No More Gloom

no-more-gloom“But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish.”  Isaiah 9:1

For me it’s been a year of “no more gloom.” Rather, 2016 has been mostly light and overflowing joy! How thankful I am for such a happy season, a beauty out of ashes sort of year. It’s been awhile since sweet didn’t mingle with bitter; I’m enjoying the stark contrast. I delight to be married to the second love of my life, my new best friend. And I stand in awe of the God who reverses, who brings light out of darkness. It’s been a pretty great year, I’d say.

Of course there’s been some sorrow. I didn’t expect my dad to die this year. His death has felt so different, though. At 79, he was completely ready to be with Christ, to leave the decay of old age. I dearly love him and miss him, but for me it hasn’t been “hit by a freight train, life altering grief.” I suppose, in this occasion joy has eclipsed sorrow. I guess after the death of a spouse, it’s easier to process the death of a parent.

But I also know it’s been a difficult year for many. The world is full of gloom. Wars and rumors of wars, corruption, violence, racial tension, an endless election cycle, civilians caught in the middle of a firestorm, refugees displaced from their countries—I’ve heard it called it the “worst year ever.”

For some I love dearly, 2016 has been thoroughly devastating. I clapped my hands and wept for joy when my friends found out they were expecting twins after a long journey with infertility. Then I sobbed with them as they cradled two perfectly formed, precious babies who were just too small to survive. I have family facing chronic illness. And I’ve wept with those whose marriages have collapsed. I’ve seen them reel with the pain of betrayal. These are the sorrows so deep they feel physical. 

If I could, I would jump in front of the crushing blows so my loved ones would never experience them.

The world is still broken, and sorrow comes.

Gloom. It is “total or partial darkness, a state of melancholy or depression.”¹ As 2016 draws to an end, people clamor for the new year, grasping for the hope of something better. We’re a people constantly searching for something better. What hope is there when gloom overtakes? What hope is there when darkness is a heavy blanket?

Oh my friends, there is an imperishable, unfathomable, confident and sure expectation. His name is Jesus! He’s the King who eradicates the gloom. He is something better.

“There will be no more gloom!”

For, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness on them has light shined. You have multiplied the nations, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest…”  Isaiah 9:2-3

As a smoldering wick grows to blazing flame, so the Light of the World penetrated the darkness. The astonishing, glorious rays of sunshine arrived. A Son was given. He multiplies our joy! He ends anguish and distress.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5

Light will always overcome darkness. 

But wait there’s more! Have you ever had the moment when a familiar passage leaps from the page, and the words are fresh and new as if you’ve never truly seen them? Hang on to your socks kids, there’s some serious truth ahead.

Our God is precise. He reverses, He reigns, and He pursues.

The God who is Precise

“But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. in the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulon and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time, he has made glorious the was of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.”  Isaiah 9:1

Now compare Isaiah 9:1 to Matthew 4:12-16

“Now when he [Jesus] heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 

The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali
the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—

the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light

and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death
on them a light has dawned.’ 

Do you see it? 

I’ve read these verses a thousand times, and never before noticed the seemingly insignificant detail: Zebulun and Naphtali. This is the God who is precise. He brings redemption with the skill of a surgeon and the craftsmanship of a master artisan. Way back in Israel’s history, Zebulun and Naphtali were among the first taken captive by the Assyrians, among the first to “sit in darkness.” 

BUT Jesus went to them first. The Great Light dawned first on the ones who were captives first. I don’t know about you, but that pierces my soul, and makes me sing with joy. Even now it makes me a little teary. God not only fulfilled prophecy, but He did it with exquisite precision. 

His sovereignty is not consumed by vague maybes. Instead, “I will” is the persistent drumbeat of HIs plans. Is He not then precise in His care for you? Is He not thoroughly committed to His promises?

God perfectly orders my life. In His unequivocal concern for my good and His glory, I walked through the valley of death and made it to the other side. In His explicit care, He brought me a second great love.

More than these, God became man at a precise moment in history. The Father propelled His redemptive plan forward, and brought it to its pinnacle at the cross. He didn’t send the Savior His people wanted, but the One we drastically and desperately need.

The God who Reverses

Isaiah 8 ends with gloom and anguish, but Isaiah 9 is light and joy, radiating with stark contrasts. God reverses.

  • Gloom               No gloom
  • Darkness          Light
  • Remnant          Multiplied
  • Sorrow              Increased joy
  • Captives           Liberated, delivered
  • Oppressed       Free

This is what He does for His own.

I’m reminded of the Holocaust museum in Washington D.C. Even the architecture tells a story. At first the rooms are gloomy, cramped, and chaotic. Folks shuffle through the exhibits in reverential quiet. No one laughs, and more than one tear is shed. It’s a scene of horror, a history of genocide, and a sober indictment that we never let it happen again. 

