You Can Not Hold Back the Dawn

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 “For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may endure for a night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning.”

Psalm 30:5 AMP 

From a 1959 sermon by Reverend Leslie D Weatherhead entitled: The Religion of the Dawn…

“There is a dawn answer for every situation we encounter.  We cannot pretend there is no night.  Nothing can be done to hasten the dawn.”  But, “you cannot hold back the dawn”

[Christianity] is a religion of unquenchable faith and hope and patience; unquenchable because it believes the permanent thing is light and the passing thing is darkness; that however long the night, whether it be in world affairs or the poignant private world of the human heart, the night will pass.  You can’t hold back the dawn.  All affairs, private and world-wide are in the hands of a God who is in complete and final control and who has decreed the entire conquest of all evil and the final emergence of indescribable good.

Reverend Leslie D Weatherhead

We may face the coming darkness, because we have the promise of a glorious dawn.

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Peace in Difficult Times

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A few months back, a friend posted on her Facebook page the following question:

Where do you find peace during the difficult times?

Once upon a time when I struggled with things, I internalized them.  Playing the scenario over in my head, dwelling on what I can’t change, angry at the person who was at the root of it.  I knew, even then, that all of this worry or dwelling on things wouldn’t change the outcome.  It was, what it was.  In someways I think I was hoping I would learn something from the replay.  Catch where I made the mistake, or clues that would have alerted me to the person’s un-trustworthiness.  I could learn how to avoid that scenario or personality in the future.  I was relying on my own self to figure out the complexity of relationships and circumstances that were almost always outside of anything I could control.  As habits repeated, I learned an important thing… I couldn’t rely on myself and my own thinking to resolve every situation or deal with every person.  I was human. Flawed.

For a period of time, I tried to seek the counsel of others.  Guess what?  They are human too, flawed as well.  There were definitely occasions where I was given good advice but more often than not it was biased advice.  These were people who loved me, cared about me, and often sided with me.  They might give me a pass for something I should be accountable for.  Or, try to solve the problem for me.  They immediately blamed the other person, because they knew my heart and intentions.  They were on my side.  But not always on the side of truth.  I learned that I couldn’t rely on others to give me the truth I needed to hear.  Not because they were bad people, but because they loved me.

What I know now is that there is someone who loves me more than anyone else.  Someone who sent his Son to die for every sin I would commit.  Someone who took the penalty but at the same time was holding me accountable to truth.  Christ calls me to be honest with myself.  Christ compels me to forgive others, and myself.  Christ beckons me to his shoulder to cry out in my sin, speak truth to that sin, and set me on the path to reconcile with others (and myself).  I’ve learned that when the times are really difficult, I need to turn to Christ for truth.  What is the truth of this difficult time?  What do the scriptures advise me to do now that I know the truth?  What would God have me do in this situation or with this person.  I can rely on God because His Word is unchanging, infallible, and loving.  He loves me so much that I will face Truth and be better for it.

I find peace at the Cross, because there Jesus did exactly what He promised.  Just prior, he told the disciples that He was leaving peace for them so they wouldn’t be troubled.  He didn’t say that there would be no difficult times, but instead left us with the hope that we can persevere (Romans 5:1-5) until He returns.   When difficult times find me, I turn to the Cross for peace, hope, perseverance, and patience as I await the day… the glorious day… that the difficult times are gone.

27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. 30 I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, 31 but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.

“Come now; let us leave.

John 14:27-31

A friend once told me, during a particularly difficult moment, “I am sorry you are in this, but I am so excited to see what happens when you are on the other side of this”.  Now when I face trials and difficulties, I go to the Cross and deposit them there.  Then I leave with excitement to see what the Lord is going to do with that trial, through me, or through those He will put in my path.  Difficult times become a learning experience where I learn how loving, faithful and true the Lord is.

Unanswered hope – #Write31Days

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There are days when we walk through life and it seems almost effortless, the same old routines on repeat.  Other days where we seem to stumble over one obstacle after another.  Yet, it takes just one event to pull the rug out from under us and drop us to our knees.

