Goodness and Light

We long for peace. This time of year more than ever, we want peace. I came across a book recently with a chapter about the song “Do You Hear What I Hear?” The song is a plea for peace.

Noel Regney is the artist who wrote it during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. Noel had lived in France and served in WWII. He hated war and wanted to see peace. His wife, who wrote the music, said they feared a nuclear war at that time and everyone was praying and hoping for peace.

One night when Regney was coming home he was troubled about the possibility of more war and saw two mothers pushing their babies in strollers. He said in that moment he wanted war out of his mind so he began writing the words to the song. What came out was a story about Peace coming to earth on the first Christmas night.

Regney has said his favorite line is “Pray for peace, people everywhere!” I love the song and I love the story of how it came about. He wanted peace and by the end of the song he realizes it can only come in one way:

The child, the child, sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light

That was in 1962 and I don’t believe much has changed. We still pray for peace. We still pray for peace for people everywhere. I think a lot of people are looking for peace in the ending of war, poverty, and hate crime. Circumstances on earth will undoubtedly lack peace, but God has a solution to our desire for peace. He sent His son, Prince of Peace, to be the Savior of the world.

For to 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…
-Isaiah 9:6-7
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
-Luke 2:14
And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.
-1 John 4:14

I am in awe of those facts. In Him we have peace and there will be no end. No end to peace. Peace that is forever. If we believe those words, if we believe His promises, peace is inevitable in our eternal future. We are promised peace when we believe in Him and rest in His faithfulness.

That baby boy that Noel Regney was writing about is the Light promised to us.

 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.
-John 1:9
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.
-John 8:12

We want peace. He gives peace. And of His peace there is no end.

“Truly He taught us to love one another. His law is love and His gospel is peace.”

Merry Thanksgiving

 

“We need to thank God for the good things and the bad things, because the truth is, we don’t know the difference.”

– Jennie Allen

 

Thanksgiving is the forgotten holiday and I am okay with that. I started listening to Christmas music at the beginning of November and could have easily skipped right over it. I don’t like cranberry sauce or football. That pretty much just leaves turkey and I probably wouldn’t miss that either. So maybe you can see why it never occurred to me to do a blog post about Thanksgiving.

I think all the other bloggers in all the land (or at least this land) covered the topic of thankfulness for us during the month of November, so I don’t have anything profound to add, but I do have a few things to say so not to leave the holiday out completely. This verse is on the cover of my prayer journal:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
-1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

I have looked at that verse all year. I have understood it, but maybe just recently started to appreciate it. As I walked through the holiday less thankful than I should have been, I think I became more fond of the verse.

I have seen that my thankfulness, just like my joy, can’t change depending on my feelings or life circumstances. What I love about the verse is the instruction we are given. We are to be thankful in all circumstances. It will ultimately bring us peace as we follow it.

Thankfulness creates gratitude which generates contentment that causes peace.
-Todd Stocker

When we make an effort to be thankful in all circumstances and make a decision to do what God says, we begin to see everything in a new light. Somehow it becomes easier to be thankful and we end up having more joy. Funny how that works…

I believe part of that is being dependent on God. The quote above, in the picture, pretty much says it perfectly. As we are walking with God, depending on Him, and striving to obey Him it may become more obvious to us why certain things happen. Or it may not. Doesn’t really matter if it becomes clear, we are still to be thankful in all circumstances.

Tim Keller often says: “God will only give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything He knows.” Only God has the full view and we may never see why we had to go through a certain trial here on earth. We do know that He will accomplish good in it, so we can rejoice in the hope we have in Christ.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
-Romans 12:12

“So, amid the conflict whether great or small. Do not be discouraged, God is over all. Count your blessings. Count them one by one. Count your many blessings, see what God has done.”

Our Eyes Look to the Lord

 

This past year has no doubt been a season of growth for me. Quite possibly there have been more downs than ups, but in the downs I believe I have had substantial growth in my relationship with Christ, and for that I am exceedingly thankful. I think the thing I have learned most is what I am still learning: to look to Christ instead of my problems and to find my sufficiency in Him.

