Refuge

Psalm 62:7

On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

2020 is the year that the CDC pleaded with us to “shelter in place” in an effort to protect ourselves and others from the looming danger of a potentially deadly virus. Though it has felt isolating and often burdensome, we are naturally bent toward “sheltering.” Scripture calls it taking refuge. The Psalmists frequently invite us to “take refuge” during storms and impending danger. It is like they are standing in the doorway of a brick house during a hail storm calling us out of the elements and into safety. These storms happen everyday, from which we keep looking for refuge.

  • The storm of COVID
  • The storm of financial problems
  • The storm of broken relationships
  • The storm of nauseating sin
  • The storm of addictions

The world gives us infinite (and often very helpful, though temporary) places of refuge during these storms: masks, grief counseling, financial planning, AA, prescriptions. These can truly help when the hail is raining on our heads. But there has to be more. There has to be a Real Refuge because the storms just don’t stop, and The Storm of Sin, Fear and Death is pressing in.

In my regular everyday life, while I am taking appropriate shelters, I need two more things:

  1. Ask what unhealthy shelters am I taking, which takes on two elements?
    1. Some shelters are simply sin:
      1. Jumping into an inappropriate relationship (or porn) just to feel loved.
      2. Financial impropriety to get out of debt
      3. Lashing out at others to gain control
    2. Some shelters might be overboard:
      1. Never going into public to ensure I don’t get sick.
      2. Not confronting sin so that I don’t rock the boat.
      3. Taking a pill for every malady.
  2. Seeing and enjoying the Lord as my refuge.
    1. “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
    2. “He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.” Psalm 91:4
    3. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” Jn 14:27

I am painfully aware that this can feel like shallow placating. I need something more than “just trust God” and “but God will work this out for your good.” Yes, those are true. But when I am being beaten down by the hailstorm, I need something I can actually hold onto.

In 2018 Fiona Simpson of Australia was caught with her baby in a massive hailstorm that began to break through the windows. In sacrificial love she laid over her child and was brutally beaten by the hail. She and her baby survived, but she was left with horrible injuries all over her body.

This is what I can hold onto: God himself has done infinitely more than what Fiona did for you and me on the cross. The storm of death was raining down, and so he covered himself over us, taking the hit of death itself. We still get pummeled in this life with relational trauma, abuse, sin, slander, ruin. He has proven his immeasurable love for me on the cross, and therefore Paul can tell us (Paul, the one who was beaten, slandered and continually faced death and pain) in Romans 8:32 “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

So what does this mean? Most of us Westerners (me included) have been brainwashed to believe that the utmost goal of life is being safe and comfortable. It is this mindset that determines the type of refuges we create and “rest” in. God has actually told us over and over that sin WILL cause us real pain, discomfort, injustice. Our bodies will decay and our relationships will cause heartbreak, but God has already made all things right and is calling us to begin living the resurrected life now. This is what Easter is about. The cross wasn’t the finale. It defeated sin and the resurrection defeated death.

John 16:33
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”


Memory Care

Psalm 42
5 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
6 my salvation and my God.
My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep
at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
have gone over me.
8 By day the LORD commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.

It’s pretty embarrassing when somebody catches me talking to myself. Maybe it’s when I’m doing a project around the house and I complain at myself for not being able to hit a nail straight; or maybe it’s when I’m trying to write a blog and I tell myself how dumb I am for not being able to think of the right word to use. But sometimes when I talk to myself it’s with words of encouragement, like after I finish a workout and (though it feels arrogant) I silently proclaim “Man, I killed it today” or as I eat the brisket that took me 12 hours to smoke I proudly tell myself “This is pretty dang good.”

Here’s reality: we talk to ourselves constantly, proclaiming “truth” to our souls. Sometimes this “truth” is actually a lie, and other times it’s actual Gospel Truth. And it’s often hard for our hearts to tell the difference.

Sometimes I tell myself how alone, unlovable, incompetent and worthless I am. Lies.

Sometimes I tell myself (not in a personally prideful way) that I am a man of value, promise, ability and love. Truth.

