Once and Forever: the solution for not being “good enough”

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The ancient people of God were bound by the law.  Daily, it screamed out their failures in unbiased, unrelenting terms.  The law was perfect and pure.  It revealed wisdom.  Although the law was good in every part, the human heart defaulted to self reliance every time.  And so the law was broken over and over again.

Heart proud, the people were distanced from what their heart needed most–God’s presence and power.  (photo credit: ravenwhimsey)

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Every day this constant need for reconciliation was met at an altar.  Every day the heart was reminded, for each day brought a new need for reconciliation.  Continually needy, the ancient Israeli priests would begin afresh the work of mediation between God and His people.

The High Priest
The rites of purification had been completed.  The man’s wrinkled skin had been scrubbed clean in strict rituals.  The old man had been a priest for many years, and the rules had remained constant and rigid, never changing at the break of dawn.  The separation between God and the people remained fixed, for there was never enough soap to cleanse away their inherent disunion with complete holiness.  The distance between the people and their God was so vast that there would not be a way to reach the other side at all had not God El Elyon (God Most High) become God Yahweh (a personal, covenant-making God) intiating a covenant with his people that provided access.BALT9F  “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.” Leviticus 17:11.  Yahweh had made a way for His people to have a personal relationship with Himself through the blood of an atoning sacrifice.  Their brokenness and bent toward sin made a daily sweet fragrance of sacrifice an ever-attending need; so, atonement, a perpetual sacrifice for their constant need, was a constant “must have” for the people of God.

There were daily sacrifices, special one-time sacrifices, and then there was the special Day of Atonement. On that one day, a chosen high priest would enter behind the enormous veil that separated the people of God from their holy God to make atonement for the people’s sin.HP1  The high priest entered the Holy of Holies robed in priestly garments: bearing the weighty ephod of gold upon his shoulders representing the government of his people; the beautiful ephod, woven in blue linen threads,  which covered his heart, bejeweled with precious gems, representing each of the tribes of Israel; the breastplate of judgment, the Urim and the Thummin,  lay weighing against his heart representing the verdicts of acceptance or rejection; the sash girding his waist reminding him that he came to serve.  The entire costume was both physically and symbolically heavy.  The Law prescribed every detail; and access to God demanded a strict adherence to the code, every detail whispering that these were garments of holiness to be worn by the mediator.

Now it was time for the priest to enter behind the thick veil of the Holy of Holies and make atonement for the peoples’ sin.  The priest’s heart trembled. The circle of high priest’s garments were adorned with embroidered blue, purple and scarlet pomegranates with little golden bells stitched between, 33bec4402072917157ba3c8e7792f670and he purposefully listened for the tinkling bells circling the skirt of his robe as he walked toward the veil.  The musical sounds would be the only indication to the rest of the people as they waited for him that God had kept His covenant with them when he sprinkled the blood on the Altar.  Let the musical bells sound in worshipful praise; for if the blood did not provide acceptable access to God, the priest would die during the sprinkling of the blood offering.

Walking through the tabernacle courtyard, the old man’s eyes lifted to the flickering flame of the almond blossom cups branching off the hammered, pure gold lampstand.   His heart was raised in hope knowing that this constant flame was a visual reminder to assure them of God’s presence among them.  God had given them so many reminders. Each part of his day as a priest was filled with reminders of a God who desired to be known and loved by His people.  Tabernacle05-06

Born broken in sin, bent toward self-reliance, the priest marveled at the visual, repeated reminders of their need for God’s presence and power.  Though ritualistically purified, the old man approached near to the bronze basin of water to cleanse his hands and feet yet once again.  LAVER9SHe watched as the water splashed from his hands; so many washings, yet he was never holy.  God was so very separate from them, and God’s brilliant holiness was once again on the old man’s mind.  The chasm between man and God was wider than any earthly canyon; and yet, he mused, God remembered his people and provided a way of access to Himself.  Still, he trembled knowing that these offerings for atonement were continual, for none of the people, including himself, could ever stop sinning.  The cavernous gulf between God and his people never closed, for their perpetual unrighteousness seperated them from the glorious, shining worthiness of a completely holy God.

