When Doubts Assail

There is incredible grace in the story of Thomas.

I’m sure you have heard of him, the doubter.

In John, chapter 20, Thomas stood stubbornly before the rest of the disciples in the aftermath of the crucifixion and declared that he wasn’t buying it…this story they told. Jesus, alive?

Bah.

He had watched Him suffer and die. No one had ever survived a cross.

For eight more days Thomas stumbled forward in grief. Hope was gone. Then Jesus showed up, walking straight through a locked door. Is it any wonder that the first words the Lord spoke to those gathered in that room were, “Peace, be with you?” I imagine the disciples were undone at best, freaking out at the very least. And Jesus was there with a mission…He was there for Thomas.

He looked at Thomas with mercy and grace, seeing through the fear and doubt into the depths of his broken heart and spoke. He knew Thomas’ weakness. Jesus knew Thomas’ wounds. Thomas was hurting and needed more proof in order to break apart the protective shell he had constructed when Jesus (and everything he thought he knew) died. I’m sure Jesus would have preferred that Thomas have the faith to believe without seeing but he did not criticize or condemn him. He told Thomas that if he needed to touch the gash in his side then go ahead and do it. Jesus’ desire was for Thomas to believe and He was willing to do whatever it took to help him do so.

Oh the mercy and grace of God, who understands our need, our weakness, and meets us with great compassion. So often, when we doubt God, we want to gloss it over. It is embarrassing to admit that you just aren’t sure anymore. You have prayed and believed but He seems so far away…silent.

Often, when we doubt, we deal with it by busily ignoring Him. We stop reading Scripture and certainly give up on praying. Why waste our time when it isn’t doing any good?

But then something happens that drives us to our knees, making us long to crawl up into his lap and tell us everything is going to work out. How, though, do we approach a God who we have ignored, doubted, and begun to believe might not even exist? When we realize he is real and that we do, in fact, need him deeply and desperately we might be tempted to hold back because, well, we are afraid. Surely He is angry with us for doubting him after all He has done. He isn’t going to just brush our fist-shaking, angry tirades aside…is He?

That, my friends, is the reason His throne is called “The Throne of Grace” in Hebrews 4:16. We do not have to have everything “figured out” to approach God. He asks us to put our trust in Him, demands our surrender, but faith does not mean we fully understand Him or His ways. There are so many mysteries in the Trinity that will never be clear this side of eternity, but God has given us enough upon which to base our lives. He is who He says He is and He will do what He says He will do. He is King of kings, Lord of lords, and our loving, merciful Abba. He knows we are dust, looking upon us with eyes of compassion and beckons us to come to Him in the darkest night of the soul. Our weakness does not offend Him or push Him away for He fully realizes our faults, having formed every hair on our heads.

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throneofgrace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:16in

How great is His love, that He would sacrifice everything, watch us stumble and fall yet again, and still lean in, offering up the very wounds that killed Him for our inspection, to satisfy our human doubts.

We are a people deeply loved, chosen by the King of kings and there is nothing He will not do to bring us to Himself.

And Thomas? After Jesus’ patient, merciful response to his doubts, after his skepticism had been answered with absolute Truth, he would never be the same. Dear, doubting Thomas would go on to become one of the first martyrs in Christ. He would stand his ground in now-unshakeable surrender and lift his face to Heaven where the Son of God, his friend and Savior, would stand at the right hand of the Father in his honor.

When we realize who we are and whose we are, we will finally live in true freedom as daughters of our kind and loving King. It will impact every decision we make, every interaction with the world around us, and how we handle every thought that races through our mind. Wrestling through doubts and allowing God to answer them will strengthen us and reassure us that we can, truly, come before the throne of grace and find mercy.

It will reassure us that our mustard-seed faith can, in fact, move mountains.

Intimacy with Jesus

I met her at a conference a few years ago.

