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

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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