Archives For faith

A variation of an old hymn I learned at a recent retreat,
sung by Alanna Story
“I am the Lord’s I know”

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“Whether I live or die,
Whether I wake or sleep,
Whether upon the land,
Or on the stormy deep;
I will stand confident
For all my fears have been eclipsed
by my Father’s Love

So I won’t be afraid,
I won’t be afraid,
I am the Lord’s I know

Nothing shall separate
From His unbounded love,
Neither in depths below,
Nor in the heights above;
I will stand confident
For all my fears have been eclipsed
by my Father’s Love

So I won’t be afraid,
I won’t be afraid,
I am the Lord’s I know

Even the wind and the waves obey you
And at the sound of your name kingdoms fall
My hope’s secure in the hands of a sovereign God”2017-04-19 146

Dusty life

March 1, 2017 — Leave a comment

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten journey which culminates in the celebration of the resurrection from the dead. In between the beginning and the end of this life season, there will be a lot of dust. Dusty roads, dusty furniture, dusty thoughts.

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Sometimes we write on the dust: our names or a simple drawing. Sometimes we close the door on the dusty room. Sometimes we cover up the dust with another layer of stuff. Sometimes we watch balls of fluffy dust float across the floor. And sometimes we try to deal with it: wiping, washing, blowing it off the surface of our lives. But the dust always returns.

There is an Ash Wednesday blessing by Jan Richardson that takes a more hopeful view. It is a reminder that God formed us from the dust. Dust is not a problem for Him. Neither are ashes or brokenness. He creates, He remakes, He redeems and brings life again.

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There is hope.

Excerpt from”Blessing the Dust
A Blessing for Ash Wednesday
All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?…

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made,…”

You can read the whole thing here and see Richardson’s artwork which illustrates the blessing.

Eye of the Storm by Ryan Stevenson
“In the eye of the storm, You remain in control
And in the middle of the war, You guard my soul
You alone are the anchor, when my sails are torn
Your love surrounds me in the eye of the storm
When the solid ground is falling out from underneath my feet
Between the black skies, and my red eyes, I can barely see
When I realize I’ve been sold out by my friends and my family
I can feel the rain reminding me
In the eye of the storm, You remain in control
In the middle of the war, You guard my soul
You alone are the anchor, when my sails are torn
Your love surrounds me in the eye of the storm
Mmm, when my hopes and dreams are far from me, and I’m runnin’ out of faith
I see the future I picture slowly fade away
And when the tears of pain and heartache are falling down my face
I find my peace in Jesus’ name
In the eye of the storm (yeah, yeah), You remain in control (yes you do, Lord)
In the middle of the war, You guard my soul
You alone are the anchor, when my sails are torn
Your love surrounds me (Your love surrounds me) in the eye of the storm (in the eye of the storm)

When the test comes in and the doctor says I’ve only got a few months left
It’s like a bitter pill I’m swallowing; I can barely take a breath
And when addiction steals my baby girl, and there’s nothing I can do
My only hope is to trust You
I trust You, Lord
In the eye of the storm (yeah, yeah), You remain in control
In the middle of the war (middle of the war), You guard my soul (yeah!)
You alone are the anchor (ooh), when my sails are torn
Your love surrounds me (yeah!)
In the eye of the storm, You remain in control (yes you do, Lord)
In the middle of the war (in the middle of the war), You guard my soul
You alone are the anchor (ooh), when my sails are torn
Your love surrounds me in the eye of the storm, oooh
Oh, in the eye of, oh, in the eye of the storm
I know You’re watching me, yea, ay
When the storm is raging (when the storm is raging)
And my hope is gone (and my hope is gone, Lord)
When my flesh is failing, You’re still holding on, oh whoa
When the storm is raging (the storm is raging)
And my hope is gone (and all my hope is gone)
When my flesh is failing (my flesh is failing), You’re still holding on, oooh
When the storm is raging (when the storm is raging)
And my hope is gone (and my hope is gone)
Even when my flesh is failing (flesh is failing), You’re still holding on, holding on
The Lord is my Shepherd
I have all that I need
He lets me rest in green meadows
He leads me beside peaceful streams
He renews my strength
He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to His Name
Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid
For You are close beside me”

“The arms of God be around my shoulders,
The touch of the Holy Spirit upon my head,
The sign of Christ’s cross upon my forehead,
The sound of the Holy Spirit in my ears,
The fragrance of the Holy Spirit in my nostrils,
The vision of heaven’s company in my eyes,
The conversation of heaven’s company on my lips,
The work of God’s Church in my hands,
The service of God and the neighbor in my feet,
A home for God in my heart,
And to God, the Father of all, my entire being.
Amen.”

