Still a sinner though a saint

I was in an unfamiliar grocery store that happened to be on my route home, just to pick up a few things, a bit agitated trying to find what I needed in a store with an unfamiliar layout. I found the bagged salads not at an eye-level shelf like I am used to, but on a lower one, so I was bent over, head deep in the produce bins, looking for the freshest pre-made salad. All of a sudden a head appeared right next to mine and a cheery voice asked how I was doing today. I did not immediately think, “Oh, how lovely, this sweet stranger is concerned about my well-being!” Instead I thought, “How absurd!” But I mumbled, “Fine.” The head disappeared but must not have heard me: in just a second or two, it appeared again next to mine, again asking how I was doing. I muttered “Fine” in a definite “I don’t want to be bothered tone,” and the head disappeared.

I found my salad, but my conscience was smitten. Later I saw the woman who had been trying to greet me. She had a rolling cart and some kind of device in her hand, and I found other people in the store with the same apparatus, so I guessed they were doing inventory. She had her back to me, so I didn’t apologize like I should have: I scurried away, shamefaced.

I don’t know if this woman was just extra friendly or if she was trying to be an enthusiastic employee by greeting customers in odd places. I think some stores have tried to put forth a more friendly atmosphere by requiring their employees to cheerily greet any customers within ten feet of them. I don’t mind that in a natural setting, like when I enter the store, or when we pass each other in an aisle. But I have been called to across a large expanse of the store, or interrupted while intently reading a label by someone behind me asking if I am finding everything, or greeted at odd times or in awkward situations by someone inserting themselves unnaturally. I know it’s better to have too much help than not being able to find a salesperson when you need one, and it’s better to have cheerful help than grumpy help. But it’s possible to overdo it.

Some time back a friend shared about how smiling in response to someone at a store led to a nice conversation and a brightened day for all involved. My snippy reaction, unfortunately, probably had the opposite effect.

I have been convicted again and again about my innate selfishness, my preference to withdraw into an introvert bubble rather than to extend myself, my too-quick tendency to irritability, my need to be more loving. I have been a Christian for over 40 years. Shouldn’t there be more progress by now? Shouldn’t I have gotten past some of this by now?

A passage from Conscience: What It Is, How To Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ by Andrew David Naselli and J. D. Crowley (linked to my review) helped me in this regard:

Once you come to Christ and receive that cleansing of conscience, does conscience now fall silent? Quite the opposite! Christians are surprised and sometimes discouraged to find that the condemnations of conscience are even stronger after becoming a child of God. Perhaps you, too, have had thoughts like this: “If I am making progress towards holiness with the help of the Holy Spirit, why do I keep feeling like a worse sinner than before? Becoming a Christian was supposed to relieve my conscience. What’s going on?”

We shouldn’t be surprised when this happens. The moment God accepts you as his child, he gives you the greatest gift he could ever give a child of God: his Holy Spirit to dwell in you. The Holy Spirit comes in to encourage you, comfort you, and be your dearest friend. But he also comes in to reveal to you any sin that is robbing you of joy and to lead you into mortal combat against that sin (Rom. 8:13-14).

When the Holy Spirit comes in, he supercharges your consciousness of sin by writing his laws on your heart (Jer. 31:33-34). He opens your eyes to see sins that you didn’t even know were sins, like pride, greed, and covetousness. He reveals to you all the little idols in your heart’s idol factory. As you read the Bible every day, you see more and more how good and holy God is and how filthy you are.

Don’t expect this struggle to get any easier as you mature in your faith. The war against indwelling sin only grows stronger…

There is generally a proportional relationship between how mature you are as a Christian and how aware you are of your sinfulness. The more you grow by means of grace, the more sensitive you become to your sinfulness. Paul himself increasingly realized his sinfulness: he referred to himself as “the least of the apostles” (1 Cor. 15:9), then “the very least of all the saints” (Eph. 3:8), and finally, the “foremost” of “sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). Like Paul, you are growing in holiness every day. But you may not feel like it! You’re a saint and a sinner at the same time.

