“Sometimes God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves.”
Guilty confession: I sometimes live in a fake future; a future of my own projection where God is not present, sovereign, or good. Maybe you can relate? We don’t say it exactly like that, but anytime we project thoughts, emotions, and turmoil into the future— where God hasn’t given us grace to live yet— we are imagining a fake future where He is not God.
For me, because I have Multiple Sclerosis, living in this fake future can happen when my nervous system stops sending signals to lift my foot while on a hike, or when there’s a pandemic, or just on a normal Tuesday morning … The pervasive thoughts of this fake future can come in and steal my joy, robbing me of the beauty of the present moment anytime that I stop preaching the gospel to my oh-so-prone-to-wander heart.
Well, as it turns out, that fake future is a bad place to live. Not only is it gut-wrenching, but it is simply not true. It’s a bold lie that Satan, my flesh, and the world tempt me to live in. Anytime those three are in cahoots together, say during a pandemic, my fake future is all the grimmer. And if I live there, I will self-protect, self-preserve, and ultimately self-serve, forgetting about God and others in the present. This pretend future becomes ridden with the stench of self – what Jesus came to rescue me from! This future is an awful place where I am the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good and all-wise one… except, since I’m not those things, it is a place of great fear – a place where God is not present.
During our livestream worship gathering last week, we sang Sovereign Over Us and I was convicted that I’m not living as the song declares:
“There is strength within the sorrow
There is beauty in our tears
And You meet us in our mourning
With a love that casts out fear
You are working in our waiting
You’re sanctifying us
When beyond our understanding
You’re teaching us to trust
Your plans are still to prosper
You have not forgotten us
You’re with us in the fire and the flood
You’re faithful forever – perfect in love
You are sovereign over us.”
In my broken, immunosuppressed body (that fights against my nervous system), I can choose to worship God no matter what. In brokenness, I can worship more deeply, fully, and beautifully. Yet, as I stood singing, my heart was unsettled and restless. “You have to be careful!” my mind shouted.
This is very true. The ramifications of getting sick while I have less B-cells to fight it off (taking forever to get over sickness and incurring permanent damage resulting from white blood cells attacking the covering of my nervous system) are very real. Yet, I can choose whether or not to abide safely in Jesus with this knowledge. My outward actions probably need to remain the same – safe and cautious – but my heart needs a heavy dose of the truth, stability, and safety found only in the One who is faithful forever, perfect in love, and sovereign over us.
The reality is that even if I get sick, and even if my broken white blood cells go rogue and attack my nervous system, and even if my foot and leg (or eye, or hands, or bladder or whatever) stop working permanently, He is still sovereign over even that. Even if I am more permanently damaged, to God be the glory forever because that is what He has planned for me to love Him more deeply and proclaim Him more fully.
Nothing can touch us, as children of God, without God’s permission. Remember Job? Satan had to ASK God for permission to take Job’s stuff, make him sick, allow his kids to die, and more. The book of Job is 42 chapters long, but the story could have been told in merely 6. There are 36 chapters devoted to allowing us to walk with Job through his questions, anguish, and pain. While knowing God is sovereign doesn’t take away the difficulty, or the grief, or the sitting in pain and suffering for a time, it does put those feelings in perspective with the eternal glory that outweighs it all (2 Corinthians 4:17).
I’m thankful for the words of another song, He will Hold Me Fast, that reminds me of the truth: “When I fear my faith will fail, Christ will hold me fast.” His grip is stronger than my lack of faith. This is encouraging to me as I am bluntly, yet kindly, reminded of my own lack of faith in who God says He is and who He has proven to be, time and time (and time) again.
This body is what God has given me to worship Him in. Broken, and hurting, and not always working right – it is where my soul lives. And, I can worship Him in my present reality: In my strong faith or my lack of faith; in my fears and insecurities or my deep and abiding trust. This is the body, the season, and the place in which He has called me to live, move, breath, and worship. So, I will trust that I am held fast by a sovereign God who is always good, loving, faithful, and in charge.
