Grace

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” (Jeremiah 29:11-14)

“…When Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” (31:2-3)

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the Lord, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future, declares the Lord…” (31:16-17)

“For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.” (31:25)

Really encouraged during my Bible reading today. People often think of the Old Testament prophets and think judgement…. and there was a lot of judgement going on to get Israel back on track after they had wandered way off the right path. However, God’s grace and love just overflows from these pages; I am in awe of the steadfast and faithful love of God even towards those who have rejected him time and time again. He doesn’t give up on us; His love is everlasting, and if we seek Him with our whole hearts, we will find Him. Thank you, God!

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Fair are the Lilies That Weather the Storm

Amy Carmichael has been one of my best friends since I was probably nine or ten years old.

Granted, she lived a whole entire century before I did, and her body has been in the ground for over sixty years…. but her heart lives on.  It was through her spirit that God poured into mine a love for Asia, particularly India.  And through the high times and low times of my life, Amy Carmichael has always had something encouraging, challenging, or comforting to say to me.

(What I’m about to say is kind of personal but I wanted to share it anyway.)  I have a memory of the night my former boyfriend broke up with me.  Unfortunately, it’s a vague enough memory that I can’t pull out the exact details.  I just remember that the night he stopped by and told me the relationship was over, before he came, I was reading in my book of poems by Ms. Carmichael, Mountain BreezesThere was a page of short poems that I read that talked about how God would be with me even in trial, that He would help me to be strong, that joy would come through trial.  As I read, I had a feeling– though I couldn’t have put it in words then– that something was about to happen that would be difficult and life-changing, but that God would be with me.

At that moment, I heard the sound of wheels on the gravel driveway and I hurried downstairs to greet my boyfriend.  And sure enough, that night, everything changed.

But even more surely, God kept that promise that He spoke to me through those words penned by Amy Carmichael. He held my hand, He let me cry, He helped me to be strong.  Nothing surprised Him; He knew it was coming, and He knew what it would bring me to. He promised that the grief would not last forever, and He kept that promise.  Even though it was one of the most difficult and “earth-shattering” times I had experienced yet in my life, my wound eventually would heal, and I have come out at a much better place, and I feel like God has secured my feet on the path that He wants for me, rather than the detour that I had taken without consulting Him.  Looking back, I feel as though God spoke to me through those poems just as my life was about to change, so that I could see most clearly how He would follow through, so that I would know how great is His love and care for me.

I have gone back several times to try and find the words that spoke to me that evening.  I am not 100% sure which ones they were.  But last night I was scouring Mountain Breezes and I think I may have found the page, as the words there are the words that stuck in my heart.  Because they were such an encouragement to me at that time, and even so continue to be, I wanted to share them with you.
(The first one is my favorite, because it says that nothing surprises God, that He cares about my well-being even more than I do, and that “fair are the lilies that weather the storm”.  What unexpected difficulties God brings into our lives can be a chance to become strong and beautiful through Him.)

Sandhof Farm, Maltahohe District, Namibia (Hougaard Malan Landscape Photography)

Leave it to Me

Leave it to Me, child; leave it to Me.
Dearer thy garden to Me than to thee.
Lift up thy heart, child; lift up thine eyes;
Nought can defeat Me, nought can surprise.

Leave it to Me, child, leave it to Me;
Trust in the wall of Fire. Look up and see
Stars in their courses shine through the night;
Both are alike to Me– darkness and light.

Leave it to Me, child, leave it to Me.
Let slip the burden too heavy for thee;
That which I will, My Hand shall perform–
Fair are the lilies that weather the storm.

 

Disappointed?

Art thou disappointed?  Come to Me;
I will never be a grief to thee.

Hurt by hand thou trusted? Come to Me;
Leaves of healing I will lay on thee.

Art thou broken? Come, My child, to Me;
I, thy Comforter, will comfort thee.

Even friends can sometimes changeful be;
I will always be the same to thee.

Joy Comes, Singing

Lord, I would take Thy comfortings
With both hands gratefully,
And grief’s dark overshadowings,
As lightly as may be–
For they belong to evenings;
Joy comes with day to me,
Comes running with the day to me.

Although my wayside inn at night
May harbor grief as a guest,
With dawn he swiftly takes his flight–
And like a bird to nest,
Dear joy comes singing with delight,
As she comes home to rest;
Dear joy comes singing home to rest.

I Promise Thee

I promise thee
That I, to whom the pillars of the earth belong,
Will bear thee up and keep thy spirit strong.

