The Definition of You

morning-after

What you believe changes you.

Even in salvation, belief—albeit “not of ourselves” (Eph. 2:8)—transforms our thinking by the power of Christ.

What do you believe about yourself? What defines you?

Hidden patterns of thinking often hold more sway over us than we know. What internal dialogue do you carry on with yourself? In the quiet of your heart, what do you call yourself? Beloved of God? Or something less?

I have heard plenty of stories. People crippled from making decisions because of what others might say. Men and women believing themselves to be beyond hope and value. Children who think there is no future for them. Girls who believe no one could ever love them or find them beautiful. Christians who live like risky love is optional.

And here’s something you might not know: defining yourself by anything other than God’s truth is unbelief. And unbelief is sin. So what lies are crowding out the way God defines you? This week we will talk about the words that shape our lives.

Words of Others

Words are powerful, especially if you believe them.

As I get older and hear more stories of other people’s lives, I am beginning to realize that my wonderful family, although not perfect, does not represent the norm for family life…or even the norm for Christian family life.

Shocked, I’ve heard tales of the horrible things that professing Christians say to one another…and, even more heartbreaking, the awful things that brothers and sisters in Christ believe about themselves because of those ungodly words.

While upholding personal responsibility for choices, Jesus had strong words for those who cause “these little ones” to stumble. He said it was better for these calloused souls to have a millstone tied to their necks and be drowned. It is such a weighty, serious thing to influence another soul toward sin. Sisters! What a horrible thing to cripple and destroy someone else from living abundant life in Christ!

Several weeks ago, I wrote about the power of reckless words (and, how much more, intentionally-harmful words!) But what if you’ve been on the receiving end of harmful words—and who hasn’t been? Are you doomed to be crippled all your life by them? What if you have heard so many lies about your worth and purpose that they all sound true now?

If you belong to Jesus, here’s something you need to hear: His words are the only ones that ultimately matter. (If you don’t belong to Jesus, hop back a post and read about how you can find hope.)

The only way to combat lies is with God’s truth. Can’t tell if you’re believing a lie? Write down what you believe about yourself, your past, and your future. Make a list. Take each statement and find out what God thinks about it. Here are some examples of lies you might be believing, and the truth that exposes them:

“I always mess up.”

 As humans, we all mess up, whether sinfully or by mistake. But what does the Bible say about this? For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast (Eph. 2:8-9, HCSB). Is it true that you have no hope for improvement? Not at all! “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). What about when you sin or make a mistake? Does that make God stop loving you? “[Nothing] can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39). Nothing, not even ourselves, or our frequent failures. What grace! Repeat the truth to yourself and trust it. It is a sword that can cut those lies into pieces.

“I don’t have a choice. This is just the way I am.”

 If you belong to Jesus, that thought is a total lie. Not only does that line of thinking avoid responsibility, but it also destroys hope. I have good news for you! “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things are long gone. Look! Everything is new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, paraphrase). “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have put to death their human nature with all its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24, GNT). Where is this power coming from? How can you change? For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ, and you have been filled by Him, who is the head over every ruler and authority(Colossians 2:9-10, HCSB). As children of God, His Spirit fills us with the exact same power that raised Jesus from the dead! If He can change a dead body into an ever-living one, we should never believe that we are incapable of change. He can transform you. Do you believe His words?

“No one can love me. I am not worth anything.”

 Our sins are repulsive to a beautifully-holy God. But humans are His special creation. Without Christ, it is true that we deserve all of God’s just punishment. But humans never lose their value. Unlike any other creation, we are made in God’s image, to be finite reflections of his infinite attributes. Furthermore, if you have embraced the hope of the gospel, your life was purchased at an inestimable cost—the death of the God of glory. You are valuable because of Who made you and Who loves you, not because of anything else. “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1). “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10, ESV). “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9, NIV).

These are just a few of the lies that others can tell us, or that we can even tell ourselves. Are you letting your opinions or the opinions of others define you? Or is the Word of Christ dwelling in you richly (Colossians 3:16)? Release your grip on the things that cripple you and reach out in faith to the only words that really matter.

If you let Jesus define you, and nothing else…

Your joy will be full….

…and the truth will set you free.

 
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be absolutely free.”
 – John 8:36, GW –

Therefore, I Hope

flower-in-the-rain-1391359782G9e

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but not crushed and broken. We are perplexed because we don’t know why things happen as they do, but we don’t give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going. These bodies of ours are constantly facing death just as Jesus did; so it is clear to all that it is only the living Christ within who keeps us safe.”

