don’t waste your sorrows

This morning my wife Kathi and I participated in a global online gathering of Christian believers from many nations, representing multiple people groups of the world, praying, repenting, and calling out, like the prophet Daniel, for the Lord to forgive our sins and the sins of our respective nations, and renewing our commitment to humbly seek him and to love our neighbors.

Currently, as in the days of Daniel, the people of God are in a time of unprecedented opportunity.

I know the news media tell us that we are in a catastrophe and a crisis and declare that the world is in turmoil and shutdown. Prognosticators and pundits relentlessly trumpet the chaos and destruction threatening our way of life; even our very survival as a species.

All this is true—sort of. But as is always the case when we look deeper into “reality” and peer below the surface of the physically evident, things are not what they seem.

It’s true we are in shutdown everywhere. Untold numbers of people have been consigned to seclusion in their homes. The flowing movement of modern society as we have known it has been halted with sudden and brutal ferocity, creating fear—even panic—in millions of people. We are not able to gather in public squares and marketplaces the way we have been accustomed. The halls of worship built for our rampant consumerism—malls and stores and restaurants and bars—have been closed.

And the halls of worship for religion have been closed as well, although there have been some who choose to defy any imposed restrictions.

This is a time of grief for so many thousands who have fallen ill or have had loved ones become sick and die. Our hearts are broken for such cruel and incomprehensible loss. For such tragedies there are no pat answers; frankly, there are no answers at all save the Bible’s admonition to suffer and weep with them (Jeremiah 8:21, 9:1, 14:17; Romans 12:15; John 11:32-36).

But as we grieve, we must also quiet the inner clamor of our thoughts and ask questions. God invites us to time and again in Scripture to become aware of his greater reality, and if we will perceive it, we will hear the faint rumblings that he is doing something dreadful and wonderful. Our Father, to whom the whole universe belongs, has not turned from us or allowed his hand to be shortened. This plague has not caught him off-guard. He always takes what is meant for evil and uses it for good, if we will humble ourselves. God is not the author of evil, but he does discipline us and he has brought us to this time of worldwide silence unlike anything any of us now alive have known.

And yet…

Also unlike any time in human history, we have technology to go past forced seclusion and interact with each other in meaningful ways. The Lord is changing our expressions of worship and fellowship “as usual” and is causing us deep heart-searching. Have we obeyed the first and greatest commandment and sought after him and loved him beyond everything else? Is his presence our greatest treasure and magnificent reward? Will we really love our neighbors as we love ourselves? Do we really want his kingdom, or are we still content to promote our own little fiefdoms?

This global pandemic has forced us to face these questions head-on. It is forcing us, especially those of us who live in affluence, to face the very real truth that we are not as strong as we think we are. In this time that appears so dark, we can succumb to despair, or we can humble ourselves and draw closer together, heart-to-heart, and communicate with each other through the means available to us. We can recognize more fully that we are truly one body under one almighty and gracious Head.

Our God declares those things which aren’t as though they are, because those things he declares as are are the things he does and plans to do, and so they actually are already accomplished. (Confusing, I know.) He loves to turn our presumptions and our accomplishments upside-down as he displays his glory through individuals and events we would never choose or imagine. 

When we look below the surface of our physical world, we discover paradox. Scientists don’t know why the world even exists or how the fabric of space-time works at the sub-atomic level; we try to get a fix on “dark” matter and energy; we don’t fully understand what time really is (see here and here). It’s the same in the realm of the spirit as we follow Jesus. Lose your life to save it. Give everything away to become rich. Be great by becoming everyone’s servant. (I won’t even begin to discuss the contrast between God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom of choice.) We are now directly inside another paradox, because even as people around the planet go into seclusion through “social distancing,” all humanity together is sharing this same emergency at the same time, in essentially the same way. This is not just happening “somewhere else” and oh isn’t it tragic; it is happening here as well as out there. It isn’t only happening to other people; it is impacting all our families and friends. It isn’t the sort of shared experience we would ever choose, but we’re together in this, and if we will respond the way our Lord would have us respond, then even as we are “distancing” socially, we are drawing together in greater intimacy.

It is time to press in more closely to our Lord who knows all our ways, who loves us and is drawing us to himself that our faith may be purified and we might come closer to fulfilling the desire of Yeshua that he expressed in his John 17 prayer. May we share the resources and hope we have been given as the body of Christ with those who desperately need the bread and water of Life.

mo(u)rning will come

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and woshiped. And he said… ‘The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.’
Job 1:20-21 & 19:25 .

When a couple struggles with infertility, each month is a roller coaster of emotion. Hope, dread, excitement, despair; the monthly cycle of fertility is something that they become intimately—almost fanatically—aware of. A woman’s perception of the changes in her body is fine-tuned to an astonishing degree.

It was that way for my wife Kathi after many years of us trying to have a baby.

