Faith

Not Afraid

Blog_MountainGloryThere’s something far worse than a deadly pandemic. It consumes more quickly, reaches farther. And it kills on a whole different level.

It’s called fear.

Fear begins by infiltrating our minds, methodically working its way to target our hearts.

If we allow, it will steal our future, and possibly our very lives.

These days it’s easy to get caught in the grip of fear. Leave the news channel on all day. Read the headlines. Listen to every alarming broadcast. Soon enough, you’ll fall victim.

Of course, we don’t want to be blind to what’s going on around us. We don’t want to be ignorant of world events. And we certainly need to be aware so we can respond with compassion.

But if we’re not careful, panic will overwhelm us and choke our breath more than any virus ever could.

When faced with the threat of death by fiery furnace, the three young Jewish victims spoke boldly to their tyrannical persecutor, “…we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-18)

Even in times when I feel afraid, fear is overcome by the knowledge that my God can rescue me. He has a history of coming through in the most impossible of circumstances. Yet even IF he didn’t come through as expected, I have a greater hope that goes beyond the here and now.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. suspected his life was nearing its end when he spoke to a weary crowd in Memphis, Tennessee. “We’ve got some difficult days ahead,” he declared. “But it really doesn’t matter now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop…Like any man, I would like to live a long life. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will…I’ve seen the Promised Land…And I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

He was killed the next day.

How could a man whose life was in imminent danger speak with such great confidence?

He knew of a greater Promised Land.

God is able to rescue us from the worst of circumstances. He is mighty to save. And YET…

When our purpose here is fulfilled and it comes time to breathe our final breath, there is a greater hope that lies beyond this earthen soil. Those who have placed their hope in the promise of Jesus Christ know that our last breath here ushers us into a place where there’s nothing left to fear.

And knowing this, we can live without fear.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Joy. And pain.

Blog_SunAndRainWhen my friends share stories of the joys and labor-pangs accompanying childbirth, I can only offer a blank stare in return. My journey to motherhood did not involve the physical pain that characterizes the hospital labor room. And while I was spared the typical ordeals of delivery, I can say the emotional and spiritual travail that come with adoption equal and possibly out-measure the challenges faced in the average neonatal ward.

Whatever the path by which one arrives at parenthood, all share very similar tribulations when it comes to parenting. No heart is immune to the ache of love, the raw desire for our children to grow and live to their fullest potential. The exploits and outcomes of child rearing can be summarized in two words.

Joy. And pain.

The Bible speaks of a time of great tribulation come upon the earth, equating the related events to birth pangs.

We have a heavenly Father who adopts those who accept his offer of forgiveness. He loves us to the point of dying for us. And he uses any and every circumstance to birth the best in us and through us. Often that means allowing trying events to awaken a remembrance within us that a greater glory is yet to come in our eternal home with him.

The ultimate glory is not in the here and now.

And so, as it is written, comes “nation rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom…famines and earthquakes in various places…an increase of wickedness.” Calamity upon calamity. Hatred and persecutions. The full outcome of human will independent of God. And love grown cold.

These things must come, it says.

They. Must. Come.

A woman must endure the pains of labor to experience the joy of holding a newborn baby.

And the world must travail that greater things would come to birth.

Joy. And pain.

Our Father desires that none perish and all come to repentance. What circumstances will bring lost, treasured souls into the adoptive care of our loving father? What will bring our own souls closer to him than ever before?

And what tribulation must come to bring us to the fulfillment of the ultimate promise—that of an everlasting home in which “he will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 22:4).

 

Photo Credit: Rain, River, Sun from Wallpaper Flare, labeled on Google Pics as free to use or share

Greater Outcomes

Blog_CaveWaterfallWhen Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers, it must have seemed impossible to believe any good could come from it. When he was imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, the thought of God redeeming his circumstances surely seemed a distant dream. And when his only two friends forgot him in that jail cell, Joseph could easily have given up all hope.

But at some point in his endlessly nightmarish story, Joseph learned something that sustained him to the turning-point.

God is a God of greater outcomes.

Joseph emerged from nearly fourteen years of bondage with a faith stronger and more certain than he started out with. Beyond his confinement, he found not only the fulfillment of his dreams but the enduring faithfulness of God to redeem any circumstance for measureless good.

When his guilty brothers came to him in time of famine, Joseph could easily have poured out the full measure of vengeance. Instead, he spoke these words: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” (Genesis 50:20).

This hour in which we live is one of inexplicable darkness. We live in a world where the ravages of sin plague every corner of existence. Violence, sickness and calamity strive to rule our days. And in the thick of the chaos, we cry out for some glimpse of good, some sign of God’s intervention.

How could a greater outcome emerge from this current pandemic?

This is the realm in which only the God of the impossible can work his greatest wonders.

In Joseph’s situation, human free-will and the brokenness of nature were allowed to run their course to a near-dismal end. A brother in slavery. A family in crisis. A world in famine. Nothing can shroud the suffering Joseph went through, but nothing can veil the glorious outcome.

And so it is today. Nothing can shroud the lives lost in this horrific time. But that doesn’t negate the truth that good can and will inevitably emerge, in its time.

I recently read that every year, over 4.5 million people die from complications resulting directly from air pollution. Some have estimated that with major cities on quarantine, the decrease in air pollution could save possibly hundreds of thousands more lives than have been lost through the current pandemic.

And what IF. What if someone or multiple someones had been plotting mass shootings or other acts of terrorism in the near future, which are now thwarted with no large crowds to target? We may never know.

And these are only possible physical outcomes. What about families once broken, now drawing together and irreversibly strengthened through hours alone, together? And workaholics on the brink of heart-attack or worse, now forced to slow down and breathe?

