“When I trust deeply that today God is truly with me and holds me safe in a divine embrace, guiding every one of my steps I can let go of my anxious need to know how tomorrow will look, or what will happen next month or next year. I can be fully where I am and pay attention to the many signs of God’s love within me and around me.”
– Henri Nouwen
The smoke has cleared and I was feeling well enough to get out of the house and drive to one of my favourite quiet places, little Munroe Lake. This area suffered the ravages of wildfire a few years ago. I enjoy the contrast between old growth on one side of the lake and new growth on the other.
Circumstances in my life require letting go of things I used to be able to do without much planning or thought. Mourning is involved any time we let go of the old to make room for the new, but we can’t get a grasp on the future when our hands are desperately hanging on to strands of the past.
This new terrain is giving me a greater appreciation for stillness. It is reinforcing the importance of something the Lord has been teaching me for many years: trust.
How will things look in the next few months or years? I don’t know, but the words of an old song by Ira Stanphill play in my heart:
Many things about tomorrow I don’t seem to understand But I know who holds tomorrow And I know who holds my hand.
I made many attempts to read the Bible through consecutively from beginning to end. I had many failures. I realized I always stopped around the same place. I couldn’t get past the story of the young prophet Jeremiah, who some call “the weeping prophet.”
A line from a sci-fi 2009 TV show, Flash Forward, arrested my attention while we were binge watching the series. A supervisor tells the investigator, “I can’t think of a prophet that didn’t suffer… and I can’t think of a prophet that God didn’t love.”
A prophet who doesn’t know he or she is loved is a dangerous person. His or her own neediness or bitterness will taint how they view what they have seen or heard. Some prophets used their gift for self-aggrandizement. Faithful prophets in the Old Testament were routinely misunderstood and rejected. They often carried the burden of knowing what others refused to acknowledge. They lived in at least two places and different time zones, The Way We Are Going Now, and The Ways God Is Planning to Take Us In The Future — depending on our willingness to work with Him. Whether they were told to speak boldly in the palace and in the streets like Jeremiah or quietly ponder and keep the information to themselves like Mary, prophets carried both the burden of the ugliness of sin and its consequences and the beauty of hope of restoration. It’s not a vocation many people aspired to and some, like Jonah, even tried to escape.
Jeremiah knew he was loved from his first God encounter. Jeremiah was also misunderstood, rejected, and thrown into a pit for saying what no one in a position of privilege or power wanted to hear. Jeremiah’s worst suffering came from understanding the suffering that awaited those who rejected the help God offered. He knew the blessings awaiting those who chose to trust God, but he also knew the sorrow awaiting those who honoured their own wisdom above the Creator of the universe. He wrote:
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord And whose trust is the Lord. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, That extends its roots by a stream And will not fear when the heat comes; But its leaves will be green, And it will not be anxious in a year of drought Nor cease to yield fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8 NASB)
But he also wrote:
Thus says the Lord, “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind And makes flesh his strength, And whose heart turns away from the Lord. For he will be like a bush in the desert And will not see when prosperity comes, But will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, A land of salt without inhabitant.” (verses 5 and 6)
In the midst of his lament for the people who treated him as a crazy, depressed, annoying, embarrassing conspiracy theory promoter, he also wrote in Jeremiah 29:
“For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.
For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope.
Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’”
I hated reading Jeremiah and Lamentations because I hated the notion that God would allow someone he supposedly loved to suffer. I see now that God took Jeremiah into His confidence about His plans — His conspiracy for good. Jeremiah was loved by God, and it doesn’t get any better than that.
“Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
-Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego on faith that takes risks.
Maybe this hurting world needs to be inspired by recognition of the pleasures of goodness instead of the consequences of sin, and news of works inspired by faith instead of efforts based on despair and resignation.
Maybe it’s time for a shot of goodness right into the heart of darkness.
“With this in mind, we constantly pray that our God will empower you to live worthy of all that he has invited you to experience. And we pray that by his power all the pleasures of goodness and all works inspired by faith would fill you completely.”
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.
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.”