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 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).

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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White as Snow

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Blood stains the brilliant white of the snow
My sins are scarlet; where shall I go?
Seeking to entrap, death chases me
I am guilty; where can I flee?

Let us reason, my LORD pleads,
Return; your Advocate will intercede
For a broken heart I will mend
A contrite spirit will not offend.

 
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Heinous scarlet shall be like glistening snow
Crimson stains purged clean, your heart hallowed
Exacting judgment meted on the cross
Innocent blood covers the ugliest dross.

Grace is free and resurrection power is given
Obey the Spirit for true and joyful living
Make no room for selfish lust or slavish fear
Your Redeemer overcomes in glory and draws you near.

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Travel Light

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Travel light with eyes bright
The King’s beauty on display
Let me not be taken away
With longings for lesser glory
At best a temporal story
Wasting my life by wishing for
That which has no Life or Light

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.

 

The Light that Cannot Be Extinguished

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His tiny face sucked in that first draught of bitter, chilled air into his lungs, and the babe entered into the life of a dark world with one purpose for his existence–to bear the injustice and to shine as the one true Light in a very, very dark world.

 

 

(Liz Lemon Swindle, “Be It Unto Me”)

Atheist John Gray makes an interesting observation on the evil and suffering we experience: “In comparison with the Genesis myth, the modern myth in which humanity is marching to a better future is mere superstition. As the Genesis story teaches, knowledge cannot save us from ourselves. If we know more than before, it means only that we have greater scope to enact our fantasies. …The message of Genesis is that in the most vital areas of human life there can be no progress, only an unending struggle with our own nature.”

But, that is not true.
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The power of darkness cannot overcome the Light of the World who has come to release us from the dominion of the soul’s midnight.  There is no darkness in His Light.

“You surely realize that even in the presence of color
Sight will see nothing, and the colors will remain unseen,
Unless one further thing joins them…”

What thing do you mean?”

“The thing you call light.”

-PLATO , The Republic

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“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord shines over you.
For look, darkness covers the earth,
and total darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will shine over you,
and His glory will appear over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your radiance. …
Your sun will no longer set,
and your moon will not fade;
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and the days of your sorrow will be over.
Then all your people will be righteous;
they will possess the land forever;
they are the branch I planted,
the work of My hands,
so that I may be glorified.”
(Is. 60:1-3, 20-21)

Why Do I Need Christmas?

christmas-why
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.