Away Together

Out on the porch, early light filtering through mossy trees dripping last night’s rain, I relish the quiet, punctuated only by cheery birds. In the cool and natural beauty of the North Carolina mountains. My dear 40-year friends sit nearby, each of us communing with our Savior, and He with us. Wondrous thought!

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” “You crown the year with your bounty.” John 10:10; Psalm 65:11

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Thank you for these women, for Your personal attention in each of our lives and the providence of Your entwining them together. Thank You for our straining together in growth, weeping together in grief, uniting together in prayer through many seasons. Thank you for the gift of picking up where we left off, of a safe place to admit weakness and fears and shame, of ‘I’ve-known-you-a-long-time’ insights, of unconditional love. That you for grace extended, generosity lavished, compassion poured out; for mutual support and kind agreeing to disagree, for stimulating conversation and shared laughter.  “Blessed is the one you choose and bring near to dwell in your courts. You crown us with steadfast love and mercy and satisfy us with good.” (Psalm 65:4; 103:4-5) 

“Bless the LORD, O my soul!” Loving God, may my friendship with You fill me to overflow in friendship with these sisters, my words be used for upbuilding, encouragement and consolation. Keep me esteeming well these invaluable treasures. (Psalm 103:1; 1 Corinthians 14:3)

The Journeys of Familiar

Some days I am struck by the unbidden rapture in the evocations of the familiar: snowy and papery (June in North Carolina) crepe myrtle canopies over sunny yellow day lilies in the highway median, pink and yellow (swathed on the college president’s lawn) tulips, regal creamy lemony-almost-like-dessert (outside my childhood bedroom window) magnolia blossoms, the scent of (Grandma’s) boxwood and (Mom’s May birthday) lily of the valley, the catchy melody of a (high school weekend) song on the radio or (son’s teenage right-before-leaving-home-favorite) as background in a store, the (first ever back yard) zhwirr of cicadas and chirp of crickets on a summer night.

There is something mysterious and magnificent in the emotions evoked by ordinary things. Only a creative Designer could craft our senses and our brains in such a way that familiar sights, sounds, and scents would (and could!) strum our heart strings, stir our memories, and transport us to faraway places and times. What richness He adds to life! “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. He has made everything beautiful in its time.” “In him we live and move and have our being.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,11; Acts 17:28)

Creator God, may all the ‘ordinaries’ that remind me of loves and joys and pleasures through the years of my life turn me to their Source, the Giver of every good gift and Fount of every blessing. Tune my heart, moment by moment, to sing Your praise.

A Wide Place

“You have given me the shield of your salvation. You gave a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip.” “You have set my feet in a broad place.” 1 Samuel 22:36,37; Psalm 18:36; 31:8

Our home with God is a broad place of freedom and fruitfulness and countless possibilities, of access to God’s infinite graces and eternal treasure. When God saves us, He moves us from the camp of the world to the camp of His children, a wide place whose boundaries are love, and secure. The enemy may linger outside the fence and taunt, reminding us of the former life, the fleeting pleasures of a glitzy (but cruel) world, past offenses committed or trespasses against us, but he cannot touch us, and we can never go back. He is relentless in trying to turn us away from all God has for us, back to what was, or what-is-now-and-I-am-missing-it; he will distract and do his best to prevent us from taking in, enjoying, truly living in the wide good place.

Penzance, green pastures, sheep lying down

“I shall walk in a wide place, for I have sought your precepts.” This requires daily resolve, daily remembering whose we are, daily walking in step with the Spirit. “I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness. When you walk, your step will not be hampered, and if you run, you will not stumble.” “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” (Psalm 119:45; Proverbs 4:11-12; Galatians 5:16-17)

Lord, You have called me out of darkness into wonderful light, out of restraint and slavery to a wide place of freedom and joy. May I walk, even run, in this broad place that is home with You.

 

So Shall My Word

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55: 10-11

The Word of God is comprised of the same 26 letters of the English alphabet as all other writings, and uses common words, yet is wholly unlike any other book. It is alive, active, powerful, purposeful, personal. “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” “No prophesy of Scripture was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (Hebrews 4:12; 2 Peter 1:20-21; 2 Timothy 3:16)

Isaiah begins chapter 55 with a call to come, partake with delight. God’s word is free, satisfying, life-changing. It reveals God’s thoughts and ways which are higher than ours, thus making a way for us to know Him intimately. “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live.” (Isaiah 55:1-3,6-9)

Africa fields of gold

Taking deliberate time to feed on the Word is sure to satisfy. God promises to sow it deeply, cause it to sprout, bear fruit through it in our lives and through us to others, effecting all He intends for His kingdom purposes. I choose what I ingest every day. Why would I eat junk food when His rich fare is available?

