Sunday, July 16, 2017

Upgrading our earthly tents

        "For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens...So we are always of good courage.  We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith not by sight." (2 Cor.5:1,6)
         As life and time marches on, so too the departure of loved ones.  Recently a number of good friends have had to say goodbye to dearly beloved parents.  And I don't care how old someone is or how sick or how much pain is involved, it's still hard--so extraordinarily hard--to lose someone.  Of course, I need to restate that, because believers never truly "lose" someone, for we know exactly where they've gone and where they are.  If we know where we can find them and know that we will see them again, then they are not one bit lost to us.  Just relocated...or should I say, infinitely upgraded.
         I've recently been reading a powerful book by Levi Lusko entitled Through the Eyes of a Lion.  It's about the experience of the shockingly unexpected death of their family's five year old daughter, Lenya after she suffered a catastrophic asthma attack.  This happened just days before Christmas.  I won't go into all the details of the book, but suffice it to say, this pastor's brutal honesty and yet indomitable faith, hope, and love have left an indelible mark on all who've heard this family's story.
         But I loved these words Lusko wrote: "As agonizing and painful as it can be, death is the ultimate upgrade for the believer: moving from the tent into the home Jesus has been preparing for you. Charles Spurgeon once preached, 'Death, as it pulls away our sackcloth canopy, will reveal to our wondering eyes the palace of the King in which we shall dwell forever, and, therefore, what cause have we to be alarmed at it?'
        The tent you leave behind is not you.  You are not your body.  You will never be buried.  There is not a single person in a cemetery.  Those who used to inhabit those tents have moved on into eternity. Death is not the end of the road; it's just a bend in the road...
        We must fight to remember that the grave doesn't get the last word.  The body that was taken from us will be returned in our resurrection...The very word cemetery itself comes from the Latin word dormitory and means 'sleeping place.'  When the coffin lid closes it sure seems final, but it is only a temporary arrangement.  One day Jesus will give a wake-up call to the bodies in the dorms, and they will rise.  This promise is the hardest to remember when you need it the most, but you must force yourself to look at death through this lens." 
         Praise God for the gift of our Savior who conquered sin and death and whose resurrection assures us of eternal life in heaven.  For every believer, death does not, not, not have the final word...  Jesus does, and His Word promises that the moment we die, we're instantly relocated, upgraded to heaven--a place of incalculable wonder, beauty, love, perfection, joy, and glory.
         So yes, we grieve the loss of our loved ones.  But while we weep over their departure, at the same time we rejoice over their arrival.  Our temporary loss...their eternal gain.  Our sadness over missing them...their joy over finally and truly being home.  And our hope and happiness because we believe--we know--that we will see them again one day in glory.  No more sorrow or pain or fear or separation or disease or weakness.  But they--and we--perfected.  Glorious.  Radiant.  Joyful.  Powerful.  Christ-adoring, Christ-exalting, Christ-reflecting.
         Thank You, Father, for the certain promise and hope of heaven.  Thank You that because of Jesus, we know that we will see our loved ones in You again, and we will enjoy the wonder of Your priceless gift of salvation forever.
          And thank You that those we love in Christ who are already home in heaven are not dead.  No, no, they are more vibrant, more joyful, more gloriously alive than any of us still here on this old earth.  Give us eyes of faith to see and hearts to trust in You and Your unfailing Word.  And when we struggle with fear and doubt in the face of death, help us to cry out like that father coming to Jesus with his sick child, "I believe; help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24)  You will never, ever turn away such a plea for You are the infinitely good, wise, powerful, and loving Father.
          "I am the Resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die." (John 11:25-26)  Thank You, Jesus, our Resurrection and our Life.    
          To God be the glory.      