I promise thee
That none shall add a furlong to the mile
That thou must walk through this long, little while.

I promise thee:
Thy private shadow shall not shadow ever
The path of thy beloved fellow lover.

I promise thee
That though it tarry, yet the day will come
When I shall call thee Home.

Carmichael, Amy. Mountain Breezes (1999): CLC Publications: Fort Washington, PA. Pages 334-337.

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Rediscovering God

Much of the challenge that many of us face, who grew up in conservative Christian homes, is learning to see God as He truly is. For many of us, we grew up exposed to Christianity, church, the Bible, and Bible lessons all the time– which is a good thing, but when we get so used to it, we might find it becoming old and familiar. Others of us grew up surrounded by “Christianity”, but it was a Christianity of judgment and shame. We couldn’t live up to the standards set before us. We were never good enough. God was never happy with us, no matter how hard we tried. To us, God was an overwhelming Being hovering over us, ready for us to do something wrong so He could condemn us. We lived in fear of God forsaking us or not hearing our prayers because we sinned.

It is true that initially our sin does separate us from God, and that, in our own efforts, we cannot reach perfection. However, that is where Jesus comes in. God loves us so much, and wants so much to restore a relationship with us that cannot be there if sin is in the way, so He sent His Son Jesus to live that perfect life that we cannot live, and to take all of our sins upon Himself. Through His death, death is dead. Through putting our faith in Him, we no longer have to live in shame and defeat. Even though we sin, He has taken that upon Himself and cleared the way for us to know the Father. We have not received a spirit of slavery, but we have received the “Spirit of adoption as Sons”– and by this adoption, we can call God our Father. And He rejoices to call us His children.

Contrary to how many of us grew up thinking, God is not an angry God waiting to judge and condemn us. He is a God full of love and compelling compassion.

Today I read these verses in the Old Testament (a portion of the Bible traditionally associated with judgment):

“‘Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth He is called. . . .

“‘For the mountains may depart and the hills may be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” (Isaiah 54:4-5,10)

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to he Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:6-9)

There are no words for how beautiful these two chapters are. I love them so much.
This is the beauty of Jesus-faith. He takes the lost, the broken, the despairing, the hopelessly wicked, the disgraced… and turns their brokenness into beauty. Not only does he fix their broken lives, but he makes them entirely new. He has compassion on them and wants so much to restore them to new life and abundantly pardon– not sort of pardon a little bit, but ABUNDANTLY pardon, all the way!

This is the God the Bible tells us about. And it is such a joy to rediscover Him and come to know His heart for the broken. Live no longer in fear– live in the steadfast love and abundant redemption of the Father!❤

The following is a song that was the prayer of my heart throughout my faith journey, and I wanted to share it with you all as well.🙂

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The “Suffering” Objection

I have shared many times before about my journey from faith, through doubt, to renewed faith.  There are many thoughts to sort through when a young person gets to the age where they no longer just accept anything they hear, where they are suddenly confronted with their own doubts and the doubts that others raise in their minds.

I had to sort through many questions, but one of my foremost doubts was a very commonly held one: “Why would a good God allow suffering?” I read books on it.  I thought on it.  I tried to sort it out in my mind.  “If God is good, He must not be all-powerful because if He was, He’d end suffering… Or, He is all-powerful, but He isn’t good, or else He would end suffering, and therefore He is not to be trusted.” This was the thought pattern that stole upon my mind.

Books such as The Problem of Pain and A Grief Observed by atheist-turned-Christian C.S. Lewis (one of my favorite authors) helped me work through some of these thoughts, especially as related to the goodness and existence of God.  One quote that I remember standing out to me particularly, and which was brought to my attention again today, is this:

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust.  But how had I got this idea of ‘just’ and ‘unjust’? A man does not called a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? . . . Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own.  But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too– for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. . . . Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple.

~C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity  

So there is the argument that the injustice and suffering in the world does not disprove God.  But does it disprove His love?  I had to struggle to reconcile God’s goodness and His omnipotence.  To eyes that can see only so far, the answer is easily shrouded.  But a passage I read today seemed to word so beautifully the answer that came to me over time. The following excerpt is from chapter 2 of Tim Keller’s The Reason for God, in which Reverend Keller addresses the “suffering” objection.  It’s a bit lengthy, but please read it.

