Rescue

On Saturday, June 23, 2018, after soccer practice, twelve Thai boys and their coach went exploring in the Tham Luang cave. This is a big cave, it extends for more than 6 miles beneath a mountain range in Thailand. It is well-known, and often visited. However, during monsoon season (which starts in July), the cave can flood up with up to 16 feet of water and going in becomes dangerous and often impossible.

You may remember this story. The boys encountered flooding and ended up moving deeper into the cave to get away from the water. They eventually stopped on a rocky ledge more than 2 miles from the cave entrance. They were trapped. Water all around. Darkness. Nothing to do but wait for rescue.

A rescue operation was launched. Word spread around Thailand and eventually worldwide. Rescuers from Thailand were joined by US Air Force recue specialists and cave divers from many countries. The Thai government set up pumps to try to move water out of the cave. People around the world prayed that the boys and their coach would survive.

Pouring rain made conditions miserable outside the cave and more and more dangerous inside for the divers who were searching. On June 28, 2018, a social media post read: “divers have stopped searching-water levels have risen to fill most caves. Pumping has stopped-too much rain. Authorities say they will rethink strategy for finding missing boys.”

On Monday, July 2, two divers finally located the boys. The lost had been found! There is actually a video of that moment. “How many of you?” and the answer, “Thirteen!” They were all alive, 9 days later! Now to get them out.

Diving in Tham Luang was dangerous. Extracting the weak and hungry children was a monumental task. While preparations were made, divers took in air tanks and liquid food and fortified drinks to sustain the boys. On Friday, July 6, one of the rescuers, a former Navy Seal diver, died during an air delivery.

Miraculously, there was a break in the rain, and the decision was made to make the move to bring the boys and their coach out.

Each boy had a full face mask for oxygen, had a cylinder strapped to his chest, and a handle of sorts on his back. He was clipped to one diver and accompanied by another diver. From a BBC report, “At the narrowest sections, the divers had to unstrap their air tanks in order to squeeze through, while also pulling along their precious cargo.”

The first of the boys was brought out, alive, on July 7. They were all rescued over the next 3 days, and as the last of the boys and their coach were being shuttled out, the waters began to rise, as quickly as 11 inches per hour by one rescuer’s report. And as the last of the rescuers were leaving the cave, a pump suddenly stopped working and floodwaters filled the cave.

A Facebook post from the Thai Navy Seals: “We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what.”

I remember praying fervently and frequently for those boys. I am pretty sure it was a miracle.

By now you know that I love stories, and I love thinking about them in light of The Story. Right away, as this story unfolded, I began seeing the parallels to Jesus’ rescue of us. Each of us was trapped. In the dark, without any way to get ourselves to light and life. God loved the world, each of us. Just as the boys and their coach mattered enough to garner the resources and the prayers necessary to undertake an incredibly difficult and costly rescue mission, we matter to God. He sent the only Rescuer who could navigate the darkness, willing to die in the process, to bring us out and give us a “new birth.” It is all about Him-like the Thai boys, we couldn’t even help in the swimming to get ourselves out, we just had to let Him carry us.

This rescue plan, put into place thousands of years previous (as evidenced by Bible prophecy) started with the Advent of Jesus. That miraculous event that we are celebrating at Christmas.

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

At just the right time…

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:4-7

Just sit with those verses for a minute.

I find so often in following Jesus that there is the big, followed by lots of smalls. Let me explain. There is the big rescue-that allowing Jesus to carry you by way of His amazing sacrifice from death and darkness to light and abundant, eternal life. And then, there are all the little rescues that follow-allowing Jesus to carry you from discouragement or frustration or anger or sadness to light and peace and hope. The big rescue plays out on a smaller scale over and over in our lives.

It happened again for me this week.

A student about whom I have come to care very much moved away unexpectedly. I was sad. I was worried about what would happen to him, if he would be OK. Lots of unknowns in my mind, and not one thing I could do to change the situation. Forgive the repetition, but I was sad. In my sadness, one of my friends texted me, “The truth we need to hear in this situation is that God can get a hold of his heart without us.” I had a choice. Would I believe the truth and allow myself to be carried away from sadness to trust and hope? It took some pondering, but I chose to believe. I choose to believe. God is a rescue expert.

Psalm 18:16-19 “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.”

And Psalm 118:5 “When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord; he brought me into a spacious place.”

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Many times as we live our lives we find ourselves stuck in a tight place emotionally, in deep waters. God wants to take hold of us in those moments and rescue us. He has a spacious place that is much better than the dark, cramped spots we can get into. We have a choice. Will we believe and allow ourselves to be brought out?

