Hope Springs

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The May tree is finally in bloom. It’s very late this year, almost a month later than last year, I think. I stopped checking it for signs of blossoms a while ago. I didn’t want to be disappointed again.

I think that the fear of disappointment is one of our greatest fears. I have talked to many people who are afraid to hope in God, lest he turn out to be as disappointing as many important people in our lives that we once relied upon have been.

When we fear abandonment or rejection, or worse, betrayal, we either give up, resigned to the inevitability of more disappointment, or muffle our own heart’s cry in distractions or work.

This has been both a challenging miserably rotten week of feeling helpless and a delightful inspiring week of spiritual growth. You don’t need the details. Weeks like this are custom-made to reveal what is lacking in our experience of who God wants to be for us. Your definition of rotten is probably different than mine, as is your experience of delight, but you know what I mean.

If my hope levels over the past few days were on a graph it would look like a major seismic disturbance. I’m much better than I used to be, but I’m not where I want to be. I wish all the weights on the worry side of my emotional scale would move permanently to the trust side without jumping back when I go to answer the phone.

The Lord has been reminding me to remember — and I would — and then, with more bad news, I would forget. I purposely wrote down promises I have seen fulfilled and miracles I have seen manifest before my own eyes. I have seen this stuff time and time again! Why do I struggle to hold those memories in my heart when faced with another crisis?  Why do I still oscillate between joyful trust and sick-to-the-stomach worry?

I spent time sitting in the warm sun under the May tree this evening and quieted my heart to wait on God. (My stomach still did its own thing.) This is what he reminded me to remember. I share it with you.

The God of all hope is the God of all love first because there is no hope without love.

Love is voluntary or it is not love. He chooses you. He likes you.

Lacking hope? Go back to love.

Quit acting like an orphan and trying so hard to figure it all out yourself. You’re adopted now. Let him look after you. Let him walk with you and show you how to do life with all its craziness.

Remember the many ways he has shown his love before, even when you messed up. And give thanks for as many things as you can think of. (This is important for your sake.)

You have never done anything that disqualifies you from being loved by your Papa God.

He is the God of all comfort and the God of limitless possibilities, so don’t ignore or limit him.

The greatest title you could ever hold is beloved son or daughter of the Creator of the universe. He’s got you.

He won’t stop loving you. He loves you because he loves you because he loves you — even on days when you can’t imagine how.

Look up, child. Spring will come. It always does.

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I Will Remember

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This is how I fight my battles. I paint my prayers. I started this piece at class on Monday eve, but it was not right. Too dark. I worked on it some more this evening.

Since Easter I have been running into the word “Remember.” Jesus’ last supper with his disciples was important. When you are on your way out you tend to make sure you talk about the things that matter most. He talked about remembering his broken body and spilled blood every time we take bread and wine together. He washed his friends’ feet as a demonstration of a servant’s attitude, but also as a reminder, especially to Peter, that we cannot do this on our own. We need Him. We must let him help us before we can help others.

We also need to let other disciples help us and admit when we are weak. This is about family and relationship and the giving and taking goes both ways. On Sunday I was on the prayer team and prayed for others. Tonight I am praying for my sixteen-year old granddaughter who is an exchange student in France. We just learned she is in hospital after a head injury.  I am also asking friends to come alongside and pray for her and for her parents and brother and us, her grandparents who are all a continent and ocean away.

This is my painted prayer. Bread, wine, water, basin, towel, candle. “Remember.” I remember all he has done for us and I praise and thank him. Jesus is the light of the world. God is love. He is faithful.

Yet

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Yet, in the maddening maze of things,
And tossed by storm and flood,
To one fixed trust my spirit clings;
I know that God is good!

– John Greenleaf Whittier

In the seven years since I started this blog I have changed.

My understanding of who God is and who he sees me as continues to grow.

Sometimes he shows me an exciting aspect of his character that fits with another piece of the puzzle I cherish.

Then the storm comes.

In the storm nothing makes sense. Until it does.

Like the girl hanging onto the railing in my painting, I can only hang onto the one sure thing I know — that God is good. In the storm, this is the most secure place in the world.

Since starting to write this blog I have seen miracles I had never dreamed of seeing. I have seen marriages restored, emotions healed, and broken trust mended. More than once, I have seen people rise up from their deathbeds and go home from the hospital to lead happy healthy lives.

I have also seen marriages disintegrate, walls go up, and emotions overwhelm. I’ve seen friends and family members die, some in joyful anticipation of seeing Jesus’ face and some with curses on their lips.

I have faced the reality of my own mortality and gained a sense of the impermanence of life here while appreciating it all the more.

I have seen gains, and I have seen losses. I have laughed and I have wept. But God has never abandoned me in the storms. He has only pulled me closer, even when I couldn’t feel him in the maddening maze. When the clouds broke and the sun came out I knew that experience established truth more deeply than any amount of study could.