That explains why a Christian often feels so wretched. But then what? If the gap between what we should be and what we really are keeps growing, how can we possibly escape complete despair in the Christian life?…

Only an ever-increasing trust in Christ’s work on the cross can fill this ever-widening gap and keep us from despair. God’s solution for us to have a clean conscience throughout our lives is simple and profound: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9)…

Now we can confidently approach God on the basis of Jesus’s definitive work on the cross. Now we can have a “clear conscience” (Heb. 13:18) (pp. 47-51).

None of us is a saint via sinless perfection or exalted religious experience, but the New Testament calls all true believers in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior saints. Most of the epistles are addressed to the saints at particular locations. My sin nature won’t be completely eradicated until I get to heaven. That doesn’t mean I can sit back and relax about it or excuse my bad conduct: quite the opposite. I’m to daily seek God’s help and grace to fight against it. As I am in His Word and continue to grow in Him, He will point out more and more of my sinfulness that I am unaware of. So I confess that to Him, and then seek Him for more grace to grow more. I look forward to the time when all sin will be put away, but until then, my sin nature will keep reminding me of my need of Him, and hopefully I will continue to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18).

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When I Don’t Get What I Need

I’ve always known I was an introvert, preferring small groups (or, better yet, home!) to big crowds, having a few close friends rather than being the social butterfly, needing time alone to process and think. Reading Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking helped me understand myself better and understand that these issues aren’t just preferences, that introverts’ and extroverts’ brains are wired differently. When she pointed out that introverts are drained by social interaction and need solitude to recharge whereas extroverts thrive on social interaction, the proverbial light bulb went off in my mind. “That’s it!” I thought. I had never heard it put that way before, but it just fit my experience so perfectly. I don’t want to be a hermit; I do value social interaction, but it does drain me and I function better overall with some degree of time to myself.

When my kids were in school, I had about seven hours a day to myself. Oh, that wasn’t all spent curled up reading a book or thinking: housekeeping, grocery shopping, errands, and different ministry responsibilities kept me busy. But I did have a good bit of quiet time. I thought once my kids grew up and left home, that time would naturally increase. I’d miss them intensely, but I had plenty of things I looked forward to accomplishing when that time came.

Instead, I have less solitude than ever. One child is still home but working and taking classes online at home. We’re taking care of my mother-in-law in our home, and we have a lady who stays with her in the mornings plus hospice people coming in and out throughout the week. My husband’s job has him working from home a few days a week now. I am not complaining about any of that: this is the home of all of us, not just me, and of course they all have a right to be here. But some days quiet moments are hard to come by except for early morning and late evening.

I imagine some extroverts have the opposite problem: an intense need for companionship and struggles with too much alone time.

So what do we do in such cases? Allow ourselves to get cranky because our needs aren’t getting met? Whine and complain to God about it? I’m afraid I have done both of those.

Recently, though, I was arrested by Philippians 4:11-13: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Paul mentions hunger there. He didn’t thrash around before God and say, “You made me to need food. So why don’t I have it? What are you doing?” He trusted that God would help him in any circumstance. He would either meet his need for food or take him to where there is no more hunger and thirst. He will sustain us until the time that He provides. Paul says he learned this contentment, which encourages me that it’s first of all a process, and secondly, that it can be learned.

But why would God create us to need certain things and then not provide them for a time? Just to teach us contentment? Well, one other time that God allowed His people to hunger comes to mind:

And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Deuteronomy 8:2-3.

A few reasons are mentioned there:

  1. To humble us.
  2. To test us (the KJV says to “prove” us). He knows what’s in our hearts, but sometimes our reactions to unmet needs are a revelation to us of just how sinfully self-centered we are. This also tests the depths of our love and commitment: that was one of Satan’s challenges to God about Job: “He only serves you because You bless him. Take away some of those blessings, and You’ll see how fast he turns away from You.” Do we only serve God with a right heart when all of our perceived needs are being met?
  3. To teach us dependence on Him to meet our needs.
  4. To remind us of what’s most important.

