Don’t leave me

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. ~Psalm 23:1-2

Our just turned 3 year old son is learning how to “stay dry” all night, so most mornings around 4:30 or 5 he will wake up needing a potty run. Normally this is a sleepy occurrence that I orchestrate as smoothly as possible and tuck him back into bed without much conversation or lights. One morning however was different. He awoke anxious and fretful, and as I quickly helped him get to the bathroom, he kept asking me where I was.

“But I can’t see you!” was his repeating refrain to which I kept replying, “I’m right here with you, buddy.”

“Don’t leave me!”

“I promise I’m not. I am right here with you in the dark. You are fine. I love you.”

I tucked him back into bed, sang him a few songs, and whispered, “I love you so much.” A sleepy “I love you too Mom.” came back as he drifted back to sleep.

And just like that the Holy Spirit slammed into my soul with the truth that oftentimes this is me. And His heartbeat is far more trustworthy and true. His presence much more powerful and safe. His love more steadfast and his kindness far deeper than mine.

There are dark seasons and I sit, feeling exposed and vulnerable. I may be tired and perhaps confused, yet He stands right there with me.  I worry about what I can and cannot see that will be on this path. He guides, protects, holds me tight, and carries me out. I panic, fearing the worst and work myself into a state of exhaustion. He makes me lie down and rest my weary self. Thoughts that this time I am alone are confronted by the truth that He comforts and He never leaves.

Psalm 23 echoed in my mind early that morning in the bathroom and as I tucked him back into bed for a few more hours of sleep. You are with me. The Great Shepherd tends his sheep with diligence and strength. I shall not want. He brings true rest and restoration to the anxiety riddled, weary souls. He leads me beside waters of rest. He restores my soul. He doesn’t allow us to wander aimless and insecure, alone in the darkness of the next step. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. And in those seasons that feel as if the darkness is a blanket, suffocating and terrifying, in the shadowy places where hopeless thoughts assail, lies abound, and paralysis creeps in, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. His guidance and His protection will lead back to rest and comfort. He is at work even in times where it seems that all hope is lost. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. A walk with Him is filled with great spiritual bounty as He deepens my trust in Him.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the  house of the LORD forever.

9 – Great High Priest

`But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. ~Hebrews 9:11-12

The role of priest and the physical temple were central to the Jewish faith in the Old Testament. Established under Moses, the first temple was constructed according to God’s explicit design, and Aaron became the first high priest. We don’t relate easily to the role of priest in the Jewish faith so a good question to ask is why is it such an important concept that the author of Hebrews devotes chapters to explaining it? In the Jewish faith only the priest made atonement for sins – only he was able to declare righteous, to approve sacrifices, receive tithes, and to confirm one’s relationship with God for another week or year.

The most significant sacrifice was on Yom Kippur or the Passover. The great high priest would enter the Holy of Holies to attain atonement (the appeasement of God’s wrath for sin) for all Israel for one year. The holiest day in the holiest location by the holiest individual in Israel – only one could do this act. The priests in the Old Testament were called to serve the people and the Lord. Hebrews 5:2 tells us that the priest can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Servant leadership in action as the greatest leader who must be the most humble.

When we understand the exchange that had to take place – the life/blood of a perfect sacrifice for sin, and that only priests could facilitate that exchange, then we begin to see the completion and perfection of the role of High Priest in Jesus. We had to have not only the sacrifice but also the priest – prior to Jesus Christ, the sacrifice had to be offered continually and never made anyone perfect. For since the law had but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Hebrews 10:1,3-4). We were facing the wrath of Holy God. But Jesus became our perfect, all sufficient sacrifice as the Lamb of God. And He walked into the inner place behind the curtain as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever (Hebrews 6:19-20).

Remember, just like the priests of the Israelites, because of his humanity as our high priest, we can come with confidence to find mercy and grace. He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses because He has been tempted but is without sin (Heb. 4:14) And this combination becomes an anchor for my soul in the storms of life and the flurry of lies from the enemy. He is my great Lamb – slain for all my sin as my propitiation to turn away God’s wrath from me. And He is my Great High Priest – seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up (Heb. 8:1-2). He is able to save to the uttermost all of us who draw near to God through Him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Heb. 7:25)

vines part 2

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. ~Hebrews 12:1-2

Why a part 2? truthfully because the Lord won’t let me leave this truth. I am in a season of great threshing or pruning, whichever picture you would like to use. The process is similar – there is a discerning hand at work moving over me, working in me, pulling out of me the things that are not like Him. Discouragement and weariness beckon me, bite at my heels, and whisper to me to just crawl off the floor. Just walk away for awhile, take a break. I wish for a breather, just some moments to catch my breath. My heart aches, my soul trembles a little.

