These Subtle Weavings

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“This is what the past is for!  Every experience God gives us, every person He puts in our lives is the perfect preparation for the future that only He can see.”
– Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place


The apostle Paul called our earthly life a dark glass for a reason (1 Cor. 13:12). We can only see pinpricks of light, shadows of a reality to come.

Although our Present moments are often chaotic and the Future is murky, the Past is one direction that God seems to shed a little more light on than others.

Past.

What does that word stir in you? Thoughts of childhood? Joy? Bitterness? Thankfulness….or regret? Embarrassment? Or, perhaps, a mixture of these things?

Unlike other points in time, the past is unchangeable, something our plans and intentions can never influence. The Past can be a Tormentor or a Teacher.

If I stop to think about it a moment, the Past can assault me with all the ridiculous things I’ve done. It doesn’t take long for one embarrassing episode after another to pop into my mind, making me groan. “How could I have thought that was a good idea?”

As I reminisce, I think of my more recent escapades, especially a not-long-ago phone call that could have resulted in disaster. “What possessed me!” I think. Then I remember that this particular “bright idea” was barely six months ago. Forget bewailing my indiscretions as a five-year-old! At twenty-one, I’m still keeping up with the blonde stereotype quite nicely, thank you.

What a Tormentor, with the memories of friendships broken, things that were and things that will never be! They can haunt and hound me, nipping at every day’s heels. The Past, sometimes, seems like a merciless enemy, intent on sucking us in and trapping us between the re-living of nightmares and the impossibility of beloved things lost.

But, it can be gentle too, the Past as wise and insistent as a gray-headed teacher, commanding our gaze, pulling us again and again from the Future’s window. God so often commands us to “Remember” and that is what the Past is truly for. Although a redeemed Past does not hide us from the ugliness of our committed sins, with the right way of seeing, a journey into the Past can be a path to hope.

“How,” you may wonder, “can all my mistakes and foibles and sins and wanderings be hopeful?”

Because, my sweet sisters, the very Past that has the power to torture us is the same Past that God has in His hand. No horrible rebellion, no hopeless destruction, no fathomless pit, no dark forest, can make us so lost and so unreachable that God cannot reach into it and bring us out safely. While not diminishing His disgust of sin, our God can take a lost soul–like you and I were–and dress that soul in His own white holiness, purchased at the price of the very life of God Incarnate.

“The very Past that has the power to torture us is the same Past that God has in His hand.”

But it is not only the death of Jesus that brings hope to our Past. It is the LIFE of Jesus! If He had remained in that tomb, we would still be hopeless ( 1 Cor. 15:12-58). But His rising showed that His death-price was accepted by the Father, freeing us from the chains of the past:

“It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose. Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 3:12-14, CEB

 In Christ, we can move beyond our sins and failings into joy. When we look back to the Past, the Tormentor no longer has any power. Why?

Because God is not just in the business of redeeming our Present, or our Future. He is not limited to our approval ratings or our acknowledgement of His sovereignty. He told Moses His great name I Am, illustrating His perfect, eternal, unmarred control of Everything–my self-destructing Past included.

His touch is all over the places we’ve gone, the days we’ve lived and forgotten, the moments we wish we could hold onto forever, the times we wish we could sink into the ground and disappear. He was–IS–there, in our Past as much as any other time. Though history is inaccessible to us, God stands outside our limits and oversees it all, according to a plan we can not imagine for its sheer glory. God is not only the Master of storytelling. He also has a penchant for the surprising, the unlikely, the irredeemable and the unbelievable. In the way only He can, He molds scarred history into Redemption, a Messiah who takes the shame, becoming the Thing that must, above all, be believed.

Paraphrasing Romans 8:18-21, scholar and pastor J.B. Phillips wrote:

“In my opinion whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared with the magnificent future God has planned for us. The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own. The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited—yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!”

This glory is not wholly left to the future. Have you ever seen a Sparkler on the 4th of July? It darts and dances in the air, shimmering with combustion, warmth, power. Sometimes, we can look back and see a sparkle of God’s light in the places we’ve walked.

It is hard to see when we’re passing through. Often, we have nothing to go on but faith in the darkness, but looking back, the spidery fingers of glory still trail behind us. The lights flash dimly through this dark, foggy glass. But, for a moment, we can look over our shoulders and see, kindled for an instant of recognition, a sight that teaches us to hope. It is His shadow, the impression of His feet as God moved, unseen, in the dark places of our Past.

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Hope on the Dark Side

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“So you think that you’re the only one to cry yourself to sleep? That you’re the only one who’s scared they’ll all forget you when you leave? So you think that you’re the only one whose heart is black and blue? Listen, I’ve got news for you….