Please choose rescue. Choose the ultimate rescue from sin and death. Then, choose the rescue from the thoughts and feelings that trap you. God has been known to go to great lengths, like parting seas and knocking down walls, to set His people free.

Awesome God, I am amazed by Your love. Love that reaches out and rescues. Love that sent Jesus and that continues to send help. Thank You. Please help me to choose not to linger in darkness but to accept Your rescue. I pray for each person who reads this, that they would choose Your rescue. Speak to their hearts and lead them to the new birth You offer. For those who have already been adopted into Your family, remind them of Your offer of light and peace and hope to replace sadness and anger and despair. Especially during this season where we remember the coming of Jesus but where we also encounter much stress and overwhelming emotion, be near us. “Thank You” doesn’t seem like enough. Hear my heart – thank You.

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“For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.” Psalm 116:8

-Leah

At His Feet

Another Thanksgiving has passed, and I hope that you had the opportunity in the last week to pause and consider the people and things for which you are thankful. Truly, we have so much for which to be thankful. I’m thankful for many things, and one of those many things is the opportunity to write this blog with my sister. It has been an adventure, and we find ourselves humbled at the gracious response of those of you who read it. 

If  a picture is worth a thousand words, I could probably stop writing and just let this one speak for itself. However, since this blog is a place for writing, I will attempt to tell you why this picture has been on my heart for the last month or so.

This is a still shot of a scene from The Passion of the Christ. Let’s take a few moments to read about the moment that this picture captures.

Early in the morning he (Jesus) came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”  (John 8:2-11)

This woman was caught in the act of very sinful behavior, and she was hauled by her accusers to the center of a crowd that had gathered around Jesus. She was guilty as charged. We don’t read about her trying to deny the allegations or to justify herself. She was just thrust onto center stage by men who had already passed judgment on her. What they said was true. She was guilty of adultery, and the Mosaic law called for the death penalty.

“If a man is found lying with a married woman, then both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel.” (Deuteronomy 22:22)

Interestingly, we read nothing about the man who would’ve also been caught in the act. He is never mentioned here. The scribes and Pharisees seemed to be more interested in what Jesus would do with this woman. Notice that they were testing Him and looking for a reason to bring charges against Him.

Jesus’ response amazes me and captures my heart every time I read this. He didn’t rush to respond in the heat of the moment. He paused, bent down, and began writing on the ground. Don’t you wish you knew what He was writing? I sure do. For now, we don’t get to know. We just see His calm demeanor and His quiet wisdom. Of course, His silence wasn’t what the accusers were looking for, so they continued to press Him for an answer. So, He stood up and said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” He didn’t overlook the woman’s sin, He didn’t deny the Old Testament penalty, but He sure did challenge those who called for her punishment. Wisdom, mercy, grace, and love on display. Then, He bent down again and just went back to writing. 

Starting with the oldest, one by one the crowd left. Starting with the oldest – those who had sinned the most because they had been alive longer. Everyone left. How rare for Jesus to be left alone with someone! He was always pressed by crowds, but this time, they chose to walk away.

There was only one sinless person present that day. He was the One writing on the ground. He could have thrown stones, but that wasn’t what He chose to do. Instead, He asked her a question. Jesus was an expert at asking questions. He asked her, “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?” When she confirmed that none of her accusers remained, He spoke words of compelling grace and direction. “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

When you ponder this account, with whom do you most identify?

Do you see yourself as one of the scribes or Pharisees who wants to make sure that sinners pay for the things they’ve done? Do you think of yourself as better than this woman – a person who makes better decisions than she did? 

Are you one of the crowd? Are you content to watch the smug faces of the scribes and Pharisees as they expose this woman’s sin and hope for her demise? Would you be unwilling to offer your opinion either way and choose to just remain an anonymous bystander? Are you indifferent to another person’s need for mercy?

Do you see yourself in this woman? Are you a sinner, guilty as charged and unable to offer a reasonable defense before the sinless Son of God? Do you throw yourself at His feet knowing that you need His mercy more than anything else?

I know that there are times in my life that I have been in one of the first two groups of people – self-righteous in my condemnation of others in spite of my own sinfulness or indifferent and choosing to avoid conflict instead of taking a stand. Truth be told, I have to guard my heart against self-righteousness and indifference consistently.

That’s why the picture of this scene means so much to me. When I see the broken woman in that picture, I know with all of my heart that I am just like her.