 – 2 Corinthians 4:8-10, TLB –


Something buried deep inside the human soul clings to hope.

Once I heard the story of a baby born months prematurely, at 23 weeks and 6 days gestation. Four months early. She was incredibly small, her skin bruising dark from the gentlest touch, her internal organs so delicate that they could give out at any moment.

Her parents didn’t know what to expect. The baby, whom they named Juniper, seemed always on the threshold of death. But time after time, she pulled through the night. Her tiny chest would still be rising and falling the next day, no matter how many times she flatlined in the night.

Her father began reading to her every day. Inexplicably, the child’s heart rate would lift as she heard her father’s voice reading a story he loved and wanted her to love too. He imagined that Juniper was interested in the story. I imagine that the voice of her father broke into that baby’s pain and gave her something to cling to.

She made it. Today she is five years old and bouncing with good health.

As unbelievers, her parents and the others who tell her story discuss ethical implications, viability, Roe vs. Wade, and the unearthly aura of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit they affectionately call “Nick-u.” They have straddled life and death.

In their daughter’s story, they perhaps see evolutionary triumph, or the inexplicable emotional attachment of a parent to a child.

I see the hope that God kindles in the heart of every living soul, a will to survive. Juniper’s survival declares to me that nothing is by chance, and living isn’t a coin toss. Living–hoping–is engrained in us.

Someone once said, 

“Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air…but only for one second without hope.”

It’s true that, short of despair, we grasp furiously at existence. Something deep inside drives us to “live and life abundantly,” and as long as hope lives, humanity’s will to survive is incredible.

I believe God placed this desire in us. More than just an instinctive fight for supremacy, hope is a highly spiritual thing.

Do I have a reason to take another breath? Yes or no?

Humans again and again weigh their options in the balance, stacking up pleasure against pain, measuring heights of clarity against depths of confusion.

Those who do not believe in the hope of God often lose sight of hope entirely. Rejecting the possibility of His goodness and power, they unknowingly reject the one and only unshakeable hope.

People pin the happiness of their existence on many things. Wealth, pleasure, love, success, conquering. When their anchor of hope can no longer hold them down, what is left for them?

Every object of hope changes, fails, ceases to satisfy.

Except Jesus.

He never changes, never fails, never ceases to satisfy, because He is our Creator God. He made us to thrive in His presence. Nothing else can ever quite fit the bill.

You know, I’ve set my hope in other things. And I see people around me all the time trying to fit something human into this God-shaped need. It just doesn’t work.

So a world full of people are on a desperate hunt for hope…and only a few actually find it.

What does Christian hope look like? What does it do?

Hope is something believed in, something that keeps people alive, some ideal they see as worth their devotion. Hope is our internal answer to the “why” of existence.

Christian hope is turning away from sin and turning to Jesus Christ as your only chance for this life and the next. It is placing the weight of your belief in His simultaneous divinity and humanity, His death that satisfied God’s justice on your behalf, and His miraculous resurrection breaking the power of sin and death. It is giving Him sway over your entire being, which, incidentally, is already His anyway. You stop running from Him and start running to Him.

This hope is a true anchor for the soul (Hebrews 6:19).

This is why, really, only Christians can be real Optimists. Of course things in this world are messed up. Of course it is sometimes awful, painful, and dark. But something good is coming. We know this for certain.

This is why the theme verse of this post rings true:

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but not crushed and broken. We are perplexed because we don’t know why things happen as they do, but we don’t give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going. These bodies of ours are constantly facing death just as Jesus did; so it is clear to all that it is only the living Christ within who keeps us safe.”

 – 2 Corinthians 4:8-10, TLB –

Christian hope can propel us through absolutely anything. We have a Savior who is both near and powerful, strong and kind, just and overflowing with grace.

To grasp on to this hope, we fix out eyes on Him.

He is the already-salvation who makes life livable, and the not-yet salvation who, one day, will make all things new.

Do you have this hope? If not, I assure you that nothing else you try is going to work. Jesus is the only hope that will satisfy the cries of your soul. Believe in Him.

If you have believed, but the pain of life is smothering your hope, don’t be afraid. Keep believing. This life may be marred, but it is marred beauty. It may be corrupted, but it corrupted joy. It may be dark, but darkness can never overcome light. Very soon, the marring and the corruption will end and the dawn will become noonday. Believe in Him.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for. In believing, you take hold of what is sure to happen, because God never fails, never changes, never ceases to satisfy.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever–the same Creator, Redeemer, and Restorer.

