did not let pride win
healed my rotting heart
I will sing
I will run to you
and thank you
I will dance
I will remember
and not be silent.
writing to remember
did not let pride win
healed my rotting heart
I will sing
I will run to you
and thank you
I will dance
I will remember
and not be silent.
Blogger and author Tim Challies asked this question on Twitter today:
If there was one song you had to sing at every Sunday morning service from now until the day you die, which would it be and why?
This evening Mr. Challies tweeted that hymns outpaced non-hymns 25 to 1 in the 250 plus responses he got to his question. My response was a hymn also: Great Is Thy Faithfulness.
Singing hymns growing up is one of the reasons I heard the gospel. I grew up in a church that doctrinally had it wrong. Their emphasis was on works, not faith in Christ as a gift of God’s grace. But despite the wrong teaching I heard from the pulpit, before each sermon I sang with my church from a book of hymns where I heard:
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.
(Augustus Montague Toplady, 1763)
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.
(Thomas Chisholm, 1923)
The seeds of the truth of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone were planted in my ears from toddlerhood.
Despite the depression and toxic atmosphere that so often permeated the home I grew up in, despite my parents divorce and sinfulness, the sound of my mom singing It Is Well With My Soul and the words she sang while tears poured from her brokenness pierced my angry teenage heart.
And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so—it is well with my soul.
(Horatio G. Spafford, 1876)
And when I was lost and deep in darkness, trying to make a name for myself with The Cure and “mod” clothes as my motif, I found myself in a sea of youth singing Amazing Grace at a conference in Sacramento, California. And there the grace of God appeared to me.
Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!
(John Newton, 1779)
I am so grateful for the men and women who wrote the hymns of old. Their songs were used by God to awaken me to the beauty of Christ. What a treasure!
I decided to write some reflections on hope as I pass through Advent this year.
Advent doesn’t officially start till next Sunday, so this post will be a preface to this series. I hope you’ll join me, or find some devotional like the one here, or here , or here, or just pick up a Bible app and read a passage daily on one of the many options there are for readings through Advent… or follow along with the readings at my church’s app. If you join me here you’ll find me trying to trace hope through the Bible.
If you had to boil down the meaning of Christmas to one word you might say joy or love… both true. But the more I think about it, I would settle on hope as the meaning of Christmas.
Hope in our culture means making a wish. And it’s about as solid as the puff of a dandelion flower. In fact that’s what our culture means when we say hope. We mean wish. We hope for new jobs, better relationships, happier days, healthier bodies, to be married, to be single, to have kids… you get the idea. We wish for our circumstances to change and call it hope. There’s no confidence in it. It’s just something we want.
But that is not Christian hope. It’s not hope in the Bible.
I used the Blue Letter Bible tool to do a word search to find the original word translated hope in the Bible. I found the Hebrew word tiqvah (pronounced tick-vaw). (I’m not a Hebrew scholar… I’m just a curious girl who learned to use a Bible search tool.) So tiqvah literally means a cord.
The first place tiqvh is used in the Bible is where the Israelite spies tell Rahab, the prostitute, that she and her household will be saved from the destruction God is bringing on Jericho if she hangs a scarlet tiqvah out the window, the same tiqvah she used to let them escape safely from the king of Jericho.
Surely it’s no mistake that the word that became the word for hope or expectation in Hebrew is the word for the red rope that saved the spies from Jericho and saved Rahab and her family from the destruction God was bringing.
Hope at Christmastime in 2018 America can feel like a pipe dream to the cynics or a flighty wish to the optimistic. For the depressed, the suffering, the poor, the broken… all of us, hope is something we long for. But so often we don’t know what it is we’re hoping for. The Bible doesn’t give us a pipedream or a wish. Hope in the Bible is a rescue!
The Bible offers hope that deals with the deepest longing we all have to be made right. We are longing to be saved from the judgement we feel the effects of here and sense is coming in greater measure when we stand before our Maker. We look to temporary changes in circumstance and think, “Maybe this will save us. Maybe this will make things right.” But hope can no more come from our circumstances than a rescue from destruction on a city can come from a dandelion flower.
