It Is Well With My Soul

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“Humility is like the lead in the net, which keeps the soul down when it is rising through passion; and contentment is like the cork which keeps the heart up when it is sinking through discouragement. ”

Thomas Watson

Truth to Hang Onto on Difficult Days

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This morning the spring winds were especially blustery.  As unseen winds pushed up against my house, eerie howls encircled the windows of my home leaking in creepy noises.  I heard strange thumps and groaning creaks as the house bemoaned the gusty punches.17854851_1401467119876040_4599875741995813320_o In our front yard, a large limb from our street tree snapped under the pressure and fell hard to the ground.  My neighbor’s children were playing basketball outside next to it when it happened.  I am extremely grateful that none of those precious kiddoes were harmed!  I am writing with a grateful heart this morning and have an unexpected desire to hug those little people.  But, it also reminds me that the breaking of the limb evidences the strength of the wind, that though unseen, it still can damage what is not strong enough to endure the persistent pressure.  

In the same way, the persistent pressure from life’s turbulent stresses can cause us to bend and even break, to fall hard, and to realize real damage to our souls.  If I don’t have a strong root in truth, my weaknesses will succumb to the blustery beatings.  On those difficult days, what can I hang onto?  What is the truth that cannot be shaken?

In one of his letters, Paul addresses the problems of life and how to continue faithfully through them.  Here is what he wrote:
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Okay, when I am experiencing the strong winds of difficulty, what is the truth that firmly holds and keeps me unmoved?  What can I rely on?  I need to know and understand God’s heart toward me, so I have taken the same Pauline words and re-written them using my own words striving to understand how this applies to my everyday real life.  God’s Word tells me that I can know and believe that I will experience trials and testings that are common to the human experience.  None of my trials are a special exception, but are just normal like everyone else’s.  But, I need to know this, my God is faithful; so, I can trust Him.  My God sovereignly rules and will impose boundaries on my trials, so that I will not be tested above and beyond what is right (even though it may not feel like it, this is the still the truth.)  I also need to know that God promises to provide a way out of the trial with His help, so that I am able to walk in faithful obedience while enduring the stormy, gale-force pressures and difficulties I will encounter again and again.

This is truth that cannot be shaken no matter how fierce the winds blow!  Matt Chandler speaks about the good news of the gospel applied to trials in this way:

The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is regardless of our circumstances, we get God, and he’ll be enough. On the day of trouble, we’ll cry out, and we will hear, “Here I am.” When marriage is difficult, and we cry out, we will hear, “Here I am.” On the day the doctor says, “Can you come in? We need to talk,” we will hear as we cry out to God, “Here I am.”

He will not abandon. He will not quit, and he will not cut out his children. He is ever present, ever chasing, ever hoping, ever putting his Holy Spirit’s power into us to sustain us and hold us up regardless of life’s circumstances. This is how he blesses those who are saturated in grace. He is present. He is enough.

So, when the difficult days come-and they will-remember the faithfulness of our Father and the ever present nearness of our wonderful Jesus, and the resurrection grace and power granted to us by our Helper, the Holy Spirit, and do not be shaken.  Let the Word of truth be a deep root to secure your faith in Christ.

The Runner’s Reward

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The shallow, fast breaths hint at the difficulty.  The runner’s arms begin to droop as fatigue washes over the body, and the knees falter in their stride, striving to hold up the exhausted body.  A thought of aborting flashes,  “Quit now!”

That runner was me last night.  Running long and hard, I felt weak and the challenge of finishing well seemed impossible.  The race wasn’t just any ordinary race.  Everyone runs this race called Life; but the drive that pushes each one to the finish line is dependent on the desires of the runner.
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“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…”  Straighten up and run.  Run tough.  Keep going.  The race is known for its continual hardness.  Make the path straight.  Consider how to prevent turned ankles and other injuries. Keep your eyes fixed on the reward.

Do the brutal realities of life make it a race too challenging to win?  Resolve weakens.  Our life is compared to a hard race, so hard, in fact, that many are defeated and lose heart.

Our Father God talks straight to us:  The hardship is necessary.  I do not act as a coach, but I am your Father your who loves you completely.  The training and discipline is given because it is necessary for you to finish well.  You will finish.  You will see victory.