We had adopted a daughter, and then Kathi became pregnant with our first-born son, but we wanted more children, and felt that God had promised us more children. But still we struggled to see her become pregnant, so when the joyous event happened again, we were aware of it within just a couple of weeks of conception.

And we were ecstatic.

But we all know that life doesn’t always allow us to remain that way; in fact, many would say that life rarely allows it. One morning, almost five months into the pregnancy, Kathi awoke and realized she was hemorrhaging, and began to have cramps. She felt panicked, I felt panicked, and we put in a frantic call to our doctor, who told us to wait a little while before coming in, in case the bleeding stopped.

While I waited, impotent and sick with worry, our two small children sat with me at our kitchen table in the early morning stillness, and we prayed that God would “please, protect the baby in Mommy’s tummy.”

The bleeding got worse, so with hearts in our throats we dropped our children off with friends and drove to our doctor’s office, and she couldn’t find our baby’s heartbeat, so clinging to a frayed thread of hope-against-hope we went to the hospital to get an ultrasound. Something was obviously wrong, but we thought maybe there was still a sliver of a chance that it would be okay. Maybe things were not as they seemed.

And as Kathi lay on a cold, sterile table, the technician performed the test, and then a kind doctor informed us our baby had died. She was a little girl, and she was dead, and she needed to be removed.

We all go through a sense of emptiness with the death of those we care about. We instinctively recoil from death. Even though some people will declaim that death is “just part of life,” deep within we all know that is simply not true. Everything inside us screams against it. Our reaction is not simply from fear or self-preservation or an inbuilt protection of our species: it is an angry, agonized howl against an unnatural enemy; it is the violent rejection of a vicious and cruel thief and liar. Death is not natural, death is not a gift of rest; death is a horror. Death is unspeakable, and when a child dies it is nearly unendurable.

Miscarriage is death, but it is a strange kind of death, and a nightmare for the parents. When death happens inside the womb, there is a feeling of something dreadfully incomplete, a cruel mocking of even the opportunity for parents to grieve deeply in a socially acceptable way. We found it was difficult to explain to people who had not experienced it. We felt searing anguish, and of course, people wanted to help. Well-meaning friends and sympathetic strangers told us “It’s probably better that you never saw her” or “That’s so sad, but you can have another one.” But it wasn’t better that we didn’t see and know and hold our child, even if it could have been just for a few minutes. We were devastated by the cruelty of it; we were robbed of the chance to at least give her one last kiss, and lovingly place her in a little casket, and say goodbye surrounded by family. She was just gone—scooped out of Kathi’s uterus and disposed of; so much useless tissue.

So yes; we hoped another baby would come. But this baby was special; this baby was unique and desired; this baby had, in just a few months, captured our hearts with dreams and hopes. We had never seen her, but we had fallen head-over-heels in love with her, and couldn’t wait to welcome her.

But she was gone.

We walked out of the hospital in grey, cold winter, to an empty car, with empty arms, an empty womb, and empty hearts. We sat for a while in silence. There was nothing to say.

I wanted words of comfort for my grieving wife. I wanted wisdom that would make it, if not better, at least bearable. My heart was shredded, and I realized Kathi had to be working through a shrieking agony of soul that no words could touch. So, without words, we wept.  

But we came to realize that, just as Job said, our redeemer lives, and because of that there can be hope and restoration in any tragedy. We began to be comforted by the realization that our little Alexandra was not really gone; she was in the presence of Life and Love himself. She gazed with open eyes and innocent awareness at her perfect Father. She would never be subject to the pain and bittersweet anguish we all go through journeying this life. She was aware, far better than us, of how short a time it truly would be until we met her in fullness, met her in a place and with understanding that transcends any earthly connection.

The LORD gives, and takes away–and gives. Two years after our baby’s death, Kathi became pregnant again, and gave birth to our little daughter Amy, who has grown into a beautiful married woman. Her husband Luke is a fine and godly young man, and to us is more a son than a son-in-law.

And—in the incredible paradox of coincidence that can only come from God, the day after we lost our baby, across the country in Ohio, a little baby girl named Brittany was born. This girl grew up and went to college in Tennessee, and met our son Corey who had traveled there from California, and they married have given us three precious grandsons who fill our hearts with laughter and love and joy.

The ways of God are mysterious and incredible, inscrutable, frustrating—and even sometimes tormenting. But Kathi and I have learned to not regret the parts of our story that contain excruciating pain. The darkness of grief contrasts with the light of joy. Colors of rejoicing are made richer and fuller with the depth that comes from shadow; our laughter is more vivid and complete by the dark contrast of weeping; a chiaroscuro that gives life dimension and hope solidity. Every life is a painting, but if it is made up of only bright and shiny hues, then it is just pop art, a garish display of mawkish illusion. If we rightly respond to pain, and let Jesus speak to us and comfort us and teach us in our darkness, we always receive reward. Today’s emptiness leads us into greater appreciation of tomorrow’s fullness.  