Saint Fursa’s breastplate prayer, circa 630 AD

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“Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be thou my breastplate, sword for the fight;
thou my whole armor, thou my true might;
thou my soul’s shelter, my strong tower:
raise thou me heavenward, great Power of my power.”

Based on the 6th centurty Old Irish text, “Rop tú mo Baile” usually attributed to Saint Dallán Forgaill

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“Satan tries to confuse us. “Look at how messed up the world is. How can you believe in a loving God?”
The only answer is the breastplate of righteousness. You cannot understand particular happenings; you cannot give any explanation. But you do know that the God who clothed you with His righteousness and saved you from a lost eternity must have your highest interest and those of His universe at heart.
When you hold on to that, your heart is protected from despair, even if your mind struggles to comprehend what is happening. You can live in peace even though you do not know all the answers.”
Selwyn Hughes

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You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head
.
Psalm 139:2-5

St. Brendan sculpture, Cahirciveen, Ring of Kerry, Ireland

St. Brendan sculpture, Cahirciveen, Ring of Kerry, Ireland

“Faith is transferring your trust from your own efforts to the efforts of Christ.  You were relying on other things to make you acceptable, but now you consciously begin relying on what Jesus did for your acceptance with God. All you need is nothing.”
Tim Keller

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“The Christian life is not about the weak becoming strong; it is about the self-sufficient assenting to their own weakness. How horrible! How freeing…

Conventional wisdom tells us that suffering can either make us better or bitter. I don’t think it’s that simple. I think suffering makes us more. More of all the feelings; more of who we’re meant to be; more aware of our own weakness and, hopefully, the source of real strength, who doesn’t leave us to our own devices but carries us.
Stephanie Phillips

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“When we despair of gaining inner transformation through human powers of will and determination, we are open to a wonderful new realization: inner righteousness is a gift from God to be graciously received. The needed change within us is God’s work, not ours. The demand is for an inside job, and only God can work from the inside. We cannot attain or earn this righteousness of the kingdom of God; it is a grace that is given.” Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline

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“We think of Jesus as a hero who dug deep down in himself to find the strength to push through.
But Jesus did not rely on willpower…willpower was not the source of His faithfulness. It was His deep, abiding relationship with the Father by the Holy Spirit.

We fall into the trap of thinking the Christian life is based on self-generated willpower…[that we need to] just try a little harder, come up with the right formula.

Jesus has called us to something deeper than self-help and personal resolve.. He has called us to more than trying our best to mimic his behavior. He has called us to abide in Him.” Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel in Beloved Dust

I often think of faith as something active, something that energizes. It propels me forward to walk on water, to bring a paralyzed friend to Jesus, to shout out to Jesus as He passes by. I want to ‘get more’ faith, ‘have more’ faith, ‘exercise’ more faith–for myself and for other people. I rue my lack of faith, because I view faith as a simple equation that reveals the poverty of my soul. Weak faith= on the verge of God’s wrath and judgment. Or at least self-condemnation.

And then I read about Hudson Taylor’s failure with faith and what he learned that revolutionized his spiritual life and ministry, fifteen years {!} after starting his work in China.

“I felt I was a child of God. His Spirit in my heart would cry, in spite of all, “Abba, Father.” But to rise to my privileges as a child, I was utterly powerless….All the time I felt assured that there was in Christ all I needed, but the practical question was–how to get it out?

He was rich truly, but I was poor; He was strong, but I weak. I knew full well that there was in the root, the stem, abundant fatness, but how to get it into my puny little branch was the question… I saw that faith was the only requisite–was the hand to lay hold on His fullness and make it mine. But I had not this faith. I strove for faith, but it would not come; I tried to exercise it, but in vain.”

Then a sentence in a letter changed Taylor’s life. The sentence read:

“How to get faith strengthened? Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the Faithful One.”

“As I read, I saw it all!.. Ah, there is rest!” I thought. “I have striven in vain to rest in Him. I’ll strive no more. For has not He promised to abide with me–never to leave me, never to fail me?” And He never will.

As I thought of the Vine and the branches, what light the blessed Spirit poured direct into my soul! How great seemed my mistake in wishing to get the sap, the fullness out of Him! I saw not only that Jesus will never leave me, but that I am a member of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. The vine is not the root merely, but all–root, stem, branches, twigs, leaves, flowers, fruit…

It is a wonderful thing to be really one with a risen and exalted Savior, to be a member of Christ! Think what it involves.
Can Christ be rich and you poor?
Can your right hand be rich and your left poor?
Or your head be well fed while your body starves?