When in the presence of the perfect, sinless Son of God, I am EXTREMELY aware of the guilt of my sins and my absolute need of His mercy. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that the One Who has never sinned also has never picked up a stone to throw at me. Instead, He took my sins upon Himself and paid for them at the cross.

“You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14)

Remembering God’s mercy in my own life is a key to avoiding the sinful responses of self-righteousness and indifference. I’m just a sinner who has been rescued; therefore, I have no cause to look down on others as if I am better than they are. I need mercy; therefore, I extend mercy.

When I look at the woman in that picture, I see myself at the feet of Jesus – not afraid and begging for mercy, but FULL of gratitude and worship for His amazing grace. It’s where I want to live my life. At the feet of Jesus. Pouring my love, my gratitude, and my worship out to Him because He has forgiven me. Last week, when I was thinking of all the reasons I have to be thankful, I thought, “Every sin that has been forgiven is one more reason to thank Him.” This, this is why I love Him so much. I love His heart that found me in my sin and offered redemption instead of condemnation. He still offers those compelling words of grace and direction to all who recognize their need for His mercy.  “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on, sin no more.”

Jesus, Your love and kindness continue to amaze me. I have many things to be thankful for, but most of all, I want to thank You. I don’t deserve love like Yours, but You love me anyway. You’ve seen every sin, and You’ve paid for them all. Because of Your sacrifice, I am forgiven. Help me to never lose the wonder of what that means. I want to live at Your feet in worship and gratitude. Please help me not to think of myself as better than others, but help me to be quick to extend Your love. Keep me from being indifferent when others are in need of mercy. Don’t let me forget that it was Your kindness that led me to repentance. Thank You for paying the debt that I could never pay. By Your grace, help me to walk in freedom from sin. Amen.

-Dana

I Hope You Know

One thing I’m certain of more than ever is that life goes by fast. I just had a birthday last week, and I turned 44. 44?! How in the world did that happen? Where has the time gone? Not only is life going fast, but the tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. We really don’t know what the future holds and how many moments we have left. If you’re like me, we sure do waste a lot of them, but I won’t dwell on that today. In light of the brevity and fragility of life, I thought I might take the time in this post to share with you some things that I hope you already know.

I hope you know that God is holy. He is perfect and pure, and there is not a trace of any imperfection in Him. This is important to know because when we begin to understand how holy and righteous God is, we begin to also see the truth about ourselves.

“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11) 

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” (I John 1:5)

I hope you know that you are a sinner. I know that doesn’t sound very nice, but stay with me. None of us are perfect and holy. We are actually born into sin and live as its captives. We aren’t mostly good with just a few tiny imperfections. That is not what Scripture tells us. We are sinful and capable of doing all kinds of terrible things. (I often joke with people and say that if you aren’t sure if we humans are born in sin, spend some time in the church nursery. Right? No parent has taught their toddler to take toys away from other children, to bite people, or to throw themselves down in fury when they aren’t getting their way. That comes naturally. We have to teach them NOT to do those things. If we were born basically good, the church nursery experience would be a whole different thing.)

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23)

The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there is no one who does good. God looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. Everyone has turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Psalm 53:1-3)

“For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” (James 2:10)

I hope you know that your sin separates you from God. God isn’t neutral about sin. In His purity and holiness, He hates sin. He isn’t mean – He’s holy. Our sin keeps us from a right standing with God, and our sinful state will separate us from Him for eternity.

“For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23)

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18)

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Ephesians 2:1-3)

I hope you know that you can’t do enough good things to make up for your sin. It’s impossible. You can’t do it. No amount of good works that you do will ever earn you peace with God. More than anything, I want you to know that this sin issue is something that you can not fix on your own. Your good deeds do not cancel out your sin. There’s not a scale in the sky that is measuring your good against your bad. There’s no peace in working to fix this. If you could work to pay for your sins, how would you ever know at what point the scale was tipped in your favor? It’s admirable to do good things, but it won’t pay your sin debt off. If today you are counting on an eternity in heaven because of the good things you do, I implore you to keep reading.

“We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” (Isaiah 64:6) 

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7)  

I hope you know that you are loved by God. You are SO loved. God’s love for you isn’t just words. He demonstrated His great love for you at a very high price. (I pray that as you continue reading, you will understand in greater measure how very much you are loved.)

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)  

I hope you know that Jesus is the only way that you can be made right with God and have eternal life in Heaven. Jesus paid it all. Even though you are a sinner, He died for you. He took the punishment for your sins and made a way for you to have peace with God. This peace doesn’t depend on your performance or how many good things you do. It’s all about Him. He left the majesty of Heaven to enter the restrictions of time and space as a human. He lived a perfect life in your place and then died a cruel death in your place. He has made a way for you to be right with God and to spend eternity in Heaven. What a gift of love!

