Friday, April 4, 2014

For the Brave, Fearful, Confident, Insecure, Hopeful, and Hopeless Alike

Her story began where most stories begin -- somewhere between the beginning and the end.  She sat at the foothills of the mountainside, filled with hope and wonder of all the possibilities that lay before her.  All the weeds looked like flowers to her -- beautiful flowers she'd love to pick and place on the window sill just above the kitchen sink.  They were lovely in every way.  Even their imperfections seemed to be filled with a sparkle of glory.  As she lay in the lush, green meadow and gazed up at the skies above, she marveled to herself, "They've all said it's the roughest, toughest mountain they've ever climbed, but it couldn't be that bad.  Not for me, at least."

The height of the mountain seemed like simply a small hill to her young eyes.  "Why, I'll run up that mountain!  No, no, I'll dance up that mountain!  I'll skip and spin and play and sing, and perhaps I'll even make it up before dark."  She stood up straight, threw her knapsack over her shoulder, took a deep breath, and began the ascent without a fear in the world.

Our hearts are often like this.  Invincible.  Irrefutable.  Unchangeable.  Nothing can stop us.  We're ready to jump in with confidence and joy in our hearts -- new jobs,  cities, marriage, families, places, spaces, homes, projects, the list goes on.  We begin the summit of the mountain only to realize that a few steps in, the adventure wasn't exactly what we thought it would be.  We grow weak in the knees and immediately find ourselves doubting our once unassailable hearts.

"Hmm... This is not quite what I would have expected..."

Although our stories never seem to play out the way we expect or plan, occasionally along our journeys, we expect a den of bears when to our surprise, we happen upon a soft-flowing stream and a large oak tree.  Other times, we expect a land of jewels and treasure, fortune and fame, only to find our feet quickly falling into the depths of sinking sand.

We hope to work hard and find ourselves with no motivation.  We hope to enjoy life and find ourselves in the pit of despair.  We hope to be married and find ourselves single.  We hope to find joy in marriage and find ourselves miserable.  We hope to love our jobs, but suddenly we hate our lives.  We hope to be beautiful, worthy, and desirable yet sooner or later we discover that nothing is ever good enough.  All our efforts are in vain.  We hope that one day the relationship will be healed, but there has still be no sign of reconciliation.  We hope for the cancer to be gone, the marriage to be restored, the debt to be paid, the depression to turn to joy...  And yet the reality is sometimes the cancer returns.  The marriage shatters into pieces.  The debt results in bankruptcy.  The depression leads to death.

It sounds horrible and awful, and it is.  This is not as it should be, but it is the honest reality of the broken world in which we live.  We attempt to make our ascent to the high places with great expectations, only to find that the ascent is much steeper than we ever could have imagined.

We find ourselves holding on for dear life, envisioning a future of safety, security and freedom.  "If only I had this job...  If only I made that much money...  If only I could take that adventure...  If only I were single...  If only I were married...  If only we had children...  If only we could move...  If only we lived in that city...  If only he were smarter...  If only she were kinder...  If only I was thinner...  If only..."

Then.  Then I would be satisfied.  Then I would truly be valuable.  Then I would truly be worth loving.  That would be my saving grace.  That would solve my problems.  That would be the answer.

Occasionally the if only's pick us up and move us a few feet forward.  They seem to satisfy.

But they never truly solve our problem.

Sooner or later we find ourselves back in pit of despair, looking, praying, hoping for the next best thing. 

We are -- or I suppose I should say I am -- so quick to place my hope in the things of this world.  I am so quick to think that the things of this world will satisfy the deep needs of my heart.  And yet no matter what it is, it always seems to leave me longing for more.  Nothing is ever enough.  No city is big enough.  No home is clean enough.  No piece of cake or cup of coffee, no number on the scale, no amount of money, no dress from Anthro, no amount of attention from a boy, no perfect schedule ever truly satisfies.

Yet time and time again, I buy into the illusion that perhaps this time, perhaps this is what will truly satisfy...  I seek and fall and seek and fall and suddenly I'm clinging onto the cliff's edge.  And by God's grace, He brings me to my senses and I realize my need.  I realize my depravity and cry out in hopes of being saved.

"Lord Jesus, I need you.  I thought I could do it on my own.  I thought my way was best.  I have sought the things of this world.  I have looked to everything under the sun to satisfy me.  I have served so many masters.  Each one seemed to possess such illustrious splendor yet each time, I found myself enslaved.  I'm saddened, Lord.  This world is so broken.  I am so broken.  I cannot save myself.  I am so weary.  I am so tired.  I want to cry out that I have lost hope, but Jesus, I can't help but believe that you are my last hope, my only hope.  If you could ever forgive me.  If you could ever save me.  I may seem to have everything, but I have nothing at all.  Jesus, I want to turn from my sinful, self-seeking ways and give you control..."

And suddenly it seems as though the clouds burst forth and the heavens above, for He appears.  In perfect power and absolute glory, He comes, the valiant one, Faithful and True.  He saves me.

"My daughter, your faith has made you well.  

