November 14, 2015

The Barebones of a Godly Legacy

Just before he died, Joseph gave his sons instructions concerning his bones, and for this he is commended as a man of faith (See: Heb. 11: 22) . He died and was embalmed in Egypt, among foreigners, leaving his progeny to the whims of a future and hostile king ("Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph." Ex.1:8) So concludes the book of Genesis--the historical account of the generations of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

The land of their prospering and multiplying had become the place of their enslavement. God foreknowing this, had told Abraham generations earlier that this would be their lot-- "Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years!" Gen. 15:13-16 But God had also promised that this bondage would not be the end; in the fourth generation He said He would bring them back to the land where Abraham now only camped and they would settle there, displacing its inhabitants, becoming a people among whom God would dwell--a nation unlike any other, on whose behalf God would show Himself strong. (See: Deut. 4: 32-35)

Abraham had not seen this promise fulfilled but he had believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. Rom.4:20ff  Now three generations later, Joseph lay dying in a foreign land. Still God had not brought His people into their inheritance. But Joseph was confident He would. And on his death bed he said: 'God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.' Joseph died far from the land God had promised to his descendants. But God had promised... and Joseph knew in his bones God would keep His Word. This was the legacy he left--this God-confidence that despite his own helplessness to contribute to their redemption God would somehow, sometime, bring it about!

I've been reading day by day the account of the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt--how God let his people fall into harsh oppression there. Perhaps this was the only way they'd ever have wanted to leave behind its lushness and plenty, its leeks and garlic?  Cf.Num. 11:5 . In their oppression they cried out to God and He sent a saviour, a kinsman-- Moses, to intercede on their behalf with Pharaoh.

It was a hard won victory. Pharaoh wasn't quick to release them from such a lucrative enslavement. But this too God used on their behalf (and for the enlightenment of all the nations watching!), that they might never forget His greatness and power, that they might 'tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the LORD.' Ex.10:2

For generations to come they would recall this night of their deliverance, this night when the blood on their doorposts would save them from the death angel, this 'night of watching by the Lord' (Ex.12:42) to deliver them from bondage. They would recount God's mighty deliverance again and again for generations to come, (eg.Ps.107) , that night of the tenth plague: the death of every firstborn in Egypt, the urgent summons to Moses and Aaron, the emancipating edict: "Up, go out from among my people...and serve the LORD as you have said. Take your flocks and your herds... and BE GONE!" and the desperate plea from Pharaoh: "and bless me also!".

This was the night of their deliverance. It had come just as God had foretold it would, not one day early, not one day late. "At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt." Ex.12:41 And in their hasty exit Moses took the bones of Joseph with him in accordance with Joseph's dying wish: "God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones with you from here." Ex.13:19

Joseph is only one of many in the great Hall of Faith who died not having received what was promised. But physical death is not the end all. Being interred, embalmed, cremated... for those who believe these are just the commencement of life as we have yet to know it. Joseph believed. And it was counted to him as righteousness, the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. (Phil.3:9) And it occurs to me that this is the very best legacy we can leave our children and all those who have known us in this lifetime--this confidence that 'God will surely visit you...'

My own father sits slumped in a wheelchair, beyond reach of human reassurances but having lived his life in faith that God is to be trusted and served come what may. His body is in bondage to decay. Day by day he grows weaker in mind and body but not so his spirit. The Spirit within is helping him in his weakness. The Spirit himself is interceding for him with groans that words cannot express, bringing about the fulfillment of God's purposes in his body, the redemption of which is just around the corner. Yes, Dad, God will surely visit you...

He may not come with signs and wonders but the upward call will come and it will be glorious! Whether in life or in death the Saviour is coming for each one who has trusted in His salvation. God is not slow concerning His promise (II Pet. 3:9) He is accomplishing His purposes in us, in our progeny, in the world around us... Those God has chosen, He justifies. Those He justifies, He glorifies. (Rom.8:30-34)  A glorious day is coming when these bodies will be freed from their bondage to sin's decadence and brought into the glorious freedom prepared for the children of God. We can live and bless and die in this assurance: "God will surely visit you..." Let this be our legacy.


I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. Rom.8:18

According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. Phil.1:20

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Phil.1:21

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. Heb.11:13-16

Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. Heb.10:35

November 7, 2015

Teach us to number our days…

I was in a Bible study group lately where the question was posed to a couple of retired couples—“So, what’s it like being retired? What do you do with your time?” Free time is one of those coveted commodities in the busy-ness of our ‘working’ years.  We’re sure that if we had more of it we would be able to fulfill all our dreams, develop our talents and find true contentment.  We would be… well, Happy!

I remember being in the throes of homeschooling family life—that was my career--designing and implementing curriculum to shape the minds and hearts of the five young people under our roof, and making our house a home besides. They were busy times.

“So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom”

was emblazoned on my teacher notebook.  I didn’t want us to be just busy; I wanted us to end up wise and God-fearing, knowing His thoughts in all the areas we studied…  Friday was Lesson Plan making day.  I loved setting goals and  filling in the squares for each weekly assignment sheet.  I am a lover of order and books and learning new things in a bookish way.  My career seemed a perfect fit.  God knew.

Considering my own school days, this was really no surprise. I thrived on a rigid schedule, prescribed reading, regular lectures, note-taking, gaining head knowledge irrespective of its practical value… ahh yes, school was my ‘thing’. And there was even homework to take home to give direction to the free hours of time and provide an excuse not to do extracurricular social things…Then the bells would ring and another predictable school day would commence.  I was good at regurgitating a fixed array of knowledge and the tidy rows of A’s on my report cards made it all seem worthwhile.  Life was simpler then, but it left whole parts of me underdeveloped, neglected in the satisfying busy-ness of achieving grades and filing knowledge away on paper…

Being busy can be a great stand-in for being truly significant.  So long as you’re busy in approved practical ways, you are OK in North American culture. And better yet if you’re making lots of money at it.  It’s generally recognized that to be busy is to be important.

“How are you doing?”

--“Oh, I’ve been busy….” is the unquestioned right response.

To ‘read books all day’ is irresponsible, lazy, and frowned upon. As are other occupations that don’t appear ‘productive’. But what is God’s measure of our days? 

I find myself now neither making money nor directing a busy household and yet  confident that God has directed us to this place and time.  We have abandoned the American dream and are in fact both jobless and homeless by some definitions.  And worst of all for this ISTJ personality of mine which functions best with a carefully delineated job description and a schedule, my days lie uncharted, free for the filling.  But don’t be too quick to say, “I wish.”  With freedom comes responsibility and decisions!  How do I best fill my days?  What will be my priorities?  How can I best use this stage in my life to prepare for the next unknown one?  I wrestle with these questions on a daily basis.  I’ve even considered drawing up a schedule and Lesson Plans for myself to keep me on track.  I’m just not sure how to fill them out, for now I am the pupil.  But my  Master Teacher hasn’t changed.  The promises I held onto back in the busy homeschool/parenting stage of my life are still relevant.  Though they were not given directly to me—they speak of God’s covenant with Israel—they stand as warnings and reminders of the character of God and of man.  These have not changed.

In Isaiah 30 the Lord addresses His people:  [here’s the warning part!]