This is not wishful thinking or misty-eyed fantasy. When we look to our God and trust him with our lives and the lives of our loved ones, we gain greater perspective of his great goodness, and we find ourselves continually enriched, strengthened, and restored in the rainbow of eternal possibilities shining through the dark clouds of our present sorrows.

where are your accusers?

It is no secret that western society is seething with a culture of outrage; and part-and-parcel with outrage comes accusation. Every day we hear or read about another person or group incensed over some injustice, screaming and frothing and gnashing teeth as they accuse others of a litany of abominations.

Now, nobody likes to be accused of anything, whether it is true or not. Accusation is a battering ram of blame and incrimination, stopping our breath and rendering our insides a hot, churning stew of fear and defensiveness. When confronted with evidence of our misdeed(s), we may feel like a kid who wets the bed and has their sheets hung out our bedroom windows to dry, our shame in plain view of all our friends.

And if we are falsely accused, it is worse. We are aware of our failures, both seen and unseen; but to be accused of something we didn’t do causes us to bristle with appalled anger against the unjust charge leveled at us. False accusations can throw us into defensiveness and anger, and despite our protests, we realize that others probably find our claims of innocence to be further evidence of real guilt.

Accusation has the power to render us depressed, even despairing. If we are innocent, the blast of injustice against us is nauseating. If we are guilty, we are forced to face our weakness and wickedness. But rather than respond with humility and sorrow, human nature wants to excuse–or at least justify–our behavior.

Then ADONAI Elohim called to the man and He said to him “Where are you?”

Then he said, “Your sound–I heard it in the garden and I was afraid. Because I am naked, I hid myself.” Then He said, “Who told you that you are naked? Have you eaten from the Tree from which I commanded you not to eat?” Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me–she gave me of the Tree, and I ate.”

ADONAI Elohim said to the woman, “What did you do?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me and I ate.” (Genesis 3:9-13, TLV)

It is common to hear people mention (disparagingly) how “Eve ate the fruit”; but at least she put the blame on the serpent, unlike Adam who had the ridiculous arrogance to blame God Himself! This is the kind of panic that occurs when we sin and are caught. Ringing throughout our being is the cry But you just don’t understand what I’ve been through or I don’t know what happened to me. And right on the heels of that excuse is It’s not really my fault!

So often, we do not understand our own actions, and we try to console ourselves that we should receive, if not pardon, at least a level of kind understanding. But unfortunately, accusation generally carries a dose of contempt. We perceive the thoughts of others: How could someone do such a thing? Condemnation builds, until every veneer of self-respect and self-protection is stripped in the flood of remorse, regret, and shame. Now I’ve been found out! Most of us will do anything to “cover our tracks” to keep this from happening; or at least, we begin to set up excuses to minimize the damage to our ego.

So we have an innate, knee-jerk reaction to confrontation. We hate to be the recipient of another person telling us we have done wrong. We want to be the “good guys,” the people who have it together in their lives and who live by some sort of moral code–whatever it might be. But since that breakdown in Eden, we have all been engaged in the struggle to write our own laws and set our own standards for a life well-lived. We seek to rule our kingdom, even if it is a kingdom of one. The currency in this realm is I’m not really that bad; I’m not like those people!

Self-justification comes easy when I console myself by looking at the foul misdeeds of those outside my camp. It’s easy to preen and pat myself on the back with the congratulatory phrase At least I’ve never done _________ (fill in the blank). I run into a genuine problem, though, when I revisit the scene of Adam and Eve before the Almighty in the garden. God asks the first couple a legitimate question, familiar to anyone who has been a parent: Did you do what I told you not to do?”

How do you answer that with anything but the truth? Standing before the Creator–who knows everything in entirety, who knows every person intimately–none of us find stability standing on the platforms of rationalization we have constructed. Our foundations are rotting timbers and crumbling concrete. Our excuses, mist in sunlight, whisk away from the breath of His mouth. Truly, before His eyes of fire, all garments are incinerated.

And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:13).

The LORD God does not judge unrighteously or from self-interest or self-protection. He will not accept even our best excuses, clever though we may think they are. His holy standards and desires for all His creation are pure and good and noble, and we have fallen short. We have all eaten that which He told us not to eat. And so, we are without excuse.

Mea culpa. Guilty as charged. I really don’t need anyone to accuse me, because my actions and my conscience already do a fine job. Adding to the mix, I have an enemy that also relentlessly seeks every opportunity to remind God and man how truly dreadful I am.

But into my mess, and into yours, steps the Son of God. He became one of us. He was–and is–fully human, while still fully God. I don’t understand it and neither do you, but that doesn’t make it untrue. Because Jesus bore our sin and took our deserved punishment upon Himself, we are freed from the stupidity of manufacturing excuses or trying to shift blame.