Here in Psalm 42 the Psalmist (the sons of Korah) lets us into his inner thoughts; the things he is experiencing, feeling, thinking, saying, fearing, hoping. I want to pull out a handful of truths that we can apply to our real, everyday life. Especially when there is fear, strain and pain (like right now with COVID-19).

Be Honest

Jesus has no care for your buttery religious platitudes. He did not come to pat you on the back while you shallowly proclaim that you are “too blessed to be stressed.” Now, I do know (and struggle with envy) those who have a super optimistic and faithful outlook, and really aren’t (often) struck with anxiety and fear. This isn’t what I’m talking about. I’m talking about how the Lord longs for us to be truly honest with the concerns, pains, fears, doubts, vices, tears and wailings in our life. (He also wants to hear about the sweet joyous things, but hold onto that thought for a second). Enough of the “I’m fine, how are you” conversations we have with ourselves and with Jesus. Dig deep, like this Psalmist, and cry out that there are waterfalls and waves crashing over us, and it feels like we are going under; it feels like our Lord has forgotten us; it feels like we are alone, out life is over, futile, wrecked.

But don’t stop there…this is just the beginning of hope and healing.

Talk to Yourself

Sit in the pain and fear. Try to actually hear the enemy that is trying to convince your heart that you are overcome, and then talk back. Begin to have a back and forth conversation with that broken part of you that is hurting. This Psalmist, when he is feeling overwhelmed, turns to his own soul and says “Why are you downcast?” He says “He little guy, what’s going on? What are you REALLY afraid of? What’s making you hurt?” I think he sits and listens to his little broken soul, and then he calmly, truthfully and hope-fully whispers love into his soul. He tells himself “Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him!” I don’t think this is a directive to us but a directive to himself! It’s not something weird or magical, but a practical way to be honest with what’s happening inside your heart, and letting the Holy Spirit speak Love into the weak and hurting places.

(HERE is a tremendous podcast by Church DeGroat to help explain what it means in times of anxiety to honesty “talk to yourself” in a hope-filled, productive way.)

Memory Work

The practical work of finding this hope is wrapped up in this one word: “Remember.” Over and over and over and over God tells his people to “remember.” God’s people would set up stones and monuments to that, when later generations would ask about them, those who have gone through the Red Sea and Jordan River would remind themselves and others that God’s rescuing steadfast love has never ever ever failed. When the armies attacked; when they were enslaved; when hope seems to have been lost, God himself “remembered” his people and rescued them (No, God never forgets us, but “God remembering” is a literary device to comfort our hearts as it reminds us that we are on His mind, and He longs to save us).

So, what about you? How do you do this? Amy (my wife) knows how much I need this in my everyday life, so she bought me a simple spiral notebook for me to write down what is happening in my heart. It’s not really a diary, but a place where I jot down little words and phrases. My personal way (we can each do it differently) is to have 2 simple columns: one that says “Thankful” where I just write a word of what I am thankful and the other says “Helpful” where I am asking for God to come intervene (I include confession in this columns).

Ultimately, the very best Memory Work and Self-Talk I can do is to hold onto 42:8

8 By day the LORD commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.

Look at the verse more closely. The LORD himself is talking to himself. Even though God is Love itself, he “commands” his HESED (his Steadfast Love) to overwhelm and overcome us. When it feels like the waterfalls and waves are crashing over, it is actually God himself and He steadfast love surrounding us.

Jesus himself allowed Death itself to crash over him; the Father and the Son both went through the cross-centered pain and strain of being “forsaken” so that, even when this world crashes around us, we have a Father that will protect and hide us under His wings. Jesus has secured for us our perfect Home and perfect Family that will never perish, spoil or fade.

This by no means minimizes the reality of pain, hurt and true threats around us. But it can, the Spirit’s power, put them into eternal perspective. Very very slowly, prayerfully, graciously, God’s love can begin to eclipse our anxiety. Our anxiety may (likely will) still be there, but so will our realization of our Loving Father.

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

Adventing

Advent: The Great Anticipation; The Great Arrival.

In your world, what are you desperately waiting on? The arrival of who, or what

What has you on the edge of your seat, burning a hole in your calendar?

