Back to the Garden

Sin and shame have ruled my life for a very long time.  Since I was a child, I tried to hide it from everyone: from God, from myself, from the world.  As a small child I had experienced a cruel type of shame from the enemy that forced a burden on me that I was not intended to bear.  But the Lord is so merciful, full of forgiveness and abounding with love. What the enemy intended to harm me, God will use for good.  And He is.

I’ve longed to go back to the Garden where I could walk in the presence of God, completely vulnerable, completely trusting, and completely unashamed.  I just didn’t know it. I kept trying to cover myself instead of relinquishing my control to let God cover me. God’s covering is perfect. It protects.  It builds up. It comforts. It surrounds me in love and peace. It is good because God is good. And in the Garden, we communed as one friendship in complete transparency with one another.  I could know Him and He knew me. And it was good.

But the devil tried to steal that from me.  He tried, but he has failed. God never gives up, and He hasn’t given up on me.  Instead, He has tenderly and lovingly guided me back to Him, though the path has been difficult.  All along the journey I have fought with Him. I’ve questioned His judgment and His direction. Can you imagine?  I questioned God! What an oxymoron! But I did it, and I’ll likely do it again. I kept insisting that He not see my nakedness.  I had too much shame. I had too much guilt. I had fear and darkness where their should have been trust and love.

“I acknowledged my sin to You,
And I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to YAHWEH,’
And You forgave the iniquity of my sin.”
Psalm 32:5

When I acknowledged my doubt and fear and shame to Him, He didn’t turn me away.  He forgave me. And again and again He will do the same. What incredible peace there is in that!  It is life changing. As I continue to strip off the layers and layers of shame and guilt and fear that I have built up around myself for so many years, the Lord faithfully and lovingly says, “I forgive you, I forgive you, I forgive you,” over and over and over again.  Seventy times seven and more. And with each confession I’m drawn closer to Him. I am more and more exposed and I am more and more free.

His presence is the only covering I need.  Shame and doubt and fear have only kept me away from Him.  But as I release control of my covering to the Lord, I am free.  His presence is my shield, my righteousness, my honor, my delight.  To be naked and unashamed in His presence is to be back in the Garden.  And that’s where I want to be.

So, Father, I’m sorry for not trusting You.  I’m sorry for trying to cover all of my guilt and shame with manufactured lies that never gave me the comfort and peace that I thought they would or needed them to.  Real peace can only be found in You. Real comfort is in Your arms. Your presence is mine for the asking when I surrender to You and confess it all. Thank You! I am saved.  Help me to continue to walk in the Garden and not try to cover myself again in anything but You.

Your Love Endures Forever

God, I have a really hard time understanding why people refuse to believe in Your love for them.  They refuse to follow You or trust You or listen to You, though You make yourself known so clearly!  Either that, or they’re quick to acknowledge you with their lips, but fail to acknowledge You in their hearts.  I don’t understand it, God, until I take a long look at myself and discover with horror that I do the same thing.

I want to believe in Your love for me, Jesus, but how quickly I fall into the trap of believing the lies of the enemy about You and me and our relationship.  I do something beautiful and I beam with pride in my own accomplishment, without taking the time to give credit to the one who was in charge of it all to begin with.  I want people to acknowledge my good deeds and praise my efforts, instead of pointing people to You, the author and perfecter of my faith and theirs.

I want to recognize Your authority in everything, God.  Not just when I need You, or not just when I’m thinking of You, but all the time.  I know that You forgive me. And I know that You love me. But my love and obedience are so frail, Lord.  I get caught up in the hype of my own reflection in the mirror. Increase my faith in You God and what You want to do through me.

I know that loving myself is important.  You made me. You love me. I should love me.  Everything that You make is worth loving. But I need to love myself out of a desire to show my love to You, not in order to lift myself up as worthy on my own merit.  I am beautiful because You call me beautiful. I am lovable because You have called me lovable.

So, I’m not going to beat myself up for the times I have failed You and I’m not going to cry over mistakes I have made in the past.  Instead, I will continue to ask You to help me point to You more, and seek Your honor above my own more. I will continue to try, Lord, knowing that my efforts are not in vain because You will help me.  You will patiently teach me and guide me. And I will try to trust and obey.