He waited as the anointing oil was administered covering his body, again for purification.  Again and again, the message was clear:  I am holy; you are an unclean people.  Everything was designed to remind them of their constant need for God’s presence and power, and their inability to gain it own their own.  
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The aroma of incense flowed upward filling his nostrils.  The incense was also always perpetually burning reminding them of their constant need for intercession with God.  The incense of the altar was never to go out; they were visually instructed as to how much the people desperately needed their God.

Constant need.  Each step toward the Holy of Holies reminded him of how much he needed God to give him access.  Every ritual reminded him of how he could not enjoy God’s presence without God making a way.  He was still dirty and would keep being dirty.  Only the acceptance of the atoning sacrifice would give him access to God and forgiveness of the transgressions against their holy and just God.  Healing of their sins would require the spilling of blood from an unblemished sacrifice.  His heart ached.  How he longed for complete deliverance from this body of death.  The sacrifices were never enough.  The work of the priest was never done.  No one was ever good enough.

“For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take aways sins.  Therefore, when He came into world, He said:  ‘Sacrifice and offering You do not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me.  In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you had no pleasure.  Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come-in the volume of the book it is written of Me-to do your will, O God.’ Previously saying, ‘Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them’ (which are offered according to the law), then He said, ‘Behold I have come to do Your will, O God.’ He takes away the first that He may establish the second.  By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Hebrews 10:4-10.  

The ritualistic symbols and priestly duties were only a foreshadowing of God’s plan for a better mediator.  No bleeding bull could take down a proud heart.  No precious baby lamb, no matter how wonderfully unblemished,  would forever change the bent of a rebellious heart.  No the only way to sanctify the heart was to give the owner a new one!  The only way to take away the hard rock heart and inscribe righteousness on a living, breathing heart was to give new life.  The old covenant was made obsolete, because of the weakness of our flesh.  The Law was good and without fault, but we were the messed up ones who could not keep it.  A new covenant was offered that would abolish the old one.  This time the offering would be a final propitiation for sin.  However, it would be very, very different this time.  The real body of a man would be offered, an earthly life lived just as we live, tempted, but never sinning.  A life lived in complete obedience fulfilling all righteousness 24/7.  The unthinkable would take place–this sinless life would be made to be sinso that a final, forever atonement could be made and all of the holiness could be given to the sinner!  There is only one man that could fulfill all of the requirements, and He is the Son of God.  So, God, did the unthinkable.  Yahweh kept covenant faithfulness and steadfast love with His people by sending His one and only perfect Son to reconcile us back to Himself through a new and living covenant of grace.  God gave His Son; the Son gave His life; and the Holy Spirit was given as the seal of this new covenant of redemption.  “It is finished!”  cries powerfully of this unbelievable reconciliation accomplished by the death of the Son of God.

It is the new covenant of Christ’s own blood that washes me, so that I am no longer defiled.  I will not get dirty again.  No more washings.  When I come before God, I confess my sins.  I claim my unworthiness, attesting to the fact that I will never, never be “good enough.”  All of my sins, past, current, and those I will still wrongfully do are covered by the atoning blood of Christ.  The judgment of God rejected Jesus on the cross blackening the sky, and the Lamb of God took all of my rightful condemnation and bled out; and yet God saw the righteous blood and was pleased to accept atonement in full.  We know this because death was not the final word.  The thick veil covering the Holy of Holies was dramatically torn from top to bottom opening the way to God’s presence.  Death did not hold the Son of God, but He had the authority over death and was raised the third day just as He proclaimed it would be.  I am now clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and every time I choose to enter into his Presence and Power, I have the victory of resurrection grace.  There is a way across that  cavernous gulf between God and his people.  Because of Christ’s redeeming work on the cross, nothing can separate His people from His love or from the glorious, shining worthiness of a completely holy God.  Jesus is our perfect sacrifice, our perfect mediator, forever interceding on our account; and now there is no need for anything more. “But Christ, because he lives for ever, possessses a priesthood that needs no successor.  This means that he can save fully and completely those who approach God through him, for he is always living to interced on their behalf.  Here is the High Priest we need.  A man who is holy, faultless, unstained, beyond the very reach of sin and lifted to the very Heavens.  There is no need for him, like the High Priest we know, to offer up sacrifice, first for our own sins and then for the people’s.  He made one sacrifice, once for all, when he offered himself.” Hebrews 7:24-27.