Sometimes I allow the negative circumstances in my life to consume my thoughts. Anxiety creeps in and I can’t focus on much else. Even when I believe I am doing what God wants by praying about the problem, I still feel a sense of anxiety and fear regarding the situation.

I very much believe God wants us to pray about our circumstances. He wants to hear our problems, but that is only half of what He wants from us. He wants to hear our problem but He doesn’t want us to hear our problem. He wants us to relinquish control and allow Him to take the problem. He wants our eyes focused on Him…believing Him.

Oswald Chambers said:

Our spiritual strength begins to be drained when we stop lifting our eyes to Him. Our stamina is sapped, not so much through external troubles surrounding us but through problems in our thinking. The danger comes when, no longer relying on God, you neglect to focus your eyes on Him.

After a period of time when all I can do is focus on my pain and hurt, I begin to wonder why I don’t even have a desire to spend time with the Lord. I pray and beg to feel His presence and to allow me to be filled with joy from Him again.

It took me a while to realize I was allowing negative life circumstances to come between me and God. Yes, the year provided me with some bitter circumstances that I wish could have turned out differently, but focusing on that instead of God had to be corrected. Only He can provide me with the strength I need.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…
-Hebrews 12:2

Sometimes we have to force ourselves to keep moving, to keep looking to Christ. The choice is ours and we have to keep doing this thing He has told us to do. Frankly, sometimes the joy might not be there, but we can choose it. We can choose to look to Him, to find our sufficiency in him. And most importantly, we can ask for it.

God has promised He will give us what we need.

…let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to Him.
-James 1:5

When we ask for help, He will give it. When we ask for wisdom, He will give it. When we ask for our desire for Him back, He will give it. When we ask Him what to pray, He will reveal it. When we ask to see His presence, He will show us. When we ask Him to help us choose joy, He will give us joy in Him. When we ask to rest in His faithfulness, He will allow it.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
-Matthew 11:28

In the past month I have seen this Augustine quote enough times to believe it is more than just coincidence: 

“Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”

I am learning how much freedom there is in truly resting in Thee.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him.
-Psalm 62:5

Unshakeable God

 

I am prone to give up before I start. No one can convince me I am a failure more than myself. If I can’t find a problem, I will create one in my head. My superpower is making something good seem bad in three seconds flat. I will focus on my weaknesses until I see nothing else.

Slowly, slowly, slowly I am learning that I cannot hate my weakness because it allows me to trust in God’s strength. As Paul pleaded for his affliction to be removed the Lord said:

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
-2 Corinthians 12:9

There has to be a good reason why God points out the weaknesses of His people all through scripture. God is perfect and the fact that His power can show up in people like me, who are weak, gives me a lot of hope. When I feel inadequate in the gifts God has given me, I am usually right because I am relying on myself. And when I focus on my fears instead of God’s power and strength working in me, I am setting myself up for failure and not seeking to glorify God.

It is impossible for me to overcome my fears on my own. God’s grace is sufficient for me. The only good that can come is the Spirit working through me. I am so thankful that I have the very presence of God within me, helping me to live how He wants and allowing me to be used for His glory.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
-Romans 8:29

Groanings too deep for words. Too deep for words. Words we don’t even know. Words we can’t imagine if we tried. That is what we have working for us. That is what we have covering our weakness. As we are incoherently crying out to God, we have the Spirit turning our rambling into perfectly logical requests that we would pray if we knew how.

With that kind of intercession, I have no idea why I am not asking God for more and relying more on prayer. I love what Ephesians 3:20 says: “God can do anything, you know.” 

He covers our weakness. He makes good out of bad. His strength is more than enough for our fears. He works all things together for His glory. He doesn’t change and nothing moves Him. Our fears do not scare Him. He is unshakeable.

Let’s ask Him for more. Let’s ask Him to cover our fears, cover our weaknesses, and use us to serve Him in ways we can’t think of. Let’s ask Him for far more than we could ever imagine or guess or request in our wildest dreams.

This God – His Way is Perfect

 

A couple weeks ago I saw a sunrise and it reminded me of this passage:

Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it? -Job 38:12-13

It was a beautiful reminder that the God who brought everything into being, put all of creation in its place, and painted that sunrise is the same God who loves me, listens to me, and handles my future.