Lord, may I soak in Your Word that revives the soul, makes wise the simple, rejoices the heart, enlightens the eyes; that is to be desired more than fine gold and is sweeter than honey. You freely offer it, in all seasons– your rain and snow. And so shall Your Word have its way in me. (Psalm 19:7,8,10)

His Royal Highness

“Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?” “Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you.” Psalm 113:5-6; 1 Kings 8:27

I am captivated by the sky. After an early drive to the airport under infinite black, I gaze in wonder as it gradually dissolves to periwinkle grey spotted with charcoal, then ashen, clouds. Moment by moment, the tint appears, first barely blush, then pink, then a blaze of deep rose reflecting on more distant clouds up high and to the south. Pale turns cerulean as the backdrop for the glowing embers hovering above the horizon, now sky blue and angel white as the sun has made its grand entrance to the day.

It occurs to me what  “His highness” means. My God is above and beyond all of this glorious display; He has set His glory above the heavens! There is no power, no glory, no one, above or beside my Royal Highness. (Psalm 8:1)

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Our culture has lost a high view of God. The media, our educational institutions, our industries, promote things and inflate the importance of all things temporal and horizontal while taking our eyes off of the eternal, our hearts from vertical affections. The Lord of all, from His heavenly throne, places His hand under our chins and tilts our faces skyward; the heavens quiet us to contemplate the eternal, God’s “highness.”

“Let the heavens praise your wonders, O LordFor who in the skies can be compared to the LordWho among the heavenly beings is like the Lorda God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all who are around him?” Psalm 89:5-7

O sing, my soul, my Savior, God, to Thee! How great Thou art! May I keep a high view of You, Worthy One, and ever look up to, and bow down before, Your Majesty, my Royal Highness.

Steady Steady

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” “You remain. You are the same, and your years will have no end.” “Grace to you from him who was, and is, and is to come.” Hebrews 13:8; 1:11-12; Revelation 1:4

There is a lovely and fascinating plant called a ‘yesterday, today and tomorrow’  (brunfelsia) because its flowers start out purple, gradually fade to lavender, and then to white. The shrub has delightfully fragrant flowers of all three colors throughout its blooming season. What a lovely picture of our Lord Jesus, always the same, yet manifesting Himself in different ways, unique aspects of His character standing out at different moments and seasons of our lives.

Yesterday, today, tomorrow plant

A young friend told me his mother influenced his life by her steadiness through his ups and downs. “She never changed, always loved me, never wavered.”

My team made history this past spring twice in 2 weeks. As league champions with the most wins ever for a season and ranked #1 in the nation, they lost to the #16 seed in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The coach, owning strong faith, in the stunned disappointment, was unflappable. What stood out in all his interviews was that he remained steady. He was grounded, God had not changed. His God was still good–indeed, the same yesterday, today, and forever.

May we not be swayed by emotion, the times, the news, the silences in life. Circumstances might change our ‘expression,’ the facets of character that stand out in different situations, but they need not shake us. O God, may I remain steady in Spirit, in my love for others and my keeping on as You lead, no matter the weather or what is necessitated by my daily assignment.

Treasures of Darkness

“For the Lord comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lordjoy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the voice of song.” Isaiah 51:3

A friend recently showed me her night-blooming cereus plants, and pictures of their spectacular flowers. One, with thick tongue-shaped leaves, blooms only once, at night, and only for a few hours; the other, ganglier with even longer leaves, had a bud that has since blossomed at night and stayed open until morning dawned. But they never bloom in the daylight.

For man, blooming in the ‘light’ of happy circumstances, good health, compliant children, ordered circumstances, financial ease, comfortable surroundings, self-directed schedules, is almost effortless. Like plants, we can flourish in good conditions. But what about the gloom of sorrow and loss, the night of waiting and longing, the grief when loved ones choose destructive paths, the shadow of the unknown prognosis or frightening future? How do we bloom there, and then? Only by the Creator’s power and life-giving impulse. He Who brought life and salvation to us who were dead in sin calls to magnificent, joyful bloom what seems impossibly hopeless–and it’s the dark that makes the glory possible. God forges treasures of darkness with incomparable beauty.

