Mystery. That was my “word” for the year 2017. While I’m not settled on a word yet for 2018, I am reminded that this word, mystery, has been transforming and formative this past year.
God has reminded us this year that though we live in a state of mystery, He knows no mystery. He, who is mysterious and yet allows us to know Him, is not surprised, confounded, or caught off guard. Matt Papa in his song “I Have A Peace” says,
“I don’t know what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future”
What a grace. May we know that our Who is greater our “what”. In His grace and mercy He doesn’t allow us to see the path laid out ahead of time – we aren’t who we will be when we get further down the road and don’t have the grace, the manna, for that later time yet, whether it’s tomorrow or thirty years from now. I struggle here. I am fearful of the far-out future. And I realize when I fear the far out future, or anything, that I’m not looking at Jesus. Because if I was looking at Jesus – not looking at myself, not looking at where I think I will be in the future – I wouldn’t fear. I would fall more in love with the One who holds the future securely in His perfect, loving, stable hands.
This leads to a conviction – I have a tendency to idolize myself, thinking more of me than of Jesus. I easily forget what Jeremiah calls us to remember:
“Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm! Nothing is to hard for you.” (Jeremiah 32:17)
Instead, I’m more likely to resonate with the prophet’s bold and soul shocking words from the Lord,
“But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:11-13)
That’s some bold language that I have, previously, skipped over. I’ve skipped over the truth that God calls the heavens to be absolutely shocked and desolate about that staunch reality that His people choose themselves – their limited knowledge, their apparent control, their unquenchable idols – over Him. His perfect peace, His unfathomable power, His unlimited knowledge, His magnificent beauty…He alone is immeasurable in all these things. He is infinite and yet His people, in their finite knowledge, wisdom, power, and ability, chose themselves. This is me – no finger pointing here. Thankfully His grace knows no bounds and His chain-breaking, darkness-rescuing, unrelenting love breaks through by convicting me and inviting me to Himself over and over again.
Robert Murray McCheyne sums up the invitation beautifully:
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jer. 17:9. Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief! Live much in the smiles of God. Bask in his beams. Feel his all-seeing eye settled on you in love, and repose in his almighty arms. . . . Let your soul be filled with a heart-ravishing sense of the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in Him. Let the Holy Spirit fill every chamber of your heart; and so there will be no room for folly, or the world, or Satan, or the flesh.”
Ten looks at Christ for every look at self. I think on this quote often, desiring for it to be a reality in my mind and heart, looking always and often for Jesus – the fountain of living waters, instead of creating broken cisterns for myself. Maybe that’s my word for 2018 – watch.
To watch for the Light.
To gaze upon Jesus.
To look for Him in all the moments that will come.
And in seeing Him more, worrying about me less. Idolizing my comforts, fears, and sense of control less. Letting my soul be so overwhelmingly filled with Him that there’s no place broken cistern making.
Whether its my word or your word or not, may we all watch for Him – trusting Him more, loving Him more and resting in His all-sufficient power, love, and grace.
This may sound silly, but I’m always hesitant to start writing in a new journal…. I start filling up the last page and back cover of the old journal even more with tiny, illegible words and thoughts, cramming letters into the crevices of the worn out book, even though a fresh empty book longing to be filled may very well sit beside me. This has been particularly true since my MS diagnosis. Each time I feel like there’s such a fullness contained in the journal that I’m leaving behind. As if I’m going on a new unknown adventure and am scared to leave the old, known, familiar, wrinkled pages of the old journal (aka, adventure) behind. At this point you either: 1 – think I’m crazy, 2 – completely agree, or 3 – feel opposite because you are a journal-er and get excited about the new journal and blank pages waiting to be filled….and maybe I’m still a little weird regardless…
All that to say…I feel like my old journal is known – I know what pages I wrote certain scriptures, quotes, and prayers. I can fall back into it knowing it will speak truth to me. The crisp fresh new pages of the next journal (or phase of life) are beautiful and daunting all at the same time.
I imagine we all find ourselves in this place at some time or another, when a new portion of the journey, adventure, or mountain to climb awaits. Uncertainty, excitement, fear, and hope, all mingled into one giant mountain of mystery. I’ll get to the point….