When our Father God allows hardship that requires our exertion and exercises our faith, it is to prevent spiritual flab and to grow our faith. “But he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.  For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:10-11).
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During the training, the pain makes us feel weak.  However, endurance yields a greater good.  What is the energizing principle?  Is it pain-free living?  Then suffering will beat you.  We are promised the peaceful fruit of righteousness.  Our loving Father wants us to know a peaceful life, so he continues to perfect all that concerns his children, exposing what is weak, and  teaching us the right and good way.  “And the highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it.  It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.”  Our Father guards us with his strong love and protects us.  He has given us everything we need to finish the race.

Grace is God’s benevolence poured out on his children.  There is always more grace for the believer.  “But he gives more grace.  Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’”  More grace.  Always more grace.
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When you feel overwhelmed…His grace is the higher Rock to securely stand on.
When you feel broken…His grace heals the broken-hearted.
When you feel hopeless…His grace removes the shame through His love poured out on us.
When you feel afraid…His grace gives courage.
When lies have sucked you in…His grace tells the truth and sets you free.

So, today I turn in child-like faith, with trust and dependence, to the Father for help.  His Father’s heart is always for His children.  His grace is always more than our greatest defeat. God is treating you as sons.  For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.  Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them.  Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?”  (Hebrews 12:7-9).

So I am reminded of how to run the race.  Endure.  Trust the Father and live in practical obedience.  “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;” (Hebrews 12:15).
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Why even run?  The great motivator to run this particular race is the reward.  Come on!  Let’s run together!  Fix your eyes firmly on the reward.  And the reward? My eyes longingly gaze on the beautiful face of my Beloved Jesus, who is my soul’s lover and my heart’s greatest reward.  The more I trust him, the more I know of His infinite beauty, the more I need him. His love is strong and enduring; and because he loves me, I love him.  And although I am weak, He is strong and always my ally.

I remember in hope that my beloved Jesus endured exceptional suffering for a greater reward.  What joy gave him the reason to endure the evils of the cross?  You and I were the reason. Because Jesus loved us, he endured losing God His Father so that he might reconcile us back to God.  Jesus endured  suffering to receive us as his reward.  Look to Jesus “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”  (Hebrews 12:2).

Can we not trust a God like this?  Are we not strengthened to run to obtain the prize?  Love has suffered.  Love is now poured out in our hearts.  “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  More than that we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5).

Don’t Give Up!

Banished on the island of Patmos, can you imagine what the apostle John must have felt when Jesus’s beloved friend heard the voice of “one like a Son of Man”?  How long had it been? 16 yrs? . . . did he remember the breakfast smells of freshly caught fish wafting from the shore kindly prepared by a risen Lord? hope in the clouds Did he remember the day His dearest Friend left, his departure so stunning as he effortlessly ascended into the drifting clouds?  John’s own brother had now been killed by King Herod . . . faithful Paul, too, had been martyred. I wonder what he felt in the persistent silence of aloneness? John himself had been exiled for his testimony of Jesus, and now he was waiting weary & longing, patiently persevering.

Christ now stands in the midst of the churches, and we read what John records, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, & the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” The coming King . . . don’t give up, John. Remember who I am. The foundation for our faith, courage and endurance is laid on this cornerstone. Oh, how He loves His church! Jesus is still the Shepherd of His sheep, leading us safely home.

When Fear Paralyzes

key to my life   FEAR PARALYZES.  God gave his people an inheritance of land with a promise. However, the people of Joseph came to their leader Joshua complaining that that their population was too dense for the land space allotted to them. Joshua didn’t budge. If they were so numerous, then be a numerous people with great power and make something of the land. Still, they complained of the obstacles that seemed to define them in their shaky selves. Joshua kept pushing back with God’s promise already given to them.

What devastating weakness lurks in my life, that doubt that makes me shake in my boots?  Remember, fear paralyzes when we forget who is in control. Measure risk by God’s promise. His promise is a sure thing outweighing the loss every time.

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.
(Col. 1:11-12)

Tim Keller object of faith
Often, courage  is defined by NOT reflecting what we are surrounded by, but rather courage will call for us to step away from the devastating norm and lead into a new direction by faith in God’s promise.

 

love you….