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. The glory of the LORD will be revealed.” “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. I, I am he who comforts you.” Isaiah 40:3,5; 51:11-12a

Lord, You speak and stir in the whirlwind. You order waste places and wildernesses to make all the more glorious the beauty of Your life, hope, and joyful song. Keep me connected and growing in the darkness, dependent on You Who brings beauty there, that I may bloom in every place You plant me, to the praise of Your glory.

What More Can He Say?

I remember a family outing to a state park when I was young, and the fun my older brothers and I had jumping from a rock ledge into the deep blue lake. My still-younger sister was not so convinced of our delight, preferring to hang back with my mother and pick daisies in the meadow– until my father scooped her up in his strong arms. Resistant and fearful as she was, he assured, “I have you,” and jumped in, holding her tight. Safe was she, still clutching her droopy flowers when they emerged from the water.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. You are precious in my eyes, and I love youFear not, for I am with you.” Isaiah 43:1-3,5

As beloved friends face heart-wrenching challenges with family, significant health crises, and tenuous or gloomy futures, the comfort and hope and prescription to allay fear is not that the trials can be avoided or will disappear, but that You love us and are with us. That iis enough.

“How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,                                                                               is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!                                                                                 What more can He say than to you He hath said,                                                                           to you, who for refuge, to Jesus hath fled?

Fear not, I am with thee; O be not dismayed,                                                                                 for I am thy God and will still give thee aid.
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,                                                           upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.                                                                                                                                                 

                                       When through the deep waters I call thee to go,                                                                                                   the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
for I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,                                                                                  and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.    

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,                                                                           My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply.
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design                                                                                   thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine. 

The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose                                                                                    I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
that soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,                                                                     I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!”

–Robert Keen (1787)

God, in the presence of our enemies and when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, You are with us, You hem us in behind and before, Your rod and staff comfort us, Your goodness and mercy follow us. Thank you, in uncertain and unstable times, for these good and unshakeable promises. (Psalm 23:4-6; 139:5)

In Charge

Isaiah 45 is a striking account of the sovereignty of God. At the end of chapter 44, King Cyrus of Persia is named as God’s instrument, “my shepherd, [who] shall fulfill my purpose.” He is the pagan king God used, after Persia defeated Babylon, to return His people to Jerusalem from their Babylonian exile.

“Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, ‘I will go before you and level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of ironthat you may know that it is I, the Lordthe God of Israel, who call you by your name. For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me. I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things.'” Isaiah 45:1-7

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It is easy to hear opinions, and come up with our own, about why the stock market or kings and kingdoms rise or fall, why treaties are crafted or broken, why populists are gaining traction, why economies grow or slow; but in the Bible the reason is clear: God is in charge. “I am the LORD, who does all these things.” “You are God the LORD, and there is no other.” “You speak the truth, and declare what is right.” All Your deeds reflect your orderly, powerful control, and work toward accomplishing Your ends, that we might learn to trace Your hand, understand Your ways, and know You.

Psalm 105 recounts God’s providential hand with Joseph, and Moses, fulfilling His “holy promises” to His people. “Great and amazing are your deeds, O God Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!” “I am God, and there is no other. My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.” (Revelations 15:3; Isaiah 46:9-11)

King of kings, You know the captivity, the waiting, the wrestling. You understand, allow, and even guide our strategies, preparations, initiatives, solutions. You perfectly orchestrate all circumstances to bring about Your good will. Turn anxiety and hypotheticals to glad surrender to Your sovereign, righteous rule, and align our most earnest efforts and striving with Your good, pleasing, and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

The Distances of God

There is nothing like contemplating the distances of God to underscore the finiteness of man, and rouse our fitness in Him. “Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.” Revelation 13:10

Known since before creation– wondrous thought! Revelation 13:8 mentions the beast who had authority over “all whose name had not been written before the foundation of the world in the Lamb’s book of life. “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm 139:15,16)

I bear my sin no more! “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” (Psalm 103:12; Isaiah 43:25)

Clouds w light, Florida summer

His love is measureless! For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him.” “[I pray] that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” (Psalm 103:11; Ephesians 3:17-19)

He is with us everywhere and forever! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Psalm 139:9-10; Matthew 28:20)

“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” These truths are enough to bolster endurance and faith, no matter what. (Psalm 139:6)

Lord, You have gone the distance for me, to the Cross.  May I in faith endure, and go the distance for You.