Hope is a scarlet cord woven through the scriptures. Let’s look for it till Christmas comes.
‘Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:13-16
As you’ve probably heard, if you read the word “therefore” you should probably look at what precedes it so you can see what it’s there for.
Before verse 13 Peter breaks down the weightiness of this salvation we have received as Christians. I’ve grown tired of the phrases, “born again” and “saved”. They come with the connotation of a superficial Christiandom that says it’s #blessed and has no sobriety about what it means to be saved or born again. But Peter gets to the down and dirty of what it means to be born again and saved in a way our western evangelical selves have gotten all sterilized and plastic.
Maybe I’m cynical. Maybe it’s because I live with an unbeliever, but for me, all the Christianization of things is nauseating. If Jesus isn’t real, if he doesn’t change the way I think and give me a whole new outlook on life and new desires and affections… if he doesn’t really turn my world upside down then he’s a hoax and I’m a liar. But if I’m really born again I’ll find a whole new kind of life growing in me. And if I’m really saved, that will mean something that’s very sobering. I mean, if “saved” just means put the Christian cherry on top of my devil’s food life then fooey! That’s not saved, that’s sugar-coated. Peter doesn’t say in verses 3-12 that we’ve been sugar-coated. Jesus had things to say about people that said they were saved and evangelized others to make them “saved” when they were really rotten dead walking around in white washed tombs making walking dead in nice suites out of their converts.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” Matthew 23:15
Peter, the one who knows what it feels like to betray Jesus, fall under the weight of that shame and guilt and experience restoration with Jesus, talks about being born again as a radical, life changing experience Jesus does in us. Being born again we love a Savior we have never seen, even while we suffer (vs.6-8). Our affections have been radically changed. It’s like we’ve been born all over again.
And our salvation is just that… a new birth that will grow up (by God’s tremendous grace and mercy) till the day when Christ perfects us at his coming.
Salvation isn’t a ticket out of hell. It’s death to our old self, daily. And new life growing in us, daily.
This is what verse thirteen’s “therefore” is there for. I just see Peter full of expression and passion looking at us with wide eyes after showing us the scandalous wealth we’ve been given in being born anew as God’s own children, saved from the destruction our sin-rotting selves were destined for, and say, “Put your big boy and big girl pants on cause it’s war now! You’ve been utterly changed, and now for the rest of your life here you need a sober perspective. You need to stop putting your hope in people, status, wealth, achievement, health… even this life and you need to fix your eyes on that promises that you’re gonna see Jesus. And when you see him, you’re gonna be made like him. And the war will be over!”
I was born in 1974 to Bob and Verna Deane. In 1990 I was born again to God. And now as His child, I don’t go the way of Bob and Verna and all that my firstborn self had set her hopes on. All those passions I had were due to ignorance. I had no idea how good God was and so I put all my hope in things and people that are not good. As God’s child I am set apart from all that. I don’t live from a place of poverty hoping that some broken person or lying status or temporary wealth will make me satisfied and secure. I live from a place of abundance with confidence in the One who laid down his life for me and took my old passions and all the deadly fruit they bore with him to the cross.
I am holy. Because my Father is holy. And by his grace he is bearing the fruit of his holiness even in me. That’s beyond amazing.
A new series
I’ll be posting a historical-fiction short story this Friday. This first installment of Fiction Friday comes from a piece I submitted to a writing contest. It didn’t win, but it got me thinking I should try to write some fictional pieces more often. I really enjoyed it. Anyway, I’d love it if you joined, and if you’re so inclined to write a short 1500 words or less fictional short story and email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org I’d love post your piece on one of my Fiction Friday posts.
I wonder what the son who betrayed his father’s love and provision, left home squandered it all and came back seeking restoration was like the years before he decided to leave. I wonder if he resisted his father’s love and discipline. I wonder if he threatened that as soon as he was of age, he was out of there!
Obviously I don’t know. And I’m sure scholars who know these things could give me a better historical idea of what a father and son in the ancient Middle East might have typically been like in their culture. But I thought about the prodigal the other day when my oldest son, who will be 15 on Easter Sunday (which also happens to be April Fool’s day) scowled at my every instruction and resignedly breathed out a, “Yes, mom” instead of an argument.
