Trust

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it (love) grows perhaps the greater.”  ― J.R.R. Tolkien

In today’s political moment fear is the M.O. of both sides of the political divide. In the September, 2018 issue of the National Review, a conservative magazine, author Michael Tanner writes:

The poets may say that love is the great motivator, but politicians know it is fear that turns out the vote.

Negative campaigning can cross a line into something more insidious, something that plays on atavistic emotions and tears at our social fabric. That type of fearmongering needs to be guarded against.

After all, the fact is that we really don’t need to be afraid.

Take terrorism, for example. Your chances of being killed by a terrorist are somewhat smaller than your chances of accidentally drowning in the bathtub. The chance of an American perishing in a foreigner-perpetrated terrorist attack on U.S. soil is one in 3.6 million per year.

The of fear-based politics is not just that it leads to bad policies but that it can change the very nature and character of the country. As we become more and more fearful of “the other,” we become both less tolerant and more willing to accept restrictions on our basic liberties.

Candidates who play on our fears are thus a far bigger threat to our nation’s short—and long-term health than any of the dangers they exaggerate in order to do so.

Companies capitalize on our desire for peace of mind to sell us anything from luxury automobiles, to credit cards, to supplemental insurance. Allstate Insurance Company’s logo is actually a pair of hands. And at the conclusion of every Allstate commercial you hear in the deep, baritone voice of that actor say, “You’re in good hands with Allstate.”

Most of us live under the illusion that we are in control of our lives.  But the fact of the matter is you and I don’t control our own heartbeat, breathing or bodily functions. We don’t control our spouses, and those who try, are high percentage candidates for a second and third marriage.

I used to say prayers with my sons when they were little every night. One night when it was my four-year-old’s turn to pray his voice was soft and quiet and I could barely hear him, so I leaned over to him and said, “Clinton, speak up, I can’t hear you.” He looked at me and said, “I’m not talking to you.”

Did you teach your children to pray at bedtime?

Young Jewish mothers would recite portions of an ancient poem to their little children to help them drift off to sleep. And one of the clips of verse they might have put to a tune to soothe their little ones was:

Into Your hand I commit my spirit;
You have redeemed me, O Lord God of truth. Psalm 31:5

So, it only makes sense that 2,000 years ago in a humble home in Israel a very young Jewish mother would rock a little dimpled-handed and chubby cheeked baby, tuck him into bed, and say this prayer over him as his eyes closed in sleep. Then as he grew under her tender care they would recite these words together.

You remember the story of the crucifixion of Jesus and know that he had been beaten, brutalized, and abandoned on a cross. And as his last breaths are leaving his battered body, maybe he glanced at his mother when he closed his eyes and whispered to his heavenly father that famous prayer from the cross,

Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit. Luke 23:46

Jesus puts himself into the hands of the God that he knows is trustworthy. He’d been singing that song all is life.

No matter how bad it gets, we have a promise from God’s Word that He will lift us up. The cross and the resurrection are God’s proof of his faithfulness.

When I was about 5 years old my family and I lived in Zephyr, Texas. The house that we lived in had a field out back that pastured two mean, old gnarly rams. My brother who was 4 or so and I were forbidden to play in the field with the rams. My dad reminded us that they were mean and dangerous. My dad knew about these things, for he knew all things.

We had a blast exploring the creek that wound through the mesquite grove. We fought epic battles and defended our positions and won the day. When our last foe was vanquished, we made our way back to the fence that bordered our back yard. In the corner of that part of the field there were two wooden pallets that were on their edge to form a solid corner and a makeshift ladder over the fence.

After my little brother had scaled the fence it was my turn. I had my hand on the top of the wood when I heard snorting from behind. I wheeled and saw that I was face-to-face with the old, mean, gnarly rams. They were mad. They shook their heads and blew snot out of their noses. I started to cry. For these were not pretend enemies, these were real. With his head lowered, the biggest one hit me full-on in the stomach slamming me against the wooden corner. I screamed as if this were a dragon blowing fire into my face. The ram backed up and charged again, slamming me for a second time into the wood.

I had never been attacked by a sheep before. I believed I was going to die. Suddenly in the midst of that horror, as the ram was charging in for the kill, I felt a strong hand grab the back of my collar and pull me up with such force that the ram missed me and head butted the wood barrier instead. I saw blue sky as I rocketed upward and then felt two strong arms squeeze me tightly until the tears stopped.

