A good Father?

Psalm 73-1-2

The questions come in the strangest moments, when I am least prepared to answer. Why are you _____? There’s a number of possibilities that fill in the blank. Single, travelling on your own, still teaching … There’s usually a facial expression on the ask-er’s face too that’s a mixture of bewilderment and pity. Sometimes the expression is harder to deal with than the question.

 

Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. Psalm 73:1-3 (NIV)

No doubt about it! God is good – good to good people, good to the good-hearted. But I nearly missed it, missed seeing his goodness. I was looking the other way, looking up to the people at the top … Psalm 73:1-3 (MSG)

God is truly good to Israel, to those who have pure hearts. But I had almost stopped believing this truth. I had almost lost my faith because I was jealous of proud people. I saw wicked people doing well. Psalm 73:1-3 (ICB)

 

It’s frequently been those questions that have lead me down the rabbit trail of doubt. Frankly, in my life, that’s no rabbit trail. It’s been paved over with asphalt because I’ve walked it so often. Doubts about my marital status. Doubts about the wisdom of choices I have made. Doubts about whether I should do something or not. Doubts about risk taking. The doubt list is actually longer than I would like.

 

And then there’s the doubts about God that sneak in on the quietest of feet. Those doubts are more dangerous than anything else. They’re insipid, sneaking into the corners of my mind and heart and then burrowing in with porcupine hooks. Removing them is more difficult than I had anticipated.

Doubting my God’s goodness. That’s been something I’ve done wholeheartedly. There are prayers I’ve been praying my whole life that have still gone unanswered. Those are the prayers that have brought tears to my eyes. I’ve held them up to the Father’s throne and tagged “ifs” on them. God, if you do _____, then I will know you are good. God, if you do _____, then I will see you are faithful. God, if you do _____, then I will know you love and bless me. The “ifs” linger still and brought trouble with them. I bought into the lie that because God didn’t answer my prayers the way I wanted that He is not good, to me, anyway. I have believed that his faithfulness is only extended to some. I have questioned and doubted His love and blessing in my life. These are my porcupine quill doubts.

But God is gracious and God is good. He is not limited by my doubts. He is not constrained by my “ifs.” If I look back, truly looking at the experiences of my life, I see His goodness written all over it. His faithfulness is more than I can measure. His love and mercy have washed over me again and again. He has shown Himself to me in crashing waves and peaceful seas, quiet cathedrals and park benches. His presence, constant and true, has been the pliers that have removed the doubt quills from my heart.

God, too often I’ve almost missed your goodness. I choose to look to You, Jesus, because Your character does not change. I ask You to open my eyes to make me aware of where You are moving in my life. I pray for attentiveness to see what You are doing to recognize that Your goodness and faithfulness reaches me again and again. You are a good Father and I am so blessed to be Your child. Amen.

Chris Tomlin’s Good Good Father

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A legacy passed on …

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They are mine and yet they are not. Twenty-nine little ones are in front of me every school day. Sometimes they exasperate. Sometimes they are endearing. There are hugs and daily fist bumps. We talk about good things – what’s gone well today? We talk about hard things – why did you let the aliens invade? All along the way there is learning to be done. English, Math, Bible, Science, Social … all with lessons to learn and mastery to develop.

 

Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness. Psalm 72:1 (NIV)

Give the gift of wise rule to the king, O God, the gift of just rule to the crown prince. Psalm 72:1 (MSG)

Give the king your good judgement and the king’s son your goodness. Psalm 72:1 (ICB)

 

But that’s not all I want for them. Every year, I pray for these twenty-nine hearts that are mine for those ten months. While I want them to grasp the material that they are being taught, there are bigger lessons than that for all of us. I want them to see Jesus. I want them to know Him better. I want them to see the answers to prayer. I want them to ask their questions. I want them to wonder about Him. I want them to be blown away by His goodness and majesty.

I want them to love Him deeper. I pray that they will develop a love of Jesus that is the deepest passion of their hearts. A love that experiences His love for them. A love that endures, that weathers the storms of life. A love that is confident that Jesus deeply loves them.

I want their worship to ring out louder. For their praises to ring out in my classroom. Praise that cannot be contained because it is too overwhelming for words. I want them to experience the passion of living life with Jesus.

I want the tough experiences too. The times where we all wonder what God is up to. The times that hurt our hearts and hopefully make us lean into God more than we have before. I want the times that make our hearts burn because it doesn’t seem fair and we are not totally sure where God is in the middle of it. I want those moments because they spur us into discovery and sometimes prompt our feet into action. Those moments test our faith and our love. I pray for faith that relies on the One who will always be there. He cannot be shaken.

As I read Psalm 72:1, my head and my heart pray it this way for my learners – “Give the [teacher] your good judgement and the [teacher’s students] your goodness.” (ICB, bracketed words mine) We have much to experience this year. Some will be remembered. Most will be forgotten. But my heart’s cry is for my students to know Jesus better and love Him more. If that occurs, I will be blessed beyond measure.

Jesus, move powerfully. You are the true words of life. You are the One who equips us for every good work that You have planned in advance for us to do. Would you move and shape in such a way that we look more like You, sound more like You and join You in the adventures You have planned for us. Open our ears to hear what you are up to. Then we will become the people You have called us to be. Amen.

The story never gets old

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She is 95. One who once was spry is no longer. The sharp memory is fading. She was an avid reader, but with fading eyesight, God’s Word is the only book she is reading now. The longing to know Jesus – that’s still there. The desire to know Him better – that’s still pursued.

 

Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come. Psalm 71:18 (NIV)

I’ll keep at it until I’m old and gray. God, don’t walk off and leave me until I get out the news of your strong right arm to this world, news of your power to the world yet to come, Psalm 71:18 (MSG)

 

The stories of the past, the stories of God’s faithfulness, those are stories I love to hear. Those are stories I need to hear. They are reminders to me that God is present. He is moving and active. He is deeply involved and His care and passion are on display in the lives of people around me.

The stories of faith challenge my faith. What do I believe about God? Where do I see His hand moving? What kinds of things do I lay before the throne? Am I bringing Him my burdens?

The stories of faith help my faith to grow. They cause it to be stretched. They help me listen with new ears. What is God up to? Where is He moving? Am I joining Him in what He is doing?

The stories of faith spur me on to action. I cannot hear them and not be moved. As the tears roll down my face, I am reminded that my faith is not finished its development. There is more to learn about my God. There is more to experience about Him and with Him. There is more to love about Him. I do not know Him as well as I want to. My faith is not finished its stretching and growing. He’s not finished with me!

The stories of faith remind me that I have stories to share too. God’s taken me on journeys. Some have felt winding and never ending. Some have been fast paced and gone by too fast. Others are slow and plodding with steady progress in one direction. Some have felt like I have been in no-man’s-land. But each story of my faith is one that reminds me that I have a God who is with me. My God is the One who holds me close. My God is the One who has walked every journey with me.

I have a story to tell. A story of my God who walks with me all the days of my life.

Hunting after God

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I sat in the dark. A full moon overhead. All was silent. I hadn’t anticipated sitting in a blind in the dark but I had been invited on a hunt and it was an experience I wasn’t going to miss. The wild boars came. All brave and snorting, gorging themselves on the food. But then in tromped the porcupines and the boars scattered. It wasn’t a fair challenge. No boar was willing to risk the outcome. Vicious quills were no match for tender snouts! It was quite the sight to behold. No animals were harmed on my adventure.

 

But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation always say, “Let God be exalted!” Psalm 70:4 (NIV)

Let those on the hunt for you sing and celebrate. Let all who love your saving way say over and over, “God is mighty!” Psalm 70:4 (MSG)

 

Do I hunt after God? Do I pursue Him? Do I make finding Him and growing in Him the highest priority in my life?

I think the answer to that is sometimes.

Sometimes I do hunt for Him. I’m convinced that He’s not where I saw Him last and He hasn’t been close to me, so I best go and find Him. It’s moments of desperation when I search, eager to see Him, urgently wanting to know His presence and His touch.

Other times, I’m happy to sit in my place, content and too often complacent with how things are in my life. I’m okay. God’s okay, so why shake the boat? We’re each in our places and all seems fine. But is it?

Sometimes I really do hunt after God. It’s not because I’m in a place of desperation. But it’s because I really want to spend time with Him. I really do want to invest in our relationship. I value that closeness and the comfort of His presence and so I pursue Him.

Lord, I confess that I’m not always pursuing my relationship with You. Too often I am complacent. Forgive me for being satisfied with the status quo. I ask for a heart that longs for You. A heart that pursues You. A heart that is passionate for You. A heart that longs for Your presence. I desire to be deeply known by You. Thank you for being the God who pursues me in love and kindness. I am so grateful to be loved and known by You. Amen.

The One who Saves

God, answer in love! Answer with your sure salvation!

 

But I pray to you, O Lord, in the time of your favour; in your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation. Psalm 69:13 (NIV)

God, answer in love! Answer with your sure salvation! Psalm 69:13 (MSG)

But I pray to you, Lord. I pray that you will accept me. God, because of your great love, answer me. You are truly able to save. Psalm 69:13 (ICB)

 

We celebrated again this past weekend. A tiny wafer. A cup of juice. Elements helping me remember the body and blood of my Lord Jesus Christ. Broken and bleeding for me. Taking my place. Suffering my guilt and shame. All sacrificed in love. All given because I was far away and could do nothing on my own to be close to God.

At some point, every person has tried something to reach God. Good works. Living a good life. Living a moral life. Being generous. The list could go on and on.

But all of it, while it may be good on its own, can do nothing about the problem of my sin. Yes, I sin. I completely miss the mark. My attitude gets in the way. I rebel in some way. I offend and hurt others. It’s all sin. It’s all missing the mark of God’s perfection. Sin tarnishes everything it touches. And unlike a polishing cloth removing the tarnish on silver, I can’t just wipe it off my record.

Only my God can truly restore. His polishing cloth was His Son. The only One who was sinless. The only One who was perfect. The only One who could bear the weight of every wrong I have ever done. He carried the load and suffered the most horrid death imaginable – a cross. He went in obedience. He knew that the suffering would be intense. He knew that it would mean separation from His Father. They had never been apart – Father, Son and Spirit – and when He carried the weight of the sin of the world, the Father could not look at Him anymore. That is lonely!

But God in His mercy and grace looked at the sacrifice of His Son and was satisfied that the penalty was paid. It was enough. It was finished. Salvation was bought with the sacrifice of the One who was perfect. What a costly redemption!

When the Father now looks at me, He sees that the penalty has been paid. He desires that I live in right relationship with Him. Confessing my sin to Him is part of the transaction. But His forgiveness is right there. Meeting me at the point of my need. His memory of my sin – that’s a short memory. He chooses forgiveness. He wipes the sin away. It’s gone, forgiven, finished.

I am so in need of salvation! I cannot do life on my own. I’m so grateful that when I call out, and it’s often, my God is right there. He reaches out to me. He is the One who comes near. He is truly able to save!

Family

God gives the lonely a home

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God sets the lonely in families, Psalm 68:6a (NIV) 

God gives the lonely a home. Psalm 68:6a (ICB)

 

I’d been in this country before. I’d travelled all around visiting a whole host of teachers and principals and their schools. But I’d never lived there. I really didn’t think I would live there. But God wasn’t subtle about His call on my life to go live on the other side of the world for a period of time. When God speaks, it is really best to obey. So, I packed my bags and prepared my very unsure heart for the adventure He had me on.

In some ways, it was exactly what I thought it would be. I was challenged. I was out of my comfort zone. I was uncertain. God was very present.

In other ways, it was exactly unlike what I anticipated. I thought I knew where I would be living. But, circumstances beyond my control completely changed the plans. Little did I know that the plans changing was exactly what my heart needed.

Instead of a quiet basement suite, I was plunked into a family. And it was perfect. They welcomed me with open arms. They made me one of their own. They told me Sunday night supper was “feed your face” meaning I needed to fend for myself and make my own meal. They stole my peanut butter and honey sandwiches. They wrote in my journal. They stormed into my room. They teased me. They laughed at me when I was cold. They wanted to see my pictures and listen to my music. They made all sorts of musical racket with me. They hunted me down if I wasn’t joining in on what they were up to. They took me to their friend’s homes. They loved on me when I was lonely. They listened to my stories about home. They helped explain my current surroundings. They became my family! I love them dearly!

We haven’t seen each other for a really long time. But every time I read Psalm 68:6a, I am reminded of God’s perfect provision for my life. Had I lived in the basement suite, I would have been so lonely. Instead, God surrounded me with the family He knew I needed. And I am grateful beyond words. He knew what I needed – a family! I’ve got a family this side and one on the other side of the world. Both of my families have been God’s gift to me. I cannot imagine my life without all of you in it! I love you more than words can say!

Blessed

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us,

I am amazed at the blessing of God in my life. There are more blessings than I can start to list off. God. Family. Friends. Health. Career. Community. Fun. Curling. Music. Writing. Travel. Photos. Memories. The list may start here but by no means is this the end. I have more blessings spilling out of my hands than I can possibly list.

 

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us Psalm 67:1 (NIV) 

God, mark us with grace and blessing! Smile! Psalm 67:1 (MSG)

 

But, I am often reminded that the blessing of God in my life is not always tangible. Some of the blessings He has for me are ones I know nothing of in the moment. In fact, there are times when I am not sure He is even blessing me right then.

I think that if I was able to see all of the blessings that God is constantly pouring out into my life, I would not be the person He has designed me to be. Any shred of humility I may have developed would be sacrificed in a moment of gloating. Any thought of thankfulness might be consumed in a belief that I’ve done something to earn it.