The death of Jesus was qualitatively different from any other death.  The physical pain was nothing compared to the spiritual experience of cosmic abandonment.  Christianity alone among the world religions claims that God became uniquely and fully human in Jesus Christ, and therefore knows firsthand despair, rejection, loneliness, poverty, bereavement, torture, and imprisonment.  On the cross he went beyond even the worst human suffering and experienced cosmic rejection and pain that exceeds ours as infinitely as his knowledge and power exceeds ours.  In his death, God suffers in love, identifying with the abandoned and god-forsaken.  Why did he do it?  The Bible says that Jesus came on a rescue mission for creation. He had to pay for our sins so that someday he can end evil and suffering without ending us.

Let’s see where this has brought us.  If we again ask the question: “Why does God allow evil and suffering to continue?” and we look at the cross of Jesus, we still do not know what the answer is.  However, we now know what the answer isn’t.  It can’t be that he doesn’t love us.  It can’t be that he is indifferent or detached from our condition.  God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that he was willing to take it on himself. . . So, if we embrace the Christian teaching that Jesus is God and that he went to the Cross, then we have deep consolation and strength to face the brutal realities of life on earth.  We can know that God is truly Immanuel– God with us– even in our worst sufferings.

~Tim Keller, The Reason for God

As Rev. Keller stated, this doesn’t give us the answer for why there is suffering… sometimes we may know in the long run, but, for how much we think we know (especially college people😛 ), our perspectives are very limited, and we may not always know the answer.  But here is reassurance that suffering is not evidence of no God, nor is it evidence that God is unkind, or that he doesn’t care.  He loves us so much that he died to end suffering forever.  And one day, when he returns, evil and death and suffering will be defeated forever and he will restore all things!

There is so much to be said on that subject, but let this, at any rate, be food for thought.  To my friends who are still seeking for answers: cling to hope, and may the Lord give you the answers you seek. For those whose faith is in God, let this reminder of Jesus’ love and sacrifice fill your hearts with joy and courage today.

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Courage, Dear Heart

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

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

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

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

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

photo by Chris Rose

photo by Chris Rose

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

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

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‘Twixt Gleams of Joy and Clouds of Doubt

Sometimes life is good.
Sometimes life hurts.  But at the same time we know and are so assured of God’s presence with us.  And despite the pain… those are happy times.

But sometimes life hurts and we don’t feel anything at all.
God’s presence.
God’s peace.
God’s promises.
We don’t feel any of it.  And we wonder where He is, or if He even is, and why we cannot feel His presence as we once did.

We have all had these times… or if you have not yet, very likely you one day will.  Sometimes this only lasts for a short time, perhaps on an afternoon that is going a little more roughly than you would like.  But sometimes, it lasts a long time.  Sometimes even a year. I refer my readers once again to my story.  That year, which I relate in that post, was the loneliest, emptiest-feeling year of my life.   I sought God, I tried to trust Him, I tried to feel Him.  But I didn’t.

Does that mean He wasn’t there?  By no means!

One thought hung on in my mind throughout that long valley of doubt.  It wasn’t a Scripture, actually, though it was based on Scripture.  It was a little four-stanza excerpt from a poem.

“Let me no more my comfort draw
From my frail hold of Thee;
In this alone rejoice with awe,
Thy mighty grasp of me.”

In the moments when I had nothing else, no assurance, no peaceful feelings of God’s presence… these four lines came back to me over and over.  I felt that I could not hold on– but I knew, even though I could not feel it, that God was holding on to me.  “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  . . . Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I was looking back on this today, and was so filled with amazement as a I realized– He did!  He did hold on to me!  He never left me, He did not forsake me.  And in those moments when I couldn’t feel… that is when He was holding on to me the tightest.  Or, as the poem says, “That is when I carried you.”

Wherever you are now, whether you are soaring on the wings of joy and confidence, or whether you are tiptoeing through the Valley of the Shadow, surrounded by the winds of doubt and dodging ditches on all sides, know this…. God is with you.  One of His most repeated promises in Scripture is “I am with you.”  Over and over again He tells His children, “I will never leave nor forsake you.”  Do no fear, even if you cannot see the path, even if you cannot feel His arms around you.  Do not rely on your grasp on Him– This relationship is His gift to you, and He will hold you close the whole way through.

National park  - Slovakian paradise, Slovakia

Following is the complete version of the poem mentioned above.