Once for all, the constant need for a clean heart has been satisfied.  Our hearts are no longer distanced from what the heart needs most–God’s presence and power. Hang onto this sure hope, “…since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:19-22).  Our hearts are happy and we bring a daily sacrifice of praise to Jesus, for there is no more distance between us.

              Our constant need has been satisfied once and forever in Christ’s life.
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Making it My Own

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He was pierced for Sheila’s trangressions,
He was crushed for Sheila’s iniquities;
the punishment that brought Sheila peace was on him,
and by his wounds Sheila is healed.  
(Isaiah 53:5)

The ancient words written by the prophet Isaiah didn’t really  read quite like that.  He didn’t know me.  He didn’t use my name in the text.  But, the text was written about me.  It was also written about you.

“…and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.for the trangressions of My people He was stricken.” (Is. 53:6, 8).

You see, when I dare to personalize peace, I also must look at the heinousnes of my crime, “the evil that excites the severity of divine wrath,” as the old Puritan would say.  How hard is it to go low to the depths of humiliation to say what God already knows, “I am a sinner.  I have sinned against You, God. “?

It is ugly.  It is not what I like to think about.

Still, it is the truth about me.

And it is true for all of us, for God says, “each of us has turned to our own way.” Oh, we must admit we love our own way.  We so love to be in control, and for the most part we tend to think we do okay choosing our own way.  Preoccupied, we forget about God.  We wake up each morning figuring out how to make our own selves happy.  We do not rise in thankfulness to worship God by finding our deepest satisfaction in Him.

There rises on  a hill a great piece of evidence against us to remind us of our guilt.
The old Puritan prays,
“Show me the enormity of my guilt by
the crown of thorns,
the pierced hands and feet,
the bruised body,
the dying cries.
Thy blood is the blood of incarnate God, its worth infinite, its value beyond all thought.  Infinite must be the evil and guilt that demands such a price.” (Valley of Vision)
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You see, what I may call insignificant, God doesn’t.  We tend to grade our behavior by our own self-made, shifting standards of morality.  We joke about our “one weakness.”  Not God.  Our holy God is just and completely righteous.  He does not dwell in the gray, and His immutable character is eternally the same.  But, it is the purity of His love and justice that demands that all wrong be made right.  Where we might wink at wrong, God understands the devastation of evil.

The old Puritan’s pen scrawls hope for the guilty,
“Yet thy compassions yearn over me,
thy heart hastens to my rescue,
thy love endured my curse,
thy mercy bore my deserved stripes.”

The ancient prophet Isaiah writes, “…and though the Lord makes His life an offering for sin…
After He has suffered,
He will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by His knowledge My Righteous Servant will justify many,
and He will bear their iniquities….For He bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.”

God sent Jesus so that I can have peace with Him.  I see the love in this indescribable gift of forgiveness. “For God so loved Sheila that He gave His one and only Son, that when Sheila believes in Him she shall not perish but have eternal life.”  (John 3:16)
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for Sheila.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Truth must move from our head to our heart; we must make it our own. Do you believe? Our own hearts must confess our sinful turning away.  Our own hearts must trust that only Jesus’s blood can cover the sin and set us free to live reconciled to God.
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God’s Heart For Me is My Hope

I am in awe of how God works in our hearts.  I am learning that our hearts are a trust account into which we make deposits.  The deposits we make are our beliefs; that is, what our heart truly relies on.  We can believe truths or lies.
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One thing I know– my heart will yield to whomever/whatever it trusts. So, may I share about two deposits of truth God has put in my heart that has increased my trust in Him?