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Help us to remember

        Remember.
        Over and over again in God's Word, we are told to remember.  
        Remember God.  Remember Who He is.  Remember what He has done.  Remember His goodness.  Remember His greatness. Remember His grace.  Remember His promises.  Remember His power.  Remember His love.  Remember His countless gifts to you.
        "While I was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to You, into Your holy temple." (Jonah 2:7)
        "Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me." (Isa.46:9)
        "Remember His wonderful deeds which He has done, His marvels and the judgments from His mouth." (I Chron.16:12)
         "And He took the bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying 'This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.'" (Luke 22:19)
        "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the works you did at first..." (Rev.2:2)
        "So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it and repent..." (Rev.3:3)
        You'd think I'd have learned this lesson by now.  I mean, after all, how hard is it to simply remember?  Evidence of God's extravagant goodness is all around us.  We have His Word.  We have the church.  We have other believers.  We have our past history of God's unrelenting faithfulness to us.  Surely remembering should be simple, right?
         Well, maybe for you, but not for this slow learner and quick forgetter!  And come on, truth be told, don't we all tend far to easily to default to those bad old destructive habits of worrying...or complaining...or fretting...or doubting?  And whenever we do that, we're failing to remember.
        "Yeah sure," we think, "Father, You've been faithful in the past.  Your Word is true.  You are forever faithful and true and unchanging and good.  I can say all that.  I know all that intellectually, but, but, but..."
          Oh mercy, in the heat of battle, in the darkness of disease, in the cauldron of pain, in the fires of affliction, in the nitty gritty of life's muddy trenches, we forget...or at least I sure do.  In fact, just today, I realized to my horror and shame that I completely forgot about a baby shower.  Had it written down on my calendar.  Had already ordered the presents from the registry.  Had excitedly planned to attend....and utterly forgot.  I wanted to cry when I realized my terrible lapse in memory.  What on earth?  How could I be that ridiculously and terribly forgetful?  Even as I write this, I feel like weeping.    
           Well, what a vivid and sad example of how prone I am to forgetting.  Sigh.  Oh Father, forgive me and help me to remember.  Help me to remember You. Help me to remember Your faithfulness. Help me to remember Your promises.  Help me to remember Your love...and forgiveness...and grace...and power...and provision...and mercy.
          Father, from before time began, You always remembered me...please, please help me to always remember You.
          I close with Tim Keller's powerful prayer: "Lord, I worry because I forget Your wisdom, I resent because I forget Your mercy, I covet because I forget Your beauty, I sin because I forget Your holiness, I fear because I forget Your sovereignty.  You always remember me; help me to always remember You."  Amen and amen.
          Oh how thankful I am for my Heavenly Father who never, ever, ever forgets.  And how thankful I am for grace.  Help us, Lord, to remember.  To God be the glory.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Trust in the unseen

        Another beautiful sunrise in the mountains.  God, You are amazing.
       The low lying clouds completely hide the vibrant green carpet of earth and trees and roads that spread out underneath.  You'd never know anything at all was there--yet just under those clouds is teeming, sprawling life.  
  And another hidden view.  The boys playing golf on hole 17 that has a spectacular view off the mountain...but today, the clouds conceal the beauty of verdant valley and foothills below.    
         I couldn't help but think of Paul's words: "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.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." (2 Cor.4:17-18)
         Focus on the unseen.  Remember the unseen.  Don't allow what you can see to blind you to the fact that far more, infinitely more, is going on behind the scenes.  Oh my, it's so easy to get caught up and preoccupied with what we see, taste, and touch that we miss, ignore, and forget the exponentially more important unseen.
         Here's what Levi Lusko says in  his powerful book, Through the Eyes of a Lion: "This is the war: every moment of every day, we must make the all-important choice of whether we will rely on the naked eye.  Will we trust what we can see is there, or believe what God says is there?  It's a decision we are continually confronted with."
        "Will we trust what we can see is there, or believe what God says is there?"  
         Will we trust that God is in sovereign control of every single thing that happens in this universe...even when disease or death or disaster hits us broadside?  Will we believe His perfect eternal Word...even when culture denigrates and denies it at ever turn?  Will we place our faith in our Almighty Lord and in things unseen...or in what we can see, what others tell us, and what we feel?
         It's a moment by moment choice we have to make, and as Lusko says, it's a battle.  A daily battle for our hearts and minds to trust in God's unseen instead of the seen.
        Yep, that valley, those foothills, those trees and roads were all still there today even though I couldn't see a one of them with my eyes.  They were merely hidden for the moment, and so I trust what I know is true, though unseen.  And I'm thankful that God's Word reveals what is true.  The true Truth.  The unseen Truth.
        We can trust in the unseen, because behind it all is the Almighty Lord of Heaven and Earth who sees all,  knows all, and does all for His greater glory and our ultimate good.        
       Trust in Him.  Trust in His Word.  Trust in the unseen.
       To God be the glory.
     

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Bare, brown sticks...

