Hope and feathers

In Hope is the thing with feathers  (254), Emily Dickinson wrote:

Hope is the thing with feathers That perches in the soul, And sings the tune without the words, And never stops at all,

In this first stanza of her poem, she captures my personal experience with hope. It is somehow both easily startled, like a bird, and ever-present, like the tune that never ceases.

My “flighty” hope stands in opposition to what I read in God’s word. Jeremiah 29:11 is an often-quoted scripture that proclaims God’s promise to end the Israelites’ exile:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

This hope doesn’t seem much like a bird. It’s a declaration of truth. It is God’s word and He is faithful.

What’s the disconnect? Why do I consistently get this wrong?

Let’s read 1 Corinthians 13:13 from the Message translation:

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

Maybe that is my error… Hope is not so much a feeling as it is a choice. We are to have hope because we have God. Perhaps the linchpin is faith.

If you are hurting, if hope is the thing with feathers right now, I wouldn’t dream of burdening you. I’ve been there. Instead, I offer you an assurance. God has plans for you, plans to prosper you, plans for your future. He is your hope and He never fails.

Hope and peace to you my friend. Always.

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Furnished and ready

All of time is divided into two distinct sections: 1) before Jesus came and offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sins; and 2) after His crucifixion and resurrection. This division was not an afterthought. It’s not as if God said, “I’ve made this wonderful creation and, now that man messed it up, I need to think of something else.” As mysterious as it may seem, this sequence of events began at creation and continues to this very day for you and me.

Even knowing that man’s rejection of God was destined and a salvation plan was already in place, I was still surprised to read one particular passage from Mark’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem for His betrayal, torture, death, and resurrection. Take a look at Mark 14: 12-15.

12 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”

13 So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. 14 Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.”

I highlighted the phrase that demanded my attention. I see two layers to its meaning. First, Jesus knew what was coming (the true Passover with Him serving as the sacrificial lamb) and continued in His perfect obedience to the Father. The millennia since creation had pointed directly to this moment in time. The event was “furnished and ready.” The actors in this grand play had already rehearsed their roles (the betraying Judas, the accusing Pharisees, the frightened apostles). The stage was set (Pilate in his judgement seat, the cross on Golgotha, the soon-to-be-filled/soon-to-be-empty tomb). Jesus was prepared for the final act of His ministry on the earthly stage.

Second, with this event our salvation was also “furnished and ready”. All we need to do is enter into God’s love through the acceptance of Jesus’ payment for our sins. Repent today. Prepare and submit your heart. Invite Jesus into your life as your personal Lord and Savior. Praise God!

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In/dependence

I’m a father. My son is 18 and my daughter is 16. They are great kids and I love them. Like their father, however, they are not perfect (both are far better than me at that age, however — 18 year old Tony was a real piece of work). They do not always listen to me. In fact, they sometimes defy me. They are not belligerent, thank heavens, but they do sometimes decide that their way is better.

It’s painful to watch my children choose what I know will harm them, either now or later. My deepest response is neither disappointment nor anger (although I have brought the thunder on both of them at different times). What I really feel is love. Period. I don’t want to see them hurt, but I must also let them make their own decisions if they are to grow and mature. I will always be there to pick them up should they fall.

A fundamental aspect of parenting is growing your child from complete dependence as an infant to independence as a young adult. It is a journey filled with bumps and bruises, but also celebrations and joy. Some laughter, some tears.

My experience in raising two children has taught me a lot about my relationship with God. I am His child, after all. So are you, my friend.

15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Romans 8:15-17

Ironically, it’s been in my hardest parenting moments that I’ve learned the most about being a child to God. I have defied Him as well. I have said, “my way, not yours” and then asked Him to bless (or at least forgive me for) my selfish plans. Through my feelings of love toward my children during their disobedience, I’ve learned that God is neither mad at me nor wagging His finger in disapproval. He is always beside me, always trying to protect me from what He knows will harm me.

I’ve learned something else, though. It’s paradoxical.

  • My job as dad is to grow my children from dependence to independence.
  • God’s task with me is to gently, patiently, gracefully transform me from independence to dependence.

You see, I was born sinful. I was born to choose me over God. I have been bred over millennia to worship me, not God. My birth day battle cry was “Independence or die!”, tiny fists clenched and jaw set in bitter resolve.

Slowly — oh so painfully, frustratingly slowly — I am learning a new cry. It’s one I give from my knees with open hands, sometimes in defeat, always in worship. It is “Abba, Father, your way, not mine.”

Peace, child. Live in dependence.

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The greatest thing

I’ve been a Christian, a believer and follower of Christ Jesus, for a long time. My story began when I was just a boy with a Billy Graham crusade on network television (my mom made me watch). Pastor Graham extended the invitation to a new life in Jesus and I accepted right there in my living room.

