Category Archives: scripture

The Love that Fights Against Me

We love the biblical idea of God fighting for us. We love quoting Moses standing with his back to the Red Sea and his face towards the approaching Egyptian army: “The Lord will fight for you, you have only to be silent” (Ex. 14:14). We rightly love to reference another set of words by Moses to the people of God:

“And when you draw near to the battle, the priest shall come forward and speak to the people and shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, today you are drawing near for battle against your enemies: let not your heart faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory’.” (Deut. 20:2–4).

Yet, we struggle to receive and cling to the reality that the same love that fights for us is also deeply committed to fighting against us.

Love that Stands Against My Sin

I’ll never forget something my husband said to me during our first year of marriage. We had come to an impasse (which is a euphemistic way of saying that we were in a bit of a disagreement). I think I said something alongside the lines of “I need to know that you are for me” to which he wisely replied, “I am for the Spirit in you, but I am against your sin and your flesh.” In the moment, I don’t think I liked his response very much; however, the reality of a love that would stand against me and my sin has deeply shaped me and helped me understand God’s fiercely faithful and faithfully fierce love for his children.

Now that I have children, I can better understand the ferocious side of love. While I am not generally a yeller, I have yelled loudly at my children to protect them danger. I remember crying as we disciplined our very young children for touching the stove. And now, as my children are becoming adolescents, my husband and I have had to keep them from things they have deeply desired to protect them from harm. I will never forget the story of a father friend of ours. His daughter was in the depths of depression which was leading her to seek escape in rebellion and substances. In love, he would sleep in front of the front door to offer himself as a physical barrier to that which would cause her lasting harm.

An Unsettling Promise

I was stopped dead in my tracks yesterday when I was reading the book of Jeremiah. At this particular part in the book of the weeping prophet, Jeremiah has recently been imprisoned and tortured by the priest in the house of the Lord for speaking truthful (but very hard-to-swallow) words from the Lord. God’s people simply wanted nothing to do with the truth that would check, challenge, and convict them in their sin. Their spirit is summarized in one verse:

Then they said, “Come, let us makes plots against Jeremiah, for the law shall not perish from the priest, not counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, let us strike him with the tongue and let us not pay attention to any of his words” (Jeremiah 18:18).

Later, when Babylon began to attack them, they conveniently decided they would like to hear the word of the Lord again (as if God and his prophets were lucky rabbit’s feet to be rubbed when desired). God sent Jeremiah back to the same priest who had tortured him with these startling words, “I myself will fight against you with outstretched hand and strong arm, in anger and in fury and in great wrath” (Jer. 21:5).

God refused to relent and yield to his people’s desire for prosperity and security apart from him. He loved them too much.

A Deeply Settled Love

For those who are in Christ, God’s wrath has been poured out upon Jesus. He drank the cup of wrath down to its dregs. Thus, God does not punish his children. The Holy Spirit, does, however, stand against them in their sin, waging war against the remnant of flesh that lives within us in the already/not yet of the kingdom of God (Gal. 5: 16–26). Just as Jesus loved Peter and therefore rebuked him when he had his mind set on the things of the earth rather than the things of God, God will lovingly rebuke us through his discipline (Matt. 16:23; Heb.12: 3–11).

If God allows us to be wounded or corrected, it always comes from his scarred hands and issues from his deeply settled (and publicly-shown) love for us.

Martin Luther wrote the following about the loving correction of God:

“When God sends us tribulation, it is not as reason and Satan argue: ‘See there God flings you into prison, endangers your life. Surely He hates you. He is angry with you; for if He did not hate you, He would not allow this thing to happen.’ In this way Satan turns the rod of a Father into the rope of a hangman and the most salutary remedy into the deadliest poison. He is an incredible master at devising thoughts of this nature. Therefore, it is very difficult to differentiate in tribulations between him who kills and Him who chastises in a friendly way.”

If we are buffeted and checked by the Spirit of God who wars against our indwelling sin, this is ongoing proof of our place as true daughters and sons. Receive his fierce love as marks of ownership from the Father.

Even the Ravens Do His Bidding

Our dogs have a strong distaste for crows and ravens (which is a nice way to say they lose their ever-living minds when we see one). Halloween is not a good season for walking these fools, since everyone loves to decorate with creepy crows in our neighborhood!