Therefore, I hope.

But seek His kingdom, and these things will be provided for you. Don’t be afraid,little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom.

 – Luke 12:31-32, HCSB –

 

 

 

 

Acorns, Caverns, and Me

oak-leaf

A bright-smiled young man explained to a group of us CollegePlus students and alumni about how his education experience was like a tree. He explained his tendency to want things to happen all at once, for the giant oak to just appear out of nowhere. “And then an acorn dropped on my head,” he laughed. That acorn reminded him that life is a process, not an immediate arrival.

It’s funny how something like that will stick with you.

I like to always have myself together. Forget the journey—I want to be at the destination now. I want the oak to spring into existence in front of me. Majestic live oaks sprawl across the Southern US. Branches tower and dip, stretched out like eternal arms and crooked low to create a bench. The solidity of these trees is astounding. Their girth is broad and deep and gnarled with experience.

But, in the awe of their expanse, it is hard to forget their age. Their bulk screams solidity, power, art, beauty—and also years and years of living.

I think it may be impossible to finger the knotted bark of a live oak and not vicariously experience the cut of the barbed wire half-grown into the side of the tree, the lightning that scorched one black branch, the gallons of raindrops that have washed in rivulets down the leaves, through the canyons of bark, all the way down to the roots.

When you look at a tree, you cannot help but see experience. Time. A process.

Then, somehow, I expect to roll out of bed and be sanctified, fully-grown, and perfectly stable in about 5 minutes.

“My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing.”

– James 1:2-4, CEB –

I expect that I’ll be grown-up, and pain won’t hurt anymore. Trials won’t surprise anymore. Joy won’t ache anymore.

In other words, I expect to get an oak tree overnight. 

When I think about that young man’s story about the acorn, I realize that I’m much closer to the acorn end of things than I am to the sprawling live oak tree. I am small, weak, unimpressive—and filled with unutterable energy, potential, and room for growth.

Near our home in the mountains is the most beautiful cave I’ve ever visited. Deep below the surface, winding trails are filled with incredible cave decorations: canopies and columns, soda-straw stalactites, channels and coral reefs of extruded rocks.

This cave was not carved out of rock overnight. Time, again, did the beautifying. In a complex pattern of yielding and standing strong against external pressures, the cave gradually took on the shape it is in today.

The slow work of rain. Dirt moving. Stretching up, hollowing out, yielding to change. Standing through lightning crashes or the roll of an earthquake. This is how a tree grows, or a cave begins.

Sometimes we think we have to get it right, right now. Life becomes more about understanding than waiting.

But that’s just not how it is.

When life hurts, I don’t have to be okay. I don’t have to quiet my tears, or hold back my feelings of loss, or try to wrestle my pain into subjection.

All I have to do is rejoice in belief.

People talk about the stages of grief because healing and growth are not instant things. God most often chooses to work through natural processes to do His work–and often, that means waiting. It means I do not become whole in a moment. It means you have to hold on to God’s promises and let Him work out the healing or growing on His timeline.

Rejoicing in belief means that I trust God with my process. It means that I learn to rest in the middle of inner turmoil. It means that, in my deepest places, I believe God with all my heart, even if my emotions are up and down. Rejoicing in belief means I choose to say “Your will be done,” I am glad that it will be done, and I hold on for when it will be done in full.

When you are stuck “in process,” remember that your Savior became a man and felt these same tensions and lived the same body-soul wrestling that we live. He knows, and He cares. And, best of all, He is able to make us stand strong in the uncertain growing.

Remember, little acorns, that you are not oaks yet, but you are becoming mighty and wise.

Remember, little caves, that the deep places of the earth were not carved in a night.

Remember, sweet sisters, that your heart is on a journey, and Jesus is walking the path with us, seeing His perfect work all the way to the end.

We’re works in progress. Believe, and let Him grow you strong and deep and sure. He is able to do it.


“Remember He is the artist and you are only the picture. You can’t see it. So quietly submit to be painted—i.e., keep fulfilling all the obvious duties of your station (you really know quite well enough what they are!), asking forgiveness for each failure and then leaving it alone. You are in the right way. Walk—don’t keep on looking at it.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis –

Wind, Light, and Forest Footholds

path-in-the-late-sun

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

– John Greenleaf Whittier –

– – – – – – –

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?

– – – – – – –

“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 –

– – – – – – –

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

Tattered Children

mud-play

“No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home, but the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us: it is the very sign of His presence.”