Our Messiah, the King of the universe, is the only person worthy to accuse and condemn. Yet, He doesn’t. Scripture teaches us that there is “no condemnation” for anyone who trusts in Him for salvation. Like the unnamed adulteress who stood torn and shamed before Jesus (John 8), we tremble with fear at the questions we are sure He will ask: “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten that which I commanded you not to eat?”

 And wonder of wonders, instead our Lord asks, “Where are your accusers?” And we look around and realize that there are none. At the foot of the cross, anger and outrage are subsumed in the violent beauty of sacrificial love and outrageous forgiveness. At the foot of the cross, all power of sin and accusation vanishes.

And we hear Him say, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

And because of grace, that is possible.

what happened before will happen again (with kathi pelton)

The children of Israel stood before the waters of the Red Sea, frozen in fear because the mighty army of Egypt, under the command of a vicious and cruel Pharaoh, had pursued them and were about to overtake them, bringing destruction. The LORD told Moses to stretch out his staff over the waters. Moses did and the waters parted, allowing Israel to cross over on dry land. God Himself protected His people; Scripture says He “looked at the army of the Egyptians through the fire and cloud and caused the army of the Egyptians to panic” (Exodus 14:24, TLV). Israel was delivered from bondage to what was the strongest nation on earth at that time.

David was a shepherd boy, young, “ruddy and handsome”; a lad who was consigned to the outlying grasslands to oversee his father’s sheep. When a fearsome giant named Goliath, champion of the Philistines, challenged Israel and Israel’s God to fight, young David took up the challenge. Goliath taunted and mocked him, despising the diminutive youth before him. But David, filled with trust in the Almighty, bellowed in response,

“You are coming to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I am
coming to you in the Name of ADONAI-Tzva’ot, God of the armies of
Israel, whom you have defied. This very day ADONAI will deliver you into
my hand, and I will strike you down and take your head off….Then all the
earth will know that there is a God in Israel, and so all this assembly will
know that ADONAI delivers not with sword and spear—for the battle belongs
to ADONAI, and He will give you into our hands” (1 Samuel 17:45-47, TLV).

Then David, trusting fully in the faithfulness of Israel’s God, ran toward his huge opponent and felled him with one smooth stone flung from his sling.

Daniel was a faithful servant of God who dwelt in Babylon, and distinguished himself serving in the courts of various pagan rulers. At one point, various other governors plotted against Daniel, due to their jealousy at his impeccable performance of his official duties, and succeeded in having Daniel sentenced to be thrown into a lion’s den. But God preserved Daniel’s life, and he was able to stand in the midst of the dangerous beasts, and declare to Darius, the ruler who sentenced him, My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths, so that they have not hurt me, because I was found innocent before Him….”  (Daniel 6:22).

Esther was a young woman, taken from her people to become one of the wives of Xerxes I, king of the world-dominating Persian Empire. When she learned of a plot to destroy her people that had been hatched by one of the king’s high-level officials, she took heed of her uncle Mordecai’s counsel when he told her she must do something, because she had risen to her position “…for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). Esther, risking her own life, devised a plan to approach the king and reveal her identity as well as the plot against her people. The king was enraged that one of his own advisors would do such a thing, and had him executed. Esther’s bravery saved her life and delivered the lives of all the Jews who had been threatened. To this day, Esther’s story is remembered and celebrated each year with the joyous festival of Purim.

Jesus walked among the people of Israel, bringing hope and life, truth and mercy—delivering God’s message of light for those who dwelled in darkness. He healed all those with diseases, opened blind eyes, delivered the oppressed from demons, and raised the dead to life.

And like the writer of Hebrews, time would fail us if we were to begin to attempt to describe the many other epic miracles listed in Scripture. We have also read or heard about the miracles that have followed the prayers of believing saints for two thousand years since Jesus’ death and resurrection.

We know that God is blowing a fresh wind of His Spirit through His people, and there have been promises of a great outpouring as we draw nearer to the time of the end. So we wonder: Will feats of this magnitude happen again?

We have the promise—spoken by Jesus Himself—that we can expect to do even more than the exploits we have known about from the past.

I tell you the truth, whoever believes in me will do the same works I have
done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father”
(John 14:22).

The Son of God desires to glorify the Father, and we are His chosen and beloved who desire to respond to His love and glorify Him because He is worthy. The oneness that is created as God’s people yield to the desire of the Son is releasing a convergence of the ages. God’s faithful remnant has aligned with the works and ways of Jesus, revealed to all mankind as He walked among us.

