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!

Forget not all his benefits…

“Bless the Lord O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord O my soul and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.” Psalm 103:1-4

A view of the Prague Castle and Vltava River, Czech Republic

Prague is one of the most charming cities in my opinion. During a business trip many years ago, I remember standing on Charles Bridge (Karluv Most) thanking the Lord for the opportunity to visit such a beautiful destination. Yet somehow, “thank you” was not enough to express the delight in my heart. You see I’ve thought of that country even as a little girl. I was seven when my dad brought home a desk globe for our library. That was the first time I saw the word Czechoslovakia. Fascinated by the spelling, I wondered if I would ever see that place. I seriously doubted it, especially when I realized that my country of birth is but a tiny part of a much bigger world. Europe was so far from where I was. It did not stop me though from staring at the globe for hours and reading all the names of the different countries and their capitals. Hence 35 years later, while I was soaking in the beauty of Prague, I was overcome with a tremendous amount of gratitude. Interestingly, as I was praying on Charles Bridge, the Lord brought back memories of my childhood, in our home library, studying the globe, as if to say “I was watching as you were staring at the globe.”

God is Sovereign and he does as he pleases. I tell this story not to paint a wrong image of God as one whose task is to fulfill our childhood dreams. I tell this story as an example of one of the tangible instances in my life that our loving Father used to let me have a taste of his goodness in a very personal way, and it drew me to praise him even more.

David undoubtedly had moments when his heart overflowed with gladness toward God. Psalm 103 is among the psalms that convey such high praise – a glorious exultation of the goodness of God. For the past two weeks, I parked myself at Psalm 103 and slowly digested Charles Spurgeon’s exposition of it. Pondering on the richness of God’s love and goodness is a powerful way to re-position our perspective and restructure our frame of mind. If we would humbly acknowledge who God is and what he has done, the only response would be to bless him with everything we’ve got. “ALL that is within me, bless his holy name…”

Our God is indeed worthy of our all, and he is worthy of our all, all the time. Why this truth does not impact the way I honor him on a daily basis is because I do not always remember what he has done. Human nature has selective amnesia. In our frailty we tend to forget the good things God has given, while our pride always points to that which we accuse him of withholding. Thus David urges God’s people to “forget not all his benefits.” We are to remember them all. When we treasure every single thing that God has done for our good and his glory, we will be amazed at what it does to our relationship with him.

Stones on my desk to help me remember.

Note that item number one on David’s list of things to praise God for is the fact that he forgives all our iniquity. This psalm was written by an older David who was much more cognizant of his own sinful heart against the backdrop of the greater merciful heart of God. At this point in his life, he knew that to be forgiven by a holy God is the most precious thing. Nothing could compare with receiving his mercy and pardon. Not even slaying a giant!

No matter how long we have known the gospel, it always helps to pause and bask in the joy of being forgiven. In the treasure chest of God’s gifts, it still is and will always be the most valuable gem, that is only ours through Christ.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,” Ephesians 1:7

“To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Acts 10:43

As followers of Christ, we have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who enables us to forget not all his benefits – his healing, his redemption, his steadfast love and mercy; and to see with the eyes of our hearts that even that which may seem adversarial, when held by his mighty hands, becomes a much needed blessing for our souls. Such is the wisdom and power of our God. And because of him who on the cross proclaimed “It is finished”, we have all the more reason to resonate with David in blessing the Lord with all that is within us. Bless his holy name!

Because he is the God who sees…

“Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord; that he looked down from his holy height; from heaven the Lord looked at the earth.” Psalm 102:18-19

View of River Saone and Presque Isle from Fourviere Hill, Lyon, France

Blind spots. We hear about them in more than one context. In the study of the human eye, students learn about a normal physiologic blind spot in our visual field. The eye is very much like a camera. Each eye has a lens that focuses light as it passes through. This light is then absorbed by cells called photoreceptors located in the retina which is much like an imaging sensor chip of a digital camera. However, there is a very small portion right where the optic nerve enters the eye, where there are no photoreceptors. Technically, without cells to absorb light, an image cannot be detected. But as we are fearfully and wonderfully made with two eyes whose visual fields overlap and fabulous compensatory mechanisms in our brain, this blind spot in and of itself does not limit our daily functioning, unless a disease process sets in.

