Defeat and Nearness of Christ

“Some of you may feel that this is very unlike your own experience. You may say I’ve never had the sense of being helped by an invisible Christ, but I often have been helped by other human beings.’ That is rather like the woman in the first war who said that if there were a bread shortage it would not bother her house because they always ate toast. If there were no  help from Christ, there would be no help from human beings. He works on us in all sorts of ways: not only through what we think our ‘religious life’. He works through Nature, through our own bodies, through books, sometimes through experiences which seem (at the time) anti-Christian. When a young man who has been going to church in a routine way honestly realizes  that he does not believe in Christianity and stops going-provided he does it for honesty’s sake and not just to annoy his parents- the spirit of Christ is probably nearer to him then than it ever was before. But above all, He works on us though each other.” Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis

So after one of my posts awhile ago, satan was pretty intense on the attack. And usually when he attacks me it is a mental thing. And then it is a God doesn’t really care about me thing. And then a God doesn’t really do miracles, answer prayers or take part in my world thing. And then after that it is a distant God relationship thing. And that is exactly what happened. But the weird thing is, by the end of a week of his attacking my mind, I was exhausted and panicky and having issues with anxiety. And then I was given a day off from my kids and able to spend time alone, praying, journaling and thinking and that afternoon felt peace and a closeness and nearness to and “realness” of God that I hadn’t felt in a long time. The next day at church, the sermon was exactly what I needed to hear and so when our pastor called those struggling with the the issue talked about in the sermon, I went up and the words the pastor prayed were exactly the words God had spoken to me the day before. Same words. Again, I was hit with the reality that God really is here and not up in the sky lost somewhere. It was like C.S. Lewis says, one of those times when the spirit of Christ is nearer than ever before. And the thing is satan knew that, because since, then it’s been downward, not upward. How is that possible? How can I have an amazing connection and know that God is near, really near and be given a gift of seeing him more clearly- a gift I’d been asking for-and then BAM!, I go away from him, rather than closer to him? My human mind probably had no idea how close I was to God and how even closer I could have come, but satan knew and he fought it. And I gave in to the lies. And here I am back again, asking for forgiveness and climbing up again. I often wonder how people like Martin Luther King, Jr lived like this. Not only did he have satan’s mental, emotional and spiritual attacks, but he also had physical attacks and threats against himself and his young family. He could have quit and gone into hiding and maybe “protected” himself and his family from death and harm….but he didn’t. He kept on. I don’t think the majority of us realize how much strength this takes. I know it is God’s strength in him, but still…that takes immense strength not to give up and take the easier route of being silent and not rocking the boat, and just living a life of comfort and complacency.

I keep thinking of these lines, “He works on us in all sorts of ways: not only through what we think our ‘religious life’….sometimes through experiences which seem (at the time) anti-Christian. When a young man who has been going to church in a routine way honestly realizes  that he does not believe in Christianity and stops going-provided he does it for honesty’s sake and not just to annoy his parents- the spirit of Christ is probably nearer to him then than it ever was before.” It’s so like God, to reverse things. He’s always doing things differently, and better than we ever imagine. And I think our humanness likes that. It’s somehow comforting to have a God that goes beyond us and does things in the most wonderful ways, ways that we never could have dreamed. Jesus is born in a stable. Jesus washes his disciples feet. Jesus heals and loves, rather than fights and destroys. Jesus dies on a cross. “The spirit of Christ is probably nearer to him then than it ever was before”….so God to be so close at the brink, when we start to think maybe I’ll stop believing in Christianity, it is there when Christ is nearest to us.  When we are worn out from the battles of life and unanswered prayer and want to give in, it is there when Christ is nearest to us. When we are wrestling with loss and not being given something we thought was good and best, it is there when Christ is nearest to us. When we fail and hurt him, it is there when Christ is nearest to us. I love that about God. He’s always on the edge. Doing things that completely surprise us. Being there when we think it is the last place He’d be. He’s not afraid of us or the things we wrestle. He values the honest questions of our hearts more than the facades we think we need to put on to fool him to cover the things we think we need to hide.