But I would say that God is into even greater outcomes than these. Because this imperfect world is not our home, and maybe we’re finally coming to realize that. Maybe this shaking is truly an awakening that will at last open blind eyes to see the things of earth are not our end goal. Salvation and eternal life are found in one who suffered far greater injustices than Joseph, with far greater outcomes.

Maybe multitudes of treasured souls will find enduring hope and everlasting life, which far outweighs anything this world can bring.

“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)

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 2:7-9)

 

Photo Credit: Waterfall from a Cave @ goodfreephotos.com

Hope’s Victory

Spring_SunriseTreesThe streets were eerily empty as I walked my dog today. Save for the hopeful songs of a few lone, rebel birds, the silence calmed as the sunset shed golden light on the trees, unrelenting in glory despite its lack of audience.  It would almost have felt peaceful, if not for the pandemic behind it all.

My dog pulled me along, grateful to be the beneficiary of extra long walks during this unusual season. And as she did, I caught sight of something that nearly slipped by unnoticed. Tiny buds pushing through branches of the bushes lining our walkway announced the arrival of another season that entered uncelebrated amidst the current plague of unwelcome news.

Spring.

It arrived humbly, almost forgotten though so anticipated after the relentless winter. Shrouded by the pall of a world of uncertainty, spring came with a gentle reminder. Hope lives on after the coldest and bleakest of seasons.

Could it be that there will be such a glory to follow this time of worldwide grief?

While it may seem that nothing could soon out-measure the loss so many are now experiencing, hope is waiting to emerge. Just as winter births the beauty of spring, this hour of difficulty will bring forth something inexplicably beautiful, in its time.

While uncertainty claws at us, fierce and persistent, spring reminds us of a greater certainty behind it all. The sun continues to rise and set, as promised from the beginning. And winter gives way to spring despite the surrounding opposition. Flowers will yet bloom. Brown grass will soon awaken in glorious green splendor. Barren trees will unveil branches adorned with fruit.

Certainly if a season harsh as winter can yield the unhindered allure of spring, God can take the most hopeless ashes of our lives and fashion something of immense beauty.

So be of good courage and look beyond what your eyes see today. Spring has broken through and will continue to make its mark despite the overwhelming decay that seems to have overtaken our world. You will see goodness come from the tribulations of today, and our trials of now will seem light and momentary compared to the glory that “far outweighs them all.”

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:13-14)

A Simple Prayer

blog_snowywoods“Live simply, love generously, serve faithfully, speak truthfully, pray daily. Leave everything else to God.” I saw this quote while sitting in a café the other day. As I consider the direction of my life, these words speak to me about a simple yet profound calling. So often, we’re looking for the big, the extravagant, the noticeably noble. We want to be significant, and we perceive significance as something evident to the masses.

Yet what if greatness has a humbler definition?

And that’s why this has become my prayer, and my desired life-theme. To truly live simply—not bogged down by temporary things, unnecessary work, trivial concerns, or excessive material endeavors. To love generously: that my love for all would be abundant, honest, and overflowing…not in word alone, but in action and in truth.

Father God, remove every ounce of selfishness from within me: my self-centeredness, self-preservation, self-exaltation. Move in my heart to make me someone who thinks of others more than I think of myself.

Let my service be for the motive of honoring you by helping others. Let it be pure and untiring, all-encompassing—infiltrating all I do and done with all my heart, soul and strength. I confess I’ve grown weary in well-doing. Please renew my strength.

Tame my tongue to be still when I need to be silent and to speak truth boldly and always with love. Strip me of the veil of the fear of man.

I’ve been prayerless, so move me to pray. Prayerlessness is the root of all my trials, or my misunderstanding of your purpose in the midst of trials. Release me from bondage to laziness and unbelief, that my prayers may flow unwavering, unhindered, and unceasingly to you.

Build up my faith to know with confidence that when I’ve done all you ask of me, I can be at peace and leave all else to you. I want to live at ease with you, knowing you alone hold my life and I will stand before you alone at the end to give account for my thoughts, words, and actions.

This is my simple prayer.

 

Photo Credit: Free photo: Woods, Forest, Trees, Winter – Free Image on Pixabay …

A Necessary Reminder

 

Blog_FallLake.jpgGratitude reminds us that we have all we need. It tells us that loss brings life. It leads us to transform in the glory of knowing God’s mercies are new EVERY morning.

 

 

Photo Credit: Free stock photo of fall, forest, lake

Thanksgiving Comes First

Blog_AutumnLeavesThe last of the leaves take their final stand against the impending cold. Soon, the branches will be empty, the ground paved with a glittery blanket of snow. Autumn’s season of beauty and death is coming to a close. In its midst—Thanksgiving.

Before holiday revelers haul out the holly, trim trees, and haunt the malls, Thanksgiving comes, quiet and gentle. Before gifts are exchanged, Thanksgiving. And before the clock turns to welcome a new year—Thanksgiving.

We want to skip the season of death—when color is gone and trees, barren. The rush of the holiday season promises to suppress the feeling of loss. Deals at the stores await, beckoning us to forget. Maybe we just need someTHING new, someTHING tangible, someTHING to hold our attention captive. Or maybe we just need a whole new year.

But Thanksgiving comes first, putting everything into perspective if only we still our souls to listen and learn the secret.

Death becomes a thing of beauty. We’re able to let go, no longer needing to fill the empty spaces with the latest and greatest distraction to hit the holiday shelves. We no longer need to wait for a New Year for change to come.

Gratitude reminds us that we have all we need. It tells us that loss brings life. It leads us to transform in the glory of knowing God’s mercies are new EVERY morning.

The holiday season is upon us. And Thanksgiving comes first…as it always has, and as it always should.