Finally, just as despair permeates, and hope is a vapor, patrons wind their way to “Liberation,” the end of the war! The lighting and design of the museum shifts noticeably as allied forces liberate captives, righting what was wrong. There is light. Dissonant, crossing beams give way to clean, straight lines. Normal conversation resumes, and the claustrophobic soul can breath again.

So much greater is God’s reversal. He makes the world right side up. He has taken this hopeless captive and set her free, trading my sinfulness for His righteousness.

And He is also the God who Reigns.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulders; and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of PeaceOf the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will do this.” 

Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor. This royal title combines the idea of “doing something wonderful, extraordinary, and miraculous with the skill of giving wise advice or making wise plans.”² He reigns in infinite wisdom. 

He is the Mighty God. A mighty warrior, His power is divine, knowing no limitations. Nothing is too hard. The Lord of Hosts fights battles for me.

He is the Everlasting Father. Literally it means, “My father is eternal.” He never begins, He never ends. He is the ideal, good protector. By exercising perfect wisdom and perfect power, He accomplishes intimate, fatherly care of His people. 

And He is the Prince of Peace. Jesus comes to make an end of war: spiritually and physically. “He will limitlessly expand His influence and create peace without end.”² The world is certainly not at peace right now, but one day it will be. And even now, my heart can know peace that passes understanding. (Philippians 4:6-8)

This is our King.  

Finally, He is the God who Pursues.

“The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will do this.” Isaiah 1:9

It’s His zeal and passion that initiated redemption. We turned from Him, but “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  Romans 5:8

From eternity past, God planned to bring His people home.

He is the subject, the main character, the author, the narrator. Jesus pursues even to the point of the cross. He pursues even those who seem beyond hope.

With unassailable zeal, determination, and passion, God will concentrate His efforts to accomplish this marvelous deeds….[His people] can be absolutely sure that an omnipotent, sovereign God will stand behind the fulfillment of this wonderful plan.”² 

The blessing of His people is guaranteed. Victory is won.

Does He not pursue you even now? 

Therefore, whether 2016 was devastating or delightful, there is bright hope for tomorrow. My soul rests in the God who overcomes darkness, who shepherds me with precise care, who reverses, who reigns, and who pursues. 

I’ve got a sneaky feeling 2017 is going to be a great year; Jesus already defeated the gloom.


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¹ Webster’s Dictionary, ²The New American Commentary

Delight to Gaze upon Him

everythingI love when people feel at home in my home. I really do.

“Grab a blanket if you’re cold.

You know where the coffee mugs are.

Come on in without knocking.

Feel free to go in the fridge.

You’re a welcome guest. Moreover, I want you to know I consider you family.

Such delight it brings when friends know what they are to me- family, beloved!

I hope my home is lovely, and I hope folks feel loved there. But I know of a far more precious dwelling place.

“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts! My soul longs yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. (Psalm 84:1-2 )

Now, there are some things you must know.

  1. In the Old Testament, God chose to dwell in a tent made by hands, first the Tabernacle, and later the Temple in Jerusalem. Israel could meet with Him there.
  2. The journey to God’s dwelling place was a long, arduous, and often treacherous pilgrimage.
  3. For many, it may have been merely obligation. (Deuteronomy 16:16)
  4. Common Israelites were permitted to enter only the outer court of the Tabernacle. Even more restrictive was the Holy of Holies, the very seat of God. Solely the high priest, ONE man, ONE time a year could enter it.
  5. The sons of Korah, the authors of this Psalm, rejoice even in their lowly positions as doorkeepers. (Psalm 84:10)

Now, keep all that in mind for a minute.

To be welcome in the house of the Lord, the God who created everything, the God who is majestic and transcendent is in a word, astonishing.

So, the psalmists long for God’s dwelling place, yearning for it with a sense of urgency. They understand that meeting with God offers true delight, true satisfaction, and true fulfillment.

Therefore, to dwell with God is their chief desire.

David reiterates the theme.

“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in His temple.” (Psalm 27: 4)

Wow. I want God to be my chief desire, the captor of my affections. I want to sing and shout for joy, knowing He far surpasses all my hopes and dreams. I know He is the fulness.

But I’ll be honest, I don’t always want God the most.

Sometimes, other things vie for my attention. The hazards of the journey ensnare me. Sometimes, weeds and thorns threaten to choke out the truth, and other pastures seem greener.

But there are things I must recall.

God no longer dwells in a tent made by hands, but in hearts made of flesh. Through the completed work of Christ, God dwells within His church. He ALWAYS dwells with me.

I get to meet with the living God. Daily. Hourly. Minute by minute. In a word, that’s astonishing.

I’m not restricted to the outer court. The veil was torn, the Holy of Holies opened. Rather than ONE man, ONE time of year, I’ve been given constant, total access to God, Himself. Jesus pleads for me. And I can expect grace. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Furthermore, God calls me not a doorkeeper, but FAMILY. (Romans 8:14-15)

How then can I not delight to gaze upon Him, singing and shouting for joy?

How then can I not recall what am to Him?