On the road, we encounter blind spots, too. As drivers we use extra caution when turning or switching lanes because there is that zone somewhere behind and almost next to us that is obscured from our vision, even with properly positioned side and rear-view mirrors. Newer cars have installed additional warning mechanisms in sync with the turning signals, such as beeping sounds and tiny flashing red lights on the side mirrors, to warn the driver when there’s a vehicle within the blind spot in the direction he or she is moving to. Accidents can quickly happen when we forget or ignore these blind spots.

Psalm 33:13-15 “The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds.”

Unlike us, our God does not have a single blind spot. He is Perfect and he sees EVERYTHING. Given our human limitations, it may be hard to believe this and we could at times become doubtful. Those moments usually come when we don’t understand why things are the way they are. I’m sure we’ve asked God our own questions such as God, don’t you see that the wicked are winning? God, don’t you see that we have been dealt with unjustly? God can’t you see that I’m running out of time and options? God, haven’t you seen all the sacrifice we’ve made over the years? God, didn’t you see that we tried to do our best and it still did not work? God, do you really see my suffering? God, do you see…. me?

The book of Genesis tells us about Hagar, an Egyptian servant and surrogate mother, who fled to the wilderness from her jealous mistress, Sarai wife of Abram, because Sarai was treating her harshly. Hagar found herself alone, pregnant, tired, with not a lot of options and most likely scared to death, when an angel of God appeared and promised a blessing on her child, naming him Ishmael (meaning “God hears”). I love her response. So she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” Genesis 16:13

As a child of God I can have the confidence that never will I be in a place or situation that God does not see. Whether on the bed of illness or on board a trans-Atlantic flight, whether buried in paperwork or buried in laundry, whether caring for patients or caring for family, I know he watches over me. God’s watchful eyes do not deviate from his people. He sees the sacrifices made by his servants in the mission field, the persecution of his faithful followers in prison cells, the suffering of his children standing up for righteousness in a hostile world. He is the God who sees and looks after us.

The question is are we looking at him? Or are we looking at something else to look after us and meet our needs? Sometimes God has to take us to our own wilderness, away from everything familiar and secure, in order for us to know who he is, and understand that not for a moment does he cease to be God. He sees, he cares, he exercises his sovereign will, both merciful and just. All the time, he is faithful. As the psalmist proclaimed “He will not let your foot be moved. He who keeps you will not slumber.” Psalm 121:3 It is his love that takes us to our wilderness – our place of vulnerability where our own defenses can’t stand, so that we will not put our trust in ourselves or anything else apart from him. It is beautiful how his love always leads us to humility and deeper intimacy.

Isaiah 57:15 For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.

Taal volcano, Philippines

We shouldn’t miss the fact that after Hagar’s encounter with God in the wilderness, she went back to Abram and Sarai. God did not give her a new home, a new master or a new job. But God gave her a new heart and a hope that she didn’t have before she met God face to face. The truth is, God does not necessarily take us out of our painful position but his grace always sustains us. Sometimes his word to us in the wilderness of prayer is that we ought to remain right where we are. For His greater gift to each of us is a heart that is totally confident in him alone, knowing that he indeed looks after us wherever he places us.

Luke 12:6-7 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

There are times when nothing holds the heart but a long, long look at Calvary. How very small anything that we are allowed to endure seems beside that Cross. -Amy Carmichael

His unrestrained mercy in the valley of lament…

“As for you, O Lord, you will not restrain
    your mercy from me;
your steadfast love and your faithfulness will
    ever preserve me!
For evils have encompassed me
    beyond number;
my iniquities have overtaken me,
    and I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head;
    my heart fails me. “
  Psalm 40:11-12

Elizabeth magnolia, Cleveland Botanical Gardens

Do you ever come before God in prayer and feel as though there is nothing else in your heart but weariness? I do. There have been days lately when the posture of entering his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise (Psalm 100:4) has not come all that naturally. David had those moments, too. In fact the Book of Psalms speaks of the many times he lamented before God. King David, the mighty warrior who slew tens of thousands, also broke down in desperate cries for help towards the God he loved.