Ah, stubborn children, who carry out a plan, but not mine, and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit…unwilling to hear the instruction of the LORD.”

To this people God speaks that oft repeated promise:

“In repentance and rest you shall be saved: in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”Is.30:15

Alas, His people weren’t wiling.  They couldn’t wait. They looked to the nations around them for direction; they copied their worship and were led astray by their idols. 

So Isaiah reminded them: “…the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and he exalts himself to show mercy to you…blessed are all those who wait for Him.”

I’ve read and re-read these words over the years when decisions have had to be made, and curriculum developed and schedules arranged.  They remind me still that God is eager to direct our steps.  He only asks that we give Him our attention and wait for Him to point the way:

The passage continues: “your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.  And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.” (Isaiah 30:20,21)

So these days I bring my heart back to these evidences of God’s character and my propensity to doubt His guidance, and my prayer continues to be that of Moses:

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations…
from everlasting to everlasting you are God…
the years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty;
they are soon gone, and we fly away….
So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom…
Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children. 
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us; 
yes, establish the work of our hands!

And as I have prayed asking for guidance to direct the nitty-gritty of my days these six principles point the way:

A heart of wisdom…

1-—trusts that God’s Spirit within is leading through thick and thin and in the plain mundane, regardless of the seeming ‘significance’ of the product.  It is the privilege of the child of God to be led by the Spirit of God.  He only asks that I present this life of mine a daily sacrifice at His disposal. “Take my yoke and learn of me…”

2—makes the Word of God a priority.  I read and meditate to know God’s heart, to see what matters, to hear His voice.  His Word is light and life to me. (Ps.119:105)

3—knows that the value of an action (or even apparent inactivity!) is not in its tangible product.  Virtue does not derive from check-off lists of accomplishments but from the motive and dependence with which they are done. No good thing will be accomplished apart from the empowering of the Spirit.  Apart from abiding in Christ and learning to live with my ear to His directives, whatever I fill my days with is nothing!  By the same token, my day may appear a ‘wasted’ bunch of time but if the Spirit has directed it that’s enough.

4—discovers that faith working itself out in love is all that matters, not how much I got done but how.  Have I done it all to the glory of God, in conscious dependence on Him and in gratitude for His enabling.  Are my actions driven by love? (Gal.5:6)

5—learns to just do the ‘next thing’ when there are too many choices to prioritize.  My worth in God’s eyes is not based on my time management skills. Wasting time is not the unpardonable sin.  I can relax and enjoy this stage of life as I learn to walk by the Spirit.  It’s a process He is glad to accompany me on, without condemnation!  (Rom.8:1)

6—pauses often, not just to smell the roses (or to look up and notice that the first snow of the season has begun to fall just now!) but to thank her constant Companion for this daily bit of life, as is. (I Thess. 5:17)

Thirty-two years ago this song was sung at our wedding.  It is still the song of my heart::

Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in endless praise….

Take my hands, my feet, my voice…

Take my lips, my silver and my gold, my will, my heart…

Take my love, my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee.


I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.
Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD.
Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

October 30, 2015

Loved, Still.

When our sin has made us miserable enough to cry out for His mercy—God is there welcoming our return.  His love has never stopped.

I've been stalled over Jeremiah 31 for a week or so now. It is a beautiful must-read holding out hope and reassurance of God’s love for ones who've resisted His overtures and sought satisfaction elsewhere. And who of us hasn't at one time or another?

It is of course directed specifically to Israel but points forward to the covenant God will establish in Christ, a covenant that goes well beyond Israel to include every one whom He has called to be His own. Despite Israel’s failure to keep God's commandments, despite her unfaithfulness and chasing after other lovers, God remains faithful to Israel. Yes, he has disciplined her severely; this is a critical part of His faithfulness. He will not allow her to find joy or satisfaction in her wandering. He sends her into exile. As a good father God disciplines his sons and daughters, for their own good. (Cf. Heb.12:7)   Discipline is painful but never intended as a shunning from the Father.  Rather it is intended to turn us back to Him, to bring us into subjection to Him so that we may find LIFE! and share His holiness. (See Heb.12:9,10) So it was with Israel. So it is with us.

And in this joyful passage the Lord makes all manner of promises to faithless Israel based on His tender love.  The discipline of letting her be taken captive by her enemies has worked wonders. Joy is just ahead. He’s bringing her home!

But I will let His words speak for themselves. Let them be salve to your own heart if you have found yourself in misery far from any sense of God's pleasure in you. He welcomes your return.

"The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the LORD appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you..."

With weeping they shall come, and with pleas for mercy I will lead them back, I will make them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble, for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.

"Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, 'He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.'  For the LORD has ransomed Jacob and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.  They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more. 

Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. I will feast the soul of the priests with abundance, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, declares the LORD."

Thus says the LORD: "Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the LORD, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy.  There is hope for your future, declares the LORD, and your children shall come back to their own country.

I have heard Ephraim grieving, 'You have disciplined me, and I was disciplined, like an untrained calf; bring me back that I may be restored, for you are the LORD my God. ...

Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he my darling child? For as often as I speak against him, I do remember him still. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him, declares the LORD. Jer.31:9-14,16,18,20


Jeremiah’s prophecy looked toward the time God would send Jesus and through Him provide forgiveness once and for all to all who believe. It pointed to a time when God's very own Spirit would reside in man—the promised Comforter, sent in token of Jesus’ ascension to the Father--writing His law upon their hearts, making them righteous, enabling obedience, inclining their wills to do His will out of love for the One who has so loved them.

We live on the other side of this event! We who are ‘in Christ’ are blessed indeed.  I was reading Ephesians 1 the other morning.  Have you pondered it lately? 

  • We’ve been chosen before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight.
  • We’ve been predestined for adoption as sons which will bring him praise because of His grace
  • We’ve been bought from the slave market of sin, forgiven all the ways in which we’ve violated God’s commands
  • We’ve been lavished with the riches of his grace
  • We’ve been made heirs of God!
  • We’ve been marked as His by His Holy Spirit within us….

And all this so that we can be included in God’s plan to culminate all of history in the glory of the Son.  We, as recipients of His lavish grace actually bring Him glory as we revel in His lovingkindness.

It is God’s design for us that we be satisfied with His goodness.  He will stop at nothing less; His heart yearns that we return and find in Him our satisfaction:

“Set up road markers for yourself; make yourself guideposts; consider well the highway, the road by which you went. Return, O virgin Israel, return to these your cities. How long will you waver, O faithless daughter? … For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish." ...  And it shall come to pass that as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring harm, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, declares the LORD. ... 

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. ... 

Thus says the LORD: "If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares the LORD." Jer.31:21-22,25,28,33,37

Are you satisfied with the goodness of the Lord, or weary and languishing?  He longs for your return. 


I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,  having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might… Eph.1:16-19

October 24, 2015

But Am I Pleasing?!

If you, like me, go a little crazy sometimes with wondering if God is pleased with you, may I share some things I’ve been pondering this week?