These are not meant to be explanations for famine: that would be a completely different study. And God may have other reasons for not answering prayers. And this doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t take means sometimes meet our needs, but sometimes those needs surface despite our best efforts. Back to the need for solitude, Jesus many times went away from the crowds and His own disciples to be alone to pray – and He also had the experience of people seeking Him out during those times and interrupting His time alone, another way in which He was tempted in all points like we are, yet without sin.

But God has been working with me for a while on changing my attitude from one of demanding what I think I need or lamenting the lack of it to trusting that He knows what I need and will provide it. And He has, many times over, in unexpected ways. Plus that restful, trustful demeanor helps me not only inwardly but outwardly. Not only is my spirit at peace, but instead of focusing on myself, I can turn my attention to others and try to minister to them for whatever purpose God brought them into my life. I confess I have failed in that more often than I like to admit, but I am trusting His grace to change.

So whatever our need, whether for solitude or companionship, affirmation or humbling, inward or outward, we can trust that God has a reason for allowing it, will give us grace while it is unmet, and will meet it in His own time and way.

Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:32b-33

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.  2 Corinthians 9:8

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The blessing of certainty

Some years ago I caught part of a TV program involving a group of people from several different denominations discussing tolerance. How the conversation progressed was quite interesting. In the part that I saw, they were at first discussing how intolerance can lead to persecution of those who believe differently. Then someone remarked that even the term “tolerance” smacked of arrogance — that one group is right but they are going to tolerate, or allow for other groups. Someone else remarked that in order to tolerate others you must have a seed of doubt that your beliefs are right, that there is a possibility that you could be wrong and other belief systems could be right. The last sentence I heard before turning the TV off was, “There is no room for certainty.”

I couldn’t disagree more.

I do believe in tolerance. The first definition is “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.” I don’t believe “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude” smacks of arrogance: just the opposite. Nor does it indicate doubt of one’s own beliefs.

And I do agree that intolerance has led to persecution and should not have. New Testament Christians, especially, are not told anywhere to persecute in any way those whose beliefs differ from ours.We believe that those of other beliefs have every right to exist and practice their beliefs. We’re to love, both our neighbors and our enemies. We’re instructed to share God’s truth, but if people don’t believe, we leave them to the Lord and hope and pray they have a change of heart. We don’t persecute them.

But what I disagreed with most was that last line about there being no room for certainty. I don’t believe that faith is a nebulous thing, that as long as you have faith in something you’re fine, that all religions are basically the same and lead to the same place. You don’t have to examine them very long to realize they don’t have all the same values and ends.

Our postmodern world wants to move away from absolute truth. “The questions are more important than the answers,” we’re told. Even people who call themselves Christians chip away at doctrinal truth.

It’s true there are mysteries to life and faith. We spend way too much time arguing over things that are unclear rather than living out what is clear.I often hear people say, “We’ll never understand until we get to heaven.” Surely we’ll understand much more than we do now, but I don’t see any guarantees in the Bible that even then we’ll understand everything. God’s mind and ways and thoughts will still be much greater than ours. But our trust will be perfect then.

Yet there is plenty in the Bible that is clear. God communicates specific truth to us. And sure, there are things we don’t understand, things we gain insight on from talking with and reading others, things we wrestle with, things that are hard to come to terms with. Most of us wrestle with a measure of doubt at times and carry around a list of unanswered questions. There are things we wish were more clear.

But reading and hearing the Bible taught shouldn’t lead us into more and more of a morass of uncertainty. There are plenty of bedrock truths to hold onto.

There is a God.

He made everything, including us.

He gave us His Word.

He is righteous, holy, and just, and we have sinned against Him.

He is merciful, kind, gracious, and loving and has provided salvation for those who will believe in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who lived a sinless life, died on the cross for our sins, and rose bodily from the dead.

There is a literal heaven and a literal hell.

There are clear and definite sins.

Faith is too important an issue to leave up to uncertainty. God doesn’t leave us in a philosophical fog on the most important issues.

