Living Hope

My child, never drift off course from these two goals for your life:
to walk in wisdom and to discover discernment.
Don’t ever forget how they empower you.
For they strengthen you inside and out
and inspire you to do what’s right;
you will be energized and refreshed by the healing they bring.
They give you living hope to guide you,
and not one of life’s tests will cause you to stumble
.

(Proverbs 3:21-23 TPT)

The Beauty of Holiness

I didn’t see it until I was out in bright sunlight at the picnic. The grease spot, or the butter badge as my grandson calls it, sat in a prominent place on my bosom. It was too late to change my clothes. The options seemed to be 1) ignore it and pretend I hadn’t noticed (aka denial) or 2) make a joke about it.

I have good friends who understand clumsiness. If I joke, they will respond with self-deprecating stories that start with, “You think that’s bad…” The truly sympathetic might drop a blob of mustard or ketchup on their own shirts in solidarity. We could call it the sympathy badge.

No one is perfect and being reminded of that fact keeps us humble, but denial is living a lie and joking can be acceptance of shame as a way of life. I still need to get the spot out.

The thing is, walking in the light exposes things we would rather not have people see, or even see ourselves. Sympathy might relieve tension, but it doesn’t remove sin stains. After a while dirty clothes lose their novelty. They are simply, well, dirty. If we truly believe that God is who he says he is, we (and others) will see continuing change in our lives.

When I looked out the window and saw this white begonia in the sunlight, it reminded me of the beauty of holiness. I saw it as an invitation to explore what it means to live in the light.

There is a verse in Hebrews 10 that talks about provoking each other to good works. I’m not talking about walking around whilst virtue-signaling and condemning others for their flaws. That’s not provoking goodness; that’s provoking a punch in the nose. I’m talking about inspiring each other to walk in the light without fear of what will be exposed because it has been dealt with. Sympathy doesn’t inspire; sympathy accepts. With a sigh of resignation sympathy alone says, “Oh, well. It is what it is.”

I believe God loves and accepts us as we are, and he is the one who convicts and cleans us up if we let him.  He loves us as we are, but he doesn’t leave us covered with filth. He’s a good father, not an indulgent one. Sins are dirty spots that have consequences, some minor, and some that play out for generations. Sin is a stain that hampers relationships and keeps us from becoming who God intended us to be.

Mercy is great, but grace is greater. Grace empowers us to become more than we have been. Grace is not an indulgent excuse to keep on repeating the same thing we needed mercy for. Grace empowers transformation.

When we agree with God when he points out that we have made poor choices that weren’t motivated by his love or his goodness for others or for ourselves, he cleans us up. Sometimes the process is like having your hair washed and sometimes it feels like a major makeover. It depends what he wants to reveal, what he wants to work on, and our cooperation. Once he starts, he is faithful to complete the job. His light makes us pure.

This is the life-giving message we heard him share and it’s still ringing in our ears. We now repeat his words to you: God is pure light. You will never find even a trace of darkness in him.

If we claim that we share life with him, but keep walking in the realm of darkness, we’re fooling ourselves and not living the truth. But if we keep living in the pure light that surrounds him, we share unbroken fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, continually cleanses us from all sin.

 If we boast that we have no sin, we’re only fooling ourselves and are strangers to the truth. But if we freely admit our sins when his light uncovers them, he will be faithful to forgive us every time. God is just to forgive us our sins because of Christ, and he will continue to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

(1 John 1: 5-9 TPT)

There is more. Keep going.

Strength

How enriched are they who find their strength in the Lord;
within their hearts are the highways of holiness!

Even when their paths wind through the dark valley of tears,
they dig deep to find a pleasant pool where others find only pain.

He gives to them a brook of blessing
filled from the rain of an outpouring.

They grow stronger and stronger with every step forward,
and the God of all gods will appear before them in Zion.

Psalm 84:5-7 The Passion Translation

I Do Declare!

As for me, I will always have hope;
    I will praise you more and more.

My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds,
    of your saving acts all day long—
    though I know not how to relate them all.


 I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign Lord;
    I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone.

Since my youth, God, you have taught me,
    and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.
 

Even when I am old and gray,
    do not forsake me, my God,
till I declare your power to the next generation,
    your mighty acts to all who are to come.