– C. S. Lewis –

I feel like a child who forgets she’s had a bath.

I rub my hands together, still mentally covered in the mud’s slime and the sand’s grit.

One film called “The Robe” depicts the journey to faith made by the centurion who crucified Jesus. At first, his guilt haunts him. It nearly drives him mad. In moments of frenzy, he rubs his hand frantically, trying to get the long-erased stain of Jesus’ blood off his fingers.

I feel like that centurion, haunted by stains others have forgotten or never saw at all.

Chased down by guilt that was forgiven in an instant. If only I could stop my flailing long enough to actually see what Jesus has done.

In those stomach-twisting moments, I am Simon Peter, pleading for my head  and my hands to be washed as well as my feet (John 13:9). All of me feels desecrated.

Like C.S. Lewis, I feel the “despair of overcoming chronic temptations,” a Fatal slipping back into the wallow.

Relief is foreign, in those moments. They stretch on and on, a desert where refreshing can be seen just over the next dune, only to vanish when weary feet stumble up to the mirage.

Bogged in such a moment, I vacillate between a frantic, gasping desire for the old peace and a slithering despondency that by trying harder, working up more memories of things to repent of, I will only slip farther into the pit, the steep-sided slough.

I struggle for balance, grasping one moment at a shining thread of truth, seen through the fog like light seeping under a closed door. The next moment, I miss the strand and plummet farther into a ceaseless reel of my failures. I play them over and over to myself, each bout ending with a tighter feeling in my chest before I once again shrug off the feeling.

I talk myself into guilt, then try to convince myself that I am innocent. I lay awake conjuring up memories. Did I say that in a cutting way? Should I apologize to that person? What about that one time years ago when I did that? Maybe I should try to ask that person’s forgiveness. Oh dear. I think my annoyance at someone crossed my face. Maybe I should say I’m sorry?

And then the other side battles back. “So and so” probably didn’t think anything of your tone. They didn’t seem offended. Good grief! That was years ago–and your mom said not to worry about it, that it was fine. No, I don’t think you showed your annoyance. Snap out of it. It’s not a big deal. Just ask God to help you and get on with living! Yes, repent if you’ve really offended someone. But you’re making yourself miserable over a basket full of nothing!

But by the time these two pieces of myself have battled, the spirit of pseudo-spirituality has worn me thin and praying seems distasteful. I edge into sleep with only a few obligatory lines murmured, afraid that at His feet too I will be rejected. If I can’t even reason myself out of the hole, if I can’t find an end to my own fault-finding–why on earth should I expect to be clear of guilt standing before a Holy God?

There is, undoubtedly, a vital, soul-cleansing place for repentance in the life of the Christian. Just as much–or more–danger lies in failing to repent as there is in hypersensitivity. Failing to see the deadly ugliness of sin is an opposite “ditch” that we just as often fall into.

From time to time, there will be an awakening. We children will look down and “come to ourselves.” We will realize that the clothes that were just laundered are now mud-caked and full of rotten stench. We are Prodigals, seeing where our pleasure hunt has led us at last. Then, it is good to see the sewer for what it is. It is good to smell it for what it is–a place of decay, disease, death, and dissatisfaction. There, our eyes finally open and we see how very tattered we have become.

This itself is a good thing, even “the sign of His presence.” Only opened eyes can draw the contrast between blindness and true light. Only opened ears can begin to hear the difference between the world’s unsettling clash and the joyous harmonies of glory. Only the children that notice the dirt can continue to fight against the sins that cause it.

What is vital is that we believe.

That is the problem, I discovered.

As I mulled over my recent sin-struggle, I wondered if there could be some connection between the far-apart symptoms of self-satisfied unrepentance and self-destroying oversensitivity.

Lying on my bed in the dark, I finally saw. Thank God, I saw.

Saw that my problem has been, all along, that I am not really believing God. That whether hard-hearted or too anxious, the disease is unbelief in what God says He will do. One person does not believe God actually abhors sin and will punish it; the other does not believe in His breathtaking promise to forgive.

Overscrutinizing my expressions, replaying memories of my failures that no one else recalls, scrutinizing every moment for the tiniest flaw for which I need to grovel–in these I doubt Christ’s power.

Yes, I need to repent.

But once I have repented, I am free.

Free!

The Bible declares forgiveness in such simple, clear terms. If we confess our sins, the faithful and just Savior will forgive (1 John 1:9). There are no added conditions, no fine print that to our confessions must be added a certain measure of despondency, a certain number of penances, and a time-out period.