I used to run long mile runs (back before all my kids – now I just run after them and hope it counts as exercise!) and loved the feeling at the beginning of each run, knowing this was my time to think and pray, just looking around in the neighborhoods I loved to run in. Until. Always there was a mile or so in my 6 mile run that was brutal. It wasn’t necessarily the steep run mile or the end of my run, but often the brutal portion was about a mile into my run. My arms would ache, my muscles would feel crampy, my breathing would not be rhythmic, and I would have to work to put one foot in front of another. Now I’m not a “good” or knowledgeable runner – I never read any books or articles about it – I really have no idea why this was my pattern, but it was consistent. And every time I would battle in my mind whether this time I should just slow to a walk, or just turn around and make it a short run. But I learned that if I persisted, if I endured, I would pass through this horrible phase into a gentler rhythm of running, in which I could breathe with ease, enjoy the scenery, and just run. But every time it was a choice to endure. Every time I wondered if I would make it out to the pleasurable place.

The race is set before me. God has ordained a lane in which to run, purposed for His glory and His kingdom work. All of my race is His – the big, the little, special, or mundane – all purposed to change me and grow me in Jesus. In Hebrews 12, the word race in Greek means a contest, a struggle in the soul, a grueling conflict struggle or battle. I’m not running around a track or even cross country – NO! This is an epic battle fought as I press forward.  Maclaren wrote, “By faith we enter the race; through faith we receive His power to run and not be weary but we need to run to advance.” I need to run. Am I in continual movement in this race? Am I walking more deeply with Jesus today than last year, 5 years ago? Growth should be seen, muscles grown – landscapes changing as new obstacles come, new experiences occur to grow deeper in dependency and in faith.

Yet Jesus is the center. He is the faith giver, strength fortifier, lifter of my head. He is the race maker and the race winner. And he promises to lead me out to broad places, to be my refuge in my pantings, to steady my steps, make my bones strong, and make me like a watered garden with abundant springs. So while I am running a mile that feels like torture, He is always with me. He is not only refining me on this threshing floor, He is comforting me and holding me tightly. I choose to praise your name, Jesus.

For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead and guide me. I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul, and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place.  ~Psalm 31:3,7-8

 

 

the vines

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. ~Hebrews 12:1-4

There are vines in my flowerbeds, vines that threaten to choke out the new growth, the established plants, and eliminate the blossoms and fruit that should grow. Interestingly, when I am weeding, I can actively see the vines that entangle the hydrangeas, hostas, and azaleas in my yard. They are obvious and an affront to me. How dare they take over my plants? However when I am just out by the pool, playing with my children, or walking through the yard quickly, my eyes can flick across the green landscape and the vines blend in. They are hard to distinguish sometimes because their tendrils wrap along the stems of the plant, allowing their leaves to lay alongside of the plant’s true leaves. The plant looks thicker, lusher even, at quick glance. As I gaze with intensity at the plants though, I can see the difference in leaves and slowly focus on the vines that wrap around.

Vines will also hurdle over the plant’s true stems, skipping right to the top of the plant, in order to gain the position closest to the sun. Their ultimate goal is not to dwell alongside the plant but to usurp the plant.  Left to their own growth, they will push the original plant down, limiting its new growth and weakening its stems. Whenever I strip the vines off of a plant, I am amazed at how the vines stunt the growth of the true plant causing fewer leaves and little to no fruit or flowers. Finally free of the crippling vine, the plant will begin to thicken and grow again filling in the gaps.

There are sins that entangle my heart, they wrap around my thoughts, crowd my affections and limit my growth. Weights of this world – responsibility, work, care taking – push down on my shoulders, and when coupled with sin, make me weakened, nonproductive, depleted, and bound. So whenever my desire to lead my children well becomes enmeshed with my pride rather than submitted to the Holy Spirit’s work in both of us, I have allowed the vines to grow. Whenever provision becomes about independence rather than dependence on Him, I have begun again to allow vines to shoot up and overtake. And whenever the unknown in the future seems to demand knowledge I don’t possess and I become fear driven and reactionary, the choking vines can block His light, His truth, and His lead.