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” (John 14:6)

“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” (I Timothy 2:5-6)  

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.  (Romans 5:6-11)

I hope you know that salvation comes only through repentance and faith in Jesus. Salvation is a free gift. Repentance and faith are gifts too. Repentance is simply agreeing with God that you are a sinner and that you cannot save yourself. It is a turning away in your heart from the sins that have held you captive and calling out to Jesus for freedom from these sins. To have faith in Jesus is simply to trust that the price He paid is sufficient to cover your sins and to make you right with God. Repent and believe – it really is that simple.

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9)

I hope you know that you can be free from sin and made new. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done. Jesus came to set you free from the power of sin and death and to give you new life. Only God can take your surrendered, broken life and make it a trophy of His amazing grace.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)  

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:4-9)  

I hope you know for sure that you will spend eternity with Jesus. May you know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you will live forever with Jesus in Heaven. Life here is so short in comparison with eternity. Being confident of your eternal destination will fill you with peace and joy. Nothing here on this earth can rob you of the hope of Heaven and uninterrupted fellowship with the One Who loves you beyond comprehension. 

“‘Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.'”  (John 14:1-3)

These are the things that I hope you know because these are the most important things. 

If you don’t already know all of these things, I’m praying that God will use these words to work in your heart by His Holy Spirit. May your eyes be opened to these truths, and may you know personally the miracle of salvation and the life-changing power of God.

If you do already know all of these things, I hope, like me, that you feel a new sense of wonder. We could spend a lifetime pondering these truths and still be continually amazed at the love and grace of God. Oh, how He loves us! I also hope that you have opportunities this week to share these truths with others – to be ambassadors for Christ, letting God make His appeal through you. It is a privilege and a precious responsibility to be entrusted with the message of reconciliation.

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he (God) made him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him (Jesus) we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21)

Dear Father, we agree with Your Word. You are holy and perfect. We are sinners in desperate need of Your grace. We cannot pay for our own sins. We cannot do enough good things to make up for our sins against You. We are in need of a Savior. Thank you SO MUCH for loving us enough to send Your Son, Jesus, to pay the debt that we owed. We don’t have the words to express our gratitude, but our hearts are filled with wonder that You love us that much. Thank You for the free gift of salvation, for the transforming work of Your Holy Spirit in our hearts, and for the hope of spending all of forever in Your presence. Help us this week to remember that You have entrusted us with the message of reconciliation. May we be true ambassadors for Christ, letting You appeal to others through us. Amen.

-Dana

Marked by Mercy

As many of you know, I have the honor and privilege of being married to a pastor. (Shout out to my sweet husband, Aaron, one of God’s very good gifts to me!) He has been preaching through Luke and just finished chapter 6 – Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Mount. If you ever get to thinking that you’re doing pretty well in your Christian walk, take some time to read through the Sermon on the Mount, and you will find yourself falling so short of the high standards that Jesus laid out. Much could be and has been written about that one sermon, but I want to share with you the verse that most grabbed my attention and challenged my heart.

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

Eight words that stop me in my tracks. “Be merciful” is a pretty high standard on its own, but wait – there’s more. “Be merciful just as your Father is merciful.” In my own words, “When it comes to mercy, be just like your Father.” Wow. Talk about setting the bar high. In order for us to really understand what that means, we have to take a few moments to investigate and understand our Father’s mercy. 

Just to make sure we’re all thinking in the same way, here’s a quick overview of what ‘mercy’ means as given to us by Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary – 1) compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one’s power; 2) a blessing that is an act of divine favor or compassion; 3) compassionate treatment of those in distress. Basically, it is choosing to extend kindness and forgiveness to someone instead of punishment or harm. It’s a decision to forego the revenge that someone deserves in favor of showing compassion to that person.

So, what do we know about our Father’s mercy?

God’s mercy is endless. It is impossible to use up all of God’s mercy. It doesn’t have a limit. As sure as we can count on the sun rising tomorrow, we can count on the continued existence of God’s mercy.

“Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” (Psalm 136:1)

“Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. (I Chronicles 16:34)

“And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who should sing to the LORD, and who should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army and were saying: ‘Praise the LORD, For His mercy endures forever.”’ (II Chronicles 20:21)

(These are just three of MANY verses that say this exact thing. That tag line “His mercy endures forever” is all throughout Scripture.)

