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.” 

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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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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.

 

Why Do I Need Christmas?

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Exactly…

Why is it that we need Christmas?

Do we really need Christmas?  Or is this season simply overrated? overhyped?  Filled with a mega dose of Hallmark and imaginative play on lofty, surreal ideals?  It seems overmarketed at least. It is the biggest retailing event every year.  Yet, why?  Why do we consistently support Christmas?

On a personal note, I need Christmas.  And, well, there is only one reason why I need Christmas.  It starts  with the beginning of the story…

Long ago…in the peacefulness of beginning, God lived here on earth. His face was seen by the people he made, and His beautiful glory and presence was known and enjoyed daily. In that day, the world was a garden, a true paradise that defied any imagination to envision a surpassing, unparalleled perfect home. Injustice did not exist. Hunger was unknown. Poverty was not conceived. There was no disease, death, or decay. God’s beauty filled the earth. But, like all good stories, there arose conflict that threatened the beauty. The created wanted control. Humanity decided to write the story, to be their own master. It ruined paradise.

The result is that all of humanity now lives in a broken world apart from the perfect community enjoyed in the presence and glory of God.
Paradise is now remote from earth.
When our relationship to God unraveled, our relationships with everything else unraveled. The ideal became desolate and broken, remote from the real beauty and glory. Mankind experienced psychological, physical, emotional, social, etc. alienation from God. So, we became the antagonist against a very good God.

I need a guaranteed hope for rescue, for I will suffer from this same malady to death. There is no perfection in this life apart from a true rescue of body and soul.  I need Christmas, because I really do need God to become a babe, live the life I couldn’t live, and give me a real rescue from the darkness.  I want to know real beauty and glory, live it, breathe it,  and be near.  If my soul so longs for something greater, what would that greater be?  The transformation of all that is broken into beauty that cannot be marred.  Christmas is a person, a deliverer, a rescuer promised–Emmanuel, “God With Us,” come to set his people free.  Free from fear.  Free from hate.  Free from self-love.  Free from serving the lesser gods that will not be able to deliver the true rest for our souls, nor fill it to overflowing with graces of real love and glorious tangible beauty. mt hood lost lake.jpg

I confess I need Christmas, because I need the promised babe of Christmas.  I need authentic transformational heart change. “To us, the greatest demonstration of God’s love for us has been his sending his only Son into the world to give us life through him. We see real love, not in that fact that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to make personal atonement for our sins.   If God loved us as much as that, surely we, in our turn, should love each other!”  (I John 4:9-11, Phillips).

photo credit:  unknown, internet

The Startling Reshaping of God

Add this preference.  Take away that dislike.  Choose the place and the how.  There are many ways to worship God, right?  The ancient story recorded in Judges eerily seems to mirror the current thoughts in the mainstream today.  The uncanny likeness sends chills down our pious spines.  Let it be a warning to our modern hearts to guard against making a god that conforms to our own shaping preferences. tim keller idol

 

 

How can a god save us  that we can control?

 

 

 

 

Judges 17 & 18
Oh, they had great dreams!  Lively discussions ensued as the tribe made plans to develop their future home.  The tribe of Dan had entered the Promised Land along with the nation of Israel ready to receive the long-awaited gift of a permanent home, but progress had stalled due to their failure to settle in their allotted territory and obtain their promised inheritance.  The Danites had been promised an inheritance by Yahweh, but their vision had become distorted and clouded with confusion.  Hazy goals are hard to see in a fog.

What was their vision statement again?

Micah was a thief.  He wasn’t even a respectable thief, either; for he had actually stolen a huge amount of money from his own mother.  Never fear, his mother was not one to bear a grudge against her son.  No, she would affirm her son’s choice to return the money by giving him a small reward.  Better yet, she would praise Yahweh for this blessing!  So, this indulgent mother hired the local silversmith to design a couple of images to celebrate her son’s return of the money.  Micah already had a shrine in his home, so this would be the perfect gift to encourage him for doing what was right.  Micah had his own personal gods, and he continued to pursue with dedicated fervor what he personally believed was right.  Full of religious intensity, Micah added an ephod and even hired a Levite priest for his own personal worship.  Believing his life was devoted to all that was right and good,  Micah said, “Now I know that Yahweh will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest.”

Yet another example of how confession will bring the blessings of God, right?