Corvids are a family of birds that include ravens, crows, and their kin. They appear creepy and have been associated as harbingers of bad news (thanks to Edgar Allen Poe for ruining them for us all). They have a highly developed avian society and are known nest-robbers and scavengers. Essentially, crows are like the mafia of birds.

I used to be creeped out when they landed in our tree like foreign spies gathering intel; however, lately, they have been reminders of the goodness of God.

For months, the story of Elijah and the ravens from 1 Kings 17 has been continually brought to my heart and mind by the Spirit. It’s a short tale, and a favorite for Sunday School classes for its unique and memorable nature. But as an adult, it is been shaping and strengthening me.

That our God would command his prophet Elijah to hide in a harsh place from an angry ruler does not surprise me. That He would create a draught yet provide for His servant from His own provisions is not shocking to me, though maybe it should be. But the ravens? They have my jaw-dropping.

Ravens are notorious for stealthiness and selfishness. They are cunning and have long been associated with bad news, harbingers for evil and ill. Yet, in a singular display of His gracious sovereignty and care, He commanded such birds to provide for God’s vulnerable servant. His powerful provision made them harbingers of hope.

Birds known to steal shared. And not just once, but twice daily for countless days.

When God call His people to extremity, He provides richly and uniquely. While most of us won’t know what it is like to hide in a deserted place in the middle of a drought in the kingdom of an irate ruler, we all have our own seasons of extremity. Extreme financial distress. Extreme loneliness. Droughts of hope. Deep hunger pangs for direction or company.

In these places, we must sit with Elijah in expectance of the Lord’s gracious provision. He knows our haunts. He knows our hunger. He knows our frames (Psalm 103:14). And He who apportioned such lots also commands the necessary provisions. While He could have easily commanded angels, he chose ravens to do His bidding.

The earth is the Lord’s and all the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has established it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers (Psalm 24:1-2).

Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens, he does all that he pleases (Psalm 115:2-3).

These all look to you to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things (Psalm 104:27-28).

He may not send you ravens. But He will provide for His children. Our extremity is His opportunity. Not only that, but He commands us to be ravens to one another, to be the unlikely harbingers of hope.

Even the Ravens

The ravens which circle
I’ve sent to do my will.
Even in fierce famine
Mine will eat their full.

Even evil omens become
Servants at my command.
Even ravens can deliver
Provisions from my hand.

When silos seem empty
My storehouses, unseen,
Supply son and daughters;
My love is never lean.

To whom is He calling you to be a raven this week (a messenger sent with timely provision from a loving Father, be it physically, emotionally, or spiritually)?

What ravens has he sent your way of late?

The Friendships of Women

Every year the stores put out their Christmas decorations early. Y’all, I have no candy for Halloween and no concepts for costumes. In fact, I think I just filled out the last of a legion of “Back to School” forms. Such preemptive action in the commercial world is encouraging me to prepare liturgically.

I woke up this morning thinking about Mary and Elizabeth’s friendship, specifically, and the friendships of women, generally.

You know the urge to call or text your sister or your tribe when you have news, whether weighty or wonderful. You have heard the laughter of two women sitting at a coffee shop reconnecting and remembering. You have seen women hugging, attempting to hold each other up under unthinkable loss. God made many mighty and beautiful things, but few can compete with the transformative power of human friendship.

As astounding as Mary’s visit with the angelic herald must have been, I found myself more moved today imagining her subsequent visits with Elizabeth.

As soon as she could, Mary ran for the hills, quite literally the hills of Hebron, to tell Elizabeth the news. She knew to whom she could safely carry the news that she was carrying a child! I am certain that as she traveled, both anticipation and nervousness grew. She had plenty of time to think about Elizabeth’s potential responses. How would she receive such strange news? Would the fullness of Mary’s cheeks and chest serve only as a reminder of Elizabeth’s long-empty womb?

Imagine their shock upon greeting one another, each brimming with life and an unlikely story to share, each eager to find a resting place for their fears, hopes, and insecurities. It was probably a good thing that Zachariah couldn’t speak, because he probably wouldn’t have gotten a word in anyway!

But as I imagined the joy, I also could not help but imagine their shared sorrow. While we don’t know how long Elizabeth lived, it is possible that both women bore and buried promised sons who died painful deaths.