It is the most natural thing in the world for a believer indwelt by the Holy Spirit to want to please God.  It would indicate a serious problem if this desire were not present to some degree in the heart of a believer.  BUT I’m pretty sure it is not God’s intention that we be obsessed and doubtful as to whether or not this, that and the other thing is just exactly what He would have us be doing at any given moment.  It is not His desire for us to be continuously anxious about how well we’re doing?  Are we praying enough, giving enough, doing enough of the right things… Are we pleasing to Him or is He just a bit exasperated with us and well, just putting up with us and wishing we were doing better…

This is not faith. This kind of thinking casts God in a bad light, as if He were a begrudging Father, exacting and hard-to-please.  So it’s a kind of thinking I want to be rid of!  It is not as ‘spiritual’ as it may sound on the surface, because it is not based in faith or in truth.  The fact is mankind can’t and doesn’t please God apart from His intervention.  For this we have Jesus.  He is very pleased with His Son.

We were discussing Jesus’ baptism in Bible Study this week.  Why was He baptized if He was sinless?  There are various conjectures but the primary reason we have to go by is of Jesus’ own insistence in the face of John the Baptist’s reluctance: "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Mt.3:15 ESV  Jesus never failed to please the Father. In every circumstance He knew and did the Father’s will.  And God was pleased with Him and said so on more than one occasion: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." Mt.3:17

Now the application that is commonly given at this point is that God said this of His Son before He had even ‘done anything’ (as though living a sinless life for the thirty years up to this point were nothing!) and since we too are God’s children, this is naturally true of us regardless of what we’ve done or left undone.  And quickly the attention is diverted from Jesus as God’s perfect spotless Lamb to assuring ourselves that God is saying this to us despite our spotty histories, because we too are His children.  It makes us feel very special and fills up that craving to know we are pleasing, at least for a split second…But if you’re like me, one affirmation is never quite enough.  One more is always nice. Where does it end?  Maybe we’ve missed the primary point being made in this passage?  Maybe it’s not about us.

In this historical moment in history Jesus is being presented to the world asThe Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ Jn.1:29  It is crucial that the lamb offered for a sin offering be spotless. This, in my opinion, is  the significance of God’s affirming voice from heaven.  This is the Lamb of God who has come to die in our place. This statement from heaven is not about us.  But that’s a good thing.  We are not always pleasing, anymore than a two year old having a temper tantrum is especially pleasing at that moment to his parents.  We are not naturally good, or sweet, or loveable.  But God provided the Lamb and that has made all the difference.

We are no longer dependent on our own virtues or law-keeping or dutiful sacrifices to gain favor with God. We don’t have to be obsessed with ‘am I pleasing’.  God, knowing our inability to please Him provided the Lamb.  And we can be glad Jesus was baptized as a part of ‘fulfilling all righteousness’ because we never could do this on our own.  Instead, what the law was powerless to do, God did, by sending Jesus as a sin offering and so he condemned sin in the flesh  ‘in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Rom.8:4

Jesus’ baptism was a part of fulfilling the righteous requirements of God’s law on our behalf.  This is the wonder of this moment. We don’t need to try to get the passage to say that God is pleased with us. God is pleased with His Son and it is our response to His Son that determines whether He is pleased with us.

[As a side note, it is a fact sometimes overlooked that though God loves everyone in the whole wide world, He is not pleased with everyone.  Most have rejected the sin offering provided in Jesus.  God is not pleased. Apart from faith it is not possible to please God.  Unless one in faith lays his hand, so to speak, on the head of the Lamb and claims His blood as having been shed on his behalf, sin will still separate him/her from God and the wrath of God will abide on him instead.  But I digress…}

So, what then is the ‘take away’ cure for my obsessive desire to ‘be pleasing’?  Better to look on the Son and revel in God’s words about Him and thank God for this perfect sacrifice on my bumbling behalf.  In Him I am complete despite my weaknesses and failings, my inherent inadequacies and even my floundering doubts.   By faith in the Son I can walk in confidence that I am loved without doing anything and any ‘pleasing’ that follows will be on account of the life of the Son lived through me by His Spirit. 

Faith is evidenced not in struggling to ‘be pleasing’ but in rejoicing to have been adopted, ‘accepted in the Beloved, holy and perfect in God’s eyes because of Christ.  He sees  the end from the beginning and those He’s justified are as good as glorified in the eternal scheme of things! (See Rom.8:30). It’s hard to imagine, but isn’t that what faith is for?

But practically speaking, surely there are specific things that please God. I did a quick concordance look-up and these are things that popped out at me:

What pleases God?

His Son pleases Him.

The glad doing of His will pleases Him.

Faith pleases Him.

A contrite heart pleases Him.

Seeking Him, fearing Him, praising Him, thanking Him, making much of Him---all these things please Him.  I didn’t find any grounds for a petulant insistence on asking ‘Am I pleasing’.  It’s the wrong question.  Rejoicing in the pleasing Son might make a better focus!

A few other considerations have been helpful to me in re-framing my mindset.

  • God is the one who leads me in ways that please Him, who works in me to make me willing and able to accomplish His pleasure. Phil 2:13 The pressure is off. I am dependent on the Spirit to lead me in ways that are pleasing to Him--to direct me into all His perfect will.
  • I cannot please God by any effort of my own apart from that which His Spirit accomplishes in and through me. “Apart from me you can do nothing.” Jn.15
  • Without faith, active dependence on Him, it is not possible to please Him. Doubt is no virtue here. Heb.11:6
  • Though sin does not please Him--He hates it--a contrite heart does. An acknowledgment of my sin, including my doubts, pleases Him. Ps.51
  • The best gift I can offer is my grateful praise for who He is and what He’s done on my behalf! Ps.69:30 I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. 31 This will please the LORD more than an ox or a bull with horns and hoofs.
  • Generosity pleases Him, perhaps because it shows I am truly trusting in Him to supply all I need and am aware how generous He has been with me! He's pleased to give us the Kingdom! Why do we sweat the small stuff--food, clothes, cares of this world...Luke 12:22

And those are my scattered ponderings of the week. This area is somewhat of a stronghold in my life so I welcome your prayers for me as I continue to take these truths to heart in a way that liberates me to live as God has intended for His children.

I’d also welcome your feedback in the Comments below.  Is this an area where you have struggled.  What has been of help to you?


Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,  make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom [be] glory for ever and ever. Amen. Heb.13:20,21

“…but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.” Ps.147:11 

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,  so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. 

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy,  giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. Col.1:9-12

October 16, 2015

The Best Advice a Befuddled Sinner can Hear

Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil.  Yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart.

And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver for they are empty.

For the LORD will not forsake his people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for Himself.

Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.

Only fear the LORD and serve Him faithfully with all your heart.  For consider what great things he has done for you.

But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king. I Sam.12:20-25

I love these words of Samuel! 
They hold out hope for the one who knows they have blown it.  They point out a path of restoration.  They demonstrate both the justice and the mercy of our King.  And they invite us to follow Him still though we have failed Him grievously.