1.  No other God

The Danites still needing to locate themselves permanently and finally agreed to pursue a piece of property that particularly appealed to them.  The Danites felt themselves justified in slaughtering a peaceful, undefended, unsuspecting community saying to each other, home sweet home“The land is spacious, for God has given it into your hands, a place where there is no lack of anything that is in the earth.”  The takeover was easy and did not require faith or courage.
Clouded vision distorts how we see things.
The Danites were happy.  They had secured their inheritance.  The Danite leaders had just been informed by their scouts that nearby there was an ephod, artisan images of worship, personal gods, and, the best of all, a Levite priest.  The scouts advised, “Now therefore consider what you will do.”  Indeed, what an opportunity!  So incredible was this opportunity that the men engaged the young priest immediately with a better offer as well as taking full advantage of the worship center.  “And the priest’s heart was glad.”

Weren’t these God’s provident blessings?  2.  No idols

Of course, Micah was not happy that his gods were taken away.  But, since these Danite men were too strong for him, he went back home.  What could he do?  It is what it is.

The Danites were on a roll.

Since the strategy had worked so well, they employed it yet again and enlarged their space by overtaking another quiet, unsuspecting community with sword and fire.  They also had a celebrity priest.  Gershom and his sons continued to serve as priests, and everyone knows that Gershom is Moses’s grandson.  Yeah, they certainly had been blessed.1.  No other God

Can we really reshape God from our own
cloudy vision?

God has revealed himself through his Word, not as our hearts direct.

Longing for the Story to Be True

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How do you write words which simultaneously veil and reveal truth?
which direct a story line unfolding with perfect timing revealing a powerful meta narrative that transcends the mind that reads it?  that masterfully weaves multiple subplots intricately supporting and enhancing the one main theme?  to speak through different voices, periods, cultures with a unifying clarity? using various literary genres without distraction?  where the story’s truth rings loud and clear to every generation without fail?  that creates a longing in the heart that will never be satisfied unless the story is true?

For all to align, the author must be omniscient in the creation of the story, be driven with a meaningful reason to create, be directing the story with omnipotence which in turns conveys the ponderous purpose and meaning behind it, which will at the same time create in the reader such a forever longing in the heart, earnestly yearning deeply for the story to really be true, that will never be satisfied unless the story is real and true. C. S. Lewis kind of copy, an echo(C. S. Lewis)

Only an author wielding such a true wisdom and power can unveil his story with such detailed control and offer the substance that spans millenniums.  The author must also intimately know the reader in order to stir the mind, imagination and will of the person to seek the mystery and meaning of the story.  Desire is flamed as the message permeates the unknown recesses illuminating the darkest, most secret, and tender places of the heart; and the reader is called to  engage, for the heart of the story allows for no neutral ground, and the truth calls plainly in the streets for a response.

Sadly, there are few brilliant writers considering how many people have been born.  However, there is one book whose author continues to stir controversy, give hope, remain debated or revered depending on the reader: God.  The ancient one true God who speaks a living word “…piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  The claim is ponderous, but the influence of this book remains without question.

Why?

Could it be that the invisible reality of the story beckons to what our soul remembers?  Could it be that the conflict of the story is resolved with such desperate, brutal grace that the soul is forever shaken by the unfathomable love portrayed?  It it because we know we could never write a story like that and be authentic, for we could never perform the action?

The Story:   In the beginning, God lived here on earth.  His face was seen by the people he made.  His glory and presence was known and enjoyed daily. In that day, the world was a garden, a true paradise that defied any imagination to envision a surpassing, unparalleled perfect home.  Injustice did not exist.  Hunger was unknown.  Poverty was not conceived.  There was no disease, death, or decay.  God’s beauty filled the earth.  But, like all good stories, there arose conflict that threatened the beauty.  The created wanted control.  Humanity decided to write the story, to be their own master.  It ruined paradise.  The result is that all of humanity now lives in a broken world apart from the perfect community enjoyed in the presence and glory of God.  Paradise is now remote from earth.   When our relationship to God unraveled, our relationships with everything else unraveled.  The ideal became desolate and broken, remote from the real beauty and glory.  Mankind experienced psychological, physical, emotional, social, etc. alienation from God.  So, we became the antagonist against a very good God.

We became like a fish flopping in a small puddle of water,
fish in a puddle
barely able to survive,

with no room for flourishing.