Imagining these two women sharing their burdens together, laughing and wondering at the interwoven stories God was writing left me thankful for God’s gracious gift of ordinary friendships. It is no small thing to have a safe place to know and be known in a largely anonymous world.

Two Women, Four Hearts

Two women, four hearts.
A pair of promised sons.
Crying in fits and starts.
Laughter-laden lungs. 

“Mary, A miraculous child so young?”
“And you, a miraculous child so late?”
Immanuel from Heaven flung?
A son after so long a wait? 

Interwoven stories, intermingled tears. 
Kinship coupled with kindred souls. 
Angelic messengers, human fears. 
Different women, similar roles. 

Poised to magnify the other’s joy, 
Both destined for terrible pain;
Each would be bereft of a boy;
Their losses spent for our gain.

Two women walking side by side, 
Multiplying joy, dividing sorrow.
Comforting places to confide,
As we move toward the morrow.

I bet Mary and Elizabeth smile from heaven every time they see women walking alongside one another, pointing one another back to the hope their sons gave their lives towards.

All Without an Asterisk

In a world prone to hyperbole and full of lofty promises bound to disappoint, it is easy to grow cynical and become distrusting of words.

But God’s words are both sure and pure, making wise the simple (Pss. 12: 6; 19:7). Distrust is a wise disposition towards self and the world, but a dangerous disposition toward God.

All the Alls

As I have been studying the Word lately, all the alls have stood out to me. It’s such a small word to carry such a huge connotation. A lot hangs on such a small word. Below is a small sampling of the”all” verses upon which I have been meditating:

“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corin. 9:8, emphasis mine).

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8: 28, emphasis mine).

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 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” (2 Corinth. 1: 3–4, emphasis mine).

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence”(2 Pet. 1:3, emphasis mine).

“For all the promises of God find their yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Corin. 1:20. emphasis mine).

Incredulous Hearts

if I am honest, I often approach these alls with a squinting, searching, cynical eye. It’s hard to turn off the tendency to want to read the fine print hidden underneath promises.

My flesh wonders if all grace would abound to me even if I lost a child or received a cancer diagnosis. My flesh assumes that the God of the universe could not possibly care about the common trials of my day. My flesh tells me that there is scarcity, not abundance, in God’s provision. I buy the same lie that baited Eve: God is withholding.

My flesh finds it hard to believe and receive the reality that God’s all means all without an asterisk. No fine print. No hidden clauses.

But God’s all means all. He does not lie. He never changes. Even when we are faithless, he is faithful, for he cannot deny himself (2 Tim. 2:13).

All Without an Asterisk

We live in a batteries-not-included world 
Offering inflated promises (with fine print).
Over-hyperbolized, we doubt promises;
Incredulous, we search and we squint. 

Our God gave all with one small asterisk-
Forbidding that which would cause harm.
Dangerously deluded, we dared disobey,
Initiating pain we could not disarm.

We ruined all without an asterisk.
Our sin sent shockwaves near and far. 
Self-bent love leaves indelible stains.
It’s notorious for its ability to mar. 

He gave all without an asterisk,
Coming as man to take on our curse.
He spilled his blood and offered his life,
In his own body the curse to reverse.

He asks all without as asterisk – 
Full submission without reserve.
Trembling trust is a fitting response 
To costly love we don’t deserve. 

He provides all without an asterisk- 
We have full access to all that we need.
In seeming lack, we still have Him:
The high priest who lives to intercede.

We are called to trust him entirely because he gave himself entirely.

Politics & the Primary Language of Individualism

‘Tis the season. Political season is upon us (not that it ever took a break). If I am completely honest, I dread election seasons more than I dread just about anything. I think I would rather walk a mile on Lego pieces than dance the delicate dances that will be required in the upcoming months.

Under normal circumstances, election seasons are exposing; however, the stakes and the tensions in our nation are higher than they have been in decades. Our patience is already worn down from the pandemic. Anger and confusion are boiling in our blood as conversations around racism seem to grow more and more polemic. What used to be funny caricatures of both sides are becoming scarily realistic as the ideological delineations become more and more entrenched.

