He will restore my soul….

“I am the good shepherd.I know my own and my own know me.” John 10:14

Light bulb moment! I am still a sinner. To understand the depravity of one’s soul is good because it is the truth. And I do live in the knowledge that I am a sinner saved by grace. But sometimes God shines a spotlight on this truth for my sake, so that I may not grow stale in my dependence on his sanctifying grace.

My struggles over the last few weeks have brought my flaws and weaknesses front and center. I should not blame the circumstances that surrounded me because no matter how frustrating they were, they did not cause me to sin. I was the one who chose to respond in ways that did not glorify God. I was the one who allowed my love of self to win over love of others. With pursuit of excellence as my alibi, I threw patience and forbearance out the window. In favor of efficiency, I placed kindness in the back burner.

Green pastures and still waters in Glendalough, Ireland

“God, would you restore my soul?” I found myself pleading one early morning while battling a headache. You see, when we allow our arrogance to take over, we also rob ourselves of peace and joy. In the end, our reward is nothing but pain and weariness of the soul because rest always eludes the prideful.

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lay down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. ” Psalm 23:1-3

Thanks be to God for Jesus our Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep (John 10:11). Those who belong to him can never be snatched away from his hand (John 10:28-29). We may get lost along the way, but our Shepherd will always, always carry us and lead us back to the path of righteousness. But we need to be humble before him, who knows his sheep so well and calls each one by name (John 10:3).

I know that I will always need my Shepherd. As we grow in our faith and knowledge of him, we also grow in the realization of our absolute dependence on him. True spiritual maturity allows us to see that we can never shepherd ourselves. Hence we stand in awe of God’s goodness as we come to grasp, in an even deeper sense, how his grace truly sustains us moment by moment.

We have a Good Shepherd and I believe that he will restore my soul. The circumstances may not completely change for the better. Our struggles may not totally disappear, but we will not be crushed (2 Cor 4:8). Nothing shall keep our hearts from delighting in green pastures or resting by still waters because in Christ, we have everything we need to live according to God’s plan. The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.

In times of waiting, times of need
When I know loss, when I am weak
I know His grace will renew these days
The Lord is my salvation

(from The Lord is My Salvation, by Keith and Kristyn Getty)

The God who remembers…..

“It is he who remembered us in our low estate, for his steadfast love endures forever.” Psalm 136:23

Archive. It’s that function in my email that allows me to remove something – a message, an event, a reminder – from my Inbox yet keep it in my account, just in case I need to retrieve it later. Archiving protects the information from being deleted. Prior to digital storage, libraries were (and still are) the physical archives of historic materials and documents or practically anything that is deemed valuable enough to be preserved and not forgotten.

The Long Room, Trinity College Dublin, home of the Ancient Book of Kells

As a child, I imagined God to have a mind bigger than a library. How does he know everything, and how does he not forget? And those are two different skills, at least in the human brain where knowledge might be stored but retrieval of it may be a problem. Not so with God whose covenant of love lasts forever. He always remembers his people. He will never forget his children. Genesis 8 says he remembered Noah in the ark, and the waters subsided. He remembered Jacob’s wife Rachel who could not conceive, and her womb was opened (Genesis 30). The bible is full of stories about God remembering, loving, rescuing, not because people were worthy, but because he is God.

“But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the LORD.” Leviticus 26:45

Unlike God, people forget. One of the most frustrating parts in the story of Joseph was when Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer, whose dream he graciously interpreted while they were in prison, forgot his promise that he will mention Joseph to Pharaoh once he was set free. Joseph’s request was simple. “Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house.” (Gen 40:14) “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.” (Gen 40:23) How ungrateful! Yet, that is how I am, too. When it is well with me, I tend to forget that I owe everything to God, and that my entire existence was, is, and will always be absolutely dependent on him and his goodness.

On the contrary, my Father, who is a Perfect God, who does not need me at all, says he will never forget me. Isn’t HE amazing? “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:29-31

There are 200,000 books stored in the Old Library of Trinity College

His word says in Isaiah 49 that though a mom should forget the child that she nursed, God will never forget his people. He has engraved them (us) on the palms of his hands – the hands that created the universe; the hands that were nailed to the cross. The blood of Jesus sealed the new covenant. By his grace it will never be erased. By faith, I am his child, and I will never be forgotten. So when I come before him in prayer, I know that his Inbox is never too full to hear me, nor does he need to retrieve my file from an archived folder or a dusty shelf.