It was my father.

I don’t know what’s troubling you, but whatever it is tonight when you lay your head on your pillow maybe the Father is saying to you, “Child, just be still and toss those troubles up here and go to sleep. There’s no use both of us staying up all night.”

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Gratitude

What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me? Psalm 116:12

Parents have a question that they ask their children. All parents do this. After someone gives their child a gift or does them a favor, the parent will say to the child, “what do you say?” How is a kid supposed to respond?

“Thank You.”

What do you say to Aunt Ramona for her Velveeta Cheese, Spam, and Lima Bean casserole?  When parents ask that, they aren’t really asking a question. They are telling you to say the appropriate thing. They would be surprised if we would have said, “Aunt Ramona, what in the name of heaven were you thinking? Aunt Ramona you should not be allowed to prepare meals, someone should put you away.”

No. That is not the proper response. “Thank You,” is the proper response.

Our parents would have also been surprised if we would have said, “Aunt Ramona, I have a sense of awe and wonder at what I have just experienced. I’m a child. Without an adult providing for me as you have done, I would die, and yet you have done it freely as an act of love and service for me. Aunt Ramona, you are a humanitarian and in the name of children everywhere, I salute you.”

But parents know that even if a child doesn’t feel gratitude yet, we want them to learn to offer thanks.

Gratitude is really simple. What do you say?

The truth about gratitude is that none of us can force ourselves to feel grateful any more than parents can do that with little kids. But we can position ourselves for gratitude by paying attention to the grace that God has lavishly given to us.

You see the life of the Christ-follower is one large, vibrant, full-throated “Thank You!” for God’s staggering grace. We live lives of service to God, not out of obligation, but out of deep gratitude that swells and pulses through our whole lives.

All of our lives—every ounce of it—every dish that is washed, every wound that is healed, every nail that is driven, every note that is sung, every biscuit that is baked, every deed that is done, every smile that is offered—-every part of our lives is an offering of gratitude to the one who thought us up.

It is important to remind ourselves that we don’t keep the commands of Scriptures, we don’t do deeds of kindness, we don’t go to church and pray in order to get God’s favor. We do all of those things because it’s the language of gratitude to the God who sacrificed his son to save us.

The Jeep trail going to Hancock Pass in Buena Vista, Colorado.

If you are cynical of faith; if you could be completely honest perhaps it is hard for you to wrap your mind, much less your heart around the idea of faith at all. I wonder if you would do a little inventory of your heart and ask yourself what is that compulsion inside you when breathe the smell of summer rain, or you see the golden colors of the Aspen this time of year, or the laughter of a child. I wonder what you will do with the off chance that something that you have longed for to happen, against all odds, comes true for you.

That pull inside you when you hear a piece of music that makes you weep. What will you do with that? May I encourage you to process and puzzle over it before you move on to another task?

The Christian story will tell you that these moments are not utterly meaningless. They are generous gifts from a gracious God who longs to connect with you.

I love what G.K. Chesterton said, “The worst moment for an atheist is when he is really thankful and has no one to thank.”

What do you give back to an omnipotent, omniscience, omnipresent God who has come down into the grave to rescue you from the Pit?

Years ago, when I was a very young pastor, I heard a sappy story in a sermon, but I’ve never forgotten it. Here is the gist of the story:

A nine-year-old boy from a very poor home came to church for the first time. He had no idea how to behave. The little kid just sat there, clueless of what was going on.  A few minutes into the service these tall unhappy guys walked down to the front and picked up some wooden plates.  One of the men prayed and the kid with utter fascination watched them walk up and down the aisles. He still didn’t know what was going on.

All of a sudden like a bolt of lightning it hit the kid what was taking place.  These people must be giving money to Jesus. He immediately searched his pockets, front and back, and couldn’t find a thing to give Jesus.

By this time the offering plate was being passed down his aisle and with a broken heart he just grabbed the plate and held on to it. He finally let go and watched it pass on down the aisle. He turned around to see it passed down the aisle behind him.  And then his eyes remained glued on the plate as it was passed back and forth, back and forth all the way to the rear of the sanctuary.

Then he had an idea. This little nine-year-old boy, in front of God and everybody, got up out of his seat. He walked about eight rows back, grabbed the usher by the coat and asked to hold the plate one more time.