Our political leanings will be questioned, cornered, and cajoled. As much as I want to run away from these conversations, I know I must engage.  I long to be prepared to chime in to the chaos, but to to chime into as a citizen whose primary citizenship and hope is another kingdom led by another king.

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In Habits of the Heart, Robert Bellah and his associates use Tocqueville’s seminal study on democracy as a loose guide to studying the the role of individualism in American culture. He rightly claims that the first language of every American is individualism, though that individualism can come out in different forms, namely expressive utilitarianism and utilitarian individualism. Utilitarian individualism most prizes the capital gains, power, and status (all rolled together into the complicated term success), while expressive individualism tends to highly prize feeling, emotion, and freedom of self-expression. While on the surface these two seem to be completely different camps, they share in common a base of individualism: I have the right to go after what I deem to be success and/or freedom in my eyes and government exists to secure that right.

While both sides tend to vilify the other, they share a primary foundation of protecting that individualism which is inherently and intentionally laced into the American spirit. They just define freedom and rights differently and go about seeking them differently.

The upcoming political season will expose more than our political affiliations; it will expose the idols and hopes of our hearts, the longings and rights that wake us up in the morning and keep us up at night. As much as I don’t look forward to this exposure, as a believer in Christ, the discomfort can be more than something to survive. While everyone else might be frantically or fanatically doubling-down on party lines and their respective idols, Christians are invited to double-down in dependence upon Christ.

For the believer in Christ, primary citizenship has been shifted and a new primary  language is learned. Devotion to and dependence upon Christ slowly uproot deeply engrained patterns of individualism (see 2 Corinthians 5:17-21). Short term hopes shift from our own increase to the increase of the kingdom (see John 3:30 and Philippians 3:7-9). Long-term hopes are lengthened to converge on the consummation of the kingdom of God in the New Heavens and the New Earth (see Philippians 3:20, Hebrews 11:10, Hebrews 11:14-16).

This primary citizenship does not extinguish our earthly citizenship, but it does right-size and inform it. It allows us to engage in politics but to do with loosened grips and increasingly humility, knowing that we do not know all things but our Heavenly Father does.

Within the body of Christ, both at large and in our local expressions of the church, there will be those with very different political leanings. We do not need to pretend otherwise. To do so would be naive and dangerous.  We do not need to attempt to manipulate and convince people of our leanings. To do so would be narrow and narcissistic.

We are, however, called to ensure that our primary leaning is into the person of Christ and our primary allegiance is to His Word and His ways. May we guard our hearts which are the wellsprings of our lives (Proverbs 4:23) more than we guard our political stances or positions. May we be more concerned with a humble and obedient posture to Christ than we are with the way parties are positioning themselves for power. May our deepest allegiance be to the One to whom all allegiance will ultimately given (Philippians 2:10-11).

May election season only deepen our dependence upon Christ. See you on the other side of November.

 

 

Isolation: the Ultimate End of Cancel Culture

Long before Twitter, YouTube, or Facebook, C.S. Lewis understood where cancel culture led. In The Great Divorce, his fictional depiction of Heaven and Hell, Lewis paints a picture of serial conflict that leads to further and further isolation in the cities of hell. Lewis had no way of knowing how accurate his description would be regarding our current culture.

Moving Away From One Another

While traveling on a bus going from Lewis’s creative depiction of hell for a visit to heaven, the main character gets into the following conversation with a long-time inhabitant of the hellish city:

“The part of it that I saw were so empty. Was there once a much larger population?”

“Not at all,” said my neighbor. “The trouble is that they’re so quarrelsome. As soon as anyone arrives he settles in some street. Before he’s been there twenty-four hours he quarrels with his neighbor. Before the week is over he’s quarrelled so badly that he decides to move. Very likely he finds the next street empty because all the people there have quarrelled with their neighbors – and moved. So he settles in…He’s sure to have another quarrel pretty soon and then he’ll move on again…

“They’ve been moving on and on. Getting further apart….Millions of miles away from us and from one another.”

While we do not have a physically expansive and inexhaustible place like the hell-town Lewis described, we do have the internet. This technology, which does have its positive contributions and capacities, provides a seemingly inexhaustible, albeit two-dimensional, way to separate ourselves from others with whom we disagree or whom we greatly dislike.