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. John 20:30-31, ESV

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. I John 5:13, ESV

For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount. We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. 2 Peter 1:16-21, KJV

 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.Hebrew 6:17-20, ESV

That doesn’t mean I feel I have all the answers to every little philosophical question or that I know how everything always works together. But I have a firm foundation, a “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.”

See also:

Why Study Doctrine?
What Do You Know?
The Foundation of Our Faith.

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God’s Back

I mentioned in my recent review of The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton one quote that stood out to me. While several of the characters are trying to figure out a conundrum, the main character, Syme, says, “Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front—.” The whole book has had a variety of interpretations since its publication, but I took this observation to mean that we don’t have the big picture. In trying to figure out the mysteries of the universe, even believing that God is at the helm and wisely and lovingly guides and provides, there are still things that don’t make sense to us.

In trying to understand the book better, I came across this article. It provided much food for thought though I am not sure I agree with every point. But I did take note of the connection it made between seeing the back of things with Moses seeing the “back” of God. After the disastrous incident of the golden calf, and that after all God had done to manifest Himself to His people, He is so angry that we wants to consume them. In Exodus 32 Moses intercedes, and God relents. In Exodus 33, God tells Moses to continue on with the people toward the land He had promised them, but God’s presence would not go with them. The people mourn and Moses intercedes again in one of my favorite passages, pleading with God for His presence with them.

When God promises to go with them, Moses responds in worship, “Please show me your glory.” God replies:

“I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

Then the next day:

The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.

As I pondered these passages once again, this thought struck me:

If this is the back of God – merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love, forgiving sin – what must the front be?

No wonder no one can see His face and live! We’d be overwhelmed!

Besides these verses that refer to His mercy, grace, love, and forgiveness, other passages of Scripture tell us about His wisdom, power, omnipresence, and so many other attributes.

I don’t know exactly what we’ll “see” of Him in heaven, but I do know this: I may not understand everything that happens, I may question why some things have to be and wonder why God does some things and doesn’t do other things, but what I do know to be true of Him helps me to trust Him for what I don’t understand.


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What do you know?

I recently read about a young woman’s experience running into a beloved Sunday School teacher she’d had as a child. As her heart swelled with fondness and gratitude for this woman’s ministry in her life, she opined that it’s the relationships, not the instruction that matters.

While I rejoiced in the relationship this woman had with her teacher and the way it inspired her to teach her own students, I was saddened that she downplayed the lessons. Religious instruction matters very much. The epistles are replete with warnings about wrong doctrine and correction thereof. Yet relationships are important, too. They help flesh out the truth and get it from the head to the heart.

I’ve heard the acquiring of Biblical knowledge downplayed because “Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth,” according to I Corinthians 8:1.  That’s an example of ripping a verse out of its context and not couching it in the overall setting of the whole Bible. Yes, the Bible warns us against becoming proud of our knowledge, but it doesn’t discourage us from gaining knowledge.

Creation reveals knowledge of God’s existence, wisdom and ways. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” Psalm 19:1-2.

God was angry with Job’s friends because they had not spoken what was right about Him.

God asked Job, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?

Job was comforted by the truth of knowing that his “Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.”

The psalmist asks, ‘Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.” Psalm 25:4-5

The psalmist urges people to “Give ear, O my people, to my teaching,” including “the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” – information about Him as a means to knowing Him – and to pass that knowledge down to the next generations.

The first few verses of Proverbs say that Solomon gave them, “to know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity; to give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion. A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels.” By contrast, later in the chapter it says fools hate knowledge.

Paul prayed for people who had “a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:1).

See how many times in 1 Corinthians 6 Paul says, “Do you not know…?”

Paul told Timothy to “Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge'” (1 Timothy 6:20).

Peter tells us to supplement our faith with virtue, knowledge, self-control, and other qualities.

That’s just a small sampling of passages that talk about knowledge. If we also look at passages that talk about leaching and learning, we see that God places great value on them.