I decided to start off the first page of my newest journal with a reminder of a truth that never changes, regardless of the circumstance or emotion, from the beginning of the day until the end, the beginning of the journal until the end…. here’s it is:
In Christ and because of His justification:
I have nothing to prove. I am fully known and dearly loved. I am fully forgiven. I am fully clothed in Christ’s righteousness. I am cherished, accepted and delighted in. I am no longer in the courtroom of condemnation or comparison because the verdict is in. Because of Christ’s work on the cross, It. Is. Finished. I brought nothing to my righteousness except my sin. I did nothing on the cross except bring my sin. He choose me because He loves me – because of Him, not me. However royally I mess things up or however wonderfully people applaud my gifts or my good day of getting it done and doing it right – that truth never changes.
I’m tempted to put myself back on trial for the “good” I’ve done or the bad, but the courtroom with the devil is no place for a beloved daughter of the King to be. I’ve nothing to prove because it is finished.
You too friend. You too. Let’s get up and live in that. The freedom and joy it brings is indescribable. It changes everything. To very briefly summarize Watchman Nee’s excellent book based on Ephesians, let’s sit in Christ’s righteousness as our own, walk out of His love for us speaking and living love to others, and stand against the schemes of Satan (Sit, Stand, Walk).
Now, do I do this perfectly or daily even? Absolutely not. I’m the biggest sinner I know and hopefully I will continue to see and know myself that way so that I will cling to His grace even more and judge others even less.
May our roots go deeper into His limitless love friends. I’ll close with some stanzas from the hymn, Rock of Ages:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure.
Not the labors of my hands
Can fulfill thy laws demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save and thou alone
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress;
Helpless, look to thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.
(Scriputres that speak of what I said in this post today so you can build your arsenal of truth: Ephesians, Deuteronomy 7:6-8, Romans 5:1, 1 Peter 2:24, Romans 4:5, John 19:30 to name a few!)
A friend once told me, “Worry about tomorrow saps my strength for today”. That truth has hummed in my heart ever since. And, not only does worry steal my strength; worry over tomorrow causes me to miss the gifts He has for me today. The truth is that in the gospel, in Christ, there are thousands of gifts waiting to be seen – gifts always pointing to and drawing us to the ultimate gift – God Himself. He promises to be enough, completely sufficient. And because He is enough, He gives me grace for today, not tomorrow. If He gave me grace for tomorrow ahead of time, I wouldn’t need or depend on Him. Today, I have to trust He will provide it tomorrow. Today, I have to see what He has for me in this moment. This mundane moment. This overwhelming moment. The truth is, the grace He gives for today is enough. I have to trust the grace He will give for tomorrow and for 57 years from now will be enough as well.
The thought “manna” rings in my mind.
Manna for today. In the desert, when the Israelite’s tried to hold onto the manna that God had provided for that one particular day, it rotted. It caused unneeded problems. It was a gift needing to be received by hands that were open, not grasping and clenching the gift, asking it to provide life for tomorrows needs.
People always ask me “what was the hardest transition? 2 to 3 kids? 3 to 4 kids?” My answer is always the same. It is a resounding – ZERO to ONE! It was the first time I ever had to die to myself – like, really and truly. I think while it is a good question, behind the question the root is probably something along the lines of, “will I have enough grace or strength or time or love to give to the next kid?”
And the answer is No. You don’t. I don’t
But I have within me, literally INSIDE of me, the ONE who does! And He gives me grace for what He gives me – and not a moment before. Although, sometimes ,I will admit, it doesn’t feel like I have the grace needed for the hard conversation, the mourning over a loss, the embarrassing temper tantrum, the mystery of the unknown, or the feelings of inadequacy for what I’m called to do. That’s the moment when I have to speak loud and clear to myself instead of passively listening. Because contrary to the Disney princess mantra, the heart is actually deceitful above all things and it should not be followed, but led. (ok, heart rant over and back to HIM giving me grace for what He gives me!)
Richard Sibbes reminds me that, “God knows we have nothing of ourselves, therefore in the covenant of grace he requires no more than he gives, but gives what he requires, and accepts what he gives.” (The Bruised Reed)
Amen. And I’ll leave you with that beautiful truth friends.
It’s been exactly one year now since we found out I that I have multiple sclerosis. (you can read more here) It doesn’t feel like it can be a year. I’ve mourned, cried, questioned, feared, and sat in a pit of despair. I’ve willfully trusted, looked to Jesus as my rescuer and hero, and worshipped in the midst of it. I realize it’s only been year, and there is far more to come, but I want to remember this: there’s far more that I get from MS than MS can take from me.