I won’t live in condemnation, but instead lift up Your righteousness and forgiveness.  I will recognize Your authority over me and praise You for blessing the works of my hands, so that Your name will be glorified.  

Psalm 136

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
   for his steadfast love endures forever.
2 Give thanks to the God of gods,
   for his steadfast love endures forever.
3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
4 to him who alone does great wonders,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
5 to him who by understanding made the heavens,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
6 to him who spread out the earth above the waters,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
7 to him who made the great lights,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
8 the sun to rule over the day,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
9 the moon and stars to rule over the night,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
10 to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
11 and brought Israel out from among them,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
12 with a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;|
13 to him who divided the Red Sea in two,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
14 and made Israel pass through the midst of it,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
15 but overthrew[a] Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
16 to him who led his people through the wilderness,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
17 to him who struck down great kings,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
18 and killed mighty kings,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
19 Sihon, king of the Amorites,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
20 and Og, king of Bashan,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
21 and gave their land as a heritage,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
22 a heritage to Israel his servant,
   for his steadfast love endures forever.
23 It is he who remembered us in our low estate,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
24 and rescued us from our foes,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
25 he who gives food to all flesh,
   for his steadfast love endures forever.
26 Give thanks to the God of heaven,
   for his steadfast love endures forever.

 

Surely Not!

And he began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while.10 When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. 12 And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. 13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ 15 And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!” 17 But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone’?
18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
Luke 20:9-18

For the longest time I have denied certain sins in my own heart, God.  Like the scribes and the chief priests in the temple long ago, I’m guilty of denying the blatant arrogance in my own heart.  I say, “Surely not, Lord! Not me. I’m a good Christian! I go to church and read my Bible, and I pray! I do this and that and this and that and this and that!”  We all do that, don’t we, God? In the past I would read these words scattered all over the Gospels and I would shake my head and think in my heart, “Sure am glad I’m not like that!”  Wow! How wrong I was! How wrong I am!

How many times have I said to You, “Surely not!”  

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
Isaiah 64:6

I’m so sorry, Lord.  I’m sorry for refusing to hear your conviction in my heart because of my own arrogant confidence in myself and my deeds.  Of course I knew that my deeds were “filthy rags”, but I still acted like they were so much more than that! In my own depravity I welcomed the validation of my own actions with the pride I felt in them.  

But I’m done with that, Lord.  

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
Romans 8:1-2

I want to always remember that only by Your grace and only by Your blood am I worthy of anything.  But by that same grace and blood I am worthy of all things! I’m done with sin and death. I want to pick up Your life and be free!

So, humble me, Lord Jesus.  Show me again how great You are!  Show me fresh the love You have for me.  Show me deeply how beautiful I am because of You.  I won’t walk in shame for the failure of my own heart.  Instead I will lift up Your name and acknowledge the banner of love You cover me with.

He brought me to the banqueting house,
   and his banner over me was love.
Song of Solomon 2:4

I’m in your banqueting house because You brought me there.  I didn’t do anything to deserve it, but You choose to fly your banner of love over me. So, Lord, the next time I start to say, “Surely not!”, please show me with your gentle love and correction.  Only that will bring wisdom and peace for my whole life.

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline
   or be weary of his reproof,
12 for the Lord reproves him whom he loves,
   as a father the son in whom he delights.
13 Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
   and the one who gets understanding,
14 for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
   and her profit better than gold.
15 She is more precious than jewels,
   and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Proverbs 3:11-15

When It’s Hard to Read the Bible

Over the years I have fallen in love with reading the Word of God.  I love the truth that I find there, the promises, the grace, the freedom.  But when my heart is heavy and I get depressed, I feel a war on my spirit that tries to keep me from the Word.  I get caught up in sadness and loneliness.  I know that in the Word I can find truth and comfort, and yet I get so sad that I don’t want to read.  And I sure don’t want to write about it.