So you feel so wrecked and dirty He could never make you new? Man, have I got news for you, for you. I’m so compelled to tell you that it’s true….I’ve got good news for you.”

– Andrew Peterson, “I’ve Got News” –


Suffering. We’ve learned to run away from it, ever since we bumped our heads as babies. Ever since our childhood pet got hit by a passing car. Ever since our young hearts broke over the first person we knew that died. Ever since our adolescent souls were scarred by one-time friends that turned into Judases, Brutuses, Benedict Arnolds, betraying who they claim to love. It all seemed so unnatural, a blip in the happiness of childhood.

As adults, we see more of the pain. Our early immunity to the harshness of the world beyond has worn off. We see it all: the death mixed in with life, the tears that come as often as laughter, the hate that turns so much love sour.

Suffering. We recoil from it. We take medication for it. We know, instinctively, that pain means that all is NOT right with the world. Pain means something has gone wrong…crazily wrong.

Atheists say that the world has always been this way, that nature’s desperate struggle for dominance. We’re swept up in the unending pain, only to have it stop at death. We just have to survive till then.

Transcendentalists say that life is suffering–and only suffering. The only way to escape is to disconnect from the material, stop wanting anything, and join up with the cosmos. Let it swallow you. And hopefully you’ll come back as a being better than the one you are now–just don’t mess up the karma.

I have good news.

Jesus says that a better kind of life is possible. Unlike the meaningless suffering that other beliefs offer, Jesus says there is hope beyond the pain. Others can only hope for oblivion, a cessation of the bad. But the loved ones of God hold to a greater dream–the Biblical portrait of a Day when all is made new and clean and pure and empty of pain.

When Jesus came to earth as a man, grew up partaking in our pain, and died at the hands of His own creatures, His death lent value to suffering.

The cross said: Suffering isn’t pointless.

But, in three days, the rest of the message came clearly. If Jesus’ death gave meaning to pain, then His resurrection gave hope . Hope–the promise that one day this pain will be over. Our “three days” of languishing have the possibility of ending with the same kind of triumph–a rock-quaking, life-raising, never-dying kind of resurrection can be ours too.

Without Jesus, the world languishes. Suffering is pointless, pain leads to nowhere but a grave that levels all things to dust. But WITH Jesus, the difference is too great for words. Imagine a dark room, with the windows covered in heavy black cloth. Sun is excluded. The darkness is almost thick and the air is stifling with the absence of color or light or breeze. Then imagine someone came in and threw open the curtains. Imagine someone came and knocked out the walls. Imagine that the ceiling crumbled away and the sun’s full-noon glory pierced down.  It was dark, and now it is light.

But those words, simple and short, cannot convey the power of the change. The hope of God is not just a prick of light at the end of a tunnel. God’s hope is a total smashing of our room of darkness. We still stand in the same place, but now we see it differently. Before we saw only interminable darkness. Now, what do we see? Light flowing over, around, through us. Told another way, the blind cannot see the end of the pain. Only the opened eyes can perceive the reason to hope that stood as a crossroad of history and even now is rising again on the horizon.

“The good news breaks into a world where the news has been so bad for so long that when it is good nobody hears it much except for a few. And who are the few that hear it? They are the ones who labor and are heavy-laden like everybody else, but who, unlike everybody else, know that they labor and are heavy-laden….Rich or poor, successes or failures as the world counts it, they are the ones who are willing to believe in miracles because they know it will take a miracle to fill the empty place inside them where grace and peace belong….Maybe the truth of it is that [the good news is] too good not to be true.”

– Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth, page 70-71 –

Do you see it? Christ, in you, the hope–the HOPE!–of  glory (Colossians 1:27). Hope of glory? Yes, hope of a glory beyond this world of pain. Hope of a life beyond what we know here. Hope that this present world is not how it was nor how it will always be. Hope hinges on what we believe (Hebrews 1:1). First, what we believe about Jesus. And, as a result, what we believe about suffering.

Our view of pain depends on our faith. Do we believe that all that goes wrong here will be–soon and gloriously–put to right? Do we believe in a God with an incomprehensible blend of grace and justice, a God who will make us, his rebellious creation, into His perfect creation again? Paul perfectly captured the hopeless view of most of our world:

“If the dead do not rise, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!'” (1 Corinthians 15:32b, NKJV)

If this life–this hard, often-agonizing life–is all there is to look forward to, we are right to despair. But Paul himself had another perspective on pain:

“….that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11, NKJV).