The decades in between have been quite a journey. There have been exhilarating mountain peaks and deep dark valleys. I’ve been good, I’ve been bad. I’ve served God and I’ve served myself. I’ve learned a few things.

  • I tried to live a religion about performance. However, like Paul in his letter to the Christians in Rome, I quickly learned that: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. (Romans 7:15)”
  • I tried to live a religion based on rules. I can be comfortable with rules; I know where I stand. They are also impersonal and tend to point out my failures, rather than my successes. I needed more.
  • I’ve observed that God is faithful. He does not change. He will never leave me. He will always love me. Jesus Himself told us: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:28)” When I face difficult times, I repeat that line over and over: no one and nothing will snatch me from His hand.

This is what I’m learning right now. While a faithful God that is consistent and provides us with guidelines for staying out of trouble and loves us unconditionally is VERY GOOD, it is not the entire story. Our God is bigger. Our God is a Creator. He brings new life and this new life is unexpected and unpredictable! [1] It’s the greatest thing I’ve discovered about God so far.

A relationship with God is truly a journey. I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to join Him in it. I wonder what will happen next…

  1. Peterson, E.H., 2017, As Kingfishers Catch Fire, Chapter 3, Waterbrook, Colorado Springs, CO.

 

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Love/give

You’ve probably heard this scripture. It’s kind of a big deal.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Because God is love (1 John 4:8) it makes sense that we should learn about love from Him. Let’s take another look at this key verse from John’s Gospel.

For God so loved the world that he gave

How did God demonstrate His love for us? God loved, so He gave. What did He give? He gave that which was most precious to Him. He gave that which would cost Him the most.

How should we love? I think we should model God’s love for us. We should give and we should give what we cherish the most. Perhaps it is our time. Perhaps it is our attention. I’m going to offer an option from my own experience.

I think we should give our will. I’m suggesting that your will is what stands between you and daily, selfless love. Your will is what insists “me first” and “what I want”. I think that will is at the heart of pride. Let look at Isaiah 14:12-15. It describes the fall of Satan.

12 “How you are fallen from heaven,
O Lucifer, son of the morning!
How you are cut down to the ground,
You who weakened the nations!
13 For you have said in your heart:
I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God;
I will also sit on the mount of the congregation
On the farthest sides of the north;
14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,
I will be like the Most High.’
15 Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol,
To the lowest depths of the Pit.

He states “I will” five times in his heart. His “will for self” separated him from God and got the former worship leader thrown down from Heaven. To grow closer to God, to love God, therefore, must mean giving up your will and embracing obedience.

What about loving those around us? I think love works the same way with your spouse, your children, your friend, your co-worker… When I set aside my will with my wife and seek to hear and serve her, I love her the best. When I set aside my will with my children and seek to hear and serve them, I love them the best.

Give it a try. Because you love, give…

 

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MacGyver faith

MacGyver was a popular television series that aired between 1985 and 1992. In each episode Angus MacGyver used his broad knowledge of the physical sciences to overcome impossible odds. Each show included the same three ingredients.

  1. MacGyver helped someone who had no one else to rescue them.
  2. He used whatever was available to solve the problem at hand. He was never defeated by seemingly inadequate resources.
  3. He put himself in harm’s way to protect those in danger.

MacGyver was a weekly hero who loved science and routinely ignited explosions using household products. What more could I want?

Here’s the real story, though…

You can put your faith in One much more heroic than MacGyver. God is there to rescue you as soon as you call on Him. He uses the small and insignificant to overcome the powerful. He will give you everything you need to carry out His salvation work. He sent His son to die in your place. He will never leave you and will always love you.

My prayer for us is that we exercise MacGyver faith. I pray that we persist beyond all odds in believing, that we place unreasonable trust in our Creator and Deliverer. Put your life in God’s hands and watch the explosions! Amen.

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Help!

If you’re human, you’ve found yourself in a position where you needed help. Sometimes it is practical (my car battery is dead and I need a jump). Other times it is immediate (my daughter is exhibiting meningitis symptoms). In some cases, it is less concrete. It is fear that grips you in the dark of night, it is regret over a wrong you cannot right, it is frustration rooted in a missed opportunity. It is raw, overwhelming grief over the loss of a loved one. It is hopelessness.

Allow me to offer you this.

Elohim Ozer Li = God My Helper

Say it out loud. El-oh-heem Oh-zeer Lie. God My Helper.

David understood God’s nature as Elohim Ozer Li. He called to God when he needed help. Read Psalm 54:4.

Surely God is my help;
the Lord is the one who sustains me.

Though your situation may seem bleak, rescue is certain. Turn to Elohim Ozer Li. He is your help. My prayer for us today is a posture of worship that enables us to exercise big faith in the one true God. This faith will acknowledge God’s sovereignty over every situation. I pray that we turn to God, and nothing else, for our help in these times of despair. Amen.

 

 

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