In 2 Corinthians Paul writes, “…satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” And he twists God all around for us, so what we think we know of him, we don’t. We think we know His face when we do wrong, because that’s what maybe how our earthly parents’ faces looked…harsh and unfeeling, annoyed and irritated, frustrated and angry. We think we need to feel shame and distance ourselves from God when we make choices out of impatience or anger and fall away because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you do wrong, right? Distance ourselves from the person and give them space from us and time to realize the still love us, time for us to prove that we are still loveable?  But that’s not how God works. He doesn’t react like we think He does. Does He like our sin and our choices that hurt us and others? Definitely, not. But does He shame and want to disgrace us and distance himself from us because of them? Definitely not. Satan and the world tell us that our worth comes from doing and when we fail to do, or are too tired to do, we think we disappoint God, and then that leads to more distance. But God is the God of the prodigal son. I don’t know why. Maybe because He knows how we are made and He knows our human nature. Or maybe just because He is that kind of God. A God of grace and mercy. Over and over again God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness is shown all throughout the Bible. But it’s hard to not give in to the lies, it’s easier to do what we have always done, it’s somehow easier for us to distance ourselves from God, than to trust and believe that He is a good Father, full of unconditional love and grace and mercy for us when we sin and do wrong and don’t meet up to what we think He expects of us. At least that’s how it is with me. It’s a battle. And I mostly lose. BUT here I am again, seeking the prodigal son/daughter God all over again. The God who “rejoices over me with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). He’s not like we make him. Even in his anger, He’s not like we think He is….

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
 Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but DELIGHT to show mercy. Micah 7:18

 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable:  “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’  I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Luke 15:1-7

Stay strong. Fight the battle. The Lord is on thy side, fighting with us and for us.

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Courage, Dear Heart

May we always know He is near. Take courage, the Lord is on thy side….

Drinian’s hand shook on the tiller and a line of cold sweat ran down his face. The same idea was occurring to everyone on board. “We shall never get out, never get out,” moaned the rowers. “He’s steering us wrong. We’re going round and round in circles. We shall never get out.” The stranger, who had been lying in a huddled heap on the deck, sat up and burst out into a horrible screaming laugh.

“Never get out!” he yelled. “That’s it. Of course. We shall never get out. What a fool I was to have thought they would let me go as easily as that. No, no, we shall never get out.”

Lucy leant her head on the edge of the fighting top and whispered, “Aslan, Aslan, if ever you loved us at all, send us help now.” The darkness did not grow any less, but she began to feel a little—a very, very little—better. “After all, nothing has really happened to us yet,” she thought.

“Look!” cried Rynelf’s voice hoarsely from the bows. There was a tiny speck of light ahead, and while they watched a broad beam of light fell from it upon the ship. It did not alter the surrounding darkness, but the whole ship was lit up as if by searchlight. Caspian blinked, stared round, saw the faces of his companions all with wild, fixed expressions. Everyone was staring in the same direction: behind everyone lay his black, sharply-edged shadow.

Lucy looked along the beam and presently saw something in it. At first it looked like a cross, then it looked like an aeroplane, then it looked like a kite, and at last with a whirring of wings it was right overhead and was an albatross. It circled three times round the mast and then perched for an instant on the crest of the gilded dragon at the prow. It called out in a strong sweet voice what seemed to be words though no one understood them. After that it spread its wings, rose, and began to fly slowly ahead, bearing a little to starboard. Drinian steered after it not doubting that it offered good guidance. But no one except Lucy knew that as it circled the mast it had whispered to her, “Courage, dear heart,” and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan’s, and with the voice a delicious smell breathed in her face.

In a few moments the darkness turned into a greyness ahead, and then, almost before they dared to begin hoping, they had shot out into the sunlight and were in the warm, blue world again. And all at once everybody realized that there was nothing to be afraid of and never had been. They blinked their eyes and looked about them. The brightness of the ship herself astonished them: they had half expected to find that the darkness would cling to the white and the green and the gold in the form of some grime or scum. And then first one, and then another, began laughing.

~C. S. Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Chapter 12

 

“Be Still, My Soul”
by Catharina von Schlegel, 1697-?
Translated by Jane Borthwick, 1813-1897

1. Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly, Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

2. Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

3. Be still, my soul, though dearest friends depart
And all is darkened in the vale of tears;
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrows and thy fears.
Be still, my soul; thy Jesus can repay
From His own fulness all He takes away.