I have also heard the argument that it is more important to know by experience than to just know facts: for instance, it is better to spend time interacting with a person than just learning about them. It’s true that many of those passages about knowledge are referring to this experiential type of knowledge. But isn’t it also true that in getting to know someone you learn facts about them, their likes, dislikes, preferences, etc.? Years ago I saw a comical card for a wife from a husband depicting various domestic scenes. I don’t remember the exact wording, but the gist of it was, “I may not do A, B, and C that you want me to, and I may do D, E, and F that you don’t want me to, but I sure do love you, honey!” But living with an utter disregard for a wife’s preferences is not a manifestation of love. If husbands are to dwell with their wives according to knowledge, how much more should God’s people seek to know what pleases and displeases Him?

God has given us His Word, among other reasons, that we may know Him. We learn about Him that we might think of Him correctly and know how to please Him. Yes, just learning facts about Him is not sufficient and doesn’t take the place of knowing Him. But knowing Him without learning His Word makes for a shallow relationship.

God wants us to love Him with not just our hearts and souls, but our minds, to be transformed by the renewal of our minds, to gird up the loins of our minds.

It’s true that knowledge can “puff up” with pride, but rather than avoiding gaining knowledge, we need to remind ourselves that If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know” (1 Corinthians 8:2), and we need to remind ourselves that the purpose of gaining knowledge is to better know the Lord and serve Him and others.

It’s true there are some things that surpass our ability to comprehend, like the love of Christ and the peace of God.

It’s true that if we have all knowledge, but have not love, we are nothing. But that doesn’t mean we abandon knowledge. That verse also says “if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” We obviously don’t abandon faith. But we use knowledge and exercise faith in love.

We do have to be careful to keep things in balance and not become like the Pharisees, who were all academic knowledge and no heart and soul. We shouldn’t stop with just learning facts about God or think of knowledge as an end in itself, but we should acquire knowledge of God through His Word in order to learn to know Him better, to get to know Him experientially, and to show love to His people, our spiritual family, in a way that builds them up in truth, and to answer those who would pervert or distort the faith. Like Paul, we pray that our “love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9) and that we might “[increase] in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10b).

That their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2:2-3

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When everything fails

I’m currently reading in the book of Isaiah, about 20 chapters in, to the part where God pronounces judgment on different nations. To be honest, it’s not a section I look forward to or revel in. In the past I probably would have summarized the chapters as:

Chapter 16: God judges Moab
Chapter 17: God judges Damascus
Chapter 18: God judges Ethiopia
And so on…

But this time, either because God is opening my understanding (something I have been praying for Him to do), or because I got a new ESV study Bible, or, more likely, those two factors are working together, I am seeing some things I never saw before.

It started with the footnote on chapter 18:4-6:

Working as silently as heat or dew, God frustrates human attempts at securing the world without him. He watches until the moment is right, and then acts. This is the truth underlying the appearance of human might in history. (ESV Study Bible, p. 1272).

Then I noticed a lot of things in chapter 19, focusing on Egypt.

In verses 1-4, the “idols tremble at his presence” and there is social unrest.
In verses 5-10, the Nile is dried up, affecting their economy and daily lives.
In verses 11-15, the wisdom of Egypt (which the ESV footnote says they were famous for) fails and “the wisest counselors of Pharaoh give stupid counsel.”

But this is not just dishing out judgment. It’s showing the futility of everything they trusted in, much like the plagues that occurred before the exodus of Israel from Egypt were not just random events but a triumph of God’s power over that of supposed deities. And why do that? Because that’s the only way they’d turn to Him, the one true God, the only One who could help them.

19 In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Lord at its border. 20 It will be a sign and a witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt. When they cry to the Lord because of oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and deliver them. 21 And the Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering, and they will make vows to the Lord and perform them. 22 And the Lord will strike Egypt, striking and healing, and they will return to the Lord, and he will listen to their pleas for mercy and heal them.

All of the terrible things in the first part of the chapter were not just a matter of judgment, but they were an evidence of mercy, to open their eyes and bring them to Himself.

