Looking Back, Looking Forward
This month marks the one year anniversary of this blog - thank you so much for reading and for all of the lovely feedback so many of you have given. This has all been such a joy to me, and has proven a perfect combination of so many of the things that I love - God and people, reading and writing.
As I was thinking of how to mark this anniversary, I could not help but be drawn to the idea of remembrance. So much has happened in our lives throughout the past twelve months, and I am sure the same is true in your home. One of my favorite hymns has always been “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” The second verse says,
“Here I raise my Ebenezer,
hither by Thy help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God.
He, to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood.”
This refers to the passage in 1 Samuel 7, chronicling a time in history when all of Israel was turning back from their sin and rebellion to serve God with all of their hearts. At the same time, they were in great danger of being overwhelmed by their enemy, the Philistines. The prophet Samuel interceded, and God protected Israel by throwing the enemy army into a panic. Afterwards, "Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, 'Thus far the Lord has helped us.'"
Life is so interesting, isn’t it? It is so full of highs and lows, ups and downs, sweet and bitter. And I don't how this works, but time seems to speed up even more every year. Still, so much happens in a year, and if we are not careful we run the risk of forgetting how good God has been. Remembering is an important part of our faith - prayers answered, deliverance wrought, provision given. All through the Bible, God instructs us to mark things and remember, so that when tough times come again we will not be shaken. But what about the times that remembering is uncomfortable?
Lately Eli and I have been paying some much-needed attention to our home. Painting, cleaning, clearing out things we no longer need or use - it has been an entire summer of spring cleaning. We suddenly have more time on our hands to pay close attention to such things since our nest became empty as of May. The last time I checked, we were knee-deep in middle school and sports and carpooling, and now it has all passed in a flash. I thought I was doing really well with all of the changes until I went to clean the laundry room and saw this on the door...
A simple growth chart. How could this make a middle-aged woman cry? What served as a joyful expression of hope for the future has suddenly turned on me and tempts me to wish to go back in time. As much as I looked forward to this season when my girls were grown and thriving on their own, I feel the sharp stab of loss as that part of my life is over. What about my friend who lost her baby this year, or another friend who has now lost both of her parents, or still another who lost his beautiful wife to cancer? How should we remember in disconcerting times and seasons like this?
CS Lewis explains this brilliantly in Mere Christianity, "“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” I absolutely think it is important to remember the past and to keep before us the good things God has done. But I also think it is equally important to remember the future and what God intends for all of creation...
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
-Revelation 21: 1-5
"Write this down, mark it - I am making everything new!" God is the One who encourages us not just to mark the past for remembrance, but also to mark the future. This world, as wonderful and amazing as it is, is not the end. There is so much more! This life, full of incredible moments and seasons as it is, is not all. We were all made to live forever with God! Knowing this and keeping this close in seasons of loss and change helps us remain unshaken as we keep moving forward.
One day soon, when the gospel of the kingdom is preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, the end will come, and eternity will begin. As we celebrate an anniversary, we look back and give thanks for all of the beautiful things God has done in each of our lives. As we begin this new season, we look forward and walk with courage towards the best that is yet to come.
My good friends Andrew and Krystopher recently invited me to be a guest on their podcast to talk about Kingdom Minded - please give this a listen!
The Master of Trades
Recently I have often found myself thinking of my grandmother, who has already been gone for more than twenty years. I am so grateful to know I will see her again in Heaven! I love to think about the many childhood vacations my sister and I spent with her here in Texas. Maybe it is the extra-hot weather we have been having that reminds me of those summer trips from coastal Connecticut to sweltering Fort Worth. I loved being with her, and have such a treasury of memories to cherish. One of my favorite things was that she absolutely loved game shows. Back in the day when there were just three channels to choose from, she loved watching those game shows every day, and she particularly loved the hosts. Bob and Pat and Vanna were like good family friends.