In his commentary on this passage, 17th century theologian Matthew Henry explains:

“Knowing him here is believing in him: it is an experimental knowledge of the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, or feeling the transforming efficacy and virtue of them….We are then made conformable to his death when we die to sin, as Christ died for sin, when we are crucified with Christ, the flesh and affections of it mortified, and the world is crucified to us, and we to the world, by virtue of the cross of Christ. This is our conformity to his death…..This joyful resurrection the apostle pressed towards. He was willing to do any thing, or suffer any thing, that he might attain that resurrection. The hope and prospect of it carried him with so much courage and constancy through all the difficulties he met with in his work….Observe, His care to be found in Christ was in order to his attaining the resurrection of the dead. Paul himself did not hope to attain it through his own merit and righteousness, but through the merit and righteousness of Jesus Christ. “Let me be found in Christ, that I may attain the resurrection of the dead, be found a believer in him, and interested in him by faith….”

Here, we see that pain can be a tool for our good. No, pain is not good itself, just like every other product of fallen humanity. But our powerful God can work even these present hard things into glory to come.

This is my message to you today, sisters: We live in a dying world. Have hope! We live daily with the painful consequences of sin. Have hope! We live among people who see no answer, no end, no solution, to this suffering. But have hope!

Many of us have heard this tale until our ears are full of it and we cease to wonder at its beauty. But the cross is not just for the unsaved. The cross–and the resurrection–is for me and you, every day, just as it was for the apostle Paul. The cross proclaims that our horrible sinfulness has a potent cure. The resurrection announces that we have a good reason to laugh today, because this momentary sorrow is dying away. Yes, our world is crying out, like a woman almost ready to deliver her child (Romans 8:22). But soon the baby will be born. Do not fear. The pain is almost over. New life is on its way. Spread the hope to those who see no end to the pain.

This earth is being birthed into new life. Good news: Our God never miscarries.


“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”

And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.”

– Revelation 21:1-7, NKJV –

Never Forgotten

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Is there a scene more to despise

Than a sparrow forgetting the air where she flies?

Or a trout disdaining the river he breathes?

But, oh how much worse when I forget Thee!

. . . . . . .

But there is a scene that I recognize

The sparrow cannot forget her fledgling’s cries.

Or a trout forget to swim up the river

Your sweet, “I remember Thee,” standing forever.

. . . . . . . .

This sparrow is missing the glory today,

The trout has no joy in his watery play.

But I have now this unfading delight

That though I forget, my Savior will not.


“…they have forgotten the Lord their God.” (3:21)

Recently, I read through the book of Jeremiah. Israel was seeking things that do not benefit her (2:8), forsaking the fountain of living waters (2:13), forsaking God Himself (2:17,19). And, in all of that, proclaiming her own goodness (2:23). God’s charge: adultery (3:1) But, how merciful our God is! “Yet return again to me….” (3:1). What does she give in return? A brazen face, a refusal to be ashamed.

This leads up to that dreadful pronouncement–You have forgotten the Lord (3:21). And inside my soul, I tremble, for this is the sin that I dwell in every day. See, outright rebellion begins with that small choice to forget. “Did God really say…?” (Genesis 3:1).

I seem to be a record-time forgetter.

I pray.

And God, to my amazement, hears.

He answers and I could shout.

Because of His awesome timing, His creative answers to my pleas, His mercies that span wider than I had dared dream.

And the next instant, I forget.

 I feel, in an moment, like a lost child in a monstrous world of enigmas. Situations are screaming at me. Questions of right are nagging me to decide between one desire and another. I can’t–or maybe I don’t want to– loose my death-grip on life. How can I possibly shudder enough at this idea–I’m always forgetting God.

My heart flies, undone, to the Rock that is higher than I. (Psalm 61:2). I lean, panting against it, a child afraid of the dark and afraid of the Light. There is a voice, an ancient, ageless Word:

“I remember thee” (2:2).

Me! He remembers ME! In spite of my constant cycle of forgetting Him, in spite of my daily relapse into the things I’ve grown to hate (Romans 7), in spite of the sin that still clings like a rotten cloak–He REMEMBERS.

Over the many past weeks as we’ve studied love, I came closer and closer to the realization of my utter deficit of love. In the same way, as I see my heart’s forgetfulness, I begin to understand just how unbelievable it is that I could forget how much God has done. But dwelling on my lack of consistency will not solve my problem.