We cry out.

We cry out to the Lord to save us from this crisis.  We pray.  We ask others to pray.  We turn to our own power and strength to get us through, with the hope that the Lord is going to make up the difference.  We work out solutions and ask for miracles at the same time.

Clinging to stories of miracles, we wait with hope.

Time passes, hope fades.  Options seem to disappear, rescue doesn’t appear on the horizon.

Our heart breaks, because hope didn’t show up in the first place.  We couldn’t see it through our despair.

Our hopes seem unanswered, our prayers seem unheard, our God seems so far.

It is in these moments I must remind myself that although my hope and prayers may seem unanswered, my true Hope is ever present.  Hope is more than thoughts that flash through my mind, desires that settle in my heart, or the words I whisper in despair.  Hope is the living God, who is moving mountains when I am looking at the mole hills.  Hope is the Shepherd who tends to His flock, who find rest in their uncertainty because they trust the One who looks over their care.  Hope is the Potter that forms his creation with expert hands and perfect form, while I am caught up worry about the mess on the wheel.

This Hope can’t leave us or be far, because He dwells in our hearts.  We invited him there, he knocked and we opened the door.  We sit as His feet.  When Hope feels far, it’s because we are too caught up in our circumstances and human fleshyness that we can’t see Him.

He is there.  His Word promises that.  His Word never fails.

 

Failure…

Failure is a funny word to me, because I truly believe that we rarely utterly fail at something.  Sometimes, it is simply a matter of perception.  Follow along with me for just a moment on that thought before we get into the meat of this topic.

Below is a series of photographs from a wedding, several years ago.  At the time, I owned my own confectionary.  This was not my first big event, but it was my first wedding.  The bride wanted a confection bar full of candies, sweets, and treats.  She didn’t want a traditional wedding cake at all.  We decided upon some cupcake towers and a small cake at the top, which was adorned with their wedding topper and serve for the “cake cutting” part of the reception.

What you see here is a very well executed plan, right?  Wrong.  I had a MAJOR failure.  I promised her Jolly Rancher Cotton Candy.  I woke up that morning to make the fresh cotton candy, only to find that there was just too much humidity in air.  The cotton candy, which I had made dozens of times before, was melting before I could even bag it.  So, I bought some cotton candy that was pre-made and portioned it out into the bags.

The bride was happy, there were no gaping holes in the table set up, and there was not a single bag of cotton candy left over.

I failed.  Yes, it was due to circumstances outside of my control… but I still failed to deliver what I promised.  Even if, ultimately, I was really the only one who knew about the failure.

 

The next large event I catered was for a fundraiser.  I met with the planning team and they presented an adorable center piece concept.  They brought out super cute little tiered dessert stands. The plan was to have the stand filled with cupcakes. There would be a giant cupcake “topper”.  The small cupcakes were part of the dessert for the evening.  They would have table drawings for the centerpiece (inclusive of the giant cupcake topper, plus an additional 1 dozen mini cupcakes).  In addition they wanted gift bags for the VIP sponsor tables.  I was super excited to get started.  I measured out the centerpiece they provided to determine the number of cupcakes that it would hold.  Sent them a quote.  The order was set.

When I arrived the morning of the event to set up, to my shock… the tiered center pieces had be replaced.  They made the decision to go with something nicer, which was the right decision.  However, they neglected to inform me of the change.  These new centerpieces were MUCH larger.  Almost twice the width on every tier.  I placed the topper, the dozen mini cupcakes, and it was SPARSE.  I flagged down the coordinator, explained the problem, and she made the decision we would forgo the dozen cupcakes as part of the table prize and instead use them to fill up the tiers.

The following Monday, I received an email from the main chairperson.  She wanted a partial refund because I failed to produce the dozen cupcakes per table for the prize.  She was never informed by the coordinator, and thought I had shorted their order.  I explained what happened, who authorized the decision to use them, and apologize profusely.   In her response, she was very kind and canceled the request for the refund.  However, I never received another order from her or their organization again.