Another way to put it…in what/who are you putting your hope?

What future thing is going to bring you what you need? To cure your loneliness, boredom, anger, fear, shame, guilt? We all stand on a foundation of hope:

  • Hoping I have enough to pay my bills
  • Hoping I’ll find love (or that I won’t lose the love I have)
  • Hoping my medical report turns out ok
  • Hoping I don’t get found out as the fraud I am
  • Hoping my kids turn out ok
  • Hoping my theology and morality is “good enough”

We are constantly immersed in some kind of hope, and very little of it (if any) is actually under our control (which causes fear, but more on that next week).

2000 years ago there was an impossible anticipation for the coming Messiah, but all logic told them that it wasn’t going to happen. There had been a few hundred years of (seeming) Divine Silence. By all human accounts, God had chopped down all the trees of hope and promise, leaving a lifeless clear-cut forest; leaving us alone and on our own. We see this in Isaiah 9 as God warned His people of their impending exile into slavery.

Isaiah 9:14
So the LORD cut off from Israel head and tail,
palm branch and reed in one day—

For them, and for us, all signs pointed to justified abandonment by God. BUT…what about God’s promises? Would he, could he, be true to his word to never forsake us? To come rescue us? Even when we’ve gone way too far. When we’ve abandoned him? Abandoned each other? Abandoned our own dignity and value?

Into this desperation comes Isaiah 11

Isaiah 11:1-3
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. 2 And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.

The stump of Jesse: King David’s father. The family tree of God’s promises had been cut down and lay rotting on the ground. Dead. Hopeless.

And then…a sprout. Life. Hope. And not just hope, but a branch that would produce fruit…MORE life. God created a way where there was no way.

This is The Immanuel. The rightful perfect Branch that not only came from the cut down trunk, but (as we see in 10) is also the ROOT of the tree itself. Jesus is the Great I AM; present and instrumental in creation; present and intimate right here and right now; present and sovereign in what is to come. It isn’t that Jesus simply brings us hope, Jesus IS our hope.

And so now, during this Advent Season, we begin the seemingly impossible task of dislodging our chaotic minds and hearts from lesser hopes in this world — hopes that are real and very often very important, for which we are called to pray and pursue — and then to be lodged into the The Greater Hope of Christ. Dislodged from merely hoping for better circumstances and securely hoping for the Savior that has already come into our darkness, lived among us as the “God With Us” and died in order to crucify the hopelessness of Sin, Fear and Death, only to miraculously resurrect (another impossibility that the Lord overcame) and thereby BE our Hope.

So, what does that even mean? When I feel alone, shattered, afraid, hopeless — there is One that holds all the power that is lovingly present with me right here and right now. All of life will eventually fail me — financial, relational, medical, moral — every other thing in which I hope will crumble, but not Jesus. He’s already been crumbled on the cross, and now stands alongside the Father in power, and has send His Spirit as the presence of God in and with me now. I cannot be alone; I cannot be abandoned; I cannot be lost or overcome. My hope is in Him and in His hands, so even when I let it go in search for other hopes, he doesn’t let me go. He has overcome, and is, will, bring me with him. Starting here. Now. Forever.

Galatians 4:4-5
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

Alternate Reality

The name-masks we wear

What’s your name? Not the name on your license or the one your mamma gave you, but your NAME? Your Identity. Your Being. Your Glory. In older times people were often given identity-driven names.

  • Abram (“exalted father”) was changed to Abraham = “father of multitudes”
  • Jacob was changed to Israel = “strives with God”
  • Simon son of John was changed to Cephas (or Peter) = “Rock”
  • All the folks with vocational names like Cook, Butler, Baker and my friend from high school who should have been a dentist: Shannon Toothman…or my own last name as I’ve come from a heritage of ranchers.

In Isaiah 56 we find God’s people finally being set free from Exile and brought home to the Promised Land. But things have changed. There have been numerous additions to God’s family, people that are intertwined with the Lord, but feel like “dirty outsiders” that don’t belong.

Isaiah 56:3
Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.”

