Truth That Matters; Truth That Doesn’t

If the exact same words, spoken by God Himself, turn up in front of your eyes twice in the same day, you should probably sit up and take notice. Last week, it was these words–

But I will be with you.

I read it in Exodus, when God calls Moses and Moses cannot comprehend how he can ever do this work. And I read it again in Judges, when God calls Gideon and Gideon lists all the reasons he is the wrong guy for this job.

None of it matters. None of Moses’s fear or insecurity or inability. None of Gideon’s cowardice or lack of credentials or humble station in life. None of these things are important, because of this one thing–

I will be with you.

All of Moses’s fears were based in truth, and so were Gideon’s. But they were not based in the truth that really matters– the all-surpassing reality of the presence of God.

To both Moses and Gideon, God shows great love and compassion, proving as David knew that He knows our frame and remembers that we are dust. He gives them all the signs and tools they need to accomplish their tasks– miraculous assurances, clear instructions, promise of victory. He even maintains patience with Moses when he insists he can’t speak in front of people, providing Aaron as a spokesman. And He shows great mercy to Gideon, giving the sign of the fleece not once, but twice.

But He had already given them what they really needed.

I will be with you.

Everything else they thought they needed– all the assurances and signs and wonders and help– those things were given, but they were less than what they already had. They were bread and water when they had a banquet already spread before them. God equipped them, and met them where they were, and dealt with all their weaknesses and insecurities, but the truth is that He had already given them the most important thing. And I am forced to wonder, how many times have I cried out to God for a sign, for help, saying I can’t possibly do this without _______________, when I have already received all I need?

In the back of my mind I hear these words– But, Erin! I am already with you!

Here’s the thing. I believe God loves us to ask for help. He answers when we cry out to Him. He gives us everything we need, and often He gives us things we don’t really need because we are afraid and He delights to sooth our childish hearts. His love is tender and compassionate and He knows all our weaknesses. But as we grow, as we walk with Him daily through years of our lives, experiencing His daily presence and His daily mercies and His care and provision and protection, God expects us to learn to need less of the outer signs of His provision.

I think God desires us to learn the sweet sufficiency of Him alone.

He will always give us help in need, but I think He wants us to grow so that we remember and trust and live in the truth that He is all we truly need, and He is always with us..

When my sister was a baby just learning to walk, she would cruise around the room, like most babies do, holding tight to the couch or the chair or whatever furniture was there to help her. Eventually she stopped needing the support and balance that she got from the furniture, but she didn’t trust her own ability to walk unaided. She would race around the living room, one finger trailing lightly on the couch or the coffee table. And when she came to the place where there was nothing to hold onto, she would fall down on hands and knees and crawl. Her problem wasn’t her lack of ability, but her lack of faith.

And so it is with me. God gives me all this wonderful support– friends, family, daily blessings, spiritual mentors, and a sense of His presence. But now and then there are lonely places, empty places where I am that toddler standing on one edge of a furnitureless gap, trying to decide what to do. And so often, I fall on my hands and knees and crawl, crying the whole way, pleading for something to lean on, failing to recognize that I already have what I need. I have my God, and the testimony of His Word is sure– that regardless of my feelings or my situation, God is with me.

He will never leave me or forsake me.

Nothing can separate me from His love.

He is with me always, even to the end of the age.

Even in the scary places. Even when I can’t figure out how to get from here to there. Even when I feel inadequate, unworthy, hopeless, and unprepared. Those things may very well be true, but they do not matter.

The truths of my weaknesses and failings are completely swept away by this greater truth.

Yes, you are small. Yes, you are weak. Yes, you feel alone and things look hopeless. Yes, it is hard to see Me right now. But, My child, I am with you. And that’s all that matters.