I can’t earn the blessing of the Lord in my life. Nothing I could do would ever be enough to merit his favour. Instead He lavishly pours out blessings on me – over and over again. I am more loved than I can understand and more blessed than I will ever fully know.

God, forgive me for all the times when I forget to be thankful. You have provided so richly in so many ways in my life. May my heart be one that overflows with a constant outpouring of gratitude to You. You are my provision and every blessing that is in my life is a gift from Your hand. May my life reflect Your generosity, mercy and grace to me.

Remember

Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me.

What do I choose to remember? I know I am one of those people with a bit of a steel trap for a memory. Some things go in and stay lodged in there for good. Some of what’s stored up there is absolute trivia – only good for some game where the most minute detail is needed. Other things are impressions, vague notions of what’s happened in the past. Some memories are vivid, I can seemingly transport myself back to those moments instantly. Some memories light my face with joy. Others bring an ache of sorrow, deep pain throbbing in my chest. What do I choose to remember?

 

Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me. Psalm 66:16 (NIV)

All believers; come here and listen, let me tell you what God did for me. Psalm 66:16 (MSG)

 

What do I choose to remember when it comes to my relationship with my God? Where does my mind go when I think about the journey He and I have been on together?

I remember where it started – a basement, a Bible story, a question, a choice – I would choose to follow Him and live knowing that I was desperate for His intervention in my life.

I remember times of His presence – a hill at a camp retreat where the sun beat on me and Jesus was very real.

I remember times of His provision – a job when I least expected one and the supply of another position when the path changed direction more suddenly than I could anticipate.

I remember times of His guidance – a trip to Africa that became three trips to Africa with an opportunity to obey in a way I had completely not understood before.

I remember times of His comfort – grief and loss have knocked on my door and I have needed the assurance of the Holy Spirit’s comfort to walk me through valleys narrow and dark.

I remember times of His silence – times of loneliness and questions. Times where I have wondered and doubted what He has been up to. Times where it has felt as though I had been abandoned.

I remember times of His closeness – a journal, cathedrals, park benches, train coaches where I have known beyond a shadow of a doubt that my God was speaking to me and all my heart could do was race with the knowledge of His presence and favour.

But I don’t just want to remember the moments. I want more of them. More of all of them. Not just the pretty ones that feel good, but the ones that hurt and cause my heart to ache and my eyes to cry. Because in the midst of all of them, my God has always been with me. He has never left me alone. He has been the Lion who has roared at the darkness that has threatened my soul. And He has been the Lamb that was slain so that I could have a relationship with Him. And He has been the Rock that my faith has been built on. He has been the Peace that has comforted and succored me. While I have felt as if He has abandoned me, that is the furthest thing from the truth. My God is the God who is present. Always present.

I need to remember. I dare not forget.

 

Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me. Psalm 66:16 (NIV)

All believers; come here and listen, let me tell you what God did for me. Psalm 66:16 (MSG)

The One who stills …

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It must be because I live in a part of my country that doesn’t touch a massive body of water. That’s got to be the reason why I’m fascinated by the sea. I love the sound of waves hitting the shore. I’ve got to touch it. Get my feet wet in it. I need some explanation for all of the pictures of water that I took on holiday.

 

… who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves … Psalm 65:7a (NIV)

 

… Muzzler of sea storm and wave crash … Psalm 65:7a (MSG)

In some ways, I relate completely to massive bodies of water. They are always moving, rolling into the shore. It seems that I rarely stop. There is always something that needs doing. Something I put off that I shouldn’t have. I have to keep moving to accomplish all that is needed or required of me.

Waves break on something. There’s rocks in the way resulting in a great splash (my favourite kind of picture). Waves roll up on the sandy beach, running out when the last drops of water are pulled back as they curl up on each other. Sometimes, I let myself get to the place where I’m running on empty. There’s no reserves left. I have let all else around me claim my priorities and my time. When I crash, it’s never a pretty picture. No one wants to be around for that!

Sometimes, all is calm. A still lake. The gentle trickle of a stream. It’s peaceful. The gentle lapping of water against the shore. I crave those moments of calm. I relish them. It’s a balm to my soul. Those moments seem especially designed for renewal, for re-creating, for refreshment.

The ocean is so vast. (Granted so are many lakes.) It reaches past the horizon, stretching past my imagination. Sometimes, the burdens and difficulties of my day feel the same way. They threaten to swamp me, breaching the sandbag barriers I’ve hastily erected hoping to keep the water out.

But, I come back to David’s praise of a powerful God. My God is the one who can still the sea. The One who can turn the mighty churning oceans into a placid sheet of glass. The One who can halt the waves breaking onto the shore. I can’t imagine a force that powerful.

I’m in need of a powerful God. The events of my life, the events of my world constantly threaten to overwhelm me. The demands that pull at me from all sides, the needs that are before me, all seem to spill over onto each other. It would be so easy for all of these things to submerge me. It would be so easy to give up. It would seem simpler if I didn’t have to deal with any of it. But my God is not calling me to avoid life. He’s not looking for me to abandon the place where He’s put me. Rather, He’s wanting me to be observant. He’s wanting me to notice who is really in control. He’s wanting me to notice that He is powerful and something as untameable as the waters of the earth are not beyond His grasp.

So, I’ll keep taking pictures of water. It’s my reminder that I have a very big God with very big hands. Hands that create and form. Hands that still and restore. On Him I can depend.

Those full moon moments

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There’s been a full moon recently. Interesting things happen during full moons. The ones in my care become strange versions of themselves. A lot wild. Little self-control. Much head shaking. Ever increasing levels of irritation.

It’s no surprise that those of us in charge of them ponder much hand wringing and frustration in those moments. There’s immediate commiseration. There’s some sympathy. Mostly, there’s consternation until the realization dawns, “It’s full moon.” Suddenly everything makes sense.

 

Hear me, O God, as I voice my complaint; protect my life from the threat of the enemy. Psalm 64:1 (NIV)

 

I know David wasn’t dealing with full moon frustrations when he asked God to listen to his complaints. He was dealing with those who had clearly plotted against him. Ones who may have seemed to be friends but were now out to get him.

God listens. He hears the complaints of David’s heart.

I’m often a horrible listener. Multiple voices bombard me simultaneously and I’m desperate to focus on just one so that I give that individual or that need my full attention. God is a much better listener than I am. He is attentive to the needs of those He loves. He hears their cries. Multiple times throughout the Psalms, David acknowledge that God hears him (Psalm 4:3, 5:3, 17:1…)

But just like me, in moments of desperation, I ache to be heard. I’m desperate to be understood. I just want someone to listen to my situation so that the load is shared. I want the burden to be more than just mine alone.

It doesn’t appear that God does anything more for David than to listen. David bares his soul and points out the wrong said about him by multiple sources. He’s specific in what’s been levelled against him. And somehow in all of the hand wringing and annoyance, David remembers that God is for him. God is the one who guards his reputation. God is the one who truly has his back. God is the only one who goes before him. God is the best sounding board David can ask for.

My full moon moments are nothing like having someone trash your reputation and your life. But I know that God is the best one for me to confide in and even complain to. He listens to me. He hears my complaint. He’s not scared off by anything I experience. Rather, I can trust Him to go before me. I can trust Him to give me wisdom to deal with the situations that arise around me. I can trust Him with my reputation. I can trust Him with my life.

Steadfast

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It was a five ferry day. From the coach, onto the ferry, back on the coach, drive to the next ferry. Rinse and repeat. The rain was pouring down. The sun, long obscured, few prospects of it being able to show its face. Umbrellas absolutely necessary and at the ready. Gravol was close at hand too! Seasickness is a possibility but I’m usually pretty good. However, even “calm” seas do not always feel calm to this landlubber’s stomach.

We were boarding the second last ferry of the day when the wind really picked up. A friend of mine wanted to stay out on the deck and I didn’t think much of it until the boat pitched. I knew that I didn’t have a choice. I needed to sit. I needed to close my eyes so I wouldn’t see the tilting landscape all around me. Then, hopefully, my stomach would put itself back in its proper location and all would be good.

It really was only all good when my feet hit the shore again. There’s something so comforting to my heart about terra firma. I love the ocean, but my stomach is most at home on land.

 

My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. Psalm 63:8 (NIV)

I hold on to you for dear life, and you hold me steady as a post. Psalm 63:8 (MSG)

 

Do I cling to my God the way I cling to my survival methods? Even the word cling evokes such a strong image of having grasped on tightly, knuckles white and not wanting to let go, no matter what. Oh, there were multiple prayers offered up as I sat on the boat while it was on the not calm sea. However, I don’t know that I consistently am that quick to cling to my God.

Typically, I try my methods of fixing it all first. When that all amounts to nothing (because it usually does), then I turn my face to heaven and am reminded that the only sure place I can go is to my God. The right hand of my God is powerful. To be on the right hand of a leader is a power seat. God’s right hand upholds, sustains, endures, equips, protects.

I like the idea of being “steady as a post.” That’s a place of being grounded, dug in, entrenched, immovable. Sometimes, I get dug in over the wrong thing. But getting myself dug in with God, dug into Him. That’s a place of security. That’s a place of hope. That’s a place of sure foundation. That’s a place of knowing His presence.

God, may my hands be quick to cling to You. All else is just grasping. May my eyes be fixed on You. All else is blurry. May my mind be stuck on You. All else creates a cloudy perspective. Thank you for being steadfast and sure, the One I can count on. Amen.

Double the Listening

“Power belongs to you, God, and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”

I’m reading one of the best books of all time to my students right now – Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang. The title character, Jacob, is never heard and so repeats everything twice. He’s desperate for attention from someone, really anyone, in his family.

While it may seem ridiculous to say everything twice, I find myself having a Jacob Two-Two like problem. My students have somewhat selective hearing too! I have a voice amplifier so it’s not that they can’t hear me. But they somehow manage to tune me out even though I’m incredibly loud!

 

One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: That you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving. Psalm 62:11-12a (NIV, 1984)

One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: “Power belongs to you, God, and with you, Lord, is unfailing love” Psalm 62:11-12a (NIV, 2011)

God said this once and for all; how many times Have I heard it repeated? “Strength comes Straight from God.” Psalm 62:11 (MSG)

 

I wonder if I don’t have a Jacob Two-Two moment with God on a rather regular basis. However, I know it’s not a speaking to God issue, rather it’s a listening to God issue. Sometimes my mouth and my thoughts completely get in the way and I tune God out. I forget to intentionally listen to what He is up to. (It’s my list, don’t you know.) I deliberately ignore some of the things He says. (He can’t really be asking me to do _____?) I miss His gentle and subtle whispers to my heart. I’m so busy telling Him everything that I want to say that I lose the connection of His voice back to me.

His thoughts toward me are so very precious! His care and concern for me is more than my heart can grasp. His words to me are a reminder about who He is and what He is about. First, my God is powerful. The maker of the heavens, the moon, the stars, the incredibly complex earth, from the largest creature to the tiniest amoeba, is the One who wove me together in a completely unique way. (Psalm 139:13-16) I may have look-a-likes, but there is no other me around. And that’s only one small testament to His power. He formed the earth, He shakes the heavens, the moon and the stars do His bidding. And He is mindful of me? My God is a God of details and none are too small or too large to escape His attention. (Psalm 8:3-5)

But the thing I lose sight of the most, the detail about my God that I too quickly and easily forget is that He loves me. I have trained my ears to “hear” His disappointment in me. I’ve “heard” that I haven’t done enough. I have put a label of “unforgivable” on all sorts of things. But that’s my selective hearing. It’s my perception. It’s me putting my guilt and angst on God. These things aren’t Him at all. But they sure do muddy the waters. They make the image of my loving Heavenly Father distorted, warped, and tainted.

Instead of speaking twice, I need to definitely be listening twice. Listening for my Father’s words of love over me. (Zephaniah 3:17) Listening to how passionately His heart beats for me. Listening for the depth of His love. (Romans 8:31-39) He is speaking His love to me over and over. His incredible act of love, the sending of His perfect Son as the sacrifice in my place, cannot be forgotten. (Romans 5:8) His love is unending.

He is speaking – power and love. Those are words I am desperate to hear.

The Rock, Dependable

High Street in Edinburgh is bookended with volcanic rock. On the one end is the rock that has Edinburgh Castle perched on its outcropping. It was the perfect defence. The good citizens of Edinburgh were safe in the walled city. It kept invaders out. Attempting to scale the walls of the castle meant first having to climb up the rock wall from the watery valley below.

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Walking down to the other end leads you to Arthur’s Seat. It doesn’t really look like much. But the hill rising out of Holyrood Park is more formidable than first impression would dictate. The path starts out paved, becomes loose gravel and then finishes with the volcanic stone. It was a good climb up with great views from the top!

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As I climbed, my gaze constantly was drawn up and out. Where were my feet landing? Was the footing secure? What was the new vista that opened before me because of my constant gain in elevation?

… lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Psalm 61:2b (NIV) 

… “Guide me up High Rock Mountain!” Psalm 61:2b (MSG)

I want to be lead up to the places I’m meant to be going. I know that God, my Good Shepherd and the lover of my soul has good plans for me and He delights in my time with Him. He wants me to experience more, to gaze on new vistas of His revelation, to abide in His presence and trust His leading. I’m not meant to stay in the places where I presently am, but I’m meant to be challenged further to see what new things He is doing. The rock of His presence is far higher than I can imagine. It’s a beautiful place to be.