Beloved. Called. Chosen. Redeemed. Purchased. Family


This post by Ami appeared first at aNew Season Ministries

 

I don’t have to be tough.

toughI got up early, showered, straightened my hair, and overall just looked cute. I thought about corporate worship, and couldn’t wait to be with the church. What snow? I’d be just fine.

A southern girl living in the midwest is bound to have some angst about five months of winter (as I’ve noted before), but I feel like I’ve conquered many of my snow issues. I’m not afraid to drive in it; I think I can handle a snowy road like a champ these days. I’ve learned to accept it, dress in layers, and buy thermal socks. Therefore, when the forecast called for a blizzard, I was not alarmed.

I backed out slowly. All was well; there was no getting stuck in this driveway.Opening my garage door, I wasn’t surprised to see several inches of the white stuff and more still falling. “No problem. I’ve got this.”

Well, until I got stuck, that is.

The wheels spun, and the engine revved. But it was just a show. Hmm, that was futile.

First action step, call a friend, of course. A true gentleman, he offered to come get me. Meekly, I accepted. In the meantime, I shoveled with determination and perhaps stubbornness. At least I could get it back in the garage, right?

I’ll spare you all the grizzly details, but I ended up wet, freezing, covered in snow, mad, crying, and no closer to getting the car unstuck. The wind was unforgiving, hurling snow at places I’d already cleared. And you can forget that lovely, straightened hair.

mad

Tears stung my face. I was angry I no longer had a husband to take care of such things. I was angry I couldn’t do it, and angry I had to ask for help. When I called my friend back, I felt like an incapable wimp.

“Don’t come get me.”

“Why?”

“I’m so angry and upset that I can’t get my car out. I’m mad that I have to, and not at all in the right place to be at church.”

“Ami, you’re being ridiculous. I’m coming to get you,” my guy friend calmly replied.

Later during worship, he slipped me a note. “I need your car keys. Several of us are going to go over and get you unstuck.”

Tears formed again, yet these were full of gratitude. I’m strong in many ways, but it’s okay to admit my weaknesses.

I am weaker in physical strength than men, but that’s not a bad thing.

So, here are the lessons.

Culture says, “be a strong, tough, independent woman.” But God honors women as the “weaker vessel.” I don’t mean that women aren’t capable, but our Lord says be honored, cherished, protected. Be the fine china. My pastor put it this way, “A chivalrous man takes the bullets, does the nasty work, and gets dirty because he realizes a lady shouldn’t have to.”

“…showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel.” I Peter 3:7 ESV

“Weaker vessel” doesn’t mean it’s inferior or any less valued. Rather, it is to be protected, esteemed, more highly valued.

That’s a difficult thing for widows to hear. “Who’s protecting me now? Who is doing the nasty work? Quite frankly, I have to do it a lot these days, “ my heart cries.

Yes, that’s often true, but it’s okay to ask for help. Sometimes it’s even needed. I know that’s a challenge, but people may not know the need until we ask. While Peter is speaking specifically to husbands in the verse above, there’s broader application within the church. Men can still honor the women around them with appropriate boundaries.

More importantly, Christ already did the nastiest of work. He already provided the ultimate protection. What’s a little snow compared to my need for salvation? When I remember my ultimate weakness, it more drastically contrasts His ultimate strength.

Being cared for is a lovely thing. I miss my chivalrous husband dearly, but I’m thankful God still puts chivalrous men in my life- family, friends, pastors. I’m thankful for men who help with home repairs, lift heavy objects, and pick me up in a blizzard.

I’m most thankful for Jesus, the ultimate chivalrous man.

I don’t have to be tough.


This post by Ami appeared first at anewseason.net

Anticipating Tomorrow. Looking toward 2015

The countdown began. The ball descended slowly, inching to its destination. 3-2-1! Happy New Year! The room filled with streamers, noise makers, and lingering kisses. He wrapped me in a giant hug, eyes dancing, grinning broadly. When he smiled, his whole face smiled. And of course, he kissed me with gusto. Goodbye, 2012. Hello, 2013!

The trip to the emergency room several days earlier already seemed a fading dream. I stole a tender glance at my husband. Thoroughly alive, passionate, vivacious, charismatic, and definitely goofy; these embodied him. Sure, there’d be valve replacement surgery in the near future, but medication would manage the problem till then. Jon would recover, and we’d go on living, dreaming, and pursuing Christ, worshiping Him together. We expected the trial, but we were ready. God had always taken care of us. He’d see us through this one as well.

But our hearts were light, hopeful, looking toward the new year with anticipation. We’d recently moved to a new home. Jon had started a new job. And we hoped this year God would bring a child.

New Year’s Day I awoke thinking about fresh starts and new beginnings.

“Lord, You’ve brought us so far this year! 2o12 was a year of abundance. I’m so thankful.  Father, in the coming year, consume our hearts with You. More than anything we want You to be magnified. Would You use us for the sake of Your kingdom, Your gospel? We’re hopeful, Lord. We’re excited.”