And when I forget, I will repent and believe again (and again) … with this body that will one day – on the day of God’s choosing – finally and forever be made perfect.
 Sovereign Over Us | Aaron Keyes. Bryan Brown, Jack Mooring
 He Will Hold Me Fast | Ada Habershon & Matt Merker
*I am grateful to have this article appear in enCourage!
Something has rocked my world this summer, in God’s mercy, He’s led me from a state of apathy to an awe-inspired wonder at Jesus’ care for people. It may sound simple, but aren’t the simplest things the most profound? And the hardest to believe?
While there’s many examples in the gospels, I’ve been struck lately, at Jesus’ care for his mom. As I’ve been studying John’s gospel, it hit me that Mary is mentioned twice, and both times Jesus is honoring his earthly, fleshly, sinful momma. She’s at the wedding in Cana when He turns water into wine (John 2). The author of the study I’m doing asks the question “why does Jesus turn the water into wine?”, and as I read and re-read the text, I was astounded to see that He turns the water into wine because she asks Him to. She asks Him to. Now, I get there’s a lot of theological things happening in this text with purification rites and all that, but sometimes we MISS the simple, the obvious, the human trying to fill our heads with the theological.
Sometimes we miss that Jesus cared about the physical.
Jesus cared about the celebration.
And maybe, mostly? He cared about His mom. Oh moms, may our fragile, tired, beaten down hearts rejoice with that! And not only moms, but all of us – because –
Not only does the water become the best wine, but He begins to usher in the Kingdom of God with that request.
The next time, the only other time, we see Mary is at the foot of the cross, standing beside John when Jesus says to John, “behold your mother” and to Mary, “behold your son” (John 19). As Jesus draws His final breaths on the cross, in the moments of ultimate pain and humiliation, dying for our sin, for His mommas sin, he makes sure Mary is going to be cared for.
If Jesus can take care of Mary this way, in a place of total physical weakness, then how much more, beloved daughter or son, now that He is seated at the right hand of God full of glory, riches, and power will he care for YOU?
He is no longer contained by a limited, human body. He is uncontainable, immeasurable, always present and always knowing. Always carrying you, as His beloved child, close to His heart.
Many years before, in the same breath that Isaiah declares His unfathamable power, He announces His tender intimacy –
“Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for Him…He will tend His flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bossom, and gently lead those that are with young. Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighted the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?”
None is stronger than Jesus. None is more tender than Jesus.
Jesus sees. Jesus knows. Jesus cares.
May we rest in that, and fall more in love with Him each day.
This is a continuation of a previous blog post, where I talk about my tendency to make my own way, and light my own fires. Maybe you, along with me, can acknowledge where we’ve tried to light our own fire and make our own way apart from the Lord. In His mercy, he reveals to us where we live in unbelief, act like our circumstances didn’t first pass through His hands, and we try to save ourselves. It is a deep, slow work, this adventure of Him putting out the fires we make, watching for His light, and letting it shine through our brokenness.
You know by now that we don’t always sit in the sunshine with the birds singing gracefully around us. There’s a purpose in this. There’s a purpose in the darkness – it’s never wasted. Sometimes we sit in the dark because God’s mercy has let the flames of our own self sufficiency burn out, but often times we may find ourselves sitting in the darkness and don’t know why.
D. Martin Lloyd Jones reminds me that often times a child of God is called to keep journeying forward although it is dark:
“the child of light is sometimes found walking in darkness but he goes on walking. He does not sit down and commiserate with himself – that is the thing – the child of light walking in darkness. He does not see the face of the Lord at this point, but He knows that He is there; so he goes on.” (Spiritual Depression)
Nevertheless, He calls us to treasures in the darkness – in not knowing the perfect answer, in not at all understanding why this is happening, in not being able to see or fix the future, or fix today for all our apparent hard work, planning, and control.