They are addressed to the people of Israel after they have rejected Samuel as their judge and God as their King and have insisted on having a ‘real’ king like the nations around them. They wanted a king to be their judge and most of all to go ahead of them and fight their battles. After all, Samuel, their priest and judge, was getting old. His sons were corrupt.  And besides, the Ammonites were attacking! They were sure they needed a mortal king like the ones the nations around them had, despite Samuel’s warnings of what this would cost them--He will take your sons for his chariots and horsemen, his farmers, his arms makers.  He will take your daughters as perfumers and cooks and bakers.  He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and orchards.  He will take from your grain and your vineyards to feed his household.  He will take your servants, and your donkeys to work for him.  He will take from your flocks and “YOU SHALL BE HIS SLAVES”.  (I Sam.8)

They were willing to be slaves for the perceived benefit of being safe and secure. And they would not be denied.  They demanded to have a mortal king to reign over them in place of Almighty God!  So God granted them their request and instructed Samuel to fulfill it.  Tall, dark and handsome Saul was anointed king.

But in his final address to them Samuel is clear that this is not cause for rejoicing, as they have been doing up till this point (I Sam.11:15).  He recites his own faithful track record in being their judge and then he recounts God’s righteous deeds on their behalf despite their apostasy.  On each occasion that they have forgotten the Lord He has allowed them to be dominated by their enemies.  And on each occasion that they have cried out to Him, God has sent a judge to deliver them and restore their peace and safety.  God has been faithful but they have insisted on having a human king instead. 

There is no indication up to this point that they even comprehend the evil they have committed.  So now for the object lesson:  It is the dry season, time for the wheat harvest.  Samuel calls on God to send untimely thunder and rain as a demonstration of His might and His anger toward them.  As He had once thundered to rout the enemy (I Sam.7:10), now God thunders against His own people to instill in them the fear of the LORD.  They are terrified, and convicted and desperate for Samuel’s prayers on their behalf: “Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.” (I Sam.12:17)

And this is the point at which Samuel gives them the best advice a convicted sinner can hear:

Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil, [it is true], yet don’t turn aside from following the Lord…

The fear of the Lord is not meant to drive us from Him but toward Him.  For He is the only one who can acquit us of sin and spare us from judgment. Unless we turn toward Him in repentance God remains our worst Enemy.  This God of love who extends the offer of reconciliation to all who will come and bow the knee, will be our Judge if we opt to find peace and safety apart from Him. Why then do we run? Why do we hide? Why do we turn our backs even temporarily on the only One who can deliver us from our worst Enemy, the only One with whom we are safe!

I find Samuel’s words compelling. 

  • They compel me to pray for ones who have rejected God’s Kingship in pursuit of things that cannot profit or deliver.
  • They encourage me with the reminder that the Lord will not forsake His own for His name’s sake. Our bad judgment, even our rebellion, is not the final word.  He goes to great lengths to rescue lost and wandering sheep.
  • And they show me the path back—the fear of the Lord that brings to conviction and repentance and a fresh zeal to follow Him.  It is never too late to turn around.

Ours is a jealous God who will contend with all suitors that would draw our hearts away from His own.  He is the One to whom all our praise and devotion is due.  He will not yield it lightly to another.  He hates the sin that would destroy us yet looks with compassion on the contrite sinner. 

These are the things I am pondering this week, for myself and for so many others who have yet to realize, or have forgotten, the tender mercies of our fearsome God.


You will say in that day: "I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me.  Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation."  Isaiah 12:1-2

Consider the following passages that beautifully demonstrate both the discipline and the mercy of our God:

"Thus says the LORD: Behold, I will restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob and have compassion on his dwellings; the city shall be rebuilt on its mound, and the palace shall stand where it used to be. Out of them shall come songs of thanksgiving, and the voices of those who celebrate. I will multiply them, and they shall not be few; I will make them honored, and they shall not be small. Their children shall be as they were of old, and their congregation shall be established before me, and I will punish all who oppress them.  Their prince shall be one of themselves; their ruler shall come out from their midst; I will make him draw near, and he shall approach me, for who would dare of himself to approach me? declares the LORD.  And you shall be my people, and I will be your God." Jer.30:18-22


‘…my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD.” Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.  But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him." ...  For the Lord will not cast off forever,  but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love;  for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men. ...I called on your name, O LORD, from the depths of the pit; you heard my plea, 'Do not close your ear to my cry for help!' You came near when I called on you; you said, 'Do not fear!'  You have taken up my cause, O Lord; you have redeemed my life.  Lamentations 3:17,19-24,31-33,55-58 ESV


And you will say in that day: "Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted.  Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth.  Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” Is.12:4-6

October 10, 2015

Jesus, Thank-you!

I’ve been working my way through Isaiah 12, one verse per week, hoping to put the entire wee chapter in my memory bank.  But more than that I’d like it to be true in my life.  Here’s what it says:

1 You will say in that day: "I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. 2 Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation."

3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. 4 And you will say in that day: "Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted.
5 Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth. 6 Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel." Is.12:1-6 ESV

Now from the context (Is.11)  it is pretty clear that this prophecy is specifically referring to Israel and is descriptive of their Messiah’s return to set up His Kingdom and to deliver them from their enemies.  But there’s also a pattern here which I believe holds true for all who have found peace with God, all those who have found the comfort of knowing that their sins are no longer held against them and God’s wrath toward them has been turned away because of Jesus.

The pattern I see is one of deep heartfelt gratitude for God’s salvation, and of fearless trust in light of who God is to me.  It is one of confidence and joy as a result of continuing to drawing on this salvation for daily strength.  This phrase: “With JOY you will DRAW WATER from the wells of salvation” is a beautiful one.  Salvation is not a one-time thing, but a continual life sustaining refreshment.  The reality that I’ve been ‘saved’ from God’s wrath and made His child is never meant to grow ‘ho-hum’ or irrelevant to my daily experience, but rather to result in a continual consciousness of God’s greatness and His active presence in my life and in all the world around me. 

“Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel."

We live between Jesus’ first and second comings.  His salvation has been provided through the cross for all who will look and live. The wells of salvation have been dug, so to speak.  And they are sufficient to sustain life and godliness in this broken world despite the blight of sin within and without, despite its consequences, despite disappointments and pain and sadness.  At the wells of salvation there is always strength, always grace, always rest, always wisdom, always joy!  This is a great salvation we are meant to draw from and to keep drawing from.

We were never intended to settle for fearful,  joy-deprived, burdensome living.  Instead, we are invited to draw water and drink deeply from the wells of salvation and there to find joy unspeakable.  And if this passage is any clue, it all seems to begin with gratitude for what Christ has done in turning away God’s  wrath so that we might know His comfort.

And curiously enough, the words of a song  entitled: “Jesus, Thank-you” have been playing over and over in my mind this past week.  They’ve been just what I’ve needed!  I commend them to you.

Jesus, Thank-you!

The mystery of the cross I cannot comprehend
The agonies of Calvary
You the perfect Holy One, crushed Your Son
Who drank the bitter cup reserved for me
Your blood has washed away my sin
Jesus, thank You
The Father’s wrath completely satisfied
Jesus, thank You
Once Your enemy, now seated at Your table
Jesus, thank You
By Your perfect sacrifice I’ve been brought near
Your enemy You’ve made Your friend
Pouring out the riches of Your glorious grace
Your mercy and Your kindness know no end
Lover of my soul
I want to live for You.