He is the spice of my life and is also the reason I have so many frowning wrinkles in my forehead. My April Fool’s day baby has been testing the boundaries and seeking a thrill since before he turned one.
As an infant, he wouldn’t be held and cuddled. I bought a rocking chair while I was still pregnant with him, but the only time he was still in my arms in that chair was when he was nursing. Once I tried to hold and rock him and he squirmed and wiggled and strained to raise his head. I laughed and starting tickling him and within minutes he was asleep. This boy didn’t want to be rocked to sleep he wanted to be tickled to sleep. Before he turned one he managed to figure out how to escape his crib. And when we decided to put his crib mattress on the floor for his safety he wouldn’t stay in his room at night.
This boy ripped out his first tooth gnawing on a bar stool before he could walk. He fell down a flight of stairs when he was 2 because he was curious about the door we had told him, “No” to. Everywhere we went I worried that he would run in front of a car, or jump in a pool of water or fall off a cliff because he had no fear and boundaries seemed to say, “Come here and test me!”
As I’ve watched my son’s personality come to light I laugh at God’s timing in making April Fool’s day the day he would be born. No mom wants to call their son a fool, but I’m pretty sure that the 15 year old, impulsive, curious, pubescent, strong-willed boy is pictured in the dictionary as the definition of fool. And to be fair, right behind it is the 15 year old, shallow, silly, emotional, pubescent, self-focused girl (that was me at 15). This child loves to make people laugh. He seeks thrills, often without thinking first. He’s curious, especially when there are boundaries. He opens his mouth and at least 5 minutes of senseless arguing about E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G comes out before being corrected for the offensive nonsense that just spilled out or he stops himself and walks away.
I worry about him. I know worrying does nothing to help him or me, but I can’t stop the downpour of stomach acid and tears that come with my daily interactions with this young man I would endure years of obstinance and resistance for.
The other day he looked me in the eye and said, “All I know is as soon as I’m 18, I’m out of here!” He was angry. He’s tired of running into his parents boundaries. And he’s not ready to willingly bend his knee to God or his parents. He’ll acquiesce. He’ll do what we ask after lots of resistance, for now. But the will to run hard into a wall is strong with this one.
That’s hard on a mom. And a dad. But I think it’s hard on a mom even more. I think the dad can let the resistance increase his resolve a little easier than with the mom. With the mom, well, “…a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother.”
I do have hope though. I have hope for the fool because I have been, and still show myself to be, the fool. God broke through my foolishness and gave me wisdom and a heart to love him. He’s done that with many an infamous fool. Nebuchanezzar. Jonah. Paul. Peter…
It’s fitting that April fool’s day is Easter Sunday. Before Christ rose in our hearts and we saw a glimpse of his worth and pledged our hearts to him, we were foolish, stiff-necked, rebellious, children of wrath. We thought we knew better than the One who made us and we were going to do life our own way, thank you very much! Psalm 107 poetically tells what some of us did with our lives when we gave our Maker the finger and set off to do life better than He. We found ourselves ruined and He brought us to our senses like the prodigal son. Then we turned to him, receiving lavish unearned favor and love.
Before my son was born I sought God, asking Him for a scripture that I could cling to and pray over his life. The verse that resonated with me was Psalm 119: 73.
Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments. Psalms 119:73
This little sentence has been my hope over the years for this strong-willed son of mine. He didn’t make himself. God did. And although right now he has no understanding and is like a brutish and ignorant beast (just as I was) before God, the same God who made him is able to give him understanding. He is able to take our foolish ignorance and make us wise. He’s able to make us actually love God’s boundaries and embrace his ways as beautiful.
Before the prodigal left home and chased his self-loving pleasures, he probably spent years chomping at the bit to do so, much to his father and mother’s grief. But the love of the father brought him to his senses.
I don’t want my son to go through ruin. But I do want him to see the love of God in Christ for himself. I want him to want to submit to this God who gave him life. And so, I must trust the one who made him- who knows how to save him.