4. Be still, my soul; the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul; when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Distant God. Far Away. Void.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. How more and more, God seems further and further from us. Or I should say, we seem further from Him.  I was reading a children’s book (Caldecott winner even!) today, and it was written years ago, and it made mention, just briefly to God, and it caught me off guard, because you rarely, rarely see Him even hinted at in today’s children’s books, and I can about guarantee, it wouldn’t win any Caldecott award today, if it did mention Him.  He doesn’t exist on children’s television. You’d never even know there was a Creator, if you just went by what you watched on t.v.  He isn’t on billboards, or magazines, or newspapers much, and if He is, it is usually some sort of debate.  He isn’t on things at Target.  He’s not mentioned in schools. It is surprising that there are sometimes Bibles still in hotels, and that stores still close for Easter, and that “In God We Trust” is still on our money. I can’t believe secular radio stations still play Christmas carols and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is still played on national television. Things like that, that are still lingering around.

I was walking the other day near a woods, and wondered if maybe the reason why I love being in the woods so much, is because the trees and waters, still know Him and know who He is.  When I am with them, I feel Him most. Unlike when I am in the middle of  downtown Minneapolis, surrounded by people and buildings, I do not often feel Him.  I have to make a conscious effort to remember that He exists.  Is that because so few there still want to know Him, and who He is? Maybe. Maybe not.

He’s not mentioned much.  When He is talked about, say at a restaurant, with friends or family, you feel like you need to be all hushed about it, in case you offend someone. I’m more than guilty, when it comes to this. This is one thing that I most hate about myself. I don’t speak Him to those around me. I am afraid I’ll come across wrong, or too religious.  I also think it is because He matters to me, and I don’t want Him to be rejected if I say something and someone shoots Him down.  I obviously don’t have the gift of evangelism. I’m sick of it though. Am I for Him? Do I believe in Him? Or not? If I do, and believe everything He says to be….peace, grace, hope, forgiveness, mercy, joy, kindness, fulfillment, everlasting life… then why do I keep it to myself? Why wouldn’t I want to share that boldly? It doesn’t make sense. If I knew truth and what someone is missing, why wouldn’t I risk my own ego, for their sake? It’s like I don’t really care about them at all. So I have an encouraging “faith” word to say to them, or a prayer to pray, but I don’t say it, because I am afraid of what they will think, so I keep it in. So  I know that they are missing God and all his many blessings, but for some reason, the seriousness of this doesn’t make me pray any harder or open my mouth and speak truth.  It’s like we’re all on our own. Our world has taught us that it is fine if you want to believe in God, but don’t let it get in the way of what I want to or do not want to believe. It’s like He is each of our “internal, personal” God, but not our “communal” God.  I can believe in Him. Fine. But keep it in. Keep it to myself. Be politically correct about it. Don’t mention His name ever in public. If I am home, then I can pray or read my Bible, if I am in public, NO!

When the heck did all this happen? When has it become not okay to love God and share His wonderful love with others?  And when did it become normal to go through a day and days without ever thinking of Him even once? GOD.  The One who created the universe. Who knit us together in our mother’s wombs? The One who holds everything together? When did we forget Him?

Hosea 13:6 says,

“When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot Me.”

That’s me, us, the world…in a nutshell. We don’t need God, right? We’ve got it covered. We’ve got our phones that answer any question we might have.  We have cars, airplanes, buses, to take us wherever we need to go. We have grocery stores filled with food. We have $100 jeans and $300 hairstyles.  We have master’s degrees and doctorates, coffee.  We have television, movie theaters, comedy shows, football games, a Mall of America, to go to when we are bored. We don’t need to ask for help. We have credit cards.  We have it all, even when we say we don’t, we really do. I’d like a more expensive car, forgetting that I already have two functional ones. Two. We don’t need God. He fed us. Then we became proud. And now we hardly even know who He is. He’s compartmentalized. Yep, oh, it’s Sunday, well then yes, we will do our duty or follow our usual routine, and go to church and sing about Him, then we will leave, and remember Him again, when next Sunday rolls around. Or when our friend gets cancer. Then we will think to blame Him for it.

Where the heck is He? I was thinking about this the other night when thunder and lighting were crashing everywhere…what if He did show up? What if in that massive storm He actually showed Himself to all of us? We all saw Him. And He spoke.

He is real. He is a reality.  He could do this. We don’t believe He will. But He could.