Only dwelling on Christ’s faithfulness, his totally reliable memory, will give me the strength to run back to Him again after another episode of straying. He has set his seal on us–graven our names into his hand  (Isaiah 49:16). There is a good reason for me to turn in disgust from my sinful forgetting–to repent and cry out for forgiveness. Our crime is not diminished by His mercy. But at the same time, I am not to continually live in sorrow over this error!

We have a glorious hope and a God at our side who wants to fill His dear ones with joy in Him. Like a lost child, run home! Whenever you see that you’ve gotten off the road, turn around and run back!

There’s a feast waiting for us when we get there!

“Go back, go back to the ancient paths, Lash your heart to the ancient mast,

And hold on, [girl], whatever you do, To the hope that’s taken hold of you,

And you’ll find your way, You’ll find your way

If love is what you’re looking for, The old roads lead to an open door,

And you’ll find your way, You’ll find your way,

Back home.”

– Andrew Peterson, “You’ll Find Your Way” –


“His Grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” – John Newton

Every Birth, Every Leaf

Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone but in every leaf of springtime.

– Martin Luther-

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With spring comes new birth.

Yesterday I watched three wet goat kids birthed into a cold, pain-raged world.

And we are like them.

We were unborn, safe, heedless of the agony and despair just outside the barricading womb.

Then the birth throes came and our mothers panted and cried with pain and we appeared.

Like those kids, slick and wet. Like them, bloody and gasping for air and scared to be pushed out of the safety and closed-in comfort. The ground is unyielding beneath our quivering legs. The prickly straw jabs.

We long to go back in to the dark tightness where our mothers’ breath heaved right above our huddled bodies. We grow to hate the cold but yet draw back against the warmth washing away our birth sac, stripping away the cold membrane that was so comfortable and now chills us.

And one day we begin to understand the depth of the significance of the first cry.

On some days, we wonder if there is anything in all this broken world but crying.

Even with the budding out of spring, do you ever wonder what is the point, when so much of death’s stench seeps into our moments? Do you ever wonder why the flowers still smile when the frost will bite them off in only a few short months?

Where is the spring in that?

More importantly, if even the most hopeful time of year is tainted, what hope is there for me?

A few weeks ago, Easter morning broke all over the world again, the anniversary of a death. Yes, on Friday the God of this Broken world died to redeem it. But on Sunday, another death occurred.

Death died that Sunday morning.

And unlike all the other deaths of this world, in direct opposition to the struggle and misery—the death of Death snapped chains and broke cords and singing was unleashed.

All the Springtimes before that year of Resurrection had been foretelling. Each revolution around the yellow sun, the flowers had budded out and the deer had birthed their fawns. All of creation gathered and cried out to man that the end of Death’s Winter was coming. That Spring would come and our Ransom-Payer would arise, with healing in His wings. Every year, they kept repeating the promise to come:

Arise, shine;
For your light has come!
And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.
For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth,
And deep darkness the people;
But the Lord will arise over you,
And His glory will be seen upon you.
 The Gentiles shall come to your light,
And kings to the brightness of your rising.

~ Isaiah 60:1-3, NKJV ~

And with the world-shaking rising of that Ransom-Payer, Death was crushed, Despair was led away captive, Pain lost it’s sting.

Maybe you marvel at a God of Love who can allow us to hurt and sin.

I marvel at a God of Love who Took our hurt and Became our sin.

So when the pain keeps coming and the ache crushes all of your breath away, there is a higher place you can go than just looking at the Springtime.  All the new life in the world won’t help you if your heart keeps dwelling in the death.

 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

~ 2 Corinthians 5:17, NKJV ~

You can go to the one that is the Spring rising in our hearts, that is the Light after the Winter’s dark.

 “So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

~ Hebrews 6:17-20, ESV ~

Because Jesus lives, we can face tomorrow.

Fearless, Faithful, Knowing, Confident. Standing in His Love, by His Power, through His blood.

Because we have been redeemed, Spring is our daily reality.

May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be blessed! On account of his vast mercy, he has given us new birth. You have been born anew into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. You have a pure and enduring inheritance that cannot perish—an inheritance that is presently kept safe in heaven for you. Through his faithfulness, you are guarded by God’s power so that you can receive the salvation he is ready to reveal in the last time.

You now rejoice in this hope, even if it’s necessary for you to be distressed for a short time by various trials. This is necessary so that your faith may be found genuine. (Your faith is more valuable than gold, which will be destroyed even though it is itself tested by fire.) Your genuine faith will result in praise, glory, and honor for you when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you’ve never seen him, you love him. Even though you don’t see him now, you trust him and so rejoice with a glorious joy that is too much for words. You are receiving the goal of your faith: your salvation.

~1 Peter 1:3-9, CEB ~

Amen.