Have you seen the movie Inception? To quickly summarize: it tells the story about how people can create, enter and redirect people’s subconscious worlds, which could result in manipulating their “real world” thoughts and actions.

It turns out that we all engage in this dangerous and somewhat effective game everyday. We find ourselves in a reality that we don’t like: pain, anger, sadness, failure, shame, fear, hopelessness. We find ourselves living lives we don’t want to live, feeling things we don’t want to feel, doing things we don’t want to do. We don’t want to live in the here and now, it’s just too hard. So we weave a coping tapestry as we dive down and make an alternate reality, one that is much more to our liking (at least for a little while). Sometimes this alternate reality is done in real-life with real actions (in our secret sins and hypocritical faces); sometimes it’s done deep down in our hearts and imaginations (i.e. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty).

  • When the middle-age man is ashamed of his job, family, body and/or finances, so he pours his life into work in order to prove his worth.
  • When the 10th grade boy feels unloved, so he hides in the porn-world because these 2-dimentional women will accept him.
  • When the woman in her 30s is overwhelmed at work and home, so she begins to have an extra glass of wine each night to relax, which turns into several glasses.
  • When the senior girl in college feels disrespected and marginalized, so she begins to belittle and bully freshman girls in person and online.
  • When the child is anxious when mom and dad are yelling at each other, so he throws his own tantrum just to get them to stop fighting.
  • When the pastor is afraid that if the numbers keep going down, he’ll lose his job (and his reputation), so he convinces himself that other churches are growing because they have watered down the Gospel but HE is the only one that is preaching the Truth.

Life is so hard, leaving us insecure and terrified. And so we hide. Cope. Escape.

We escape in our heads as we tell ourselves we will never be enough while we concoct imaginary lives where we are the hero (think real-life Total Recall).

We escape in the “real world” when we act out either in a way to prove that we are “enough” (work harder, do better) or in a way to prove that we aren’t enough (“If I’m a loser, I may as well act like one”).

Into this reality-turmoil there is terrible news and great news

First the terrible news: your feelings of insecurity, failure and fraud…are correct. Kinda. We are all so much weaker and have so many more rotting floorboards that we can possibly realize. From the beginning of time we rebelled against the “name” God has given us and have tried to create for ourselves a greater name. Look at how the Tower of Babel is described:

Genesis 11:4
Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

In regards to sin and rebellion, it’s true. We are broken, frail, muddy and even wretched. If our reputation and love is to be built upon our accomplishments, we are in grave danger. But that’s not the end of the story. God has create a realer-reality in place of our alternate reality. He has taken the reality that we have warped and he’s re-created it into the true reality of a new name, new identity, new hope, new image. The great news is that the very thing we are desperately seeking and inappropriately trying to create has been given to us at Christ’s expense…and even more, because it’s a name that’s infinitely greater than any we could imagine, and one that will literally last infinitely longer than any we could conjure up ourselves. John in Revelation tells it like this:

Revelation 2:17
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.

On the cross Jesus’ name was mocked, proclaiming in a sarcastic tone: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” But how true it was. As Jesus’ name was mocked he died for our broken “name” so that he could give us a new name. In him our name is now Beloved, Son, Heir, Friend. In him our old names have been crucified, which now frees me from the futile and exhausting drudgery of creating and keeping up with my name; frees me to glorify His name and enjoy the new name I’ve been given by living out the vocational-aspect of my name: love, grace, freedom, sacrifice. Allowing me to replace my alternate-reality with the True Reality of an eternal name.

Luke 10:20
Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Whole

Everyday we encounter big and small decisions and circumstances upon with we base our fickle, picky, varying and fleeting satisfaction.

  • Where should I eat today?
  • Should I get a new car (which one)?
  • Who should I date / marry?
  • How many kids should I have?
  • Which job offer should I accept?
  • Which church should I attend (or any)?
  • When should I retire?

We truly ask questions like this all the time, and most of them are completely normal and appropriate questions without a “right” answer (example: we’d be terrible parents if we didn’t care about how our kids turned out; we’d be terrible employees if we didn’t care about our careers). The questions is this: What rests on the answer? The smaller everyday questions simply hold a quick “what will make me briefly happy at this moment,” whether that happiness is what perks up your taste buds or what will garner the approval (and acceptance?) of others, which makes me happy.