‘Twixt gleams of joy and clouds of doubt
Our feelings come and go;
Our best estate is tossed about
In ceaseless ebb and flow.
No mood of feeling, form of thought
Is constant for a day;
But thou, O Lord, thou changest not:
The same thou art alway.
I grasp thy strength, make it mine own,
My heart with peace is blest;
I lose my hold, and then comes down
Darkness, and cold unrest.
Let me no more my comfort draw
From my frail hold of thee,
In this alone rejoice with awe—-
Thy mighty grasp of me.
Out of that weak, unquiet drift
That comes but to depart,
To that pure heaven my spirit lift
Where thou unchanging art.
Lay hold of me with thy strong grasp,
Let thy almighty arm
In its embrace my weakness clasp,
And I shall fear no harm.
Thy purpose of eternal good
Let me but surely know;
On this I’ll lean—let changing mood
And feeling come or go—
Glad when thy sunshine fills my soul,
Not lorn when clouds o’ercast,
Since thou within thy sure control
Of love dost hold me fast.
          —John Campbell Shairp
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What God Requires

‎”Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong, learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:16-17)

While reading through the first couple chapters of Isaiah this morning, I was struck by something that I had not realized about this passage before.  The God-judging-Israel part has always been apparent, and perhaps a little offsetting to us.  But I realized that He wasn’t judging Israel because they weren’t making offerings and sacrifices and all that– in fact, it sounds like they were very “fancy” in their worship. God was angry with them because they were neglecting the most important things: “justice and mercy and faithfulness” as Jesus worded it. In chapter 3, he rebukes the women of Israel who were “haughty” and “wanton” and threatened to take away their jewels and fancy clothing and expensive possessions.  I don’t think He was saying that it is wrong to look nice or buy things, but Israel seems to have become so materialistic– so focused on how they looked, on what they had– that they were neglecting those who really needed help, who had nothing. Gosh, that sounds familiar. The awful thing is, I can’t just say that reminds me of America (though it does)…. but it reminds me of me. I too have fallen into the materialistic mindset and too easily focus on what I can get or how I look, etc. When was the last time I reached out to the poor in Akron? Or helped support the home for children with disabilities that I follow, in India? On the other hand, when was the last time I bought myself clothes, makeup, movies…. ouch. A lot recently.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23)

This seems to have been a pet peeve of Jesus’ while he was on Earth, and I am sure still is.

Check out God's love in action at Sarah's Covenant Homes, Ongole, India.

Check out God’s love in action at Sarah’s Covenant Homes, Ongole, India.

Israel in the days of Isaiah– Israel in the days of Jesus– the Church today– it is not that their worship wasn’t “fancy” enough, or “modest” enough, or “new” enough, or “traditional” enough, or any of those things.  In fact, the Pharisees were so extremely careful about following the law to the T, and even going beyond it in creating new rules for worship and living.  But God doesn’t care so much about that.  Not that we are to neglect worship– however, if that is all we are focusing on, how are we different than anyone else?  The world looks at Christianity and mocks because we are so wrapped up in our debates, our theologies, our megachurches, our small country churches, our worship teams, our choirs, our tithes (which they see as the church begging for money, which is sometimes the case and sometimes not)…. they mock us because we are so consumed with all these things that we don’t even care what is going on in the world around us.  People within our own cities are homeless or below poverty level, children cannot get the medical help and education that they need, and overseas people slave all day for a small morsel of food.  And yet we are so busy with our “worship” and debates that we don’t even see, we don’t even act.  And that is what God hates to see in His people.

The prophet Micah presents the question: Is our fancy worship what God expects of us?  Or what does He want to see in His people?

“With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?  Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

There it is.  We need to get our priorities straight.

How can I use my resources, energy, and time to reach out to others rather than focus on fleeting, earthly things?

How can I use my resources, energy, and time to reach out to others rather than using them up on fleeting earthly things or pointless debates about standards and doctrines?

It’s all over the Scriptures– countless verses are coming to mind.  God isn’t calling for more elaborate worship or fancy prayers or huge churches.  He isn’t calling us to be the richest and the best.  He calls us to reach out with the same love and mercy that Jesus showed us, to correct oppression and reach out to those who are hurting, physically and spiritually. If it’s not too late for New Years resolutions… I am resolved to get out of myself, to wean myself from the materialism that has crept into my mindset, and focus more on reaching out to others, using what I have to help those who have nothing, and making a difference for good in the world.

What can you do to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God?  How can you correct oppression and reach out to the “fatherless and widows”, the poor and needy?   How can you reach out to the world in 2013?

 

P.S. I also want to say thank you to two friends in particular– Katharine and Katie (wow… I didn’t realize til now that they share a name)– for, by their example, inspiring me to focus more on putting my faith to action and reaching out in the context of church, personal one-on-one relationships, and overseas.  You girls are awesome.🙂

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