(Psalm 71:14-18 NIV)

Above the Fray

This morning I heard two gentlemen on a park bench. It was hard not to hear them. They were conversing with the volume of the newly hard of hearing.

“You know, I have never paid much attention to American politics, but now it’s my whole damn life!” said one.

I’m not one to stick my head in the sand. I watch and listen and keep up with current events outside my own country. I try to treat people with different opinions with honour, even when I am becoming increasingly aware that some people hate me simply for my beliefs.

I do understand the man on the bench though. It reminds me of the old westerns where everyone in the saloon is keenly aware of tension rising at the poker table. Stakes are high and bystanders are quietly checking the exits and looking for cover.

Sometimes it feels overwhelming and sometimes it’s hard not to be dragged into the prevailing atmosphere of fear, anger, confusion, disappointment, and division. Then I remember my focus needs to be on my good, good heavenly Father who knows the whole truth. In him I am secure.

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!

(Psalm 61: 2,3 TPT)

Then I Recall

Sometimes I hate the nastiness and dismal forebodings on social media and think about leaving. Then, on a day like this, it gives me a beautiful gift. I check the memories feature often. It’s like my own snapshot journal.

When I feel like I haven’t made any progress on this journey, it reminds me that in many ways I have grown. It also reminds me of many things for which I am thankful. When I see photos of my children and grandchildren and read funny things they said, I think about the insight and maturity they have gained. When I see old conversations with friends, I remember how valuable they are to me.

This week I saw reminders of the marvellous goodness of God.

Nine years ago, my husband drove himself to the emergency ward of our local hospital (because he would) and was admitted with a life-threatening illness. Tests revealed a blockage and extremely high pancreatic enzyme levels. That useful, actually essential, organ was sort of digesting itself, painfully.

I was in another city helping my father prepare for a move into a senior’s lodge when all of this happened. Dad never threw anything out and I was hip-high in the sorting process when I received a call that my husband was in a crisis situation. The decision had not yet been made whether to do emergency surgery in the hospital in our town or to fly him to a major hospital in the city where I was helping my father.

After a tense time of waiting for news, I left Dad in the middle of chaos and jumped in the car and drove through the night to my husband’s side. I prayed the whole way, of course. Surgery kept being delayed for one frustrating reason or another, but by the time a spot was available in the O.R., his tests came back showing unexpected improvement. After a few days of observation, they sent him home. He didn’t have surgery. The problem never returned. He’s out jogging as I write this.

Seven years ago, a friend’s husband was in critical condition in the ICU. His body, overwhelmed with infection, became septic. Doctors didn’t expect him to make it through the night and called the family in to say goodbye. Many friends prayed for him. God gave him his miracle. He walked out of the hospital a few days later.

He had more underlying health problems that challenged the family for a time, but he received the gift of a transplant and has his life back. His wife posted a photo of him a few days ago. He was up on scaffolding putting new siding on a house. There is no doubt that although medical care was wonderful, when the professionals could do no more his life was in God’s hands.

Another picture from a year ago showed my friends’ precious little boy in the hospital. He was on life support. His heart stopped during surgery. Surgeons managed to start it again, but his little body was overwhelmed by infection. The doctors could do no more. His broken-hearted parents said goodbye — but God responded with a miracle.

This week, his mom posted a video of him riding his balance bike on a mountain bike trail. He is bright, adventurous, and full of energy.

I never noticed before that these events happened on the same date.

Can I admit how easily I forget, in times when answers don’t come quickly and I’m feeling worn down, how, in the past, God gave us a miracle or strengthened us to do what we didn’t think we could do? How easy it is to look at the waves in the storm and forget how the Lord took us by the hand and lifted us up last time.

The crowd of ex-slaves that Moses was to lead to the promised land had trouble remembering the goodness of God’s dazzling miracles that set them free, but had no trouble stepping back into the attitudes of previous victimhood. Minds remain in slavery much longer than bodies. It seems the way out of the expectation of disappointment requires deliberate focus on God’s goodness to get out of the hole, an expression of gratitude to stay out, and obedient trust to move on.

Thanks for the reminders, Lord. You give us the freedom to choose to remain as victims or to step into freedom. You are truly the God who extends your hand to save and deliver. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

And I said, “This is my fate;
    the Most High has turned his hand against me.”
But then I recall all you have done, O Lord;
    I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.
They are constantly in my thoughts.
    I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.