Standing on top of Arthur’s Seat, my breath was taken away. The view was fantastic! But, it was really the wind that felt as if it would whip me away. Every breath I took in seemed to be sucked away before it could get to my lungs. As I spend more time in God’s presence, He wants to take my breath away too! The beauty of His majesty is something my imagination cannot grasp or contain. He desires me to be so close to Him that I cannot mistake it! He delights in our time together. My God is the One who is closer than the air I breathe! He is the rock I can depend on!

A God who Listens

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It was that high school moment every person dreads. I’d confided in a friend. One whom I thought was trustworthy. However, I remember waking up in the middle of the night and listening as my confidence became shared with the entire group in the cabin. Devastated and embarrassed, I never confided in that “friend” again. In fact, I can’t recall a single meaningful conversation with that individual after that moment when my trust was shattered.

I love David’s honesty with God. He was in the midst of battles for territory and power. He was in a tight spot. Refusing to hold back, he let God have it – both barrels blazing.

 

You have rejected us, O God, and burst forth upon us; you have been angry – now restore us! Psalm 60:1 (NIV)

God! You walked off and left us, kicked our defences to bits And stalked off angry. Come back. Oh please, come back! Psalm 60:1 (MSG)

 

I’ve had conversations of this nature with God. There have been moments where I’ve told Him that I’ve felt rejected and abandoned. I’ve given voice to my accusations and frustrations. At times, it has felt as if my trust has become unhinged. Quite quickly on the heels of those moments, I’ve felt guilty for railing against the God of the universe because I know He has not abandoned me. But sometimes my heart has felt as if His silence is the sign that He’s had enough.

 

Is it not you, O God, you who have rejected us and no longer go out with our armies? Give us aid against the enemy, for the help of man is worthless. Psalm 60:10, 11 (NIV)

You aren’t giving up on us, are you, God? Refusing to go out with our troops? Give us help for the hard task; human help is worthless. Psalm 60:10, 11 (MSG)

 

But just like David, I have nowhere else to go. In spite of my uncertainties about His presence, I am reminded that there is no one who can truly help me the way I am desperate for help. People can offer all sorts of advice. They can have glimpses into what might or might not work.

At the end of it all, there is one confidence that cannot be shaken. The only One who can take me through the moments of fear, frustration, anger, pain, sorrow, trial and disappointment is the God I love. His presence is there in those moments. His quiet presence is to be cherished.

Frequently, when I look back with the perspective of time, I am amazed to see how close my God was to me in the times of my deepest disappointment and despair. He absolutely gave me “help for the hard task.” In the thick of the battle, I’m often too busy coping to notice His hand. Just because I haven’t noticed doesn’t mean He wasn’t working on my behalf all along. It’s so great to know a God who is there. Whose presence isn’t determined by my emotions. My God is the One who goes into the thick of it with me, sustains me in the middle of it, and brings me through to the other side. Praise Jesus for going with me.

Of Fortresses and Faithfulness

-for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.

My heart needed a fortress this year. Many things gathered to batter my soul. I know I didn’t recognize the power of their surges against the tenderness that surrounds my heart. I bought and believed lies that were spoken. I believed them hook, line and sinker. I know that by the end of my work year, I had come to a place where I wasn’t sure that I could withstand any more. The reserves were absolutely empty.

But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. O my Strength, I sing praise to you; you, O God, are my fortress, my loving God. Psalm 59:16-17 (NIV)

And me? I’m singing your prowess, shouting at cockcrow your largesse, For you’ve been a safe place for me, a good place to hide. Strong God, I’m watching you do it, I can always count on you – God, my dependable love. Psalm 59:16-17 (MSG)

Intellectually, I knew God was the fortress I could count on. But emotionally, His presence seemed farther away than I could fathom. Spiritually, I was in a place of deep silence, frustration and hurt. I remember saying to a friend of mine that I was desperate for God to show up in some sort of way, any way at all. I needed a fortress. I needed some sort of shelter. I needed a tiny injection of hope.

My first entries in my cathedral journal this summer were cries for help. God, what have you got planned? Where are You in all of this? What do You have in mind? Will you show up? Will you reveal Yourself again? Doubts were right there in the midst of the questions. I was not nearly as confident as the Psalmist.

I stood in the ruins of multiple abbeys and cathedrals. Buildings that were meant to draw attention to the majesty of God but had been ruined by the power of human might. The building was no match for the man’s intentions. Simultaneously, the building did little to truly reflect the majesty of God. God is far vaster than my mind can understand.

But those towers of stone drew my attention to the reality that God is the one who is always with me. He is the One who is the true safe tower to run to. The tower of His strength will always endure. It will never be brought to ruin. It cannot be destroyed. No human power raised against His might can possibly endure. He is the one who powerfully helps me persevere in the midst of circumstance. He is the One who is always present whether I can “feel” Him or not. He is the One worthy of my adoration and praise. He is always present and so it is possible to find a song in midst of sorrow. It is possible to find a song in the midst of difficulty. It is possible to sing when all seems hopeless. The song is sometimes sung through tears, but His presence is the reason to sing.

Bethel Worship’s Faithful to the End

Leading?

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They are the ones who cause all sorts of thoughts to run through my head. A group of learners, twenty-nine strong. Some quiet and reserved, others boisterous and loud. Some with lots of ideas to share. Others with few comments only shared with friends. They have been entrusted to my care. I want to do right by them. Desiring their best, many verbs are needed. There is a time to prod, to remind, to instruct, to coach, to correct, to train, to comfort, to encourage. I don’t get it right all the time. Sometimes I push too hard. Other times, I’m not enough. Striking the balance is a difficult and constant juggling act.

 

Do you rulers indeed speak justly? Do you judge uprightly among men? Psalm 58:1 (NIV)

Is this any way to run a country? Is there an honest politician in the house? Psalm 58:1 (MSG)

 

Regardless of the group, leading is difficult and complex. Sincerity matters. Integrity is essential. A deep humility is continually called on. Those qualities are far from being fully developed in me. I have not finished becoming the person my God has called me to be. His bright light is needed to shine into the dark places of my heart where I have yet to submit, yet to bow the knee. He’s not vindictive. Rather it is His love and mercy countered by His justice and righteousness that meet in a place where my character has no choice but to be shaped, developed, moulded and changed.

My heart’s desire is that my learners will grow this year. Academically yes. But most importantly for them to be shaped further in the image of the One who made them. That they would know Jesus more and love Him more deeply and fully! May my leading be constantly formed and informed by the truth that God is in charge of my classroom and we want to obediently follow His lead!

Tentative steps?

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

It’s that  feeling in the pit of my stomach. It’s a big night at school! Meet the Teacher Night matters a whole lot. That first impression of a teacher, a person who spends a whole lot of time with a learner, is significant.

Parents watch. They know their child. There is no thing and no one in the world who matters more to them. The love they have for their child is deep, abiding, constant, unmistakable.

And I stand there. Sweaty palmed. Wondering what they think of me. Hoping I sound fun but firm, sincere but not too serious. I’ve been doing this for half my life. I should be familiar with these feelings by now. I should feel more confident. But the butterflies wage war in my middle and I wonder how it will all go. The tentative steps into the unknown with a new group are a part of the journey and half the fun.

And then I am reminded

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

While my steps may feel tentative, I am not called to be a person who lives in doubt and disbelief. Instead, I am called to be a person who confidently follows the steps of my heavenly Father. Walking with Him is the opposite of tentative. It’s a place of certainty. It’s a place of His continual presence.

And there’s this too

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:7

Choosing to live a life of fear is the exact opposite of what God intends for me. I am meant to live with the Holy Spirit’s guiding.

Do I always do it? That’s a resounding no! But when tentative-ness creeps in on stealthy feet, I know I have an Advocate who goes to the Father for me. He desires me to live faithfully at His side. So I never walk alone. He always goes before! Therefore the confidence returns and grace for each moment is continuously provided! Praise God for His presence.

via Daily Prompt: Tentative

Anticipate – Come see …

-Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.

There’s nothing like anticipation. It’s the excitement before something new. What will happen? It’s the butterflies in the stomach that stop you from sleeping. It’s the wonders that can become anxiety and worry faster than a heart can fathom. It’s that moment of wanting to draw someone else along with you into what’s about to occur. There’s excitement tinging the air.

I used to get more excited about things. A new school year, butterflies. A birthday, a night’s sleep lost. A holiday, long awaited.

Too often, there is a cynicism that tinges my attitude. A jaded spirit that creeps in on cat’s feet stealing the joy from my heart. It’s not healthy. It colours everything in shades of disappointment.

But my Heavenly Father calls me to live with a constant sense of anticipation. I am called to seek out joy. I am called to look for the new rather than the old. I am called to have a selective memory.

My God has something new for me. It’s right there, daring me to find it. Challenging me to experience it. Begging me to embrace it with arms spread wide. My eyes are meant to be open so that I will see what God has ahead of me.

I want to find out what’s new! I want to wholeheartedly embrace God’s plan for me. I want to be part of the new thing that I’m meant to see!

via Daily Prompt: Anticipate

Educate – to learn, constantly

Farmhouse Garden Salad a blend of fresh greens,cucumbers, red onions, grape tomatoes, cheddar cheeseand croutons. Served with your choice of dressing.

If I think about the lessons I’ve learned so far in my life, the really big ones haven’t been learned in a typical classroom. That’s not to say I haven’t learned many things from my teachers, I have. But there’s more to life than a classroom.

Lessons have been learned in my family’s yard. I learned how to mow a straight line by looking at a tree at the end of the row. I learned the difference between a weed and a vegetable in our garden. I learned that perseverance matters as we picked knee-high weeds. I learned that sometimes the work has to be done more than once when we trimmed trees one summer and then again the next spring after snow came when it was meant to be spring.

Lessons have been learned in living rooms. I learned about Jesus through family devotions with all of us seated on the living room couch. I learned that it paid to be on time for Bible studies while in college – first come first seat on the couch, the rest of us claimed a spot on the floor. But sitting on the floor is great fun too. Community is a great teacher. I learned about life as my spiritual mentor spoke truth into my life as we hugged cups of tea in cold hands. These God lessons were forming and shaping my character and my heart.

Lessons have been learned in cathedrals. My cathedral journal is full of moments where God has reminded my heart of His truth. Sometimes the cathedral has been busy and full of tourists. Other times, it’s been quiet and hushed. But each time, I’ve needed to be reminded about the love my God has for me. The care and concern of His heart that will not let me go, the ways He’s shaping and molding me because He is far from finished the work He is doing in me.

The learning is far from over. I’m no different from the students who enter my room for the first time each fall. I haven’t arrived at the destination yet. God is still forming my character, making me into the person He intends me to be. And I take great comfort in that. I have much to learn and my God has much to teach me. May I be more formed into His likeness!

The State of my heart …

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Parch: to make or become dry through intense heat
Parched: dried out with heat, extremely thirsty

If I had to define my heart, mind and soul over the first six months of 2017, that’s the word that I’d give it. Parched. It’s been heated by and through experiences. Not just warmed up to a cozy temperature, but heated up to the point of drying out, shrivelling, curling in on itself, withering. It has felt as though there has been nothing left to give. Any drop of water that would have been sustaining was sucked out, given away, evaporated.

The end of June, with its work routines and regular-ness, could not come soon enough. I was looking for an out-of-my-regular-life experience, a place where I could go for some refreshment of my soul.

It felt as though God’s quietness was suffocating. He was so still. His moves absolutely imperceptible to my mind and heart. I knew He was there – because He never goes away. But did I see Him around me, no. Did I feel His presence, no. Did I wonder what on earth He was up to, unequivocally yes!

And so my barren wasteland of a soul and I headed out on holiday. Hoping desperately that God would show up somewhere on the trip.

One of the books of my journey was Christie Purifoy’s Roots and Sky. She writes about her wilderness experience. She states that the wilderness is “the place where God meets with us as we wander. It is the place where new dreams are born and old promises are renewed.” (p. 18)

Immediate notes joined the margin of my book. How do I define the wilderness? Hope? Despair? I wasn’t in a hopeful place – at all! Despair was coating every part of my heart. I didn’t see the wasteland I was wandering in as a place where new dreams would emerge. I had no dreams. I was hanging on to any sign of life, any sign of hope.

One day on my trip, I sat on the coach staring out the window as the heaven’s cried all over us. The weather and the state of my soul were close cousins. As we drove through the highlands, a fellow passenger commented about the water rushing down the hillsides. The rain had swollen the rivers until they were pouring out of their banks, rushing to the valley below. And God used the picture to speak to my soul. He is the source of living water (John 4:10). The water that restores my soul, that takes the ground of my heart from parched to fruitful can only be found in Him. He wants my soul to be overflowing with His water.

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Somewhere along the way, I had stopped coming to the well of Jesus. All my attempts to restore my parched soul had failed perfectly! I needed this reminder of rushing rivers. Jesus is the only one who can possibly satisfy my soul. He is the Giver of Hope. He is the source of life. He sometimes is so still in the wilderness that my ears completely miss what He’s up to. But He is there. In that my soul finds hope and renewed joy.

Bethel Music’s Thank you

Purifoy, C. (2016). Roots and Sky:  A Journey Home in Four Seasons. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Choosing to sing …

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There’s in infamous picture in some photo album in the basement. Siblings and cousins bunched together on the stairs. We were singing, having fun, enjoying ourselves. The moment was captured for posterity. The rest of them all graciously closed their mouths – they look like they’re smiling. My mouth’s wide open, you can practically see my tonsils. I just carried right on singing.