Fresh Starts. New Beginnings. Hope.

In the middle of the night, less than a month after we greeted the new year with gladness, I lay in a tight ball, clutching my husband’s wedding ring. How does one describe that first horrific night? Shock. Numbness. Nausea. I think there are no adequate words. A single thought repeated endlessly, “Jon died. My husband is dead.” My brain could not process reality.

Hope? Excitement for the future? What future? It died with him.

Or so it seemed.

Almost two years later, at the dawn of 2015, again I look toward the coming year with hope and anticipation.

“But how could that possibly be? You were utterly crushed, your dreams wrenched away, ripped apart like a doll house in a hurricane.”

Yes, that’s true. But remember what I prayed that New Year’s Day. “Consume our hearts with You. More than anything we want You to be magnified.” He has done it. Through tragedy, God was there, meeting me with grace upon grace. Gradually I remembered that I had not also died, and I recalled the One who promises a “future and a hope.”(Jeremiah 29:11)

It was the death of my beloved that caused me to be captivated with Christ. I’m mesmerized by Him, utterly fascinated with Him, and long for eternity with Him. And in this place, there is profound, penetrating, soul satisfaction that this world cannot hope to provide.

It’s an anticipation of things to come, the not yet. I’m looking toward a day when the church will be perfectly united, glorified in heart and mind, rejoicing forevermore, face to face with the One who redeemed it! I wouldn’t have chosen God’s answer, but He faithfully heard the cry of my heart. “Teach us to know You. Lord, be magnified through us.”

With the apostle Paul I’m learning to say, “Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Philippians 3:8 ESV).

Yet I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the second prayer. “Would You use us for the sake of Your kingdom?” If you had known my husband, you’d know this prayer was his heartbeat, even more so than mine. And, oh, how God has granted that desire, multiplying the fruit! Confidently I see God using Jon’s life and death to strengthen marriages, to call a man to preach, to save the life of another heart patient—literally, to push me to things I never would have tried. Through writing, I get to proclaim to thousands that Jesus is hope, that He is life, and that He alone makes reconciliation between God and man!

These are merely glimpses. I know there’s exponentially more than I understand. So, I kneel in awe and humility. For God does not need me or my husband. I cannot add to His sufficiency. When I ask that God be magnified, it’s a prayer that men would ascribe the honor to Him that He already has. T

hrough Christ there are always fresh starts and new beginnings. And He satisfies. How then, could I not face tomorrow with gladness?


This post appeared first at aNew Season Ministries

He met destruction so I wouldn’t have to.

I sat on the edge of the pool, carefully heeding the instructions, “Do not get in the water without your teacher.”

Without warning, I tumbled headfirst into the deep end. Unable to swim, I flailed, completely immersed, panicking with no ability to bring myself to the top. I could feel water searching for a way into my lungs.

In an instant, strong arms encircled me and drew me up to safety. Coughing, sputtering, and crying, I clung to the one that held me. I was afraid, but I was safe. I was five, and I vividly recall wanting no further part in swimming lessons that day. I also clearly recollect the boy who pushed me in, but I’ll not throw his name under the bus.

Lifeguards are magnificent people.

It’s realistic that I could have drowned that day were it not for someone who was my help and my deliverer. But of course, I tell you this story to point to a greater Help, a perfect Deliverer.

Psalm 40 begins “I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.”

In the moment where I thought I was drowning physically, I can emphatically tell you that I was not waiting patiently.

Yet here the psalmist describes a time when he cried out to God, waiting patiently for Him. In his spiritual distress, he was given grace to wait. He waited, and he cried out–so simple, yet so difficult sometimes.

But God in response did so much more.

He inclined to me
He heard my cry
He drew me up from the pit of destruction.
He set my feet upon a rock.
He made my steps secure
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise.

God was the one who could save. He was the deliverer. He was the one who acted. In the immediate context, David reminds us that God hears our prayers and responds.

His response may not be in our timing, nor in the way we think he will act, but he does hear. He does draw our fearful, anxious hearts from the miry bog.

As a result, “Many will see and hear and put their trust in the Lord.” When I recall how I’ve received mercy, when others see God’s strong arms, together we praise Him! We sing, we shout to the God of our salvation!

These are lovely, comforting thoughts. But there are far more radical implications to be gleaned. First, Jesus drew me up from the pit of destruction. He set me on a ROCK, which is himself. Through his death, burial and resurrection he made my steps secure.

“You have multiplied O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you!” (Psalm 40:5) How my soul magnifies the ROCK of my salvation!

Praise God for salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

But secondly, we can view this psalm as if Jesus was the one who prayed it! Take a moment and let that sink in.

I know this is true because Hebrews 10:5-7 quotes Psalm 40:6-7 as the words of Christ. “Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. Then I said, “Behold, I have come.”