Created for God,
everything else is too small for our souls.

But, all of us try to achieve our potentials.  We pursue power, reputation, approval, relationships, family, success, money, country, causes, etc..  Not designed for such shallow waters,  we were never meant to live for those things.

God redeems in order to habit.   So the story churns on based on the very unchangeable goodness of God, the God who would keep His promises and finish the story.  God redeems and reintroduces home through the hero of the story, his Son Jesus Christ.
Home is a place for the deepest longings of your heart and soul to be met
by His presence;
and the way home is through his Son.

psalm 16.11In God’s presence is joy forever; that is, God’s relational presence & glory is the only environment where every created thing flourishes.  We stay frozen as acorns.  The majestic oak never rises apart from His life-giving blood.

C. S. Lewis cottage palaceOur potentialities will not erupt unless with are in the presence of God, for our souls only dance in His love.  Happy ever after is true in the joy of God’s presence.

Identifying the Problem

As evening fell his disciples came to him and said, “We are right in the wilds here and it is very late. Send away these crowds now, so that they can go into the villages and buy themselves food.”
 “There’s no need for them to go away,” returned Jesus. “You give them something to eat!”
“But we haven’t anything here,” they told him, “except five loaves and two fish.”

-Matthew 14:15-17, J. B. Philips translation

The wind-beaten faces of the fishermen divulged weariness and concern.  The raised brow of the tax collector questioned the late hour.  The steady gaze of Jesus’ inner circle of twelve fastened on him expectantly.  The men waited for their teacher to speak the words that would close the day.  It had been such a long day.  Hundreds, no thousands, of men had showed up to meet Jesus, some with families tagging along.  Sick family members had reached out to this gentle Healer and Teacher, and now they lingered cured of their sicknesses, curious, and fascinated with this man of compassion.  biblical crowdJesus’ disciples really wanted him to send the sea of listeners away. The men urged Jesus to tell the people to leave, using the crowd’s hunger as a reason.  Their argument highlighting hunger was just a sophism.  Jesus knew that.  The people didn’t need to go away. On another occasion, these same men had pushed children away from the teacher to protect him from being bothered.  But surprisingly, Jesus wanted the little children to be around him. Jesus didn’t push people away. The “sending-away” actions disclosed the disciples’ own impatience and self-protective desires.  It was hard to be around the crowds who continually overflowed with a river of needs.  Send them away.  Let them go get food.  Then, the problem would go away.  But, Jesus didn’t view people as the problem.

“There is no need for them to go away.”

No need?  Didn’t the crowd need to eat? Had the men spoken fact that was also untrue?

Then Jesus asked the disciples to do something startling; he asked them to feed this gathering of thousands, quietly unveiling their greatest need.

Feeding of the many. John 6:1-21. 1999 Mark A Hewitt. Lino cut & water colour.

Feeding of the many. John 6:1-21. 1999 Mark A Hewitt. Lino cut & water colour.

Again, the men spoke fact and fiction, “But, we haven’t anything here, except five loaves and two fish.”  True, but not true.  Let the men remember the Creator of the fish and the grain, the one who had already exhibited great power in healing disease.  Let their minds comprehend the fullness of the godhead that stood beside them with dusty feet in flesh and bone. Would they only rely on a single donated lunch to feed a crowd?  Would their vision remain limited to what they could see?  Would they understand the true need?
a need far greater than what they saw now.

Jesus simply replied to his friends stating the remedy, “Bring them too me.”  bread brokenness

Then the Lord of Creation blessed the food, broke the loaves, and gave back to his disciples enough bread to fill the crowd’s bellies full. The men walked through the vast crowd seated on the grass- giving and receiving-giving until all were satisfied, then receiving back the leftovers.  Each man looked down at the basket they were carrying. Each basket rim touched by the leftovers.  Though the offering was small, when it was surrendered to Jesus there had been more than enough to meet the need. Discerning the true need opens the eye to the remedy.

Love Found Me in Murky Waters

“If what you believe is the truth, and indeed you care about knowing the truth, why should you be afraid of challenging it? If the evidences backs it, your truth with be justified, and if not, why do you wish to continue believing a lie?”