God is rich in mercy, and His mercy abounds. God is not stingy with His mercy. He freely lavishes it on us.

“The LORD is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.” (Psalm 103:8)

“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4-7)

God’s mercy leads us to salvation. It’s because of His mercy that He saves us. Instead of giving us what we deserve, in His mercy, He draws us near and gives to us the free gift of salvation.

“But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7) 

 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (I Peter 1:2-5)

God’s mercy is new every day. Every single day, we get a clean slate. God is not keeping a record of our wrongs, but He promises new mercy for us every morning.

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”  (Lamentations 3:21-23)

This is surely not a comprehensive list of all the facets of God’s mercy, but hopefully, it provides us with at least an overview. In the words of Charles Spurgeon –

“God’s mercy is so great that you may sooner drain the sea of its water, or deprive the sun of its light, or make space too narrow, than diminish the great mercy of God.”

Now that we have pondered some of the truths about God’s mercy, let’s consider again the imperative that Jesus issued to us. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Let’s look at just a few more verses that issue similar challenges.

“He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

“For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13)

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:23-35)

The question we’re left with is this – What is our mercy like? Is our mercy just like the mercy of our Father? When I search my own heart, sadly I can’t always answer that in the affirmative. So many times, I’m just like that servant we just read about. I’ve been shown so much mercy and then I find myself so impatient with others and unwilling to dole out even a little bit of mercy to them. Oh, how I need the help of the Holy Spirit to carry out this simple command from Jesus to be merciful. 

When I sat and listened to my husband preach about this little 8-word verse in Luke, I wrote in the margin of my Bible, “His mercy is new every morning. Is mine?” As I ponder those traits of God’s mercy we just reviewed, I have to ask myself, “Do I live in this way? Do I extend mercy that is abundant, that is without a limit, that gives a clean slate to others, that points others to salvation?”

In my own strength, this is an impossibility, but by God’s grace at work in me, my life can be marked by the mercy I show to others. When I let God’s Spirit flow through me in acts of mercy to others, I am putting the Gospel on display and pointing others to the greatest Source of mercy we will ever know.

“The Gospel is good news of mercy to the undeserving. The symbol of the religion of Jesus is the cross, not the scales.” John Stott

Dear Father, Your mercy is beyond our ability to comprehend. It humbles us and leaves us lost in gratitude that You have chosen not to give us what we deserve, but to extend Your kindness and forgiveness to us. Please help us to live our lives in the light of Your mercy and to be extensions of that mercy to those around us. Forgive us for all the times that we have fallen so short and have begrudged others of mercy when You have been so rich in mercy to us. Help us, by Your Spirit at work within us, to be merciful just as You are merciful. May our lives be marked by mercy, and may we show ourselves to be Your true children by the way that we live out the truths of the Gospel. Amen.

-Dana

Clouds Rest

Want to go hiking with me?  My husband and I had the incredible experience of doing what was described as the “quintessential Yosemite hike” this week.  14 miles round trip, 1,775 ft of elevation gain, culminating at 9,900 feet with breathtaking views of Yosemite Valley and the Sierra Nevada mountains.  We were actually looking down on Half Dome from above!  The hike was long and definitely arduous at times, but well worth all of the energy we expended.

Of course, me being me, I spent much of the trip (at least the parts when I wasn’t huffing and puffing) pondering how what I was experiencing was analogous to my faith journey.  Come along with me as I share some thoughts from an unforgettable day.

The name of the mountain, “Clouds Rest,” immediately lends itself to comparing the hike to journeying through life to get to our eternal destination.  Perhaps even more striking than in our lives, the path to Clouds Rest depends very much on the work of those who have gone before us.  Think of the early explorers of this beautiful part of the wilderness who identified spots that were both amazing and reachable.  And the many people who worked for the Civil Conservation Corps building trails that cut around mountains and cross streams and utilize stone stairs, not to mention the people still working to maintain the trails and clear fallen trees and spot potential hazards.  I truly couldn’t have reached Clouds Rest without people preparing the way for me. 

Jesus is the ultimate Way Maker.  He is the one who did the vital and costly work of making a path for us to get to God.  None of the journey is possible without Him.  And imagine all the benefit from those who have walked this path before us, from thousands of years ago to last year.  I love the picture we see from these verses in Hebrews, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us [or hike the trail cut for us], fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”  (Hebrews 12:1-3)  How important it is to be thankful for Jesus and those who have led us in our faith, and to use their examples to maintain our energy and keep on trucking. 