Here I am. Seven years later. Still clinging by faith to that railing, in storm and in fair weather. With more assurance than ever, with greater confidence than before, I can say God is good.

Incognito

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When I saw this mannequin in a country store she reminded me of someone going incognito. Incognito is Latin for unseen, unknown. The goal of going incognito is the opposite of intimacy, something else I’ve been thinking about lately.

The problem with writing about intimacy with God is that when you use the word intimacy, people think you are talking about sex. Intimacy in current usage is very much about being seen and being known by someone of importance.

We see articles about improving intimate relationships in marriage and advertisements for intimate apparel, which have their place, but there is a greater intimacy with the Creator that goes beyond the physical and the emotional. I’ve been trying to figure out how to describe this kind of intimacy without alluding to sexual intimacy, but as I read the Bible, I notice something. God is proficient in the language of symbolism. He doesn’t avoid talking about sex, so why should I?

Sexual intimacy is a metaphor for something even bigger and better.

When God created man and woman they stood before each other naked and unashamed. The Bible says Adam knew Eve and she conceived. According to Strong’s, yada’, the word often translated knew means:
1. to know, learn to know
2. to perceive
3. to perceive and see, find out and discern
4. to discriminate, distinguish
5. to know by experience
6. to recognise, admit, acknowledge, confess
7. to consider

The first act of seduction and the first act of unfaithfulness was when the serpent, the creator of lies, convinced these two humans that if they ignored God’s instructions and ate from the tree, they would become like gods themselves. They would yada’ good and evil.

The first bit of knowledge they perceived, learned and experienced (yada’ again) after they chose to believe the serpent, was that they were naked – and ashamed. The Hebrew word for ashamed also carries the connotation of disappointment. Sin brought a sense of disappointment in themselves and disappointment in each other as part of the package deal. That profound disappointment is called shame. They needed a layer of protection to try to keep their shame from being seen. They covered up. They hid from God. They tried to go incognito. Unseen. Unknown.

The plan failed. It’s been failing ever since because God came looking for them.

One of the key verses for my life is Philippians 3:10 and 11: “… that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

The problem is that knowing him intimately means confronting the problem of shame that piles up like stinky laundry in front of the door. Can I be honest and tell you that a life-time of sin-awareness has not made me less sinful, but more aware of my shame? I’ve watched an entire industry based on the design, fabrication, and marketing of fashionable religious cover-ups expand in my life. I’ve watched it burgeon in the lives of people around me too.

The thing is about sexual intimacy is that involves us standing naked before someone and exposing our less-than-perfect parts. Am I the only one who has noticed, after many trips to the beach, that I am not the only one with scars and rolls and, um, a disappointing shape? I won’t even mention smells and sounds.

Sexual intimacy requires a lot of trust. One of our greatest fears is taking a risk and later experiencing rejection or betrayal as a result. That’s why Jesus said that when a person claiming to represent God betrays the trust of a vulnerable person, they have committed a heinous crime. If a victim thinks God is on the side of the perpetrator, they are hindered from turning to God for healing. It may take years and many demonstrations of unconditional love before they can regain a sense that God will not also betray them. So many people have believed lies about the nature of God as a result of abuse. I believe God wants to uncover truth about who he really is through his goodness.

Spiritual intimacy also requires trust, perhaps even more than physical intimacy. When we make a spiritual connection we give access to the deepest, most vulnerable part of our being.

Entire literature and film genres cash in on crimes of passion based on fear of rejection and betrayal. It is easier to approach God covered with a thick bullet-proof mantle of religiosity,  to speak in tones of formal scripted recitation, and to never let him get between us and the exit than it is to drop defenses.

But God makes a way.  He deals with shame by inviting us to consider it dead. He makes us into someone new. He shows up with his goodness and covers us with his own righteousness. Jesus’ humiliating experience of hanging naked on a cross as he bore our shame purchased that righteousness for us.

Intimacy requires the participation of two naked people with nothing hidden, nothing held back. Because God makes the first move by exposing his heart for me, I can drop my own attempts at cover-up. I am free to expose my heart to him. His righteousness becomes mine. In his eyes I am beautiful.

The passage before the verses I’ve claimed as my life theme goes like this:
“…I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith…” (Philippians 3:8 & 9)

As I was thinking about daring to respond to God’s invitation to increased intimacy, a line from an old song came to mind:

“…dressed in his righteousness alone, faultless to stand before his throne.”*

Trust involves risk. For so many years, I found it difficult to trust someone I was told wanted to punish me for not loving and obeying him perfectly. It was too risky to trust. That’s because I didn’t know him. Eventually I took the risk. Trusting someone who demonstrated love by giving his life for me is worth the risk. To be known and loved down to the cellular level by the One who created me is priceless.

It’s worth the cost of dropping disguises — that I may know him.

 

*From My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less by Edward Mote