Algorithms are not ultimately to blame, though they certainly stoke the flames of our sinful desire to separate and isolate. Left to ourselves in our fallen state and captive as humanity is to the prince of this age, we tend toward isolation when hurt, misunderstood, or misaligned with others (2 Corinth. 4:4). When Paul was contrasting the works of the Spirit with the works of the flesh in his letter to the Galatians, he included “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, and divisions” among sorcery, orgies, and drunkenness as evidence of the flesh (Galatians 4:20-21).

The Enemy loves to divide and separate, while the Spirit seeks to unite and bind. There is, of course, a command to be separate from evil doers and to separate the immoral brother; however, even then, such actions are to stem from a deep desire to see the parties with whom we are in conflict (over clear Scriptural commands) brought to full repentance and restoration (2 Tim. 2:24-26).

The Scriptures have much to say about the dangers of being quarrelsome and quick-to-separate. When people hurt us (which they most certainly will) or when we disagree with a brother or sister on matters of political opinion or conscience (which most assuredly happens on the daily), it is our flesh’s knee-jerk response to want to create distance from them. Distance breeds further distrust and miscommunication. As such, it is easy to recreate, at least in our hearts, Lewis’s description of astronomical distances.

Moving In, Not Away

To live among one another, to hurt and be hurt by one another, to see the world differently even from our own brothers and sisters in the faith, are inevitabilities this side of glory. Apart from the binding, humbling, convicting work of the Holy Spirit, we have no hope.

But with the Third Person of the Trinity, illuminating the Scriptures to us and acting as a search light in the dark recesses of our own hearts, we stand a chance to fight the clarion call of cancel culture. The discomforts of disagreements and disappointments, when we resist the urge to flee from them and the relationships that occasioned them, can serve to press us more deeply into the gospel. Rather than moving out and away, God can use these to press us further down and into Him.

Rather than make the other our enemy, we remember the enemy of our souls (Eph. 6:12). Even more importantly, we remember that we long stood as enemies of the Cross (Rom. 8:7-9), offending and disappointing God. As those who have been forgiven much, we have much forgiveness and grace to mete out to others (Luke 7:47). If God has closed the eternal breach between us and him, he can help us to close much smaller distances between us and those with whom we disagree on secondary or tertiary matters.

Disagreements compel us to move. By the power of the Spirit, we have a choice to move away from one another (following the lead of cancel culture) or to move more deeply into dependence upon God to biblically and sacrificially love those with whom we do not see eye to eye.

Opportunities Found Only This Side of Glory

As Americans, we hear the alluring phrase “Limited-Time Offer” frequently. Often such enticements are attached to special deals on hotel rooms, vacations, flights, or large-ticket products. If you doubt our love for taking advantage of limited-time opportunities as a culture, wake up before the sun on Black Friday and see the throngs drawn to such deals (my husband and high school boys included).

Hidden within the dark clouds of suffering are a few limited-time-only offers that offer perspective to our experiences of suffering on this earth. In the New Heavens and the New Earth, suffering will be no more. When the Apostle John recorded the glorious words he heard and visions he saw during his exile on the island of Patmos, he assured us, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). While it is right and good to hang our hope on such potent promises, it is easy to miss some significant implications.

The God of All Comfort

Our time on earth is the only time we will be able to experience the comfort of God and subsequently offer comfort to others. Comfort is necessitated by discomfort, the presence of pain, or a lack of ease. In the presence of the Triune God, we will never lack security. During our time on earth, we are uniquely poised to receive comfort from the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3). Having received such comfort in all our afflictions, we are entrusted with another limited-time-opportunity: to comfort one another with the comfort we have received (2 Cor. 1:4-5).

The sigh of relief that comes when we proverbially crawl into the lap of the Father who holds us and quiets us with his love is birthed out of the temporary discomforts of being away from his presence (Heb. 4:14-16; Zeph. 3:17; Ps. 131:2).

Hope has an Expiration Date

The human propensity to hope is astonishing even to those outside the faith. Accounts of survivors from concentration camps repeatedly recognize the power of hope, even amidst atrocious evil and horrendous circumstances. As Emily Dickinson so beautifully writes, “Hope is the thing with feathers -/ that perches in the soul- / and sings the tune without the words- / and never stops – at all.”

I would add “In this life.”