She was a tiny powerhouse of a woman, bubbling over with joy and the love of Christ. Just being in the same room with her made me feel more calm and made me wish I had what she had.
Intimacy.
The atmosphere of the room changed whenever she entered. She greeted you with a hug and a reminder that you are beloved, a treasure. She was Jesus with skin on and not because her life had been easy. No, in fact she had walked through storm after unimaginable storm.
Yet she smiled.
She taught about love. About unconditional, forgiving, Christ-like love. About seeing life through the lens of the Gospel and remembering that God is good no matter our circumstances.
She taught about joy. That it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, not of my own willpower. That pressing in close to the Father, seeking His heart and His life are the keys to joy and not the resolution of the present conflicts I may be facing.
Oh, I wanted what she had. Any time I have been in the presence of a uniquely Spirit-filled person I just want to get close to them, brush against them and hope that the relationship with Jesus I see in them might just rub off on me. I want what they have…or do I?
You see, she has earned her stripes, as have all who walk closely with the Lord. She has spent countless hours on her knees before the Father and read the Bible cover to cover, over and over and over again. She realized a long time ago that intimacy with Christ was her only hope. That Jesus alone can shine light into the dark places and bring healing to her heart.
I want intimacy, but it will come at a cost.
And it is a cost I must be willing to pay in order to walk closely with Jesus and experience true healing and joy. We will never stumble into maturity. It is a result of training and training is never easy. It is painful, grueling work but it is necessary.
If I want what she has, I must do what she does.
I will only have as much of Jesus as I actually want. It doesn’t come by osmosis, but by intentional pursuit of Him.
It won’t come by binge-watching Netflix or scrolling Facebook, but by opening my Bible and reading it. All of it. Over and over and over. It will come by laboring in prayer, not just a quick “Thanks for everything” before I go to sleep at night. If I want to be filled to overflowing with the Spirit, affecting those around me and making them want what I have, then I must make a thousand tiny decisions each day as to what I am going to put at the forefront of my mind and heart. It is a path that is narrow, yet well-trodden by many who have gone before us. It is also a path worth taking, because the end result is intimacy with the Lover of my soul.
If I want all of Jesus, I must give him all of me.

The Word for 2019

Every year, as December draws to a close, I ask God to give me a word for the coming year. It’s a little leap of faith, an exercise in expectation as I press in to hear His voice and fight to suppress my own.

I look for it everywhere, in songs, books and conversations. I listen for a consistent word bubbling to the surface through the swirling buzz of the world around me. I intentionally seek quiet and try to patiently trust Him to grant me this small thing.

But is it ever really a small thing when the Creator of the entire universe speaks to one of his children?

Last week it came softly. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, or if I was even really hearing God, so I sat on it an waited for more confirmation. There was another word running through my thoughts, as well, so I wanted to be certain before sitting down here to type them out. Over and over the word came, with the second one whispering just behind it, until today.

It hit me like a freight train as one of our pastors gave a much-needed but ouch-you-are-meddling-in-my-life sermon. As he spoke, the words I had been pondering came together as one thought, making sense as to what God is calling me to do and how He wants me to approach this next year.

As I reflect on 2018 I am so grateful. God asked me to seek Him, which I did. (You can read that post here) He blessed me with moments of clarity and joy in the midst of some of the hardest days of my life. He brought me to the end of myself and held me tight as I wept. He also gave me laughter and celebration and a reason to believe He is at work as much as ever, that I can trust Him even when I don’t understand what He is doing and that I can rest assured the ones I love the most on earth are safe in the palm of His hand, regardless of their choices in this world. I sought Him and He allowed me to find Him. That is a good, good year.

My writing has continued each week, as you know, with my focus always being on finding joy in the simple things and living forward into who we will be (because who we are in Christ is who we really ARE). That will not change, but I pray there will be more to it.

You see, I have read too many books and blogs that left me empty and wanting this year, and I do not want to be just another writer encouraging women. (You’ve got encouragement coming out your ears these days, friends.) I want to be a writer who challenges you to think deeply, to love Jesus when everyone else around you has turned their backs, and to pursue the heart of God because, sisters, THAT is where joy will only, truly, be found.