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In Case You Were Curious–

  1. Summer vacation is as amazing as I remember it being. Last year wasn’t as much a vacation as two months of insanity. This year has been much more chill so far. And that has been a beautiful thing.
  2. Change is hard. It’s hard to think about, hard to decide on, hard to embrace. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. But– deep breath. It’s time to dive in.
  3. I am reading Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray right now. It’s pretty amusing, if you like Victorian novels and satire.
  4. Speaking of reading and summer vacation– on Wednesday we got our summer reading challenge forms from the library. You can do stuff to get points, and the form goes up to fifty points. Then you turn the form in to get put into a drawing. My first one is already full– all the little boxes marked B for reading/listening to a book for ten minutes. Audio books for the win, y’all.
  5. Yesterday was the first anniversary of the death of my grandmother. I miss her. I think every time someone I love dies, another little bit of me is scooped out and left empty. Like that part of my heart– the part that is my grandma– is gone, already waiting for me in heaven. And it means that every time someone I love dies, I long a little bit more for my real home. Yet it is that same grief and emptying out that works beauty and strength into a life that is surrendered to the God of all comfort. And that means that each sorrow is an opportunity for more grace and more light to shine from my life. I love how God redeems every single thing that we give Him.
  6. My whole family has been working on the yard and garden these last few days. I weeded for half an hour and cleared like two square feet. I dare not touch anything we want to keep alive. I did not inherit the gardening gene. I did, however, inherit the make-something-yummy-from-what-the-family-grows gene. Can’t wait for some fresh tomatoes!
  7. Vacation Bible School is less than two weeks away. I alternate between panic and denial at this fact.
  8. I have amazing friends. I’ve been struggling with some hard things lately. God has put the most incredible ladies into my life– wise, godly, understanding, and fun. I could never live the life to which I am called without their counsel and encouragement and laughter.
  9. Also, I have an amazing family. As my kids get older, I love how we laugh together more and have so much more to talk about. This is a good thing.
  10. Today I took a walk around Tiny Town. I saw kids playing, people hard at work, tractors and trucks and cars. I saw a cemetery and I saw a turkey vulture standing in the middle of the road. I saw new houses and old, houses that need paint, houses that need to be torn down and rebuilt, houses that are full of people and houses that stand empty. I love this place we live in. It’s just Iowa, you know? Nothing fancy, nothing extraordinarily beautiful, nothing you wouldn’t see in a hundred other tiny towns. But it’s our place, our home, the work God has given us, the ground where He has planted our hearts and whispered grow. And even though it’s hard and unexciting, maybe, and even though people can be hard to love and our church struggles and we reach the very end of ourselves, and even though our hearts sometimes break with it, it is all worth it to be in the middle of God’s best for us. He is good.

Morning Symphony

The sky was dark, not even a glimmer of dawn forcing its way through the storm clouds that smothered the eastern horizon. The bedroom windows were open, and the sound of driving rain filled my ears as a flash of lightning broke through my sleep. I awoke just in time for the bone-rattling crash of thunder.

I knew she would be awake.

Storms are one of springtime’s nightmares for my daughter, along with bees and not being allowed to play outside from morning till night. I knew there was no way she had slept through that roar. I sat up, stretch, padded to the door. The clock said 5:26.

She was standing in the hallway, Snoopy pajama pants under a princess nightgown. She clutched Bear in the crook of her elbow, her hair was a tangled around her face, and her eyes were sleepy but wide. I don’t like that thunder, Mommy.

I know, I whispered back. You need to go back to your bed, though.

I take her warm hand, and she lets me lead her back to her nest of blankets, stuffed animals, and half-folded clothing. She climbs in, snuggling her head down on her two pillows as another roll of thunder rumbles through the air– quieter this time.

See? My voice is a gentle murmur designed to sooth and send back to dreamland. It’s already passing. No worries.

I take Bear from her, dance him merrily across her face, pull a few likely-looking blankets over her too-long form.

The rain is still falling, and we hear another low growl of thunder. She stiffens a moment, then relaxes, her body stilled in a posture of listening. I listen, too.

Is that– birds singing? Her eyes are wide with the surprise of it. Their soprano melody is counterpointed by the rhythm of the rain, harmonized by the low alto moaning of wind and the deep timpani of thunder.

Yes it is, I whisper, leaning close to her sweet face. They know it’s almost time for Mr. Sun to come up, even though the clouds are hiding him. They don’t stop singing just because of a silly little storm!