I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize this; for He, I know, is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. It makes no matter where He places me, or how…His resources are mine, for He is mine, and is with me and dwells in me. ”
Hudson Taylor

This is how I ‘get more’ faith: Not by working at it but by resting on the Faithful One. Not by feats of great personal sacrifice but by remaining attached to the Vine and trusting that streams of living water will flow through me.John-reclines-on-Jesus-chest

What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
Refrain
Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.

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“Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in a love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”
Pedro Arrupe

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“‘Conversion’ is not about an abstract transaction in which your soul becomes destined for heaven instead of hell.

Rather, ‘conversion’ is the moment when you find yourself within the story of Jesus, the story of Israel, the story of the Church and the story of God.”

David at “A Psalm of David”

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“Holiness is not a state of perfection but a faithful striving that lasts a lifetime. It is expressed primarily in small ways, day after day, through the practice of forgiveness, patience, self-sacrifice, and compassion.”
Dorothy Day
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“Even in the life of a Christian, faith rises and falls like the tides of an invisible sea. It’s there, even when he can’t see it or feel it, if he wants it to be there. You realize, I think, that it is more valuable, more mysterious, altogether more immense than anything you can learn or decide upon… It will keep you free – not free to do anything you please, but free to be formed by something larger than your own intellect or the intellects around you.”
Flannery O’Connor in a letter to a young student struggling to believe

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“Faith is still a surprise to me. No small part of my religious conversion has been coming to know that faith is best thought of as a verb, not a ‘thing’ that you either have or you don‟t have. I appreciate much more the wisdom of novelist, Doris Betts who asserts that ‘faith is not synonymous with certainty but rather faith is a decision to keep your eyes open.’”
Kathleen Norris

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“People say, “I lost my faith.” But you don’t lose faith like you lose your keys. It’s a matter of the will, an abandoning that we do more or less knowingly. What we lose is not faith, but the will to believe.”
Jean-Claude Guillebaud

How I became a Christian Again [Comment Je Suis Redevenu Chretien] by Jean-Claude Guillebaud is the story of how a French intellectual returned to the Christian faith of his youth.

Maybe the reason I like this book so much is because it’s in French [though lest you get the wrong impression of my French abilities, it’s written in an easy journalistic style and I had to continually look up words]. Francophile that I am, everything seems better in my favorite language. I don’t like listening to talk radio and sports events in English. But if they are in French, suddenly my ears perk up. Is it because French was the first language I studied and some linguistic imprinting took place even though I was never a stellar French student? Or is it because of the chocolate? The bread? The cheese? The wine? But I digress…

Guillebaud started out as a reporter for Le Monde [the French equivalent of the New York Times] and then became a book editor at Editions du Seuil [perhaps the equivalent of Random House]. He grew up as a nominal Catholic which meant by the time he went to college, he had given up any connection to faith. He covered several wars but it was the civil war in Lebanon that disturbed him most and brought him to the question of evil. For the first time he became aware that evil was not something external, but there was an intimate enemy that lives inside each person.

His return to faith was a slow process over many years. He wasn’t searching for consolation or fleeing from existential despair but rather he was trying to understand how the world came to be as it is. And as he traveled on his way back to faith in Christ, he passed through three circles.

In the first circle he looked at the sources of our modern world and realized how much of our culture was formed by its Judeo-Christian heritage. The values that were important to him, such as the right of the individual and social equality, developed as a result of Christianity.

From there he came to a second circle where he began to rethink what Christianity is. He saw that at the core of Christianity is a subversive, radical faith that has split the world in two. In the kingdom of God the poor and weak, rather than the powerful, are given first place. And then there is the scandal of the cross: not only God becoming man, but God crucified.

In the third circle, he came to understand that faith is something you choose to do. There is always a leap involved because faith is concerned with things we don’t understand, things we can’t know–that’s why it’s faith and not knowledge. To believe means to put your confidence in something. It doesn’t mean to passively accept some dogma or truth written in stone. It’s beginning on a path with the hope of arriving at a good place down the road. In other words, faith is where you get on the train, not where the train ends.

This rang true to me. I can coast along living under the label ‘Christian’, but every time I come back to the roots of my faith, I’m bowled over by the mystery and the stunning power of the good news: grace, redemption, resurrection. But this conviction is something I hope for, not something I am going to fully realize while I live on earth. I will never get beyond trusting in what I don’t see. I have to go on in faith. That’s the only way.

I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Mark 9:24

[from the archives]

Speaking of hope

November 18, 2015 — Leave a comment

“Think of yourself as a seed patiently wintering in the earth; waiting to come up a flower in the Gardener’s good time, up into the real world, the real waking.”
C.S.Lewis

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“Without hope the heart would break.”
Anonymous

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We who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.
Hebrews 6:18-19

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May He come down like rain upon the mown grass,
Like showers that water the earth.

