All Things: From,Through, and For Him

God was wisely sovereign when I heard the words on my birthday, “Your chest x-ray is abnormal.”  I had already been struggling with debilitating vision.  Now, I was being told that my lungs were being damaged by an overactive immune system which was attacking this much needed organ for breathing.  Over the last three years I have been struggling with unexpected and weird, even rare, health issues.   And, yet, I am being cared for with a sovereign wisdom that is perfect.  I don’t have to understand the why or know what will happen next; I just need to know my God, for then I will most happily trust and rest in His active care.

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God’s ways are inscrutable, because, honestly, I cannot even come close to knowing what the right questions should be to ask. God surveys all time in one gaze. He knows and sees everything, all at once, all the time. I can’t even begin to go there. I remember some of my past. For, today, well, I am here in the moment. And I have no ability to tell you what is going to happen next, because I frankly don’t know; and even what I suspect might happen doesn’t necessarily mean it will. Not so with God. He is beyond time. He is present in all time. And He controls the minutiae of every day in the universe as well as the invisible world beyond that which we can perceive. There is so much I just don’t know! How can I even begin to control what I can’t understand?


Oregon Thor's Well

 

Not only is God wisely sovereign over everything, but He is also dedicated to completing His work in me; so that I am made able to finish the works that He Himself ordained for me to do (Philippians 1:6).  I am confident that I will not have one unfinished task, because of His divine promises to me, His faithful love over me and His power to accomplish what He says He will do. God is able and trustworthy, so I am assured that He will complete everything concerning me.  When I actively believe these truths about my God, it makes me happy and at peace in and with my God, even smack dab in the middle of difficult days.  God always acts in a way that is beautiful and above reproach, and He is laying up His goodness for those who trust in Him.  “Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!” (Psalm 31:19).   The apostle Paul writes to the Christians in Thessalonica sharing how he prays for them, “…that by His power He may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.” Paul writes in another letter, “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?  He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”  So, if God is for me, then I am being held by the safest, strongest, and most worthy hands.


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Who I am and whatever I possess originates with God.  I didn’t create me.  I didn’t decide when I wanted to be born, or where, or into which family.  I have absolutely nothing to do with my existence.  Which is kind of crazy to wrap your mind around, because when things go wrong in our lives it is common to feel that you deserve a bit better in your life.  But, I don’t even exist on my own.  The breath in my lungs doesn’t originate inside of me.  God is generously giving you and me every breath.  It is all from God.  So, when I think about the good life plans ordained for me by God, and more specifically the tasks He has ordained for me to do, I must consider that none of which I was created do comes from me.  Everything comes from God.  It always starts and ends with God.  Even when I do the things I was designed by God to do, I am only giving back to Him what belongs to Him anyway.  God is not any richer by my giving to Him.  God is not needing anything that I can do for Him.  It is similar to a child giving a birthday present to their parent which they purchased with their parent’s money!  My behavior and good gifts will never put God into my debt; everything always comes from Him!  All glory, honor and power belongs to Him.  

Doxology

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
    How unsearchable his judgments,
    and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
    Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
    that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
    To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Romans 11:33-36

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(All images used are believed to be in the public domain.)

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Making it My Own

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

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

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

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

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

Still, it is the truth about me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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