This week I have been playing El Shaddai by Dogwood & Holly on repeat. El Shaddai (Almighty God) is used when referring to God’s sovereign power over everything. The song questions God’s presence during the tragedies we see on earth. The last part of the song answers:

Where were you, little child, when the world was made?
Who made you, reconciled when the blood was paid?
It was I, El Shaddai, El Shaddai, El Shaddai.

In this world there will most definitely be pain, suffering, heartache, and grief. My troubles may not be understood at the time, but I must allow God the opportunity to show me His glory and power in the midst of struggle.

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. -2 Corinthians 4:17-18

I rest in the truth that even when the trial on earth is long, nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. -Romans 8:38-39

Christ’s death and resurrection proves that His love cannot be shut down. He is always with us and nothing can change that. We are free to feel completely safe and protected in Him.

My finite mind cannot understand all the ways of the Lord. Because He is Creator and not me. I was not there when He shouted the galaxies into being and I do not understand the full picture as only He can. He made the world. He caused the dawn to know its place. He commands the morning. Him. He does that. Whom or what should I fear when this God is my God? 

This God…He is my God.

And this God…His way is perfect. (Psalm 18:30)

Sorrowful, Yet Always Rejoicing

 

An inscription found on a wall of a cellar in Cologne, Germany in WWII, where Jews were hiding read:

I believe in the sun even when it is not shining
I believe in love even when feeling it not
I believe in God even when He is silent

Part of me always feels guilty to admit I feel God is being silent. It feels disrespectful to God, who I know loves me so much and desires to communicate with me. Yet, there are times He is silent. And it is a piercing silence.

I read Job’s plea in 30:20, “I cry out to you for help and you do not answer me; I stand, and you only look at me” and I can frustratingly and overwhelmingly agree. The longer the silence the more vexatious it is. In those silences it can be hard to wait.

But it is also in those silences that I have seen Him moving the most in my life. My perspective is one way and His ways are beyond my comprehension. My job in the silences is to look to His character, because one thing we know is that what He promises, He will fulfill. And He has promised that He will never leave us.

I will never leave you nor forsake you. So we can confidently say, The Lord is my helper; I will not fear.
Hebrews 13:5-6

Oswald Chambers said, “If God has given you a silence, then praise Him – He is bringing you in the the mainstream of His purposes.” Basically Chambers points out that God has trusted us to remain faithful through those silences. He trusts that even without a visible answer, we are holding onto His promises.

Often when we lack something, it makes our desire grow stronger. It makes us desire something that only He can fulfill.

“We thank Thee, Lord, for weary days
When desert streams were dry
And first we knew what depths of need
Thy Love could satisfy”
-Mrs. Charles E. Cowman

So rather than feel guilty and frustrated, I am learning to embrace these silences, asking God to reveal what He would have me learn and waiting attempting to wait patiently for His guidance.

Maybe you are in one of those silences now. Don’t stop believing in His goodness. We have much hope in Him.

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.
-Hebrews 6:19

He never changes and His love never changes. He is our one constant. It is impossible for Him to leave us. He just won’t do it. What a relief to know that even in the midst of the silences, His love never fails and never gives up on us.

Grace Upon Grace

 

“My Sins, my sins, my Savior! How sad on Thee they fall.”

-John S.B. Monsell

The Old Testament is so beautiful. Completely a mess, but a beautiful mess. I do see why the New Testament is where a lot of people prefer to camp out and I see the questions nonbelievers (and believers) have about God’s favor on certain people who seem to commit terrible sin after sin after sin. Yes, there is a theological discussion to be had, but there is so much beauty in the stories.

I have been reading through Genesis and every time I read through Genesis I can start to relate to some of those questions. I can be judgmental toward the favored ones. They are just so unlike me. They are supposed to be faithful followers of God. Christ will be in their line. How can they act so sinful? I would never murder or lie or cheat or allow jealousy to rule my heart or harbor bitterness…or…

I am just like them. 

I quite like nice things (Lot and Mrs. Lot). I could have a degree in trying to control situations (Sarah/Rebekah). I have lumps of jealousy in my heart (Rachel/Leah).