“The LORD has remembered us; he will bless us; he will bless the house of Israel; he will bless the house of Aaron; he will bless those who fear the Lord, both the small and the great.” Psalm 115:12-13

All, not some…

His divine power  has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” 2 Peter 1:3

I do not know how to sew a garment. I can’t crochet or weave. Let’s just say that unless it’s a surgical needle, it doesn’t belong in my hands. But I’ve seen friends of mine create fabulous things from humble spools of thread. Moreover, I’ve been fascinated in my visits to historic mills that have made a mark in the weaving industry over centuries – places where fiber is transformed into lovely scarves, clothes, and tapestry.

Maison de Canuts, Lyon France

I came across this thread wheel at Maison de Canuts in Lyon, France and thought about how it contains ALL the materials necessary for what needs to be woven. Each thread simply has to go through the loom, to produce silk scarves. Nothing is missing from this wheel. It has EVERYTHING and ready to go (or weave).

The bible says God has given us ALL THINGS in Christ, to live a life that glorifies Him. When He says “Come follow me”, He gives us the strength to follow. When He says “Be holy,” He gives the grace to pursue holiness. 2 Peter 1:3 is a great big message of hope. I keep my eyes on this passage when the enemy tries to tell me that disobedience is inevitable because I do not have what it takes to live a godly life. It is true that on my own, there is no righteousness to speak of. But in Christ, my loving Father has given me ALL THINGS to live for Him. Not just some.. but ALL. There is no element lacking. My God did not forget anything. Everything simply needs to go through the loom of transformation.

In His loom, I am not the weaver. I am the one being woven. I don’t have the right or the knowledge to say I need more blue or I need less brown. Nor should I question why He put so much gray. My Designer, my Lord, knows what He is doing. I don’t. My role is to believe and trust.

Avoca Mill, Ireland’s oldest weaving mill, founded 1723

We’re talking about the God who made the universe and the Savior who loved (and continues to love) us enough to redeem us. Have we trusted in Him for salvation? Then we can trust Him for our sanctification. He has not left us without help. He sent forth His Spirit. In His loom, we behold His greatness and power as we yield to His wisdom in weaving our lives for His glory.

Silk scarves at Maison de Canuts

“And we all with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” 2 Cor 3:18

Isn’t this exciting? Sinful men and women shall walk in righteousness more and more each day. Rebellious children will embrace obedience because of God’s power at work. And when it is God who is at work, we know that He will never drop the ball (or the spool of thread). He never leaves a task unfinished.

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Phil 1:6

Finished products – wool scarves at Avoca Mill, Ireland

It all rests on the Vine…

Grapevine, Laurentia Vineyards

It’s grape season and I made some juice and jam from grapes that we picked recently. Grape-picking is fun (and easy). It’s an opportunity to not only admire the vineyards from afar but to actually walk in between rows of grapevines, armed with a pair of shears to snip bundles of sweet-smelling concord grapes. It is one of the few occasions that I would come that close to the vine. Close enough to pay attention and marvel at its strength, stability and sufficiency, as networks of branches with huge clusters of fruit emanate from it.

John 15:1 Jesus said I am the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser.

I am the true vine. Could it mean that there are false vines? Certainly we must have relied on some of them at some point, whether they be our own self, others or anything that is not Christ. I don’t mean we should never trust other people ever, but I believe that this passage, which is one of the most significant I AM declarations from our Savior, spoken shortly before his suffering and death, tells us clearly that we are absolutely dependent on Christ and the identity that we have been given is that of a branch attached to the vine. That is who we are. We can cling to our delusions that we can manage our lives as independent self-supporting vines; but this only leads us to a path of destruction. We cannot bear fruit apart from the vine.

“I am the vine you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”John 15:5

Grape clusters awaiting harvest

“Apart from me you can do nothing.” In an all about me society, I don’t think this quote from John 15:5 will sell very well as a bumper sticker or as a cover page of a yearly planner. I found myself in the stationery section of Home Goods not too long ago and I came across some planners for 2020 with “You Got This, Girl”, “Make Magic Happen Everyday”, “You are Awesome”, “She Believed She Could So She Did”, etc on the cover. I get the motive. People want to be positive, encouraging, uplifting. But as long as the focus is on the self, it is destined for failure. Good intentions must be based on truth. And the truth is, we are not the vine. Jesus is. We are not and will never be the source of life or strength. He is. We do not bear fruit by thinking positively or working efficiently because our fruitfulness depends entirely on who our vine is. Jesus didn’t say apart from him we can do little. He said apart from me you can do nothing. That moment of grace when our eyes are unblinded to this truth and the deceptive scales of self-sufficiency are shed off – that is perhaps one of the most pivotal moments in our Christian walk.

