Hope in??

2016 August canoeing Crescent LakeHope matters. Exactly, what are we hoping in?

Tomorrow, I will undergo labwork, lung CT, and PFT (pulmonary function testing) to see if there is progression with my ILD (interstial lung disease). I keep thinking about how hard the “unknowns” are with this HP (hypersensitivity pneumonitis). I can’t “see” my lung disease. I can feel the effects, but I can’t see what is actually going on. So, for me, those days of testing are days that let me “see” into my lungs. I have little control with this disease, but the information helps John & I take the next steps. So, looking on the positive side, the metrics help us to know what action needs to come next. Of course, I will readily admit that I am afraid of disappointment, but without the metrics we cannot possibly know what to do next. So, tomorrow I will do the testings and hopefully gain clarification. I won’t gain control. I only get more wisdom & clarification, so that I will be more informed in order to make good decisions. Being nervous is normal because it is hard to be without control. But, the up side is the information that helps us to know how to manage our care better. I am sorry this is so long, but fear is a such a hard topic, and I think a lot of anxiety is due to the lack of control. It is hard to not have control over one’s body.

2016 August Bridge over Devil's Punch Bowl, Crescent Lake

But, I have a greater HOPE…

“‘But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.’
‘If You can?’ echoed Jesus. ‘All things are possible to him who believes!’
Immediately the boy’s father cried out, ‘I do believe; help my unbelief!'”
Jesus asks the father to trust him as the sole resource, to relinquish the desire for control. Jesus also asks for me to trust him as the sole resource, to relinquish the desire to control the outcomes, to surrender the very thing that distances me from His heart of love. He asks me to run into the arms of compassion! Interestingly, Jesus didn’t heal the guy’s kid until he dealt with the father’s heart. So, Jesus again, by His Spirit, has been graciously revealing my own heart to me. My heart has so softened. I marvel at how Jesus healed generously. Jesus healed many, many people. Many of those people didn’t love Jesus, but He healed them out of compassion. My own heart has been shown afresh the compassion of Christ, and I want to run hard into those arms of compassion. If Jesus would heal people who didn’t believe in him, didn’t love him, will he not show the same compassion and more for his pitiful child? He wants me to trust him as my only resource, my only hope, my only life. I can give him my fears. It is safe to trust him. I don’t have to know the outcome. I don’t have to “do it just perfect.” I just need to run into His arms.

2016 August Crescent Lake

So, once again, my wayward heart has been changed by his mercy. Tomorrow is a good day, because I trust Jesus to love me. This is my hope! Whatever the outcome, I trust the heart of Jesus, the plan of God for my life, and the wise Spirit of God to help me each step of this journey.  This indeed is a solid anchor my for my hope; and because the love of God has been generously poured into my heart, I have no fear.

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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.

No Delay for Help

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What is a “right” that belongs to you?  What comes to mind?  We joke and jab, “Oh, you just feel like you’re so entitled.”  In particular, I think Americans seem to have a general belief that as individuals we have a claim on certain “rights.” I don’t whole-heartedly believe this myself, but this attitude permeates our culture subtly affecting our personal views. Interestingly, I have observed that it irks us when someone uses a benefit they did not earn or have a right to access.  Then there is the millineum generation who recoils at the frequent accusations against them for having an attitude that one is inherently deserving of privileges. Sometimes, we feel entitled to a benefit because we believe we have rightly earned it. Either way, we grapple with how to claim our expected advantage.  The need to claim a benefit reveals a dependence on the other party.  The rights of entitlement necessitates a relationship between two parties exists where there is an expectation that when necessary one has the right to ask for help.
maxresdefault (2)This idea of entitlement came to mind as I read the Psalms this morning.  In Psalm 70, David is very urgent in his requests before God, to the point it almost sounds demanding, “God, deliver me.  Hurry to help me, LORD! …I am afflicted and needy; hurry to me God.  You are my help and my deliverer; LORD, do not delay.”  David insistently asks for God to help him.  In his relationship with God, the Psalmist believes he has a right to speak to Him in this way.  How does he know that it is okay to be that aggressive in his prayers?

garden-of-the-gods_f_mobiThe very next Psalm gives an insight into the writer’s thoughts, “In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame!  In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me, and save me!  Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.”  Here, the Psalmist reveals his foundations for coming so boldly in prayer.  He argues, “I have a relationship with you that involves covenantal promises.  You agreed to save me.  You agreed to be my protection.  Because of your word and promise to me, I have the right to come and ask for the benefit of your help.  Not only that, you initiated relationship with me, and I have put all my trust in you. I know you are righteous and will only do good, so I know you will do good toward me.  You have the power to change my situation, so I am asking you to advocate for me.  I want to you to be my safe place continually.”  The Psalmist takes a stance of sweet assurance based on his covenantal relationship with God.  He is not in alliance with another god to be his resource; it is to His own God, a very personal God, that he turns to for help.