And sometimes, all this gets overwhelming, this seeming silence. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like it. Do you like the silence? Who wouldn’t give anything to hear His tender voice? His just voice? Who wouldn’t want to run to Him and hide next to Him, protected from this horrible, so often, scary world? Who wouldn’t give anything to talk with Him about something happening or a hard decision coming up, and hear what He has to say? I wish He was visible and audible. I love seeing Him in nature and babies, and kind people…but still, sometimes even that gets old, and I just want to see Him plainly. I want to hold His nailed scarred hands.  And see Him laugh and smile.

I hate that the world takes Him from us. And that we let it.  We don’t fight it. It just becomes ingrained.  I hate that we let the world take us from Him and all his good gifts. That we let it, cheapen His gift on and of the cross. That we turn and walk away from the cross into darkness and singleness, rather than embrace it and share all it’s life giving-ness and light.  I hate that my children, our children, are going to know even less of Him, if we aren’t intentional about sharing Him to them.

Are we someday going to not know Him at all? Will churches be just buildings with empty people? People that don’t really believe He’s real, but just go to go? Are we headed towards life as empty shells? Maybe you think this is harsh, but honestly, it scares me to look around at this world, so void of God.

The ultimate hell for Jesus, was separation from God.  What does that mean for us? As we slowly go further and further from Him? So gradual. One Sunday here. One Sunday missed there. One day spent with Him here. One day skipped or forgotten until it becomes weeks, months, years.  What if we don’t even realize how far we are from Him? How separated we really are and what that means for us? What if we don’t even realize all the peace, goodness, life, we are missing because of our distance?  Hell is separation from God….

How do we get back to Him? I like what C.S. Lewis writes in his amazing!!! Mere Christianity book (if you haven’t read it, get it, it is mind blowing)….

Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.
This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith.

The first step is to recognise the fact that your moods change. The next is to make sure that, if you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. That is why daily prayers and religious reading and church going are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?

There is a reason Jesus spent so much time daily praying and being in relationship with God. The same is true for us….if we don’t focus on Him and set aside time with Him, then before we know it, we forget. If you don’t believe human beings are capable of forgetting God so easily, just take a little spin through the Old Testament. We were made to be in relationship with Him, once that stops, we stop…whether we are conscious of it or not.

God has been told over and over, throughout time, to stay out of it. To leave us alone. The Old Testament prophets are dripping with warnings.  God tells them, and us, over and over, what happens if we get our wish, and what happens if He does leave our world alone. And so now He isn’t sending manna or splitting seas open everyday.  Yes, He is working every day and miracles are happening, but even when they are happening, we aren’t truly believing it was Him.

But He doesn’t and has never wanted to be distant. And He isn’t, it’s us. But He has given us our way, for now.  But again, it isn’t what He has EVER wanted.  Listen to this chapter in Hosea…

Repentance to Bring Blessing Chapter 14

1 Return, Israel, to the Lord your God.
    Your sins have been your downfall!
Take words with you
    and return to the Lord.
Say to him:
    “Forgive all our sins
and receive us graciously,
    that we may offer the fruit of our lips.
Assyria cannot save us;
    we will not mount warhorses.
We will never again say ‘Our gods’
    to what our own hands have made,
    for in you the fatherless find compassion.”

“I will heal their waywardness
    and love them freely,
    for my anger has turned away from them.
I will be like the dew to Israel;
    he will blossom like a lily.
Like a cedar of Lebanon
    he will send down his roots;
    his young shoots will grow.
His splendor will be like an olive tree,
    his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon.
People will dwell again in his shade;
    they will flourish like the grain,
they will blossom like the vine—
    Israel’s fame will be like the wine of Lebanon.
Ephraim, what more have I to do with idols?
    I will answer him and care for him.
I am like a flourishing juniper;
    your fruitfulness comes from me.”

Who is wise? Let them realize these things.
    Who is discerning? Let them understand.
The ways of the Lord are right;
    the righteous walk in them,
    but the rebellious stumble in them.

“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” He will. But we have to draw near to Him, too. Daily spending time in His Word and through listening to Him in prayer. He wants to give us shade to dwell in, He wants to heal our waywardness, He wants to love us freely, He wants us to blossom, He wants to answer us and to take care of us but He also gives us the choice.

Are any of  you feeling this these days? The distance? The darkness? The void? The need for God to come back to our little human, feeble-minded brains and lives? I am.

Control.

I am realizing more and more, my need for control. And do you know how I am being shown this? Ferry boats, airplanes and car rides. Yep.

Ferry boats.