Psalm 72:6

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Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:23

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They waited for Me as for the rain,
And opened their mouth as for the spring rain.

Job 29:23

Buried seeds

November 11, 2015 — Leave a comment

Until 15 years ago, I lived in a four-season climate. Every month there was precipitation of one kind or another: winter snow, spring showers, summer thunderstorms, autumn rain. Now I live in a Mediterranean climate with a very different pattern of seasons. For six months, from May to October, there is what I call ‘sumter’–summer and winter melted together. It’s hot like summer but without any New England green. Because once the rain stops in April, the land turns brown, just like a cold winter.

I find sumter the hardest in September and October, especially if I’ve travelled to green in the summer. I leave this:
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And come back to see this:
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It’s discouraging to go to the local park for my morning walk. The path is dry and dusty. The forest floor is barren and dull. Under the eucalyptus trees there is nothing but 50 shades of brown. I know that sumter won’t last forever, but it feels like it will never end.

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And then the miracle happens. The rain returns. It pours for a few hours one day, and then another. Within a week, the park begins its transformation. Overnight, little blades of grass sprout in the triangles of dirt in front of the trees on the path. Shoots appear among the brown.
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After two weeks, the change is complete. The interior has suddenly become a lush carpet of green.
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All it took to transform the landscape of death was life-giving water.
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The contrast is so stunning, it’s hard to believe that only seven days separate these two realities.
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But perhaps the most amazing part of the change is that the potential was there all along. Nothing new was planted; the seeds were waiting patiently in the dry dirt the whole time. For six months, they were dead in the soil. Then the rain came and the water soaked down and softened the seed casings. That is all it took. They sprouted up, just like that.

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It strikes me that there can be a similar cycle in our spiritual lives. Often we live in a spiritual drought, and seeds of hope and faith lay dormant in our heart. We live with a despair, or simply a deep discouragement over the way things are. The months and even years go on, and the landscape of our spirit looks the same as ever. It seems impossible that our lives will ever be different. The seeds buried in our hearts seem to have disappeared for good.

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And then something happens. A soft spiritual rain begins to fall. The tiny seed of faith–no bigger than a mustard seed–is touched by living water. The hard protective shell becomes soft and then falls away. The seed sends down a shoot into the now-moist soil. A sprout of hope pokes up through our doubt and disbelief. Before long, death has been transformed into life. An old wound is healed. A relationship is reconciled. A debt is cancelled.

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I need this vision of hope before me. I need to remember that drought, dryness, barrenness, even death are not permanent conditions. I need to remind myself that the rain will come, and when it does, the long-dormant seeds in my soil, seeds so long dry they look more like dust than containers of life, will spring up green, as if singing , “yes, this is what I was meant for.”
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I need to cling to this hope no matter what. Because once the rain comes and the green grows and life returns, all my angst feels almost silly. Of course the rain will come again. Of course there is hope that God will work. But what if I had given up? What if I had thrown the seeds away? What if I had stopped listening to God? What if I had turned away?

  • Where are the areas of drought or deadness in your soul these days?
  • What seeds of hope do you need to hold on to?
  • As you wait, what encouragement can you draw from how has God been faithful to you in the past?
  • Where are new shoots coming in your heart?

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For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from God comes my salvation.

Psalm 62:1

A few months ago, I read a memoir of sorts, “Washed and Waiting” by Wesley Hill. I’ve called it the struggles of a saint, not because Hill is extraordinarily holy, but because saint means ‘one who is made holy’, and we, the beloved of God, made holy by Jesus, are called to be saints [Romans 1:7].

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“The fresh start of the gospel is God’s Groundhog Day. Only everyone around us has a memory as well. And yet each day God gives me another chance. Each time each moment I come to God and ask forgiveness I am washed. There is never, ever, a refusal on his part.”

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“Jenna described that dark time and told me something that has remained with me ever since: “I just wanted to be whole again, Wes, and I thought that by pretending it wasn’t there, the depression would just go away. But ignoring is not the path to redeeming. If I wanted this depression to be redeemed, I had to face it head-on.” I tried to swallow the lump in my throat, realizing those words were for me. Ignoring is not the path to redeeming.”