All of nature points to Jesus.  Every creature’s unique and often hilarious design points to Jesus.  The warmth of a child’s embrace points to Jesus. Doubt and suffering also point to Jesus.

As has been spoken to me in three different settings of late, “It is time to pursue the deep things of God.” If what I write makes you feel good but your SELF is still on the throne of your life then I have failed.  

If you walk away from the computer feeling happy and saying, “Jeanine is a really good writer,” well, that is nice but that is not why I am writing.

If what I write does not drive you to seek a more intimate relationship with the Lover of your Soul and turn away from anything that hinders that process, I am just another voice among many feel-good voices telling you to seek self-care when you feel stressed.

To put it bluntly, we don’t need self-care as much as we need an encounter with the Holy Spirit. We need to be fully given to the power of God. Treating the symptoms without getting to the root of the issue will not result in lasting joy. But seeking the deep things of Christ? Really committing to learn the ways of God and live a life of holiness? Training our spirit in the disciplines that will carry us when the storms of life threaten to tear apart everything we have worked so hard to build? THAT is deep and lasting satisfaction. THAT is joy. THAT is what I want to help you do.

So, here we go, 2019. The word for this year is LIGHT, accompanied by the word deep. The Scripture is Matthew 10:27 where Jesus prepares the apostles for the task He has set before them.

And you should proclaim in the bright light of day everything that I have whispered to you in the dark. Whatever whispers you hear—shout them from the rooftops of houses.  

Matthew 10:27 (The Voice Translation)

In the verses leading up to this one, Jesus lets them know, up front, that they will be persecuted for speaking the truth. They are surely going to face the darkest days of their lives. They are going to be driven to their knees in desperation for the strength of God to carry them through the darkness. But, as I have learned this year, God speaks to us in those dark days. We are forced to listen for His voice when we are left with nothing else. In the dark night of the soul, when we cry out for mercy and hope, our faithful Father draws near to us and teaches us the deep things of God. THIS is what He is calling me to this year…to proclaim in the light what I have heard in the darkness. And, friends, I can’t say it any better than what I heard Pastor Mike ask us to say out loud on Sunday morning:

“It’s not about me.”

Friends, it’s about Jesus. All of it. Every experience of my life is meant to bring me closer to the heart of God. He has me here on this earth for one reason and one reason alone…to proclaim to this world that there is only one way to the Father, and that is through His Son, Jesus Christ who lived the life we could not live and died the death we should have died, then rose FROM THE DEAD in victory so that you and I can live forever with Him. Jesus is the LIGHT of the world, sweet friends. Not your favorite blogger or podcaster, not your mama, and not even your pastor. You will never find eternal joy and purpose apart from knowing Jesus. No massage, pedicure or “encouraging” Christian book will ever fulfill you or bring true and lasting satisfaction. Anything that encourages you to put your “self” first is a lie. We are to seek Jesus first. Period.

We have been too easily deceived in our culture as wave after wave of fluffy Christian writing has retrained our thinking and the result is a bunch of women who are all about themselves with a Jesus t-shirt on to make self-love look holy. We use God’s extravagant love for us, his daughters, as an excuse for escaping from the realities of the needs around us because we need “me time” or to recharge. But a spa day cannot fill me with unconditional love for my husband. A girls’ weekend away, pretending that we are single with no kids, will never make me a better and more courageous mother. I can only give out of the overflow of what God does in me. It’s the heart behind what we do that matters. It’s the reason “why” I need to escape that is the issue. What am I escaping from, my calling? My responsibilities? My God?