Last summer we had the opportunity to go out to Rhode Island and Massachusetts. One Sunday morning we decided to take a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard for the day and walk around. Usually the ferry is large and “feels safe”, but this time the ferry had broken down and since we were the first ones out that morning, they weren’t able to fix it in time, so we were given this small little car transport boat to ride. That alone, made me a little uneasy.  But we got on and started going. But then all of a sudden we were in total fog. Couldn’t see anything but inside the boat. The horn would blow and you’d know they saw on radar that another boat was near.  A loud horn blowing doesn’t do much for calming nerves. Knowing at any moment a large steamship could come ramming into the side of your little boat and send your non-swimming children into great white shark waters, doesn’t do much either. There was nothing I could do but feel anxiety. No control. And no where to flee. Stuck.  Can I just throw in that my husband read his book comfortably the whole time this was happening, and had not a care in the world….

Airplanes.

I have panic attacks on airplanes. I don’t know when it started. I’ve gone overseas multiple times but not until my mid-twenties did I start fearing airplane rides. Give me turbulence and I’m feeling the fight or flight like crazy. No control. And no where to flee. Stuck in row three. I am not exaggerating when I say I go a little crazy in my head. Last time when I had a panic attack 1000s of feet above land, I sat writing numbers over and over in my journal. I seriously worried about what would happen if I couldn’t contain myself anymore. Do they have sedatives or something for people like me, who don’t plan ahead and have pills with them? I’m sure.  Um, yeah, can I pass on the pretzels and get the most powerful drug you have instead? I imagined the flight attendant walking down the aisle with a huge needle and poking me in the arm. Can I just throw in that my friend read her Wall Street Journal the whole time, and had not a care in the world….

Car Rides.

Driving in the day is fine. Driving at night, is not. Driving in the rain at night, is not. Driving in the rain, at night, in a place you don’t know that has no street lights or lights of any kind to light your way, is not.  Driving in the rain, at night, in a place you don’t know that has no street lights or lights of any kind, in an area that has many twists, turns and cliffs, is not. Driving in the rain, at night, in a place you don’t know that has no street lights or lights of any kind, in an area that has many twists, turns and cliffs, with three sleeping innocent children, is not. Some control, yes because I did have the wheel. But not much.

I realized this past week, as we drove home from visiting relatives states away from us, that I do not like driving at night because I can’t see.

I can’t see. I don’t like to not be able to see clearly. I don’t like to see darkness. I like light. If I can’t see, then I get scared. And I have always been that way. I have always hated night. At night, when I can’t see what is around me, I start to see things that aren’t. Like clowns from “It” and wolves (yes, I had a period in my childhood when I kept having scary wolf nightmares), and robbers lurking in my closet or under my bed, or murderers stepping on a floorboard that creak in the hallway.  Or I start seeing things like my children drowning in ocean waters, or sharks eating their arms off, or airplane doors opening and sucking me out, or terrorists hijacking the plane and flying into buildings, or crashing into the ocean and floating down to the very bottom of darkness.  Or deer coming through my window and smashing all of us, or semi trucks hitting us head on, or or or….And having children only makes this wanting to control, worse.

I can’t control it. And I want to. I want to control that my children live blessed lives and die peacefully in their sleep at age 101. I want to control that I don’t get cancer. Or that I never see those I love die. Or that my husband lives to be 101 also. I want to control death. I want to control loss. I want to control that no bad things happen.  But I can’t. And I can’t flee from that. It’s totally and completely out of my control. And I really really hate that feeling.

I remember reading something somewhere that said that just because we don’t walk around in some dangerous area of some part of the country, doesn’t mean that we are going to be safe. I could choose to stay in my house and never go out, to protect myself from danger, and then end up being killed by a carbon monoxide leak when the detector somehow malfunctioned. I could force my children to never adventure out and see the world, and instead keep them close and “safe”, only to have them hit by a car a minute from our house.

There is no control. And sometimes it feels like God isn’t in control of it either. If He was, then no children would ever die.

But He is in control. He knows the end. The very end. Not our little end that we think is an end, but really is not an end at all.  We don’t see the big picture. What we see is just a tiny little fraction of time. I like how Greg Boyd says of God’s control…God sees every path we could possible take and He has a plan for each path.  So He isn’t out there dictating or controlling our every move, but yet He has a plan for each detour we take or each wrong road we turn.  Nothing surprises him. He doesn’t allow just one road for us to go down, because He has always wanted us to have freedom and choice. That has always mattered to him, even from the very beginning of time…look at Adam and Eve.  He knows the end.