“Love you.”
We postscript it.  We call it out as our kids hurriedly grab their lunches and run out the door.  We are sure to say it to our grandma after a sweet visit and a hug.   We also say it when we don’t know what else to say…
It can be the veil that shrouds the true meaning of the heart.
When does it become REAL?  Organic and raw.  Uttered from the deepest, most guarded vault of the heart and whispered with sacred awe.

Well, the wise old shabby Skin Horse knew the answer.  We would do well to listen in on this conversation…the secret of loving held the answer to real…as the very loved and worn horse knew.  velveteen rabbit & skin horse

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”  (Williams, Margery, The Velveteen Rabbit).

Ah!  Loving becomes a doing which must require time, patience, and well, some rough handling.  Love involves being carried around absently without proper appreciation or  being handled with clumsy hands that do not know how to carefully hold you.  Love involves comforting and being squeezed too tightly with wet teardrops smattering your best clothes.  Love gets terribly messy engaging in day to day honest life; the dirt of adventure and the hot sweats of fever bring glory and fear, deliver delight and despair, breathe familiarity and heartfelt hand squeezing. But, loving is belonging.  Loving is giving.  Love takes time.  Love gets a little rough, because compassion is a heart moving toward someone…
Loving is meeting a need.

Heart S T R E T C H

pear and roseWafting aromas of home-cooked goodness helped to create a warm coziness in our home this past holiday week.  The meals filled us to plumb happy as we gathered together around the table, and we now need to exercise this home-cooked goodness off our bodies!

About that…
Can I talk about the importance of stretching?
The after-workout bulge of muscles can make a person appear extra buff; but what is really happening is the pumped up muscles are still shortened in contraction and full of lactic acid and other by-products.  Overloaded muscles are shortened by the exhausting reps which only use a partial range of motion.  The build-up of lactic acid causes the familiar muscle soreness.  The muscle might loose some of its bulge, but stretching out the muscles helps them to become looser and to “remember” their original range of movement.  It also helps get rid of the lactic acid and other waste-products.  Although not “pumped up” as much from the tightness of the contraction, the muscle needs the loosening to return to its originial full range of motion.

But, there is a muscle that needs stretching far more than any other muscle…to the limits…as far as you can reach…and it needs to be done constantly.

Heart – s t r e t c h i n g

Did you know that Peter, a rugged fisherman in the Bible, actually talks about stretching out? Perhaps, being a fisherman made him keenly familiar with sore muscles? Fishing in ancient mediterranean times was hard, complicated work that required substantial and intensive manual labor.  Fishermen developed thick muscles and a strong physique through the strenuous activity involved in their trade.  casting1.jpg 19th century drawingImagine the wind blowing through Jesus’s hair as he walked along the shore of the Sea of Galilee watching two burly brothers with muscles bulging as they cast their heavy fishing nets into the waters (Mark 1:16-20).  It was demanding work that required endurance.

Peter, a fisherman by trade,  called to be a disciple of Jesus, was then appointed an apostle of Jesus Christ to the church.  Having done very physical labor, he writesDragnet2
using “muscle building” language, “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spiritin sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart.”    The word “fervent” is the Greek word ἐκτενής (ektenḗs) and can be used relating to the body; it means without ceasing, fervent, stretched out.  Peter wants the church to “stretch out” their love muscles to their absolute limit, reaching as far as possible. He also wants them to “remember” what is the most important thing,  “Above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.”  Love is to be “stretched out” in a full range of motion getting rid of the build-up of self-aggrandizement.  Love must be stretched to its limit to cover many sins -not mere mistakes- but wrongs inflicted, not just once- but over and over- for there will be hordes of things to cover.   stretch“Stretch out” in order to hide the knowledge of wrongs against you.   Reaching out our genuine love muscles helps them remember what they were intended to be:  kinder, gentler, more humble, less self-seeking and to love authentically from a pure heart.  Jesus gave us instruction to love others as we have been loved by him.  That’s a whole lot of stretching!  But, this stretching does not hinder growth; instead, it enhances flexibility and intensifies strength building.  So, it is with our faith, hope and love “muscles”; but the greatest of these is love.

“Love knows no limit to its endurance,
no end to its trust, no fading of its hope;
it can outlast anything.
It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen.”