Then he did the most astounding thing. He took the plate, sat it on the carpeted church floor and stepped into the center of it. As he stood there, he lifted his little head up and said, “Jesus, I don’t have anything to give you today, but just me. I give you me!”

When you begin to realize that every single breath you and I breathe, is because God wills it; when you understand that every selfish act, every evil thought, all of our sin has been wiped off the books; when you look at the cobalt blue sky over a mountain valley, when you watch a humming bird in flight, when you hear a baby laugh uncontrollably at the mere sight of a puppy, what can you possibly give back to express your gratitude?

You.

Give Jesus yourself. All of you.

And so, my friend, may you embrace the unfathomable grace of God in the cross of Jesus and the countless daily good things that come your way and live a good life of gratitude.

What do you say?

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Overcoming Despair

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God. Psalm 42:11

Many of you might have heard of the pastor in California that took his own life this week. Andrew Stoecklein, 30, lead pastor of the Inland Hills Church in Chino, about 40 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, had recently returned to his church duties after time away to deal with depression and anxiety.

Chino police said they were called to the church last Friday after the pastor made a suicide attempt inside the church. The pastor eventually succeeded in taking his own life the next day.

There is a despair that is circumstantial in its source. You lose your job. Someone close to you dies or gets a terminal disease or you don’t have enough money. This type of despair or depression typically respond to prayer, scripture reading, encouragement from friends.

But then there is a despair that is organic in its source, like hypertension, diabetes, and a thyroid problem. All the bible study and prayer in the world will not help you win that battle. This type of despair or depression needs medical and professional attention. If you struggle with this version of despair—seek immediate help.

(National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255)

The Psalmist reminds us:

By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life. (Psalm 42:8)

One of my favorite experiences is early in the morning as my wife is preparing for work; fixing her hair, ironing her blouse, pouring our cereal—there is almost always one of those dreaded contemporary “7-11” praise songs on her lips. She is not even aware of the song. But as I am sipping coffee and reading from another room, I can hear her quietly singing praises to the Lord.

That is a reminder to me of the steadfast love of God in my life.

Then I will go on my walk with my prayer partners, Dexter Dog and Bella the Wonder Dog, and see an eagle on a tall snag watch me walk pass and I am reminded of the promise from Isaiah, “but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

You know I’ve discovered that much of overcoming despair is simply putting one foot in front of the other day-by-day with the Lord. As author Annie Dillard has said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Nineteen years ago, this October, my life imploded because of my sinful choices and I nearly lost everything that was nearest and dearest to me. My life was a shamble and I needed to step out of ministry for a season to work on restoring my marriage.

During those days all I had to cling to was the love of my wife, sons, family, a very few friends…and my faith.

I’ve walked with more than a few people in my thirty-seven years as a pastor who have battled cancer—some winning the battle, and some losing. I’ve never had a serious battle with physical cancer, personally. But I will tell you that for three years I fought a darkness in my heart and soul that I never thought would lift. I would find myself sitting in unknown airports because of the secular job I had at the time, homesick, self-pity dripping from my pours like sweat on an July summer day—and tears flowing down my sad cheeks like rivulets of pain.

I went to counseling, I wrote in my journal, kept my repentance ever before me; and yet during all those early years of maintaining my integrity, doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with my God…often my heart was darker than black velvet.

But then that all changed.

If you would have come to me in those dim days and told me that one day a young pastor named Jason, would ask me to come be his executive pastor at a Church in Mukilteo, Washington; then we he left to pastor a Church in North Carolina, that Church would ask me to lead them and preach to them, and then there would come a time when ten young pastors might dare call me their pastor; then a beautiful church in the mountains of Colorado would unanimously invite me to come care for their souls…I would have laughed at you with a hellish laugh, “Not me! I’m finished. God has not forgotten me, but He certainly has no use for a broken-down retread like me.”

But sometime during those early days of pain, I started talking to God again and I began to remember His steadfast love.

The way he saved me at age seven, the way he called me to preach his Gospel at age nine, the way he restored my marriage and gave me place again in the Body of Christ. I remembered that my wife adores me,
my sons respect me, and my grandchildren want to sit in my lap and let me tell them stories. I found a way up and out of my despair because I started talking to God again, and you can too.

“Fidelity” by Briton Rivière (1869)

This week I found these words particularly profound from a preacher named George Lorimer. Lorimer was born in Scotland in 1838 and had ambitions of becoming an actor in America. When he arrived here he converted to Christianity and began to study to be a minister. He eventually became pastor of the First Baptist Church of Chicago and had a successful ministry.