That Christ is our True Vine ought to give us comfort and courage. If we are unsettled by it or are doubtful of its power to change our lives, then we need to come to the vineyard of prayer. Maybe we have been admiring The Vine from a distance. Let’s come closer for a long hard gaze at Jesus Christ. Let’s study his word and listen as he speaks. Even common sense tells us it’s harder to hear from afar. We need to abide, to be attached, in order to receive the life that the True Vine alone can give. Like sap that flows from the vine to the branch (and never the other way around), his grace and truth will sustain us as we rest in him and we discover that there is indeed no better place. There is not a better Savior. The Vine that holds me loves me, and he is enough for me.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth,  visible and invisible whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:15-17 

Grabelsek Vineyards, Geneva, Ohio

The rain that keeps our hillsides green…

“Rain rain go away come again another day, little children want to play.”

A nursery rhyme taught me that rain is often unwanted. It robs us of the opportunity to enjoy the great big world of outdoor fun and pleasure. When one is on vacation, the prayer for good weather becomes even more a priority. And by good weather we usually mean only sunshine; no rain please.

Well, I just got back from Ireland where it rained at least fifty percent of the time while we were sightseeing. The locals say rainfall is normal not just at this time of the year, but pretty much all throughout the year. They tell us that rain is the reason for the lush green hillsides where sheep and cattle graze, that Ireland is known for. They don’t mind the rain that keeps their land fertile and productive.

Upper lake of Glendalough, Wicklow County, Ireland

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. ” Isaiah 55:10-11

God’s word is like rain – a powerful rain that accomplishes his purposes. Everything God says comes to pass. And in my life and my walk with him, growth and fruitfulness are ultimately impossible without the heart-changing power of his word. When he speaks, I must listen and drink from the well of scriptural truth that he so generously provides.

Many of us have gone through dry spells during which God seemed distant. I believe God has a purpose for taking our journeys through the desert (for even there, he is with us). But it is striking how in my spiritual desert, God almost consistently uses a downpour of his word to break the famine of my soul, and soak the parched soil of my heart with his grace and truth, that I may be fruitful again.

Wicklow Mountains, Ireland

Such is the love of Jesus, the Word Incarnate. He knows exactly what we need, and precisely when we need it. And in the wisdom of his love, he graciously pours unto us his life-giving word, which is always a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path (Psalm 119:105). In the security of his presence and with ears attuned to his word, we keep walking no matter how long and hard the trail may seem. Like the delightful folks of the Emerald Isle who know very well what it is that keeps their grass and foliage green, I, too, know and rejoice in the living water that sustains my soul.

Remember your word to your servant in which you have made me hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.” Psalm 119:49-50

A much-needed dying…

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23 ESV

Summer is winding down. I know this because I’ve used up the last of the blueberries that we picked this year to make lemon blueberry cake for friends who were coming over for dinner. Like previous summers, I’ve made good use of freshly-picked berries this year. I will miss them (and will have to resort to store-bought berries for a while) but I know they will be here again in abundance next year. That is what I hope for, although I do realize that only God knows how much fruit the next summer will bring.

Layered berry cake

Productivity is something that we all desire. A farmer doesn’t plant a seed and hopes that nothing grows from it. A fisherman doesn’t go out to sea with the intention of catching nothing. A retailer doesn’t open a store expecting to not sell anything. Using agriculture as a metaphor, God’s design for our lives reveals a paradox wherein death becomes a prerequisite for productivity. Contrary to what today’s motivational TED talks would say, a greater self-realization, or constant self-promotion, or a more strategic self-preservation are not the building blocks for productivity. Not according to God’s word.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24 ESV

If it dies, it bears much fruit. This is radical. It shouldn’t surprise us though. We only have to look at the cross of Christ in order to see how radically different His ways are. As Christians we are quick to pray for much-needed strength, or much-needed healing, much-needed restoration, and much-needed transformation. But it all begins with a much-needed dying. Until I am convinced that I am absolutely nothing and that He is absolutely everything, self-righteousness will always weaken my walk with Him. Until I stop listening to the lie that there is something in me or in my life that is inherently my own and is worth preserving, I will never taste the security and satisfaction of having Christ alone. We need an ongoing daily death to the self-centered ways of the human heart that is prone to wander and worship lesser things. But lest we fall into the pit of legalism (again), to die to self is not an item to write in the believer’s to do list. We can not do it. (Shred that list now!) It was DONE by our Savior.