Amy Carmichael wrote,

“If I cast up a confessed, repented, and forsaken sin against another, and allow my remembrance of that sin to colour my thinking and feed my suspicions, then I know nothing of Calvary love.”

Though she speaks of having unforgiveness toward another person, this same truth applies to ourselves. We sin. We fly to the throne. Through tears, we cast it away into the corner and plead forgiveness from the One who died that we could be reconciled. Then, we run off before we hear the forgiveness announced. We hurry back to our places and begin to “cast up a confessed, repented, and forsaken sin” against ourselves, words flagellating the bare, raw backs of our souls as much as ever did a monk’s penance whip.

“Forgiven!” He shouts it from the heavens, but we are so transfixed in repeating over and again our own self-declared guilt sentence that our ears do not hear his voice. It is amazing how easily God’s clear proclamations can be drowned out by our own muttering.

For me, it took until Communion Day to finally receive the message of His pardon. My soul felt whipped into shreds, my desire for Him scarred by imaginings that He would be even more stern with me than I had been with myself. I could only beg His forgiveness for not loving Him more. But sitting there, about to receive the bread, I still felt no pardon.

But I believed. I had been reading The Screwtape Letters and read this devilish advice: ” Teach [Christians] to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling.” So I realized that the battle was one of faith. I didn’t have to feel some great Heavenly wave wash over me. I just had to cling to Jesus’ blood and righteousness–like Harriet Tubman’s constant prayer in her work to free slaves: “Lord, I’m going to hold steady on to you and You’ve got to see me through.”

There are two ‘courts’ we must deal with: the court of God in Heaven and the court of conscience in our souls. When we first trust in Christ for salvation, God’s court is forever satisfied. Never again will a charge of guilt be brought against us in Heaven. Our consciences, however, are continually pronouncing us guilty. That is the function of conscience. Therefore, we must by faith bring the verdict of conscience into line with the verdict of Heaven. We do this by agreeing with our conscience about our guilt, but then reminding it that our guilt has already been borne by Christ.

– Jerry Bridges, emphasis mine –

 And, as it so often happens, when I believed, He granted me more than I could have asked.   

As I trusted, sitting there holding a small piece of cracker, a picture formed in my mind.

I could almost see a child, a little girl, clothed in a white dress that had been spattered with  mud and ripped at the knees, knocking timidly at a cottage door. I knew the child was me.

And I could feel the thrum of the guilty little heart, after her forbidden excursion.

But then the Father threw open the door. The little girl ran into His arms. Both eyes were full of tears–the girl’s of penitence, the Father’s of joy.

It took my breath away. It was no vision. I have no spiritual illusions that it was anything more than a God-granted thought.

But it was as if I were in the arms of my Abba Father in that instant. All the Kingly declarations of forgiveness, the celestial shouts –these, by my own fault, I could not hear. In that moment though, when in my mind I was the little girl in her Father’s arms, I could hear the still, small whisper. “Forgiven, my child. Forgiven.”

“There is no thirst of the soul so consuming as the desire for pardon. The sense of its bestowal is the starting-point of all goodness. It comes bringing with it, if not the freshness of innocence, yet a glow of inspiration that nerves feeble hands for hard tasks, a fire of hope that lights anew the old high ideal, so that it stands before the eye in clear relief, beckoning to make it out on its own.”

– Charles H. Brent –

The old joy began to return, the lightness of  freedom (Galatians 5:1).

When I received that hug from God, I knew the Prodigal was home.

Behold, what manner of love is this, that Christ should be arraigned and we adorned, that the curse should be laid on His head and the crown set on ours.

– Thomas Watson –

Thanks to Sonita Lewis and Public Domain Pictures for this post’s photo!

Courage That’s Better

path-in-the-woods-13615460746I3

I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

– John 14:27, NLT –

Part of me pulls toward the leaning sycamore tree, leaves filtering sun down on cropped grass outside the conference center.

Wind tickles my skirt around my ankles.

But my thoughts are too tumbled.

How part of me cringes because I don’t measure up.

And another piece of me wants You so much, so close, that it stills my depths.

And I’m a little empty. I feel inadequate.

I sense the problem and even the solution. Fear not. Is it You, dear Comforter, who I so much forget, Who whispers to me this way?

Fear.

Fear of man.

Fear of losing friends.

Fear of the future.

So many fears.

Whispers darting around my ears, bringing on winds of shaking. And I move away, nestle in a corner with people buzzing and speakers’ microphones piercing through chatter.