But the larger questions that have long-term impact is what we are really talking about. In what and in whom are you finding your wholeness, rest, hope, satisfaction, life?

This is what was happening in Isaiah 55. This is the last chapter written to the exiled-Israel (Isaiah 56 is written to Israel after they had been set free). God’s people had been captive for 70 years and, understandably, have decided that God has forgotten them, or even worse, forsaken them; that his promises and word were void and Babylon was now their permanent home. They had decided to forget the hope, promises, love and relationship of God and get comfy in their Exile. And into this Isaiah makes one final plea:

Isaiah 55:1-2
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.

This may as well be (and actually is) written directly to us. While we are sitting at the world’s dinner table, stuffing our faces with treats, the Lord is calling us hungry and unsatisfied children to come to the Real Table; to not get filled up on the debilitating fast-food piled high in front us but to, like baby birds, open up and be treated to the food that will make us whole.

To make this practical, to help us see what other “foods” we are ingesting, think about the big “If Only’s” you have in your life. Every one of us have a laundry list of “If only ___, then I’ll be whole, happy, satisfied, at rest.”

  • If only we win this game.
  • my kids turn out ok.
  • If only this job works out.
  • If only I had more money.
  • If only I could stop this sin.
  • If only he would love me.
  • If only my medical report comes back clean.
  • If only I could get enough sleep.
  • If only I get into that college.
  • If only God wasn’t mad at me.
  • If only I wasn’t mad at myself.

This list is infinite, and personal to each of us. The issue is rarely the thing itself. It’s a gift from God to be loved, to have a career you enjoy, to win a game. The problem comes with what is resting upon those good things, and realizing that their shoulders aren’t strong enough to carry my wholeness. My heart-satisfaction cannot find home in things that are movable and transient; on other things and people; on lives that, by definition, are just as weak and needy as I am.

Into this The Gospel calls us to a place of steady foundation and hope. The very thing we’ve been created for – wholeness with God, manifest in peace with creation and one another – has been offered in the Person of Christ. The highest desire we all have – satisfaction – isn’t far off. In fact, He’s come. And is here.

As our small group was talking about this last night, one of our friends (Grace Hooper) made a glorious and profound prayer, asking that God replace our “If Only’s” with “You Are’s” and God’s sure promises. To see and repent of these other foundations and be overwhelmed with the Truth of Who God Is as our only unfailing and eternal hope.

  • Replace “If only she loves me” with “God is Love” (and loves me personally)
  • Replace “If only I had more money” with Matthew 6:30 “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”
  • Replace “If only my kids turn out ok” with the Truth that our Real and Loving Father cares perfectly for us and our family: “Galatians 4:6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
  • Replace “If only God liked me” with “There is therefore now condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”

God is not a spoil-sport, wanting us to forgo the satisfying morsels of this world, settling for shallow spiritual platitudes. He’s actually trying to save us from the gut-wrenching despair of eating food that will only give us spiritual G.I. issues while spoon feeding us the Bread of Life, Christ himself. Even as Jesus was on the way to the cross he served the Passover Meal to his disciples, passing out Bread (his body) and wine (his blood), but leaving out the necessary and traditional lamb, which would represent the sacrifice needed to cover Sin…because Jesus himself IS the Lamb who finally and fully pays for our sinful pursuits of false satisfaction while finally and fully fills us not just with spiritual wholeness…but with HIMSELF as the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, indwells as we now find our life “hidden with Christ” (Colossians 3:3), the satisfaction that can (1 Peter 1:4) “never perish, spoil or fade, kept in heaven for you” — but not just in heaven so we’ll be satisfied on “the other side,” but accessible now in the person of the Holy Spirit who is our Living Hope.

A Much Greater Rescue

Where do you go when times get rough? When you are in some sort of pain (physical, relational, spiritual, financial etc) and you can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel? We all have a a myriad of salves to apply to the wounds that this world inflicts, each with varying degrees of effectiveness. In the midst of these storms where resources seem scare and rescue seems distant, I have some good news, some bad news and some great news.