I’m not sure I have that same enthusiasm for worship. (That felt like a moment when I hit the heresy button.) But it’s true. I sometimes worship, full heart and voice. But recently, it’s been held back, somewhat reserved. I’ve felt like I’ve needed some sort of reason to sing and nothing felt like it was a good enough.

And that’s my problem. I don’t need some sort of purpose to sing. I’ve already got more reasons to rejoice than I can ever name. I’m loved – by my God, by my family, my learners. I’m warm – the house is almost too hot, the arena was heated, the heater in the car works, there’s enough warm clothes in the closet to do me for awhile. I’m fed – the pantry, freezer and fridge are all stocked. I’m safe – I sleep with great security. I’m gainfully employed – the job provides me with an opportunity to use my skills and God provides for every need.

And the reasons continue to pour out. I’m chosen – my Heavenly Father calls me by name. I’m forgiven – my sins covered by the precious blood of Christ. I’m redeemed – I am not seen as guilty, the price for my sin has been paid. I’m challenged – to live a life worthy of the calling God has placed on my life. My future is secure – the hope of heaven awaits.

I should never stop singing. I should never run out of gratitude. Complaining and a disgruntled attitude have no place here. There’s more to sing about than I can truly understand.

I cry out to God Most High, to God, who fulfills his purpose for me. My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast:  I will sing and make music.  Psalm 57:2, 7 (NIV)

I call out to High God, the God who holds me together. I’m ready, God, so ready, ready from head to toe, Ready to sing, ready to raise a tune… Psalm 57:2, 7 (MSG)

Hillsong Worship What a Beautiful Name

Each tear …

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There was a service today. A memorial for one who lived life full. Who loved travel and adventure. Who had a crazy sense of humour and deep and abiding passion for God and His people. Her arms were always open and hugs were just part of spending time with her. She love worship and her flags waved often as the words were lifted before the throne.

Her life was celebrated. Tears. Laughter. Joy. Pain. Precious words and memories shared.

I couldn’t help it. The tears leaked out. Those she loved and who loved her are left behind to ache.

Another service is on the horizon. Another who has entered Jesus’ presence. This goodbye has been long. What was once a vibrant mind and body was slowly stolen by Alzheimers. Where joy and vibrancy used to dwell, silence slowly took over. Where eyes once twinkled over a snarky comment or a great joke a gradual dullness invaded. Her home going is the last goodbye, one that has been coming for a while. I anticipate another round of tears. It simply cannot be helped.

I sometimes feel that my tears are a waste. The tear ducts work well. That’s been duly noted on multiple occasions. But the demonstration of that emotion seems like something I would love to be able to control a bit more effectively. However, that doesn’t seem to be God’s intention for me and my tears.

Psalm 56 has been one on which I’ve felt hung up. What, God, do you have for me in that Psalm? David’s a little vengeful at times. He’s plenty accusatory. He reminds himself on multiple occasions that God’s worthy of his trust and that He is the One who is in charge. And then today, on this day when my eyes feel swollen and tired, the Psalm hits home.

Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll – are they not in your record? Psalm 56:8 (NIV)

You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn through the sleepless nights, Each tear entered in your ledger, each ache written in your book. Psalm 56:8 (MSG)

The aches are part of this life. As much as I do not wish to experience them, they are part of what living is all about. Yes, there are joys – moments of sheer delight. But pain and its accompanying hurts and griefs is a distinctive part of the journey too. God’s love is demonstrated again to me in the ways that He pays attention to the tears that I cry. They are not in vain. They are not purposeless. Instead, they remind me that my God rejoices with me but He also aches with me too. This is the God who pays more attention to me than I can ever understand. Each tear is entered in His ledger…

Lessons from Jesus and a storm

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Too often I look at the life of Jesus and lie to myself. I tell myself, Jesus can’t possibly understand the storm I’m in because He just didn’t face things like I do. That’s a total delusion. Jesus dealt with all kinds of storms. The disciples fought with each other. One of those close twelve betrayed Him. The teachers of the law hated Him and plotted to kill Him. They eventually succeeded. His family doubted Him and the ones He grew up with rejected Him because they’d known Him as a child and where He was from. Storms were just as much a part of Jesus life as they are mine.

Before the storm surprised the disciples, the all-knowing One in their midst knew about it. He knew it was on the way and He got into the boat. He didn’t try to get around it. He didn’t attempt to escape it. He didn’t cut it off at the pass before it arrived to ensure the disciples got a easy voyage. The One with the power to stop the storm let the storm come.

The One with the power to stop the storm let the storm come.

The disciples were obedient. They followed Him. Men who had fished on this lake all their lives were reduced to fear at the severity of the wind and the waves. Had they known what was coming their way, I’d guess they would have opted out. But they followed. Their master got into the boat and so did they.

In the middle of the storm, when all was reduced to chaos around Him, Jesus slept. The waves crashing on the boat, the wind howling – none of these things kept Him up. He was able to find perfect rest in the midst of the circumstances.

I think of my life and the storms that swamp my boat. I hear the waves, I see the storm and the anxiety of my heart causes my palms to sweat, my mind to race, and my heart to pound. Instead of sleep, I’m awake – wide awake. Worry wins! Fear plays the trump card and I’m down for the count, discouraged and downtrodden.

But Jesus is able to sleep in the middle of the storm. His confidence in His Maker did not change the storm, but it definitely impacted His perspective.

Jesus, I worry. I am often afraid. I let my circumstances stress and strain me. I convince myself that You can’t have been in them, I must have missed Your guidance and direction. But this boat story proves that’s not true. You knew about the storm and You waded in, proving that You are in charge regardless of what happens. You bravely waded in, reminding me that there is blessing in obedience. You waded in showing me that You will not shield me from or prevent storms but You will walk with me in them and through them. When doubt’s waves ride high, I pray for eyes that look to Yours. You can be trusted, You are faithful and true. Your peace is there for me. I may not see it, I may not feel it, I may not know it, but that doesn’t mean Your peace isn’t there. Open my eyes again to the peace You have for me. May I sleep the rest of one who knows You. May I sleep knowing that You are with me in every moment. I choose to rest in the arms of the One who knows me best. The One who has never let me go. The One who is the Lover of my soul.

Bebo Norman’s God of My Everything

To learn

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As someone who is in the business of teaching, I think I have a handle on what learning looks like. There’s an attentive gaze, book open, pen poised and ready to write. The notebook is open, a fresh page at the ready, words waiting to be transferred from head to paper.

But some learning looks like none of those things. Paper is not enough. Written words not good evidence of having acquired the lesson. It’s fairly commonplace to say something and mostly mean it. It’s a further test to say something and actually follow through on it. It’s even more significant if it’s said, put into action, and then followed through on consistently.

Learn to do what is right … Isaiah 1:17a (NIV)

This is way more than the Nike slogan of “Just do it.” This is a constant acquiring of knowledge. However, it’s also about the intention of the knowledge. It’s not about being puffed up and full of facts. It’s not about knowing what the right thing is. It’s about learning what is right and then following through on it. It’s knowing and applying the right thing. This is knowledge that shapes and guides. This is knowledge that instructs its learner and corrects. This is knowledge that causes action and results on behalf of someone or a situation where all is not right. This is knowledge with the intention of making a difference.

So, what am I learning? What do I know?

I know that I am on a journey of obedience. I have much to learn. I desire to be attentive to the Spirit of God. That I will learn what is right and then do the things that He is asking me to do. Obedience to His voice and His promptings, this is a longing of my heart.

Stumbling Feet?

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I stumble often. I tip and turn. I lose my footing. I get lost in the shuffle, the list of things to be done, the guilt bag that’s waiting to be tackled. And it’s not just the stuff around me that causes me to stumble. I am often the cause of my own stumbling too. I forget to look where I am going. Easily distracted, I keep moving without attending to significant details.

And it’s not just my feet that stumble. My soul does too. At times it’s distracted, my spiritual gaze darting all over the place. It’s sometimes bogged down in the reality of circumstance, heart ache and grief. There are times when it has felt broken.

There is always a reason for my soul to be stumbling. My eyes are often avoiding the One who would have me fix my gaze on Him. Too often, I try to “fix” it on my own thinking my “solution” will be better than His. Frequently, I am caught up in the doing and then I am in the place of busy rather than of presence.

If I would just take His advice and place my attention on Him, my soul would calm. His presence would satisfy. His peace would still my soul. Instead of stumbling, my feet and my soul would find purchase.

He’s never intended me to stumble through life. He’s never desired me to be overcome by circumstance. My good Father made me to be sure-footed, sure-souled in Him. That’s His love pouring through, that He would take this feeble individual and equip, encourage, sustain and restore. He yearns for me to be in His presence. I can’t get there on my own. Instead, my God is the One who draws near to me in the middle of my stumbling and falling. He picks me up, sets me on my feet again, dusts me off and welcomes me into His presence. If He was waiting for me to get it all together and be perfect, I’d never make it. Instead, He extends grace, forgiveness, mercy and hope and so I choose to enter in with joy and hope.

A certain lifeline

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We’ve just come through Advent. I should be all pumped full of Emmanuel, God with us. That part of my heart, mind and life should be overflowing.

But it’s January. The days are short. The skies dark. The snow hasn’t stopped. Indoor recess (all day) happened again. My Emmanuel tank hit empty.

It’s not that I don’t know He’s with me. I do. It’s not that I have my eyes closed. I endeavour to be watching and looking for where I see Him showing up.

Sometimes circumstances win. Honestly, I let them win. I let them determine my attitude and my demeanour. I let them dictate my God attentiveness or lack thereof. I choose to allow my God-with-me tank to be depleted.

But my God is faithful. He reminds me in the least subtle of ways that He is with me.

God is at their side; with God’s help they make it. This, Jacob, is what happens to God-seekers, God-questers. Psalm 24:5, 6 (MSG)

He will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God his Saviour. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob. Psalm 24:5, 6 (NIV)

And just like that, my Emmanuel tank fills up again. Regardless of circumstance, my God is the One who is with me. I don’t just need Emmanuel reminders at Christmas. I need it all year long, especially in January.

Surrenders, not resolutions

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I am the worst New Year’s resolution person I know. I’m horrible at making resolutions. I don’t even know where to start. Then, keep that resolution – that’s an even more insurmountable task. Invariably, I forget about the resolution I’ve made. Or I give up on it. I’m a total resolution quitter.

So, when Jesus woke me up with a song this morning, I wasn’t surprised. Songs of the Morning are a blessing that comes frequently. But the song He left today, that was hard to miss. The tune and lyrics deeply implanted themselves into my spirit this morning.

I surrender all, I surrender all, All to thee my blessed Saviour, I surrender all.

Instead of resolutions, I feel challenged to think about the surrenders that need to occur in my life.

Typically, resolutions help people (clearly not me) make strides in their lives. Workouts are resumed or at least started. Diets are undertaken. Bank books reconciled more often. Paper filed more regularly. These are all good things but are definitely in the self-help section of life.

Surrenders. That has a totally different connotation. The image of a white flag flying. The give up, I quit, I said “uncle” seems to carry an attitude of self-defeat and hopelessness. And surrendering usually happens under some sort of duress. Someone demanded that I give up and give in. Because that feeling of quitting and giving up so often resonates in my soul, I have sung I Surrender All with a begrudging spirit. My mouth sang the words but my head and my heart didn’t really agree.

Instead of surrender being something that happens grudgingly or under compulsion, I sense Jesus asking me to open my hands and to trust Him. The surrenders He is asking of me are not about an exercise in power or persuasion, but a testament of love and devotion. He knows my life. He knows its complexities. He knows the aches and pains that are a part of it. He knows the moments of joy and pleasure. He knows it all. He knows the parts around which I’ve clenched my fists, firmly believing that I know better than He does. Sometimes, He’s let me hold onto that piece of life until its crumbled into dust and, at the last, I’ve admitted that I bungled it all and He did know better. Other times, He’s gently pried my fingers back giving me glimpses into what He has planned. The times that are best are when I hold my life with open hands welcoming and allowing His hands to shape and form each part as we journey together.

I have much to surrender.

My time – I spend my time all sorts of ways. Some of it productive, some of it completely lazy. However, each moment is precious and a gift. I have been given much.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11

My plans – I make all kinds of plans. Events to attend. Trips to take. To do lists for all sorts of parts of my life. The plans always work best when they have been prayed over and committed to the One who orders my steps. Walking in step with Him is the best plan I can make.

But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. Psalm 33:11 

My hopes – My life does not look the way I once imagined it would. I have choices about how I view it. I can live upward looking with my eyes fixed on Jesus, the ultimate Hope Giver. Or I can wallow with downcast eyes drowning in rivers of doubt and discouragement. I choose to pin my hopes on the One who is my Good Father. The One who has stood with me in every single part of life. He has never forsaken me. He is Faithful and True.

When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. Psalm 56: 4

I choose to start 2017 with open hands and surrenders. I don’t know what journey Jesus has for me this year. I choose to walk holding tightly to His hand. His way is best.

Passion’s White Flag

“I Surrender All” Music and Lyrics by Judson Wheeler Van DeVenter and Winfield Scott Weeden Public Domain

It’s not about December …

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December and I have a complicated relationship. I enjoy the season. I love the anticipation of Advent. I like green – it’s one of my favourite colours. The snow gently falling outside my window – the most graceful of any confetti.

But it’s December. A time for families to gather. Concerts. Recitals. Hockey games. Services. Holiday parties. These, too, are all great in their own right. But sometimes it just hurts my heart. Loneliness creeps in and Satan twists all of the blessings that constantly surround me into accusations of my perceived worth and single marital status.

Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me. My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught … Psalm 55:1-2 (NIV)

Open your ears, God, to my prayer; don’t pretend you don’t hear me knocking. Come close and whisper your answer. I really need you. Psalm 55:1-2 (MSG)

Why is it that December highlights my single-ness unlike any other month of the year? My marital status hasn’t suddenly changed or morphed into something else. It hasn’t gone away. I am happy, satisfied, enjoying my full life. But just like so many previous Decembers, I forgot to take the thoughts captive. I forgot to pivot away from the lies that bombard me. I chose to wallow for a bit. I chose to define happily-ever-after like a Hallmark movie rather than a God-oriented life.

I needed my God to come close. I needed His presence. I needed my Emmanuel to remind me that He is with me. Not only with me but pursuing me, standing beside me, listening to my every doubt, rejoicing with me in every momentary victory. And He does that. He comes near.

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And when I am drawn close the heartbeat of my Father, I am reminded that my status is secure. More than the checkboxes on a form of married or single, I can emphatically fill in the box that declares that I am the much loved daughter of the King of Kings. He has claimed me, opening my eyes to acknowledge my need and His all surpassing sufficiency. I am His and He is mine.

Again, He has redeemed another December. I am more grateful than I can say.

Chris Tomlin’s Adore

Chris Tomlin’s He Shall Reign Forevermore

Worthy of my trust

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It’s not a good sign when you cry all through the worship at church. My heart was sore. I felt discouraged, tired, and disappointed. If I hadn’t had a commitment right after church, I would have attended bedside Baptist and never left the comfort of my pjs.

Well, maybe it is a good sign. I needed to meet God. I needed to hear from Him. I needed His strength and encouragement. I needed a place that would not allow me to wallow. I really wanted to wallow.

Hear my prayer, O God; listen to the words of my mouth. Psalm 54:2 (NIV)

Listen, God – I’m desperate. Don’t be too busy to hear me. Psalm 54:2 (MSG)

It is a comfort to my soul that my God is one who listens to me. My place of pain is not ignored by Him. He wants to hear from me. David, the one who was known as a man after God’s own heart, felt like sometimes God didn’t hear him. He begged for God’s attention. He desired open communication with Him.

My God wants me to take my eyes off my circumstances and focus on Him. Not because He wants to diminish my emotions, but because when I look up I gain a better perspective. Rarely is the fantastic view seen at the bottom of the hiking trail. Rather, climbing up to the top reveals the breathtaking landscape. It wasn’t that the hike wasn’t beautiful all on its own, but the spectacular is hard to see in the midst of the work on the way up.

Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me. I will sacrifice a freewill offering to you; I will praise your name, O Lord, for it is good. Psalm 54:4, 6 (NIV)

Oh, look! God’s right here helping! God’s on my side I’m ready now to worship, so ready. I thank you, God – you’re so good. Psalm 54:4, 6 (MSG)

This is the God I trust. The One who comes through and lifts my head so that my praise is earnest, sincere, and honest. He’s always there walking with me. I crave His presence.

Bethel Worship’s Lion and the Lamb

All Sons and Daughters Great are You Lord

Hillsong Cornerstone

Lincoln Brewster Everlasting God

Looking

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I knew they were somewhere. They had to be. I had worn this particular pair of pants with that certain belt just a day or so before. But I had come home in a rush. I had to be somewhere else – NOW! My brain turned the auto pilot function on and the pants and belt were put in a very safe location.

I looked. I checked the closet – nothing. I checked the laundry – not their either. I searched through the drawer – they shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Bags were dug through, items shuffled around and no pants, no black belt could be found.

I should have looked more carefully! It’s amazing how multiple pairs of black pants all look the same when they are close to each other. Turns out, my auto pilot brain had done the right thing and hung the pants where I thought I had. I just needed to get past the skinny pair and the jeans to get to what I was really looking for.

God looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. Psalm 53:2 (NIV)

God sticks his head out of heaven. He looks around. He’s looking for someone not stupid – one man, even, God-expectant, just one God-ready woman. Psalm 53:2 (MSG)

My God is looking. He’s not looking for a certain pair of pants. He’s looking at His creation – those made in His image and likeness. While I spend far too long looking at the outward appearance, my God is looking at the heart. He wades through the masks, the facades carefully placed on the outside, and He is seeking the truth of my heart.

The truth of my heart is not always a lovely thing. Under personal inspection, I don’t always like what I find there. Jealousy and envy can coat it in a thick green slime. Anger, frustration and bitterness can colour it red, hard and mean. Challenges and new experiences sometimes paint it a yellowish tinge that is nothing like a sunny disposition but decidedly cowardly. My heart can be incredibly fickle, flitting from one extreme to the other, incapable of making the decision that is called for.

It’s not always like that. Sometimes its tender and empathetic. It can be helpful and spirited. At times, it’s encouraging and hopeful. On the best days it’s God-tuned, God-sensitive, carefully listening to and for His voice. Desiring to please Him, not for an atta-girl, but out of a heart longing for obedience demonstrated in love and adoration.

He’s looking at my heart. He desires me to be God-expectant. That’s the spirit He’s looking for. I long to be the tender hearted God seeker that He desires. The child of God who is becoming more and more like the Master – sounding like Him, speaking His words, listening with His heart, moving my hands and feet to where He wants me to be. Tender. Not the tender where my feelings are easily squished and damaged, but the tender that feels His gentle nudges and then obeys.

He’s looking. Not to judge or condemn. He’s looking to find me ready to be moulded and shaped. He’s looking for our relationship to be rich and deep. God-ready. Abundant. Full.

Amanda Cook’s Pieces

Of life and olive oil

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But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever. I will praise you forever for what you have done; in your name I will hope, for your name is good. I will praise you in the presence of your saints. Psalm 52:8-9 (NIV)

And I’m an olive tree, growing green in God’s house. I trusted in the generous mercy of God then and now. I thank you always that you went into action. And I’ll stay right here, your good name my hope, in company with your faithful friends. Psalm 52:8-9 (MSG)

I don’t live in olive tree country! As the snow flew past my window today, the subtlety of autumn has dissipated and we are left with the reality that winter is here. If there’s an olive tree to be found in my part of the world, it’s growing inside.

However, I had the luxury to visit Basilippo – a family run olive orchard in Spain. I became an olive oil snob right then and there. We were taken on a tour of the facility. How the olives are harvested. We toured the processing plant. We were taken through the shipping area. We were pulled into a room where little blue jars of oil were waiting for us. It was time to sample! Such care is taken to ensure that the quality of the oil remains. The oil is photo-sensitive so the opaque jars made sense. As the oil is exposed to light the flavours change and the oil is more prone to spoil. A tasting does not begin with the mouth but rather the nose. A good olive oil smells like green tomatoes or freshly mown grass. This oil did not disappoint. Then the taste – absolutely delicious. I now smell my olive oil every time I go to use it. No green tomato or freshly cut grass smell – out it goes!

My life is a lot like an olive oil.

It all starts with a tree. The right amount of sunlight is needed for the tree to grow. Certain fertilizers work, others only harm the tender plant. The perfect amount of water, the right kind of soil, will help the tree reach maturity. Without the right conditions, if it gets too cold, the tree will be lost. In order for me to grow, some favourable conditions are required. Time with my Lord, a must. Time spent with others, a top priority. My growth rate is impacted when I willfully neglect the opportunities to be refined.

In order to be harvested, the fruit must grow on the tree. It’s not a process that occurs overnight. The growing season is precious. Each moment of sunlight is eagerly anticipated. Each drop of rain is carefully guarded. The learning experiences in my life are like that. The best learns, the ones I can’t get out of my head – those are the ones that seem to take the longest to acquire. Each part of the lesson, forming a unit of understanding, is essential for the next one to be built on. Those lessons are sometimes sunlight – coming easily. Other times, they are acquired in the thunderstorms and downpours of circumstances – some of them are hard to learn.

The tarps are spread out under the tree to catch the fruit. I sometimes have a good memory. I file the lesson away. The moment arrives for its application and I pull it out again for the memory to help guide the process I am in.

The tractor shakes the trunk. But sometimes, the memory bank forgets. Or I file that particular item away so well that there is no way I can ever retrieve it. Then a little more force is required. Those lessons, the ones that take multiple applications and tests to apply, I don’t like very much. I’ve usually dug in my heels, demanding my way, claiming that I know better and understand more. My trunk getting rudely shaken has a way of reminding me that I have much to learn. I have not arrived in any way, shape or form.

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But the end, result, the oil, that’s fantastic. It’s pungent, unmistakeable. The good stuff is not to be missed. When the lesson is applied by my God’s tender hand, when it sticks in my memory bank more than my craw, it’s good! It’s precious! It’s been worth the shaking and jolting, pressing and refining. It’s a beautiful thing.

I may not live in olive country, but I pray for a life that’s a high quality extra virgin olive oil. A life that’s spent in pursuit of the One who loves me best, delighting in His presence.

A new page

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There’s something about opening up a brand new notebook, one without anything written on the pages. The paper is crisp. No wrinkles, smudges or tears. It’s just waiting for words to be added.

My pencil hovers carefully over the first lines, waiting. Knowing that these are the first words that are going to be written in the book, I want to be careful that they are written right – the right slant, the right height, the right formation, just right. Somehow breaking in with those first words is a big deal! (Yes, I obsess much!) Those first written words set the tone, the atmosphere of that particular notebook. I want it to be the right reflection.

Sometimes, I long for a do-over. The scripted text didn’t look right. It didn’t feel right. The words that were recorded didn’t fit. Luckily, with a scribbler there’s the opportunity for that change. Turning the page helps. A fresh page, a new beginning. But sometimes, it seems that the only answer is to tear out the evidence and begin again.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalm 51:10 (NIV)

God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life. Psalm 51:10 (MSG)

I’m so grateful my God is the God of new pages in the scribbler of my life. He’s the God of fresh starts. He knows me well. He knows the areas of my life that will provide the most temptation to forget Him. He knows that my memory is short and that I will willingly fill up my scribbler with all sorts of gibberish and nonsense that is not worth it. He knows that the scribbler of my life will get dropped in the mud, tea stained and bent out of shape. He knows I’ll even lose it sometimes.

But, He promises again and again that He will not abandon me. (Matthew 28:20) Instead He picks me up, dusts me off and starts over again. (Isaiah 1:18) He turns the page on the past and continues to move me forward clean page after clean page moulding me into His image and likeness. My God likes new pages, new starts, new beginnings. (Revelation 21:5) He knows the chaos that surrounds me. He knows the chaos I choose to make for myself. He must smile, knowing that, eventually, I will run out of my own steam and come back because He is the only one who can possibly make it right again. He does make it right again. I may have consequences to help me learn from the choices I’ve made but He delights in what is new and He delights in my desire to be with Him. (2 Corinthians 5:17-18)

A new page is waiting in the scribbler of my life. I choose to give the pen to my God. I love the permanent reminders of who He is. The page is all His.

Sometimes I’m like a seagull

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I offered the challenge to my learners. We’d been looking at the depth and extraordinariness of love that is described in I Corinthians 13:4-8a. I wondered aloud with them about how amazing God’s love is for us and all of the qualities it is marked by. The list is astounding – it is patient, kind, it doesn’t envy, boast or is proud, it never fails …

As we reflected, I was pondering my own love and was challenged in my spirit about the ways that my love for others does not line up with God’s love for me. Out of the love God has demonstrated to me, He asks, even requires, that I love others in a lavish way. Just as His love is extravagant, so mine is called to be. As I asked Jesus where my love falls short, the line “It does not envy” hit me right between the eyes.

Far too often, I live with a jealous love. A love that does not revel in the delights of others, but a love that observes and then pouts because that same blessing has not been granted to me. It’s not a quiet, unobtrusive pout either. It’s a full on, ostrich hanging off the lip kind of pout. I envy. I’m jealous. I’m frustrated with God that those same circumstances have not come into my life. While my eyes are completely fixated on my own selfish mine moments, I miss all the of the blessings that He is pouring into my life.

I was also reminded that every time I say “Mine,” I am claiming ownership, staking my possession. God set me to rights again about my feelings of control.

“I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine.” Psalm 50:9-11 (NIV)

“But why would I want your blue-ribbon bull, or more and more goats from your herds? Every creature in the forest is mine, the wild animals on all the mountains. I know every mountain bird by name; the scampering field mice are my friends.” Psalm 50:9-11 (MSG)

My God is completely unlike the seagulls in Finding Nemo. While all they see is an opportunity to claim a meal, my God is reminding me that He is really and truly the One who is the Creator of all things. He formed each unique creature. He gave them all their wonderful quirks and idiosyncrasies. He created each amazing habitat. Nothing was beyond the scope of His imagination.

Every time I stamp my foot, demanding my share, I tell Him it’s not enough. He didn’t live up to my expectations. Since when have my expectations ever stood up to the immensity of who my God is? Instead, He’s placed me in this moment and in this time for a specific purpose. He’s placed the people in my life that He is asking me to rub shoulders with. He has granted me more blessings and provision than I can ever truly understand. He’s asked me to steward those blessings in such a way that His name is lifted high and praised. Because absolutely none of it is mine. It is most certainly all His. My every breath, my every opportunity, every gift, talent and moment is meant to be lived bringing glory to His name.

I pray for open hands. Hands that will loosely hold what I have been given with an eye to ways that it can bless others. I pray for eyes that are open. That I will see the needs and concerns of others. I ask for ears that hear, so that as I see needs, and listen to my God’s generous heart, I will obey as He calls me forward. There is no Mine. There is only His.