Jesus says in John,

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

That is what Easter is all about. He has once and for all, taken control of darkness, death and loss, and has replaced it with light, life and joy.  He has paid the price for Adam and Eve’s choice, and our choice. No longer do we need to fear. But control is instead replaced with trust.  And God is kind and gentle, all goodness, all light. He is just and wants only the very best for us.  He can be trusted to hold our lives in his hands. And He is the only one that can give us the security that our hearts long for.

In Philippians it says,

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

That is all we can do. Trust and pray. And peace will come.  It is promised.

I’ll close with this song. It is one of my favorite hymns that speaks of what I have written.

Because He Lives I Can Face Tomorrow

God sent His son, they called Him, Jesus;
He came to love, heal and forgive;
He lived and died to buy my pardon,
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives!

Chorus
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone,
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living,
Just because He lives!

How sweet to hold a newborn baby,
And feel the pride and joy he brings;
But greater still the calm assurance:
This child can face uncertain days because He Lives
!

Chorus
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living,
Just because He lives!

And then one day, I’ll cross the river,
I’ll fight life’s final war with pain;
And then, as death gives way to victory,
I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He lives!

Chorus
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living,
Just because He lives!

One of my most favorite people, just told me this Brian Andreas quote that goes along perfectly with this post:

“If you hold on to the handle, she said, it’s easier to maintain the illusion of control. But it’s more fun if you just let the wind carry you.”

Let the wind carry you today.

“I Gave You the Candlesticks Too…”

 

This will forever be one of my most favorite chapters from any piece of literature.

And hits home especially during this Easter season, when God gave us all of himself.

Taken from Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Chapter XII. The Bishop works

The next morning at sunrise Monseigneur Bienvenu was strolling in his garden. Madame Magloire ran up to him in utter consternation.

“Monseigneur, Monseigneur!” she exclaimed, “does your Grace know where the basket of silver is?”

“Yes,” replied the Bishop.

“Jesus the Lord be blessed!” she resumed; “I did not know what had become of it.”

The Bishop had just picked up the basket in a flower-bed. He presented it to Madame Magloire.

“Here it is.”

“Well!” said she. “Nothing in it! And the silver?”

“Ah,” returned the Bishop, “so it is the silver which troubles you? I don’t know where it is.”

“Great, good God! It is stolen! That man who was here last night has stolen it.”

In a twinkling, with all the vivacity of an alert old woman, Madame Magloire had rushed to the oratory, entered the alcove, and returned to the Bishop. The Bishop had just bent down, and was sighing as he examined a plant of cochlearia des Guillons, which the basket had broken as it fell across the bed. He rose up at Madame Magloire’s cry.

“Monseigneur, the man is gone! The silver has been stolen!”

As she uttered this exclamation, her eyes fell upon a corner of the garden, where traces of the wall having been scaled were visible. The coping of the wall had been torn away.

“Stay! yonder is the way he went. He jumped over into Cochefilet Lane. Ah, the abomination! He has stolen our silver!”

The Bishop remained silent for a moment; then he raised his grave eyes, and said gently to Madame Magloire:–

“And, in the first place, was that silver ours?”

Madame Magloire was speechless. Another silence ensued; then the Bishop went on:–

“Madame Magloire, I have for a long time detained that silver wrongfully. It belonged to the poor. Who was that man? A poor man, evidently.”

“Alas! Jesus!” returned Madame Magloire. “It is not for my sake, nor for Mademoiselle’s. It makes no difference to us. But it is for the sake of Monseigneur. What is Monseigneur to eat with now?”

The Bishop gazed at her with an air of amazement.

“Ah, come! Are there no such things as pewter forks and spoons?”

Madame Magloire shrugged her shoulders.

“Pewter has an odor.”

“Iron forks and spoons, then.”

Madame Magloire made an expressive grimace.

“Iron has a taste.”

“Very well,” said the Bishop; “wooden ones then.”

A few moments later he was breakfasting at the very table at which Jean Valjean had sat on the previous evening. As he ate his breakfast, Monseigneur Welcome remarked gayly to his sister, who said nothing, and to Madame Magloire, who was grumbling under her breath, that one really does not need either fork or spoon, even of wood, in order to dip a bit of bread in a cup of milk.