The Good News is that the very One that has perfectly, lovingly, personally and purposefully knit every atom in all of creation together has set his heart on you, even in our moments of chaotic confusion, anger, sadness, frustration, darkness and hopelessness. God himself passionately invites us to come to His throne of Grace in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16) because He has unparalleled compassion for us, desires only good things, and possesses the power to rescue. He says “come to me” when the storm is so loud that we truly can’t hear ourselves think because He has been through that storm, and a much much greater storm, and has come out on the other side unscathed. You can get more on this from my blog a couple of week ago called Gospel Butterfingers.

The Bad News (it’s not really bad news at all, but it might feel bad) is that sometimes God intentionally doesn’t deliver us right away (or maybe anytime in this lifetime) from the “thorns in our flesh” (2 Corinthians 12). Sometimes we are crying out to God in the middle of a lightning storm and He, for reasons we can’t fathom, doesn’t pluck us up and set out feet on sunny shores. And it’s really frustrating. And I often will get upset with Him for not coming though (in the way that I insist that he comes through). The reason for these seasons and situations of “bad news” is actually the Great News.

This is what the Lord was telling Israel while they were in exiled slavery to Babylon. They desperately wanted freedom (just like we would). And God said “Yes! But not yet, because I have A MUCH GREATER RESCUE.

Isaiah 49:6
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

You see, pleading with God to rescue us from our “everyday storms” is important. God wants us to come in prayer at all times, including these times. But he ALSO wants to conform us into the image of His Son. He wants SO MUCH MORE than our temporary happiness and comfort. We are so easily satisfied with being safe, having enough stuff and minimizing the causes of anxiety. But God’s plans are infinitely above my own, and He will do what He needs to do in order to mold me. See how C.S.Lewis addresses this in one of the all time great writings (1941) The Weight of Glory:

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased

C.S.Lewis – The Weight of Glory

The Rescue from our Sin

So, what if God’s goal for us is radically different than our goal? We will be perpetually dissatisfied and frustrated, accusing God of not coming through. Maybe my goal of a happy and content life that is relatively void of problems isn’t what Jesus was talking about when he promises us the “abundant life” in John 10:10. Maybe Barbara Duguid is right in her (really great) book Extravagant Grace when she says “that the richest fruit of God’s work in our hearts would be evidenced by increasing humility and dependence on Christ for everything, rather than in a ‘victorious Christian life.'”

Maybe God doesn’t just pick me up out of my mud-pit because this is exactly where I learn how much I need Him and where I will learn that true satisfaction will never be found in creation but in the Creator. Yes, it can be painful and really frustrating. It causes deep tears and angry accusations. It whittles me down to nothing…and what is left is sheer need: need for a rescuer that is beyond myself, but one that has come to give me a far greater rescue…a rescue not from temporary discomfort but from sin itself. A rescue not even just from sin, but a rescue from the tyranny of myself. A rescue not even for my own sake, but also for his Glory.

The Rescue For Himself

Isaiah 49:3
And He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”

Right there in the middle of God promising to send the Ultimate Israel (Jesus) to deliver the Rebellious Israel (you and me) he says that it will ultimately be for his own glory. God excitedly and at great sacrifice has brought us the absolute Ultimate Victory through Jesus Christ, delivering us from every shred of bondage and slavery. And in the process, He is even more glorified as we, like join in with all of creation in:

Isaiah 49:13
Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the LORD has comforted his people
and will have compassion on his afflicted.