All Sons and Daughters Great Are You Lord

Rescue required

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I stood on the edge of the pool. Our instructor had set up the scenario. Although I was a teenager, I was to pretend that I was a toddler. Another guy in the class was to be my “big brother” and he was genuinely a tough football type in real life too. He was meant to push me into the pool and I was going to need to be rescued. I didn’t see it coming. My “big brother” didn’t just give me a gentle shove into the pool – he really went for it. I was launched into the middle of the pool. When I finally surfaced, I felt truly desperate for air. I needed a rescue.

No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him – the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough … But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself. Psalm 49: 7, 8, 15 (NIV)

Really! There’s no such thing as self-rescue, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. The cost of rescue is beyond our means, and even then it doesn’t guarantee … But me? God snatches me from the clutch of death, he reaches down and grabs me. Psalm 49:4, 8, 15 (MSG)

That moment in the pool isn’t the only time I’ve needed a rescue. I have always known that all my attempts at being good have never been quite enough in the sight of my God who is holy, righteous and pure. Not only is He completely just but He is completely full of love, mercy, grace and forgiveness.

My Heavenly Father saw that there was no way on earth that I would ever be able to bridge the gap that separated us. It wasn’t a “mind the gap” kind of gap, it was a Grand Canyon chasm keeping us apart. Me on my side with all of the gunk that is the missing the mark in my life and Him on His with His perfection on full display.

But I know that He looked at me and He loved me. He saw the grossness of my sin and He loved me. He desperately wanted to close the chasm and so He sent the best thing He could. My Father sent His only Son. The One who had always been. My Father knew that the rescue plan required Someone perfect to pay the price.

The price was steep. The debt was a monstrosity. There was no way that I could ever do enough to deal with my debt. I needed a miracle. Someone else would have to pay, Someone who was perfect and spotless. My Jesus was willing to take my place. He suffered. He was abandoned by every friend He had ever known. He was innocent. They twisted His words, pretending Him, the One who spoke truth, to be a liar. He was silent. He didn’t argue or defend. He took it all. Then they beat Him. They tore His flesh, they crowned Him with thorns, they mocked Him and spat on Him. They made Him carry His cross. For me. For my sin. For my shame.

They nailed Him to a cross. The Roman torture chamber in full view of everyone to see. As He agonized for every breath, He wore my sin. It was ugly. My Ransom-payer suffered the ultimate in rejection. Not just the friends He had invested in on earth, but His Father broke the Son’s heart. All for me. All for love. All for grace. All for mercy. All for forgiveness. All because He chose me from the foundations of the world.

He died. My Ransom-payer died and it seemed that hope was gone. He was buried. The grave held his body for three days. The stone was rolled in front. No one was to enter and surely no one could escape. This perfect One was done for, or so it seemed to all who knew Him. The chasm only seemed wider. Surely God’s plan was finished now. When the One sent to rescue is done for, what hope can there possibly be?

But My Jesus didn’t stay dead. On the third day, the day when it seemed there was no possible hope left, the day when the women came to anoint His body, when the grief seemed sharpest and the tears so hot, the tomb stood open, empty, filled with light. Death and despair lost that day and my Ransom-payer trounced every tactic formed against me. He rose again, to give life and hope, to put an end to defeat.

My Jesus, the One who lives has pursued me all my life. He is constantly rescuing me from the sin that so easily entangles my heart and mind. He never stops. Because He is living, there is more hope than I know what to do with. Because He is living, I can live confident in His plan for me. He wants me to live, live fully, life completely surrounded in Him. The One who paid my debt. The One who loves me best. The One who will never let me go.

Hillsong United Cornerstone

The guide worth following

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I was faced with a choice. Both options were good. Both options had possibilities that I needed to consider. Deep in my heart, prayers were uttered. There was no chance I wanted to make this choice with my gut alone. I had to know what my heavenly Father was calling me to.

For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end. Psalm 48:14 (NIV)

Our God forever, who guides us till the end of time. Psalm 48:14 (MSG)

I love how My God is present, always. I love how He is always with me. I love how He speaks – through His word, through the wise council of others, directly to my heart. I love how He never leaves me alone, abandoned, forsaken.

Oh, I have sometimes felt like He has left me alone, abandoned, and forsaken. But that is usually some significant flaw on my side of the equation. I haven’t been paying attention to what He has been up to. I have missed out on the presence. I have ignored Him. He hasn’t gone anywhere.

In my travels, I have benefitted richly from the guides who have cross my path. In the overwhelming-ness of the Louvre this past summer, I was so grateful our guide knew what we needed to see, what mattered, what was important. We saw the Mona Lisa – that was obligatory. But, we stopped in front of a whole variety of paintings. Some were in their original condition, some had been retouched, they represented a whole variety of styles and techniques. Our guide was an art history teacher – that was evident in how she taught us. We stopped to consider more than the size of the piece. Instead she drew our eyes to the shapes and forms, the colours, the characters present, the style exemplified and how it was different from what we had seen previously. We received a significant education in how painting technique has changed over time. What was once scandalous and is now commonplace. I should have had a recording device to keep track of all I learned on my tour. The amount of information was almost overwhelming.

My God doesn’t seek to overwhelm my heart. But He is a lot like that art history teacher. He wants me to recognize where I’ve come from, the changes and shifts He’s made to my heart and life. He wants me to see the strokes of the masterpiece that He is making in me, the colours He’s choosing to use as He highlights events and seasons. He chooses to work on the form of my life, shaping it to become more Christlike. He doesn’t intend for me to go through life stuck in one place or with character that is not continuously moulded and shaped by His tender hands.

He won’t stop guiding me either. As long as I am listening for His voice. As long as I am attentive to His spirit, He will continue that process of leading me onward. It’s a for ever and ever to the end of my life. I may be presented with many choices, I am presented with many choices, but my God will always go before me! I have the best guide! The One who is absolutely worth following!

Amanda Cook’s Highest Praise

An inheritance like no other

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I would have chosen something else. As a child, I would look at my hands and wish for hands that looked nothing like mine. I longed for what I perceived to be delicate and dainty. I didn’t think my hands fit that bill. Then there was the way that my two hands didn’t seem to match each other. One hand had more oval nails. The other’s nails were definitely more circular. The circular nails bent back really easy, the oval ones, not so much. One hand had more slender fingers. On the other hand, the fingers were wider. I’d hold them side by side and wonder why I they didn’t seem to belong together. The mismatch seemed obvious.

Until one day I looked a little closer. Somewhere in my head, a lightbulb went off. If I looked closely at the shape of fingers and nails, I should have noticed what was intensely familiar to me. My hands are a direct connection to my parents, each hand reflecting the shape and form I inherited from each of them. I should not have been surprised, but I was. My heavenly Father gave me a constant reminder of love in my hands.

He chose our inheritance for us, the pride of Jacob, whom he loved. Psalm 47:4 (NIV)

I would be a bad inheritance chooser. I would go after the things that would make me happy. The things that would meet very temporal needs. I would be satisfied for a short amount of time and then dissatisfied for even longer. I would look at the inheritance that others would have chosen or received, and I would jealously crave it for myself. I would play every comparison game I possibly could. I should never choose my own inheritance.

God’s plan of an inheritance for me defies my understanding. He chose me. He chose me to receive an inheritance from Him. There has been nothing I could ever do, no act of service, mercy or grace on my part that would ever be enough to earn the inheritance He lavishes on me. He’s chosen me and all I can say is thank you!

Not only does God choose me to receive from Him but He changes my character. Even my “good” deeds aren’t really that good at all. The sin bit – that’s truly ugly. But my gracious Father does not ever expect me to earn off all of the sin with attempts at good. He knows that I would fail horribly and never arrive at a tally where I would have done enough to pay the debt. Instead, because of the shed blood of Jesus, He looks at me and sees that the debt has been fully paid. He sees me restored to full relationship.

On top of that, I am His daughter, His beloved child. I tell all of my learners every year that while I do not have any children of my own, I will always think of them as being a little bit mine because they have been in my class for the school year. I want them to know they are loved. I want them to feel special and honoured. I want them to know that I see their worth, their potential. However, the school year ends and they belong to another teacher the next year. God doesn’t pass me off to someone else next year. Instead, He chooses to adopt me. He chooses me. He moves towards me. He lavishes mercy, love, grace, forgiveness, encouragement, hope, affection and joy on me because I am His chosen daughter. It’s not earned. It’s certainly not deserved. I didn’t do anything to pick this Father. It’s all Him. It’s all an inheritance that defies my understanding.

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The little girl in Max Lucado’s Just the Way You Are is desperate to have something that makes her worthy of the king. She wants to be good at some talent or skill, surely that will make her adoptable. She operates under the notion that being her regular self will never be enough. That isn’t what the king wants for her. He chooses her. He sees her as worthy. He wants to adopt her. He’s not looking for some special skill set to make it happen.

I’m so grateful my Father holds out His hands of mercy and grace extending His inheritance to me. I will never deserve or earn it, but I choose the inheritance my King has for me. It’s better than I will ever fully understand.

Written with help from:  Psalm 47 Commentary

Come, see …

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The sky was overcast and grey. Rain dotted the windshield and the windows. Land where my feet had never walked passed by in a flurry of blur. Farmland was dotted with bales. Other fields had crops that had been swathed or were completely wind tossed, bowed down. But arriving at the river valley was a moment that caught my breath. The land split, the river flowed, I snapped God’s created beauty in an instant.

Come and see the works of the Lord, the desolations he has brought on the earth. Psalm 46:8 (NIV)

Attention, all! See the marvels of God! He plants flowers and trees all over the earth, Psalm 46:8 (MSG)

His beauty in creation, spoken into being, defies my understanding. It’s in the majesty of a tree standing tall.

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It’s in the flowing current of a river.

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It dances delicately as the leaves flutter in the wind.

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It’s in the extravagant carpet of a flower garden.

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It’s in the leaves as they change from vibrant green to the crayon colours of orange, yellow and red.

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It’s in the uniqueness of every snowflake.

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It’s in the face of everyone I see.

His marvels are worth paying attention to!

 

That word

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The word was said. The one that set my teeth on edge. The one that sent chills down my spine making me cringe with discomfort, because I promise you, it did not apply to me. In that moment, my spiritual mentor looked me square in the eye and told me that a year from that moment I would have a different relationship with that word.

I was certain that word applied to other people. I chose to see evidence of it in skin and body shape, clothes and shops, action and appearance. I chose its frame. I chose its meaning. I chose to find myself lacking. I chose pain. Self-inflicted pain, but pain nonetheless.

I don’t know when I chose to believe the lie. I don’t consciously remember choosing. The lie that the word did not apply to me was whispered a thousand times over in a thousand places. Each lied whisper stacked up with the other whispers I had believed and eventually the whispers were the cement block walls surrounding my heart. Causing me to believe that there was no possible way the word applied to me was a victory for the one who comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10) His horrific whispers seemed so convincing, so “truthful,” so repetitive, that I submitted all to willingly.

But the One who truly loves me, the one who comes to bring life, a truly full life (John 10:10) had not forgotten about my need to experience this word. He knew all of the ways it applied to me. He had been calling me back to it over and over again. He knew the battleground was massive. He knew how distorted my perception was. He knew I had lost the true meaning of the word and had believed what culture says about it. He knew that I needed a complete shift of thinking. He loved me enough, He loved me so thoroughly that He was willing to bash down the cement walls around my heart in order to remind me repeatedly that the word originated with Him, He defined it, He embodied it. Because I am made in His image, I therefore wear it too.

Slowly, painfully slowly, I am coming to terms with this word. The learning has been slow. There have been small tip toes forward and giant leaps backwards. I have learned to cringe a little less – not in a fake it ’til you make it kind of way, but in a genuine start to believe that the word was meant for me. I have been awestruck with how completely inaccurate my definition of the word was when it stacks up with God’s definition. Aching awareness has come with genuine gratitude. His great tenderness in the midst of lies and deep seated unbelief has again revealed His Father heart for me.

My definition of the word – all about the physical appearance, the shell that is a body, the alignment of features – beautiful encompassed all of that.

However, my God doesn’t define beautiful that way. “Beauty begins at the Cross.” (Shook, Shook Alpha, p. 16) Love is found at the cross, forgiveness, hope, meaning, eternity too. Because He chose the cross, the object of the most degrading disdain, I am made beautiful in His eyes.

It was never about my outward appearance, it was always about His grandiose generosity to me. Basking in His love, beautiful fits. I choose this word because of Him.

“Listen, O daughter, consider and give ear:  Forget your people and your father’s house. The king is enthralled by your beauty; honour him, for he is your lord.” Psalm 45: 10-11 (NIV)

“Now listen, daughter, don’t miss a word:  forget your country, put your home behind you. Be here – the king is wild for you. Since he’s your lord, adore him.” Psalm 45:10-11 (MSG)

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Amanda Cook’s City of Hope

Shook, C. & Shook Alpha, M. (2016). Beauty Begins:  Making Peace with Your Reflection. Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press.

 

The story goes on

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We have heard with our ears, O God; our fathers have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago. Psalm 44:1 (NIV)

We’ve been hearing about this, God, all our lives. Our fathers told us the stories their fathers told them, Psalm 44:1 (MSG)

You know the story you’re hearing again. The one you’ve heard a thousand times. You only need to hear the first few words and you know exactly where you are headed. Down the convoluted paths of memory lane, the storyteller marches on. You follow, you have no other choice. But you know this story so well you could tell it yourself. It’s familiar, old as time, covered in a layer of dust.