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“Once Tara described an experience she had had while studying in England for a semester. She had been striving to understand and be what she thought she should understand and be. Finally one night, in a service at Coventry Cathedral, she relaxed and submitted to God’s wound-mending embrace. She felt that God loved her just as she was. I read Tara’s description of that night at Coventry several times, and I realized, with a cold, smarting sense of mingled sadness and helplessness, that I knew very little, firsthand, of what she was describing. My first thought as I got out of bed every morning was not, I am the beloved of God. I had not mastered the discipline, as N. T. Wright calls it, of looking to the cross of Christ and seeing evidence there that I am loved extravagantly and inexorably by the self-giving triune God.
…It has taken years for me to learn, bit by bit, this spiritual practice of meditating on the love of God and to understand that it is central to my struggle… I consciously began the daily effort to view myself as God’s beloved, redeemed by the self-gift of Christ.”

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“When I cannot feel God’s love for me in my struggle, to have a friend grab my shoulder and say, “I love you, and I’m in this with you for the long haul” is, in some ways, an incarnation of God’s love that I would otherwise have trouble resting in.
…No longer was I simply struggling; I was learning to struggle well, with others, in the presence of God.”

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“I’d suggest that living with unfulfilled desires is not the exception of the human experience but the rule. Even most of those who are married are, as Thoreau once said, “living lives of quiet regret.” Maybe they married the wrong person or have the pain of suffering within marriage or feel trapped in their situations and are unable to fulfill a higher sense of calling. The list of unfulfilled desires goes on and on.”

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A friend said to Hill:
“Imagine yourself standing in the presence of God, looking down from heaven on the earthly life you’re about to be born into, and God says to you, ‘Wes, I’m going to send you into the world for sixty or seventy or eighty years. It will be hard. In fact, it will be more painful and confusing and distressing than you can now imagine. You will have a thorn in your flesh…that is the result of your entering a world that sin and death have broken, and you may wrestle with it all your life. But I will be with you. I will be watching every step you take, guiding you by My Spirit, supplying you with grace sufficient for each day.
And at the end of your journey, you will see My face again, and the joy we share then will be born out of the agonies you faithfully endured by the power I gave you. And no one will take that joy— that solid resurrection joy, which, if you experienced it right now, would crush you.’
God is the author of your story. He is watching, supplying you with his Spirit moment by moment.”

Dark night waiting

December 3, 2014 — Leave a comment

Anyone who has woken up in the middle of the night and has not been able to get back to sleep understands how desolate darkness is. Time becomes suspended. The numbers on the clock seem to be stuck. There is silence, emptiness, deep shadows. The day feels very far away. There is no one else around to comfort you or share the misery of sleeplessness. You are on your own.

Of course we know that eventually the sun will rise again. We have to wait but we are certain it is only a matter of time before the day will begin. It’s like our Advent waiting. We mark off the weeks, knowing that there are only four of them. The Advent wreath with its beautiful candlelight pretties up the shadows, so we don’t it feel so alone. Each time we add another candle, the light increases, a sign that we are making progress, that time is moving, that the end–or the beginning–is coming. Even better, we know where the story is going. We know that the angels are coming to sing in bright glory and the darkness will be overcome. And in the meantime, there are presents to be bought and cookies to be made and decorations to be hung. The waiting is festive.

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However sometimes there can be dark places in our lives where the promise of coming light seems impossible. A place that is so dark and lonely, there seems to be no hope and we easily fall into doubt, thinking “what if I am a fool for believing the promise?”

I have a few places in my life right now where I am waiting in the dark. Living in the time of ‘not yet’ is not easy. It’s not comfortable or peaceful or infused with happiness. Anxiety buzzes. Fear spouts. Terror blooms. A terrible darkness comes to my heart as the night moves inside. It feels awful not to be in control. But even worse, there is no laboring to be done. With my hands idle, my mind races around going over one scenario and then another. Unlike a woman waiting to give birth, I have no idea how long I will have to wait. And what if I’m waiting for nothing? What if the rains don’t come and the sun doesn’t shine and the seed I’ve planted in the ground doesn’t come to life? What if I’m only waiting for a death?

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I try not to dwell on it. My impulse is to fill the time, to find a way to distract myself from the awfulness of not knowing. But I can’t help it and every so often I go and check the soil where I’ve planted a seed. The ground is still dead, the earth is still dry. I begin to hear the whispering accusation: “Is God really going to take care of you?”

I hope so, I think so. But to trust God and to remain open to Him during the darkness is not something I would ever choose. I want to fix the darkness. I want to solve the problem. I want to make things happen. But in the darkness, I hear God say, “Wait. Wait. I am coming.”

So I keep waiting–I don’t really have a choice, but I start to feel dread. What if my advent doesn’t bring me the salvation of a kingly triumph that I’m looking for? What if it is more like a weak, vulnerable baby born in a stable? Or what if it is like a suffering servant who goes through an even greater darkness?