In this case there was a perception that I failed.  I knew that I hadn’t, and that I met my obligations.  However, based on what she could see… the chairperson perceived that I failed to come through.

This weekend I was reading an blog piece in which the author was brutally raw about her feelings, as she declared that Jesus had failed her family that year.  I was really stumped by those words. Jesus… who is perfect, flawless, dependable, truth… failed you?  I couldn’t understand it.  It didn’t seem possible.

In all the years of unanswered prayers, I’ve never felt like Jesus let me down.  Not once.  I can’t think of a time where I looked up to the heavens and declared “Lord, you really let me down this time.  I needed you to come through.”  I was struggling with every single time her words “Jesus failed me” flew past my eyes.  Yet, I not offended … angry … or hollering out “heretic”.

Perhaps, that is because in all of those times where things didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to… I blamed myself.  I told myself that the reason my prayer wasn’t answered or the Lord didn’t show up was because I failed Him.  I feel like I fail God daily.  I never feel good enough.  I question why in the world He would want to use me in ministry.

What I realized was that how we see things was very different.  I was seeing failure in the way I described the first scenario.  In some way, I failed to deliver on my end of the bargain… even if I did my best.  Even if I made up for it in someway.  Even if no one in the world knew or cared about it.  I knew.  I failed.  My focus was there on that place where I failed, versus the ways that I succeeded.

The woman who wrote the blog piece was more akin to my second example.  She was the chairperson who had expectations on how things were going to turn out.  She brought in the right people, and through no fault of her own in that scenario, something wasn’t right.  She turned to the person she trusted to come through, and she said “you failed me”.

You see, she ascertained that failure based on the limited amount of information she had.  She didn’t know that the centerpieces were different sizes, or that it would make a difference in the end product presentation.  She didn’t know that I was never informed of the change.  She wasn’t brought into the decision making being done on the spot to accommodate the changes, nor filled in after the fact of what happened & why.

When the Lord is working out things for us, we are not always clued in to what is going on in the background.  We can’t always see the people or situations that the Lord is coordinating into just the right places, at just the right times.  In fact, sometimes we never will.  We may never see those fingerprints where God was moving mountains and mustard seeds.  So, when the end product (or process) isn’t what we expected… we may feel like God failed us.  He didn’t come through.

On the other hand, we can become so focused on all of the areas where we ARE messing up… that we think we have failed God to the point He is ignoring us.  We may think He is deliberately keeping blessing from us.  We may even think that he is disciplining us.

In the first case, we are so focused on our perception of the situational outcome that we can’t see those who kept their word and did their part.  We don’t appreciate the people who were pressed into hard decisions.  We lose the ability to give people the benefit of the doubt.  We make assumptions, assign unjust blame.  Our vision becomes clouded to the work God is doing, the blessings that are coming, the people who did care, and the hundreds of little ways God came through with something BETTER.  Jesus never fails us, we just perceive that He did because we didn’t get the outcome we desired.

Or, we become so focused on how wrong and sinful we are.  We become so inwardly focused that we beat ourselves up, disqualify ourselves, and stamp FAILURE on our foreheads.  We make vows to never try again, step away from commitments or ministry work, and wallow in how terrible we think we are.  We put up our hands to the Lord, shouting STOP… I can’t be used.  I’m a failure, not Jesus.

Christ died because we are failures at keeping God’s statutes and commands.  Throughout the Old Testament, on a repetitive cycle…   God would move, the people would celebrate, the people would forget, the people would fall & cry out, and God would rescue.  By the time of the New Testament, when Jesus enters the arena… God’s ultimate plan of redemption for his people who just can’t keep it together on their own.  In her piece, she repeated a few times that she waited for Jesus to rescue her… and He didn’t.  I would contend… HE ALREADY DID, ON CALVARY.