Stone wall against my back, stone-cold, chilling straight through to the back of my heart.

Like fear creeping in the back door.

And the speaker is Don Hart, talking about the morale of a soldier.

That we’ll never win if we walk defeated.

‘Cause we’re not.

Are not defeated.

Why am I fearing?

When my eyes come away from Your face.

My whole arm’s now chilled from the stone.

But I’m Yours.

Why–why on this earth of Yours–do I let fear infect my joy, my goals?

And a smile, heart-deep, springs up because joy is welling up and the what appeared to be the burden of others-centeredness is shifting into the glory of it. Can You use me here?

Can You make me smile in the corners and brave out front, and humble in the masses and deep-in heedless of others’ thoughts?

I want these deep-in, Psalm 1 roots.

And this Psalm 27 fearlessness.

And these words that Don-Hart spoke,  a Marine’s saying:

“Not dead. Can’t quit.”

And Psalm 27:4-5: His beauty drives out the fear. Abiding in His place of safety gives all the confidence I could long for. Beholding Him, looking into Love’s eyes.

My blinking, my knowing.

Parts of me that cringe at my inability.

But still the speaker pierces through, “Do you believe God?”

“I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord….”

– Psalm 27: 13 –

He says wait on Him.

He says be of good courage

(I wonder, how much stronger good courage is than just plain courage?)

And He promises the strength just when I’m in need.

So, Jesus, where do You want me to go?

Thanks to Larisa Koshkina and Public Domain Pictures for the lovely photo!

How Long Will You Love Worthlessness?

worthless 3

Just days ago, I had to wonder…

If when my life takes no faith, am I truly living?

When it all comes down to the bare basics, the end of the matter, shouldn’t faith reside there?

Maybe it’s all resting on one question:

Do I believe God or not?

Do I believe Him when He promises abundant life?

Do I honestly think I can take Him at face value–that His face alone will satisfy me?

Do I believe He can fill my soul, delight me more than anything?

As much as I tell myself that I want Christ, how much do I really?

Sure, maybe I don’t desire some things that are bad–worldly and out-there–but do I really believe He totally satisfies?

Do I really believe?

Do I?

Sitting in repentant silence, I knew, of course, that I believed God deep down. But how small that seed of faith was–how much it needed to grow. What kind of faith was this, that produced so little fruit? And the apostle James warned that faith without works is dead (James 2:14).

Mine was just barely holding on.

Holding on by a thread of devotion–a very real place in my heart that knew Jesus was more to me than the whole world.

But what did my living say? It said that after I “pay my time” reading Scripture, saying a prayer, that I was done. I could go look for satisfaction in other things now–in movies, books, friends, television, internet. Not bad things–not at all. But what was I trusting for happiness? And why in the world shouldn’t praying bring me more pleasure than a chat with a friend? Why didn’t reading my Bible satisfy me as much as getting that next novel in the series…

I sat cross-legged beneath a stairwell, asking hard questions in my journal. Close beside me, my computer began to play the Psalms on audio, Chapter 1, 2, 3.

Then, Chapter 4. The narrator spoke right to me:

 “How long will you love worthlessness?” (Psalm 4:2b, NKJV)

Oh, for grace to believe that He will give me every good thing! For faith to treasure Him and cast away worthless things.

But I was afraid, terribly afraid.

Afraid that by seeking Him above all, I’d miss out.

Afraid to be stodgy, miserable, depressed. Afraid, so afraid, to give up my way.

Afraid to obey without feelings–yet being a slave to obey my feelings.

But, see, Psalm 4 was still playing.

Soft words, pinning like barbs to my soul.

“But know that the Lord has set apart for Himself him who is godly….Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 4:3,5, NKJV)

So while I was wondering if it was worth it to sacrifice, God sent His words out with so much power that my soul stood still. My heart filled with wonder at the next words:

“You have put gladness in my heart, more than in the season that their grain and wine increased.” (Psalm 4:7, NKJV, emphasis mine)

He will fill me up, more than anything in this world ever could.

He has a better Story than any other novel.

He has a greater Love for me than any romantic writer could dream up.

He has more abundance, pleasure, joy in His presence, than a host of friends could supply.

So I open self-stuffed fists.

I surrender.

I believe.

“Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And let your soul delight itself in abundance.
Incline your ear, and come to Me.
Hear, and your soul shall live;
And I will make an everlasting covenant with you—
The sure mercies of David.”

– Isaiah 55:2-3, NKJV –