From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli,lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). [Matthew 27:45-46]

In Jesus’ agonizing cry, I find a response to my dread. Because as I remain in the hopeless dark, I find a great High Priest who waits with me. He knows the shadows even better than I do. He is able to sympathize with my terror. He knows what it is like to be tempted to despair.

And He also knows what it is like to wait. Countless times He has waited for me to come to Him and receive the mercy and grace I need. He has waited through my stubbornness and self-pity and rebellion, as well as my brokenness and pain. And in this awful advent of mine, He is waiting again for me to call out to Him, so I will know I am not alone. For He is Emmanuel: God with us.
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[edited from the archives]

Singing worship songs is another way I stay connected to God when life becomes busy. I often turn to one of the Seeds albums, but sometimes nothing is as satisfying as an old hymn. The ones below often pop up in my internal playlist as I meditate on God’s care, the anchor of our faith, and God’s abiding presence with us.

“Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”
When I think of being held by God’s loving care, this hymn written in 1887 comes to mind. My favorite rendition is by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the band that sang with Paul Simon on “Graceland”.

1. What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Refrain
Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.

2. O how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
O how bright the path grows from day to day,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
Refrain

3. What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
Refrain

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“My Anchor Holds”
This 1902 tune falls under the “they don’t write hymns like they used to” category. I love the lyrics but I also love how the music in the last line of the refrain evokes a steady anchor. [Note: I prefer to sing this at a faster tempo.]

1. Though the angry surges roll
On my tempest-driven soul,
I am peaceful, for I know,
Wildly though the winds may blow,
I’ve an anchor safe and sure,
That can evermore endure.

Refrain:
And it holds, my anchor holds:
Blow your wildest, then, O gale,
On my bark so small and frail;
By His grace I shall not fail,
For my anchor holds, my anchor holds.

2. Mighty tides about me sweep,
Perils lurk within the deep,
Angry clouds o’ershade the sky,
And the tempest rises high;
Still I stand the tempest’s shock,
For my anchor grips the rock.
Refrain

3. I can feel the anchor fast
As I meet each sudden blast,
And the cable, though unseen,
Bears the heavy strain between;
Through the storm I safely ride,
Till the turning of the tide.
Refrain

4. Troubles almost ’whelm the soul;
Griefs like billows o’er me roll;
Tempters seek to lure astray;
Storms obscure the light of day:
But in Christ I can be bold,
I’ve an anchor that shall hold.
Refrain

♦◊♦


“Abide with Me”

I don’t remember ever singing this during a worship service, only at a funeral long ago in a small town. But when I went to church in the states last month, we sang it to a new tune from Indelible Grace which may help resurrect this comforting hymn.

1. Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

2. Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

3. Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word;
But as Thou dwell’st with Thy disciples, Lord,
Familiar, condescending, patient, free.
Come not to sojourn, but abide with me.

3. Come not in terrors, as the King of kings,
But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings,
Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea—
Come, Friend of sinners, and thus bide with me.

4. Thou on my head in early youth didst smile;
And, though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee,
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.

5. I need Thy presence every passing hour.
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

6. I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

7. Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Speaking of being held

August 12, 2014 — 2 Comments

My dear friend, Michael Prewitt, who died one month ago today, wrote often during his illness about his experience of being held by God:

“What I have experienced in this time is a sense of security and being held by the power of a loving God who, whatever the outcome of this, cares for me.”
October 11, 2012, three weeks after being diagnosed with an aggressive malignant brain tumor

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“I end this post with the word that remarkably has defined this time for me: Gratitude. For all your thoughts, cards, emails, prayers. For the love and embrace of my family. For the constant protective presence of the mystery we call the God who comes to us in our need. Praise God from who all blessings flow.”
October 27, 2012

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“That restful sleep is the product of a comfort that I cannot explain, that beyond the state of the art medicine and attentive, loving care of family, I am held and protected. It has nothing to do with what I am able to think or do or even pray.”
January 1, 2013

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“More and more, I realize that the gift of healing that I’m looking for, may not involve a physical healing at all. Somehow the healing that I’ve been given, the healing that we are promised by God, is a greater healing that deals with our assurance that we are indeed in God’s hands, and that mystery is a great gift to me, whatever the final outcome of my physical healing.”
September 9, 2013

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“You know that other people probably would get depressed by this state of affairs, but I do not feel that way, and, if anything, the feeling that I’ve had of being held and protected is as strong as it was slightly over a year ago. It all is such an incredible gift. Why have I been given this way of handling this? I don’t know, but I am grateful for it every day.”
October 31, 2013, after landing back in rehab again

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“My spirits are good and I continue to have this feeling that I am being held, and often times, during a day or a week, I feel like I’ve really been able to be in touch with God in a way that does not involve a specific prayer, just this feeling of being held and that is enough.”
May 18, 2014, two months before Michael died

Speaking of roots

August 6, 2014 — 1 Comment

My blessing is on those people who trust in Me,
who put their confidence in Me.
They will be like a tree planted near a stream
whose roots spread out toward the water.
It has nothing to fear when the heat comes.
Its leaves are always green.
It has no need to be concerned in a year of drought.
It does not stop bearing fruit.