“A pretty idea, truly,” said Madame Magloire to herself, as she went and came, “to take in a man like that! and to lodge him close to one’s self! And how fortunate that he did nothing but steal! Ah, mon Dieu! it makes one shudder to think of it!”

As the brother and sister were about to rise from the table, there came a knock at the door.

“Come in,” said the Bishop.

The door opened. A singular and violent group made its appearance on the threshold. Three men were holding a fourth man by the collar. The three men were gendarmes; the other was Jean Valjean.

A brigadier of gendarmes, who seemed to be in command of the group, was standing near the door. He entered and advanced to the Bishop, making a military salute.

“Monseigneur–” said he.

At this word, Jean Valjean, who was dejected and seemed overwhelmed, raised his head with an air of stupefaction.

“Monseigneur!” he murmured. “So he is not the cure?”

“Silence!” said the gendarme. “He is Monseigneur the Bishop.”

In the meantime, Monseigneur Bienvenu had advanced as quickly as his great age permitted.

“Ah! here you are!” he exclaimed, looking at Jean Valjean. “I am glad to see you. Well, but how is this? I gave you the candlesticks too, which are of silver like the rest, and for which you can certainly get two hundred francs. Why did you not carry them away with your forks and spoons?”

Jean Valjean opened his eyes wide, and stared at the venerable Bishop with an expression which no human tongue can render any account of.

“Monseigneur,” said the brigadier of gendarmes, “so what this man said is true, then? We came across him. He was walking like a man who is running away. We stopped him to look into the matter. He had this silver–”

“And he told you,” interposed the Bishop with a smile, “that it had been given to him by a kind old fellow of a priest with whom he had passed the night? I see how the matter stands. And you have brought him back here? It is a mistake.”

“In that case,” replied the brigadier, “we can let him go?”

“Certainly,” replied the Bishop.

The gendarmes released Jean Valjean, who recoiled.

“Is it true that I am to be released?” he said, in an almost inarticulate voice, and as though he were talking in his sleep.

“Yes, thou art released; dost thou not understand?” said one of the gendarmes.

“My friend,” resumed the Bishop, “before you go, here are your candlesticks. Take them.”

He stepped to the chimney-piece, took the two silver candlesticks, and brought them to Jean Valjean. The two women looked on without uttering a word, without a gesture, without a look which could disconcert the Bishop.

Jean Valjean was trembling in every limb. He took the two candlesticks mechanically, and with a bewildered air.

“Now,” said the Bishop, “go in peace. By the way, when you return, my friend, it is not necessary to pass through the garden. You can always enter and depart through the street door. It is never fastened with anything but a latch, either by day or by night.”

Then, turning to the gendarmes:–

“You may retire, gentlemen.”

The gendarmes retired.

Jean Valjean was like a man on the point of fainting.

The Bishop drew near to him, and said in a low voice:–

“Do not forget, never forget, that you have promised to use this money in becoming an honest man.”

Jean Valjean, who had no recollection of ever having promised anything, remained speechless. The Bishop had emphasized the words when he uttered them. He resumed with solemnity:–

“Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.”

Beauty

You know when you see something beautiful. Like a six foot two grandson gingerly helping his four foot nine grandmother walk a few feet down the hospital floor after her hip surgery. Or a little child proudly holding up a dandelion to her mama.  Or a tired husband washing the dishes at 10pm, so his wife doesn’t have to wake up to dirty dishes.  Or a five year old sister giving her cherished ring pop candy to her younger sister to help her feel better after skinning her knee.

You know when you hear something beautiful.  Like Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings or Pachelbel’s Canon in D or Ava Maria for the first time.  Or your firstborn, as they look into your eyes and say “Mama”, and you know they really understands that you are “Mama”. Or your child singing to herself as she poops on the toilet. Or a robin’s song in the morning after a long winter. Or the sound of a brook on a peaceful summer day. Or the wind rustling the aspen leaves. Or your favorite person’s voice over the phone.  Or your child playing the same song on her recorder all day (ok, maybe not that one).

You know when you feel something beautiful. Like a warm handshake or hug as you are welcomed in from the cold into a loved one’s home.  Or a hot cup of coffee or cocoa.  Or the feeling of flannel jammies.  Or the warm summer wind as it sprays ocean mist on your face. Or  your children as they fall asleep in your arms.