I always thought the best kinds of games were the ones where the contestant could trade their winnings in on a mystery prize with the hopes of getting something even better. Oftentimes, the risk would result in a terrible downgrade, like going from $500 cash to a sad, plastic model car. But every now and then, the trade would far exceed the original prize.
There is just one Master of Ceremonies who offers only excellent trades, and that is God Himself.
Many years before Jesus came to Earth, the prophet Isaiah foretold what He would be like and what He would do: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion--to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”
Too good to be true? No - this is the way God is, and perfectly demonstrates what true love actually is. John 3:16 further promises, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God gave His Son so that we could have eternal life. Instead of our sin-tainted life which only leads to death, God offers us forgiveness and life with Him forever. His trades are never for selfish gain; they are always for the highest good of the whole Kingdom.
Ezekiel 36:26 also sites the kind of trade that God is in the business of offering. He says to Israel, and to all of us, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” What a beautiful offer!
The problem is that most of us spend a lifetime thinking like the people on the gameshows - we are unsure whether God’s trades are safe. We doubt His character, and think He might treat us in the same cold, uncaring manner that the rest of the world does. Instead of believing that He is true and that His motives are always pure, we hesitate at His offers, or fail to respond altogether, and settle for less when we could have had abundant life all the while. We worry about losing out on something, instead of trusting that He knows exactly what we need (and don't need!) to become the person He created us to be.
We can trust God for life and provision and direction. We can trust God to take our mundane, self-centered existence and trade it for something supernatural and far-reaching. We can know without doubt that when God offers a trade of any kind, we absolutely will be better off than before. Of course, the circumstances might not look exactly like we expected, but the outcome is sure. He does not take away without doing a deep work and replacing with something even more real. Even if things do not make sense to us at the time, we can trust Him to see and understand all that we cannot - He has an infinite perspective and is always working towards the highest good for everyone.
This is especially true of internal things we spend so much time wrestling with. God put in every one of us the capacity and creativity to make beautiful things with our lives. Sadly, our own sinful natures tend to take those passions and desires that God put in each of us and corrupt them into horrible caricatures of what they were intended to be. This is where most of our struggles come from. We do not want to lay these things down for fear we will be somehow less without them. As a result, we can stall out in spiritual growth and spend years struggling over the same thing with no personal change and very little positive impact on the people around us.
CS Lewis explains this brilliantly in The Great Divorce, which I hope you will find the time to read. One character is plagued by a struggle with lust, represented by a small red lizard on his shoulder - lust which is a twisted, selfish use of God-given desire. An angel comes and offers to deliver him of the lizard, and the conversation between the three is fascinating. Getting rid of the lizard will be painful and the character fears that killing the lizard will kill himself as well. After much debate, the angel is finally granted permission to kill the thing, which dies in agony only to be promptly reborn into a majestic horse. The ugly corruption had to die in order to become the beautiful thing it was intended to be. The horse then sings to his owner,
“The Master says to our master, Come up. Share my rest and splendour till all natures that were your enemies become slaves to dance before you and backs for you to ride, and firmness for your feet to rest on.
From beyond all place and time, out of the very Place, authority will be given you: the strengths that once opposed your will shall be obedient fire in your blood and heavenly thunder in your voice.
Overcome us that, so overcome, we may be ourselves: we desire the beginning of your reign as we desire dawn and dew, wetness at the birth of light.
Master, your Master has appointed you for ever:
to be our King of Justice and our high Priest.”
What is it that you are holding on to? It may be anything - a stuggle, a sense of security, a dream, a habit - anything. God is inviting each of us to come higher up and further in. He invites us to taste and see that He is good, and to trust Him with our life and hopes. God's trades are wonderful and powerful, and they can change not only your life, but also the lives of many around you. He wants to help each of us to be the person He created us to be, which is a person of far greater character and Kingdom influence than most of us realize. Let the Master of Trades work in you - life for death, beauty for ashes, joy for mourning. peace and praise for despair.
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)
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