One of the temptations we face as care-givers and Christ-followers is to always be ready to give a plucky platitude and say many words to those who are suffering from despair. Often, we sound like Job’s friends—many words, but little comfort. Listen to these old words from pastor Lorimer:

“Believe me, it’s no time for words when the wounds are fresh and bleeding; no time for homilies when the lightning’s shaft has smitten, and the man lies stunned and stricken. Then let the comforter be silent; let him sustain by his presence, not by his preaching; by his sympathetic silence, not by his speech.”(George C. Lorimer)

When the dark days come may you be silent before your God and ache for him, listen for his divine whisper, and offer him your feeble praise and wait for the sun to shine again.

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Hands of Hope

I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. ~ Psalm 16:8

All of us remember on January 28, 1986 the horror of seeing the Space Shuttle Challenger explode over the Atlantic Ocean. What you may not know is that seconds after the explosion the personal recorder of Christa McAuliffe captured another astronaut saying to her, “Give me your hand.”

Whose hand are you holding these days?

Through the person and work of Jesus, the living God takes frail and hopeless people like you and me by the hand and leads us through all of our uncertain “todays,” into our ultimate “tomorrows” with God forever—and doesn’t ever let us go.

About twenty-five years ago I took my oldest son Cole on his first backpacking trip.  It was dark on the Rainbow Trail that traversed the Sangre De Christo Mountains in Colorado. Six-year-old Cole followed close behind me.  After two miles he was struggling to keep up. I had to slow down. He kept asking if he could hold my hand, but the trail was so narrow he only could walk right behind me.

So, I grabbed a little stick for him to hold on to one end and me to hold the other—I chose one that would fit his little hand, that was not too heavy for his spindly arms, one that fit just right— then we started to sing a children’s song called Father Abraham over and over again.

Time flew as we sang, laughed and marched in the dark along that trail. Before we knew it, we were at the Lone Tree Meadow where we planned to set up camp and fish in some beaver ponds.

His uncertainty was intensified because he was little, and it was dark, but it was put at some ease because he was connected to his father—through a piece of wood.

How do I need to hang on to the hand of God in these uncertain days?

Are you concerned about physical issues that make tomorrow an uncertainty? You need to hold on to the hand of God that will never let you go. Are you slogging through marriage issues that make tomorrow an uncertain? You need to decide today to hold on with white-knuckle tenacity to the hand of God. Perhaps living alone in your latter years is not what you imagined when you walked down the aisle of a church many years ago. Hold on and find your shelter in the strong hands of God and know that because of the empty tomb every single uncertain “todays” and “tomorrows” are secure in the strong hand of God.

Maybe you have a child or a grandchild that has given up on faith and the church. Hold on to your Father’s hand and remember you once walked in darkness and your life was filled with uncertainty—and yet you found your way back to faith and consistently are found worshipping the Living God.

Do you remember Charles Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities? It’s about Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay. They both love the same young woman, but she marries Charles. They get married and start having children, but this is the French Revolution, so Charles Darnay is arrested, taken to prison, and awaits his execution.

I’m paraphrasing, but on the night before his execution, Sydney Carton, who looks quite a bit like Charles Darnay, sneaks into the prison and says, “Look, Charles. You have a wife. You have a child. Let’s switch places. Let’s exchange clothes and I’ll die in your place.” Charles Darnay says, “No! I will never let you do such a thing!”

Sydney Carton drugs him and he puts his clothes on him. He has some people take Charles out, and he assumes his place in the prison, waiting to be executed.

There is a young woman, a seamstress, who is also about to be executed, and she knew Charles Darnay previously. When she hears he’s there, she seeks him out and starts talking to him. She starts asking if he remembers this, and if he remembers that.

Of course, Sydney Carton is looking away, hoping she doesn’t look too closely, and suddenly she sees. She realizes it’s not Charles Darnay, and her eyes get big, and she says, “Are you dying for him?” He says, “Shhh. Yes, and for his wife and children.”

She says, “Stranger, I have been feeling I am not going to be able to face my death, but could I hold your hand? Because if someone as brave and as loving as you held my hand, I think I’ll be okay.”

They hold hands through the night. And this young seamstress goes to her death with courage and composed peace.

Whose hand are you holding?

May you live your life with hope because you are connected to your heavenly Father through a piece of wood called the cross.