And so, as I reflect I can truthfully, although painfully, say: I wouldn’t change it. I wouldn’t change God’s plan for my life. Of course, I would never choose this for myself, which is exactly why I would never choose Jesus for myself! My flesh wouldn’t pick this. Any yet, my Spirit is resolved to God’s will and plan; even though that’s scary to actually write the words, “there’s far more that I get from MS than MS can take from me”. However, I am getting to taste and see that the Lord is good. I get to see Him in control. I get to see Him loving me. I get to see Him using me. I get to trade in my self protective “running and hiding” tendencies for looking at the new adventure straight in the face and seeing sorrow that is a servant to my joy.
I wouldn’t trade the scales of the eyes of my heart falling off to see His abundance, His power and His goodness. I’ve been awakened to pain, suffering, and questions. But, MORE than that, I’ve been awakened to God’s Word in new ways – it is alive, sweet and nourishing. Jesus – His Word – sustains my life. Knowing God’s character – His holiness, limitlessness, might, power, sovereignty and love – makes the questions okay, because I get to know and to see Him more fully.
What joy it is to say along with L.B. Cowman, “He has chosen me. Sickness you may intrude into my life, but I have a cure standing ready – God has chosen me. Whatever occurs in the valley of tears, I know He has chosen me.” (Streams in the Desert). I look back and see where Ryan wrote in my bible when we were at the hospital, “our theology must become our doxology”. And I see how much that has changed everything. If I didn’t believe God was completely sovereign over everything – from salvation to interruptions, to multiple sclerosis – I wouldn’t have been able to trust Him this way, because if He’s not sovereign over this, working all things for my good and His glory, then that makes him a little like me. And, I know that I need Him to be absolutely different from me – perfectly Holy, limitless, mysterious, powerful and good beyond imagining.
I want to experience this adventure in its entirety. I’m reminding myself as I write this, that this IS an adventure. What an adventure it is. I’ll close with what Russ Ramsey says: “I do not want simply to endure my affliction. I want to experience it – to receive it as an adventure and follow it to its end. Knowing that I come to this season having seen the world only through the eyes of the well, I ask God to help me see whatever this struggle might reveal.” (Struck) Amen, brother. Amen.
I had a good MRI a couple weeks ago, from the brain through the spine. Meds and alternative strategies seem to be working well and I got a good report (for the first time!). As we left the MS clinic at The Shepherd Center, Ryan reminded me of this verse: Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. (Psalm 20:7) Or we could say, some trust in MRIs and doctors, but we trust in the Lord. We can take the good as we’ve taken the bad and our trust has to remain the same – steadfastly in the Lord – taking good news as a gift to be received, but not necessarily grasped and clung to for dear life, as if the gift provides the life. As Augustine says: “It is easy to want things from the Lord and yet not want the Lord Himself, as though the gift could be preferable to the Giver.”
It’s almost easy for me to trust in the big “scares”…I do say almost because I waver and still, He meets me in my wavering. The small things, on the other hand, the things I think I have control over and am sufficient to handle – those I forget and I make my flesh my strength….and I’m cursed in it. As Jeremiah 17 reminds me: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the dessert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in parched places of the wilderness…Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought.” The image of the tree associated with this verse is so deeply meaningful to me it is tattooed on my wrist as a constant and permanent reminder of WHO planted me and to sink my roots deep into His soil, trusting Him.
It also reveals to me when I live “cursed”…Cursed in the way that my mind can’t turn off, can’t stop the comparison trap, can’t stop until everything is “perfectly” done, and tries to forecast the future protect myself. It’s tiring. Even in the good days – the days where the kids do well and we’ve accomplished in school what we (I) set out to accomplish, and we talked about Jesus and read the bible and prayed and got along, and on and on…I’m cursed in my mind when I trust in that because I HAVE TO MAKE IT HAPPEN AGAIN.
And I can’t. Because it wasn’t completely up to me in the first place. I lead and parent and plan and teach, yes. However, if my hope for myself and my identity lies in how all those things go, then I’m jumping into a ditch – either way.
Usually when I’m in this place, and the past two weeks it’s especially been in my ability to school our children proficiently, I realize I’m looking to myself way to much.