In turn, we have a responsibility to pass on that gift to others and help prepare the way for them.  Being honest and real about the obstacles we have faced and overcome (or are facing and are in the process of overcoming) can be such an encouragement to our fellow travelers.  You notice this when hiking.  Often those who are descending will be heard saying things such as “You’re almost there,” or “it is so worth it!” or “you are almost through the hard part.”  Especially if they know that you have “been there,” your encouragement along the faith journey might be the thing that keeps someone pressing on and prevents them from missing the beauty ahead.

Before we started our hike up Clouds Rest, we read about it.  We read about the ups and downs, the strenuous climb between miles 1.5 and 2.5.  We read about how great the views were.  We knew there were times we would be crossing streams (and we knew that they would be dry this time of year).  Knowing what to expect was especially helpful during that 1 mile of steeper climbing, because we knew that it wouldn’t last forever, and that encouraged us to stick with it.  Similarly, we are blessed in life to be able to read about the journey as we are on it.  The Psalmist said, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”  God’s Word has so much to say about what to expect in our lives and how to best navigate the trail.  We do immensely better if we read it.  There’s no need to go at it blind.  In fact, think of the Holy Spirit as your own “trail guide.”  Pay attention to how He leads and rely on Him to illuminate the Bible and cause it to illuminate your path through life. 

On our day hike, we brought along plenty of water, and we brought food for a mountaintop lunch.  Yes, as we journey through life we definitely need to stay nourished, but I bring this up for a different reason.  Jeff carried our supplies in a backpack, and although it wasn’t super heavy, it made climbing more difficult, especially since we had not acclimated to the higher elevation.  As hard as I was working, I realized that he was working much harder, and I wanted to share the load.  I kept asking him if I could carry the pack, and chivalrous (and wise) man that he is, he kept declining.  I’m kind of stubborn though, and one time when we had stopped for a break, I grabbed the backpack and put it on, despite his protests.  I just wanted to carry it a little while and give him a break.  I am sad to say that I couldn’t.  I made it maybe 0.02 miles before I had to admit that I couldn’t carry it.  I joked that “my spirit was willing, but my flesh was weak.”  You recall this reference-Jesus asked His disciples to stay awake and pray in the garden of Gethsemane, and they kept falling asleep.  Those were his words, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  (Matthew 26:41).  As I hiked and thought about a willing spirit and weak flesh, I realized that the best way to change that situation is exercise.  If I want to be able to carry a pack up a mountain, I am going to have to increase my strength, preferably by practicing climbing and carrying.  When it comes to spiritual living, spiritual disciplines if you will, I often find that my spirit is willing but my flesh is weak.  Rather than just resigning myself to that, let me practice and exercise and get stronger.  I want to be able to “watch and pray” like Jesus has asked.

While descending, we passed people that were just starting out on their climbs.  The trail we were on connects to several other trails, including some used by backpackers going on hikes that will last for days or even weeks.  Several of the people we had seen were doing the hike alone, the most notable of these was a woman carrying gear for back-country camping.  Jeff remarked that it wouldn’t be very fun to go backpacking alone, and I responded that it didn’t seem very safe either.  Same with our life hike – it is far better to do it in community than alone.  Don’t let yourself be isolated.  Find people to walk with – it will make the trip more fun and safer.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.  But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.  Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.  But how can one keep warm alone?  Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”  Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Thanks for letting me share my hiking musings.  My prayer is that in some way they will help you as you journey.

God, thank You for sending Jesus to make a way for us.  Thank You for all the faithful servants whose paths we can follow on our life’s journeys.  Thank You for the amazing guidebook we have and for Your Holy Spirit Who guides us.  Teach us to practice doing the things You ask us to do.  Please provide a community of believers that can walk beside us.  Grant us endurance as we make our way to the destination You have for us.

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)

-Leah

A Matter of Perspective

What do you see when you look at that picture? Some will see the side profile of a well-dressed young woman, but for others the view is very different. They are seeing a sad-looking older woman. It’s all about perspective. (In case you don’t believe me, here’s some help. If you are seeing the young woman, let her chin become the nose of the older woman. If you are seeing the older woman, her nose is the young woman’s chin.)

Perspective – it’s the way that we see something, our point of view. Unfortunately, our perspective doesn’t always tell the whole story. We see things one way, when others see them differently. Sometimes, our perspective is skewed, and we don’t see things as they really are. 