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Narrow Spaciousness

There are hard things in this book (Bible), hard things to hear, hard things to obey. ~ Eugene Peterson

My brother used  to let me stuff him into a hideaway couch and put the cushions on it. I’d sit on the couch and then invite my little sisters to come in for a conversation. I’d make an excuse to leave the room and they would stay seated on the couch. At some point my brother would begin to make noises and movements from inside the couch. It was quite fun to see how high my little sisters could levitate in fear.

He tried to fold me up in the couch but I couldn’t let it happen due to the following story:

One time he and I were playing hide and go seek with those sisters again and I got in the trunk of my mom’s car. My brother had the key, so I knew all would be well. I won the game. The slow-witted sisters never thought to look in a locked trunk.

Came time to get out and begin a new game so my brother inserted the key and turned it the wrong way and the trunk wouldn’t open. I began to threaten him from inside the trunk of the Chrysler and that’s when he panicked and twisted the key too far the wrong way and broke it off inside the lock. When he told me that, all manner of hell broke loose inside that trunk. I screamed. I kicked. I cried. I grabbed the tire iron and began to beat on the trunk as if that would release the lock. It looked like a mechanical octopus tried to escape the locked trunk.

Finally, my brother stuck the key back in and it married up with the broken tip inside the lock and he turned it the right way and the trunk popped open. I was so relieved to be out that I hugged my captor.

Not sure how we explained the trunk lid to my parents.

One time Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate…For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matt. 7:13,14)

That sounds awfully claustrophobic to me, does it to you?

Some of you may have heard the older English translation of this is, “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leads to life.” The word strait there is the older English word strait, not straight. The word s.t.r.a.i.g.h.t. means straight versus crooked, but the old word strait meant to be crushed, to be squeezed, to be strangled.

Sometimes we still use the term he was in dire straits. What does that mean?

Jesus is depicting something that looks like it’s going to crush you or smother you to death. These words mean death, and life means spaciousness. You need air. You need room to breathe, to move about.

In Psalm 18:19 we read,

He brought me out into a spacious place;
he rescued me because he delighted in me.

And yet Jesus says there is this tiny little narrow gate that looks like it’s going to kill you and smother you, but on the other side of it is spaciousness and life, forests and lakes and trees and mountains tipped with snow.

I’ve found that sometimes we Christ-followers can lose our soul-spaciousness. For me, I can always tell I’m losing my spaciousness by how easily I fall prey to looking down on anyone who is living a life I find pitiful. But when I remember how much I have been graced by the generosity of God, I tend to find myself being generous with those in my world who are challenging.

I lose my spaciousness not so much because of sin, but because I forget the gospel.

There is a place in C.S. Lewis’ last of the Narnia chronicles The Last Battle, that describes a scene where the good King Tirian is in a terrible battle, and there’s a tiny stable on a hill.

He has to go in there, and he has reasons to think he’s going to die when he does. Here is how Lewis tells it,

He looked round again and could hardly believe his eyes. There was blue sky overhead, and grassy country spreading as far as he could see in every direction, and his new friends all round him.

“It seems, then,” said Tirian, smiling to himself, “that the stable seen from within and the stable seen from without are two different places.”

“Yes,” said Lord Digory. “It’s inside is bigger than its outside.”

Isn’t that good?

The Jesus-life is bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside. Because in some ways, you leave your old identity behind and give up the right to live the way you want. And as a result, there will be people who will always consider you narrow. Are you ready to go down there?

Here’s what will help you do it.

Jessica McClure was born March 26, 1986 and became famous on October 14, 1987, at the age of 18 months after she fell into a well in her aunt’s backyard in Midland, Texas. Between that day and October 16, rescuers worked for 56 hours to free her from the eight-inch well casing 22 feet below the ground.

It just gives you the chills to even think about it.

That was nothing like the pipe Jesus went down. How big was Jesus? Infinite in size, and he became a human being. How glorious and free was Jesus? Yet He went to the cross. The infinite-sized Jesus was crushed.  Why did he do that? To know the spaciousness of a resurrection and a new heavens and a new earth with you and me in it.

Jesus is calling everyone to a narrowness that leads to spiritual spaciousness—and life.

That is the key that will set you free.