 

Deposit #1:  God’s HEARTBEAT is to reshape everything in my life for his glory.

This is clearly seen in Is. 43, “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory.

Because I am His daughter, God wants to reshape everything in my life for His glory!  It is so easy to drift from our true purpose in life. So, what is my most important need of life every day?  hand-drawing-heart-beat

MY NEED is to be realigned to God’s HEARTBEAT.  

 

How does that happen? Well, let me share a bit of my story.  Because God uses everything… I need to tell you about a fall afternoon in 2014.  I was in my car.  I was driving on north Interstate 205 headed to my son’s soccer game.   I have never liked to drive very much, and that day I didn’t know exactly where I was going.  I attempted to pay attention to the British lady on my cell phone giving directions, but I was distracted.  It rains a lot here, but on this day, it was raining really hard.  The raindrops were dancing madly across the windshield.  The windshield wipers were moving in tandem trying to keep up with the dancing rain.  The rush hour traffic propagated around me with cars whizzing by in the periphery. There was so much motion.  I was having a really hard time focusing.

raindrops on windshieldI began to squeeze the steering wheel more tightly and I started praying. I kinda shook my head to reboot my vision.  Shaking my head, tilting my head or blinking hard seemed to reboot my vision, but my eyes were still refusing to work together.  I was beginning to panic.  I kept trying to discern what was going on.  I can’t see!  I began to realize that actually I was seeing three landscapes!  In my left eye, I saw one landscape on top of another, the same landscape.  The right eye saw a single landscape, but that image was set diagonal from the other two images.  I was begging God for help at this point Please, God, I really need you to watch over me.  I can’t see!

That was a hard day, and after multiple tests and visits with specialists, the doctors still don’t know what caused it all.  They have suggested that my vision impairment stemmed from a horseback riding accident I had experienced in 2000.  I had suffered a broken jaw, a fractured skull, and, most importantly, a cerebral cavernous carotid fistula.  The cranial nerves which control my eye muscles are affected somehow.  And for fifteen years, my brain had compensated!  But, now, my brain was refusing to “see.”  What the specialists do agree on is that there are no medical options available to address it.

For six months, I was homebound.  I could no longer drive.  Gradually, as my vision improved, I could travel a very short radius from my home.  I began to understand and adapt to my limitations.  I usually only had 2-3 hours to do errands, grocery shopping, or go to an appointment, etc. before my eyesight would begin to scramble again.  One Sunday, a year later, I had quite the meltdown.  I sobbed long and hard, experiencing a tornadic upheaval of emotions, and I was beginning to ask some hard questions. What was my purpose anyway? Why should I even bother to go through the motions of the day?  Laundry didn’t exactly seem like an inspiring purpose of life.  What was the meaningfulness of my life?  How did my life matter?   Being at home, isolated, and alone day after day was wearing me down.   The unpredictability was also hard.  One day, my eyes would allow me a short burst of freedom.  Another day, I would be unable to leave my home because my eyes refused to cooperate.
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In the middle of my angry confusion, the gentle Holy Spirit spoke to my heart.  He reminded me that although I pray often, I had not prayed my honest emotions about my eyesight.  My Father was asking me to become helpless—like a child needing help from a parent. I have always been uncomfortable praying in such a vulnerable way.  I could pray for my family, a friend in need, etc.  But, I held back my personal complaints before God; because it felt disrespectful to me.  I believe God is over all; so, I reasoned that I needed to submit to His providence.  I told myself that I just needed to buck up.  (Which, by the way, is not helpless dependence at all!)