Jesus came as the humble, obedient servant. God became the sacrifice.

jesus destroyedThink of it this way, Jesus knew destruction. The cross was the miry bog. He faced death to save those his Father loved. Furthermore, verses 12-17 foreshadow the garden of Gethsemane. “For evils have encompassed me beyond number… Be pleased O Lord to deliver me! O Lord make haste to help me!”

But there in the garden, Jesus said perhaps some of the most extravagant words ever spoken. “Nevertheless, not my will but yours.”

The priest became the sacrifice. The perfect one was cursed, so we could be blessed. He took destruction so we could be whole. He went down in the miry bog of death, but he was raised again to life! Now from his place on the rock Jesus reigns as risen King!

And that my friends, is the wonder and majesty here. It is not “Wait patiently like David.”

Rather, the immense beauty of Psalm 40 is that we have a Savior who prayed it perfectly. We have a Savior who lived it perfectly. Therefore, we have grace when we are weak.

So my soul sings, “Great is the Lord!”

Father, thank you that Jesus faced destruction in my place. He bore the wrath that I deserved. Thank you for Jesus, the true Savior, the rock who made my soul secure. Thank you for Jesus who also rescues me when daily struggles threaten to drown me. When I think of all Christ has done, I can’t help but praise you! I can’t help but want to serve you always!


This post by Ami appeared first at anewseason.net

 

It’s heaven because Jesus is there.

love for ChristThe other day I came across a sentence written in the margin of my Bible.

“Behold the glory of Jesus!”

It was dated January 27, 2013.

I stopped in my tracks, stunned. I had no recollection that I wrote it, but there it was in my handwriting.

The date was merely two days after the death of my husband. No wonder I don’t remember the words! But the day itself is extremely vivid.

It was the first worship gathering after Jon died. Though I was still in shock, I was compelled to be with the church. Grief crushed me like a freight train, but I had to go. God’s  grace was tangible. The Holy Spirit’s presence was so powerful, almost physical.

I was surrounded by so many who loved me. That day I knew my church was family. Every person wanted to bear the weight of sorrow with me. Tears flowed freely. No one seemed to want to leave. My husband was also deeply loved.

I scanned down the page of my Bible, trying to recall the sermon. I don’t remember it, but somehow, “behold the glory of Jesus” broke through the fog.

As I read the passage my pastor must have preached, I landed on some tough stuff.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

And then I remembered. When I heard those words two days after my greatest fear became reality, I thought “Yes, my heart is heaven. My treasure is there because that’s where Jon is.”

Somehow I think “behold the glory of Jesus” was the response I wanted to have.

But at two days, my most cognizant thoughts were “I just want him back, or God, you could just take me there too? Please.” I longed for heaven because Jon was there.

Over time, I’ve pondered “treasure” often. To treasure something is to value it highly. An ultimate treasure is what we value most highly, that which takes precedence over all. It’s the thing that captures our attention and holds sway over our emotions.

I’ve reached some difficult conclusions. Jon cannot be my ultimate treasure, but Jesus must be. 

I’m reminded of another passage.

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73: 25-26)

What? Does your jaw drop to the floor like mine did? I’ve read this verse so many times, but now it carries radically new significance.

I do have someone in heaven. The man with whom I wanted to grow old, the man I adored is there.

And you’re telling me that the psalmist said he had only God?

Yes.

Well surely Asaph, the Psalm singer, must have experienced the death of a loved one?

Probably, but he made a definitive point that God was the satisfier of his soul. No one else he loved could compare.

God was the captor of his primary affection, his ultimate treasure. Like the Psalmist, I am learning that Jesus is the best thing.

It’s tempting to remember my husband through only rose-colored memories. He was wonderful, but he was also fallible. He loved me, but he also failed me, as I did him. Yet Jesus never fails.

Now let me clarify, to treasure Christ above all does not mean I love Jon any less. But it does mean I want my love for God to be so exponential, that love for Jon seems paltry in comparison.

That’s hard thing to hear. I know. It’s a hard thing to write.

A song I love called “Bare White Walls,” beautifully expresses truth.

“Whom have I in heaven but you? There is nobody. There is nobody. If heaven’s just a room with bare white walls and you and me, that’s all I’ll ever need.

My kids, my wife (insert husband here), my job, my car, my friends, my health, my heart, they fail me. But you don’t fail me. Whom have I in heaven but you? There is nobody.

When I compare your glory with these present pleasantries, they don’t matter. And when I compare your glory with these present sufferings, they don’t matter.”

I’ve found that the more I know God, the more I treasure Him. The more I dwell on the realities of the death and resurrection of Christ, the more I am mesmerized by Him. I have learned what it is to long for Jesus.

When I was crushed by a freight train, when I longed to go where Jon was, even then my soul grasped for truth. My emotions screamed the opposite, but the Holy Spirit broke through the fog.

“Behold the glory of Jesus!”

Heaven isn’t heaven because Jon is there. It’s heaven because Jesus is there.