Yes, please immediately and passionately go to God’s throne in the midst of the storm regardless of it’s severity. Go sit with your Abba Father when the thunder claps and you are hurt and afraid. And while you are doing that, and while you are passionately asking for a reprieve, join with Jesus in his Grand Finale saying “yet not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). As I do that, as I pray that, may the Lord give us eyes to see His Greater Rescue. May he help me fathom the depths of his Ultimate Rescue; that sometimes He gives us relief from the storms of life, but always and forever He gives us life after The Storm of Sin, Fear and Death. And upon this hope I can trust that what John Piper wrote is true:

God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.
John Piper

Perfect Fear Casts Out Fear

We live in an age of anxiety. Even though we have more safeguards to prevent danger and more means of rescue from danger, we are a people wrought with fear. All of these protections have convinced us that life can predominantly be controlled. But, in fact, it can’t. It often feels like we are on a raging roller-coaster with nobody at the control panel as we wait for the next disaster to happen. And for many of us that are more acutely plagued with fear and anxiety, this problem is coupled with spiritual shame as we tell ourselves how faithless and weak we are to not trust God’s love, power and plan. And down the black hole we go.

The good news (and frustrating news) is that fear is one of the most common issues we see all through scripture.

  • Adam said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” (Gen 3:10)
  • God’s people were afraid of their Egyptian captors (Exodus 14)
  • God’s people were afraid to go into the promised land because of the overwhelming “giants” (Numbers 13)
  • The Shepherds were afraid of the angels (Luke 2)
  • Jesus’ disciples were afraid of the wind and waves (Matthew 8)
  • Peter was afraid for his life while Jesus was being crucified (Luke 22)

The incredible news it that “Peace” is also one of the more pervasive commands and promises God has for us:

  • God told Abraham to not be afraid to go to the Promised Land (Gen 15)
  • God told Jacob to not be afraid to go down to Egypt (Gen 46)
  • The angels on Christmas morning told the Shepherds “Fear Not”
  • Jesus told all of us to not be afraid because God even takes care of the birds (Mt 10)

Fear comes when we see a “Future without God.” We see real, imagined or potential problems and quickly deduce all the painful outcomes that could result. We naturally fall back into believing that our worlds, our problems, our lives are spinning out of control and about to fall of the cliff. It’s not that we are faithless, it’s actually a great deal of faith…faith that:

  • God isn’t loving enough to desire what’s best
  • God isn’t powerful enough to do what’s best
  • God isn’t wise enough to know what’s best.

We don’t mean to believe this, it’s just where our natural minds and hearts go.

So what do we DO about it? Is there a help, a cure, a hope?

Yes, but slow.

Believing and actually “resting” (the foundational definition of “peace”) in the Lord is a very slow marinating process. We swim in an insta-pot and instagram pool. But learning to trust is slow, and involves us, by the Spirit’s power, to re-focus out eyes off of the potential car-wreck and onto the whole journey. When I am struck with fear, I am forgetting the whole story and the character of God. I am forgetting the infinite proofs that God has always carried his people through the waters and fires. I am allowing what MIGHT happen to eclipse what HAS happened and, in the end, what WILL happen. I am believing that God is small and powerless; that his love for me is weak; that his arms are too feeble to carry me; that his wisdom is too faulty to know what is best for me and the world.

And so, once again, the initial weapon against our problems isn’t to “try harder” (“Just stop being afraid!”) but to believe differently….to be overwhelmed with the glory of God. The greatest weapon against earthly fear is the “Fear of God” — to be overwhelmed like Isaiah (in Isaiah 6) with the mind-staggering holiness, beauty, glory, power and perfection of the Lord.

Let’s look practically at a real-life example in Matthew 8

Matthew 8
24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men MARVELED, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

The wind and waves were real. The potential danger was extreme. But their eyes (just like mine most of the time) were not on Jesus but on the problems. Instead of being in awe of Jesus, they were in awe of their problems, and their own comfort. And this issue is debilitating, hindering us from living the passionate ambassador-lives to which we have been called and empowered to live. God isn’t slapping our hands for being fearful, He’s working to set us free from the slavery of fear that keeps us from fully enjoying Him and this life he’s gifted us. He’s setting us free from the shackles of this world that scream at us that “this is all there is.”

That’s why Jesus gives us this gift:

John 14:27
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Jesus himself gives us Peace (doesn’t just tell us to be at peace) and He himself IS our peace. He has even given us the Spirit of Peace, the Holy Spirit, who resides in us to speak peace into our hearts when the rest of the world is screaming chaos and fear.