The Holy Spirit has graciously moved through His people, gently and firmly leading us into lives of submission and dependency. We no longer dwell in the land of shadows, living in partnership with an independent spirit that seeks primarily our own good, that advances our own goals and agendas, that clings to comfort and safety.  While He was on earth, Jesus showed us how to live a life fully committed to advancing the kingdom of God. He displayed a life of obedience that fully pleased and glorified the Father; this is the kind of life we were all meant for. He explained this to the rigid religious leaders who accosted Him after He performed the miracle of healing at the pool of Bethesda. When they criticized Him, He responded,

“Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel (John 5:19-20).

So, we are not consumed with false identities we have created for ourselves, keeping to foolish and rigid rules of behavior that we think will make us more acceptable to God. Instead, our Lord calls us out of the religious edifices we have constructed and woos us into deeper communion with Him, creating in our spirits a unity with Jesus that calls out, just as He cried out in Gethsemane, “…not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).

From our posture of humility, in oneness with the heart of our King, we have the joy of experiencing miracles once again. Our relationship creates a platform where heaven and earth come into a holy alignment; our agreement with the plans and purposes of God creates a womb where miracles are conceived; they are enabled in us and through us as the fruit of oneness. Just as a husband and wife become one flesh in intimacy, which leads to the miracle of new life, so does new birth spring forth from the union of the bride of Christ as we function in oneness with the desire of our beloved Jesus.

Then the greater works cascade from God’s people; a crystal flow of the living water of the presence of the Lord, breathtaking in purity and glorifying the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.

pleased to know you

Zion is called to rejoice in God because God rejoices in her. She is to shout for joy and sing because God’s joy too has a voice, and breaks out into singing. For every throb of joy in man’s heart, there is a wave of gladness in God’s. The notes of our praise are at once the echoes and the occasions of His. We are to be glad because He is glad: He is glad because we are so. We sing for joy, and He joys over us with singing because we do.
Alexander MacLaren, Zion’s Joy and God’s (exposition on Zephaniah 3.)

God enjoys our presence. He loves to hear us laugh and sing, and He sings over us with His own songs of joy as we live and eat and work and play.
Preston Sprinkle, Charis: God’s Scandalous Grace for Us

Many Christians with sensitive consciences carry unwelcome and uncomfortable baggage in the form of a nagging feeling that “something isn’t quite right,” suffering a kind of low-grade spiritual fever that enervates and leaves them lethargic. Their prayer life is mainly duty; they wonder why it is difficult to feel deeply engaged with God’s presence, and they are troubled by their lack of zeal for the things of God–especially after they have fallen short in some way, whether through inadvertent stumbling, or deliberate compromise or rebellion. They echo the cry of David, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” (Psalm 51:3.)

It is important to realize that the Lord never intended to have a family that focused on its failures. However, such an idea arouses our inner Pharisee, who with puffed chest and foaming disapproval, bellows: What! Would you minimize your sin? How then will you remain pure before the Lord?  

We need to repent of sin; yes. We must watch and pray–yes; and humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God–indeed, yes; and love and encourage each other–yes and amen! It is vital that we humbly submit our lives to God’s love and counsel and rule. He has called us to holiness because He is holy. Paul reminds us that we have the promise that we are sons and daughters of God–He is our loving Father and He dwells with us–and because of that, we can cleanse ourselves of defilement, “perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 6:17–7:1.) And the beautiful, wonderful reality hidden in that truth is that He is the LORD Who Sanctifies us! (Exodus 31:13.) It is His power; it is His work. He accomplished our salvation not only because He loves us, but also for His own sake and glory (Isaiah 43:25; 53:10; Ephesians 2:4-7).

Because that is true, then continually bemoaning and bewailing our sin and foolishness does not honor our Father, nor does it show gratitude for the astonishing, eternal redemption purchased and provided for us by Jesus our Savior. We have available to us His “once for all” sacrifice (Hebrews 10:10-14; 1 Peter 3:18)  and the “how much more” cleansing through His blood (Hebrews 9:11-14).

So, access into the presence of our Lord is a gracious, glorious privilege–a wonder. We are wanted; we are loved; we are passionately urged to draw near. Through faith in Jesus, we have been sanctified–set apart, dedicated, and made holy–so that we may have intimate communion with the eternal Holy One, who is purity and love. But beyond every magnificent benefit to us is the overarching reality that what we experience is for the glory of God Himself. When we are in right relationship with Him and with each other (Matthew 22:37-40), then creation resonates with the wonder of His name and opens the way for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

God’s desire is that all His creation would flourish. He delights in our flourishing. He is grieved when we fail to live as we ought; when we gratify ourselves with paltry pleasures, defiled by lust and greed and seduced from genuine joy by cheap promises of exhilaration and the hubris of self-sufficiency. He is dismayed also when we cower away from Him in dread, quivering and whimpering with self-loathing.

We were meant to find our identity and our fulfillment in Him. By walking in fellowship with our Maker we discover who we are actually meant to be. But that does not involve working, grasping, clawing to “enter in.”  We are drawn in; we are desired. Our Father knows completely who we are, and who we will become.