And yet, there’s a treasure here, as Isaiah says,
“I will give you treasures of darkness and the hoards in the secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.” (Is. 45:3)
Treasure. My heart thrills at that word. And I wonder, “what is the treasure?” And then I see Isaiah 42:16-18,
“And I will lead the blind in a way they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are things I do, and I do not forsake them.”
Maybe the treasure is the closeness of the Guide. Maybe it’s seeing Him more clearly working miracles in our own hearts and around us. Maybe it’s the unshakable knowledge that even in the darkness we’re not forsaken.
My friend told me once she took her kids into a dark closet and tried to cover up any places where light could come in. She told them although it seemed scary, they were going to sit in complete darkness to wait and watch…and then slowly it happened, the slightest glimmers of light peaking through the crevices of the door. Their eyes sought out the light, and as they watched and waited, slowly they began to see it.
There’s always a glimmer of light if you are really looking. Jesus is light and He never will leave us or forsake us. Listen to what the prophet Micah declares in foretelling the promise of Christ:
“Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light unto me.” (micah 7:8)
Because, the darkness isn’t dark to Him.
The darkness didn’t overcome Him.
The darkness will not overcome His light.
He came into the world and He extinguishes the flames of our own making and tells us that He is with us. (John 1)
The light of the world, who is all sufficient in love and strength and power is the One who enlightens the eyes of our hearts to the hope He has called us to. (Ephesians 1)
If you’re sitting in darkness, for whatever the reason, keep looking, watching, waiting, and walking. There is a treasure hidden there.
I’ll leave you with a favorite quote from Vaneetha Risner:
“I see that God has answered some prayers with a resounding yes in jaw dropping, inexplicable ways. I remember those answers with gratitude and awe. But the answers of ‘wait’ and ‘no’ have done a far deeper work in my soul. They have kept me connected to the Giver and not his gifts. They have forced me to seek Him. And in seeking Him, I have found a supernatural joy beyond all comparison. A joy not based on my circumstances. Not based on my deliverance. Simply based on His tender presence.”
I’ve noticed a tendency in myself lately to try and light my own fires – to make my own way, to serve, lead, love in my own strength. Fires that burn out quickly like a match. I don’t think it’s a new thing for me, but I think the Lord is letting me become more aware of it, his kindness leading me to repentance. And yet, it’s really hard to see how I trust in my own flesh instead of trusting in the Lord and essentially put myself above God. Yikes. That’s hard to write, but maybe you can relate. My friends at Parakaleo have worked through this truth for years, but I think its finally smacking me in the face. Listen to this:
Psalm 18:28 says,
“For it is You who light my lamp; the Lord my God lightens my darkness.”
Oh, how this is my desire and longing and hope! However, I am convicted by the stark contrast, and often my reality, that looks like what the prophet Isaiah warns of:
“Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who equip yourselves with burning torches! Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches you have kindled! This you have from my hand: you shall lie down in torment.” (Isaiah 50:11)
Ouch. I have to let that sink in….and when I let it sink down deep into the crevices of my heart and get the confidence and humility to ask God to reveal to me where I’m lighting my own fires, I stand convicted.
I’m convicted that I often try to change my day according to what I think is best, without prayer, without living like a daughter of God, and without trusting in His goodness and sovereignty over the day – filled to the brim with expectations unmet.
I’m convicted that I more often than not, listen to myself instead of preach to myself. As Martin Lloyd Jones poignantly reminds us – someone is always talking to us – are we listening to the play back tape of the fears, mistakes, sins, and worries or are we preaching to the truth of the Gospel to our hearts? I’m often found listening to the lies and trying to fix my “problems” by lighting my own fires.
I’m convicted that I let fear rule inwardly as I work outwardly, in my flesh, trying to “tame” the fear it but it nevertheless comes spewing out in a conversation with Ryan, leaving me and him wondering: am I lighting my own path of self reliance in complete gospel amnesia?
