Certain Hope

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The Christian is a man who can be certain about the ultimate even when he is most uncertain about the immediate.

-Martyn Lloyd-Jones

I was not expected to be born alive.

The fact that I am here at all was a miracle, which I, of course, do not remember. But I remember my father’s telling of the story of my birth.

Many people die in utero. More now than ever. I’m here. Why?

As I was thinking about this, I realized that every day since the doctor, who expected to deliver a stillborn, handed my parents a healthy chubby screaming baby instead has been a bonus.

The God of love who gave us life and sent his son to restore our relationship with him promises more than we can imagine. If every day is a gift now, how much greater is the gift of  life with him forever?

And now we have run into his heart to hide ourselves in his faithfulness. This is where we find his strength and comfort, for he empowers us to seize what has already been established ahead of time—an unshakeable hope! We have this certain hope like a strong, unbreakable anchor holding our souls to God himself. Our anchor of hope is fastened to the mercy seat which sits in the heavenly realm beyond the sacred threshold, and where Jesus, our forerunner, has gone in before us.

(Hebrews 6:18a – 20a TPT)

Extravagant Love

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My heart, O God, is quiet and confident.
Now I can sing with passion your wonderful praises!

Awake, O my soul, with the music of his splendor-song!
Arise, my soul, and sing his praises!
My worship will awaken the dawn,
greeting the daybreak with my songs of praise!
 
Wherever I go I will thank you, my God.
Among all the nations they will hear my praise songs to you.
 
Your love is so extravagant it reaches to the heavens,
Your faithfulness so astonishing it stretches to the sky!
 
Lord God, be exalted as you soar throughout the heavens.
May your shining glory be shown in the skies!
Let it be seen high above all the earth!

(Psalm 57:7-11 TPT)

One of the hardest challenges some of us face is forgiving ourselves. When we can’t forgive ourselves it’s hard to imagine that our heavenly Father does.

I should know better by now. I feel the urgency of the hour. Time becomes more precious, yet easier to waste as I grow older. I give in to self-pity. Negative thinking inevitably leads to conclusions that leave God’s extravagant love out of the picture and end up in a vortex of catastrophic projections.

I hear his voice gently whispering, “You! Eyes here. Look at me! My strength is made perfect in weakness. My strength, not yours. Your weakness, not mine. I’ve got this.”

I see the morning light in a corner of the sky.

“I’m sorry. I was wrong. I know you do,” I tell him.

“I forgive you. Now forgive yourself and let’s start again. It’s a new day and I love you. Do you hear me? I really, really love you.”

Thank you. I trust you, Lord.

Morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed your hand has provided. Great is your faithfulness, Lord, unto me.

 

Context

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But as for me, your strength shall be my song of joy.
At each and every sunrise, my lyrics of your love will fill the air!
For you have been my glory-fortress,
a stronghold in my day of distress.

O my strength, I sing with joy your praises.
O my stronghold, I sing with joy your song!
O my Savior, I sing with joy the lyrics of your faithful love for me!

(Psalm 59:16, 17 TPT)

I love the Psalms and make an effort to read from them every day. Lately I have been aware of how often the Psalmists (David in particular) talk about their confusion, fear, and suffering. It’s easy to pick passages like the one above to print on pretty posters and mugs. They are lovely, but taken out of context of their setting, they are deprived of  the power and drama of the moment of their creation.

The first line of the psalm is, “My God, protect me! Keep me safe from all my enemies, for they’re coming to kill me!”

The outpouring of David’s heart allows us to see how his focus moved from the reality of point A, “They’re coming to kill me!” to the truth of his conclusion, “Your strength shall be my song of joy…”

Just before the higher truth of the last two verses, he talks about the observable, measurable truth coming at him, “Here they come again— prowling, growling like a pack of stray dogs in the city. Drifting, devouring, and coming in for the kill, they refuse to sleep until they’ve eaten their fill.”

To me, the Psalms speak of the faith journey in real time. God is outside of time, but we who travel along tethered to this timeline, except for moments of prophetic vision, don’t know what lies in those valleys between mountain peaks.

Some people believe that talking about valleys creates valleys, that mentioning devouring dogs coming in for the kill, for example, gives strength to the dogs, or acknowledging the pain of arthritis entrenches arthritis.