Sometimes the stories in my Bible feel like that. Stories for another time, another generation. They are familiar. You’ve heard them for what seems like thousands of times rehashed in one way or another. Due to their familiarity, they seem to lose a bit of the spark and lustre that drew you to them in the first place. I sometimes wonder, doesn’t God have something new for me?

Then I turn the page. I pray for an open heart. I pray for new eyes to see what I have glossed over in the past. I ask for a mind that is receptive to what Jesus is wanting to say to me through these pages. Without fail, God shows up and reveals Himself again. Something new is waiting to be found.

Frankly, this whole series of Psalms has been that journey for me. I have spent time in the Psalms before. Sometimes I read them and songs pop into my head because so many of them have been set to music. The song can be a distraction and I’ve prayed for the song to end so that I can really focus on what God wants me to hear. For some Psalms, I know He’s wanted me to sing the song. His Father heart for me shows up page after page, Psalm after Psalm.

But it’s not enough for me to know the stories for myself. Every good story is worth passing on – that’s why we tell stories. How will the next generation know of the ways God has showed up in my life if I do not speak of what He has done? How will those who follow me be reminded of God’s faithfulness and trustworthiness if I don’t speak of Him moving that way in my life? If I don’t speak about the ways God has met me in times of doubt and wandering, how will they know that God goes before them and that He does not abandon them? It’s not enough to passively listen to someone else’s stories, God calls me to share my stories too.

So I will fall in line with all the other story tellers I know. I will add my voice because my God has done marvellous things for me – things you definitely should know about!

More than a flashlight

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I thought I had packed everything I needed for the time away at the leadership retreat. Cell phone – check. Pillow and sleeping bag – check. Changes of clothing – check. Running shoes – check. Readiness to be a dorm mom – squiggly checkmark with worries attached. I had not accounted for late nights and and no flashlights. The girls all laughed at me and one of them chimed in, “Ma’am, you’ve got a torch (flashlight) on your mobile.” Of course I did. I hadn’t needed it before that. Until this point, I’d only been out and about during the day. What had seemed like a luxury was now a necessity.

Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell. Psalm 43:3 (NIV)

Give me your lantern and compass, give me a map, so I can find my way to the sacred mountain, to the place of your presence, Psalm 43:3 (MSG)

I’m in desperate need of light in my walk with God too. Left to my own devices, I’m prone to wander into dark places where I was never meant to go. My thoughts wander and their rabbit trails are sometimes plain scary. Doubts and worries sneak in and then take over. Fears stomp their way to the front of the line. Without even realizing it, I’ve allowed all sorts of issues to set up shop in my mind and heart. Discouragement, despair and their good friend depression are gleefully waiting to get their hands on me.

I was not made for living in the dark. I was not made to have a permanent home in the land of despair. It’s amazing the difference a flashlight makes. Somehow the simple change of lighting the path ahead changes the focus and brings hope. It is easier to see the truth when the light is shining on it. It is easier to fight the anxious thoughts when the truth of who I am and who my Father is is illuminated before me. Following someone with the light is hopeful. At least one of us can see the way and alerts the others as to what is ahead of us. My heavenly Father, with His Light ablaze, is waiting for me to fall in step with Him.

The One who knows me best is the only One worth following. My Father does not want me to choose to wander in the dark. He wants to guide me with His truth and light into His presence. He desires that I will engage with Him in meaningful ways so that I will make my home with Him. When I am fixed on Him, the darkness is reminded of its place. My Father tells me the truth of His presence – He is always with me (Joshua 1:5, Hebrews 13:5). He showers me with love – His love is eternal (Jeremiah 31:3). My God is gentle and affectionate – He is kind (Jeremiah 31:3, I Corinthians 13:4). He speaks – He is wanting me to hear His voice (John 10:1-10). My God delights in me – He sings over me (Zephaniah 3:17). He is the giver of life – He wants me to live life fully and richly in Him and for Him (John 10:10b).

I am called to turn on the flashlight of God’s Word. I need that beacon in the darkness to guide my way. I choose to only lose myself in Him.

Amanda Cook’s Closer

A subtle reminder

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It was a gray and overcast day today and my soul had the opportunity to join the dumps. Joy was announced for a friend, and immediately I was faced with the opportunity to lament my circumstances. I was pretty close to choosing the dumps regardless of the fact that it would have affected my entire day.

My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you … Psalm 42:6a (NIV)

When my soul is in the dumps, I rehearse everything I know of you … Psalm 42:6a (MSG)

I have lots of ways of remembering. I have the calendar with anniversaries and birthdays helping me remember when to send out the appropriate greeting. The work calendar is full of reminders and special events. The family calendar notes all of the hockey games auntie is invited to. I have alarms to wake me up in the morning. That reminder is essential. Bells guide me throughout my day. Sign up sheets are all over the place reminding me to take and return items. The To Do list never really ever goes away. I cannot escape attempts to help me remember.

But I am quick to forget that my God has a plan. I am quick to think that He is not working on my behalf. I am quick to forget the ways He continuously intervenes in my life.

Why is it I am better at remembering the demands of my day rather than what my God has done for me? I wonder if it isn’t the tyranny of the urgent. Everything else, all the other reminders in my life, call out for my attention. They seem to be very loud and insistent, like a cow bell at a hockey game. They are hard to forget.

My God speaks disregarding time. In order to really engage with Him, I need to still the monkeys that swirl around in my head. He isn’t looking for a quick check in, a fast catch up. He’s looking for the sit down experience where I carve time out of my schedule to purposefully connect with Him. He isn’t looking for the twelve minute meal. Rather, His goal is a meal of deep engagement, an experience where we linger over the food of His Word, enjoying every morsel. He desires time where I am purposefully captivated by Him. While I am often in a rush, anxious to move on to what is perceived to be more important, He is the God who moves at a schedule that is never hurried. All time is His. His agenda is to never breeze through anything.

My God speaks in a quiet whisper. It seems that the voices that are the loudest are the ones that get the most attention. I react, giving them my attention in order to get the loud voices to quiet down, to still the madness. But as I listen for all that is loud around me, the still, small voice of my massive, majestic God is sometimes buried in a cacophony of sound. I am the one who has lost the tuning of His voice. I am the one who allows all those other things to become more important.

In exactly those moments, I forget. I forget His promises. I forget His abundance. I forget His provision. I forget His presence. I forget.

But, He never stops whispering to my soul. This I know to be true. Even as the dumps threatened to swamp me today, the prayer of my heart was heard by my Father and my focus was drawn to Him. My gaze was called higher to the God who is always faithful and true. I was reminded of His presence. I was reminded of who He is. I was reminded of His care and provision, not just in the global sense, but His care and provision for me.

I might need to set an alarm for a different purpose. It might need to be the daily reminder that I need to fix my gaze on the Father who is always with me.

Lord, I Come Before Your Throne (What a Faithful God)

Amanda Cook’s Never See the End

That word, spoken

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You’ve heard the words, the ones you wished you hadn’t heard. I know I’ve said the words, words I should never have thought let alone said. They’ve oozed out of the corners of my mouth. They’ve caused pain and anguish. I know I’ve apologized for those words and hurts and I have been forgiven. But sometimes, an apology does not seem to be enough. The damage done by my carelessness is deeper than I understand.

I’ve sometimes been the recipient of those words. My heart has been hurt, stained with pain over the opinion others have of me and my life circumstances. I have wondered who will stand up for me. Who will defend me?

I know that you are pleased with me, for my enemy does not triumph over me. In my integrity you uphold me and set me in your presence forever. Psalm 41:11-12 (NIV)

Meanwhile, I’m sure you’re on my side – no victory shouts yet from the enemy camp! You know me inside and out, you hold me together, you never fail to stand me tall in your presence so I can look you in the eye. Psalm 41:11-12 (MSG)

Living the life Jesus calls me to live does not necessarily make me popular. I do not always share the same opinion as those around me. I do not make the same choices that they do. I have no doubt that they question my motives and desires. I am completely unable to change their opinion – that’s something personal and formed without my input.

I need to be careful about who I am living my life for. If I choose to live to please everyone else around me, I know I will never succeed. I can never live up to their expectations of me. I will have boxed myself into many a corner trying to figure out what they want and wish. Attempting to make them happy will be harder than I can imagine. Without even meaning to, I know I will disappoint many.

I choose to live a life devoted to loving and pleasing the God who loves me. My God is the God who is with me. He chooses to delight in me. He’s on my side. He knows who I am for He made me. He knows how I try to follow Him. He knows the times when the following is good. He knows how often He intervenes, rescuing me off the rabbit trails I have wandered onto. While people may give up on me and throw me under the bus of life, my God is the One who does not fail me. He desires for me to be constantly in His presence.

Regardless of what others may think, His opinion is the one that matters more than all the others. Somehow I will find a way to drown out the other voices so that His voice is the loudest one I hear.

Where do I start?

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Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare. Psalm 40:5 (NIV)

Nothing and no one comes close to you! I start talking about you, telling what I know and quickly run out of words. Neither numbers nor words account for you. Psalm 40:5 (MSG)

I’m always left a little stumped when someone asks me about how real Jesus is to me. I don’t know where to start. My whole life is wrapped up in one amazing Jesus story after another.

I could start at the beginning with parents who introduced me to Jesus. I could add on about teachers who fed my love for His Word and encouraged me to grow. I have stories to tell from University where the Holy Spirit clearly gave me words to share with classmates. My first job was clear provision from His hand. The list goes on and on and on and I’ve only barely scratched the surface of the events in my life that have revealed that my God is with me.

This fall, I had a milestone birthday. The celebration was a delight but there was one I loved who was absent because she is in Jesus presence. However, a year prior, she had given me a birthday card for that milestone. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I wasn’t quite that age yet. She would have been mortified thinking she had made that kind of mistake. But in March when she entered heaven and I was left to mourn her, that birthday card and the note she enclosed to me became more precious than words could say. I dug it out, and after reading it with tears rolling down my cheeks, added it to the other notes given to me. A year ago, it all felt like a bit of a strange coincidence. This fall, it was a gift from God’s hand. A way that He showed me again that He was with me even as I missed my dear friend.

My God has ways of providing that I cannot understand. He is ever present in my circumstances, more present than I know. I don’t always see where He is moving and guiding. I sometimes miss the bright light moments of His attentiveness, mercy and grace. But there are not enough words to talk to you about my God. Not enough pages in books to record the stories of how He has intervened in my life and the lives of people I love. I stand in awe of what He has done for me and I am forever amazed at the love He lavishes on me!

Bethel Worship Lion and the Lamb

To hope

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There’s nothing quite like a birthday when you’re a child. The gifts are wrapped. The cake’s been baked. The extra icing licked off the beaters. The invitations have been sent, plans for the party have been made. Hope is the sensation that makes the heart race, the eyes that stay awake even though it’s past bedtime. The wishing that tomorrow would just arrive and then it would be the birthday!

But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you. Psalm 39:7 (NIV)

“What am I doing in the meantime, Lord? Hoping, that’s what I’m doing – hoping Psalm 37:9 (MSG)

Birthdays aren’t a permanent hope giver. They offer a temporary experience of joy and delight. Once the cake is eaten, the wrapping paper put in the trash, the friends departed for home, normal takes over again.

David was desperate for hope. He’d been quiet and listened when others aired their grievances. But then he spoke because he just couldn’t contain himself. He was frustrated with his experiences, with the way life was landing around him. He desperately needed hope, something to hold onto that would provide relief from what He was going through.

Hope is defined as a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen, a feeling of trust, to want something to happen or be the case. I like this definition except I know what has happened in the past when I have put my deepest hopes in people. I was often left disappointed. They could not measure up to what I had hoped they would do or be for me. It hurt.

When my hope finds its true home, when it is found in Jesus, it takes on a totally different tone. There is a surety, a certainty that accompanies that step every single time.

I would be lying to you if I said that, at times, I haven’t felt disappointed with God. I have prayed some prayers for years and have wondered if God has forgotten about them. I have given up thinking that His plan is too mysterious and couldn’t possibly understand what my life is like. Sometimes hope has felt like it is too hard, like it has been too much of an ask.

But I have been coming to understand more and more that my hope is often earth focused and lives around the norms and expectations that I see before me. I have equated hope with God answering the prayers that I have prayed. But then I limit His faithfulness to the level of answered prayers. That’s not a true reflection of my God. My God does not limit Himself to my level of hope. He knows me. He knows the future. He asks me to trust Him believing that His faithfulness and goodness, and the myriad of His other character qualities, remain true regardless of circumstance. Without Him going before me, the circumstances of my life would threaten to overwhelm me. I need hope – a hope that is eternal, a hope that is fixed on Jesus, a hope that is with me and in me right now.

Mercy Me’s In You

So close

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I felt so bad. I had left in enough time to get there, I thought. But then the minutes ran away from me and I was on my way later than I intended. It got worse. The last time I had been there, a coffee shop had been in that location. It wasn’t there anymore. ARGH! My friend was one place waiting for me. I was in another and completely late. There was no rescue for this moment except to drive to the correct location, apologize profusely and then engage in community. I knew where I was the whole time. My friend wasn’t sure if I was standing her up.