542924312_fd0f3c488fEarlier today, with crumpled blankets pulled to my chin, I snuggled in the quiet dark of the morning not wanting to face another hard day.  My husband laid close beside me, his hand holding mine.  He listened patiently as I shared the struggles of living with a chronic disease.  I did not call up my friend’s husband to pour out my heart to; or turn to any other man, but my own (this suggestion sounds ridiculous, I know.)  My point is that I did not feel that it was inappropriate to talk like this to my husband, exactly because he is my husband.  I am in heart union with this guy.  Years ago, we made solemn vows to each other, to be there for one another, no matter what.  The marital promises were strict and binding “…till death do us part.”  Now, I was laying claim to those promises without any shame.  It did not seem weird to me to be talking about the ugly bits of life, like trying to get up each morning when I really don’t feel well.  I am entitled to that privilege based on my relationship to my husband and the promises we made to each other.  Best of all, I know he loves me, no matter what.

In the same way, the Psalmist does not feel weird to go to God with his desperate cries for attention. 147023388e45710f85848a48ec302727 God had made a promise to help him.  God has a heart of tender love toward his needy child.  God is good and will do good.  The LORD God is powerful and has the ability to bless and benefit those who belong to him, and this is on a daily basis! God’s faithfulness to all of his promises prompts intense prayers of reliance, and his love assures the heart in hope for He truly cares.  Come.  Come again and again.  God has given the command to save, and his righteous help will never disappoint.
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So, today, I will go to my God,
who is faithful, good, powerful and true,
and ask for His righteous help,
because I know His everlasting love to me,
because I trust His never failing promises.  

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 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).

Dreaming with a Bigger Lens

vangogh-stars-quote1           (PC:  Rebecca Barray)

Dreams are often wishes unfulfilled.  Our longings take concrete shape as our minds explore endless ways to create what our visions for justice, push for discovery and desires for beauty beg for.  Made in the reflection of the infinite, God wires us with aptitudes and investigative minds able to innovate, design, build, create, examine, explore and solve; and it would seem humanity is a tireless and thrilling resource for more of whatever our restless mind can imagine.  Because dreams are not easily navigated, the formidable limitations that hold us back, whether our own inabilities or weaknesses, or the less controllable ones like being born in the wrong century or the wrong neighborhood, can kill our dreams.   As poor, destitute Fantine would sing, “But the tigers come at night, With their voices soft as thunder, As they tear your hope apart, As they turn your dream to shame.”  Dreams often remind us of what we are not.

Dreams were never meant to define us.  All people everywhere are defined by their relationship to God.  Because we were intended for oneness with God, God is to be central in all things; and the inspiration of our dreams must be motivated by the realization that our longings will only find a satisfying reality when they are in correct alignment to Him .  Hundreds of years ago, the apostle Paul spoke in the meeting of the Aeropagus in Athens saying, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’”  The reality of whatever we are hoping for is made a real hope in the resurrection of Christ, the glorious central figure in all of reality.

Another interesting aspect about dreams and hopes are how they shift and morph along the sands of time.  What you dreamed about as a kid probably is not your current big dream.  slide_442010_5844780_freeSimilarly, as our culture has shifted its focus on what matters most, we discover  it is reflected in our own aspirations.  Dr. Tim Keller states, “In ancient cultures what mattered most was honor and making your community proud by fulfilling your duty. The world was conceived as a testing ground to see whether you would be faithful to truth, beauty, and causes higher than your own emotions and interests.  Today, however, our cultures are highly individualistic. There is no duty higher than plumbing the depths of your own desires to find out who you want to be. In modern narratives, the protagonist is usually a person who bravely casts off convention, breaks the rules, defies tradition and authority to discover him or her self and carve out a new place in the world. In ancient tales the hero was the person who did just the opposite, who put aside inner dreams, aspirations, doubts, and feelings in order to bravely and loyally fulfill their vows and obligations.”  So it is that our lofty goals often mirror our world’s changing reflections.  (PC:  Rhiannon Logsdon)

The coming of Jesus brings hopes to our dreams.  What do you dream about?  What keeps you up at night pondering and planning?  Each part of our life is to be laid in submission to the King’s command, and yet the eagerness of the King is for his people’s eternal joy.  Do we dare to place our susceptible aspirations and most secret, heartfelt longings into the hands of the one who breathed life into us, offers rescue from our sinful destitution, and assures that in Himself is life full of love and acceptance?  Is it hard?  Are we afraid of disappointment? The beloved preacher Charles Spurgeon said, “If you reject Him, He answers you with tears. If you wound Him, He bleeds out cleansing, if you kill Him, he dies to redeem. If you bury Him, He rises again to bring us resurrection. Jesus is love manifest.”  In an individualized society, do we dare to turn over our dreams?