I’ve been in that place over the last few weeks.  I have days when I want to read and write and pray, and other days when I can’t even hardly look at the Bible on the table, let alone read it.  There is life there and I push it away in frustration, anger, hurt, sadness, or doubt.  Why?

Because the Bible is no more an instant fix to my problems than Jesus.  While it is a comfort and it holds truth and life, it doesn’t change the situations I’m in.  It doesn’t fix all the worry or struggles I’m facing.  It doesn’t shoot out twenty dollar bills when I open it, or cause wars to cease in the world or in my heart.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
1 Corinthians 13:12

Because the Bible is only a glimpse of God.  It’s only a taste of things to come.  It offers the answer to life’s biggest problem: what can be done about the evil in the world, and how can we be saved from the evil in our own hearts.  But the final judgement is yet to come.  And until then, I’m stuck in this world, with the promises of God warring with the evil in my own heart.

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
Romans 7:18-20

So my sin will keep acting within me.  I know the promises of God are true.  I know that my only salvation from the evil of my own heart and the world is found in Jesus.  And I know that He has given me the promise of His salvation by putting a deposit of His own Spirit within me.

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
Ephesians 1:13-14

And until that day that Jesus returns and I receive that full inheritance promised me.  I must accept the fact that I’m going to have bad days.  I’m going to have days of sin and doubt.  Then enemy continues to war against me.  My own sin wars against me.  The sin of others wars against me.  All of the things of this world war against me.  I’ve got to be patient.  I’ve got to wait it out.  I’m not alone.  We suffer together, struggling with the war that rages all around us.  And we’ll all get through it.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
1 Peter 5:6-10

So, have hope.  It’s not over yet.  And Jesus will restore us.  That’s a promise.

Set Your Face Toward Jerusalem

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?
Luke 9:23-25

Father, the cost of following You is great.  It’s so great that most of the time we don’t even get it.  I don’t get it. It’s the complete opposite of my nature. Yet, You have given me Your Spirit and so in the depth of my soul I know Your Truth.  I know the path. And I know the cost. I’ve felt it. I’ve experienced it. The longer I walk on Your path, the more I see how much the world doesn’t understand it.

51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. 53 But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”55 But he turned and rebuked them.
Luke 9:51-55

You fixed Your eyes on Jerusalem, Jesus.  And I, too, will keep my eyes fixed there.  Because Jerusalem meant death in the eyes of the world, but it means glory to You.  Jerusalem is Your Majesty revealed. It’s where Heaven and earth become one. It is Your city.  It is Your Kingdom. It is the place where Your promise to the world is fulfilled.

Sometimes it becomes hard to understand that Your eyes are fixed on the prize for us when we think You don’t see our needs or our pain.  Like the Samaritan village that rejected you, or the disciples who pondered which one of them was greatest, we look at You and say in our hearts, “What have you done for me?”  Your disciples were ready to destroy that village! They didn’t even know that they were being hypocrites. They weren’t being like children, ready to accept Your will and Your plan without an explanation.  They could only see the rejection.

A child doesn’t question your intentions toward them, or Your intentions toward anyone.  They just see Your face, accept Your love, and find the peace and joy that You offer. But, Lord, it’s really hard to put reason and logic of the world behind.  Living in this world hurts! From the moment of our birth we are moving toward death. Our lives become filled with obligation and work and a chorus of demands that tries to drown out Your peace.

46 An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest.47 But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side 48 and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”
Luke 9:46-48

Lord, the one who is least among us, is the one who stops focusing on the praise of men or the world.  The one whose eyes are focused on You and Your Kingdom first is the one who finds peace. So, Lord, help me to keep my face set toward Jerusalem.  Your majesty is revealed there. And I will trust Your plan!

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Matthew 6:33

Trust

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33

I am having a hard time processing things, God.  It’s been brought to my attention that I’ve not had humility in regard to all that has happened over the last few weeks.  Lord, my heart is to lift You up. My heart is to acknowledge your sovereignty amidst the trials and tribulations of this world.  You said to us that in this world we would have trouble. And Lord, we have had our share of trouble. But is it trouble to magnify your name when my world is collapsing around me?  Is it trouble to focus on your redemptive power and your reconciling love when I’m being tossed to and fro by the seas of chaos that dominate this world?