She smiles and snuggles a little deeper into her warm nest. Bear cuddles under her chin, and she closes her eyes, listening to the wonder and hope of a stormy morning symphony.

Following Jesus Lower

Philippians 2 contains some of the most beautiful, miraculous, life-changing words of Scripture. This well-known passage describes the self-emptying of the Son of God, His servanthood, His sacrifice, and His exaltation. We tend to feel very familiar with this passage, so that if we’re not careful we might miss the important lessons we are meant to discover here. The servanthood of Jesus is deeply crucial to us as believers, because it is meant as an example. I wonder if Jesus could have emptied Himself, come as a human, but not been a servant. Maybe He could have died for mankind without walking the road of deep, painful humility that He chose—not just humility in his death, but in his birth and his life as well. But He didn’t just come to die for us, but also to lead us in the way that we should go. He walked before us, humbly serving, humbly suffering, so that we would be able to see what it looks like to live a life that is pleasing to God.

We never would have been able to figure this out on our own. Let’s be honest—even with the beautiful example of Jesus’ life, even with His words and Paul’s words and Peter’s words, we still struggle to figure this out. We are saved so that we can serve others. We are called to humility and servanthood. We can be so clueless, fighting our way to the top, while all the time Jesus is calling us to take up our cross and follow Him lower. There is always room at the bottom. And in God’s kingdom, true greatness is found at the bottom. The least shall be greatest, the last shall be first, the poor in spirit shall be rich, the hungry shall be satisfied, the servant shall be the leader.

This makes no sense to our flesh at all. It is completely opposite to the world’s philosophy that calls us to seek greatness, wealth, power, and personal achievement at all costs. Here we see the distinct dichotomy between our thoughts and God’s thoughts, the world’s ways and God’s ways. Unfortunately, in many churches and Christian organizations, we see the world’s philosophy hard at work as people struggle for power and prestige and for “looking good.” Jesus cared about none of that. His life is a clear, convicting example of what is truly important to God—and it is almost never what is important to us. We are lovers of self, lovers of comfort. Even when we serve others, we are so often thinking of ourselves and becoming proud of our ministry. This is harsh truth, but if we truly want to follow the example of Christ, we need to look this hard truth in the face. John the Baptist said it so clearly: “He must increase, and I must decrease.”

We tend to look to the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet as the clearest example of His humility, and indeed, it is a beautiful story and where our lesson will land. But we are mistaken if we think that it was only there, at the Last Supper, for fifteen minutes, that Jesus showed Himself to be a servant. In truth, Jesus’ entire life was one of service to people. He sought out the lowliest, marginalized people, and He served them. He submitted to His earthly parents—people He had created in their mothers’ wombs. He spent His entire ministry sacrificing sleep, comfort, a schedule, and a home to meet the needs of humanity. Very seldom do we see Him actually accepting the service of others. He told His disciples that to be served was not His purpose in coming, but to serve—and to give His life. And He is our example.

As we consider the servanthood of Jesus, may we be challenged to live our own lives in service to others. This is Paul’s purpose in Philippians 2—to describe to the church how they are to live, with the mindset of Christ shared among them. He exhorts them to care for others with love and encouragement and humility, to consider one another higher and better. How do we do this? Paul answers—by having the mind of Christ. And as we pursue lives of sold-out, sacrificial, lower-still humility and love for others, Peter promises us that we will be lifted up in due time. When we try to lift ourselves up, it is only harmful. We end up with our faces in the mud (or worse) every single time. We end up with ruined testimonies, ruined relationships, even ruined lives. The lifting up that God promises us in 1 Peter 5:6 is never harmful to us, for God always is working for our good.

Imagine the impact we could make for eternity if we lived lives of service as Jesus did. I am reminded of John’s words at the end of his Gospel—“Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” Jesus lived a relatively short life, but He lived it fully in obedience, humility, and servanthood. What would our lives look like if we lived to the end of our days with this mind among ourselves?

Oh God, teach us to go lower– and to expect always to find You there, among the least of these.