But, I also didn’t want to be that open with God, because I really did feel upset about it all.  So, if I hid my emotion before God, I wouldn’t feel inadequate before Him. I wouldn’t feel so vulnerable.  But the Psalmist says that God delights in truth in the heart.  God, my Father, knew I was holding back, keeping a pretense between us.  My Father wanted me to tell him what He already knew.

He was teaching me that I am safe in being completely known by Him.  I am still loved, still acceptable because Jesus had given his life so that I could stand acceptable before a God who knows everything anyway. My Father God was teaching me about ‘real’ relationship with Him.  I was a real person in a real world with real struggles, and I needed a real God who not only knew me, but loved me.  My heart could be real with God, and it was held safe in His love.

I started studying prayer and how to pray like a child.  I learned from the Psalms how to lament—how to pray my tears.  God was teaching me about His nearness.  I learned to come as a child with tears of helplessness to a Father who treasures me. He says, “I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me.” (2 Corinthians 6:18).

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The LORD has declared this day that you are his people, his treasured possession.” (Deut. 26:18)

I learned my Father would care for me, “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Ps. 34:18).

But, that wasn’t all.  The Teacher, the Holy Spirit, spoke the Word into my heart again, this time using Scripture from Romans 12, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”  At the time that all of this was happening, the youngest of my four children was a high school senior soon to graduate, and I was ‘graduating’ from my “stay-at-home” mom status.  I was on the cusp of beginning a new & exciting chapter of life; I had dreams of what-could-be.  But, somewhere along the way, the “living sacrifice” had crawled off the altar.  So, I confessed my fear and my own weak love for God.  I confessed my own strong desire for control, and I submitted my body—my life—as a living sacrifice.
God is reshaping everything in my life for His glory.

Deposit #1:  God’s HEARTBEAT is to reshape everything in my life for his glory. I am his daughter.  I am known, and also loved.   Is. 43

Deposit #2:  Because I BELONG TO HIM, GOD’S HEART IS FOR ME and HE IS MY KEEPER.  

Well, by the end of 2015, things were improving.  Deposits of truth about God’s worth, his faithfulness, his nearness, his steadfast love, his commitment, his desire to be my ally, were being placed in my heart, and I am so very thankful for this time.  In God’s wisdom and love, he was preparing me for what would come next.

This last summer, our family moved to to a beautiful home in a nearby town.  Everything about that move seemed to have God’s fingerprints all over it.  But, the move itself took a steep toll on my poor little eyes.  This time my eyes crashed very, very hard.  There were days that all I could do was sit.  My eyes were not working together at all.  I had ocular pain, temporal pain, and incredible nausea.  It was awful.  It would be several months again before they would stabilize.

At the same time, I also was extremely fatigued.  I could barely, I mean barely, go up and down the stairs.  I had experienced a chronic cough for two years which was becoming more severe.   I had been going to doctors who could not find the root cause.  Last September, after months of waiting, I got in to see a pulmonologist.  I was fully expecting another dead end. I received very unexpected news.  My lung x-ray was abnormal. The doctor was fairly certain I had some form of interstitial lung disease.  He just didn’t know which one.  This was a devastating report.  Typically, people only live for 3-5 years after this diagnosis. Then just as I was leaving the Oregon Health Clinic late that afternoon, I received a phone call.  It was a police officer telling us that our 18-year-old son, James had just been in a car accident.  Both of the vehicles involved were totaled.  Everyone was okay.

So that evening, John and I sat in a darkened family room numb with all of the news we had received that day.  It was a lot to take in.

I now know that I have mild to moderate scarring in the interstitium of the lungs.  Presently, I have 59% lung capacity.  I have hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and the antigen that my body is reacting to is literally everywhere.  So, though I would prefer this to be a detour, the detour has become the road I am now traveling.  Having HP is not necessarily a terminal diagnosis, but it could be if it keeps progressing.  There is a lot of unknown; this condition is fairly rare.  But, whatever I don’t know, God does know. Nothing has changed. I have never known what tomorrow will bring.  Only God knows our tomorrows.