In the New Heavens and the New Earth, there will be no need for hope for the flower of faith will comes to full fruition in sight! As Paul said to the Romans, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom. 8:24-25).

Our time here on earth is our only chance to practice lifting our eyes to the mountains from whence shall come our help (Ps. 121). When we are like him, seeing him as he is, we will have no need for hope (1 John 3: 2).

A Chance to Show Our Preference for God Over Sin

During our time on earth we are saved from the penalty and power of sin, not from the presence of it. Only in the New Heavens and the New Earth will we finally and fully be saved from even the presence of sin. This means that our days of exile here are our only opportunity to show Christ that we prefer him over sin and the fleeting pleasures of this earth. To be clear, he must be prior in our lives to enable us to prefer him since apart from him, we can do no good (John 15:5). Even so, I long to live a life worthy of the calling I have received. I long to string together days and moments which show Christ his surpassing worth even over the greatest offerings of this world (Phil. 3:8).

Likeness to Our Suffering Savior

Finally, and most importantly, our days on this broken earth are our only chance to share in the suffering nature of our Savior. As paradoxical as it sounds to our flesh, God grants us the gift of being partakers in his suffering (Phil. 1:29). When we suffer for doing what is right, we share in his likeness and show our semblance to our Savior (1 Pet. 4:16-19).

The fullest picture we have of God is Christ on the Cross, the suffering savior whom Isaiah foretold. This means that God’s glory is inextricably bound up with suffering. To be a partaker of his glory is to be a sharer in his suffering.

In a book entitled Suffering is Never for Nothing, published posthumously after her death, Elisabeth Elliot writes in depth about the mysterious gifts of suffering. Speaking of the martyring of her first husband, she says, “Jim’s absence thrust me, forced me, hurried me to God, my hope and my only refuge. And I learned in that experience who God is…. And so I can say to you that suffering is an irreplaceable medium through which I learned an indispensable truth.”

Endless days of wholeness and satisfaction in the presence of our Savior await those who are in Christ. But there are only limited days to know his comfort, to experience hope, to show preference to him over sin, and to meet him in his suffering.

Let’s not miss these limited-time opportunities!

Widowed Yet Still Wed

The word widow comes from the Middle English word which meant to be empty. Even before that, it was derived from the Old English word meaning “to separate or to split.” While it is easy for me to look up the etymology of the word, it is far more difficult to watch those that I love become widowed.

My precious mother-in-law is adjusting to life as a widow. Another dear friend lost her husband this week. Additionally, I have been reading Suffering is Never for Nothing by Elisabeth Elliot who was twice widowed. The compounding of these realities means that my heart and mind have been thinking deeply about those who have experienced widowhood.

To separate or to split: that works well for wood (which shares a root word with widow), but it is not cut so clean when it comes to covenants and vows. Ask Naomi who was so overcome by grief that she changed her name to mara meaning bitter. Ask my sweet mother-in-law whose hands still set out two tea cups from over fifty years of muscle memory.

Expensive, covenantal love leaves expansive gaps when it is severed by death; however, for believers in Christ, there is another covenantal love which will never be severed. Those who lose an earthly spouse need never lose their heavenly one. Even though they are widowed, they are still wed. The following are only a sampling of verses wherein God speaks to his people as their truest mate.

And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness (Hosea 2:19-20).

You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is In Her and your land Married, for the Lord delights in you and your land shall be married to him (Isaiah 62:4).

For your Maker is your husband, and the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called (Isaiah 54:5).

I am learning so much from my widowed friends. I am seeing the inordinate weight I tend to wrongly place on my own marriage. I am reminded how many widows long to be seen and known and engaged. I am reminded that there will be no marriage in heaven since our souls will be wed fully and finally to the One with whom they were always intended to be eternally wed. I am reminded that gospel hope is resilient and buoyant even in the deep, deep waters of loss.

Widowed yet Wed

I find it hard to breathe without you.
In oneness you became my other lung.
And although you’re no longer here, 
Your name is always on my tongue.

As certainly as love’s first drops 
Leave both its drinkers drunk,
It’s sobering last sweet sips 
Leave each survivor sunk.

I didn’t see how high we’d climbed, 
Or the height our love had grown.
But now I marvel at the elevation 
As I slowly climb down all alone. 