You are forgiven and free.  You no longer have to be as a slave to the things of this world because when you called upon me, I made you mine.  I have set you free, and if the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed.  Sin and death no longer have power over you, for you belong to my kingdom.  I give you grace and abundant life.  But there's more.  Though you will not see me in the flesh for some time, my power will be in you forever.  For I will give you the Holy Spirit who will come to live inside of you, who will impart to you my joy, my peace, my love, my strength, my goodness, my life.  I will never leave you or foresake you.  In this world you will face trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.

Believe in me.  Trust in me.  Place all of your hope in me.  In my promises you can rest assured.  My Word is completely trustworthy and true.  The things of this world will fluctuate and change, but I will remain forever.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  I love you and desire for us to be one, just as the Father and I are one.  My mercies are new each morning.  My steadfast love shall never depart from you.  You are mine.

I have rescued you today, and I will be with you forever.  I will not disappoint.  Though you will surely weep and mourn on this earth, I will turn your mourning into dancing, your sorrow into joy.  I give you beauty for ashes, festive praise for despair.   Dwell in me.  Hope in me.  Place all that you are and all that you have upon me.  I am the God who sees.  I am the God who saves.  I am the God who redeems.  I am the God who can restore the most hopeless of situations.

No matter what you face today, because you have called upon me as Savior and Lord, of this you can be sure: there will be a day when all the sad things come undone.  There will be a day when I will wipe every tear away from your eyes, when death shall be no more.  Neither shall there be any crying nor hurting nor pain anymore, for the former things shall pass away.  I am making all things NEW.  You will be united with me.  
In my presence there is fullness of joy forever more!"

Our hearts hear those words and ask, "Could it be so?  Could it be so that in spite of any and every adverse circumstance we face, we could experience peace and joy and hope?  Could it be so that though I've sought everything under the sun to fill me with the hope and peace and joy and satisfaction I long for so deeply, it could all be found in Jesus?  Could it be so that God loves me?  Could it be so that Jesus wants to have a relationship with me?"

Praise God it not only could be so, it is so!

It is the best news in all of the earth!

Jesus endured the cross, disregarding its shame and is now seated at the right hand of God.  He was mocked and beaten and tortured and crucified -- though He was blameless in every way.  He paid the penalty for our sins, so we might know His deep, abiding, saving, perfect, powerful, redemptive love for us.

In the beginning, God created the world, and it was good and perfect in every way.  Adam, Eve, every tree, every animal, He created them and called them good.  They lived in perfect harmony and intimacy with one another and God himself.  But one day in the garden, Satan pursued Eve and made her question the character of God, "Does God really love you?  Does He really have your best interest at heart?  Can He really be trusted?  If God really loved you, He would have given you ______.  You know better than God.  Do what is right in your own eyes."  She questioned the authority of God, chose to do what was right in her own eyes, and exchanged the truth about God for a lie from the enemy.  As a result, perfect communion with God was broken, and sin entered the world.  Nothing would ever be the same again.

Death, darkness, and despair had entered the scene because Adam and Eve decided not to believe God at His Word and determine for themselves what was best.  This broke God's heart because He loved them.  How could they not believe Him and choose to follow another?  And yet we find ourselves in the exact same boat today.  How often have I sought to exalt myself above Him?  How often have I considered my own plans better than His?

But God, being rich in mercy, love, and grace, made a way for us to be made right with Him again through Jesus.

He sent His one and only Son to live a completely perfect life on earth.  He never sinned, always put others before Himself, always trusted God, always glorified God.  He lived the perfect life we never could and took on the punishment for our sins, for what we earn for our sin is death.  Jesus bore the wrath of God and experienced separation from God -- though He didn't deserve it at all.  We did.  And three days after He died, He rose from death, thereby asserting His lordship over all -- including sin, death, and the grave.  He endured the cross, disregarding its shame and shamed death and the enemy himself.  For nothing can withstand the power of God.

And it is written that if you confess with your mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in your hearts that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  For in believing in Jesus, we recognize our sinfulness and our deep need for Him as our Savior.  Furthermore, we admit that though we've tried to go our own way, we desire Jesus to be the Lord of our lives because we believe in His authority, His character, His trustworthiness, and His love.  He alone deserves lordship over all.

And when, by God's grace, we place our faith in Jesus, He saves us.

He runs to us, embracing us and kissing us before we can barely even get the words out of our mouths.  He forgives all our sins -- past, present, and future.  He takes up residence in our hearts in the power of the Holy Spirit and adopts us into His forever family.  He gives us salvation and we become co-heirs with Christ.  He imputes Christ's righteousness to us; thus when He looks up on us, He sees the very works of Christ.  He gives us salvation, and we get to live with Him for eternity in heaven -- where there is no death or crying or hurting or pain anymore.  We will get to be with our perfect Father forever.

But the best part is that we are made right with God through Jesus, so we can know Him intimately.  God reated us to know him in a deep, intimate, personal way.  He created us to be His children and to experience abundant life with Him forever no matter our circumstances.  Because of Jesus, all our striving, all our seeking can come to a stop -- because all we've ever sought is found in Christ alone.  All love, all hope, all grace, all peace, all joy, all victory, all consistency, all stability, all freedom is found in God through Christ.  Jesus delights in you and made a way for you to know Him forever.  

I pray that truth fills our hearts with joy and hope to endure whatever lies before us.  To God be the glory for in His grace, He has allowed us and made us to be His dearly loved ones!  He has saved us, put a new song in our mouths, and given us hope forevermore!

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