Burdens and Crosses

Some days I am convinced I am a complete and utter fool, seeking to journey forward under a burden I was never meant to bear. And meanwhile, I leave behind that which I am meant to carry with me.

The words are simple enough– lay down your burdens. Take up your cross.

I am continually frustrated and disgusted by my own failure to follow even these simplest of words. I look at my burden– tasks I was never given, responsibilities I am not supposed to carry, worthless treasures, guilt and shame that have already been carried for me, sins I have already been given freedom from– and somehow I think it will make a beautiful addition to my back. You know how we are– we decorate our burdens with puffy paint and glitter and pretend they’re supposed to be there. We look at other people’s burdens of stuff and power and control and we actually envy them. But inside, they’re all the same. Garbage. Heavy, rotting garbage. Garbage that we’re supposed to be free from.

We take up these burdens and in the process we dislodge the cross we are meant to carry. The cross, we think with distaste. It’s not pretty. It’s rough and splintery and carries with it a stigma that we don’t like. There is absolutely no way to disguise a real cross. Those beams of wood set me apart– they identify me with Someone.

I say I wanted to be identified with Jesus, but I lie. Because I refuse the cross. I add a puffy-painted “I Heart Jesus” to my burden and maybe a gold cross keychain to the zipper. I might deceive myself this way. I might deceive other believers. But I never deceive the One who carried a cross Himself.

Here’s the thing. That burden, no matter how much I cover it with Christian symbols, no matter how much I fill it with my own ideas of personal holiness and Christian service, no matter how trendy it looks, how well-decorated it is, how much it deceives others into thinking I really must have all the answers and have it all together and I really just am surely the very epitome of godliness, — that burden is heavy and harmful. It daily destroys my ability to walk with God. It distracts me from pursuing my Savior. It never is full enough, no matter how many idols I stuff into it. It crushes me and leaves me hopeless, fearful, ashamed, and desperately alone.

I am not called to carry a burden. I am called to carry a cross. That cross lacks the sparkle and the glitter and the social acceptability of the burden; it is an instrument of torture and cruelty. But the cross is where Jesus is.

If I want to know Jesus, if I want to have more of Him in my life, if I want to walk with Him, then I’m going to have to go where He is. And He is there, bearing my cross with me. His yoke is far easier to carry than anything else, because He is there in every moment carrying it with me.

This is where I meet Jesus– I meet Him in the suffering of the cross, in the living sacrifice, in the splinters and the nails and the stigma and separation that come from truly identifying with every part of His life and humiliation and dying. Without this fellowship of His suffering, how can I ever expect to know the power of His resurrection? The joy of new life? The glory of daily seeing His face?

I am meant to lay down my burden and exchange it for a cross, but there are days when that cross seems far too heavy for me to bear. There are days when the burden calls me with all its shiny pretty deceitful promises of ease and pleasure and success. There are so many days when I run from my cross– and from the Savior– and snatch my burden back up.

This is the ugly truth. Most days I would rather have pretty much anything besides the cross. Most days I would rather attempt to forge my own way to contentment, peace, joy, fulfillment, and satisfaction. Most days I attempt to fill the deep yearnings of my soul for Jesus with everything but Him. Most days I live in denial, thinking I can find God without following the way He provided.

But the cross– and the Savior who suffered there– calls me back. Because when I stand for a moment and truly look, when I stop my mad frenzy to fill my burden with more stuff, I discover that here, at the cross, is where I know I’m loved, precious, chosen. This is where I see the high cost that has been paid for me. I cannot stand here long– I fall prostrate here before this wondrous, indescribable love. This Savior who calls me to a cross instead of a burden, He has gone before me and He goes with me. He meets me at the cross, every single day. He saves me from my own ridiculous attempts to find satisfaction and peace, every single day.

Look at Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of your faith. Lay down the burden again. Take up the cross again. Find the beauty of knowing your Savior in the fellowship of suffering. His love has provided this most excellent way.

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Words Like Swords

“Okay, fatty.”

It was twenty-four years ago, and I can still remember where I was sitting when a boy in my freshman class struck out at me with those words. I deserved them. I had started it with a cruel remark about his acne.