You know when you smell something beautiful.  Like the crisp air in November. Or the clean, earthy spring air. Or the cologne your grandpa used to wear.  Or anything baked with cinnamon. Or garlic. Or chili powder. Or anything on the grill.

You know when you watch a movie and you fall in love with dragons like Pete or the BFG. Or wizards like Gandolf.  Or friends like Sam.  Or Bob Cratchit. Or Wall-E. Or Charlotte. Or any of those movie characters who draw you in and make you fall in love the human race just a little bit more.

I’ve been thinking about all these beautiful people and things. And I am realizing that maybe why my heart loves them so much and yearns for them, is because they are all part of Him. Pieces of God. The true God. Not the one that we like to make him into. The one who out of love, got down on his hands and knees and washed his disciples feet. The one who told children to come to him and sinners to draw near. Who talked with women no one else would be seen next to. Who drew in the dirt instead of casting a stone. Who was born in a room full of manure. Who as Paul and Timothy write of, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being make in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself- even death on a cross.” He’s true beauty.  Beauty that we get glimpses of here and there in our world. He is in all of them. All good things come from him. Like I think I’ve written before, you can’t create a jersey calf or a golden retriever puppy or a tiny wood violet or a willow tree or a monarch, and be a monster at the same time. God often seems so far away. Like there really is some sort of veil between this world and him. And yes, humans have made it that way (doesn’t take long to see why, when you read through the Old Testament). But He is still here with us. And I find that it is through nature and the unselfish giving and love of those around us, that He is still clearly seen and felt.

As the words of St. Francis say…

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

 

For it is in giving that we receive.

No Pit is So Deep…

“No pit is so deep that He is not deeper still; with Jesus even in our darkest moments, the best remains and the very best is yet to be.”

Corrie ten Boom

 

He has already gone to the deepest, darkest pit when He died on the cross and suffered and took (felt, endured, relived) every single sin of every single man, woman and child that has and will ever live…and after that He swallowed death in victory. And today we can live knowing there is nothing He doesn’t know, no pit He can’t go into with us, nothing that will separate us from his great love for us.  As it says in Romans 8…

31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.

35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”[a]) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[b] neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Boundaries

I’ve been thinking about boundaries lately.  Not the good kind you set for your kids, but the kinds that keep us confined in our own tiny backyard. We get so used to being confined, we don’t even realize it.  What must it feel like to own acres of land and be able to wander about freely and not have to worry about crossing the boundary line or overstepping your place, or someone yelling at you or your kids that you’re on their property,  or someone seeing your undies drying on the clothesline?  We put up fences, and that seems to help hide us, but it also confines us even more, because now we can’t even see beyond our own yard. Our kids know to only go so far, and always be within eyesight of mom or dad. Don’t ever cross the street. Don’t go beyond the basketball court at the playground.  Don’t walk too far ahead of me at the grocery store. Stay close in the parking lot.  Don’t go too deep in the water.  Don’t walk too far into those woods.  Stay on the path. Stay on the trail. Follow the sidewalk.

It’s everywhere, every day of our lives. Maybe not yours, but it is mine.  And after almost thirty nine years, it’s really starting to wear me down.

What would it be like to walk in your woods or fields and feel the expanse and spend hours there, learning, exploring, discovering the beauty that was there, until you came to really know it?  Every brook and fallen tree. Every rock. Hill.  Every secret hiding place. Charlotte Mason once wrote,

“By degrees the children will learn discriminatingly every feature of the landscapes with which they are familiar; and think what a delightful possession for old age and middle life is a series of pictures imaged, feature by feature,  in the sunny glow of the child’s mind! The miserable thing about the childish recollections of most persons is that they are blurred, distorted, incomplete, no more pleasant to look upon than a fractured cup or a torn garment; and the reason is, not that the old scenes are forgotten, but that they were never fully seen.”

The city is great and I have enjoyed it’s ability to erase boredom, but there is something about open land, where only trees and sky exist.  Where you can actually see the stars at night.  Where you don’t always hear the constant buzz of cars going somewhere. Where you can be yourself and not feel like you are being watched or judged or putting your foot somewhere you shouldn’t. Where you can actually run without running into something. Where our children can learn what freedom feels like and have time to “fully see.”

Psalm 84

Loving these verses in Psalm 84….

“Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself,

where she may have her young -a place near your altar, O Lord Almighty,

my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they

are ever praising you.  Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have

set their hearts on pilgrimage.  As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they

make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools.

They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.”