On Easter Sunday, lots of fools will gather in buildings around the world to worship the one who took them from being brutish and ignorant beasts of rebellion, to fools for Christ’s sake. We, who once gave God the finger with our lives, now fall prostrate in awe of the one who calls us sons and daughters. We came to him filthy and defiled like the prodigals we are and he embraced us and set a new garment of acceptance and worth on us and has called us his own children. A bunch of fools in love with this Jesus we’ve never seen. A bunch of fool’s taking up our crosses daily and following him. A bunch of fool’s turning from the temporary pleasures of sin and enduring suffering for the glory that is set before us in being united with the Father who has graciously forgiven, restored and loved us.
This is the foolishness this mom is called to. Somehow, in God’s wisdom, to take what is foolish to a strong-willed son and endure, trusting in the one who takes the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.
‘We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. ‘ 1 Corinthians 4:10,12-13
‘For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; ‘ 1 Corinthians 1:18,20-21,25,27
On a night (or maybe it was day), in Roman occupied ancient Israel, a young, Jewish woman writhed, and cried as the excruciating pains of labor gripped her body and tore her flesh. And there, where animals in the ancient world feed, a vernix and blood covered baby boy, swaddled in clothes to keep him from dying of exposure, lay while young Mary’s uterus bled.
There, the comfort of God came to Israel.
There, light came to the people’s of the nations. The coastlands.
There, in one small square of the world, while people in Israel lay in beds complaining about having to submit to a Roman census, the King of kings lay in a feeding trough, utterly dependent upon the zeal of God to accomplish, against all odds, the salvation of his people.
There, Mary completed the last stage of labor and expelled the placenta which fed the One who knits the human form together in the womb. All the while native tribes in the coastlands of the Americas, Africa, China and the islands prayed to the gods they made. There the God of gods began to make himself known to humanity as like no other.
This God, who would be pleased to work on behalf of those who wait for him, came as a poor infant born in a place for animals.
Today is Christmas Eve. While my friends gathered at church to hear the real message of Christmas and others shopped for last minute presents I was helping a 100 year old patient get off a bedpan. Not the least bit glamorous. “It’s not good to live this long,” my patient moaned, writhing from the pain of a fractured hip as I slipped out the urine-filled pan.
We long for something glorious, something bright and beautiful like lights shining in December darkness. But our lives are full of perverted glory, broken by sin and death. We ruin the beauty of life with our evils. And when we live as long as my patient has, we know we weren’t made to live like this.
Earlier this year my sister said something that caught my attention, “We weren’t made to die! We were made to live!” It’s the truth. My patient was expressing what we all feel, sooner or later, death is in our days. And to live long here means tasting more and more of what we weren’t made for. We rehabilitate 100 year old people with broken hips instead of putting them down like horses as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death in this life, pushing back what we know we weren’t made for. And that is why the real story of Christmas is so much better than artistic renderings.
The God of the Bible who comes to dwell among us and save us from death’s sting, comes not as a pretty, noble, rich child of royalty. No he comes poor, rejected, despised, hunted and hated from his humble birth. He comes in our mess. He comes to walk through the dark shadow of this living death’s valley. He comes to absorb death and God’s condemnation of sin in his flesh so that we can have real hope while we sojourn here.
So, while we rip open pretty packages tomorrow, somewhere in the world, maybe in your own life, death is raising it’s stench- babies starve, women are abused, men are enslaved, the poor are oppressed, the rich grow more proud, bitterness destroys marriages, selfishness destroys children, and the old suffer alone.
Jesus came for these. He came like these. There is no god like Him!
Listen to me, O coastlands,and give attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called me from the womb,from the body of my mother he named my name. He made my mouth like a sharp sword;in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow;in his quiver he hid me away.
And now the Lord says,he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him— for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has become my strength he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel;I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here I am.”
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;yet we esteemed him stricken,smitten by God, and afflicted.But he was pierced for our transgressions;he was crushed for our iniquities;upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,and with his wounds we are healed.All we like sheep have gone astray;we have turned—every one—to his own way;and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth;like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,so he opened not his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief;his soul makes an offering for guilt,he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,make many to be accounted righteous,and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors;yet he bore the sin of many,and makes intercession for the transgressors.From Isaiah 49, 52, and 53