But it is Jacob and Esau who are sticking out most in my head. If I’m honest, I don’t think I would like to be friends with either of those brothers. Though it is in their story that I can look at myself and see so many similar traits.

Here are some words written about Esau by Thomas Carlyle:

“He is the kind of man of whom we are in the habit of charitably saying that he is nobody’s enemy but his own. But, in truth, he is God’s enemy, because he wastes the splendid manhood which God has given him. Passionate, impatient, impulsive, incapable of looking before him, refusing to estimate the worth of anything which does not immediately appeal to his sense, preferring the animal over the spiritual, he is rightly called a ‘profane person’.”
“Esau was a shallow man, governed by his feelings.”

…but I am a shallow woman, sometimes governed by my feelings…

Then I look at Jacob. Jacob is a master schemer and deceiver. Cheat and lie when necessary seems to be his motto. He really just doesn’t seem like a great person. He seems to have cheated his way through life and at times is pretty committed to getting only what Jacob wants.

…me too…

Esau despised his birthright, meaning he didn’t really appreciate what was linked to God’s plan of redemption. He was wild and carefree. While we can see a clear difference between the brothers as we watch Jacob grow in faith and come to believe in God’s promises, we still see so much sin evident in his life. Let’s be honest, we see a complete mess of his family resulting from a lot of bad choices he made. Yet, God blessed him and did not leave him until He had done what He promised. (Genesis 28:15)

So raises the question many have about God’s sovereign choice. Wrong is wrong? Right?

I could be angry by this story, but I am busy being astonished at God’s goodness and sovereignty. It teaches me so, so much.

1. It reinforces that God truly is God Almighty. He rules as He sees fit. He is righteous and just in everything He does, no matter how I view past, present, or future situations. My limited knowledge and feelings thankfully don’t stop His divine providence.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
-Isaiah 55:8
Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.
-Psalm 115:3
Yours, O Lord is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours.
-1 Chronicles 29:11

2. It shows me how deeply sinful I am. My flesh and the Spirit are in constant struggle. Nothing in me is good apart from Jesus.

For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other.
-Galatians 5:17
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.
-Romans 7:15
…as it is written: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.
-Romans 3:10-12

3. It teaches me grace. God is not capable of withholding something good from me simply because of something bad I did, just because He is mad about it. He doesn’t hold a grudge. He does not feel anger as I feel anger. He does not have an ounce of bitterness in His heart. Jesus came to feel our hurt and take our sin. He understands.

For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
-John 1:16

4. He continues to work in my life despite my sin and failures. He can use even my sin to accomplish His purposes. Why? Because He is God Almighty and He doesn’t love me because of anything good I have done or hate me for anything bad I have done. I am a work in progress and He continues to strategically shape me into the woman He wants me to be, despite my sins (which are many).

…amidst our sins and our stupidities, the invincible determination of God is set to bring us to completion – even when we resist it.
-R. Kent Hughes

5. Most important, it teaches me how badly I need a Savior. Christ came into a human line of a lot of messed up stuff. Sinful people. When He was born, he came into a line of sinful people, but He Himself knew no sin. He was incapable of sinning. All of scripture points to Christ. I could not possibly know God without Christ coming to take my sin and make me blameless before God.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
-2 Corinthians 5:21
He has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.
-Colossians 1:22

I love John S.B. Monsell’s hymn, “My Sins, My Sins, My Savior!”

My sins, my sins, My Savior
How sad on Thee they fall!

How thankful I am for God’s Word. His sovereignty. His grace. His plan for me. His plan for redemption. His son.

Dwelling Together

 

Recently I read through the story of Abram and Lot parting ways in Genesis 13. Due to conflict between their herdsman over land, they decided to separate. This is one of the first places mentioned in Scripture where we see how damaging arguments among believers can be.

I find it interesting that it’s pointed out in Genesis 13:7 that the Canaanites and Perizzites were living among them at that time. Whether this is mentioned to emphasize the land being overpopulated or to show that there were outsiders watching them argue, I don’t know. We do know looking back a few verses that Abram had built an alter there and was known to call upon the name of the Lord. Quite possibly these Canaanites and Perizzites were watching men call upon the name of the Lord and then argue in the next breath.