Jesus, my friend, I’m struggling with all of this.  I’ve been told I need to repent, that I need to reflect on how I let this all happen.  I’ve been told that there must be holes in our defenses that allowed this attack to happen.  

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
   you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down
   and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
   behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
Psalm 139:1-4

So, how did this happen God?  I know that I haven’t been a perfect parent, God.  I’ve made mistakes. I’ve set a poor example at times.  But, Lord, when all of this happened, when the world was a tumult of accusations and insults from the enemy, I saw Your glorious hand at work.  I saw your mighty arm stretched out over me as a shield. I saw the real result of my parenting in my children. Not in their failures, Father, but in their victory through You.  

Lord, I just want to lift up your name.  I want to show the world that you are faithful even when we are faithless.

if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
2 Timothy 2:13

But Lord, was I faithless?  Lord, you came in my weakness!  Shouldn’t that be what I lift up to the world?  Lord, was my weakness a failure? Have I been lying to myself to think that I did nothing wrong?  Is it a lie to acknowledge to myself and to others that you are at work even though I’m not perfect?  Am I supposed to pick apart and second guess my parenting because this all has happened? I don’t know, God.

I will continue to read and follow Your Word.  I will continue to work through my issues in Christian counseling to set my eyes on You and what you are doing, instead of on my failures.  I will continue to confess and reach out for help from my community of Christian friends when I need help. I don’t know that there’s anything more I can do or should do.  I know you hear me, God. And I know your plans for me are good. I will trust you.

In my distress I called upon the Lord;
   to my God I cried for help.
From his temple he heard my voice,
   and my cry to him reached his ears.
Psalm 18:6

I will trust You, God.  You have heard me and Your plans for me are good.  I will trust You.

Favored by God

Trust is a gift from you, God.  Zechariah and Mary both received unbelievable messages from the angel Gabriel about giving birth by a miraculous act of God.  Both received the fulfilled blessing that had been promised to them. But only Mary trusted the promise. Zechariah doubted the promise and suffered the personal consequences for it.  

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah,of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
Luke 1:5-7

Your word says that Zechariah and his wife were both righteous before you and “walked blamelessly in all the commandments”. Yet, because of his doubting, he was silenced.  This silencing kept him from sharing in the blessing that he had been given, but it didn’t stop the blessing.

So often I’m ready to doubt your promises, God.  I get so used to calling them promises that I forget that they really are promises and you are faithful to fulfill them!  Help me to trust you, God. Help me not to doubt the blessings that you are sending to me. I think Zechariah doubted because Elizabeth was barren.  Instead of remembering that you fulfilled your promise to bring a child to a barren woman with Abraham and Sarah, he was stuck in the current circumstance of Elizabeth’s inability to conceive.  

By no means should he have been putting his faith in Elizabeth’s body!  But instead he should have trusted in your power! He was a man who knew you!  And yet his fear and the sorrow of his current circumstances kept him from trusting You.  He was well versed in the knowledge of your faithfulness and yet the familiarity of his personal troubles kept him from fully trusting in the message that he had been given.

And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”
Luke 1:28

How favored indeed was Mary!  Her childlike faith and trust in Your message were evident in her from the start.  Her circumstances were simple and humble. She was favored by God, because she didn’t put her trust in her humble circumstances.  Sure, she questioned Gabriel when he said she was favored, but when he told her what that favor was going to give her, she recognized her place as Your servant.  If you wanted to call her “favored” that was good enough for her. So she trusted you.

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
Luke 1:38

Lord, I am highly favored by you.  I know this because of what you have done for me.  You gave me your Son as a ransom for my life. And you gave me your Spirit as a deposit of your promises to be fulfilled in me.  Lord, let me trust you. Let me walk in the favor you have pronounced on me. Let me know Your promises are true and walk in that truth instead of the turmoil of my corrupted circumstances.  

Oh, Jesus!  My love! Help me trust You so that I can share with the world the blessings You provide instead of being silenced by the doubt in my own heart.