This brings to my mind two accounts in the Bible where someone’s perspective needed some adjusting. The first is found in II Kings. Let’s check it out –

So one night the king of Aram sent a great army with many chariots and horses to surround the city. When the servant of the man of God got up early the next morning and went outside, there were troops, horses, and chariots everywhere. ‘Oh, sir, what will we do now?’ the young man cried to Elisha.  ‘Don’t be afraid!’ Elisha told him. ‘For there are more on our side than on theirs!’ Then Elisha prayed, ‘O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!’ The Lord opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire.” (II Kings 6:14-17)

Elisha’s servant saw the situation one way, but he needed a change of perspective. He needed to have his eyes opened to the truth from God’s perspective. What seemed like an impossible situation from a human standpoint was no match for the resources of Heaven that were at Elisha’s disposal.

Can you relate? Have you ever found yourself in a situation that seemed absolutely impossible? Have you felt completely surrounded by the enemy? If so, repeating Elisha’s prayer is an imperative. “O LORD, open my eyes and let me see!” The truth is there are more on your side than on theirs, but you need a heavenly perspective to see it. God never leaves his children defenseless and alone. He has made all of the resources of Heaven available to us, and He promises to answer when we call out to Him.

The second account in Scripture that comes to my mind when I think about perspective adjustment is found in the New Testament. No one spent more quality time with the Savior (in the flesh) than His twelve disciples. Because of that, we might think that they had an advantage when it came to seeing things correctly. As a matter of fact, on one occasion, Jesus asked them, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter, in one of his more shining moments, answered, “You are the Messiah, Son of the Living God.” (Matthew 16:15,16) He got it right, and Jesus went on to say to him, “You are blessed, Simon son of John,because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17-19) Awesome, right? 

However, the very next thing we read in that chapter shows us that even Peter needed a perspective adjustment sometimes.

From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead. But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. ‘Heaven forbid, Lord,’ he said. ‘This will never happen to you!’ Jesus turned to Peter and said, ‘Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.’ (Matthew 16:21-23)

Peter wasn’t seeing things from the right perspective. He was seeing with a human point of view when he needed God’s point of view. And in doing so, he was ‘a dangerous trap’ to Jesus. What sounded like a terrible situation to Peter was part of God’s perfect plan of redemption. He just didn’t understand that because he wasn’t seeing things correctly. 

Can you relate to Peter? Is there something you or someone you love is facing that seems terrible from a human perspective? Is your reaction to the circumstance ‘a dangerous trap’ for others because of your point of view? Could it be that the circumstance is part of God’s providence and plan?

We can be so short-sighted at times. We tend to long more for comfort, safety, and ease than we do for God’s sanctifying work in our lives. When I think about my perspective (or lack thereof), I am encouraged and challenged by the words of the Apostle Paul. He tells us –

“But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, ‘I believed in God, so I spoke.’ We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory. That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” (II Corinthians 4:13-18)

Oh, how these words speak right to my heart and help me to know when my perspective is all out of whack. When my gaze is fixed on what cannot be seen and on the things that will last forever, my vision becomes so much clearer, and I can see that my present troubles are small and won’t last very long in the light of eternity. I hear the cry of my own heart in the cry of a blind man named Bartimaeus that Jesus encountered. Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” and he said, “My Rabbi, I want to see!” (Mark 10:51)

Dear Father, we are in need of Your help. We want to see! Open our eyes, Lord, and let us see! We confess that we have spent time looking at the troubles we see now from a human point of view, and we need You to adjust our perspective. I pray that You will help us to fix our gaze on what will last forever and that Your work in our lives would matter more to us than our comfort, ease, and security. I pray for those who are reading this and are feeling completely surrounded by the enemy. Would you open their eyes to see that all of the resources of Heaven are with them? Would you give us the grace to see things from Your point of view, and would you help us to know when we need a change in perspective? Thank you for the truth of Your Word and for Your very great love for us. May we live in the light of Your glory and grace this week. Amen.

-Dana

Captive Thoughts

Have you ever read something that resonated so much with you that it became something you’ll never forget? A truth that just stays with you? That happened to me one day as I was beginning to read a book that a friend gave me, The Jesus Code by O.S. Hawkins. This analogy is too good to keep to myself, and I feel compelled to share it.

“Our minds are like a hotel. The manager can’t keep people from coming into the lobby, but he can keep them from getting a room. It is the same with our thoughts. It is not a sin when an impure thought goes through our minds. The sin comes when we give it a room and let it settle down there.”

Selah. Pause and consider that. 