I never had a problem believing that God allows suffering and that his children are not immune to emotional grief and pain. I have experienced sorrows early in life but for the most part, I refused to lament. I did not understand why Jesus said “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4 Mourning, even when it was absolutely appropriate, seemed like a waste of time and tears. I was afraid of getting trapped in a useless emotional quicksand when what I wanted was to be done with grief, as soon as possible. Just preach Romans 8:28 to me please and let’s move on (now). Unlike the psalmist, I had no desire to talk to God about my sorrows.

Later in life I eventually realized that God lovingly listens to our lament. “You, LORD, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry” Psalm 10:17 (NIV). Jesus promises comfort to those who mourn and he looks tenderly at our honest expression of need. When we are too proud to look at our losses, when we would rather hide our wounds and deny the weariness of our souls, we are shutting the doors through which his grace and mercy flow.

A faith-filled Christian is not a stoic human being unaffected by grief. Such is not the character of our Savior – “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). On the cross, Jesus cried “I thirst.” (John 19:28) He even pleaded to his Father “why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) He who knows the depths of our hearts will not despise our cries of anguish. He who designed us to experience both gladness and sadness delights in hearing our praises as well as our pleas.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” John 16:20

To lament requires humility – to admit before God that we are not strong, we are not able, we are not enough. It is not an act of arrogance or hostility towards God. When we lament as the psalmist did, we embrace our nothingness and acknowledge our greatest need which is Christ. Biblical lament involves turning our eyes to God instead of focusing on the self. This takes us to a place of grace where we become little and Christ becomes much. There is perhaps no other path on our journey wherein the Good Shepherd walks the closest with us than through the valley of lament. In times of deepest need, we realize we have nothing of worth to give to him, and yet he gives of himself to us in abundance as he preserves and strengthens us. He meets us in our weakness with his steadfast love and faithfulness. He does not restrain his mercy but lavishly pours it out to sustain and transform us.

Endurance and compassion are not learned in the lofty peaks of victory. They are formed in our character as we lament before our Lord during those long nights in the hospital, through tears over a loved one’s grave, when failure becomes all too familiar and relationships are beyond repair. Here in the valley of lament, Christ draws us to himself who is our Light and leads us to the next step on our journey even though the fog that surrounds us has not fully lifted. We grow in gratitude as we discover that indeed, there is enough light where we are standing as long as we are standing with him.

“Our vision is so limited we can hardly imagine a love that does not show itself in protection from suffering. The love of God is of a different nature altogether. It does not hate tragedy. It never denies reality. It stands in the very teeth of suffering.” Elisabeth Elliot

Fog over Lac Leman, Port d’Ouchy, Switzerland

The precious gift of time

Astronomical Clock, Saint Jean Cathedral, Lyon, France

“Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” James 4:14

I was almost done with Kindergarten when my parents gave me a real watch for the very first time. It was a hand-me-down German-made mechanical watch that had to be wound every day or else it slows down and eventually stops. But I was thrilled about the fact that I could now tell the time… anytime. No need to go to our dining room where the wall clock hung in our home. No need to walk from my seat in the classroom to look at the hallway clock in our school. I simply had to direct my eyes to my wrist and I would get an almost pleasurable sense of security simply by knowing exactly what time it was. My watch quickly became one of my favorite things. Unbeknownst to me, my 6-year old human nature was already revealing signs of a rigid preoccupation with timeliness and efficiency – great gifts which, sadly, could easily be turned into idols (which I did).

That time I was wrong about time…

There is no shortage of slogans about the preciousness of time and like most people, I thought I had a correct understanding of the value of time. When I read scripture verses that spoke about the temporal nature of things and how fleeting this life really is, my immediate response would be to resolve to do things even more quickly; not necessarily with more wisdom nor with greater love and compassion – just faster. I was wrong about my perception of time in many ways, but primarily, in the sense that I thought it belonged to me. Such perspective ironically caused me to be enslaved to that which I wanted to control. This bondage was evident in those less than pleasant reactions whenever my schedule was ruined. Anxiety crept in at the mere thought of being late for something, not because of a self-sacrificing respect of other people’s time but because I was protecting my reputation of being always on time. It was difficult to hide my frustration when people I worked with didn’t value time as much as I did. I took pride in my ability to manage time well. Everything I did was driven by efficiency. But the bible says faster is not always better. In fact a very wise king wrote, “The race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong.” Ecclesiastes 9:11