         Just remembering...in the heart of winter, in the depths of cold, grey, and ice, our lovely camellia bush bloomed and bloomed--
         Oh my, how much joy that beautiful bush has brought me!  Some friends gave it to us when my daddy went home to heaven a number of years ago, and despite my abysmal gardening skills, this camellia has flourished and grown.  Truly, against all odds, this bush and it's blooms have proliferated and stunned us year after year.  Have I said "Thank You, Lord?"
         But apparently this bush needed to be "trimmed," as it's hefty roots are supposedly starting to interfere with our house's foundation.  (Do you sense that I'm a bit dubious?)
       And so, this is what our "pruned" bush looks like today--
          Yes, that pitiful bunch of brown, bare sticks is our camellia bush.
          For the record, this stinks.  Seriously.
           I look at our camellia and want to weep.  The bush is literally one fourth of it's lovely, towering size just a few weeks ago.  Gone are it's profusion of shiny green leaves...in fact, there are no leaves at all.  And no more comfortable shade under which Bingley enjoyed taking sweet summer naps.  And absolutely no possible prospect of any bright red flowers anytime soon...or as best I can tell, ever.  
           Frankly, as I'm gazing forlornly at my beloved camellia, it appears completely hopeless.  This lovely bush will never recover, I'm quite sure.  Forget it.  Lost cause.  No way, no how.  Will never, ever happen.
           Or at least that's what my senses shout to me.
           But I'm just wondering if what's appears differs dramatically from what's actually happening?   If what I feel doesn't at all reflect what's really true?  If the tiny, limited slice of what I can see has no correlation with what the Lord is doing and knowing and seeing?  
           Somehow, someway, I have the tiniest glimmer of hope hidden deep in my heart that our Almighty God is working and moving and growing and redeeming in countless ways that I cannot see and do not know.  And maybe, just maybe, that's exactly what He's doing not just with our camellia bush but with all the hard, dark, scary, bewildering things going on in the lives of countless dear friends.
            Well, my fallible, ever- vacillating feelings might exclaim "maybe" but my faith says "definitely!"  I have dear friends dealing with cancer...and heart surgery...and lost jobs...and death of loved ones...and despair.  But we can know, know, know that the sovereign Lord of Heaven and Earth is at work and is doing mighty and wondrous things we cannot begin to imagine.  "I will lead the blind by a way they do not know, In paths they do not know I will guide them I will make darkness into light before them And rugged places into plains These are the things I will do, And I will not leave them undone." (Isa.42:16)
           And in those dark, difficult, discouraging places, He's moulding, equipping, reviving, restoring, redeeming, and teaching.  As Isaiah 45:3 reminds us, many of God's choicest lessons are revealed only in the darkness. "I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name."
           So today, Lord, we join the psalmist in declaring "I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.  He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in Him." (Ps.40:1-3)
         Yes, Lord, yes--do it again and again!  And while we wait, we will trust in You. Our lives may look like a bunch of bare, brown sticks, but we're waiting and trusting in You, our omnipotent God of Resurrection and Redemption who is even now making all, all, all things new.
       To God be the glory.  

Monday, June 19, 2017

Preach it!

         I love these wise words from  Paul David Tripp--
We just never stop talking
to ourselves.
We never stop preaching
some kind of gospel
to ourselves.
It's a gospel of
aloneness,
partiality,
poverty,
inability--
of functional hopelessness--
or
it's the true gospel of
Jesus Christ,
a gospel of
hope,
mercy,
forgiveness,
rescue,
love,
transformation;
of never being alone,
of never being without help;
of One who is near,
of One who cares;
of a beautiful forever
awash in victory.
We're always listening
to
what we're preaching.
        I've repeated it ad nauseam, but we (or at least I) need to be reminded ad infinitum!  We're always preaching to ourselves, and we--yes we--each decide what we will be preaching and preaching and preaching to ourselves.  Stop blaming your parents or your siblings or your boss or your friends or your politicians or your enemies or your circumstances or your whatever!  We choose what we preach to ourselves, and what we choose radically affects our thinking, our attitudes, our behavior, our everything!
       So what will it be: the life-giving, joy-sustaining, hope-infusing, strength-reviving Truth of the Gospel or the negative, worrying, destroying, despairing, fretting, complaining lies of the enemy and of our selfish flesh?  We choose.  On a moment-by-moment basis, we choose what we will preach and repeat and imbibe and digest.  And what we choose slowly but inexorably transforms us into people of faith, hope, and love or into people of fear, despair, and hatred.
       "Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season," Paul says in 2 Tim.4:2.  And this written by a man imprisoned for what he knows is the last time and facing his imminent execution.  But he's still preaching to others and to himself.  As he nears the end of his life, these are some of his final words: "I have fought the good fight.  I have finished the race.  I have kept the faith.  Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing." (2 Tim.4:7-8)                   In a dark Roman dungeon.  Alone.  Cold.  Facing execution.  And Paul's preaching it all the way to the end...which for him meant the beginning.
        How about us?  What are we preaching to ourselves on a daily basis?  What are we preaching today?  Let's choose the Truth of the gospel, the word of Life, the very Word of Almighty God.  Preach it!
         To God be the glory.  
     