The psalm’s encouragement, I believe, can be found in the “buts.” I am tempted to be terrified, BUT, you, my heavenly father are greater. They arrogantly scoff, BUT you break out laughing at their plans. They think I am vulnerable, BUT you hide me in a high place. They plot and scheme, BUT you watch over me. They boil over with rage and shout lies and curses, BUT you are amused by their arrogance. They hate me and want to silence me, but you, oh God of passionate love, will meet with me.

The psalmist strengthens himself in the Lord, not by denying the reality of the attack against him, but by declaring over and over the greater reality of God’s coming response to his cries.

I took the photo above during a time when wild fires threatened our valley. Smoking threat, sunset beauty and a patch of clear breakthrough all existing at the same time and space. This is where my heart is today, not denying the reality of threatening evil, but focussing on the beauty of my Lord, and seeing the early signs of breakthrough.

“My strength is found when I wait upon you.”

 

A New Day

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Stop dwelling on the past.
Don’t even remember these former things.

I am doing something brand new, something unheard of.
Even now it sprouts and grows and matures.
Don’t you perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and open up flowing streams in the desert.

Wild beasts, jackals, and owls will glorify me.
For I supply streams of water in the desert
and rivers in the wilderness
to satisfy the thirst of my people, my chosen ones,

so that you, whom I have shaped and formed for myself,
will proclaim my praise.”

(Isaiah 43:18-21 TPT)

You Can’t Make a Story Without a Problem

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I checked the weather report before I left to drive to Calgary. Mixed cloud and sun with occasional showers. Perfect.

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I like driving the Cowboy Trail when the weather is unsettled. The road runs north on the east side of the Rocky Mountains from the Crowsnest Pass. Light constantly changes in these conditions. Vistas are never quite the same. Cloudscapes and sunbeams arrange patterns of shadow and sun on the hills, telling a different story with every shift of wind. The photographer waits, anticipating drama – a story told in darkness and light.

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As part of my continuing story, this trip involved another trek to see specialists in a larger center about my complex health challenges. It’s one of those battles raging between good days and bad days, like plot shifts set in an ever changing landscape of unexpected symptoms.

DSC_0281 (5)I thought about the elements of story (a long road with few services leaves ample time for thought.) Even my little granddaughter had it figured out by the age of four.

“Every story has to have a good guy and a problem,” she said, drawing an exceptionally long-limbed princess on the first page of a storybook we decided to create one rainy afternoon. “Sometimes it has a bad guy, but it doesn’t have to. You can make a story without a bad guy, but you can’t make a story without a problem. Now what is our problem going to be? Maybe the princess has nobody to play with?”

A fellow writer had this to say about a memoire she was asked to review: “I’m happy for the writer. She’s had such a lovely life, but I feared falling into a never-ending sleep of the mostly dead before reaching the final chapter. Nothing out of the ordinary ever happened to her – no disasters, no life-or-death crisis, no betrayal, no wayward children, not even a single regret worthy of a flight to a priest in another town for a trembling ten minute confession. I’ve had a hellish life myself. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but at least it wasn’t boring. I can’t relate to this book. What should I say? Reviewer dies from toxic dose of niceness?”

Jesus understood the power of story. “It’s like this,” he said, communicating a complicated concept people could not relate to by referencing something familiar.

“It’s like a Father who had two sons, but the youngest one…”

“It’s like a rich man who went on a journey and trusted a manager to look after his business while he was gone, but…”

 

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I watched the clouds along the highway and hoped for a place to stop where the views were best. A couple of times the clouds dropped their loads and the rain was so heavy I had to pull over to the side and wait them out. My windshield wipers couldn’t keep up. I could see nothing. But stories are like that too, especially our own, especially in the middle of a you’ve-got-to-be-kidding downpour.

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It’s hard, on the underside of a deluge, to remember that God is in the story with us. In fact, he has gone to some lengths to arrange circumstances that will give us stories.

Everything we think we know about him is merely theory until we experience him in the storm. Everything is dull until we see the light flooding the plain with hope. Every seed is dormant until awakened by the rain.

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I could pray for a nice life without stress, without doubt, without the need for divine intervention.

I could, and I have, but one night, in a dream, the Lover of my soul came to my door and called my name. When I opened to it, I saw him astride a beautiful white horse. He held the reins of a saddled bay and said, ”Come on! I want to show you something.”

We’re still writing our story together. It’s been an adventure, even when the skies have been cloudy all day, because, well, when that sun breaks through, it’s glorious.

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“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”– Jesus
(John 16:33 NIV)

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Feeling Weak and Overwhelmed: A Prayer

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When I’m feeble and overwhelmed by life,
guide me into your glory, where I am safe and sheltered.