Honestly, that might be the first time in my whole life I realized how damaging my words could be. I had this random, shocking moment of fourteen-year-old insight—my words hurt that boy just as much as his words hurt me.

Unfortunately, as awesome as it is to have these sorts of deep flashes of understanding—and I mean that with only a tiny bit of sarcasm at the expense of my self-absorbed younger self—understanding doesn’t always lead to a change of behavior. And my words—they are just exactly the thing that constantly get me into trouble.

I think that what people don’t always realize is that guarding our words isn’t just about what we say; it’s also about how we say it and why and when. All I have to do is think of some of the well-meant, terribly-timed words of truth I heard when I had my miscarriages to realize that speaking with wisdom is about a lot more than just quoting Bible verses—even the really good ones.

I’ve been transcribing the book of Job this year, and it’s really fascinating because I’ve never taken the time to read this book slowly. Job is one of those books where we tell the story, quote a couple great verses from the middle, and then move on. I’ve read it before, multiple times, but always quickly for a class or in three-chapter-a-day chunks on a Read Your Bible In A Year schedule. When you transcribe, you must of course move a lot more slowly. It gives you time to really contemplate what is happening. And one of the things that really stands out is the way Job’s friends use their words.

They start out so well, Job’s friends. After Job loses everything, they come and sit with him in silence for days. Sometimes there just aren’t words. I truly believe that if those men had gotten up and left after those days, they would have gone down in history as some of the wisest and most compassionate friends ever. But unfortunately, they all decided they had Something To Say, and they opened their big mouths and ruined everything.

This could be the story of my life. (side note: potential memoir title: She Opened Her Big Mouth and Ruined Everything)

One of the main lessons I am learning in the book of Job is that truth spoken without love and wisdom can cause deep wounds on the heart of someone who already is hurting. This is why Scripture says we are to speak the truth in love. It’s why Proverbs reminds us of the value and beauty of a word fitly spoken—because the opposite is something worthless and ugly and often downright damaging.

How great a forest a little fire kindles!

So much of what Job’s friends say to him sounds just exactly like something out of the book of Proverbs. They are the kinds of words we like to underline in our Bibles, because they are truth. But Job’s friends were so caught up in their own false view of what was happening in Job’s life that they were completely unable to see the inappropriateness of their words.

Job’s friends were guilty of one of the biggest sins, in my opinion, of Christians—using the right words but at the wrong time. I confess my own guilt of this sin. So often—especially with my kids—I am so focused on their mistakes and what needs correcting that I fail to see their deeper heart-needs.  I use my Bible as a club to beat them over the head with.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a time to speak hard truth, and to speak it clearly without backing down. The more I read Scripture, the more I am convinced of that. And sometimes the truth needs to cut like a blade. But that time is not while someone is in deep suffering and grief.

There is a time to sit and be quiet and to just offer straight-up grace and love to someone. A time to remind a wounded friend that they are loved, seen, cared for. Throughout the book of Job, Job’s response to his friends moves from anger to deep hurt to defensiveness and back again. Their words cut him like sword blades, because he knew the truth of their words, only all of a sudden those truths didn’t make sense anymore. Suddenly everything was upside-down; his whole understanding of God and how He deals with people had been turned on its head; and his friends were piling on with accusation and absolutely no compassion.

Whole books have been written on the topic of words—I know, because I’ve read many of them. But as I read Job, I am reminded that the Words of God are powerful beyond even the wisest words of His people. His Spirit teaches me afresh that there is a time to speak and a time to be silent, and that I need Him desperately if I am to recognize those times and do what is right.

Let the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be acceptable in YOUR sight, O Lord . . .