O Lord, do not forsake me; be not far from me, O my God. Come quickly to help me, O Lord my Saviour. Psalm 38:21-22 (NIV)

Don’t dump me, God; my God, don’t stand me up. Hurry and help me; I want some wide-open space in my life! Psalm 38:21-22 (MSG)

I kind of felt this way with God this fall. I was feeling out of sorts, uncertain as to where I fit. I wasn’t sure where to serve and how to get involved but I knew I wanted to. I prayed. God was mysteriously quiet. Even in the morning, no songs were waking me up. He had faithfully given me a Song of the Morning all summer – the time of year when usually the well of songs seems to run dry. Now when I felt like he should be showing up, I was convinced God was silent. I felt like God was dumping me for a little while.

My spiritual mentor got wind of my wonderings and added some much needed perspective to the situation. I was asked to consider my perception of God’s silence. Was God really being silent? Or, was I missing the message that He had been giving me all along? I had expected God to communicate with me in the ways that He always had before. What if He was changing it up? What if He was doing that to get my attention? What if I was so lost in my expectations and my hopes that I was missing His desires for me? My mentor cautioned me to consider that the times when God is perceived to be silent are really the times when He is there all along, whispering and drawing me close. It just sounds different. It may feel unusual. But He is there – always.

As David explores his life in Psalm 38, he is full of sorrow for the sin he has committed. Each verse oozes with regret as he walks through the consequences of the choices he’s made. He acknowledges that its bad, that others have joined in on the bandwagon of accusation and guilt lobbing. But David does not give up on God. He waits in expectation for God to intervene (v. 15), he longs for a reprieve for all that he’s going through. What he craves most is God’s presence, the sureness that God is with him. Nothing else will be enough.

That’s what my heart craves too – the sureness that God is with me. The certainty that comes with the intimacy of a close relationship. I’m not always the best listener. God often whispers and I have my ears busy expecting Him to shout. I am so grateful that my God is patient. He keeps calling out to me. He whispers constantly. He doesn’t give up if I miss it the first time. He pursues me, desiring to draw me close to His side. He keeps singing over me, reminding me that while I may think that He is far from me, He is closer than the air I breathe. I choose to cling to the God who is close, the One who will never let me go.

A guest or not?

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Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:1-4 (NIV)

Don’t bother your head with braggarts or wish you could succeed like the wicked. In no time they’ll shrivel like grass clippings and wilt like cut flowers in the sun. Get insurance with God and do a good deed, settle down and stick to your last. Keep company with God, get in on the best. Psalm 37:1-4 (MSG emphasis added)

I have often lived a comparison life. I have looked at what others have and declared myself wanting. I have listened to where others have travelled and deemed myself a country bumpkin. I have observed the accomplishments of others and wanted to hide my scarce list. I have found myself wanting, lacking and insufficient because I have compared.

In those moments when feelings of inadequacy rise up, I have wondered why others succeed and have while I feel like I do not. Listening to my life, when I am honest and I tell it like it is, I am embarrassed that I feel that I do not have. All around me are blessings poured out into my lap! I have health – that is of more worth than I truly understand. My home is warm, furnished and dry. I have a fridge, freezer, and cupboards with food in them. I have a vehicle that works exceptionally well. I have a closet, and even while there are clothes in the laundry, there are other clothes waiting to be worn. I am employed. Not only that, but my job is one that I love and I feel called by God to continue in it. I am able to travel and have had the luxury of exploring the world. I am richly blessed by a community of friends and my church home. I am blessed beyond measure. To think that I am not is to believe a lie. I need to stop bothering my head with braggarts.

When company comes over to my house, it’s always a bit of an adventure. Sleeping quarters are found on the floor of my office or the living room. The bathroom is shared between multiple people. Towels overlap as the hanging space is limited. We hang out in the kitchen over hot cups of tea and a big breakfast. Stories are shared. Laughter shakes the walls and hopefully doesn’t wake up the neighbours. We often stay up way too late catching up on the living that has happened since we last hung out. Company is a good thing. It fills my house and feeds my soul. Keep company with God.

I’m not sure if I keep that type of company with God. I feel His presence. I know His touch. We have been on adventures together. But sometimes in the “to do” list parts of my life, I don’t engage with Him like I would like.

Recently, God’s conversation with me was all about the time I spend hanging out with Him. He was clear, it wasn’t enough. I sometimes treat God like the “special” company. You know that kind that won’t open the cupboard doors and make themselves comfortable. The ones who sit stiffly on the edge of the sofa. I don’t think that’s the kind of company God is thinking of. Rather, He’s the one who snoops in the closet, digs to the back of the cupboard, moves in and puts His feet up on the coffee table. He might just forget a coaster under his mug. He is definitely the make yourself at home, help yourself to seconds or even thirds of dinner, kind of company. He is the guest I want to hang out with because my life is richer and more full from the experience.

I am called to challenge my priorities. I want to be careful about which life I choose. I want a life fixed on God. I want to be so close to Him that I confide in Him without even thinking about it. I want to know His heart. I want my feet to move where He desires them to. I don’t want to think of Him as a guest. I want Him to be a part of the woodwork just like He has always wanted to be. I choose to ignore the braggarts and keep company with God.

Nothing gets lost

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I got to work and wondered if I had them with me. I couldn’t see them hanging out of my bag. As of yet, I hadn’t needed them at all. Every threshold I had crossed so far had been open. But as I looked at my filing cabinet, I wondered if I had left my keys at home. I was prepared to “suffer the consequences” but a rummage through my bag proved I wouldn’t need to. The lanyard with my keys had been there all along.

Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep. O Lord, you preserve both man and beast. How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. Psalm 36: 5-9 (NIV)

God’s love is meteoric, his loyalty astronomic, His purpose titanic, his verdicts oceanic. Yet in his largeness nothing gets lost; Not a man, not a mouse, slips through the cracks. How exquisite your love, O God! How eager we are to run under your wings, To eat our fill at the banquet you spread as you fill our tankards with Eden spring water. You’re a fountain of cascading light, and you open our eyes to light. Psalm 36:5-9 (MSG emphasis added)

I do not understand the size of my God. I see evidence of His majesty and vastness all around me. The sky, the starry host, the mountains, the oceans, each one points to the boundlessness of God. But then I see God’s fingertips in the minute too. The details present in a single flower, each tiny bug, the way my hair parts all on its own, the seemingly insignificant that proves that God is involved in His creation.

In His largeness, nothing gets lost

I know what I am like. The bigger or more significant the project, the more likely I am to misplace something. My head will be swimming with details and I will struggle to see the final outcome, to see the end product all wrapped up. If it’s paper I’m meant to keep track of, I better have some sort of file. If it’s ideas, I hope I’ve written them down somewhere safe, but not so safe that I will never find it again. It’s the reality that I can misplace my keys between my filing cabinet and my desk. I lose things all the time.

But my God is the one who is never overcome by the details. There is nothing so big that He cannot understand. He is omniscient, knowing everything. I am easily overwhelmed. He never is. He is steadfast. I lose my place over and over. He never wanders off. He is never lost. Therefore, even in those moments when I am overwhelmed and only my nose and eyeballs are above water, my God is the One who is holding me up. He is the One walking with me. He is the One holding me close. I may not always feel His presence so tangibly, but that does not mean that He is not there.

And so because my God cares about the details, I pray over my keys often. I may have set them down carelessly, but my God cares about all things great and small and so I choose to trust Him with my keys and my life.

Third Day’s Your Love Oh Lord

More than a taste

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I read the menu carefully. I wondered exactly what I would be getting. I wasn’t totally sure. I have a food policy when I am travelling – choose the dishes you will never be able to get when you’re at home. It’s led to some unusual meals. Most have been incredibly delicious!

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. Psalm 34:8 (NIV)

Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see – how good God is. Blessed are you who run to him. Psalm 34:8 (MSG)

Being somewhat adventurous with food, opens doors of possibility. It’s prompted many an interesting conversation, “What’s the most unusual food you’ve eaten?”

My experiences and tales of my journey with God are meant to be that intriguing too. It’s essential to know Him. It’s a discipleship requirement to grow in knowledge and relationship with Him. But do I tell the stories of what He has done in my life?

The Bible records the story of God’s intervention in the lives of people. It’s a written record of His interactions with His creation. It demonstrates His desire for communion, His love and discipline. But it can’t stop there. It can’t stay a past tense thing that I read. It can’t be like a history book full of men in costumes and old paintings.

God is constantly working and moving in my life. He’s far from passive. He directs and leads. He sings songs over me waking me up with them most mornings. (He has an interesting taste in music!) It’s reach out and touch-able. All of these moments are of the taste and see variety. It’s an experience that is memorable, not to be missed.

It’s also not just for me. It’s not a secret. It’s not a solo only experience. It’s meant to be shared. It’s meant to be delighted in. I am meant to share my God moments. But it’s not enough to simply hear about the God moments of other people. Until I experienced it for myself, I could not relate to the stories of walking with God that were being shared with me.

It’s like a delightful meal. I can see a picture of good food on Pinterest. The photos may be stunning, the directions straightforward. But if I never make the dish, if I never taste it, I will never know if it is any good. Some pictures are downright deceiving. They show an amazing dish but the real thing looks nothing like it. That’s a let down. And if it doesn’t taste good, then that’s truly disappointing.

My God’s not like a disappointing dish. Rather, there will never be any sort of picture good enough to fully describe Him in all His majesty and glory. I will never be able to engage with Him enough. I will never be satisfied with my level of understanding of who He is, what He does and how He speaks. I’m just scratching the surface of my experience of Him. But I can’t get enough of Him. The tasting and seeing will never end. He continually beckons me in, revealing more of Himself in the process. Every little bit more of Him that I see and experience draws me further in, closer to His heart.

Taste, see, delight, experience – I can’t get enough of my God.

Good Good Father

A love to believe in

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I remember holding each of them for the first time. Tiny bundles wrapped in soft blankets. They slept unaware that their auntie was in awe of God’s creativity. Tiny fingers and toes, downy heads, brows furrowed then relaxed in sleep and it was love at first sight. I didn’t have to think about it. I didn’t have to train my heart and mind to feel that way. It was love unabashed and pure.

May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you. Psalm 33:22 (NIV)

Love us, God, with all you’ve got – that’s what we’re depending on. Psalm 33:22 (MSG)

I have always known that God loves me. I’ve sung the songs and taught the lessons to others too. But I haven’t always believed it to be personally true, truth for me. I had intellectual knowledge, but heart felt belief that it was true – no, that place was filled with heaps of doubt.

I have carried a measuring stick around my whole life and I was the one to set the benchmarks. I never achieved, according to my scale. I always felt like I let myself down. I didn’t measure up, I couldn’t measure up. I would work hard and I would be kind of satisfied with what I accomplished, but it was never enough. And if I was dissatisfied with how I was doing on the scale of my life, then I deemed myself to be unlovable. I was told I was loved by the people in my life and I believed them, but they had to say those words – they couldn’t get rid of me.

But when it came to God, if I couldn’t even meet my own benchmarks, then how on earth was I going to meet His? I chose to see my Heavenly Father and one who loved me conditionally. If I believed that I measured up, then I would get some sort of cosmic pat-on-the-back showing his approval. Notice, it was approval not love. I had decided that I wasn’t worthy of His love and so why would I get to experience that. I chose to believe a lie!

God’s Word is full of evidence of His love. Not just His love for the world, there’s that too. Not just His love for the people who are recorded in the pages of His Word, although there’s heaps of evidence of that as well. But His personal love for me. He is not a God of conditional love. He does not carry around a measuring stick and decide to love based on what I do or don’t do. If His love was conditional, I would never even make it onto the scale of acceptable. He would have absolutely every reason not to love me. My God is the God unconditional love. Love that goes far beyond the boundaries of my understanding.

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. John 1:12, 13 (NIV)

He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him. John 14:21b (NIV)

But God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 (NIV)

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:37-39 (NIV)

I am loved with the unfailing love of my God. He is the only one worthy of my hope. In His love I can depend.

Corey Voss’ How Great

Rock

Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me. Psalm 31:2, 3 (NIV)

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Some of the rocks are piled in rows. Fences made of available materials. Stacked the right way, they stand, marking the boundaries of a field. Such a wall is built on purpose and not by accident.

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Other rocks are shaped and formed into buildings. They stand, polished smooth by wind and rain. Etchings rubbed off until the words recorded are illegible. Time, erosion and sometimes human neglect causes the building’s purpose to shift and change. Ruins are easily created when what has been perceived to be important is suddenly abandoned.

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Get down on my level and listen, and please – no procrastination! Your granite cave a hiding place, your cliff aerie a place of safety. You’re my cave to hide in, my cliff to climb. Be my safe leader, be my true mountain guide. Psalm 31:2, 3 (MSG)

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I sat down on the edge of this cliff. I am deathly afraid of heights, so it was no small feat for me to get myself out to the edge. I chose to ignore the fear because I wanted the picture, the testament to the fact that I had been here! My friends were not with me and saw me “perching” on the edge. They didn’t know what to make of my choice. They could not see how much rock was between me and the edge. They didn’t know that I was really quite far away from the true edge of the cliff. They were afraid for me. I was confident that I was sitting in a safe location and that all would be well.

I need a Rock of Refuge. I need places where I can feel safe and secure. A cliff’s edge is shaped and changed. The waves bash against those rocks all day long forever carving the surface. My God is not like the cliffs. My God is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8) He knows how the waves of my life beat against me. He knows the interesting ways they change the shape of who I am. He knows the way they erode me. But my God is the Rock I can cling to. He is the place of surety. He is with me when the waves pound. He leads and guides. He has never removed the waves from my life. Rather, my God is the One who is with me in the middle of the waves reminding me that He is faithful and true. As I continue to call out to Him, He constantly goes before me leading and guiding.

Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me. Psalm 31:2, 3 (NIV)