Taking care of ourselves physically is important, yes. Do not think I am against spa days!  That could not be further from the truth!  (I enjoy them! Really!) In fact, a spa day may not even be your thing. Maybe it’s exercise or reading that is your escape go-to. Maybe it’s a sport or Netflix or a hobby. I’m not against any of those things, but I am against anything that puts a shade over the light that Jesus is trying to shine in and through us. YES he blesses us. YES he wants us to rest. YES we all need a break sometimes.  But I am seeing post after post, book after book, pointing not to Christ as our source of blessing and rest but to self-care and self-love and, well, that is just a pretty, nail-polished form of idolatry with highlights.

We must let Christ shine his light into our hearts. We must choose to pursue the deep things of God first. Lean into Him, pray for Him to expose sin and rip it out of our lives. Be willing to do whatever it takes to walk in the Spirit and share Jesus with a lost and desperate world.

Because, my dear friends and sisters, that is why you and I exist.

I am learning with you on this journey.  It is not easy to keep Jesus the main thing, but I believe, with all that is within me, that it will certainly be worth it. We will stumble and fall, we will inadvertently (maybe even purposefully) dim His light at times, but remember this…

“All things were made through him, and without him was not anything that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  

John 1:3-5 (English Standard Version)

Jesus is the light.  In him is life!  And never forget…the light (Jesus) shines in the darkness and, no matter how much you or I struggle and fail, the darkness has not, nor will it ever, overcome it!

Speak in the light what you have learned in the darkness.  Shout it loud and clear and remember who you are and WHOSE you are!

Happy New Year, dear ones.  May His light shine bright through us as we pursue the deep things of God in 2019.  He is worthy!

The Love of Advent

Have you ever talked to yourself?

Asking for a friend. 😉

Really, though, I can think of many times throughout my life where self-talk took on the form of a prayer, when I realized I was no longer trying to work out the situation in my own mind but, in fact, crying out to God.

Today’s poem, on this Christmas Day, examines the inner thoughts of Mary, the mother of Jesus, as she walked out those early years with her son and life settled into a sort of normal, the everyday experience of a young mama watching her toddler sleep.

Did she ponder the future? Of course she did. Did she hope her son would not suffer as greatly as the prophet, Isaiah, foretold? What mother would not? Did she long for time to slow down, for her son to stay little and not have to face the brutality of the grown-up world which made survival difficult, at best? This I can certainly believe.

The love of Advent encompasses so much more than we can fully comprehend. A holy God made flesh, a child born to die, a mother obediently walking a road that will surely end in unspeakable pain,

“All because your Abba loves this broken world…”

Merry Christmas my friends. Let’s lean into the story of Christ, allowing God to speak into the deep places we are often tempted to close off from Him. Celebrate, feast and, above all, worship our Savior/King for doing the unthinkable and loving us at our very worst. He is worthy.

LOVE

In the night the angel came and bade us go.

Up and out of Bethlehem

Down, down to Africa

Where my son would be safe for now

He sleeps, now, on his side,

Palms pressed together and cradling the fullness of

His rosy cheeks.

His eyelids flutter as he dreams, then he sighs.

Watching him brings peace to my troubled heart.

How many little ones did Herod slaughter?

Oh my God.

This little boy, is he aware of what he has begun?

This miraculous one who emerged from my virgin womb

Looks at me with eyes clear as a summer day

And when he laughs I am drowned in the love

Of Heaven’s son.

What will come of him,

This child who holds my hand in a crowd?

The prophets foretold much suffering.

Is it wrong that I long to pray for you to change your mind?

Born to die,

My heart knows it’s true.

Oh little one, are you yet aware of what lies ahead,

All because your Abba loves this broken world?

As I brush your cheek with the back of my fingers

Tears flow again.

The burden I bear as your mother is almost unbearable.

Yet I praise Him.

I am honored, my son, my messiah

To bear you through childhood.

Love fills my soul and I magnify the Lord

Who blessed me above all women to raise you.

The JOY of Advent.

“He’s here.”