 

Stuff I’m Thinking About

  1. Obedience in one area, and how it relates to my life as a whole. If I’m not following God’s path for me in one area, it can totally derail everything else.
  2. I love to read several books at a time, but if I get too many going I start to panic and then all I can do is read until some of them are finished. This leads to Problems, because I homeschool three children and have multiple marriage, home, family, relational, and ministry-related responsibilities. So I end up either dropping the ball in favor of a book binge or getting super grouchy when I can’t read. Moral of the story: Boundaries are important.
  3. We are having such a mild February here in Iowa that today my daughter went outside in a t-shirt and capris. I’m sitting here with my window open . . . it’s glorious.
  4. One of the things I think are crucial in life is having some go-to Scripture passages for when Satan attacks me with guilt, self-doubt, shame, and fear. My friend Rosanne wisely sent me to Ephesians 1 last summer when I was struggling with this. Today I was really feeling pressed down by the enemy’s attack on my self-worth– just feeling like a failure at everything because of one thing I’ve been struggling with (see #1). I was praying, and I felt that still, small voice reminding me of another favorite chapter– Romans 8, which came up in a podcast I listened to last night. Oh my goodness. Romans 8 is amazing. It starts with “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus” and ends with a long list of all the things that can NEVER separate me from the love of God. And in between? So much juicy goodness. Note to self: Read Romans 8 more often.
  5. The kids and I have been memorizing the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. It’s hard because it’s a list that doesn’t have a logical progression, or if it does, it’s not a logic I have grasped yet. But I’m reminded every morning as we work on them how different God’s ways are from my own ways.
  6. We have been deep-cleaning the house over the last couple weeks. I’ve managed to keep our bedroom clean for like ten days straight. I seriously think this is a new record. I’m a super slob. As an adult that basically shows up in my bedroom, because pride forces me to at least try to keep the downstairs clean. I did a very brave thing and changed the toilet seat in our upstairs bathroom. It was nasty in where all the screws are and everything. Apparently when I told my boys to aim, for the love of Pete! they thought I meant at the screws. It’s the only possible explanation. On a side note, my bathroom smells way better now.
  7. My oldest will be reading To Kill a Mockingbird for school soon, and since I hadn’t read it since before he was born, I thought I’d better remind myself of it. It’s actually one of the only books I’ve ever taught in a classroom, because I taught it to high school juniors during my student teaching experience. Angry Ranger is in 8th grade now, and I get to teach it to him. It’s such a good book, but it is so different to think about teaching it and discussing it with my own child. Last night in the chapter I was reading, Scout asked What is rape? and I thought, does my very sheltered 14 year old know the answer to that question? Would he ask if he didn’t? Clearly he needs to understand that in order to understand the issues in To Kill a Mockingbird. All of this just has me pondering the way my kids are getting older and the ways we have to transition them from children to adults. I feel like I’m groping my way forward in a dark room. We live in a world where these issues are so relevant– daily in the news. I want to raise my kids to be protectors of those who are weaker, smaller, less educated, less advantaged. Anyway, as I read this book again, I am so struck (stricken? strickified?) by the courage of Atticus Finch and the way he teaches and models standing up for those who are under attack, treating people graciously (even when those people are the opposite of gracious), and doing what is right whether it’s popular or not.
  8. Writing has become a major challenge for me lately. I know I need to be doing it (see #1), but for whatever reason I have felt very blocked. Trying to move forward, to at least try each day to put words to paper or screen. This verse for this battle: “He who called you is faithful; He will surely do it.”
  9. I have a hot date with Art tonight. It’s been awhile, and I can’t wait. We’re gonna paint things. 🙂

Walk This Way– Of Trouble and Faith and Steadfast Love

Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
    you preserve my life;
you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies,
    and your right hand delivers me.
The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
    your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.
    Do not forsake the work of your hands.

Lately I feel like I’m walking in the midst of trouble. Most of the trouble isn’t in my own home– aside from some migraines and three children who act, as far as I can tell, like normal siblings, things are pretty okay around here. But I look around me and see so many people walking such deep valleys. Health problems. Death of loved ones. Painful anniversaries. Relationship issues. Fears about the future. Financial concerns.

And then there’s the world outside my own personal circle, which makes me cringe with– disgust? Anger? Confusion? I don’t know.

The truth is, there will always be valleys for us to find our way through. There will always be dark places where the light barely shines. We can learn to face those times with faith and courage, knowing that God desires to use every single experience for our good, but that doesn’t mean that we are never afraid, uncertain, lonely, troubled.