But some cry out, I have done so much wrong; I don’t know how to come near Him; I do what I shouldn’t do, and don’t do what I ought to do! I am so weary, and I’m not sure I even desire to “press in.”

Is your heart cold? That is nothing when you are face-to-face with unquenchable flame (Daniel 7:9-10; Hebrews 12:28-29). Have you been foolish, selfish? Your actions do not supersede or negate His wisdom working in you (Proverbs 1:20; 1 Corinthians 1:21-30). Your stubbornness is not enough to shake off His “easy yoke” (Matthew 11:29). Your isolation cannot shut out the One to whom the darkest night is as bright as day (Psalm 139:12). Your delusion and disengagement is banished by His invitation to “Come up here” (Revelation 4:1). Your fear and loneliness are dispelled by His tender mercy and love (Isaiah 49:14-16; John 10:10-11; 15:9; 16:27).

The Father is pleased–genuinely, truly, unabashedly happy–to know us. He delights in our fellowship. Often, we don’t “feel” as though He would love us and want us, and we can list the many reasons He wouldn’t and shouldn’t. But we submit to the truth that He does, and Jesus the Son came to prove it to us and to win our hearts.

 

 

maria, did you know….

I asked the Father this morning what I should pray about, and I instantly sensed “Pray for Maria.” That’s all; no other information.

Really? I thought. There must be millions of Marias in the world. I guess I will pray for them all!

Dutifully, somewhat sheepishly, I lifted up my voice for all women named Maria, and suddenly my thoughts jumped to the systemic oppression and degradation and exploitation of women and girls worldwide. I also began to picture the staggering number of single mothers working so hard for their children and extended families. Then, it occured to me that I should find out the meaning of the name, and the first results I came across online informed me that “Maria” can mean “sea of sorrow” or “sea of bitterness.”

Now I understood. There are so many ladies around the world who are in anguish, praying and weeping bitterly like Hannah (1 Samuel 1:10) from the pain you carry; the grieving is intense, often because of the injustice you have had to face, but also because you so deeply carry the kind heart of the Father, and like Jesus are touched by the infirmities of those you love, and the comfort and tenderness of the Holy Spirit burns within you as you long to comfort others who are afflicted.

So I pray for you today; you who are “Maria”; you who are heavy-laden and feel yourself flailing in a wretched sea of darkness. The evil one and his wickedness assault you, but look up and see that the Warrior-Bridegroom King of the Universe is enthralled by your beauty! (Psalm 45:11.) I declare the goodness and kindness of ADONAI to be poured out on you, and in the safety of the Rock of His Name, you will find Him to be your defense and your strong tower of assurance.

I speak the mercy of God over your life and over the innocent lives for whom you stand guard. ADONAI proclaims His blessing to you: abundance of mercy and generosity; release of His authority in your boldness; and the glory of loveliness enfolded within the ferocity of your compassion.

My sisters, I am awed by your strength to withstand the sorrow and bitterness wrought upon you. Continue in your bravery. You may not feel brave, but believe this: You are beautiful warriors; you are Deborah and you fearlessly strike blows for justice (Judges 4-5). You are the graciousness of the Almighty, and your love and worship have become sharp arrows in the hand of the King that will pierce the heart of darkness and bring light into waste places.

Never, never, never forget your value.

 

he gives us pure oil

This evening begins the celebration of Hanukkah with the lighting of the first of eight candles. The miracle that occurred over 2200 years ago is a picture of the light that has illuminated our hearts—a light of purity and a light of the miraculous.

We pray as Paul did in Ephesians 1:18; that the eyes of our hearts would be enlightened—“filled with light”—that we would know the hope of His calling and His glorious inheritance in us, and that we would understand the greatness of His power to us who believe. This power is like the mighty strength He exercised when He raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him at the right hand of the Father (Ephesians 1:19-20).

This is a work of grace in our hearts and our lives. It is our Lord’s mighty power at work in us. We don’t earn it; we don’t cause it to come to us through effort. We posture ourselves humbly; yielding, trusting, believing that He is true and faithful, and that His Word is true. He will fulfill His purposes and promises in our lives. He is the Alpha and Omega—the beginning and end, the initiator and perfecter of our faith (Revelation 1:8; 22:13; Isaiah 44:6; Hebrews 12:2).

He faithfully began a good work in us, and He will be faithful to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). This work unites us with our Bridegroom, creating worship and faithfulness within our hearts, that we would be the “five wise virgins” with our lamps full of oil (Matthew 25:1-13), purified by the Holy Spirit, watching with the eyes of our hearts wide open and full of light.