May you (and me too!!) know the joy of drawing deeply from the wells of salvation this week, and for eternity


“…so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” Heb.9:28

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. I Pet.1:8,9

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Mt.11:28-30 as paraphrased in The Message by Eugene Peterson

October 2, 2015

When Strivings Cease…

Jacob’s all-night wrestling match with God has long been a fixating story for me.  I returned to this post this week because I still need the reminder that rest is found in surrender to our Faithful and Almighty God…

“Jacob Wrestling with the Angel,” by Gustave Dore, 1855

What is the essence of this story from Genesis 32? Is it a model for prevailing prayer?  A template for securing God’s blessing?  Or is there more to this story than meets the eye in its sparsely told format?

Up to this point in Jacob’s life there has been little to commend him as a man of faith.  He has lived up to the meaning of his name mostly, and has struggled with everyone in his life in order to secure himself a blessing.  He’s been a cheat and a conniver, looking out for his own interests and enjoying the blessings of God without acknowledging God as His rightful Lord.  He has spent the most productive years of his life living in exile from his own family, putting in slave labor for his uncle, being cheated and taken advantage of himself but always rising to the top, always making things work out… and now he has a big family, two wives, and a whole lot of progeny, not to mention flocks and herds. He left home with just a staff and now he’s returning with his own entourage…

Yes, he’s returning at last. This was God’s idea.

But years ago when he set out on this journey he had made a promise—granted it was an unabashedly conditional, ‘Jacob’ sort of promise—but a promise it was.  God had ‘seen him off’ on his journey with a vision by night in which He said: “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. … and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Gen.28:13 Jacob was awestruck by God’s presence and made a sort of altar out of his stone pillow in the morning, christening the place, “Bethel” (house of God), and vowing that if God would keep him in food and clothes and bring him safely home again that he, Jacob, would make this God his own God.

And now here he is, almost home.  But this is scary. The immediate dilemma in Jacob’s mind is that his presumably embittered brother, Esau, is on the march with 400  men. Jacob could lose everything, including his own life. But there’s another One he’s been running from. This God to whom he vowed allegiance has not forgotten Jacob’s vow at Bethel. He loves Jacob far too much to let him go on living by his own strength. And when Jacob has taken every last measure he can think of to gain his brother’s approval, and has sent his loved ones across the stream ahead of him…when he’s all alone at last, God shows up.

I love this about Jacob’s story. It’s really a story of God showing up, intervening, blessing, protecting, and guiding Jacob’s life in spite of himself, to a point where he will rest from his conniving and let God be God. It’s a story of God pursuing man. It’s our story… But I run ahead of myself.

The details of the all-night wrestling match are sparse. A ‘man’ wrestles with Jacob until morning light. Jacob refuses to yield until his hip is dislocated and finally, clinging on for dear life he declares “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”  (Gen.32:26) Who does he think is in charge?  Who’s not letting who go?  It seems to me that it is God who has initiated this match and God will say when it is finished. 

Hosea’s commentary on this event helps: “The LORD hath also a controversy with Judah, and will punish Jacob according to his ways…He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God: Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto him: he found him in Bethel, and there he spake with us… Therefore turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God continually.:” Hosea 12:2-6

I see a picture of a repentant Jacob finally yielding to God’s power, finally willing to admit that he really does need God’s blessing. He has found that ‘place of repentance’ that eluded his brother Esau.  God, like a kind Father has brought him to repentance, first matching his strength till he is spent, then with a mere touch dislocating Jacob’s hip…all to bring Jacob to the point of crying “Uncle!” (or could we say “Abba”)?  Or as he puts it: “ I will not let you go until you bless me”.  Jacob acknowledges that he is dependent on God’s mercy.  He cannot coerce God to bless him but he desperately needs what only God can give him--a new name, a new allegiance…God has orchestrated this moment. 

It is not so much Jacob’s persistence that is to be lauded, but his crying out with the last of his strength for God’s mercy--recognizing that he is beholden to God for everything, even life itself.

“It depends not on human will or exertion but on God, who has mercy.” Rom.9:16

All night long God has hung on to Jacob awaiting his surrender, like a Father feigning weakness as he ‘wrestles’ with his toddler,  but this is no game.  God knows what Jacob needs most, the blessing of forgiveness and acceptance despite all he has done. He needs to be rightly related to this God as his God. A precious thing transpires at this point. God asks him a question that seems so obvious as to be silly. “What is your name.”

Long years ago Jacob had been asked this very question by his own father. And he had answered with a lie, the consequences of which have dogged him down through all these years and brought him full circle to this moment. He had said‘I’m Esau’ to procure his father’s blessing. And now he is here, a grown man pleading for a blessing from the God who has brought him to this moment for that express purpose.

But first he must confess his real name: “I’m Jacob” (the cheat, the deceiver, the usurper). And God is pleased to bless him with a new identity. He has come to the end of his struggling and will now bear the name Israel, denoting his life-long struggles with man and God, but also that “God Perseveres”. And I start to see that this is not so much the story of Jacob as it is that of God’s mercy and unrelenting love, carrying out all He has promised. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Rom.11:29  Jacob, now Israel, goes from this encounter, a reconciled man—finished with his struggles with God and with man. First chance he gets he buys up a parcel of land on which to pitch his tent and erect an altar.  And guess what he calls it?!  El-Elohe-Israel—God, the God of Israel.

His story gives me hope…for this God is my God.  This God is the One who holds me in the night of my fears for myself and my family.   When I struggle to work things out myself, He reminds me it’s His game plan that matters.  When I question ‘Why did you make me like this?!’ He reminds me that He is the Potter and that’s no way for clay to talk…When I see how weak I am, He reminds me this is the best place for His strength to be on display…

Ah, which reminds me.  There was another conversation God had with Jacob.  The night of wrestling was past.  The reunion with Esau had gone splendidly.  And God told Jacob to build an altar at Bethel. There God answered the question Jacob had asked of Him on the dark night of their wrestling: “Please, tell me your name.” Gen 32:29 

God answered, "Your name is Jacob; your name shall not be called Jacob anymore, but Israel shall be your name…And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply…” Gen.35:10,11 The introductions were over. God Almighty is now the God of Jacob and Jacob will in turn  invoke this name to bless his own sons and their sons (43:14) just as his own father had done for him. 

The story of Jacob at this point gets all but buried in the narrative of Joseph’s life. Jacob grieves the loss of his favored son Joseph until he is surprised beyond belief at the announcement that Joseph is alive and ruling in Egypt—a literal God-send for his family’s preservation. Life in God Almighty’s care goes beyond anything he could have schemed or dreamed up for himself. And so he grows old in the land of Egypt. But do you know what he is commended for in the great Hall of Faith (Hebrews 11)? It is not for his ‘power with God’ in that long ago wrestling match. It is not for his big family. He is commended for the faith expressed in his dying breath as he blessed the sons of Joseph bowing in worship on his staff. (Heb.11:21)

This was his blessing:

"The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth." Gen.48:15,16

How was this an expression of faith? Here are these two Jewish/Egyptian lads, Manasseh and Ephraim,  being reared in a pagan culture, but Jacob is confident that God Almighty is well able to take them and weave them into a great nation as He has promised. Jacob has traded in his wrestling for worship, his self-confidence for faith. And so he is commended for his faith not in wresting a blessing for himself, but in passing it on…

I’ve been magnetized to Jacob’s story for two weeks now, perhaps because I see my own propensity to struggle with God to bless me and mine, as if He were not faithful, as if all depended on my faithfulness…As if the struggle were requisite to the blessing.