Hebrews pushes me to remember Jesus. Remember His death on the cross that paid the atonement for me. Remember His position now as victorious King who conquered sin and death, setting me free from the fears, self love, and pride that seek to encircle my heart and drag me down. The struggle against sin is real. It is fierce. It is ongoing this side of heaven. But victory comes from Him!

Sin sometimes is hard to see, it becomes a part of my life and my eyes skim over the lies I have believed. But the Spirit is faithful to convict and teach. He will reveal and refine me as I submit myself to Him. Misplaced weight allows sin to grow. God promises to bear every burden we have (1 Peter 5:7), to provide every need we have (Matt. 7:32-34), to walk before us into every future event (Is. 52:12), and give us the wisdom we need every step of the way (James 1:5).

So let me run with endurance. Steady my feet on Your ground. Strengthen my hands for the weeding with your wisdom and discernment. Enable me to throw off the weights and untangle the sin. Grow in me your fruit. Let my garden display Your glory for Your renown today. You are worthy of all praise!

wrestle but worship

But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went in to the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Who have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart my fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. ~Psalm 73:16-17, 23-26

 

He welcomes the wrestling for He knows. He knows the pain attached to the wrestling heart, He cares for the truth to become imbedded in the soul, He desires for me to yield completely. But righteous wrestling with Almighty God must always end with worship. The heart of the wrestler needs to remain submitted in the end to the greatness and sovereignty of the One who knows His plan. When we see David, Jacob, or any prophets wrestle with the truths of God, the end result is submission and worship.

Hannah in the Old Testament is a beautiful picture of the wrestling I long to do – she was married to Elkanah, and Scripture tells us that he loved her deeply. As was often custom then, he had another wife who had been able to have many children. Hannah had not. Hannah grieved over her barrenness. On one trip for the yearly sacrifices, Hannah went to the temple and began to cry out to the Lord in such a way that the priest mistook her silently mouthed prayers as drunken miming and confronted her. She answered with this, “I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.” (1 Samuel 1:15-16)

Psalm 62:5-8 echoes this idea, “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress, I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory, my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. To wait for God, to long for Him to work and move in my life is part of the wrestling. Often while I am struggling with a trial or storm, I am grieved by the lacerations or wounds of doubt and fear. I frantically try to cover those up, hiding the anger or impatience that grow as I wait for His movement. But the impatience and fear allow me to believe the lies the enemy sends that maybe this time He has forgotten or rejected me. That maybe this time is the moment when He won’t prove trustworthy; or perhaps this is too radical of a request or need and so He is displeased.

Yet You have done no such thing!

Why do I default to chafing, whining and fear in my trial? When Hannah wrestled, she poured it all out before the Lord in the temple, and I can just imagine her heart. Crying over her barren womb and empty arms, worried about the affections of her husband, tortured by the other woman who provoked her with great hatred, looking across the years of waiting wondering why? and when? Yet she poured it all out like fine perfume, allowing her soul to grieve but in a posture of worship before Almighty God.

And then Scripture says she went her way, ate and her face was no longer sad. There in the midst of her waiting but after her wrestling, she trusted the trustworthy One. She had poured out her heart and now she was trusting the great I AM. Help me wait in silence even when all the questions come – my hope is from You and in You.

And after baby Samuel was born, weaned, and brought to the temple, Hannah exults in God. She prays again, and this time we hear all her words — maybe because now they are the worship of all God has done.

He who is faithful is faithful forever. There is none holy like the LORD; there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God. So let me know to run to You. Let me remember I stand in Your sanctuary.

The other side of the masterpiece

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. ~2 Corinthians 3:18

In my limited perspective, I will fix my gaze on my loved one, wondering why the great Potter isn’t “really working” on my child. I see the need for eyes to be carved in order for my child to see Him, ears to be fashioned for hearing His truth, I long to see a mind aligned with the Gospel and a mouth He can use. And I chafe because all I see are bare imprints or slight markings indicating where these features need to be. I worry about my role in creating this new clay – am I saying the right things, parenting in ways that encourage a relationship with Him?

And then in His great patience and steadfast love, both for me and my child, everything turns.

And the masterpiece He has been hard at work on is displayed.

And I realize I have been looking at the base while the great Artist has been at work on the heart and soul of my child.