This post by Ami appeared first at aNew Season Ministries.
“Bare White Walls”, copyright Temples from the album Against the Grain

This Clumsy, Broken Thing

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18 

I’m really clumsy.

If you knew me, you’d laugh because that’s an understatement.

I call the phenomena “Drop the book.” It’s like my brain decides, “You’re done holding that. Drop the book.” Then the book falls. It’s real.

I have a friend who calls me “Trip,” not because I’m funny.

And I think there are things in life that happen only to me. I mean, it takes a special person to cause a spectacular splatter of gooey chocolate all over her wall and stove.

Once I accidentally flushed $150 down the toilet. You don’t even want to know.

Most of the time I just laugh at myself.

After some manifestation of my clumsiness, my husband always cupped my chin in his hand, grinned, and said, “Oh Lovee, what am I going to do with you?”

“Just love me,” was my coy reply.

A friend told me that it really is a cute elegance. I’ll go with that.

I also break things, but not on purpose.

It always seems to be something with memories attached, though–a coffee mug my husband and I bought on vacation–a hand-painted spoon rest from when we were dating.

On our first anniversary I even broke one of our personalized wedding flutes. You can imagine the tears. We never got around to replacing it either.

To date I haven’t broken a dish in anger, but I’ll admit, when Jon died I often wished a box of cheap dishes would magically appear so I could smash them to the floor.

And had they appeared, I’m almost certain they would have ended up in smithereens.

Even then I had sense enough not to hurl the Fiestaware.

Recently I broke my special spoon rest…again. I don’t remember how I broke it the first time, but I’m sure I was distraught and Jon his usual calm. We carefully fixed it with super glue, and its flaw was barely noticeable.

I think I’ll be able to mend it again, but I this time the scar will show. When memories are all that’s left, a shattered one pierces that much deeper.

So, I’ve been thinking about how God speaks of broken things.

Often being broken is a mark of humility or surrender.

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God you will not despise.” Psalm 51:17

I’ve been broken so many times. The process is painful, but it’s a sweet brokenness that teaches me to understand the fierceness of God’s tenderness. He draws near the broken hearted.

Being broken and restored also reminds me of Kintsukuroi, a Japanese repair method that infuses broken pottery with gold. How ironic that the shards are mended with scars of gold! The result– a piece far more exquisite and costly, not in spite of the scars but because of them.

In other places, broken things represent extravagant love.

“…as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head.” Mark 14:13

A familiar story, but don’t lose its radiance.Ultimate broken thing

A woman, identified elsewhere as Mary the sister of Lazarus, took a flask of ointment worth almost a year’s wages, broke it (for there were no screw tops in those days), and used all of it to anoint Jesus.

Others around the table were outraged at her ridiculous waste and flagrant behavior.

But her broken thing was an avenue for lavish affection and worship. She knew what was most important.

Finally, sometimes God combines these three: humility, scars, and extravagant love.

They intersect in the ultimate “broken thing,” Jesus.

He humbled himself even to death on the cross. Now alive, He bears the scars as a mark of His extravagant love.

He heals broken things. He mends them with something much more valuable than gold.

I marvel that He loves this clumsy, broken thing.

Father thank you for spiritual brokenness. Thank you for bringing me often to a place of surrender and humility. Keep my heart ever tender before you. Use my brokenness to manifest your extravagant love. I have scars, but you heal them with something more precious than gold, that is, Yourself. 

This post appeared first at A Widow’s Might.

 

Satisfied. Truth for my “new singleness”

jeremiah 31 3It was a summer day in 2005. I sat on my apartment floor crying out to God. “Lord please, you’ve got to change me. I want to know that you satisfy. I want to know that you are enough even if I never marry. I want to say that I’m ok with that.” I was 23. I had just returned from a wedding weekend as a bridesmaid. I had been surrounded by couples. There was the couple getting married, the couple married for a year, the dating couple, my best friend who got engaged on the way to the wedding, and then there was me. Single without any prospects. At the time 23 and single seemed ancient. I smirk at myself just a little.

Nonetheless, I was deeply struggling. I was the girl who had wanted nothing more than to get married. I knew it was an obsession, and I knew it had become my idolatry— the thing I had to have to make life work, the thing that without it I could not be happy. I dreamt of a home and a family, but instead I was alone and in grad school, a plan I’d never wanted.

On my knees I pled for help. And God met me there and began to radically shape my understanding of His love. So clearly illumined was Jeremiah 31:3.

“Yea I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.”

I’ve since come to adore it in several translations.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued my faithfulness to you.”

“I have loved you my people with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.”

As I considered the verse, I journaled “Everlasting love. Always without end and without fail. You’ve drawn me, Lord? But still love seems so stoic.” I pulled out the giant Strong’s Concordance (no online tools in those days), and looked up the Hebrew word for love. I was astonished.

“with ardent and vehement desire, with tender affection and emotion, with great delight for the one loved.” 

This is how you love me God? This is how you view me?