In all those years of side by side, 
Hardships worked on us like glue.
I long for even one more such day,
As I make one and one from two.

Though I’m widowed still I’m wed
To a Savior who dwells on high.
As our love led me more to Him,
Your absence now draws me nigh! 

Yes, He will make a new song 
From my barely humming heart.
My Maker is not through with me; 
From a stop, He’ll make a start.

A Very Different David

In our culture and in our flesh, we love flashy beginnings. As of this year, the wedding industry brought in a staggering $57.9 billion dollars. We love a good grand opening or ribbon cutting. But biblically-speaking, how people end their lives is far more significant than how they begin.

Often, when we think of King David, we imagine him standing with his sling before a toppled Goliath. Or we think of him being set apart as the future king and selected from among his older brothers by Samuel. Perhaps we think of his massive failures which included adultery, murder, and cover-up. Maybe we remember him fleeing from his life from his best friend’s maniacal father, hiding in caves.

While David’s entire life is both fascinating and instructing, I find the David at the end of his life most compelling and comforting. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows at the end of David’s life. In fact, the aged, well-seasoned David continued to struggle with sin.

David’s Latter Days

In 1 Chronicles 21, Satan incited David, through his pride, to instigate a census of Israel. While that does not sound like the stuff of scandal or sin to us, the scheme was a prideful attempt to show his power and prowess as a leader. Joab, the leader of Israel’s army, sought to warn him against this selfish scheme, saying, “May the Lord add to his people a hundred times as many as they are! Are they not, my lord the king, all of them my lord’s servants? Why then should my lord require this? Why should it be a cause of guilt for Israel?” (1 Chron. 21: 3).

Even Joab’s cunning appeal which sought to steer David’s decision through his idolatry of pride and power failed; for “the king’s word prevailed against Joab” (1 Chron. 21:4). David would have his way, would force his will, and his people would experience the consequences. At this point in his life, we wonder if David will ever learn his lessons.

Thankfully, the Scriptures don’t leave us with this David. The same David whose heart was pricked by the skillful prodding of Nathan and whose repentance penned Psalm 51 received the Lord’s correction. He recognized the staggering effects his selfishness had on the people whom he was supposed to be serving.

“And David said to God, ‘Was it not I who gave command to number the people? It is I who have sinned and done great evil. But these sheep, what have they done? Please, let your hand, O Lord, my God, be against me and against my father’s house. But do not let the plague be on your people.’ (1 Chron. 21:17).

In fact, in the very place where the angel of the Lord graciously relented of the plague (the threshing field of Ornan), David devised an elaborate plan to build a temple to the Lord’s name and for the Lord’s glory.

Do you see what I see? Do you see a very different David?

A Very Different David

Yes, he still messed up royally (pun intended) even when he was well-advanced in the process of maturing in the Lord. But I find his repentance and recognition of sin to be a powerful encouragement.

He went from being the kind of man who, though owning flocks of sheep, would steal the one beloved sheep of another man (Nathan’s story which convicted David of his sin with Bathsheba) to the kind of shepherd who says, “Punish me, not the sheep.”

He went from slyly stealing that which was not his (an abuse of his power and position as king) to paying full price to Ornan for the land which would be reserved for God’s temple (1 Chron. 21:22–24).

He went from wanting to count heads to ensure his own enduring legacy to spending the rest of his life making elaborate plans to ensure the legacy of God’s great name. He went from forcing his own will and plans and desires to accepting the Lord’s will, plans, and desires, even when those shattered his own. Multiple times at the end of his life, and once in front of the gathered people of Israel, David showed that God’s will carried far more weight than his own (1 Chron. 22:6–10; 1 Chron. 28:2–8).

He admitted the depth of his own desire to build the Temple for God himself, but he also submitted to God who said his son would be the one to build the Temple. Rather than push though, chasing his own desire, or sit and pout, David poured himself into preparations for the Temple. He had blueprints drawn up, he gathered all the building materials, he coached up his son, Solomon.

David learned his lessons. It took an entire lifetime, but he learned. This gives me great comfort. For the same master who trained David trains us. This reality left me in tears as I studied the end of 1 Chronicles this week.

Glory to the Master, Not the Pupil

God’s disciples will learn their lessons (Luke 6:40). God will finish the work he began in us (Phil. 1:6).

