Tuesday, March 5, 2019
Have you ever had a single line from a song lodge itself so deeply inside you it echoed like the beating of your heart? I will tell you about the one that has taken up residence in my soul but first let's talk a little bit about prodigals and those of us who have consistently failed in our efforts to be all we believe the Lord desires for us.
It may be that wrong choices have taken us in a direction we never would have gone had we been wiser. We find ourselves so far from the Lord it seems we can never make our way back. Shame and guilt keep us from praying, and we drift farther and farther away.
It may not be something that dramatic. What of the ways we trip repeatedly over the same sins? Our prayers begin to sound like a song stuck on repeat - the same regret, the same confession, the same promise to do better - only to trip over the same failings yet again.
The common denominator is despair, and this is where the line comes in:
"Just when you thought you exhausted His kindness, His gentle compassion pulls you out of hiding..." ("Just When You Thought" - Joseph Habedank)
We somehow believe the lie that God has a limited amount of grace, and mercy. Broken by guilt and shame we run and try to hide from Him. We have looked at our failings and declared ourselves unworthy, and all the while He chases after us offering mercy and forgiveness.
The enemy of our souls delights to see us impoverished - living like beggars when all of heaven is ours for the asking. His calling card, some have said, is discouragement. If he can convince us we have gone too far, committed the unforgivable and forfeited grace, he will have won. He would like to blind us to the truth that nothing can separate us from the love of God. He wants to diminish Jesus' sacrifice in our eyes - as though our sin makes us the exception to redemption.
If you find yourself overwhelmed by feelings of unworthiness and shame, I pray you will let the glorious truth of this simple line minister to your heart. You cannot exhaust His kindness. When we come to Him in true repentance, His love and grace meet us right where we are.
"The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: 'I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness." Jeremiah 31:3
Tuesday, February 19, 2019
Most evenings, in recent weeks, God writes across the heavens in bold, bright colors that are simply breathtaking. We rush outdoors to witness the panoramic display of rapidly changing hues - trying to capture it all with cameras that never seem to do it justice.
Sometimes, however, He sweeps across heaven with a gentle, quiet touch - pale pinks and grays hushing the air around us. No loud exclamations of glory - rather a sweet whisper to come away. Away from the noise that surrounds our every waking moment; away from the wild flurry of images on a screen; away from the relentless yearning for approval and recognition; away from the worry and fear buried just beneath the surface.
The Lord calls us with the irresistible invitation to be still and know. He told us - we would not find Him in the mighty wind, the powerful earthquake or the raging fire (I Kings 19:11-12). Instead, we will find Him there in the gentle whisper.
We long, when we suffer greatly and need Him desperately, to see Him move in a powerful, unmistakeable way. Our hearts cry out for Him to be mighty on our behalf - to move mountains and work miracles. He can do all those things; He does all those things. Yet some evenings He quietly whispers His presence into the very heart of us - and we know that all will be well. Whatever the circumstances, however He chooses to move - all will be well.
It is enough to know that He is near.
"Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in Him." Psalm 62:5
"He says, 'Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." Psalm 46:10
Tuesday, February 5, 2019
Several years ago I bought my first pair of perscription glasses. I disliked the idea of glasses (more than a bit of vanity perhaps), but I quickly discovered the benefits. I could actually read without squinting and holding my book at arms' length.
My glasses did wonders for my vision, but I learned something I hadn't thought about before. You need to clean them nearly every time you take them off and put them on. Often I would think I had a clear view of the world around me when I was actually looking at everything through dusty, smudged lenses. Without realizing it, I had adjusted to a distorted picture.
I find, these days, I need more than my physical glasses; I also need a good pair of spiritual "glasses" in order to see the world around me clearly. It isn't the blatant evils I need help seeing. It's the subtle lies which, over time, take on the appearance of truth.
Words like love and tolerance, when misapplied, can slowly blind me to what is real and true. Popular culture cannot be the lens through which I see truth. I must look at everything through the lens of God's word. Even the most well-meaning, loving people can have a distorted view of truth.
Never has there been a One who loves as Jesus loves. Yet He never separates that love from truth. It would have been devastating if He had. If we truly love, we want to do it the way He did. Withholding truth in the name of love is not love at all. Withholding love in the name of truth is not love at all. Both are distortions. I love you best when I tell you the truth - not my version of the truth or the current popular version of the truth - the truth found in the Word of God.
Tuesday, January 22, 2019
Some days they graze in other fields, but on the days they gather near the road we daily travel, a certain peace settles over my heart. I think, perhaps, it's because images of a gentle Shepherd fill my mind.
In my imagination He watches over them, and they, knowing He is near, graze without fear. Should danger threaten, He will protect them. Should one fall, He will pick it up and carry it in His strong arms. If any stray, He searches until He finds them. As evening falls, He leads His little flock safely home. They know His voice and follow - trusting with their whole lives because He would give His very life for them.