“Ami you want a man to love you this way, but this is how I love you.”  No, the words weren’t audible, but with clarity the Spirit made His word alive.

The catalyst sparked and grew into enormous flame.

God’s loved for me was not business-like. It was not without emotion. He desired me to be with Him. He delighted in me. His love was vehement. It was fervent, fierce, powerful, intense, earnest, zealous, enthusiastic, and passionate!

I never knew that before.

I had been a believer for 9 years. I knew Jesus had died for me, and knew He was my Savior. But I never really comprehended the true manifestation of His love. I was trapped in an “earning favor with God” mentality. I knew I couldn’t earn salvation, but I thought that by reading my Bible, serving at church, and all the rest, God was somehow more pleased with me. I thought that in my failures He was less delighted with me. I thought His love was stoic.

I had never known the emotion my Lord has for me. I didn’t understand that on my worst days, He loved me no less, and on my best days no more. For, He already gave me the full measure of His love. I didn’t understand that His sacrificial love was inherently mingled with delight.

So God began to teach me He was enough. Over the next several years He taught me to treasure Him more than marriage. I never reached the illusive “magic state of complete contentment in which God can now bring the one,” but I did learn to love what God was doing right then. I did learn that I was not waiting for life to begin.

I’m still learning.

Who knew I had quite a few years of singleness left and a broken engagement before I would marry my beloved? Who knew I would experience a different type of singleness, called widowhood?  Who knew that words like Ms, move on, and single adult would cause stinging pain when I thought I’d never hear them again?

“Lord, so beautifully you reminded me of the verse that changed me almost 10 years ago. So beautifully you reminded me of its precious truth. Your love is fervent and zealous. You are jealous for my affection. How drastically you changed my perception of you! Keep changing my faulty perceptions. It still overwhelms me that you love me so! Your faithfulness is astounding. Thank you for drawing me to you. In this new singleness, these words are still true.”

“with ardent, vehement desire. with tender affection and emotion. with great delight for the one loved.”

This is the love that truly satisfies. This is the way my husband could not fully love me. His love for me was great, but nevertheless imperfect. This is the love that is more than enough, even in widowhood, a plan I never wanted. This is God’s love for His people.

With unfailing love Jesus sought me. With unfailing love He bought me.

“And they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord… and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 31)

Satisfied.

Merely buzz words? No way.

If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you probably use a fair bit of Christianese. It’s a language with words like saved, believer, walking with Christ, gospel, and on and on. Do you ever wonder if they’re just trendy words with which we pepper our speech to impress others? Yeah, it’s true. Sometimes they are. But they don’t have to be. For when we press to know, to unpack the truth, and to understand, they are life altering. For instance, examine Romans 5:1-2 for a minute.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

Paul spent the previous chapters explaining the Gospel, our abject need for it, and Christ’s centrality in it. Now he turns to what “knowing Jesus” really looks like. And it looks like justification, which means to be declared innocent. Not only did Jesus take all your sin, he gave you ALL of his righteousness. This was a one-time, legal act. You’ve heard it this way–just as if I’ve never sinned, just as if I’ve always obeyed.

This is how God sees you. But do you really believe that? I mean, doesn’t that just fill your heart with awe and wonder? Doesn’t it lift the heavy burden of guilt and shame? Amen!

But Paul doesn’t stop there. He says because you are justified, you have peace with God. Whoa. No strife. No contention. No wrath. So, the result of being declared righteous is peace. That’s propitiation. Imagine God’s great fireball of wrath hurtling through time and space at YOU, but at the last minute it’s absorbed by the cross.There Jesus bears all the weight and fury of it. That almost sounds like a work of epic fantasy. But it really happened. No wrath to you anymore, ever. All you know is grace. You’ve been adopted, reconciled, and redeemed. Through Jesus you have a secure standing. You have full access to God. You stand in grace. The fitting response? “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” The deeper these truths penetrate, the more unshakable, overflowing, and abundant is our joy. Buzz words? No way.

The gospel, then is power that turns sinners into saints. It is the power to obey.

5 Radical Words. “I am praying for them.”

Ipraying for them think I’m kind of an emotional creature. Scratch that. I’m definitely an emotional creature. But this is not a bad thing. God created emotions, and he has big emotions for me.

I like having big emotions. I like loving deeply. I like laughing heartily. I like being ridiculously excited. I love superlatives.

But sometimes my emotions become a jumbled up mess. Mix big emotions with a tendency toward introspection, and presto I see a thousand strands of spaghetti interwoven and tied in knots with each other! I think we’ve talked about this topic before? Probably so. Anyway, one thought affects another. That one affects five more and so on. Untangling them seems daunting, impossible, and futile. I mean why would you ever want to untangle spaghetti anyway? Well, I suppose it’s there the analogy breaks down. But nonetheless, those days and weeks come. The knot grows until the burden of untangling it seems so heavy it’s crushing.

Anybody else relate? Can I get an amen?