Jeremiah 17:7-9

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“The tree on the mountain takes whatever the weather brings.
If it has any choice at all, it is in putting down roots as deeply as possible.”
Corrie ten Boom

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“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

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This year for the first time in a decade, I had the opportunity to enjoy my native New England’s summer. It was wonderful to see oaks and maples and elms and ash trees in full leaf. Every day I marveled at the magnificent extravaganza of broad, tall, green limbs reaching to the sky.

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During those five weeks, we had only two or three days of rain, yet the trees didn’t shrivel. Their vast network of roots drew in moisture stored deep in the earth. Even when the lawn began to look parched, the woods remained vivid in all their shades of green.

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I experienced another kind of abundance during my time in the states: our whole family was together for the first time in two years. My days were filled with trips to parks and ponds, museums and villages as we reacquainted Sam and Jeff to life in America. I spent hours staying with 20-month-old Nora as she explored the world. I took almost daily runs to the grocery store, and cooked meals for the crowd. I watched Lucy and Clara play soccer with their cousins.

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However, all this feasting on family meant I had little time for reflection and quiet time with God. I hung onto my daily anchor of reading The Divine Hours and sometimes added a prayer from Scotty Smith’s “Everyday Prayers”. It was like taking a few quick sips from a water fountain and then dashing off.

Frankly, grabbing five minutes to straighten my soul before I plunge into the day isn’t enough to sustain me over the long haul. But for a limited period of time, I survived. My soul didn’t wither away; it drew on the roots I had laid down in calmer days when I had time to soak in God’s word without being interrupted.

Some days I was just hanging on like Nora.

Some days I was just hanging on like Nora.

I was gratified how these roots held me and fed me, especially because the regular daily time I spend with God at home usually doesn’t feel spectacular or exciting. It often doesn’t feel particularly nurturing either. But I keep plodding on, reading, praying, and reflecting even when I can’t see any visible signs of growth.

I’ve learned that this patient faithfulness, what Eugene Peterson calls ‘a long obedience’, does make a difference. Even if I’m not aware of any immediate pay-off, the time I spend with God grows roots in my soul that I can draw on during a spiritual drought. It creates a vast network of underground branches that feed and sustain my spiritual life.

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We need these roots not just during our happy vacations, but for the harsher storms we go through. A dear friend of ours spent the last two years battling brain cancer. During the ups and downs of surgeries, physical therapy, setbacks, and treatments, the faith he had nurtured over the years fed him with an amazing peace and an abiding sense of God’s presence.

Whenever Michael spoke to people about his illness, he shared how he felt held in the hands of God’s loving care. He didn’t always have the mental strength to read and reflect but his roots sustained him all the way to the end. A week before he died, his pastor came to visit and asked how he was doing. Michael slowly brought his hands together.

That quiet confidence didn’t spring up over night. Faithfully through the years, Michael sunk his spiritual roots down deep in Jesus–deep enough that this self-described Type-A personality was able to lean back into the arms of his Father during his final challenge.

His life was a witness that by faith and faithfulness, our trust becomes stronger that our loving Father will hold us safe all the days of our life. As we stay by God’s stream and drink deeply every day, we become anchored in His grace.

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That’s why as I settle back into my home routine, I’m not skimping on spending time with God each day. Once again I’ve taken up the long obedience to foster my attachment to the Vine so my roots can be replenished and continue to grow. When storms come or the sun sears down, I want strong roots to keep me from crashing to the ground or turning to a crisp.

How about you? When do you carve out time during your day to sit at the feet of Jesus?

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Colossians 2:6-7

“I am a Christian because I have seen the love of God lived out in the lives of people who know Him… I am a Christian, not because someone explained the nuts and bolts of Christianity to me, but because there were people who were willing to be nuts and bolts. Through their obedience to the truth and not necessarily through their explanation of it, they held it together so that I could experience it and be compelled to obey.”

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“When I was in Thailand, I met this missionary. And I was talking to her and I said, ‘You know, I just want the Lord to use me.’ And she said, ‘Well, forget it. God doesn’t need you for anything. God doesn’t want to use you, He wants you to love him.’”
 

