Preserves

“Peach Preserves” by Emily Land

In the late 1800s the Lands sailed away from Prussia and landed on the Texas coast. In fairly short course they wound their way up into the Texas Hill Country pretty close to Junction and settled the Land Ranch (full of prickly pear, mesquite and deer)…the place where my dad would be born and where us Austin Lands (me, my brother, mom and dad) would perpetually visit to enjoy the glory of the Texas rolling hills. What and incredible blessing to have had that growing up. Well over 1000 acres for a kid to roam, swim, hunt and grow up.

Next to the old ranch house was an enormous garden and grove of peach trees, producing enough food to last the whole year, if you know how to keep the food from spoiling. That’s where Granny (my dad’s mom) was a superhero. Summers were filled with picking the fruit and veggies. When early winter came around we’d drive up to the ranch to hang out with Granny and Grandpa, try to bag a whitetail deer that would become our dinner for the next few months, and feast on all the glorious food that Granny would magically bring out of the kitchen (using a fair amount of lard in the process). No matter the time of year she could go to the pantry and pull out all sorts of beautiful summertime goodies: pickled watermelon rinds (sweet, with cloves), tomatoes, sweet jams, homemade sauerkraut, etc etc. My goodness. One of my favorites was the peach preserves. It was like opening a mason jar filled with summer.

There is something almost miraculous about preserving things. A little boiling, a pinch of this and scoop of that…then seal it in a mason jar and it’s good for a long long time.

This concept of being “preserved” is one of the hardest for Jesus-followers to grab hold of. Somehow we can, by the power of the Spirit, believe and base our eternity on the fact that we are sinners in need of mercy, and we’ve been given the gift of salvation that Jesus bought for us on the cross. But then things don’t simultaneously turn to butterflies and rainbows. We still struggle with outrageous selfishness and we live in a world that is still horrifyingly broken. These things combined makes us wonder if God’s love is really working, really intact. Have I “gone too far” and fallen from grace? Has God “gone too far” and let the world spin out of control. Sometimes it simply doesn’t LOOK or FEEL like God loves me or the rest of the world.

It’s into these blinding times that Paul puts a glorious exclamation point on Romans 8. The first 8 chapters of Romans is a beautiful, artistic and methodical revealing of The Gospel: our vast rebellion which has created an insurmountable cost; Jesus fully paying that insurmountable cost on the cross and gifting us not only the forgiveness of sins but also the full record of Christ, the indwelling of the Spirit and the ability to call God our Abba Father. And when all of this seems far too good to be true, Paul caps the whole Gospel off with these promises:

Romans 8
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We all suffer from a spiritual Separation Anxiety, and have a gnawing feeling that we are or will be abandoned by our Father. We were created to have intimacy with God, but we detached from him when we listened to the devil’s lies that we’d be better off without Him. But the Lord decided that the story wasn’t over. He chased us down in the desert and brought us home. It wasn’t our goodness or faithfulness that brought us into God’s family, but HIS goodness and HIS faithfulness. And now Paul assures us that, for all who are wrapped up into his paternal arms, it is fully up to HIS strength and love to keep us home, not ours. Paul is so emphatic that he lists every conceivable excuse we might have in Romans 8…and says that “nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Older theologians labelled this “Perseverance of the Saints.” I agree with them, but I prefer to call it “Preservation of the Saints” because it puts the verb in God’s power, not ours. He has made us His Bride (Revelation 21) and made vows to us that are literally impossible for him to break. Even when we break the marriage vows we’ve made to him, he is faithful to the wedding vows He’s made to us. We are safe. Secure. Loved. Home.

And these promises propel us to be “more than conquerors” in the world as God empowers and sends us to the ends of the earth in his name to share his love.

But I constantly forget.

I need to marinate in the security of God’s love for me. In an effort to help with that I’ve been sitting on these passages (and there are so many more). I pray that they can bring a calming, secure, hope-filled and empowering peace to you as well.

Psalm 139
O LORD, you have searched me and known me!
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

Jeremiah 32:40
I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.

Philippians 1:6
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 1:13-14
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guaranteed of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

John 10:27
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

Groanings too Deep

Romans 8:26
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

“in our weakness”

I really don’t like those words. I hate to admit when I am weak, to ask for help. I get a lump in my throat and a pit in my stomach as I begin to realize the vast extent that I…

  • … say shockingly hurtful words
  • … put my own desires over others’ needs
  • … judge and criticize, internally and externally
  • … take forgiveness for granted
  • … am captivated by the shiny objects of this world
  • … disbelieve the gospel
  • … forget that I am a child of God, and so are you
  • … can’t just “fix” it myself

It may be a blow to our pride, but this is exactly where the Lord finds us, exactly where we need him the most. He finds us at our weakest, when we are wholly incapable. We have sunk nose-deep into the quicksand of sin, fear and death. Not only can we not crawl out, even our cries for help are muffled by the mire. And as we look around, we catch a glimpse of One that we didn’t even realize was there. Just over to our right is One that reaches out to take hold of our hand, hold us up and call in the cavalry.

This is the pure and sure help we see in Romans 8:26. Let’s look at three beauties of the Holy Spirit found here:

Helps

The Holy Spirit is right here, right now. As part of the Godhead, He was intimately and intricately involved in the very formation of every fiber of my being. He knit me together atom by atom. He placed each freckle exactly where he wanted and made my 2nd toe a little longer than my big toe. And when He was done building my whole frame — body, mind and soul — he took up residence right inside of me so that I can never ever be alone. As my helper the Holy Spirit stands with me, shoulder to shoulder, walking with me through each fire and each flood. (see the songs at the bottom for more this)

Intercedes

The Holy Spirit, as our personal Author, knows our hearts better than we do. He knows our pains, our fears, our failures, our successes, our motivations, our desires and our needs. And he takes my mosaic heart-smorgasbord straight up to the Father to plead for help, mercy and love in ways we never could. We have no idea what we truly ought to pray for. Left to our own devices we will almost always pray for self-comfort things. There nothing wrong with this, it’s just not sufficient. There are greater glories in this world than I can ever fathom. And so the Spirit pleads on our behalf. And the most amazing thing happens: the Father says “Yes.” To every prayer the Spirit makes: “Yes.”

So, what IS the Holy Spirit praying for? Often he agrees with our prayers. Often He doesn’t. But this we know: He always pleads for our “good” and God’s glory. And He knows exactly the words to whisper into the Father’s ears…”groanings too deep for words.”

Deep Groans

This is one of the more shocking phrases in the Bible. A phrase that breaks the traditional stoic stereotypes we have of God. “Groanings to deep for words” can also be translated “Love Secrets.” Sit on that for a second.

And because of this miraculous presence and work of the Holy Spirit we can read Romans 8:28 not as a platitude or with skepticism, but from the mouth of a God who went face to face with the greatest evil this world has even known…the murder of the Son of God…and inverted this evil into the Greatest Good, the Greatest Love ever imagined: the salvation of all who believe.

Romans 8:28
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

If God was able to invert murder into new life, he is able to meet me in my weakness — regardless of what that weakness is — my sin, others’ sin, fears, anxieties, infirmities, relationships, poverty, hunger, sadness…whatever. The Holy Spirit never leaves, is never at a loss for words, and never unable. He is God With Us

This outrageous hope can be perpetually difficult for our hearts hear, believe and hold onto. So, in an effort to help, here are two songs to speak to the Lord standing alongside and leading the way through the fire and the flood