One morning early last week I was bemoaning my perceived woes, filling my ‘quiet time’ with rankling memos in my journal of all that is not right in my little world…It was time to put on the teapot and fix breakfast and still I could not see God’s truth through my self-absorbed fog. At that moment I was reminded of these words from Isaiah: “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” And a little farther along in the same passage, “The Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.” (Is.30:15,18) Old familiar verses freshly applied to my heart.  They are the story of Jacob’s life and the requirement for my own.  It is not in the struggle that I prevail but in repentant rest and quiet trust. And when I cannot see the blessing that is promised, it is the waiting that will be blessed.


"So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God." Hos.12:6

“We do not present our pleas because of our righteousness but because of your great mercy.”  Dan.9:18

“O Lord, be gracious to us;
we wait for you.
Be our arm every morning,
Our salvation in the time of trouble.”


--I know this has been long but there are two songs that beg to keep company with Jacob’s (and my) story.  Take a few minutes to bless the God of Jacob as you listen:

In Christ Alone [Click title to listen]

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease

My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ
No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny

No power of hell, no scheme of man
Could ever pluck me from His hand
Till He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I stand

Songwriters: Julian Keith Getty, Stuart Richard Townend


I am not skilled to understand
What God has willed, what God has planned
I only know at his right hand
Stands one who is my Savior

I take him at his word and deed
Christ died to save me this I read
And in my heart I find a need
For him to be my Savior

That he would leave his place on high
And come for sinful man to die
You count it strange, so once did I
Before I knew my Savior

My Savior loves, my Savior lives
My Savior's always there for me
My God he was, my God he is
My God he's always gonna be

Yes, living, dying; let me bring
My strength, my solace from this spring
That he who lives to be my King
Once died to be my Savior.

--Aaron Shust’s adaptation of the original by:
Dor­o­thy Green­well, Songs of Sal­va­tion, 1873

Originally posted Feb.10, 2012 as Wrestling with God

September 26, 2015

Our Fire-tending God

I had a hurried time in the Word one day this week, catching just a few snatches, a short Psalm, but even a few snatches are powerful when the Spirit applies them to the heart.  I read Psalm 93:

The LORD reigns…the world is established; it shall never be moved…The floods have lifted up, O LORD, the floods lift up their roaring!! 
Mightier than the waves of the sea, the LORD on high is mighty!  Your decrees are very trustworthy; holiness befits your house, O LORD, forevermore.” 

And I scribbled these words in my journal before scooting off to breakfast and on with the day: How will this truth live in my thoughts and actions today and bring life to damaged belief systems?

I struggle with varied nagging fears.  It is my nature not to trust completely and to feel instead that it’s up to me to insure my well-being, and that of those I love.  This is problematic when circumstances are clearly outside my control!  I have been thinking about these things and on this particular day I got a little object lesson in how senseless and peace-robbing my fears are, and how trustworthy and holy-making is God’s Word at work in my heart.

Jim was burning brush in the backyard—a great mound of it left from his landscaping work… It has been so very dry here this summer. Fire bans were in effect while forest fires raged in record breaking ways nearby. But the rain has returned and cooler temperatures allow for burning once again. Still there is always a risk. And the crackling of fire, the smoke, the consciousness of its heat and potential make me wary... Well, so I took lunch out to Jim as he stood sentinel by his blazing inferno.  And we sat together at a short distance to eat. But I could not relax, could not enter into our usual discussion of life and faith… I kept straining to see if the fire was within its parameters and had not reached to lick up dry grass and spread out of control...It wasn't my job. Jim was in charge. He was mindful. (And he is after all a trained fire fighter!)  But I felt an undue responsibility and it robbed me of a peaceful lunch and  meaningful conversation. But I recognized it, and that’s a start. 

Well, the day was too lovely to be holed up indoors so after lunch I brought my current project out to sit and keep Jim company--stitching a pine needle basket. There’s nothing quite so peaceful and therapeutic, especially on such a day when there’s  just enough sun to be warm and enough cool to feel refreshed, enough autumn in the air to luxuriate in the remains of summer!  A perfectly restful idea, EXCEPT for the presence of that crackling blazing fire. 

Could I actually relax and attend to MY business and let Jim attend to his as if there were no fire crackling nearby, no smoke lazily rising, no threat of catching the world on fire! I almost chose to stay inside rather than wrestle with my fears. 

It seems a silly example but for my heart it was a moment to rest in  a bigger reality. God is the Fire-tender. (He is Himself a consuming fire!). His domain reaches infinitely beyond my own. He has given me a calling within it along with its attendant duties; these are my domain. He intends for me to carry them out at peace with the world--to stay calm and carry on, so to speak, to mind my own business, looking to Him for the wherewithal to do so and let Him mind His. When I do my task with inner peace and quiet joy, confident in His superintending care, I honor Him as a very good King. I am a subject; He the King. How blessed are the subjects of a wise King, as Queen Sheba commented in observing King Solomon’s impressive court.   And what  glory contented subjects bring to their King.

And with these thoughts fed by the morning’s reading of the Word, I sat and stitched…and let the fire be somebody else’s business.  The LORD reigns.  Forever.  Period.  The noise of a flood (or a fire!) may be in my ears, but HE reigns.  It can do no harm but what He allows.  This was a relevant object lesson for me.  I can trust Him to manage the fires in my life—the burning away of dross, the disciplining of His children for the sake of our holiness.  My response?  I can REJOICE in GOD even as I tremble at His Word.  Abiding in Him I can ask, knock, and seek,  confident that He hears, that He knows, and that He will grant what is in line with His purposes.  There is great peace in such an arrangement.

If you were to ask Jim whether I have fully learned this lesson of trust, he would let you know I’m still querying him about the smoke drifting past the window as the roots continue to burn day and night…I still remind him to check on things (as if he needed my reminder), and to be honest, I’m still a little on edge about this fire business in the back yard. I’ll be relieved when it has burned itself out completely.   But there it is, my object lesson about needless fears.  Were God only a consuming fire and not perfect LOVE, were I not His by means of a covenant He established and I have entered into by faith, I would do well to fear the FIRE.  But as it is, He is committed to my good, bringing all that He is to the task, for His glory’s sake.  He is a covenant keeping God.  I can rest in this… and go on stitching my little pine needle baskets to His glory…

So whatever you are doing today, do it to the glory of God—with quiet confidence that He reigns in all the raging world around, as you fulfill His purposes for you in the here and now.



“…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…” Rom. 5:1,2

More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. Rom.5:11

For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” Rom.5:17

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit,  keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. Jude 1:20-21

September 19, 2015

All that Matters in the Messy Moments

You’ve no doubt had those moments--when harsh reality hits and the world stops spinning for just a bit, or for weeks and months…  You didn’t see it coming, you had hoped and prayed it never would.  But it is here and is not welcome. It could be a death, a crash, a conversation, a crisis.  But in the moment life lies shattered at your feet.  This is not what you’d planned.