I grew up in the south which used to be considered the Bible belt of the United States.  I was raised in a conservative church environment that focused primarily on sovereign grace doctrine and even more heavily on the external behavior of a person, rather than on the heart of a person before God.   barn with hailI have experienced a great deal of pain from wrong teaching and a legalistic subculture, but I cannot say that about God. For awhile,  I became very distrustful of pastors and most churches because of those experiences.
But, God never changed.

Confusion and real questioning left me in murky waters for an extended period. I did read the Bible, but what I heard from the pulpit did not match what I read alone in the quietness of my own home. Slowly, I began to understand that the focus on externals was nothing more than trying to legislate morality in an attempt to find continued acceptance from God. It was a tiresome treadmill of trying to do better and better that left me exhausted, defeated, and finally bitter toward the split personalities of hypocritical lives. During this time, I began to realize that even if my outward actions were deemed good enough to climb the ladder to God, my heart would betray me. How do you conquer motivations that are self-seeking? I began to “see through” those around me that talked the loudest about our duty toward God. There were holes in all the religious did or said. Life became a fish bowl.  C. S. Lewis correctly pointed out seeing through everything eventually leads you to see nothing: “You cannot go on ‘explaining away’ forever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it…If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.” (The Abolition of Man, p.81).   I could not “see through something” to see.  Brown's creek
I remained stuck in the muddy creek bottoms struggling in murky water, unable to see; for there was a great disconnect between my life and the presence of God. And that was the one thing God wanted me to “see through” to more than anything…
4x4 mud tyres
Disconnected.  I did not understand His incomprehensible Father love toward me, nor did I know how to be his child. You see, the gospel itself teaches clearly that God never did expect me to climb the ladder to get to Him, but that He was the Deliverer who was willing to come down to the skull mountain with radical redemption in order to restore a broken relationship with me.

Love was missing.  old country church
Empty religious performance creates the phony facade that everyone eventually sees through.

But, God’s love is not phony. It is the one thing to be remembered.

When I started asking God to see His love, He made Himself real and tangible to me in such full-disclosure and heart intimacy that I am left convinced and stupefied at a love so compelling and incomprehensible. I just flat out cannot deny the irresistible presence of God. The Scriptures were now streams of light piercing through the roily, high waters of confusion.  Where before it was merely academic knowledge acquired, now the words are God-breathed to my soul, keenly powerful with the scarlet thread of His love deftly woven  from page to page.  So, although I identify with the struggle, the questions that come…I have been convinced by His irresistible love.

Love was the critical angle
where light passed through

the murky, clouded waters.  
refractionUnderstanding who God really was and what He had done for me was slow…there were a lot of working errors that had to be stripped away.  I had misunderstood so much of the Bible having been taught it as a manual of how to measure up and “be like Jesus.” I can never be like Jesus; it is impossible, for purity cannot be corrupted. Our planet has never been home to a person so pure save the holy child who was born Lord at his birth.   God never asked us to climb a ladder of do’s and don’ts to become accepted and loved by Him. No, God sent His Son down to us. It took “God here with us,” Immanuel, to satisfy justice and open the door to a Father-child relationship. So, the Son of Man, with a perfect life, came to satisfy the law’s demands. For if each of us are honest, there is no one whose heart does not deceive, who has never committed a wrong, and who is not indicted for anarchy against the Highest King. Yet, it is God’s very holiness that also transcends in love that ordained this sacred redemption. The Son of God emptied Himself of all privilege, made Himself nothing, and offered His body as bail; so that, justice would cry no more against us. “He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves. We have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, in Him.” (Colossians 1:13-14). There is no one that loves like that–there is no greater love. There is no one that can love me unfailingly, laying it all down in order to attain intimate relationship with someone who had turned from that love.  There is no one whose presence is so tangible that I cannot deny it, even if I wanted to, whose love will never be dissuaded, and whose daily song over me is His love.  There is no one who will never break a forever promise, never ever abandon me, but remain eternally true.  Jesus is a strong lover of my soul.