For me at least, big conflicting emotions are one way God reminds me of my neediness, and that he is enough to meet those needs. They teach me to preach truth to myself even when I don’t feel like it. And I learned long ago, that if I keep hearing enough truth, my emotions will surely catch up.

I’m not always very good at preaching to myself, however. Though I get to counsel others all the time, sometimes I struggle to counsel myself. I guess that’s why God made the church a body. I need precious friends who will say, “Ami maybe you just need some time to be still before God.”

Duh. Why didn’t I think of that? It’s something I totally know, but I had to hear it from someone else. Many of us struggle to be still, myself included. We tend toward Marthaness and not Maryness. Yes, I possibly just invented two words. And if you have no idea what I’m referring to, go check out Luke 10. But being still is one of the themes of this year. I’m still learning it. When I really stop, sit down, cry to God for help, and physically write out what is true, He is ALWAYS faithful to meet me there. He is always faithful to make truth sink in! It’s the Holy Spirit who illumines. He is truth. And He’s the one that untangles the knot.

But that’s enough discourse on my thoughts and emotions. Enough metacognition.

Let’s get to the good stuff. Over the last few days God’s been using John 17 to distill the thoughts and smooth out the snarls. Enter, big excitement! I am dying to share this with you! This is staggering stuff.

Jesus’ imminent return to the Father was close at hand. Suffering and death was coming. Ending his sermon, he started to pray. Yet it wasn’t a silent conversation with his Father. He wanted the disciples to listen in! And now we get to listen in. There’s so much rich theological truth happening in this chapter, but it was five words that utterly blew me away.

Jesus said I am praying for them.” 

Do you recognize what just happened here?

Jesus is praying for his church. And as part of his church, Jesus is praying for me! for me?

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.” (v9) Let the full weight of those words wash over you for a second. Don’t miss the significance here. Staggering right?

Jesus, King, Messiah, Savior, Lord, Son, God, is praying and I get to look over his shoulder. Seated at the right hand of the Father, he pleads for me. He always lives to make intercession for his own. (Hebrews 7) Here I get a glimpse of the way he talks to the Father. About himself. About his church. About me! Holy stars and stripes batman!

And just what does He pray?

  • Keep them
  • Make them unified, one with each other
  • Guard them
  • Protect them from the evil one
  • Give them my joy
  • Sanctify them in the truth. Transform them.
  • Make them one with us
  • Teach them that you love them as you love me!
  • I desire them to be with me. Bring them where I am!
  • Help them know that I am in them and they are in me.

Keep them. Guard and protect them. I know there’s so much more implied here, but for me this week, the link was to my thoughts. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7) When I cast my jumbled up worries, fears, anxieties on Christ, the result is peace. Peace that cannot be understood. Because he already died for those sins, Jesus guards all of me.

And if that’s not enough, just think about some of the other gigantic implications of this prayer. Jesus shows deep, personal, intimate care for his own. He knows we’re sheep. As the great shepherd, he protects and lays down his life. He also prays that we know we are in him and he is in us. Therefore, I am never alone. There is never a moment when Christ is not fully aware of my needs, struggles, and fears. He gets it, even when I think no one else does. Because he’s also God, he knows exactly how to pray for me. I can’t get over that he actually does, nonetheless perfectly! Wow. I admit, union with Christ is something of a beautiful mystery. It’s easier to get that he’s in me. But I’m in him? Still contemplating that one.

Likewise, because I’m part of his church, part of the bride, he desires me to be with him! And he sees me with affection and delight. It means I’m wanted. Always.

The way he prays reveals resounding oneness with the Father. It also reveals that he wants his own to know the same intimacy. Because Jesus satisfied God’s wrath, he accomplished that for me.Therefore, God loves me with the same love with which he loves the Son. That’s almost crazy talk! But it’s true.

And, let’s not miss what he doesn’t pray. He does not ask for believers to be taken out of the world, to withdraw from it, to create fortresses around ourselves. Also, “not of the world” isn’t a command. Rather it’s an indicative, already a reality. Believers are already not of this world because of who we are in Christ. But he doesn’t ask for us to be removed from it.

He does not ask that his followers would have a life of ease and that everything would be tulips and mint-chocolate-chip ice cream. He does not pray for us to have health, wealth, and prosperity. He does not pray that we would squabble over peripheral issues. Rather he prays that we would know the unity he has with the Father.

He does not pray “show them that they earn favor with their toiling. Show them that you love them more or less because of their actions.”  That truly is staggering.

“I am praying for them”

Five words calmed my soul, got rid of the knots, stopped the roller coaster, leveled out the hills and valleys, and reminded me that Jesus is truth. Not just true, but truth. The truth.

This chapter is so rich. There’s so much more, but we’d be here for days.

“No earthly feast can even faintly compare with the nourishment we are given in Jesus’ high priestly prayer.” (ESV Gospel Transformation Bible)

Yeah, I agree with that.