and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. 2 Cor 5:15

I am almost certain that there are those reading this who would prefer that I stuck with delicious topics such as berries and baking in my blogs. (Or they probably quit reading at paragraph #2). Outside of God’s grace the idea of dying in order to be fruitful is simply absurd. Sadly, even within the church body, many of us prefer to remain in a safe bubble that is moral and wholesome, but leaves no room for self-denial and self-sacrifice. The beauty of Christian community cannot be experienced when we are preoccupied with shielding ourselves from taking risks. When fear is our driving force, our longings are reduced to prayers for health and peace, while our witness remains powerless and our pursuit of holiness becomes nothing but a burden, because the radical love of Christ is not in it.

From a grain of wheat that dies in the ground, to the flour for the batter, to the cake on my plate – even an ordinary task prompts me to marvel at God’s MUCH GREATER idea – that fruitfulness happens only when we die and lose ourselves in Him. Until I see Him face to face, His work in my heart goes on. As John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30 ESV I am not there yet but my hope is in Him who promised that“Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.”John 12:25 NLT

“God Hold us to that which drew us first, when the Cross was the attraction, and we wanted nothing else.” 
― Amy Carmichael, God’s Missionary

Sunsets and our security in Christ

“To love God is to love His will. It is to wait quietly for life to be measured by One who knows us through and through. It is to be content with His timing and His wise appointment.” 
― Elisabeth Elliot

Sunset on Lake Erie, Fairport Harbor, Ohio

There’s something about sunsets that is both glorious and melancholic. When the sun glows like a ball of fire settling on the horizon, it is breathtakingly beautiful. At the same time, it heralds a period of darkness and signals creation to come to a rest, at least until the next day. When good things come to an end, it is only natural to experience sadness and grief. Summer is a beautiful season but it seems to be a popular time for transitions and farewells. In academia, it’s the season when senior trainees graduate and the newbies arrive, eager to have their first adventures as dermatology residents. It’s also a time when career moves and re-locations often take place, which means saying goodbye to friends.

Closer to home, another type of sunset may be happening as aging parents and grandparents decline mentally and physically. It is tempting to deny or resist the season that is upon us, when it demands too much from us. When the world seems to move at a pace that is beyond our ability to cope (like everyday, right?), we can feel overwhelmed, anxious and helpless.

“Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face Lord, do I seek. Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help. Cast me not off; forsake me not, O God of my salvation!’ Psalm 27:7-9

When change becomes challenging, we are to seek God even more. There is a difference between seeking God and seeking for answers. Our logical human minds require a rational explanation for why things are the way they are, which is not necessarily wrong. The bible tells us that even those who love God struggled and wrestled with him at times. But God always desires greater things for us. He desires for us to know him more fully and love him more deeply. He desires for us to delight in him above all, to bear fruit and reflect his image. He desires to satisfy our deepest longing with his own joy. “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” John 15:11

Hourglass Pond, Holden Arboretum

By his grace, he moves us from a place of seeking answers to seeking HIM, and he uses our brokenness in this beautiful journey.

The passage of time, the changing of the seasons, the temporal nature of things and relationships only serve to exalt even more the steadfastness of Christ, the permanence of his covenant of love, and the eternal glory that awaits us; an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, unfading, kept in heaven for you (us) (1 Peter 1:4).

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. ” 1 Peter 1:13

Life is a series of transitions, many of which entail losses. But as Christian author and speaker Rosaria Butterfield wrote – “where God is in your loss matters more to a doubting and cynical world than where God is in your plenty.” To be content with his will and timing for everything powerfully testifies to our faith in the goodness and sovereignty of God. This does not mean that change will be easy or that ageing will be painless. But we can go through them humbly and graciously when our hearts are secure in Christ alone. Abiding in him who is the true vine (John 15:1) makes all the difference. He did say, “apart from me, you can do nothing.” John 15:5 Why do we even try?

Like the turning of a page, each sunset marks the end of the day. While there may be losses to grieve, there is always greater joy to look forward to as we look to him who is the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2) . Every sunset simply reminds me that I am another day closer to being united with Jesus forever. And that is absolutely glorious!