It makes me sad that this is still happening today. We continue to see fighting inside the church. And the outsiders, like the Canaanites and Perizzites, they still see what’s happening. Believers are called to lift one another up, yet so often we are caught tearing one another down in meaningless arguments.

But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. -Galatians 5:15

When we lose sight of loving our neighbor, we tend to become very judgmental and cynical. If we don’t look for good in people then we are likely highlighting the bad. This is crippling for the body of believers as well as reaching non-believers. Unity among believers is so important.

Followers of Christ must exhibit love. Love is an action and also not an option for a believer, but rather a commandment.

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. -John 13:35

That. That is how people should know us. That is how people should see us. That is how people should recognize us. They will know who we are by how well we are loving one another.

Russell Moore once said, “Do not engage in foolish controversies that have nothing to do with the mission of Christ.” Too often we see Christians harboring bitterness over disagreements that have nothing to do with the gospel. Sure it is okay to disagree with another believer, we may never see eye to eye in this world, but it must be done in love.

I LOVE this verse:

…that they may all be one just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
-John 17:21

Jesus prayed for us. He himself specifically prayed those words for us as believers. And much of His prayer focused on unity. Doesn’t that make you a little warm and fuzzy inside? He thought it so important for us to be one with each other and in Him and the Father that he asked for it in prayer. He loves us. He loves us so much. Knowing that should give us confidence as we work for Him and as we shower His love among others.

We love because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

Let’s love well.

Sent

One of my favorite Bible stories happens to be a very cliché one. Yeah, I know, but it is what it is. I love the story of Jesus healing the blind man.

John 9:25, is probably my favorite of the whole chapter. I love it for a lot of reasons. It makes me smile every time I read it because I picture this guy in front of the Pharisees, just completely exasperated with them. At this point after being questioned so much, he is probably wanting to say, “Listen, I don’t know all the answers about this guy but I do know he gave me sight, and seeing is a lot better than not seeing.”

I just love this man’s honesty and candor (and sometimes sarcasm) all through the story. He doesn’t try to make up anything to appease the Pharisees, he just gives them the facts and nothing more. At that point in the story, he has his sight but he actually hasn’t laid eyes on Jesus. He simply has faith in this person who has saved him.

So often I am guilty of trying to word things in a way that is pleasing to others. Maybe I water down the truth thinking it will be better received or say a lot of big words in hopes my point will come across bolder. Sometimes I find myself feeling responsible to open people’s eyes and hearts to the truth. That just isn’t possible. I don’t have to know all the answers in order to share Christ and His love. And I certainly can’t open someone’s heart to receive this truth. That is the job of the Holy Spirit. My job is to make sure others know about Jesus and trust that God will use it to open the heart of that person.

Henry Blackaby says this about the disciple, Andrew:

There is no record of Andrew ever preaching a sermon, performing a miracle, or writing a book of Scripture. He is remembered for those whom he brought to Jesus. Andrew is a good role model for us. Our job is not to transform people into Christians nor to convict them of their sin. It is not our responsibility to make people do what they ought to do. Our task is to bring them to Jesus, and He will perform His divine work in their lives.

It is important people understand how Christ has changed my life. I want to make sure it is known that He is the light of the world and without Him we are blind (John 9:5). I hope I can simplify this in the same way the blind man exhibited such humbleness. I was blind and without hope. I am a sinner in need of a Savior. Jesus died a death I should have died and rose again in order for me to live. Life with Him is a lot better than life without Him.

 

Taking Off My Shoes – Part 2

 

In my last post I talked about respectfully approaching God and seeking His presence. I discussed this portion of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem:

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes;
The rest sit ’round it and pluck blackberries

My sister-in-law pointed out that where she used to live it was common practice to take off your shoes when entering someone’s home. A lot of countries have this practice as a sign of respect before entering a home or mosque. She mentions it is also a very humbling gesture and had some thought provoking follow-up questions. Continue reading “Taking Off My Shoes – Part 2”