If we haven’t yet lived through such moments, we’ve surely seen them: Babies die; marriages self-destruct; dreams unravel; children depart; heroes fall; and, if we are honest with ourselves, we fail, miserably.  It is in the messes of our lives that we discover where our hope lies.

Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Rom.8:24,25

It is in the crushing of our hopes that we discover how we have defined success. For me, I had thought never failing, or at least avoiding mistakes, was tantamount to success.  Keeping my nose clean, making only the best choices, and training my children to do the same--in hopes of us all living happily forever and always-- was my definition of success.  But it’s not God’s.

 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. Gal.5:6

He’s not so concerned that we fail (nor is He surprised!).  His concern is that we repent.
It is not the sister caught in a sin that He resists, but the one who refuses to call upon her Saviour.
And it is not the good-deed-a-holic that impresses Him, but the one who believes.

Faith in the One who is our very Life is what matters.  And growing and fortifying that faith is God’s priority for His children.  Without it we cannot please Him.  Without it we haven’t got a life.

“…but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. Jn.20:31

So He allows us to make mistakes, to bring heaps of trouble on ourselves, to parent badly, to  make poor choices and even to live with the consequences.  Though He can, and we pray and plead that He will, God doesn’t always prevent disasters or circumvent consequences, or override our choices.  But He always uses them for our good and His glory.

It’s not that He doesn’t see or care.  It’s just that He has a bigger purpose in mind than our perfect track record or our seamless happiness.  If your own story doesn’t bear this out (yet), pick a Bible story, any story, and slow it down to feel the moments as they play out.  Stop the video as Naomi’s husband and sons die, one by one, leaving her alone in a foreign land…

Listen in as the gate clangs shut on Joseph’s prison cell. He’s done nothing to ‘deserve’ this; he’s been faithful; but here he sits. 

And how was Samson’s mom feeling the day he married Delilah?  She’d followed God’s instructions and raised him as a Nazarite, but he wanted this girl so badly…

John the Baptist, faithful forerunner to Jesus, knew of faithfulness unrewarded.  He lost his head in prison. 

Peter knew failure.  He had betrayed his most valued friend-- His Lord and God!  Talk about disillusionment, what would it have been like to watch the One you’d trusted to save you be crucified Himself?

Messy moments. Painful moments--moments that were impossible to comprehend in the moment.   But each was a masterpiece God was creating.  We see this in hindsight.  But only the eye of faith could have imagined it.   

  • A Moabite, Naomi’s daughter-in-law is planted in the family line of Jesus displaying the glorious grace of God that outshines the Law’s demands. 
  • Joseph emerges from the dungeon to sit at Pharaoh’s right hand with the power to save God’s people from starvation! 
  • Samson regains his faith and his strength and conquers God’s enemies by the laying down of his life. 

We would not have scripted these stories this way.  At least I wouldn’t have!  But each is a story of redemption and of faith.  God saves the day. Messes are made to serve His purposes.  Faith is made strong.  

[A little side note, do you know what Joseph was commended for?  “By faith, Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.” Heb.11:22 He would not live  to see his beloved home again but he died believing God would be faithful in taking His people back home to their own land one day…]

This is God’s heart for HIs children—that they would believe and so see His great glory.  This is our destiny and it is the overarching story of our lives.  All else pales in importance. 

I read the story of Lazarus’ death today.  There was a crisis.  Lazarus lay dying. Mary and Martha sent for Jesus to come and heal Him.  He delayed, on purpose.  And Lazarus died. Why? Martha couldn’t understand it:  “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  She knew Jesus could heal him.  But what she did not yet know was that He could raise the dead.  He delayed for the sake of his friends and followers, so that they might believe and behold the glory of God.Jn.11:14,21,40

Our most painful moments may be the ones through which God is most greatly glorified.  

Peter rebounded from his painful failure to write us this encouragement:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!
According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,  so that the tested genuineness of your faith--more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
I Pet.1:3-9 ESV

Faith is the victory that overcomes the world--faith in the God who sees where we cannot, faith in the God who is good when it’s NOT all good with us and ours. And as I sweep up my own pieces, wipe away tears and look around for Bandaids to patch my heart, I hear the distant strains of a symphony.  It is faint, just barely audible.  It’s the sound of hope, a better hope, dreams yet unimagined.  God is orchestrating circumstances for His own glory and for the refining of His children.  Ours is a God who redeems.  I will set my hope on Him.


[Our] Redeemer is strong; the LORD of hosts is his name! Jer.50:34

“…I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." –Jesus Lk.22:32

For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. I Jn.5:4

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all. Ps.34:18,19


May I offer you a song in hopes that it will bless your heart as it has mine?
Listen here or go to YouTube :

“Blessings” by Laura Story

Better yet, two songs ( :

We Believe
Listen on You Tube here:

In this time of desperation
When all we know is doubt and fear
There is only one foundation
We believe, we believe
In this broken generation
When all is dark, You help us see
There is only one salvation
We believe, we believe

We believe in God the Father
We believe in Jesus Christ
We believe in the Holy Spirit
And He's given us new life
We believe in the crucifixion
We believe that He conquered death
We believe in the resurrection
And He's coming' back again, we believe

So, let our faith be more than anthems
Greater than the songs we sing
And in our weakness and temptations
We believe, we believe!

Let the lost be found and the dead be raised!
In the here and now, let love invade!
Let the church live love our God will save
We believe, we believe!
And the gates of hell will not prevail!
For the power of God, has torn the veil!
Now we know Your love will never fail!
We believe, we believe!

He's comin' back again!
He's comin' back again!
We believe!
We believe

--by Newsboys


September 12, 2015

When RIGHT goes wrong…

I cannot take the words back. They’re in print.  But they caused such pain.  What went wrong?  I’ve re-read them for content and I still stand by them.  They represent what I wanted to say, what I felt I needed to say.  I believed I was sending them in love, ‘for your good’.  But they cut like a knife; you’re bleeding.  Now what?

I have retraced my steps this week to think about what it means to ‘speak the truth in love’.  These thoughts have synced with my pondering of what it means to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  I’ve been thinking about each of these facets of me, wondering what it would look like to love God as He intends. For instance, if I am to love the Lord my God with all my heart what does this look like?

It’s one thing to love Him with the use of my mind; this seems to be my preferred mode. With my mind I study His Word.  With my mind I compose thoughts. Knowing the truth. Pondering the truth.  These things I enjoy doing.   But sometimes my heart gets left behind.

I can write right words without letting a heart of love control them.  Love is patient, love is kind.  It is not arrogant or rude insisting on its own way of thinking.  It is not driven by irritation or resentment.  (Words composed out of frustration are seldom words that effect the desired result!)  Words fired like rock salt  from a shotgun, though true, will only burn and wound.  These aren’t the wounds of a friend. 

I’m not big on mercy.  As those nearest me have already realized, it does not come naturally to me.  I’m all about TRUTH!  But without tender mercy truth only wounds, doing more harm than good.  Like a bleach bath for eczema, the proportions matter!  Too much bleach irritates, burns and destroys the skin it is intended to heal.

To love God with all my heart means I have to apply truth with kindness and gentleness, keeping truth and mercy in careful proportion.  Knowing and SAYING(!) what is right is not enough.  To love the Lord with all my heart means loving others in my dispensing of the truth they need to hear. It is not enough to say I’m speaking because I love them.  I must “speak the truth IN LOVE’’.  Love builds up. It encourages with the aim of motivating change for the other’s good.