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“I’ve been in and out of all kinds of things—like self-deprecation, self-interest, ego trips, alcohol, and other addictions. I’ve failed many times to avoid those kinds of temptations. But that’s not what the devil was really interested in. What he was trying to do is make me feel apart from God. Now I know that what Satan would like most to take from us is our true knowledge of who we are—which is children of God.

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“I would rather live on the verge of falling and let my security be in the all-sufficiency of the grace of God than to live in some kind of pietistic illusion of moral excellence—not that I don’t want to be morally excellent, but my faith isn’t in the idea that I’m more moral than anybody else. My faith is in the idea that God and His love are greater than whatever sins any of us commit.”

Rich Mullins

Speaking of ‘yet’

February 19, 2014 — 2 Comments

The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.”
So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.
His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”
He replied, “You are talking like a foolish a woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” …Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him.

Job 2:6-10 and Job 13:15

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When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant;I was a brute beast before You.
Yet I am always with You; You hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with Your counsel,and afterward You will take me into glory.
 Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:21-26

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 “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from me;
yet not my will, but Yours be done.”
Luke 22:42

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“Let me remember when it hurts that love will have the final word.”
Jason Gray

Praisegiving

November 25, 2013 — Leave a comment

Every day God is at work in the world, whether we are aware of it or not. Certainly I’m not always paying attention to what He is doing. And other times, even when I am, I can take His divine acts for granted. I think that might be a good thing; a sign that I’ve come to a better understanding of who He is and what He can do. But the fact that I’ve seen hundreds of brilliant sunsets and witnessed countless broken people come to new life in Him doesn’t diminish my delight.

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And He can still take my breath away with an unexpected, unbelievable miracle [that may be redundant, but it sounds right]. Over the past year I’ve seen Him accomplish such a miracle, something I never, ever thought possible.

Our international church is an amazing Christian community, a kind of spiritual Noah’s ark of culture, education, language, and faith practice for those of us living far from home. There are challenges too: the stress of being a miniscule religious minority, and a constantly changing congregation of ex-pats, many on short assignments.

We dreamed of having our own building where we could choose when to worship, and have space to meet during the week. But it was only a dream. Instead, for decades the congregation met at a French church, one of the dozen actual church buildings in this country.

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It had a convenient downtown location and a very low rent, which was a good thing since the congregation could not always meet the very small annual budget. This wasn’t because of a lack of faith or commitment. But with continual turnover and a large majority of the congregation on a limited income, it was all we could expect.

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Then a few years ago, the congregation was given 24 hours to decide whether to stay at the French church on the condition that they get rid of their pastor. The congregation decided to keep the pastor. The next week, we met at the beach. The following week, we were welcomed by another French church to share their worship space in the basement of a house. The space was smaller, the political climate uncertain, and yet we experienced a deeper sense of community.

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Coffee hour in the street.

Coffee hour in the street.

Last fall God made it clear that we needed to find a place of our own. It had to be big enough and accessible by public transportation [two miracles in their own right.] Then we’d have to furnish it completely and cover the additional monthly costs. Our yearly budget would almost double.

It didn’t seem possible. The congregation wasn’t any bigger. The financial resources were pretty much the same as always. In spite of all the ways I’ve seen God work over the years, I didn’t see how we–God and we–were going to pull it off.

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And yet we did. We found a place, raised the funds, and met the budget increase. It sounds so simple to say that. A piece of cake. But it wasn’t. When you’ve lived through lean years, it can be hard to trust. You can look at your five loaves and two fish and feel pretty foolish.

Almost as foolish as when you stand in amazement at God’s provision.

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I’m still pretty speechless over it.

Now we don’t have to rush out after the service to make way for another congregation. We have space for Sunday School classes, a prayer room, a library [pretty vital when you live overseas].

Now after church we can talk inside--a help on rainy days!

Now after church we can talk inside–a help on rainy days!

How did God do this? Frankly, I couldn’t tell you. It’s a mystery to me how His power and our faith came together. It was like moving a mountain into the sea, or a grain of mustard growing into a tree.

It makes me want to echo the Psalmist and shout:

Sing to the Lord! Praise His name!
Announce every day how He delivers!
Tell the nations about His splendor!
Tell all the nations about His amazing deeds!

Psalm 96:2-3

And like John wrote in his first letter, it makes me want to share this with you to make my joy complete.

One generation commends Your works to another;
they tell of Your mighty acts.
They speak of the glorious splendor of Your majesty—
and I will meditate on Your wonderful works.
They tell of the power of Your awesome works—
and I will proclaim Your great deeds.

Psalm 145:4-6

What about you?
What have you seen God do this year?
When will you praise Him?
Who will you tell?