My perspective is so off, and I have believed the lie that no one can love my child more than me. When in truth, the comparison of love shows that my love may be as great as a tea cup compared to the vast ocean of love He has for His child. He is trustworthy with our children and He is at work where the work needs to be done. You see, I would have carved a face into the base or on some place completely wrong for that child. I would have demanded features where nothing is needed. But He knows exactly how and where to work in the heart of each one of us in order to create His workmanship, fashioning and carving, working the clay to bring out life.

We talk all the time about how to parent, how to lead, how to help our children navigate this life. Sadly we have become hyper focused on producing a product in 18 years rather than investing in an individual designed by God. When I spend time with my child in pursuit of the Gospel, loving them according to how He has created them, trusting Him for the fashioning of this soul, God reveals the ways the Gospel impacts their lives right where they are.When we talk about poor behavior, the conversation is purposed to dive into the heart to the underlying belief/lie that has led them astray from the truth. Then the truth in God’s Word can slice through the lie, tending the hurt with tender care, replacing bondage with freedom.

So when I am loving on a resistant two year old, the Gospel speaks to his need for Jesus to help him choose to obey and be kind. Jesus is his helper, his friend, and the One who loves him most. When my preteen wrestles with friends and value, the gospel declares how full of value she really is. Success and failure are not defining measurements; rather who she is in Jesus becomes the litmus test. Practicing patience and self control at any age is pointless unless it is layered with the truth that only the Spirit within you can develop these fruits. But the fullness of the Spirit has been given to the one who is saved, child or adult. He is the Transformer.

God is committed for the duration. He is at work on a glorious image bearer for His glory and His namesake. And He works in His timing, moving each of us from one degree to another, patiently and steadfastly engaged and never discouraged. When I keep my eyes focused on the Carver and not the carving, trusting His hands at work rather than my fumbling, I am invited into the great reveal. The other side, the work unseen by me but His focus, is glorious.

The Journey

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. ~James 1:2-4

The journey with Jesus is remarkable, audacious, exciting, terrifying and exhilarating. But it is a journey, not a moment. It is the walking out of a faith that He grows and builds within me, the muscle that propels me forward into scary, uncharted places and allows me to stand firm in the places where I really just want to turn and flee.

This testing of my faith is not to prove whether it exists or not. I know that He who planted the faith within is faithful to grow and deepen it. Do I believe the faith I have been given is strong enough and will grow to see me through? Do I lean hard into the active believing in the grace, power and love offered to me by God as His child, or do I rely on myself with false hope of survival?

When faith proves itself stable and keeps my feet firmly planted, steadfastness results. I can run with endurance because Jesus is the author and perfecter of my faith (Heb. 12:2). It is the very thing that will bring glory to God – the work He does within me will be on display for His glory.

The walking out of my faith cannot be avoided. Life is filled with broken pieces, places that appear cracked, chipped, and even ugly. Grace died for all the broken, ugly pieces. Christ came into the mess of this life and saved me. He redeemed my life from the pit of sin, self love, pride, and carnality. He disrupted the course of my life bound for hell with the cross, nailing all my sin to the cross that I might live eternally. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14) That is the beginning of my testimony. As I journey with Him, He continues to love me steadfastly right in the middle of my doubt, arrogance, and depravity. This walking isn’t a one time event. There are many missteps I have made, many times my path has wandered off into my own way only to be brought back with His truth. He is faithful to this journey on the days I am not. He alone pursues. And I am so glad.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes through it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ ~1 Peter 1:6-7.

I can stagnate in the moment and measure outcomes based on the success or failure I just experienced. This perspective is exactly what the enemy wants because I remain fixed on a point in time – a snapshot. My faith in that moment may seem weak or tremulous. Doubt and discouragement creep in. The voices that whisper shame or condemnation grow louder. But in those moments the truth of verse 8, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy,” becomes my quietly uttered resolve. I love Him. I believe in Him. As my world turns around, He is still good. His love for me is still steadfast despite the unlovely circumstances outside of my control.

True perspective, His perspective, sees the landscape and the journey and recognizes this may be a valley I am traveling through or a mountain I am struggling to climb. But it’s not a singular moment reflective of all of life. I am so glad this journey can sustain the valleys of my doubt and fear and still point to God Almighty. I am so thankful that walking this faith walk is just that – a walk – not a moment that defines but a steady daily movement towards Him. There are places in the valley and time on the mountain, moments stalled and times of giant steps.

But God is looking down the road, not perseverating on one moment. He certainly sees and engages in our moments but also sees where this journey will go.

All for the goal of my good and His glory.