Can I have a “life-quote”? Well, either way, this is it: “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely….Let the Holy Spirit fill every chamber of your heart; and so there will be no room for folly, or the world, or Satan, or the flesh.” (want a bit more? check out this article!)
I am my own idol when I think let me good days make me feel superior and my bad days cause me worry and feelings of “not enough”. They are two sides of the same coin of myself being an idol. When the kids obey and our schooling goes well and I’m not running on fumes at 4pm, I long to praise God for the gift instead of letting it provide life for me. It cannot provide life and hope and security. In the same way, on the bad days, when there’s hard news or the kids are crazy and I’m incredibly embarrassed by at least one of them and wonder where in the world they came from; I can praise God because the verdict on my life is in and He says that in Him I am enough.
I am fully known, fully flawed, and fully approved of IN Christ. Not in my good works or in my bad works.
And in Christ? YOU are too, friend.
I’ll leave you with a profound thought from the Puritan writer, Richard Sibbes:
“We must not judge ourselves always according to present feeling, for in temptations we shall see nothing but the smoke of distrustful thought. Fire may be raked up in the ashes, though not seen. Life in the winter is hid in the root. We must beware of false reasoning, such as: because our fire does not blaze out as others, therefore we have no fire at all. By false conclusions we may come to sin against the commandments in bearing false witness against ourselves. The prodigal would not say he was no son, but that he was not worthy to be called a son (Luke 15:19). We must neither trust to false evidence, nor deny true; for so we should dishonor the work of God’s Spirit in us, and lose the help of that evidence which would cherish our love to Christ, and arm us against Satan’s discouragements.” (The Bruised Reed)
Oh peace, why do I often forfeit you? Why do I so quickly let outward things interrupt you? Why do we chase after peace and attempt to grab it as if it is something tangible – something that can be held or created by human will power? I’m a fan of discipline, and setting our minds on things above and renewing them all day long because it is needed and life giving, but do I think I can create and manage it on my own?
The peace of God isn’t interrupted. The peace of man is. It doesn’t mean we are superficially happy all the time and forget to “be” where we are, lamenting and grieving when it is called for…It means that if you’re in Christ the peace you have to pull up from the roots of your being, is unshakeable. The peace of God surpasses all understanding and leaves bystanders wondering, “how?” in a moment of hardship, a long day, or when you “should” be easily frustrated. But peace isn’t totally a mystery. Isaiah reminds us, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts you.” (Isaiah 26:3). Romans 8:6 exhorts us, “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (these verses in their fuller context take on more depth and meaning, check them out! Also, an always applicable Philippians 4!)
How often does my peace get interrupted by endless questions from the 3 year old, a sick child, unexpected news, a rough day, and mundane tasks that never seem to get accomplished?
I don’t want to miss the opportunity, the invitation even, to worship Him in what He has for me today. When do I miss Him in the midst of laundry, hard conversations, and temper tantrums, or fear of the future? When do I miss Him in the midst of excitement, giggles, good stories, a beautiful sunset, and yummy food? With my mind stayed on Him, trusting what He gives – however monotonous or overwhelming – I can worship Him in what He has for me. I long to worship God in what He has for me each day – what He gives me each day, because nothing – nothing – is out of His control.
Here’s what Elizabeth Elliot says is the secret: Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances. I am the same me in any set of circumstances. As the old sayings goes, “wherever I am, there I am”. Do I let my peace get interrupted because I fail to see even interruptions as from the Lord? What if the interruptions are actually the plan? The plan to humble me, love me, transform me, and others around me. Can I see them as gifts, even? Whew. That’s hard, huh? Easy to write as I sit uninterrupted drinking flavored coffee. Almost impossible to remember in the midst of the chaos of the every day crazy, or the monotony that can feel purposeless. Can I quote Elliot again? (Well, I am, because I never grow tired of her wisdom!) She says, “Restlessness and impatience change nothing except our peace and joy. Peace does not dwell in outward things, but in the heart prepared to wait trustfully and quietly on Him who has all things safely in His hands. (Keep A Quiet Heart)
He is my portion and He is enough. He is YOUR portion and He is enough…May we set our minds on that truth and let the peace of God overtake us.
Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you….The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance…I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand I shall never be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure…You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at you right hand are pleasure forever more.