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Prayer as Truth-Telling

“We must lay before him what is in us; not what ought to be in us.” ~ C.S. Lewis

“Into your hand I commit my spirit.” ~ Jesus and David

One of the truths I grip with all my strength is the fact that without suffering in this life we will never know a deep aspect of the character of God—His presence. Jesus promised us that we would feel the comfort of our heavenly Father when we mourn, and he said we would experience the blessing of God because of it.

Comfort from our heavenly Father and on top of that “blessing” or “favor” —when we mourn.

When we tell our story of pain, we gain authority over that story. Our painful experience transforms in the telling. I believe that is why there are more Psalms of Lament in the old Jewish hymnbook than any other genre.

The late Dawson Trotman reminds us, “Thoughts disentangle themselves when they flow over the lips and through the fingertips.”

Two things might help you when your heart is broken:

1. Write it out or talk it out.

Describe your pain. Talk about the impact that pain has had on your life to God. Find a spiritual friend with whom you can share your story. Or go for a long drive or walk and yell out your pain to the God who is there. Hold nothing back. He is patient enough and gracious enough to withstand your tantrum. Tell it exactly like it is in your heart.

That is what the psalmist and prophets did over and over again in the Old Testament.

2. Read ancient words of scripture and literature as prayer.

Why did God, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, preserve those ancient prayers of complaint? So that we could pray them back to God. This is exactly what Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross. He prayed those ancient prayers. They gushed out of his soul like water from a rock.

(You can find his references from the Garden of Gethsemane in Psalm 75:8 and from the cross in Psalm 31 and 22.)

A few years ago I was struggling with a season of spiritual melancholy and while camped beside an alpine lake here in Colorado I began to pray aloud the Beatitudes from Eugene Peterson’s version, The Message. And when I did I was shocked to feel a subterranean flow of emotion come through my voice as I read the words.

When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”

The combination of the ancient words with a modern twist and the solitude of that alpine lake caused a spiritual catharsis. I read them aloud about 20 times.

It was very healing.

I was talking to a man recently and he told me of a time when he was a young man in the sixties and was a part of a small group studying the bible and trying to help each other grow in Christ. The man said the group, in a loving way, mentioned to him that they thought resentment was keeping him from deepening his walk with Jesus. They asked him why he was so resentful.

He said, “I told them about my father dying when I was twelve years old. I grew up without a father. I missed my dad. Then, my mother tried to fill that void in a misguided way by becoming overprotective, controlling and domineering.”

The man continued, “The more I talked about my Dad and my Mom, my emotions came closer to the surface of my life.”

He paused. Fighting back tears and through a shaking voice he said, “Joe, I may cry telling you this right now.”

I listened.

He went on to say that the leader of the group suggested to him that he tell God about the pain in his heart. Asked if he had a place where he could really have it out with God. The man said, “I drive 60 miles several times a week to seminary in the car by myself.”

They said that sounded like a good place to meet with God about the pain in his heart.

The man said for months, when he would drive to seminary, he would talk to God about his dad who had died too soon. About his mother and about how abandoned he felt by God. He said it got intense. Said he yelled at God. Said there were times he cussed at God. But then he said that even though his heart was broken by affliction, the pain diminished, and he began to feel the sweet presence of Someone else in the car with him.

And he said, “That’s when hope came and something like a window opened into my soul.”

Maybe you would like to read the words below slowly and out loud from the old Jewish hymnbook (Psalm 86) and let them speak what’s in your heart, not what ought to be in your heart.

Bow down Your ear, O Lord, hear me;
For I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am holy;
You are my God;
Save Your servant who trusts in You!
Be merciful to me, O Lord,
For I cry to You all day long.
Rejoice the soul of Your servant,
For to You, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive,
And abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You.

Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
And attend to the voice of my supplications.
In the day of my trouble I will call upon You,
For You will answer me.

Among the gods there is none like You, O Lord;
Nor are there any works like Your works.
All nations whom You have made
Shall come and worship before You, O Lord,
And shall glorify Your name.
For You are great, and do wondrous things;
You alone are God.

Teach me Your way, O Lord;
I will walk in Your truth;
Unite my heart to fear Your name.
I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart,
And I will glorify Your name forevermore.
For great is Your mercy toward me,
And You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

O God, the proud have risen against me,
And a mob of violent men have sought my life,
And have not set You before them.
But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious,
Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth.

Oh, turn to me, and have mercy on me!
Give Your strength to Your servant,
And save the son of Your maidservant.
Show me a sign for good,
That those who hate me may see it and be ashamed,
Because You, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.