I love Psalm 138, where David’s song of praise and thanksgiving ends with assurance that God cares for him, even in the midst of hard times.

First, David expresses his rock-solid faith that God would preserve his life. Is this a faith we can share? Of course we can’t guarantee that our physical life will be preserved in every trial. Some of us bear wounds that speak to the loss of loved ones, people who loved the Lord but still died. But we can surely say with David, You will preserve my life, knowing that we who believe are guaranteed a life that no physical death can touch. We are guaranteed forever with God. We are guaranteed life, here and now, that is abundant. So we can walk forward, trusting, as David did, that God who promised us life eternal and life abundant is always actively working to preserve that life, to keep us growing and even thriving in the valley times.

David next expresses his faith that God would protect and deliver him from his enemies. This also is a faith that we can share, for though our enemies might be very different from David’s, God has promised us victory over our Adversary, and strength to stand against his temptations, his tricks, his lies. I often discover that my own flesh is also my enemy, so that I cry with Paul, Oh wretch that I am! Who will save me from this body of death? The truth is, I already have the answer to that question– it is Jesus, whose name means Savior, who came to save his people from their sins. The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, saves me daily from the power of sin in my life, so that I can have victory over my enemy and deliverance even from my own sin nature.

Finally, David expresses his faith in God’s purpose. David, unlike many of us, knew very clearly from childhood what God’s calling was: he was to be the king of Israel. Nevertheless, I imagine there were times when he was tempted to question God as the years dragged on with no throne, no crown, no peace. Yet time and again, David showed his strong faith in the God who had called him, and here he bases his faith in God’s purpose in what he understands of God’s love. The love of God is steadfast, unchanging, eternal, faithful. David walked with God, chased after His heart, and knew that He was entirely trustworthy. And we can know this too! The more we walk with God, the more we open the Bible, read it, meditate on it, pray over it, obey it, the more we discover the firm reality of the steadfast love of God. And the more we can trust Him to fulfill His purpose in our lives– purposes for our good, always.

David walked in trials, but he had a deep, unshakable faith in God, a faith based in experience and a loving relationship. He knew that He could trust God’s preservation, protection, and purpose, and so he could walk confidently through every dark time, every wild jungle, every desperate heartache, every chaotic storm.

We can have this same confidence in the God who never changes. He is faithful. His steadfast love endures forever without diminishing, regardless of our own faithfulness, or woeful lack thereof. My friend, if you’re walking through trouble today, there is hope. Have faith in the God who loves you with unchanging, steadfast love.

We are the work of His hands– His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for a particular purpose.

Forsake not the work of Your hands.

January Joy

In January
when the clouds and the fog conspire
to hide the sun from my face,
it seems that joy is hiding too.

I don’t want to play hide-and-seek
with joy;
who has time in the midst to set aside
all
the
things
and look for joy?

If only
the sun would shine
the kids would stop fighting
the mud would dry up outside
everybody would stop trying to shout louder than everybody else.

Maybe then joy would come out of hiding?

Oh, but You tell me
that the joy is not found in the absence
of all the things that annoy and frustrate and depress and distract.

You tell me that the trials
are given to bring the joy–
that I should see them
as sources of
–are You sure?–
joy.

Of course You’re sure.

Joy comes in January,
and maybe I do have to go searching for it,
or maybe I need to just look up,
look expectantly away from
all
the
things,
and find Your face, even in the days of fog and clouds.

Even in the mud.

Joy is set before me,
as it was set before my Savior.
Like Him, I must endure.
But He has made the way for me.

I follow Him,
and in His presence is
fullness
of
Joy.

©Erin Kilmer, 2017

Walk This Way: The Steps of Jesus

There is a way, and it has already been made for me.

I forget this. I think I am some kind of pioneer, forging my own way ahead through a harsh land. But the truth is, if Someone had not already gone before me, making a way, I would never be able to walk even one step forward in this my year of walking.

The work of my Savior in me and for me did not stop at the cross.