And, through all of this, I am learning that because I BELONG TO HIM, GOD’S HEART IS FOR ME and HE IS MY KEEPER. God tells me, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you will not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”  (Is. 43:1-2).  Every time…no matter what the trial, God keeps telling me, “I have redeemed you.  I am your Father.  You are mine.  I am here.  Don’t be afraid.”  You see, I do get afraid.  When life hurts, you can feel very alone.  I can fear that God will abandon me and give me what I deserve.  God is getting rid of the lies and telling me truth!  I belong to Him; He belongs to me.
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In that same passage in Is. 43, God tell us, “…you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you.”  It is hard for me to believe God said that and that I am that loved.  Precious?  Me??  But, He does say that.

 

God has given himself to us.  He will go through affliction with us.  God has proved he would rather die than lose one of us—the cross is the evidence.  God so loved us that He gave us His Son Jesus to suffer for us.
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Jesus has taken what I deserve, so that I don’t have to endure the worst suffering of all—life without God.     Jesus is my redeemer and he has taken me on as his own personal responsibility. He understands my hurt, because He Himself has suffered.

Because I belong to Him, God’s heart is for me, He loves me, and He is my keeper. This truth is becoming sweeter to me all the time.  I know myself.  I know I can’t do this.  I need Jesus.  I so thankful that He is my keeper, and He will bring me safely home.
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My disappointments, discouragements and plain ‘ole tough times do have purpose.  It helps me to see that there is nothing here in this life to put my hope in that will last.  Everything in this life is passing away. God’s love sent His Son Jesus to redeem our lives.  Salvation is more than forgiveness of our sins, salvation is about making everything about us new.  In “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts.” 

The Unraveling of Peace

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(Photo credit:  Marc Adamus)

God planted a garden.

And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. (Genesis 2:8)

Cain built the 1st city on the planet.

Cain also had the distinction of having the very first birthdate in mankind’s history.

Sadly, Cain was also the first criminal having murdered his younger brother in anger.
So this is how it happened that God removed Cain, alienating him from Himself and the earth.  Leaving the presence of God, Cain remained determined and took control on his own terms.  Doomed to be forever restless and experience frustration and futility, Cain discovered being separated from God mattered in ways that he could have never imagined.  It began an unraveling of peace.  option2
Cain remained forever on the outside of things and continually wrestled with his own insecurity.  So, in response, Cain built a city, constructing his own alternative reality, as a way to run from the curse.  In truth, it was a denial of God and His spoken Word.  Attempting self-salvation, to satisfy those gnawing longings of the soul, Cain sought to create his own enduring greatness in his own prideful way.  Blaspheming the things he did not understand, Cain abandoned himself to destruction.Pride is a battle that never ceases, and the heart is the bloody battlefield.  From the dawn of time, the story of human pride has marched defiantly through the corridors of history leaving the refuse of destruction and the unraveling of society.
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Yet, there is hope.  God’s plans are not last-minute attempts but an ancient, long-established, settled victory.  Incredibly, God takes the very symbol of our rejection of him-a city built on pride- and redeems it, declaring, “You shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.” (Isaiah 1:26). 

What is the cost of Shalom?

God paid an unimaginable price to reconcile us back to Himself.  Even while we were without hope and alienated from the life of God, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” (Galatians 3:13). he-has-now-reconciled-in All of sin’s curse and punishment is taken once for all by His Son Jesus on the cross.  The God we have rejected offers us redemption.   “He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth.” (Isaiah 25:8).

No longer outcasts, God keeps us in His peace and gives to us a song of praise: “We have a strong city; He sets up salvation as walls & bulwarks. Open the gates, that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in. You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.
(Is. 26:1-3).
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