There I go again, lighting my own fires in my darkness: trying to fix what’s not up to me to fix, despairing over what seems impossible, or praying impishly as if it’s all up to me.
I, ironically, wail about my kids wailing, fear getting older, think too hard how I came across in the text I just sent, the conversation I just had, or what others’ thought of me and how I just parented, how good a friend I was, what kind of pastors wife/church planter/leader I am.
And yet, I know that the light I try to light myself will never be strong enough to keep me from lying down in torment; just how Jeremiah reminds me that “cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength” (17:5) and David declares, “the sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply” (psalm 16:4)
And, strangely, that’s a good thing. What a grace it is that He lets my sorrows multiply as I chase after false promises or don’t believe in the truths of scripture. My light is like a match that burns bright and quick, but for a moment, and then I’m burned if I don’t blow it out quickly enough. If I felt blessed doing life in my own strength, I would never depend on Him, or get the promises of Ephesians 3 which put God in His rightful place:
“Now to HIM who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to HIM be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever, Amen.”
And I go back to praying and repenting and preaching over and over again …
it is God who lights my path, the LORD my God lightens my darkness.
*I’m going to follow up this post with a continuation in a few days about the treasures hidden in the darkness, so stay tuned and check back in!!
I have an MRI coming up this week. As I was talking with Ryan about the schedule of events for the day – the MRI, the Neurologist appointment, the kids and babysitter, Ryan remarked, “you mean you’re going to be laying inside the MRI tube for an entire hour!? What are you going to do!?” It was a little funny to me since I’ve had long MRI’s before and it just seems normal now, so my response was “the same thing I always do! Grab onto a piece of scripture I’ve memorized and let my wandering thoughts settle on a truth to replay again and again in my mind and heart.”
Not that I do this perfectly. I want to be better at scripture memory. I go in and out of working hard at it or forgetting about it completely. However, I can tell you that those verses I memorized in 5th grade for Bible Drill are still stuck in my brain. I can tell you that if I didn’t have scripture memorized, that first really scary MRI when the specialist said “tumors can cause this kind of blindness in your eye. You need an MRI immediately” I would have been a mess. So it’s become a habit. Preparing for an MRI for me (if I know about it and have time to prepare) means making sure I have an arsenal of truth ready.
I need a rich soil to sink my roots deeper into while I lay still and someone takes photos of my future as the lesions in my spine and brain want to predict it. Whatever story demyelination and active or old lesions want to say, I have a better story. A story that begins and ends with King Jesus who is the ultimate Author of every story and holds me and those lesions and rogue white blood cells in His very capable and tender hands. It’s a story that must be recited to my mind and heart as often as possible through the truth of Scripture.
All that being said, I want to share these words I wrote to a sweet friend, who truly has no choice but to cling to Jesus with everything within her, recently as I gave her a bible marked with all my truth claiming passages. But I needed the reminder of my words and maybe you do to, so her are some of my words to her (and me & you)…..
As I marked and placed tabs on these specific verses just for you, I couldn’t help but think about how sometimes, you aren’t going to feel the truths in these passages, but claiming them as truth and speaking them loudly and clearly to your heart will be necessary. The Word must be preached to our hearts because our hearts will falter. There will be moments when the Word has be to spoken out loud and claimed as true, by you, and also those around you claiming and clinging to the truth for you, even when you can’t.
I have marked verses that lament; verses that cry for help; verses that shout God’s goodness, provision, and praise; verses that allow you to sit in the darkness and trust even when you can’t see….physically or spiritually. My prayer is that the eyes of your heart will be enlightened — that you may know, to the very depths of your being, the hope He has called you to, the fullness of the life He has for you, and the immeasurable greatness of His power.
May you know these things to, friend, as you read this. May you be stirred to sink your roots deep into the depths of His beauty, praise, goodness, glory and promise. Not because it’s a checklist, but because it’s a lifeline.