The Lord likens us to these sheep. We have gone astray, and He came to find us; He gave His life for us; He leads us to peaceful places and gives us everything we need.
"Like a shepherd he tends his flock;
he gathers up the lambs with his arm;
he carries them close to his heart;
he leads the ewes along." Isaiah 40:11
he gathers up the lambs with his arm;
he carries them close to his heart;
he leads the ewes along." Isaiah 40:11
Monday, January 21, 2019
Imagine with me, if you will, a conscientious young woman. She has a full, rich life as wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend and child of God (among other things). In order to manage the details of her varied and numerous roles she keeps a list. This list, she feels, grounds her - keeps her moving in the right direction at all times enabling her to accomplish all the necessary things in any given day.
Nothing gives her more satisfaction than to look at her list at the end of the day and see every single item checked off. Of course it doesn't work that way every day, but then she simply adds the unfinished tasks to the next day's list.
Keeping to this regimented way of life comes at a certain cost. Her over-crowded days leave very little time for the, seemingly, less urgent duties. For instance, it's difficult to sit still long enough to listen to a six year old's long-winded account of his day at school. Dinner is calling; the dryer just buzzed, and if she doesn't get the clothes folded right away she'll end up with a bunch of ironing.
She has noticed that for days her twelve year old daughter just isn't herself. She makes a mental note to have a talk with her but first she has to call the parents in her middle child's Sunday school class to get volunteers for the teacher appreciation night.
Her husband mentioned something about a problem at work, but there hasn't been a free moment to sit and talk. She meant to ask him about it as they lay in bed the other night, but her eyes closed in exhaustion before she could say a word.
The next morning, before throwing back the covers and stepping into another busy day, she lays still a moment trying to figure out why she feels such an emptiness. If she were to ask her family, they would have no trouble answering her question.
They would, with varying degrees of sadness, tell her she had gone far away from them. In spite of all the good things she did, she had neglected to do the one thing that mattered most. She had sacrificed relationship for her to-do list.
I find I am all too prone to being like this young, well-meaning woman. Not only do I make my list of "things to do," there have been seasons where I have relegated my relationship with the Lord to another item on that list. Prayer - check; Bible reading - check; Bible Study lesson - check until one day I acknowledge the emptiness in my heart. The Lord, whose approval I've been trying so hard to earn, seems so distant.
All the while, He waits right where He has always been. He waits - longing to deepen our relationship - to draw me close and pour His life into mine. As I put my hand in His, He whispers His love into my heart and my list falls gently to the ground.
"The Lord is near to all who call upon Him..." Ps. 145:18
Sunday, January 13, 2019
Tuesday, January 8, 2019
A week has passed since the beginning of a new year. Many came to it with hope and determination, looking forward to a fresh start. Others, jaded by years of failed resolutions, look back with feelings of discouragement, regret and guilt. Have I, they wonder, ruined the plan God had for my life by my inability to change and make right choices? Have I squandered the gifts I've been given and lost the chance to realize the dream?
On the very first page of my Bible I have a written note from a long ago sermon. It says:
"God has a plan for my life and the power to carry it out. As I obey, I walk into the plan God has for me. God's plan reaches beyond all the mistakes of my past. In redemption, there is hope of a measure of recovery. I can only overcome my past in Christ."
I thought back to the story in scripture of one of the great heroes of our faith - Moses. God had a plan for his life. Against all odds, baby Moses survived when Pharaoh ordered the murder of every son born to a Hebrew woman. Raised in the palace by Pharaoh's daughter he became "a man of power in words and deeds." (Acts 6:22). When he turned 40 he was drawn to his own people who were suffering in slavery, and in an attempt to help ended up murdering an Egyptian.
The story is a familiar one. Moses, fearful for his life, fled to the land of Midian. There, he lived in obscurity for 40 years, until the day God spoke to him from a burning bush. This once powerful, articulate man tried to convince God he could not possibly be the man for the job. It was too late. He had ruined everything. He simply couldn't do it.
We know the rest of the story. God used Moses in a miraculous, powerful way to rescue His people from slavery in Egypt and to lead them to the Promised Land.
To all outward appearances it seemed Moses had blown it. Instead of waiting on God's timing, He had taken matters into his own hands and ended up a murderer. Surely, he had ruined the plan God had for his life.
We have heard it said that God never wastes anything in our lives. He used that long 40 years, years we might consider wasted, to shape Moses into the man He would use to deliver a whole nation of people - the man to whom He spoke "face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend." (Exodus 33:11)
We mustn't let the failures of our past rob us of the good things the Father has for us. He can redeem our mistakes and, although we may bear the scars and wounds of the wrong choices we've made, work out the beautiful plan He has for our lives.
I have another quote in my Bible I have treasured for years:
"God knows where you are, and He can get you to where He wants you to be."
Pastor Robert Emmitt
"For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:11