I’ve been feeling frustrated with my attempts to love people who act in an unloving, disingenuous manner – especially those who make skewed assumptions or condemn on the basis of association. I feel weak, overwhelmed – and, at times, I respond in an unloving, disingenuous manner myself.

Last evening my friend shared a song written by King David. Psalm 61. With tears in her eyes, she said that after reading it she felt loved. She has a beautiful heart and when she shares, I listen. I read the psalm again today.

It looked like King David had all the advantages — looks, charm, talent, connections, physical strength, intelligence, wealth, authority. He had seen God act in mighty and miraculous ways to set him on the throne, yet he still felt feeble and overwhelmed at times.

The greatest advantage David held was his ability to recognize that God was God and he was not. Being able to acknowledge his weakness kept him clinging to the Source of his provision. When he forgot from whence he came, and gave into the temptation to use his authority for self-aggrandizement, (like the time he resorted to betraying his faithful warrior, Uriah, on the battlefield, as cover-up for his own self-indulgence, for example) things went very badly for him. It broke him, but never cut him off from God. Repentence is re-alignment.

Paul wrote about his own intimate relationship with the greatest power in the Universe. A messenger of satan hung around even after the apostle prayed three times to have it removed:

“But he answered me, ‘My grace is always more than enough for you, and my power finds its full expression through your weakness.’ So I will celebrate my weaknesses, for when I’m weak I sense more deeply the mighty power of Christ living in me. So I’m not defeated by my weakness, but delighted! For when I feel my weakness and endure mistreatment—when I’m surrounded with troubles on every side and face persecution because of my love for Christ—I am made yet stronger. For my weakness becomes a portal to God’s power.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 TPT)

History demonstrates that power, unaligned with the Source of light, corrupts. Only the weak and the humble whose strength lies in submission to God can be trusted not to use it to worship themselves. Self-worship is also known as pride or entitlement. “I deserve the best on the basis of my superior attributes.”

The concept of humility is almost completely foreign to today’s public relations schemes and media manipulation. I’ve known Christian leaders who have been told that if they want to build a big church they should not to be open about their own weaknesses.

“People want a strong leader who sets an example,” a seminary prof said, “They want someone with a reputation they can trust without question.”

In other words, people want a god, or at the very least – a self-made man or woman worthy of emulation.

Alas, when leaders who follow this advice find themselves feeling weak and overwhelmed, they don’t always recognize the circumstances that threaten to drown them as a gift to prod them back into right relationship with the One who truly made them. Often they double down and resort to offensive defensiveness instead of humble prayer. A self-made man or woman has only the illusion of self-made resources to fall back on.

When King Herod accepted the adulation of the people, “The words of a god!” things did not go well for him either. (Story in Acts 12)

Those who work with light or fire or electricity or explosives know they themselves are never equal to either its creative or its destructive power. They also know, that with respect, yes, even fear, they can become a part of something greater than themselves, something greater than they ever imagined.

Power and authority in the Kingdom of God comes from knowing one is loved simply because God loves, and not as reward for any superior endowment of attribute or accomplishment. It is God’s infinitely powerful love, the dunamis power of the Holy Spirit flowing through one that allows a person to love powerfully. When we dwell in the shadow of the Lord, we are safe and sheltered. In him, we can love as he loves.

Lord, in weakness be our strength. May our feebleness be a portal to your power. Keep us in Your glory.

O God, hear my prayer. Listen to my heart’s cry.
 
For no matter where I am, even when I’m far from home,
I will cry out to you for a father’s help.
When I’m feeble and overwhelmed by life,
guide me into your glory, where I am safe and sheltered.
 
Lord, you are a paradise of protection to me.
You lift me high above the fray.
None of my foes can touch me
when I’m held firmly in your wrap-around presence!
 
Keep me in this glory.
Let me live continually under your splendor-shadow,
hiding my life in you forever.
Pause in his presence
 
You have heard my sweet resolutions
to love and serve you, for I am your beloved.
And you have given me an inheritance of rich treasures,
which you give to all your lovers.
 
You treat me like a king, giving me a full and abundant life,
years and years of reigning,
like many generations rolled into one.
 
I will live enthroned with you forever!
Guard me, God, with your unending, unfailing love.
Let me live my days walking in grace and truth before you.
 
And my praises will fill the heavens forever,
fulfilling my vow to make every day a love gift to you!

Psalm 61 TPT