Jesus offers an alternate way of living human.  Jesus asks us to have the same mindset that compelled him to completely empty Himself and become a human.  Though completely equal with God, Jesus did not grasp after it.  Though a king, he became a servant of all. manger2013 Jesus deliberately gave up the biggest, living dream ever, lost it all, in order to gain something greater–the redemption of his people.  Now Jesus tells his followers to do the same, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?  For what can a man give in return for his soul?  For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” The Word became flesh and lived right here among us, and we saw his grace and glory.  This glory is life overflowing, and it spills over onto us to give us what we need; grace and truth is spilled out, ever-present, ever-holding on to us, overflowing like a river in us, giving us grace, over and over, grace upon grace.  828fdc9db1c33ecb221f6a7dc7bed7c5

Jesus also provides us with a new filter for the longings of our heart.  Jesus leaves us with His Spirit, the power of the crucified and resurrected Christ.  The Lord tells us that we may ask anything in His name, and He assures us that He will do it with every desire and every dream processed through that precious name for the glory of God.  We ask for His fame, not ours.  Our desires and dreams are put through that filter–His fame, His worth, His wisdom, His honor, His glory.   And we find that our dreams were never really big enough, our lens were too small to capture the story of glory that is now ours through Christ.  

A Tale of Two Rivers

rivers_title_0There is a tale of two rivers told to the reflective heart.  There is glory in the story and great and gentle a reprieve from all that overwhelms.  This story is set oh so long ago, but the heart of the story never quits thumping loud.  Listen, my friend, and hear hope’s story.  Better yet, it is a true story.

Long ago, the powerful Assyrian Empire reached outward expanding westward.  The surrounding nations were nervous, and Syria and Israel sought to compel Judah to form an anti-Assyrian alliance.  King Ahaz, with arrogance of heart, was unwilling and refused to join.  The prophet Isaiah advised the weak, but prideful, king, “Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands…thus says the Yahweh God:  ‘It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass.'”  But, King Ahaz also foolishly refused the counsel of Yahweh God.  Gathering silver and gold from the temple’s treasuries, King Ahaz eagerly offered gifts to the forceful Assyrian king asking him to come to Jerusalem’s aid against the mounting Syrian and Israeli forces.

Judah’s king was jubilant!  Yes, the king’s own strategic alliance had worked! King Tiglath-pileser had defeated Israel and Aram just as he had envisioned.  He had been right to reject the prophet Isaiah’s warnings and to enlist the help of the formidable Assyrians.  Ah, but the ambitious Assyrian had no motivation to stop.  Tilgath-pilneser king of Assyria came against him and afflicted him instead of strengthening him.  2 Chronicles 28:20.  So, the rage of the rushing River swept over Judah heeding no bounderies.

Once again Isaiah speaks using beautiful imagery to paint on the canvas of the heart:  The Lord spoke to me again:  “Because this people has refused the waters of Shiloah that flow gently, and rejoice over Rezin and the son of Remaliah, therefore, behold, the Lord is bringing up against them the waters of the River, mighty and many, the king of Assyria and all his glory. And it will rise over all its channels and go over all its banks,  and it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck, and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.”  Isaiah 8:5-8
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The small perennial fountain situated in Jerusalem was called Shiloh, and from it flowed a little river that ran gently through the city.  God reminded his people, “Do you not realize that I am in your midst?  I am a gentle brooklet softly meandering with placid, untroubled waters of life.  I invite life and refreshment.  Will you not come to the well of your salvation?  My everspringing fountain of life was meant for your joy.”

But, their hopelessness and poverty made their hearts envy; and their weakness made them desperate.  Their restless hearts were dissatisfied in God; so they gave their confidence to human aid and worldly powers.  Mad with desire, they sought to control their future by trusting in the resources of a mere mortal king.  How stern the lusts that ravage the soul dictating rejection and contempt of holy salvation only to rejoice in the strength, wealth, and assistance of the false and the fickle!  Euphrates the most celebrated river in all the east is an impetuous river that heeds no boundaries.  If you enter this rapid river you will be plunged into the deep; its rushing powerful waters will overtake you.  This river will rise to your neck and you will be caught in its powerful grip.  In its strength, you will perish.
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So, the tale of the two rivers was told, but the lesson was not learned.  A few years later, the Assyrians completely beseiged Jerusalem fulfilling all that that the Yahweh God had spoken.  The River rose spreading like wings over the land engulfing all into its strong currents.