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The Faithfulness of God

This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. Lamentations 3:21-23

When we suffer loss, it is natural for us to grieve. And in our emptiness and sorrow, it is also normal that we focus for a time on ourselves and our misery. However, if our attention continues to be directed inward, we will eventually lose our perspective and our hope.

Life will become a confused mixture of “If only I had…” “I remember when…,” “If I knew then what I know now…,” and “Why…?” Soon guilt, bitterness, self-degradation, permanently scar or ruin a life, sometimes tragically ending it in suicide.

Where is God in all of this? Does He abandon us when we fall on bad times?

C.S. Lewis felt as if that were so after his wife died of cancer. He expressed his thoughts with disquieting honesty in his classic A Grief Observed:

When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels — welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away.

Have you ever felt that way? I certainly have at times in my life. What do you do when you feel abandoned by God during heartbreaking times?

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, is called the weeping prophet. When you read his journal, you understand why. In the midst of sadness and despair, Jeremiah received hope. How did he do it?

“Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed…..” 

Said another way, God’s mercies never cease. Let that seep into your busy mind.

border-collie-terelesNext time you read the 23rd Psalm try to read it from the vantage point of a sheep. Read it wrapped in wool and watch for the Lord’s sheepdogs.

Listen:  “The Lord is my shepherd…..surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…..”

Did you know that the Lord has sheepdogs named “Goodness” and “Mercy”? Every time that I run astray, “Mercy” and “Goodness” is trotting right beside me. Every time I feel distant from God they are following close behind.

That’s what Jeremiah is saying.  The Lord’s mercies never cease.  They are relentless. Isn’t that good news?

“…..His compassions fail not.”

“Compassions” means sympathetic love, concern for the helpless. It always includes “involvement” when it is referring to God.  His compassions never fail.  His heart keeps going out to the prodigal.

Remember the story in Luke 15?  The boy leaves home; but the father doesn’t run after him.  He doesn’t try to bribe him with half the inheritance if he’ll stay.  He lets him go. Just like God does with us. And in that foreign land, the boy spends it all.  He runs out of food, folks, and fun! He decides to go home.  And there he finds the father never moved. In fact, when the father saw him a long way down the road, he ran to his son. His compassion never fails.  When you and I come home He says, “I’ve missed you.”

“…..great is Thy faithfulness.”

How big is “great”?  His faithfulness never diminishes. He won’t forget my name, circumstances, or prayers.  I will never go to God and catch Him off guard.  He doesn’t have to ask the Angel Gabriel to pull my file. He is faithful to know exactly where I am and what I am going through.

He won’t forget me.

When I was a boy growing up in the mountains, I had a Boxer named Heidi. She was my best friend. She followed me on every adventure. I took her hunting. She was not much of a hunting dog. The only animal she could catch was a porcupine. I don’t know if you can imagine what a Boxer and a porcupine fight might be like, but let me just say the dog always loses.

While laying around on the living room floor in front of the fireplace watching grainy and gray episodes of Gunsmoke with my family, I would use her as a pillow.

Heidi the Faithful

One summer I was gone for an extended period of time and upon my return, as we got closer to the house, my heart began to beat a little faster. I missed my mom and dad and my brother and one of my sisters, but the person in my family that I wanted to see first was my dog Heidi.

I asked my mom if she thought that Heidi missed me as much as I missed her. We pulled up in front of our house and I looked for her and looked for her. I couldn’t find her anywhere. She always would meet any vehicle driving into the drive way, but on this day she was not in the yard or on the porch.

So, I went out back and looked down the canyon behind our house. I whistled. Then I heard her let out her “warning bark.” The bark she reserved for strangers. I yelled her name.

Silence.

I called her name again. Suddenly she let out a bark of recognition and started running towards the house. Her tongue flapped out of one side of her mouth like a red scarf flowing in the wind of a World War one bi-plane pilot. Faster and faster she ran towards me until we came together—then she jumped into my arms and licked my face with that washcloth-sized tongue until my face was red and raw.

If a dog will remember a boy after weeks of unexplained absence, you can trust the God of the universe to remember you and be faithful to you.

So, my friend, if you find yourself distant from the Father-heart of God—return to Him. And the second you turn your heart towards home, you will find him leaping off the front porch, and running towards you with open arms.

And that is the safest place for you to be during your afflictions.

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