O God, your ways are holy.
    Is there any god as mighty as you?
You are the God of great wonders!
    You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations.

(Psalm 77:11-14 NLT)

The Comfort of Your Love

Lord, even when your path takes me through the valley of deepest darkness, fear will never conquer me, for you already have!

You remain close to me and lead me through it all the way.

Your authority is my strength and my peace.

The comfort of your love takes away my fear.”

(Psalm 23:4 The Passion Translation)

One of the greatest pains in life is to be rejected, shunned, ignored — cancelled. The desire to belong can be so great that sometimes people will defy their own conscience to maintain connection.

When my mother decided to follow the path that led to a closer relationship to Christ, the consequences were harsh. Her family accused her of dishonouring them. They treated her as though she were dead. It took tremendous courage to risk offending people she loved, but Jesus was calling her and she chose to listen to his voice. Years later, one at a time, most family members reached out to her again, but at first she walked the deep sorrowful path of rejection choosing to believe God’s promises led to greater hope.

When Mom was old and close to dying, she told me that knowing that Jesus would never leave was the greatest comfort in her life. She had found his promises to be true. His love was accepting and unwavering. While the people she loved most turned their backs, He never did. The comfort of his love took away all fear of walking through dark places. She was not alone.

With One Voice

I lost the tag that told me the name of this little rose bush. It blooms just as happily without it. I’m fascinated by flowers of different colours springing from the same root. It brings me joy.

Unity is not uniformity, but neither is unity a random occurrence, without anything in common. I have known groups formed around the concept of unity that were so accepting of almost any idea they no longer have anything in common. That’s not true unity any more than response to a man-made rule that forces everyone to dress the same and act the same is true unity.

Unity in the spirit is about receiving from and responding to the same source, the way these lovely roses receive nutrients from the same root and yet each bloom expresses itself in a different way.

Unity is more than having faith in whatever. Unity is having faith that is connected to the One who is faithful. True unity is about being and rooted and grounded in the Creator’s love.

“Now may God, the source of great endurance and comfort, grace you with unity among yourselves, which flows from your relationship with Jesus, the Anointed One. Then, with a unanimous rush of passion, you will with one voice glorify God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

(Romans 15:5,6 TPT)

Restore. Reveal.

My friend, Linda, introduced me to videos by an art restoration master named Julian Baumgartner. There is something deeply satisfying about watching beauty being restored and revealed.

Grime and pollutants can add up so slowly we don’t realize that we have lost sight of the intent of the artist, that what we pay to see in museums is not what it looked like originally. Many old works are actually so much better than we thought when restoration reveals the true beauty underneath.

Some of the works Mr. Baumgartner restores look like they have been through a war. They are torn, gouged, chipped, patched, warped, filthy and seriously distressed. I often wonder how he can ever make them look presentable again. And yet he does.

As I was watching another episode today, words from middle stanzas of an old hymn I heard when I was a squirmy, unappreciative, bored kid in the pew came to mind:

Though with a scornful wonder
men see her sore oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder,
by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping,
their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
shall be the morn of song.

The church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord to defend,
to guide, sustain, and cherish,
is with her to the end;
though there be those that hate her,
and false sons in her pale,
against both foe and traitor
she ever shall prevail.

Mid toil and tribulation,
and tumult of her war,
she waits the consummation
of peace forevermore;
till with the vision glorious
her longing eyes are blest,
and the great church victorious
shall be the church at rest.

(from The Churches One Foundation by Samuel John Stone)

Considering how enormously valuable many of the old paintings restorers work on are, I wonder why owners have not taken better care of them. Perhaps familiarity with family heirlooms has bred a type of contempt. Perhaps owners have left them in storage and lost sight of what lies underneath layers of discoloured varnish and dirt.

I wonder if, under the grime of corruption and the distorting effects of neglect, what many people think the Church of Christ, the Body, the Ekklesia looks like is not what they think it is. I wonder if we, the living stones that make up the Church Jesus talked about, are in need of restoration to what the Creator intended us to be — those who can be identified by love as the Holy Spirit flows through them.

Repentance is change. Submission to Christ is a willingness to allow him to clean us up and restore us to be the visibly beautiful work of art he intended us to be.

Anyway, those are the words that catch my attention today. Restore. Reveal.

God has so much more for us. So much more.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.

(Psalm 51:10-12 NASB)