And someday, Egypt, once an enemy and an oppressor of God’s people, will take its place with Israel as a blessing:

24 In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, 25 whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.”

A few take-aways I’ve gleaned from this section so far:

  • God is not only behind history, always observing and evaluating what’s going on, but often orchestrating it.
  • His purposes are mercy and redemption unless that mercy is spurned, and then there is nothing left but judgment. But God is patient and longsuffering, giving nations and individuals as much of a chance to repent as possible.
  • Sometimes awful things that happen are not just a matter of His judgment, but of His opening eyes to false hopes and saviors to the only true one.

What does this mean for us in our day?

If these things are true in Isaiah’s day, they’re still true now. I see a lot of people, especially young adults, despairing over the state of the world. Sometimes it seems like God is not at work. But He is. He’s doing things we can’t see with larger purposes and on a grander scale than we can take in. Some day wrongs will be made right. We can trust Him for that and for every day until then. That doesn’t mean we don’t pray, speak out, or act – God often uses those efforts. But our dependence is on Him.

Also, there are times when everything we look to or rely on is taken away or fails us. That’s an opportunity to look to Him. That was my situation when I was saved: my family was falling apart, my parents were divorcing, we moved from everything familiar to a large metropolis, I had no contact with friends for a while. I felt like the rug had been completely pulled out from under me. I’d had encounters with the gospel and believed to an extent, but at this time everything crystallized for me. I became aware of deep spiritual need and cast myself on God in a way I hadn’t before. It’s not that God orchestrates problems in our lives to create a need for Him: rather, He strips everything away to reveal a need that was already there that we couldn’t see or hadn’t paid attention to. Sometimes He has to show us that nothing else is sufficient to meet that need before we’ll turn to Him. It may seem terrible and confusing and unsettling, it may seem like God is absent or doesn’t care. But He’s very much there, He does care, and He is acting in wisdom and mercy. He’s more than sufficient to meet any need we have.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Glimpses, Telling His Story, Coffee for Your Heart, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)

Watching angels

When one of my sons was a baby and was intently staring at the ceiling, as babies are wont to do, my mother-in-law remarked that she thought when babies did that, they were looking at their guardian angels. We smiled – I think we even chuckled. I think she got a little embarrassed, but insisted, “No, really, I think they do see them!” We always kept that as a sweet memory of a sweet thought, and often when we saw a baby staring at the ceiling, we’d observe, “There they go looking at their guardian angels again” with a smile.

When we brought my mother-in-law home from the nursing home four years ago, we thought we were bring her home to die. She was down to 90 lbs., very fuzzy-minded, and not very responsive. But one-on-one care, especially in relation to feeding, and getting her off the narcotic drug we had not even known she was on until we brought her home, all improved her general condition dramatically. She’s 89, though, and one can’t stop the ravages of time. After maybe her first year or so at home, she began to decline more and more, moving less, sleeping more. Over the last year or so, she has become less interactive. She stopped speaking about a year ago, but we could tell by her eyes that she recognized us and followed what we were saying. She’d smile, nod, or shake her head. Though sometimes she still does, more and more lately there’s no light in her eyes when she looks at us, no response.

As we got her ready for bed last night, I noticed her staring intently at the ceiling, and that old sweet thought came back: maybe she’s watching her guardian angel.

Who knows what little babies and elderly people actually see when they fixedly stare at some point like that. I don’t know if each person is assigned a guardian angel, but the Bible does say that God sends angels to help us in various ways. Our pastor saw angels before he passed away, and I’ve heard similar things from others.

There is a sense in which all who know the Lord are getting closer to heaven every day, but the older and more frail one gets, the more imminent it seems. “For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:2, ESV). Some day she’ll cast off this silent, crumpled frame and see, not just angels, but the One she has loved and faithfully served for decades, the One who loved her, died for her, redeemed her, and made it possible that she and the family she so loved and prayed for could be with Him.

For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”


The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:53-57, ESV

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3-5, ESV


(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Glimpses, Literary Musing Monday, Wise Woman, Tell His Story, Coffee for Your Heart, Porch Stories, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday)

Everyday gifts

A few friends linked to this cute video on Facebook.