It isn’t about what I do that makes Him love me.  No, it is all about His love performing change in me. His love infused me in such a authentic way that it is my final evidence for reality. No one has to make lists for me on how to live this life any more…there is a spilling out of what is now inside…love God…love each other. It is a spreading goodness.  I continue to ask questions, but I am now regularly amazed at the answers found in the Book. The murky waters are moving, clear waters now, flowing freely from the Eternal Fountain.
falls of spreading goodness

It is written that God has “created all things for His pleasure.” At first thought that sounds selfish, until one realizes that His pleasure is that of giving His all. He’s not looking for something to get from us to fulfill His desires or to please Himself, but rather His pleasure is to give.   –Christopher Bernard

“If you remove the enjoyment of God from faith, it ceases to be faith. 
If you remove enjoying God from everyone of the thousands of acts of obedience, it ceases to be obedience. If you remove the enjoyment of God from life, it ceases to be life. ……It is remarkable that God has made joy the central point of those pieces.”   ~John Piper

 

What Happens When the Author Disappears?

Pages rustle.  Turning.Pages.of.Medieval.Bible
The overhead fan blows the thin, opaque pages of the book causing them to flutter.  This book is like no other…for in it God speaks, revealing His story, every page whispering hope for the world.

 There is a remaining longing written in our hearts…our sorrows often refresh the deep ache…it reminds us of REAL LOVE and the pang of separation. In a way, it reminds us of the appeal of fairy-tales & fantasies which irk and annoy modern literary critics for as we well know people still flock to those kind of stories. once upon a timeYou know the stories…The Lord of the RingsThe Beauty & the BeastKing Arthur and His Knights of the Round TableSleeping Beauty…Pinocchio…they all stoke the flame kindled in our soul somewhere before the once upon a time.  The great stories didn’t really happen…BUT LOVE IS REAL and our hearts really do long for happy endings. But even though we know they really didn’t happen, there is an inescapable, emotional longing deep within us for the supernatural…
for true love that never fails and never, never ends…
a desire to triumph over evil, for good to always win…
for the possibility and wonder of never growing old.  The well-told stories laced with those essential ingredients enchant our hearts. Daughter’s eyes shine for their daddy’s open arms of embrace. We love heroes. The Lord of the Rings bristles with bravado. We weren’t meant to die, and Sleeping Beauty is freed from her eternal rest through the power of love sweetly posed as a kiss from a dashing prince. Beauty and the Beast causes our hearts to hope for a love strong enough to break the curse of our beastliness. And our hearts really wants the world to be free from its sadness. Our hearts never want to let go when the love reaches deep.
So, the beauty of Christmas reminds us again…of a Father who did let go…of the Father who sooooo loved that He gave His only Son…infinity to infant.

Yet, did you know? That in between the soft leather covers of your Bible, in between the Old Testament and the New, there is a large empty gap, a looming void in the historical record of God’s metanarrative. The main character is hidden.  Did they notice God’s leaving?  For 800 years, there had been no miraculous interventions of God in the story.    What happened?  For 500 years, angels sent by God had not showed themselves to men.  Worst of all, did the people hear God’s hush?   God went darkYou see, for 400 years, God kept deafeningly silent.  No spoken Word…no prophet to bring the Word to the people for so many, many years.  Did God change?  Did He give up on His people?  Did the Author of Life quit writing the story?  Would God really remember His promises to do only good? Shriveling to a shadow of what used to be, Israel remained with only two tribes and without any status; and men and women’s hearts were very cold and faithless.  They had no king, and their hopes were bitter now.  But what about the beloved King David, whose throne was promised by God to be established forever? Alas, your royal son reigning now seems inconceivable, even impossible. There was only thunderous, ear-splitting silence.

An old promise, a worn-out hope to some, would not be forgotten; God would finish His story, and nothing would ever be the same

The night is silent again.  Now all is calm.grotto nativity 2015
God comes.
Infinity to infant.
God comes quiet.
A kingly birth hails from a defeated throne.  The Branch of David, the rightful heir to the throne, is a banner of salvation to all of the world.  The babe is Lord at His birth.  Emmanuel.  God is here with us.

So, what is this story of Christmas? 
Is it nothing more than a made up fairy-tale?
This story is true for it is written by God Himself.  It isn’t “once upon a time”; for this story never ends which is why eternity is written on our hearts.  
Jesus is the promised Deliverer sent to set us free from all of the sadness, darkness, and separation.  He breaks the chains of our beastliness and reconciles us to the open arms of the Father.  The king reigns over the grave’s steely grasp and death’s venomous sting.  He has come.god-was-made-man-1024x576  The story didn’t end.
We wait knowing that God truly did intend for our good and that the King will return.  During God’s hush, Hope was born, & nothing would ever be the same.