The darkness of our present age is no match for the burning devotion—fueled by pure oil—that the Lord Himself is producing in His family.  Just as the Maccabees refused idol worship and refused to be intimidated by the enemies of God, so we too enter the temple of the Lord to worship, to set aright those things that have been displaced, and to receive a miracle of power and devotion placed within our hearts by the One who performs miracles.

We need the oil of the Holy Spirit within us to keep our light burning in the night season until the return of our Bridegroom. His truth shines more purely and brightly within our hearts, and the light we release to others—bringing the light of hope to their darkness—will continue to grow in authority and power as we have yielded and find ourselves united in one spirit with the Lord.

This will display the true light that lights every man (John 1:9) and will release the power of the Holy One to restore us, our families, and our lands.

 

love casts out fear

Silent night, holy night!
Son of God, love’s pure light.

Radiant beams from Thy holy face
with the dawn of redeeming grace.
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth!
(“Silent Night”)

Into a world crushed under excessive burdens of hatred, fear, deceit, and shame, Jesus was born to testify to the truth of God, and to offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin. Scripture tells us that in Jesus the Messiah, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting people’s sins against them. This is magnificent news to all who are weary and troubled and fearful.

There is no fear in love. but perfect love drives out fear….
(1 John 4:18).

This truth is a beacon of hope; radiant energy piercing the darkness of the prevailing spirit of the age. Our world is energized by agitation. Human leaders achieve power using threats and dire warnings of punishment or chaos. When people are afraid, they make poor choices and are easily manipulated. But the child of God, redeemed by the blood of Jesus, does not need to fear the world or the systems and powers of the world. God is greater by far than every earthly authority and every dark demonic host.

This is not a time for us to be swayed by the narrative of our culture and live in fear. For us who know His love, He makes all things work together for our good. For those who have not yet come to the realization of His kindness, He is reaching always with mercy, proclaiming that now is the chosen time, now is the day of salvation.

We can fully trust our Lord and His love for us. We belong to this One who shone with purity of love, given as a gift of grace. And because we are His, we are given the gift of His great love in our hearts. As we respond to that love, as we love Him and love one another, we shine like the radiant beams from His face. We can be bright outposts of hope for the people living in darkness.

For it is you who light my lamp;
the LORD my God lightens my darkness. 
(Psalm 18:28).

Jesus is the Light of the world, and those with eyes to see will bow and worship Him in joyful adoration.  He was Lord at His birth; He has been Lord from ageless eternity; He will forever be Lord of all. Christmas is a season of holy light; a season of holy giving; a season of holy reflection; a season of joyous, holy love.

What better time than the season of light to proclaim the truth of the Son of God, love’s pure light? The Light of the world has dawned upon us, and in the illumination of His love, we can journey unafraid, our hearts filled with joy.

canticle in the darkness

Here is a promise and a comfort most beautiful, spoken to us by our glorious and gracious Father:

The kind of person on whom I look with favor
is one with a poor and humble spirit,
who trembles at my word. (Isaiah 66:2)

Many individuals in the body of Christ have lived long in such a posture; remaining humble, childlike, trusting and trembling before the power of our eternal God and the mysteries of his Word. But after long seasons of barrenness, stumbling on dusty roads through colorless and arid wastelands, their throats have become parched with crying and thirst, and their souls have paled from inability to change their circumstances; their lives becoming a vapor of insignificance.

In this dry and weary land dwell foul and slithering spirits, who hiss with mocking arrogance. “Let the LORD be glorified, that we may see your joy…” (Isaiah 66:5). And so you tremble more violently; not with fear of the Lord, but with cringing fear and despair, because it seems that Jesus is not glorified through your life. You live with prayers unanswered, promises unfulfilled, sins unvanquished, relationships unrestored. Your life seems engraved with failure and your destiny is written by your inability to press forward into the land of promise.

You find yourself agreeing with the voice of the accuser, because his words are based on “reality.” But they are not based on truth.

You are not sculpted in failure, cast as a monument to “what might have been,” but in fact, you have been carved onto the very hands of the triune God (Isaiah 49:16; John 20:26-29) and burned into the affections of His heart (Song 8:6-7).

Your life and your heart of humility and trust–though weak and faltering–is more pleasing to God than you can possibly imagine!

For YHVH takes pleasure in His people;
He will beautify the afflicted ones with salvation.
He heals the brokenhearted,
And binds up their wounds.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and contrite heart, O God,
Thou wilt not despise.
Great is our Lord, and abundant in strength;
His understanding is infinite.
(He) favors those who fear Him,
Those who wait for His lovingkindness.
(Psalm 149:14; 147:3,5,11; 51:17).

So we wait—trusting, trembling with hope—for His lovingkindness. Faith is turning our gaze to behold Jesus, and to follow Him where He goes. It is to keep our focus fixed on Him, not worrying what others have (or have not) done or accomplished; not concerning ourselves with what levels of glory we “should have” reached; neither ashamed for things we have done that we shouldn’t have, nor regretting things we have not done that we should.