Can you just imagine the wonder in Mary’s voice as her firstborn son emerged from her womb and she held him at her breast for the first time?  Don’t you think the sounds around them faded into the background and all she heard was the thumping of her own heart and the still-wet baby whimpering as his first cries died down into peaceful slumber?  When I stop to let my mind envision the details of his birth (because so few are really given to us), putting myself in Mary’s place and listening with her ears, looking around with her eyes, I find a lump in my throat and the desire to fall on my knees to be overwhelming.

God with us.  The Word made flesh.  Born into utter poverty and humility but no less the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Our Jesus, the most valiant of warriors who would eternally conquer sin and death because we simply could not.

He’s here.

Oh, the love, the matchless love of Christ.  Sit with Mary a while, will you?  Imagine what it must have been like on that Christmas night when the longings of all generations were fulfilled in one miraculous moment, when a virgin gave birth to the Son of God.

 

JOY.

He’s here.

Oh, Joseph, just look at him.

My heart is bursting,

overflowing with love

and joy.

 

Shhh, do you hear it?

Listen, beloved.

They are singing

just beyond the hills

where the shepherds sleep.

 

The song is new.

Harmonies so perfect 

I sigh a smile

and the baby 

opens his eyes.

 

So tiny, yet ancient.

My mind cannot grasp

who I hold in my arms

yet I know I am in the middle

of history, HIS story.

 

Oh God, I am not worthy 

yet here I rest

agains the fragrant hay

with Heaven-song all around

and your Son gazing into my eyes.

 

Take my hand, Joseph,

see the love I hold for 

you, so brave 

to take this on.

This burden of grace.

 

Look upon the face 

of God,

this beautiful son of ours

who nurses peacefully 

as the melodies fade.

The Peace of Advent

Mary’s relationship with her cousin, Elizabeth has been a source of fascination for me as Christmas nears. God provided much-needed community for the mother of Christ in Elizabeth, someone…the only one…who could begin to relate to what Mary had been chosen to walk though. As I tried to imagine their conversations, whispered by firelight after Zechariah was long-asleep, this poem was fashioned:

PEACE.

Who, besides you, would understand?

This holy secret, silent, yet unknown outside of my womb.

The angel spoke your name, Elizabeth.

He told me of your wonder

and of the babe.

Just look at you.

He kicks and your belly writhes and the smile

oh, the smile on your aged face.

Your wrinkles deepen as laugh-light sparks

from your faded eyes.

Renewed, you are.

Made new, fruitful, forever a part of the grand story,

His story,

of redemption.

Hold my hand.

Tell me what I already know

but need to hear afresh.

How God supplies the strength we both will need.

I am not afraid,

yet I am.

The war in my spirit rages

as the flesh across my belly tightens and bulges.

But here you stand before me,

evidence of our God weaving the promise

of atonement within me.

Within us.

These infant sons we bear,

destined for pain.

We walk the first steps with them on a path

rocky with hate and rejection.

Yet I see in you an acceptance

the peace of God that flows through your fingers to mine.

I feel His presence, overshadowed by Him since that night

the Spirit made me His mother.

Who, besides you, would understand?

I find it not a coincidence that you, my cousin, are the bearer

of the messenger.

Two women, forever connected by destiny.

Your companionship eases my heart.

Your trust increases my own.

Your embrace enfolds me in peace

that I may walk with my eyes fixed on this sacred privilege.

The Hope of Advent

ELIZABETH, THE MOTHER OF JOHN

(Inspired by the book of Luke chapter 1)

 

Along with all the world she stands pregnant.

Beneath her heart beats the tiny one of the messenger.

This old woman once belittled by the townsfolk,

A raisin dried in the desert sun,

Now stretching and blooming with life,

Elizabeth holds her noble head erect and proud

Knowing she bears a holy burden

A voice cries out and the babe once still,

So small that only a few have noticed the swelling,

Leaps for joy! 

All four limbs stretch

To their full length in the first steps

Of a dance begun by the angels

Deep within the womb

Of his mother.

The eyes of the women meet,

Filling the distance with shared wonder

As they cross the sands to meet face to face.