Not long after reading that, I heard Dannah Gresh, one of my favorite speakers, teaching about our thought patterns. She said, “Are you taking your thoughts captive, or are they taking you captive?” What a great question, right? It is based on the following passage of Scripture –

“We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ…” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Every. Thought. Captive. I don’t know about you, but throughout the course of a day, my mind is filled up with thoughts. The lobby has a lot of visitors. Again, the problem isn’t necessarily when the lobby is full. The problem comes when I decide to give a room to a thought that shouldn’t get one. So, how do I know which thoughts to entertain and which thoughts to take captive and expel from my lobby? The Apostle Paul gives us specific directions.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

There’s the list. Pretty straightforward, isn’t it? If the thought I’m entertaining doesn’t align with what’s on that list, it needs to go. This is powerful, life-changing truth. So many big problems arise when we dwell on thoughts that we should be taking captive. It’s so true that those thoughts can easily take US captive.

Here’s a real-life example. Several years ago before I was married to my wonderful husband (who is one of God’s good gifts to me), I was outside mowing my lawn. Now, to fully understand this, you need to know that I hated being single, and I completely resented having to mow the lawn. I know that probably sounds silly, but I’m just being totally honest. It wasn’t uncommon for me to have a negative attitude while mowing. So, this particular day, I’m out there mowing, and all of a sudden a single, simple thought came into my mind. “No one cares about you.” Well, I was a hotel manager with a negative attitude, and I said to that thought, “Here’s your room key. Enjoy your stay.” As I continued to mow, that one little thought grew into more thoughts like it. “If anyone cared about you, they would come help you mow this lawn. You know, no one even appreciates the things you do. If you were gone tomorrow, no one would even notice.” As I entertained it, the original thought took on a life of its own. Guess what happened next? My feelings got involved (thoughts tend to have that effect on feelings). Before too long, I was frustrated, angry, and depressed. 

Then, by the grace of God, I stopped and realized that my mind had been completely assaulted. What I was entertaining was a lie that had been whispered into my mind. I was able in that moment to send that thought right back out the door. I had to remind myself of what God’s Word says and also of what was really true.

Have you ever been there? Have you entertained a thought that just took on a life of its own? A thought that was not based in truth that got a luxury suite in your hotel? Are you taking your thoughts captive, or are they taking you captive?

Paul says something profound as he continues on in Philippians.

“What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9)

Practice these things. This is powerful. We can actually practice taking our thoughts captive. First, we measure the thought up against the truth of God’s Word. If the thought passes the Philippians 4:8 test, it’s a keeper. It gets a room. If it doesn’t, we find and meditate on the truth from God’s Word that counters that thought, and we take the thought captive and refuse to give it a room. Here are some examples –

Thought – No one cares about me (sounds familiar, right?).

Biblical Truth – “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand.” (Psalm 139:17-18)  “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 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.” (Romans 8:38,39)

Decision – This thought doesn’t make the reservation list. It has to go.

Thought – I hate the way I look.

Biblical Truth – “For You formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works; my soul knows it very well.” (Psalm 139:13-14) “What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim ‘How clumsy can you be?'” (Isaiah 45:9)

Decision – This thought doesn’t align with God’s Word, and it can’t stay.

Thought – I am so thankful that I’m forgiven.

Biblical Truth -“He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” (Psalm 103:12) “Lord, if You kept a record of our sins, who, O Lord, could ever survive? But You offer forgiveness, that we might learn to fear You. (Psalm 130:3-4)

Decision – This thought aligns with Scripture, and it can have a room in our hotel.

Thought – I can’t stand her because she drives me crazy.

Biblical Truth – “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” (I John 4:20) “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

Decision – This thought doesn’t match the truth of God’s Word, so it has to go.

Practice these things. We know the thoughts that tend to come back around over and over again to the lobby. If we can practice, we’ll be ready for them the next time they come. We don’t have to give them a room anymore. We can choose to fill our minds with what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. If we do that, there won’t be any vacancy for the thoughts that don’t belong. 

Notice what Paul said at the end of Philippians 4:9. “…practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” The end result of taking our thoughts captive is peace. Peace. What a beautiful truth. 

This is my challenge to us all for this week. Let’s practice taking thoughts captive, even if it sounds a little silly. Let’s especially practice with those thoughts that tend to trip us up. Let’s arm ourselves with the truth of God’s Word, and be ready for them. And let’s see if we experience more of God’s peace as a result.

Father, thank you for the practical truth that is in Your Word. Thank you for showing us how to walk in victory even over the thoughts that bombard our minds. Help us this week to practice these things. Give us the grace to measure our thoughts against the truth in Your Word and to take our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. I pray that this will be life-changing for all of us as we apply Your Word to our lives. Amen.

-Dana