But you may say, “I have failed too much. I have squandered my inheritance. I have been covered so long in the cloak of despair that I reek of decay.”

In your desperation, hear His response:

You, who sits mourning in the very heart of Zion—though you don’t even believe you are there—I come to comfort you. I gently smooth the ashes of charred dreams from your hair; anoint your head with fragrant oil to cleanse the stench of hopelessness and place on your brow a beautiful garland, woven from my vibrant, shimmering pleasure. I strip from you the grave clothes of shattered hope and wrap you in a mantle of praise and glory, a festive robe suitable for celebration, that as I rejoice over you, you would no longer be exhausted by despair. I will rebuild the broken places in your life; I will restore life to the years that you think you have wasted, and cause you to flourish before me as a towering oak, my righteousness your life-flow. (based on Isaiah 61:3-4).

So now, take God at His Word, believing that He has deposited within you His imperishable, incorruptible seed. You are deemed priceless, purchased with the life of Christ.

…you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you. (1 Peter 1:18-20).

When the enemy mocks, his forked tongue spitting lies: “Let God be glorified, so we can see you rejoice; oh wait, He isn’t glorified in you, is He? You can’t rejoice, can you?”
warriorBride
Here is your response, a full-throated, delirious exultation of victory as part of Jesus’ warrior-bride:

I am so joyful in ADONAI!
M
y soul rejoices in my God,  
for He has clothed me with garments of salvation,
He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness and triumph…
like a bride adorned with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10).

Selah.

strange fire

Fire was important to Israel’s worship, both in the Tabernacle and the Temple, as it was to be kept burning continually on the altars of incense and of the burnt offering. In both the Tabernacle in the wilderness, and the Temple in Jerusalem, fire on the altar was set ablaze by God himself (Leviticus 9:24; 2 Chronicles 7:1-3). This fire was special; this fire was sacred; and it was to be tended continually.

But in the wilderness, at the very institution of the priesthood, came tragedy born of human foolishness:

Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. And Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD spoke, saying:
‘By those who come near Me
I must be regarded as holy;
And before all the people
I must be glorified.'” (Leviticus 10:1-3).

Our great God is love and mercy and goodness; he is filled with lovingkindness, and he pardons sin and iniquity. But we must never forget that he is holy and pure, and evil cannot dwell with him (Habakkuk 1:13; Psalm 5:4-5).

The body of Christ has entered a season of increased consecration, where the Holy Spirit is causing all of his people to live a greater maturity in the faith. His call has always been that we would walk in the truth he has shown us, and believe the written Word and the promises he has quickened to our hearts. As the coming of our Lord draws nearer, and this present age nears its completion, it is vital that we know him and trust him, finding our life and strength in him.

There are many powerful promises God has revealed to us, and encounters with his presence to comfort and encourage us, reminding us of his power and his commitment to our welfare. But when we find ourselves consumed with vain imaginations such as regrets from the past (I wrestle with this) or fear of the future or insecurity about the Lord’s love for us, are we not coming before him with “profane fire”? When our identity is determined by our accomplishments or the fleeting approval of men, and we find ourselves consumed with fleshly desires and grasping after security, isn’t this placing before the Almighty an offering that he has not commanded?

And when we come before him, seeking to pray the right way, or repent correctly, or worship with the right forms and words; when we demand that he answer our questions so we can understand and believe; when we think we can somehow find favor in his sight through our devotion or our religious activities; are we then not just as guilty as the sons of Aaron, kindling strange fire on the altars of our hearts?

Our Father knows us intimately, and he wants us to bring him our cares, our fears, our doubts, our anger. We cry out to him from our brokenness, and in mercy he heals us. We pour out our anguish because we only know in part, and see in part, and there is so much we just don’t understand.

There is a place we are to bring all our wickedness, our unbelief, our fear, our foolishness, our pain, and our emptiness. It is the cross of Jesus. We lay it all down; and then, when our backs are unburdened of our load of care, our shoulders untethered from the yoke of slavery, and our hands emptied of our own accomplishments, we lay ourselves prostrate before him, knowing that he has taken upon himself every agony, every filthy action, every injustice from every instant of human history–past, present, and future. Then we arise, having boldly entered the Holy of Holies, the very presence of our eternal God, knowing that our hearts have been made clean and our bodies have been washed with pure water. The flame that we then find kindled within is like that inferno that roared from heaven upon the wilderness altar; the glory that flattened Solomon and all Israel at the Temple dedication; the wildfire that exploded on Mount Carmel, silencing the shrieking of Baal worship; the blazing eyes of Jesus that caused John the beloved to collapse as though dead.

We glorify him and he burns within us as he reveals his passionate love, the flaming heart of holy mercy that gives light to our darkness and warmth in our coldness.

fire-heart