And so today, when fear begins to gurgle up from the springs of your heart, take some deep breaths and fight mis-belief with Gospel-belief. Ask the Spirit to overwhelm your mis-belief with the True-belief that Jesus has always carried you through and, as we see in Romans 8 over and over, will carry us through to the end.

Gospel Butterfingers

Think about when you totally blank on somebody’s name…you know that you know it, but the name is hiding somewhere in a dark corner of your brain. It can be embarrassing to say the least. But what about other much more important bits of truth? Sometimes is it really hard to hold on to Truth, especially in the dark when your hands are shaking, the time you need Truth the most. It’s not Truth that is changing, but our grip on it.

It is this gospel-butterfinger epidemic that spurs Isaiah (and all of Scripture) to perpetually give us hope-reminders. It’s not because we are dumb but because we are forgetful, prone to let situations eclipse the Sun of Righteousness.

Isaiah 40
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
31 but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah is talking to a people that had been taken into Exile away from the Promised Land and seemingly away from God and His Promise. He is reminding his brothers and sisters that blinding circumstances don’t negate the Truth of God; that he has, is and will always carry his people to completion. We will absolutely grow weary, faint and fall exhausted. Our grip on Truth and Hope isn’t enough. We have to be the ones being held by the One that will not grow weary, whose grip does not grow weak and who is wholly unable to let us fall.

But I so easily forget.

So here are some memory-tools God has given us to remember. They are little “means of grace” that we can utilize in times of forgetfulness, like a cheat sheet on your 8th grade English test, but these aren’t cheating.

Look Backwards

1 Samuel 7:12
Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the LORD has helped us.”

These “memory stones” would remind all who walked by that God had indeed miraculously showed up at that place in time, and he would do it again

Look Forwards

Psalm 30:5b
Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

Whatever we are in, even the most frustrating and confusing times, are only part of our journey. In this life The Author that started us out and is still writing. But when the final page is turned, it turns out that we’ve just gotten through the introduction to our life’s book, the rest beginning in Revelation 21 where there is no weeping or pain.

Look Upwards

Psalm 13
1 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?

How long will you hide your face from me?
5 But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. 6 I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

The most common genre in the Psalms is the Lament, and almost all of them end in worship. The pain and frustration is real, but turning from darkness to the light of worship helps train our hearts that Hope overcomes Evil.

Look Around

1 Thessalonians 5:11
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up…

We deeply need each other. As we’ll see in the next step, we get utterly blinded and confused. So I need brothers and sisters around me to speak Truth into me. When I can’t hold onto Truth myself I need others to hold onto it for me, sitting with me as the voice and presence of God.

Look Inside (1)

Psalm 42
Why are you cast down, O my soul,and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation.

We all constantly talk to ourselves, telling ourselves what is true, false, good, bad, satisfying etc. Like I said in the last block, we so often tell ourselves (and therefore believe) in the lie that things are hopeless and God doesn’t care (or isn’t real, or is powerless). The Psalmist would have internal arguments as he went along the path of life, speaking to his soul to stop believing a lie and hold on to Truth.

Look Inside (2)

Romans 8:26
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.

More importantly than looking to an internal conversation, we can find assurance, hope and even peace that God himself in the Person of the Holy Spirit is literally inside of us, speaking not only to our own hearts but also praying to The Father on our behalf “with groanings too deep for words.”

Look Outward

2 Corinthians 1:3
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Maybe it seems impossible, but loving others when we are having a hard time holding onto love ourselves will actually lift us our souls. It helps knock us out of the dark whirlpool as we see that we are not alone; that pain is universal and God has rescued us in order to be His rescuing agents for others.

Look Christward

Romans 8:32
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Ultimately our greatest hope is looking to Jesus himself, and resting in the Truth that if God went to the absolute greatest extent imaginable in order to rescue us (the sacrifice of His own Son) then he will absolutely continue his rescue-operation.

Scripture is brutally honest about the pain of this world, not asking us to minimize or paint the pain with a facade of “just trust Jesus.” We are invited to come to him with out true pain (like Mary and Martha did when their brother Lazarus was sick and dying) while also having expectant and open hands for him to hold as he walks us through the dark.