Paul shows how this is done in advising Timothy how to negotiate with those who oppose him:  “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.”  Why?  Because the object is not to spout off the truth in offensive ways so that I can wear an “I’M RIGHT—YOU’RE WRONG” badge with self-congratulatory smugness.  (Love “does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.”)  The object is to win over the ‘opponent’ to the truth.  To help him see rightly.  Caustic words don’t do that.  Gentle words may.  But ultimately it is God who grants the repentance that leads to a knowledge of truth.  Humble words delivered gently are much more apt to engender this coming to one’s senses and so escaping the snare of deception.  Isn’t this the object? 

Too often I have thought that being right and saying so would suffice.

But God speaks gently. He is kind. And patient. He leads me to repentance…by means of the Truth.


Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. Ps.19:14

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Eph.4:29

And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
II Tim.2:24-26

Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person. Col.4:6

September 5, 2015

God in the ordinary

There are a lot of very ordinary days, very quiet ones, at this stage in our lives.  Nothing to write home about.  A simple list of tasks accomplished represents the day, at least to all outward appearances. 

What did I do today…

--pedaled 40 miles with my honey, to keep us in shape, body and soul
--peeled apples for a crisp
--made a quick dish of fresh applesauce with roadside apples
--beat up a pan of fresh hot buns for supper with company
--threaded my way around another row of pine needles out on the porch in the late afternoon sun,  shaping a wee basket, while the coolness of fall invited thoughts of Thanksgiving on the way…
--sat here at my laptop wondering what to say this week, what is the Lord teaching me?
--and got distracted from my ponderings to research hand eczema and what to do about its persistent and maddening itch!

These are the externals, this is what you would have seen if you were here today watching… pretty uneventful.

But then there are the quiet unseen things—the ‘aha’ moments of reassurance that I am just where God intends for me to be.  He has purposes for me here in these simple quiet days.  He doesn’t give all the answers to our questions and frustrations but He gives peace.   And that is enough for now.

 Pine Needle Basket #2

Even in the ordinary days God is at work  directing, influencing, leading, sustaining, enabling—not just in my little world but in His whole universe! It’s sometimes just a matter of learning to see the unseen, to hear the inaudible, and to believe He is who He says He is.

And in the backdrop of my daily-nesses lie the grand truths that make it all worth living.  I woke up with these lyrics in my mind: 

…Let this blessed assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.1

And snatches of these verses too which I looked up to get straight:

Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.2

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own. 3

And on a very ordinary days these are thoughts to ponder that go far beyond the ordinary!


Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly.  Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory my dwell in our land.


1    It is Well with My Soul –Horatio Spafford

2   Rock of Ages -- Augustus M. Toplady

3   And Can It Be that I Should Gain –Charles Wesley

September 1, 2015

The Tenth Leper

Ten lepers cried  out to Jesus for mercy.  They could not come near so they called out from a distance—“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 

Jesus heard, and He had mercy. 

He sent them to the priest to diagnose their condition.  Only the priest could declare them clean and sanction their re-entrance into society.  On the way their leprosy vanished. They were new men, on the surface anyway. 

But only one had a heart change.  He came running back to the One who alone could see beneath his skin and give him a whole heart. 

This story is told to children as a lesson in being thankful.  We should always say ‘thank-you’.  I read it one morning this week to my granddaughter.  She was called to breakfast before I could deliver the moralistic punch line. It’s probably just as well.  But I was left pondering this story.  What does it teach us? 

This tenth leper was more than just thankful.  When he looked down at his hands and recognized he’d been healed, he made an ‘about-face’ and “praising God with a loud voice”, he rushed back to Jesus and ‘'fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.”  He was a man transformed from the heart into a worshipper of the one true God.  He had been doubly an outcast, both a leper and a despised Samaritan, but Jesus being no respecter of persons had extended mercy to Him.  His response was a demonstration of his faith and because of it Jesus declared him ‘saved’, made whole.

It seems to me in reading this story that there is more here than a mere physical healing.   For the other nine lepers this was the case; they were happy to trot off to the priest and be declared fit for society.  But this one returned to Jesus and was declared ‘saved’—fit for fellowship with God!  If I read correctly between the lines of this story, he was not only healed of leprosy, he was forgiven--made clean inside and out.  He had only to cry out for mercy and then to acknowledge the One who extended it as His rightful Lord.

Leprosy in the ancient world was regarded as a judgment of God for a person’s sin.  It was incurable, loathsome and progressively deadly.  It was a scourge that made an outcast of its victim.  The leprous person was to ‘wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose’.  He was to ‘cover his upper lip and cry out, “Unclean, unclean” lest he come in contact with anyone unawares.  He was sentenced to live alone. “His dwelling shall be outside the camp.”  (Lev.13:45,46)  Leprosy is an apt description of the incurable nature of sin.  From almost imperceptible beginnings it spreads destructively till its host is destroyed, without ability to free himself.

No wonder Jesus made a point of healing lepers, demonstrating that even the grossest of sins is not beyond his reach to heal and forgive. This is a poignant reminder in light of the scandals being unearthed by the media these days.  Christian men, trusted leaders,  are among those whose private lives have been exposed by the hackers of a website promoting adulterous liaisons.  Sin cannot stay hidden anymore than leprosy’s infective virus can remain symptomless.

“The sins of some men are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later.” I Tim.5:24

But in the wake of sin’s exposure there is hope that the lepers so exposed will cry out for mercy and find forgiveness, and that those sinned against will find the grace to forgive, knowing how much they themselves have been forgiven. ( Luke 17:3,4)

Like leprosy, sin is a great leveler. Leprous Jew and Samaritan alike lived as outcasts from society. Even so no one of us stands ‘better off’ than another and beyond need of mercy. ( ‘All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory’)  Apart from God’s mercy we are all lepers for life, disfigured from God’s original design, cast out of the garden and out of fellowship with God and with others.  None can stand tall at the Cross, worthy of Jesus’ favor.  But all can cry out for His mercy.  All can find forgiveness and newness of life.

In the boundless mercy and acceptance offered in the Gospel is a haven where strength is found to say 'no' to sin and "yes” to the Spirit who points us to the way of escape and  to Christ. There is no hope for the weak to pull themselves out of the mire of sin anymore than for a leper to heal himself.  But in Christ there is mercy and strength and forgiveness again, and again as we learn to walk humbly with our God.

These then are the things I read between the lines of this simple children’s story: 

  • I am never so weak and helpless that I cannot call out for mercy, nor so ‘together’ that I don’t need it! 
  • It is never too late to do an ‘about face’ and fall at Jesus feet in awe-filled gratitude. He has freed me from the ravaging clutches of leprosy so that I can live near Him, rejoicing in His abundant forgiveness, forever. This is the right response to His mercy.
  • Not only is being thankful a good idea,  it’s a declaration of faith in God, and a worshipful posture.

Have I bowed at Jesus feet in awe-filled thanks lately?


Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise.  Jer.17:14

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. James 4:8

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I John 1:9

…and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Acts 15:9

My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!