If only you had listened to My instruction,  then you would have been flooded with peace; Your righteousness would have risen and crested like waves on the sea.  
Isaiah 48:18 (VOICE)

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There is yet glory in the story, for the land belongs to  Immanuel; and though violently wasted, the true king will not abandon her.  He would bring massive righteousness to her, rising strong with power and peace.  But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. … The people who walked in great darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. …For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase ofhis government and of peace there will be no end.  
Isaiah 9:2, 6.

The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.
Proverbs 14:27

Hear real hope meant to comfort the heart.  Hear the lesson of the two rivers, and choose life.  Turn and trust in the Prince of Peace to still your heart and give the lasting rest your heart stumbles after.  He is gentle and kind softly wooing your heart with his goodness; for in Christ alone will you find sanctuary.

 

Infinity Emptied into Infancy

The people were scared, terrified actually.  Strong forces were joining to wage war against them, and their hearts trembled like the great trees in the forest bowing to the wind. 1383498429_4-640x477 Isaiah, the prophet, is sent with a very simple message: “Do nothing-be careful, quiet, watch your heart, and don’t let it be afraid.” God gave the message of hope to his people, because God knew what they could not know.  His warning was clear: If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.  

This way of faith seemed inadequate to the people.  Isaiah didn’t budge.  “I will wait for the LORD who is hiding His face…I will hope in Him.”

But, the people wanted to control the future.  Their hearts sought the false & the futile.

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God promised joy to come.  Would they believe? or would they choose to only hope in what they could see?  God promised to give a royal son. His zeal would bring peace, joy, justice and righteousness without end.

 

 

 

The people who walked in darkness have see a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has a light shined.
You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy
at the harvest…For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.
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For unto us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful,
Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.  The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Isaiah 9:2-3, 5-7

Seven centuries would pass before the birth of Christ.  God masterfully designs His promise to span across the centuries and tells His people, “Do not fear; I will do it.”

Between 2 FINITE things there still remains some degree of proportion; for example, a drop of water exhibits some proportion to the ocean. But between the finite and the infinte, it is IMPOSSIBLE; the Psalmist writes, “Who is like Yahweh our God—the One enthroned on high, who STOOPS down to look on the heavens & the earth?”

Amazingly though, infinite God becomes a finite man–on purpose–in order to reconcile a very messed-up child back to a hallowed Father! The humiliation is mind-boggling!! Apalling wonder…God sends His own Son Jesus, who STOOPED, making voluntary descent from His elevation, “who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He EMPTIED Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men.”

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Infinity
e  m  p  t  i e d
into infancy…

 

The promise fulfilled.  And so we wait again in calm assurance and quiet hope for our Lord Jesus to return.  If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.  

Beautiful Branch Born to Give Life

In that day the Branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious, and the Fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel.  Isaiah 4:1

newjer_01Alexander Sorsher, New Jerusalem

God’s creative, regenerating hand moves miraculously redeeming His people and raising life from a hopeless, dried-up stump to a flourishing canopy of divine presence and defense.  God and sinners reconciled, Zion will glory in her Redeemer; and in that day, peace, security, and glorious communion will be enjoyed, for the Fruit will be the pride and honor of Zion’s land. The great reversal that was promised exceeds our wildest dreams, for all is too small for the soul, except for the glorious and beautiful Branch with healing leaves spreading in grand deity over the nations.  The true Shekinah is Jesus Christ glorified among His people.  Beautiful, lovely Branch, we long for your boughs of deity to reign in power, glory and honor!  Christmas gives space, a pause to reflect and remember. Do you ever get a tear in your eye?  Remember the root of Jesse who comes to rule!  Do you ever feel overwhelmed?  Ask the God of hope to fill you with joy and peace in believing the promise this Christmas.

O Root of Jesse, Thou on Whom
The Holy Ghost shall rest;
Whose boughs through all the world shall bloom
With healing virtue blest:

True Vine, in Whom we must abide
To bring forth plenteous fruit;
Whose branches, when by tempests tried,
Are firm in Thee their root:

Thou art a shelter from the heat
That burns the thirsty ground:
A hiding place when tempests beat
Upon the plain around.

O Root of Jesse, day by day
To Thee out prayers we send:
Come now, and through the world, we pray,
Thy healing leaves extend.

We wait in faith, we wait in prayer,
Until the happy time
Wherein Thy branches fruit shall bear
Through every distant clime.

To God the Father glory be,
In majesty adored;
To Jesse’s Root, the Son; and Thee,
O Holy Ghost; One Lord. Amen.

(O Radix Jesse, Abbot Prosper Louis Gueranger, O.S.B.)

full-adven1A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and of might,
    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord
    and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.  Isaiah 11:1-3

Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord.  It is he who shall build the temple of the Lord and shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule on his throne.
Zechariah 6:12-13