heart that I would like to accompany my gratitude–but I can still thank Him.

I cannot always control how I feel, but I can always choose my response.

Because of that, I can wake up to an empty, cold room and know that my sight deceives me. Jesus is there, even if I cannot sense His warmth.

I can toil up a desert hill, sand slipping back under my heels, and praise Him for His love.

It doesn’t really matter if I feel the love at that moment. He is Love. And He has chosen me. I will rejoice in that fact.

When Joy is a choice, nothing can shake it.

The desert sands will slip away someday and grass will spring up.

But while the sun still beats down and the sand still burns, I will keep walking.

I will read when I feel nothing. I will pray although I feel alone. I will sing when it seems that no one is listening. And He will be there all along.

My feelings lie to me all the time. But Jesus never has.

For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” – Hebrews 13:5, NKJV

“The enemy can only bring defeat,
If he can somehow shake what we believe.
So our faith cannot be based upon
Only what we see or feel,
And the circumstances cannot change
What our hearts know to be real

So when doubts arise and cloud your mind
My friend, don’t be deceived
For with a knowledge of the Word of God
In our hearts we can believe

You can take God at his word
He is faithful kind and true
Not a prayer will go unanswered
In His time He’ll see you through

Keep believing in what you know is true
Keep believing, you know the Lord will see you through
When troubles rise in your life
and you don’t know what to do,

If you’re looking for answers and you can’t find your way
And the enemy tells you that there’s no need to pray
You just remember God is faithful and His word is true
Everything He’s promised is what He’s going to do
And you’ll be fine if you just keep believing.”

– “Keep Believing,” Gaither Vocal Band –

A big thanks to Public Domain Pictures and Marco Laython for this post’s photo.