And, in that moment we were given victory over sin and death.  We are not failures, but perfected in Him.  By His stripes we are healed.  We need to keep our eyes on Him, not ourselves.  Trusting His word, even when we don’t understand what is happening around us… or God seems quiet or far.

Then, I read the article a 2nd time.  Something else jumped out at me, and we are going to talk about that next time.

We Need Roots to Grow, To Fruit.

Have you been there?  In the place where the Lord has given you a talent and calling, and yet you don’t ever seem to be able to actually USE it?  It can be a very confusing time, frustrating even.  Perhaps, however, our eyes have been to focused on the finish line that we neglected the process to get there.

I just finished reading Banning Liebscher’s book ROOTED, and I found myself taking my sweet time to get through his message.  Usually, I can finish a book of this size in a weekend.   This time, I would often set the book down for a few days to really think about the points Liebscher was making and looking at my own calling and periods of waiting on the Lord.

rooted

If you have any gardening experience you know the importance of a good root system.   Take a beautifully potted plant and pop it in the ground, and you’ll see the plant go into shock and die.  Why?  You didn’t take the time to tend to the roots before you planted it.  A seed dropped in good, fertile soil will produce strong plants in comparison to seeds careless scattered among the rocks. 

Banning Liebscher takes the time to set the context of his book into the Parable of the Soils, and then walks through the value of having solid roots in order that we may grow, and bear fruit.  Not just some fruit, but a lot of fruit.  Not just any fruit, but GOOD fruit.  Not just a temporary harvest, but a long and lasting life of fruit bearing.  But, in order to do this … we must have GOOD ROOTS.

Often when we are waiting for the Lord to reveal our calling or make a move, we feel like nothing is happening.  Yet, it is during this time when the Lord is working on our roots.  He has fashioned life around us, opportunities, and put people in place to create a fertile soil in which we can grow.  Then, like a good farmer, He tends to those seeds.  Weeds are pulled, water and nutrients are provided, and He carefully watches over for disease and pests.

Then after all of the work of preparing the soil, tending to the seeds, building up the roots, caring for the shoots… suddenly life bursts out of those gardens.  And it produces fruit, a lot of fruit. Good fruit.  If we want to produce a lot of good, long lasting, fruit… we have to start with our roots.  That means we dig into the Word, build our relationship with Christ, allow the Holy Spirit access to our lives to move it and shape it, and trust that the Lord’s plans will always be good.  We just need to trust in Him who we have faith in. 

If you are ready to start working on those roots, Liebscher’s book ROOTED is a great way to prepare the soil of your heart to receive, foster, and bear the fruit of God’s Word and Love.

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Forgiveness & Reconciliation

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A few weeks ago, I was sitting through our weekly small group meeting.  We took a bold step and decided to tackle Authentic Intimacy’s Passion Pursuit.  Dr. Juli Slattery began to discuss the importance of forgiveness in healing and improving our marriages.  She also delved into the need to forgive past hurts in order to move forward.   Something she said jumped out at me:

The acknowledgement that forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing. 

As she waded through the waters of forgiveness, the words FREEDOM were key.  Forgiveness leads to freedom because what ever that wrong was, it no longer holds on to us.  However, reconciliation may not be possible.  Perhaps the other person hasn’t apologized, hasn’t repented because they do not believe they were wrong.  Or, perhaps they took ownership of their wrong doing but for your own safety you can not resume a reconciled relationship with the person.  In some instances the person may have died, moved away, etc and there isn’t a way to even reach out and start a reconciliation process.  However, we can still forgive them and more forward.  This forgiveness does not free them from the CONSEQUENCES of their actions, it does however free us from being held captive by that person or situation any longer.

I walked away that evening reflecting on several situations through the years that cause me distress.  I thought of the scriptures that call us to forgive and reconcile.  I felt like a failure in many ways because even despite my willingness to forgive, there were relationships that were not reconciled.  I had sold myself to believe that I couldn’t more forward until reconciliation had happened.   I resolved that those relationships wouldn’t necessarily reconcile to what they once were, but that to at least be on “civil terms” would be enough.  When that couldn’t happen, I felt like I failed.