As a woman who sees the scary strength of her own will and longs to place more weight on God’s better will than my own, the mastery of the Master gives me hope.

As a mother of teenagers who is constantly wondering when my children will learn, the mastery of the Master settles my worried heart.

As the wife of a pastor who seeks to shepherd a young flock in an arid spiritual terrain in the midst of massive cultural and spiritual warfare, the mastery of the Master emboldens me to stay the course.

Stay the course, my sin-weary and world-weary friends. Trust your Master and teacher. Receive his discipline as true sons and daughters (Hebrews 12: 5–11). Don’t begin to believe the lie that he is a hard master. Trust his heart for you is for your good and his glory.

A Conversation about Confidence

Faith, trust, and confidence. In both the Old and New Testament, these words share common root words (in Hebrew, batach and in Greek, pistis). While I am admittedly a word-nerd, these root words are truly at the root of the Christian life. Hebrews 11:6 reminds us that “Without faith, it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

Life with God hinges on our faith. Thus, trust is paramount. The direction of our trust determines our confidence. The vulnerability of the object of our trust will determine the vulnerability of our confidence.

A Conversation Then

Though this reality is laced through the entirety of Scripture, God has a concise conversation about confidence with his struggling prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah is often nick-named the weeping prophet, as he penned both Jeremiah and Lamentations, which are books woven with great woe. But he had every reason to weep as a prophet raised up in a particularly dark season in the history of God’s people. As such and understandably so, Jeremiah often found himself lamenting and complaining before God. After one such session, God responds to Jeremiah with a powerful word picture about confidence and trust.

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the steam and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.’ (Jeremiah 17:5-8).

The communicator par excellence, God knew that a picture is worth a thousand words. As such, he draws a verbal juxtaposition for Jeremiah between trusting in God or trusting in man and made things.

As someone who lives in an arid climate during a time of drought near an actual salt sea, I can tell you I don’t want to be the first shrub. But so often I find myself trending in that direction. I so easily let me trust leak all over to lesser things. I trust in my schedule. I trust in my performance. I trust in my effort and grit. I trust in my husband. I trust in my children. I trust in our government system. The list goes on and on.

But we are invited to trust in an unshakeable God. We are made for trust in the Trustworthy One. When our soul seeks satisfaction and security in Him (rather than self or circumstances), we have access to the river whose steams make glad the city of God (Psalm 46:4). As those made right with God, we are invited to abide in Christ which means that we have a settled security in Him (John 15).

The word picture is compelling. But you and I both know that living such confidence in God is complicated, isn’t it?

A Conversation Now

God gave me a little picture of confidence this week in a few strange crevices of my home. You see, I do not like spiders. But Annie Dillard did a number on me in her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:

“I allow spiders the run of the house. I figure that any predator that hopes to make a living on whatever smaller creatures might blunder into a four-inch square bit of space in the corner of the bathroom where the tub meets the floor, needs every bit of my support.”

Ever since reading her, I have mixed emotions when I see a spider. My instincts say, “Squash the sucker!” but my heart says, “Live like Annie.” Thus, I have grown to be a close watcher of two particular spiders in my home: one on a planter in the front yard and the other in the back. When I water my plants, I watch in wonder as they go about their web-making work.

If I wanted to, I could blow hard enough and break their lives’ work. I could put the hose on the jet setting and destroy their entire world. As strong as their webs may be, they are but threads compared to human strength. And the distance and difference between me and the spider is nothing compared to the distance and difference between my Maker and me.

All the places I place my confidence are but fragile filaments compared to trust in God. My spider friend and I have similar trust problems.

To a Spider

Though you long have startled me,
We share more than I once thought.
We both trust in silky threads-
A practice with danger fraught.

Don’t get me wrong, my friend –
Your woven web is a wonder!
But all your exquisite work – 
It’s so easily torn asunder.

You teach me not to trust 
Webs of my own weaving;
They appear so intricate,
But looks can be deceiving.

Belayed to the Blessed One,
Tho’ every strand be swept,
Though all shake around me,
Yet by my Maker I am kept.

I’m sorry, many-legged friend;
You’ve not such a strong hope.
You have left me with a lesson;
I’ll gladly leave you to your rope! 

Spiders and trees are training me to trust in the Strong and Unshakeable One!