Shortly after New Year’s Day, after I began my year of walking (sometimes it feels more like a year of crawling, if I’m honest), I wrote this on the chalkboard in my kitchen: “We should follow in His steps.” It’s a quote from 1 Peter 2, and if you were around in Christianity in the late nineties, you might recognize it as the verse that inspired the WWJD movement. What Would Jesus Do? It was everywhere. Everyone had those rubber bracelets during my freshman year at Bible college.

It’s a valid question to live your life by, although like anything– like the verse on my wall– you can look at something and wear something and even say you are something without it ever really affecting your mind and heart and actions.

But I think that if we really want to understand what it means to follow in His steps, we have to look at the context in that passage in 1 Peter. This book was written by the apostle Peter– our good friend who walked on water until he didn’t, who confessed that Jesus was the Christ but rebuked Him for doing the things the Christ had come to do, who claimed he would never deny Jesus until he did. I love Peter. I can relate to Him so well.

Peter wrote the book of 1 Peter as a letter to believers who were suffering for their faith, and the whole book is an encouragement to stand fast and do right and trust God. We can’t understand what it means to follow in His steps without understanding that Peter was not talking to people who were living happy sunshiny Christian lives with no problems.

When Peter called upon believers to follow Christ– to walk in the path He had made for them– He was specifically talking about a path of suffering. He was talking about the same thing Jesus was saying when He told people that if they wanted to truly follow Him, they needed to daily take up their cross and walk behind Him.

Friends, I am so guilty of looking at the cross as little more than a decoration that hangs at the front of my church. This is a way that we are deceived and led astray– when we forget for a moment that the cross was an instrument of torture and death and violence. To take up a cross does not mean to wear a necklace or to get a tattoo. It means to go the way that Jesus did, and to expect suffering and sacrifice when we do it. It means to deliberately, daily say Yes, Lord— not just to the beautiful and the precious blessings, which are many, but to the painful steps and the hard, wearing trials.

If we are to follow in His steps, to take up our crosses and follow Him, we must remember that His steps led places that were filled with poverty, with shame, with disease. His steps led to needy people and to foolish people and to sinful, desperate people. His steps led Him to kneel down and wash the feet of His betrayer. His steps led Him, bruised and bloody, up the tortuous road to Calvary.

We cannot expect– I cannot expect— to follow Jesus and to at the same time live a life of ease, of physical comfort, of nothing but flowers and sunshine and skipping through parks under blue skies.

And this leads me to the question that plagued me for years– If this Christian life is so hard, why on earth would I want to live it? If my salvation is a work of grace, why would I choose to do the hard thing anyway? Does it matter?

Finally dumping all the ugly of this question before God began a slow but dramatic change in my life. Show me, I said. What’s the purpose? Why bother?

Here’s the truth. There is no other way to find peace, joy, and satisfaction in this life than to follow after Jesus, even on the way of suffering. God created us for this. It feels all upside-down, but isn’t that always the way of God? We are made topsy-turvy by the fall, our world is wrong when it says that peace and joy and satisfaction come from stuff and relationships and power and prestige. God’s way is best. We have to take it on faith, step out, walk the road– and discover that it is true in the nitty-gritty reality of every single day.

We cannot know Christ without understanding suffering. Paul considered the privilege of knowing Christ to be the main purpose of his life— “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” James said that it is the hard trials that lead us to perseverance, to maturity, to completion. And Peter said that enduring during suffering is a gracious thing in the sight of God.

Here is what I have learned, though I forget over and over, and God has to keep on teaching me. The road of ease and materialism and popularity that the world says will fill me up and give me purpose is a lie. It is, at best, treasure on earth that will be destroyed, and at worst it is nothing more than a quick trip to misery here on earth with nothing to show at the end. But the way of Christ– the way of the cross– the daily sacrifice and the suffering and the hard endurance– this is where true joy, true purpose, real abundance, and eternal reward lie.

There is nothing better than to know Christ today, even in His sufferings, knowing that He is there at the end of my journey. I want to hear Him say well done, good and faithful servant.

Everything else is loss.

To this [endurance during suffering] you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.