OK, some might think it a little cheesy. But it made a good point in a fun way. Though it was made with Christmas in mind, I thought it was perfect for Thanksgiving – or really, for any day – a reminder of all that we have. Much that we take for granted would have been considered luxuries throughout most of history, and in fact would still be considered luxuries by a lot of the world today.

This reminded me of an event several years ago when the church we attended then had a testimony time Thanksgiving Eve. Several young adults expressed longing to see God do something “big” in their lives. I couldn’t help but think of the children of Israel in the wilderness. The everyday manna was just as miraculous and just as much God’s provision as the parting of the Red Sea and victory in battle, yet they soon grew tired of that and wanted something else.

I don’t think those young people wanting to see God do something big in their lives that night were necessarily taking the everyday gifts for granted. I don’t know their hearts. But sometimes in longing for the “big” moments we can overlook the everyday evidence of God’s presence, love, and care – maybe a little like a husband or wife waiting for a grand, romantic gesture from the other rather than seeing the love in providing for each other, being attentive to each other’s needs and idiosyncrasies, and all the various little ways we evidence that “You’re the one that I love.”

May we see God’s hand and rejoice in His love and gifts in the everyday as well as in the milestone, once in a lifetime events.

It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, and to sing praises unto Thy name, O most High: to show forth Thy lovingkindness in the morning, and Thy faithfulness every night. Psalm 92:1-2

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Glimpses,
Tell His Story, Coffee For Your Heart, Porch Stories, Wise Woman, Faith on Fire)

When God Asks the Impossible

One day while reading the account of the man with the withered hand, it occurred to me that what Jesus asked him to do – to stretch out his hand – was exactly what he could not do. Same with the paralyzed man whom Jesus told to rise, take up his bed, and walk. That’s exactly what he couldn’t do. Thankfully neither of these argued with Jesus about it. They just obeyed. And in the obedience they found the ability they’d not had before, given by God’s grace.

A popular saying is “God won’t give you anything you can’t handle.” Of course He does! He asks any number of things of us that we can’t do except with His help and grace.

This doesn’t mean we should start looking for impossible feats to accomplish. These were things Jesus asked – or rather, commanded of people, not foolhardy, reckless acts.

Nor does it mean that I should say “Yes” to every seemingly impossible opportunity that comes my way. Sometimes God puts limits or closed doors in our path to teach and guide us.

But it does mean that when He wants me to do something I don’t think I can do, instead of telling Him all the reasons I can’t, like Moses (which I am prone to do), or waiting to feel like I have the strength and the ability, I should just take the next step, put one foot in front of the other, obey, and trust Him for the ability.

It’s happened in the past. Jobs that were too big for me. Situations too hard to go through. Dealing with ongoing health issues. Events that, if I could have seen all that would be involved, would have sent me running to the hills. There have been situations I have looked back on and wondered how in the world I got through them.

I’ve thought of this truth in relation to those things, but recently I’ve begun to connect them not just to the “big” events of life, but the everyday fighting against temptation, facing mundane responsibilities, loving like Jesus loves when it’s far from easy. Those are just as impossible in my own strength.

Only by God’s grace. Only by His strength. That’s part of the reason for these situations: for our growth and faith, yes, but also so people will see it’s Him.

That they may know that this is thy hand; that thou, Lord, hast done it. Psalm 109:27

Even knowing all that, my default response is usually to quiver and say, “I can’t.” And I truly can’t. But He can, through me. And like Peter, who was asked the impossible action of walking on water, I need to keep my eyes not on the boisterous winds and waves, not on the circumstances that would make it impossible, but on Him.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5

For with God nothing shall be impossible. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.Luke 1:37-38

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Glimpses, Literary Musing Monday,
Tell His Story, Coffee For Your Heart, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday)

He Is

I saw this at my friend Kim‘s blog, and because it is a longish video, it took me a while to get to it. But when I finally did – what an impact! I don’t know who the groups or individuals are who put it together, but they did a wonderful job magnifying Jesus Christ according to His Word. Well worth 11 minutes of your time.