Now, that burden was lifted.  I had permission to walk in that freedom of forgiveness, even I was walking alone and the other parties were not ready to join up yet.  Today, I watched a video from The Gospel Coalition on forgiveness without repentance.  One of the things I took away from the video is:

Reconciliation requires repentance and forgiveness from both sides.

It can’t be both sides saying they are sorry, and no one changes.

It can’t be a change of behavior by both sides, without anyone actually apologizing.

It can’t be an exchange of apologies, modified behaviors, when one or both don’t truly forgive.

Forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation may not come in that exact order & not all at one time.  It may be a process that can span days, months, or even years to complete.  Reconciliation may not even come this side of heaven. 

If we have chosen to forgive, and if we have identified our own mistakes and repented… we may have to be okay with reconciliation’s slow arrival.  If it even comes at all. 

For each of us lies the responsibility of our own actions.  Have we come to God and asked Him to reveal if we are part of the problem?  Is there more to this than being sinned against?  Are we too guilty of sinning against the other person?  If you have a trusted mentor, have you shared the situation with them and sought their counsel and guidance? 

Once you have taken an honest look at yourself, if there is a need for you to apologize then you are responsible for taking the step of repentance and seeking forgiveness.  Then you can also extend your forgiveness to the other person and work toward reconciliation, should both parties agree.  However, if you are truly the only one who was sinned against and the other person is unwilling to repent and ask for forgiveness… you can still choose to forgive as Christ has forgiven.

All of our sins are against a perfect God, who has done nothing wrong to us.  Yet He is able to forgive our sins and cast them to the oceans depths.  If the Lord can forgive me, how can I not forgive those who sin against me?  Reconciliation may not happen, but that doesn’t mean that forgiveness is impossible.

The scriptures state that as much as it is possible, and is up to me, to live at peace with everyone.  Reconciliation isn’t entirely up to me, it takes both parties to happen.  But forgiveness is a choice I can make to bring peace into my heart, life, and relationships.  Then we can lean into trusting the Lord to do the work in the other person, and if reconciliation is possible it will happen under the guidance of the Holy Spirit’s conviction.

When we forgive, we can live in the freedom of Peace.  I choose Peace.

More Than Words

praytogether

The email comes:

“Please pray for our family, my husband lost his job today.”

The text message arrives:

“Prayer request, my daughter has cheer try outs today.  This means a lot to her.”

She stops you in the sanctuary:

“I have a doctor appointment this week, they found a lump.  Would you pray for me?”

You pass the terrible accident…

A person keeps coming to mind, maybe someone you haven’t thought of in years…

At bible study you jot down all those names and requests during prayer and share time…

“I’ll pray for you!” –you promise.

“I should pray for that person…” – you consider.

Your intention are good.  The moment passes, the day passes, weeks pass.  You read the headline about the fatal accident you passed by.   You learn from mutual friends that an old friend of yours (that name that kept coming to mind) lost everything to a house fire.  The woman catches you in the sanctuary and thanks you for your prayers, her tests came back clear.

But, you didn’t pray.  You forgot.  You didn’t mean to forget, you were sincere in your promises.  Distractions got in the way.  Life interrupted.  Your own problems grabbed your attention.

We must be more than words, when we agree or offer to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Being distracted shouldn’t catch us off guard, we know how life goes.  Instead, we need to be intentional and take a step beyond words.

Stop in the moment and pray for the person, instead of putting on your to do list.  Grab her hand and lead her to another woman in the church, pray together for her corporately.   Even when you a driving, when you can’t bow your head and close your eyes… we can still call out to the Lord while we drive past the scene of an accident or hear sirens in the distance.  Email or text back a written prayer, so that your friend can see your words and return to them as she needs to.

Prayer is a beautiful conversation between us and the Lord.  Talk often.  Pray when you can pray, cry out when the words fail you.  But, when others come to you for intercession… be present with them in that moment of trial.  Stop what you are doing.  Pray.