It’s the greatest story ever told and you, like me, will need to be reminded of the truest and best story as the world tries to write another one for us.
I am tearful, joyful, and convicted as I write this. I need to go get my arsenal of truth and beauty ready, calling my mind to action so that I can behold my Savior, the Author of my story, more fully and clearly. I hope you can too.
**I’ll share with you some of my favorites and some I’m working on right now in case you need some fresh ideas or want to join me in this work of abiding:
Psalm 16, 18, 23, 34, 62, 145; Isaiah 26:1-2, 40, 55; Jeremiah 17:5-10; Ephesians 1, 2:1-10, 3:14-2; Romans 8; John 15.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve journeyed the path of burden-bearing, utter desperation for God, and worshiping Him alongside lament, frustration and even anger, if I’m being honest, at the suffering of my friends. I’ve been hesitant to polish up the thoughts of my journaling and journeying and place them here, like I typically do (even though I wouldn’t truly call this blog “polished”!), because I’m about to say that lament is a good thing, even a necessary thing. We rarely see lament as a good thing – as something to be talked about. We want to flee, or fix, or hide when the tears turn on and the questions start being asked that have no answer. But the truth is, we all, even this week, have experienced the sting of brokenness, life, death, limitations, or affliction in some capacity, and probably need to face it.
If you’re around our church at all, you’ve felt this sting communally over the last couple of weeks in gut-wrenching ways. What we do with this is the looming question, even if you don’t dare to ask it aloud. How do we walk out the tension of simply joys and laughter alongside heart breaking news and unanswered questions?
In my crying out to God, weeping, and burden bearing for my friends and congregation, I’ve come again to the purity that is in desperation, the worship that is in lament, and the sweetness of the Lord that is only tasted amidst affliction.
Here’s where the Psalms come in. They are full of honesty and reality; beauty and pain; worship and lament. They give words to our hearts, because I think, if we’re honest, we avoid grieving and loss at all costs. We avoid our limitations and fears. And yet, David teaches his people to lament, and even tells them to learn how to lament well in 2 Samuel 1. What is it in us that wants to hide from it? In regard to this, Eugene Peterson exhorts us:
“Pain isn’t the worst thing. Being hated is the worst thing. Being separated from the one you love isn’t the worst thing. Death isn’t the worst thing. The worst thing is failing to deal with reality and becoming disconnected from what is actual. The worst thing is trivializing the honorable, desecrating the sacred. What I do with my grief affects the way you handle your grief; together we form a community that deals with death and loss in the context of God’s sovereignty, which is expressed finally in the resurrection….We don’t become mature human beings by getting lucky or circumventing loss, and certainly not by avoidance and distraction. Learn to lament. We’re mortals after all…Take up your cross. It prepares us and those around us for resurrection.” (Leap Over a Wall, but I read it here: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Day by Day)
I long more for heaven for myself and those around me as I desperately cry for God to heal even here on earth. When I’m desperate, Jesus does this purifying work in me and those around me, when I persist in prayer…again and again…and with others! He purifies my desires and reminds me that this isn’t all there is, and yet, He cares immensely about the physical as well as the spiritual – He did weep for his friends and raise Lazarus, after all.
There is a work God can do only in the desperation and only in the loneliness it may bring. I long for my friends and pray for my friends, but I cannot do a work in them like the Holy Spirit can. I am burdened for the Lord to work, heal, and meet them right where they are. For His power and presence and goodness to be felt and tasted. I am burdened; and yet, I don’t shoulder it alone. And God works in me as I am burdened for others and myself. A deeper work. A work we didn’t ask for but we need. A work that is done as we see and say: God is good; no matter what. And as we say that, we let our lament become worship and we mysteriously taste and see that the Lord is good in new and deeper ways. He will do more than all we ask or imagine.
I pray you worship Him in your lament, and not apart from it; to feel the sting of pain, and yet feel a deeper comfort that the Lord promises to bring; to know that God is only ever good, and is ultimately The Victorious One.