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

What's your soundtrack?

         What's your soundtrack?
         Seriously, what's the soundtrack that tends to play over and over again in your mind?
         This question has captured my attention and convicted my heart after listening to some powerful sermons via podcast by Louie Giglio (pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta).  In one of those sermons, he spoke of how many of us have an internal soundtrack that plays an endless loop of fear and failure.  That voice of doom speaks words of defeat and destruction--"This will not end well...You will never make it...The worst will happen...Nobody loves you...You will always be alone...The future will be bleak and full of failure and suffering...It's hopeless, they (or you) will never change..." and on and on it drones.
          Haven't we all been there at one time or another?  I confess to my shame that I tend to "catastrophize"--assuming the absolute worst possibility as the outcome.  (For instance--"this isn't just a minor headache...it's a brain tumor....or my child isn't just late getting home--he's been in a terrible accident or been kidnapped by terrorists...or..."  Sigh).  This tendency would be laughable if it weren't so terribly destructive and joy annihilating.      
        Yes, we all know it's true that sometimes, just sometimes, things do turn out for the worst...but then, won't God be there too?  Of course He will!  Our God promises to be with us in the storms of life, but when we catastrophize (yes, I realize that may be a made-up word, but I'm hoping you get my meaning), we're completely missing out at both ends of the spectrum.  First on one hand, we're forgetting the wonderful possibility that our God--Who is the Giver of all good gifts--can, and often does, bestow tremendous blessings and work things out in an incredibly positive and beneficial way.  Because He is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think. (Eph.3:20)
         But on the other hand, if the worst does in fact occur, well then, our  Lord has promised to never ever leave us nor forsake us. (Heb.13:5)  He will be right there with us in the storm and will use it all for our greater good and His greater glory.  After all, since He works ALL things out for the good of those who love Him (Rom.8:28), why should we cloak the unknown future with fear and dread?  What good does that do us?   And when we do that, we're utterly removing Almighty God from the equation! But He's promised--and the Lord always keeps His every promise--to always be with us, to strengthen us, to give us all that we need to get through whatever it is, and to use it all, all, all for our good.
         Words of self-condemnation, discouragement, defeat, and doom--these are the soundtrack of fear.   It all ultimately comes from a place of fear, doesn't it?  Fear that God isn't really good. Fear that His plans and ways really won't be for our good and His glory.  Fear that we will not have what it takes to get through life.  Fear of the future...which means we're factoring that future without God.
         But Louie said something that really struck me.  "Fear is faith in the enemy."  Think about that.  When we fear, we're actually placing our faith in the enemy and in his lies and deceptions.  We're believing what the enemy says rather than believing what our Almighty Lord says.
         We all have faith...but the question is--in Whom are we placing our faith?  If we put our faith in the enemy's lies of defeat and death, we will be listening to an endless, hopeless soundtrack of darkness and despair.  But that's just it--it's all lies.
         But we have the choice!  We can choose in Whom we'll place our faith and in which soundtrack we will listen.  We can change the soundtrack and replace those dark, despairing lies with Truth.  Real Truth.  The Truth of God's Word. The Truth of Who He is.  The Truth of what He has done.  The Truth of His powerful promises.  The Truth of the Gospel.  The Truth of all He has in store for those who love Him.
         We can and must set our hearts and minds to the soundtrack of God's Truth and listen to His words filled with Life.  His Words of Love. Of Grace.  Of Joy.  Of Peace.  Of Forgiveness.  Of Power.  Of Redemption.  Of Hope.
          Make your soundtrack today.  Choose  to stop listening to the lies.  Reject and shut down that soundtrack.  And instead fill your heart and mind with the soundtrack of God's Word.  "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God." (Rom.10:17)  Read it.  Meditate on it.  Memorize it.  Pick one verse that speaks to your fears, and write it down. Carry it with you.  Repeat it throughout the day.  There's nothing more powerful than God's supernatural Word.
          But also make a literal soundtrack!  Go onto itunes or Pandora or whatever technology you use and choose some hymns and worship songs that lift your heart and mind to the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.  I can still remember certain praise songs that we played in Janie's ICU room in those darkest of days, and I cannot tell you how they strengthened and encouraged our battered, frightened hearts.  Truly, to this day, when I hear one of those songs, I weep, because I remember and know how God powerfully ministered to us through the words and music.  Oh what a priceless gift music is to us!  As Giglio says, "The antidote to fear is faith, and the soundtrack of faith is worship."  And if you ask me, there's nothing like worshipping with music.
        "My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast!  I will sing and make melody!" (Ps.57:7)
       Change the soundtrack today.  In the words of the great old hymn, "Tune my heart to sing Your praise."  Tune your heart to the soundtrack of Truth.  Tune your heart to the soundtrack of worship and praise.  Tune your heart to the beautiful soundtrack of your great and glorious God.
       To God be the glory.
       

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Always pray and not lose heart

        "Men always ought to pray and not lose heart." (Luke 18:1)
       Anybody need those words today?  I sure did.  I sure do...everyday, every hour.  We've been praying for some needs for a number of very dear friends, and the last couple of days, well, I started to grow a bit fainthearted.  A bit weary and wondering and discouraged.
        And then I read those words in yesterday's "Daily Light," and the Holy Spirit gently but clearly convicted, encouraged, and exhorted my often weak and vacillating heart.  "Pray always, Emily.  Don't lose heart.  Don't quit.  Don't forget.  Don't flag.  Don't give in.  Just pray always, keep praying...and Do. Not. Lose. Heart."
        Why?  Because of Who we're praying to!  The Almighty, all-glorious, all-powerful, all-loving, all-gracious, all-wise Lord of heaven and earth.  The One who never makes a mistake...not ever.  The One who loves us extravagantly beyond all reason and explanation (and for proof of that, look at the cross!).  The One who has infinite power and can do all things.  And the One who knows all things and whose plans and ways are always good, pleasing and perfect.
        That's the Awesome and Glorious One to Whom we pray.
        What's causing you to lose heart today?  Keep praying and keep praising by "looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted." (Heb.12:2-3)
        That's how we keep from losing heart--we keep looking and gazing at Jesus. We keep our noses in His Word.  We keep talking to Him in prayer.  We keep meeting with His body--our fellow believers.  We keep reading and meditating and memorizing His life-giving, supernatural words that will change us and shape us and mould us and give us the mind of Christ and the power that raised Him from the dead.
        In short, we keep on keeping on in faithfully following and trusting and walking with Jesus.  And we can keep on, we can persevere and not lose heart, because He never did.  Not for a moment.  And because our risen Savior's Spirit lives within us, then if He can, we can too.  If He loves, we can too.  If He prays, we can too.  If He gives, we can too.  If He perseveres no matter what, well, then we can too.
        But just in case we didn't get the message (because if you're anything like me--slow learner, quick forgetter, stubborn as all get out--I need to hear it again and again), there was this: "Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving." (Col.4:2)  Continue in prayer.  Pray earnestly.  And be vigilant to pray with thanksgiving.  Even when we're waiting and waiting and waiting.  Even when the answers aren't what we want and desperately desire.  We're still to be vigilant to keep on praying and to pray with thanksgiving.  Whew, that's not easy...but oh how I've seen and experienced the supernatural power of thanksgiving.  Praise--especially praise in the dark, hard corners of life--has an atomic, attitude-changing, life-altering power like nothing else.
         Oh Father, help us to continue to pray for our friends and family.  Help us never to lose heart but to continue to vigilantly, consistently, perseveringly pray with thanksgiving and praise as we look to You, depend upon You, follow You, obey You, enjoy You, trust You, call upon You, and walk with You.  We know You are "able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us" (Eph.3:20), so we ask that You do it, Lord!
         Help us to "Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer." (Rom.12:12)  And we wait and watch in eager expectation to see the great things which You, Almighty Lord, will do.
         To God be the glory.