Time is God’s instrument…

Time is the brush of God as he paints his masterpiece on the heart of humanity. ” Ravi Zacharias

Time is God’s instrument. He who is eternal and is therefore not bound by the limits of time works out his will each and every moment. He made everything beautiful in his time.” Ecclesiastes 3:11. Time is a tool that he can use in a powerful way. Like all of creation, time is at his disposal. He commands the passage of time as he lovingly fulfills his purpose in our lives. He who is perfect never runs out of time. As a child of God, I have freedom to completely trust him who supplies all my needs to likewise carve the right amount of time that is necessary to obey His will, to grieve through loss, to pray each day, to build relationships, and to be restored. All of these take time. Time that he generously provides. Patience becomes possible when in meekness and humility, we begin to believe and trust that he who determines the ticking of the clock, the passing of each wave, the rising and setting of the sun, is a God who alone possesses complete knowledge and understanding of what is best for us. Faith is believing not only that God will do what he said he will do but also that he will accomplish it at the time that he chooses.

Trust in his time frame…

When I fix my eyes on God and His Word, and not on the clock, waiting becomes worship. He said “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 40:10 Stewardship of time grows and matures as an outcome of a much greater delight in the person of Jesus Christ himself and a deeper desire to do his will. “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” Psalm 40:8

As we are being transformed to reflect Christ’s image to an anxious world, let us trust in his time frame and yield to his rhythm. We are not to be idle or complacent (that is definitely not Christ-like) but neither should we be deceived into thinking that we could go even half a beat faster or an inch of a step further than what he had planned for us. Otherwise our journey will miss out on joy because joy is only found in absolute surrender to Jesus.

“There is always time to do the will of God. If we are too busy to do that, we are too busy.”  Elisabeth Elliot

L’horlogue fleurie (flower clock), Geneva, Switzerland

Rejoicing in the splendor of my Maker

Early morning fog over the Swiss Alps and Lac Leman

“Awake O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn! I will give thanks to you O Lord among the peoples, I will sing praises to you among the nations. For your steadfast love is great above the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.” Psalm 108:2-4

I recently finished re-reading The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan and was greatly blessed once again by this literary masterpiece. Each chapter in this allegory is so rich in biblical wisdom that one can keep a blog going simply by unraveling the layers of truth and deeper meaning symbolized by a character or place – such as The Delectable Mountains.

Pilgrims: “Whose Delectable Mountains are these?”
Shepherds: “These mountains are Immanuel’s Land, and they are within sight of his city…”

I do think that out of God’s goodness and mercy, He allows us to pause briefly from our respective journeys and sets us upon a vantage point where He gives us a glimpse of heaven. In our own Delectable Mountains, we, like the pilgrims, are refreshed and strengthened so that we can keep going until we reach our celestial gate.

“So wait before the Lord; Wait in the stillness. And in that stillness, assurance will come to you. You will know that you are heard; you will know that your Lord ponders the voice of your humble desires; you will hear quiet words spoken to you yourself, perhaps to your grateful surprise and refreshment.” -Amy Carmichael

I am presently celebrating my birthday in Europe with my husband and we just had an opportunity to admire the Swiss and French Alps via Lake Geneva or Lac Leman. To say that these mountains are beautiful is an understatement. As a believer, I could not look at them and not be in awe of the God who created them; the God who created me.

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”Psalm 139:14

I am thankful for the gift of life and this time of rest. But I am even more thankful that this life is not about me and that I get to participate in the story that our God has written for His glory through His Son Jesus Christ who is my Lord and Savior. During this time away from work, His Spirit has filled me with a renewed sense of wonder of who Jesus is, whose fingerprints I see all around me.

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.” Colossians 1:6

Like the psalmist, I am rejoicing in my Maker. I will not remain in this physical place of rest forever, but I can rest my heart in Him all the days of my life. Here in my Delectable Mountains, He has reminded me of His glory and splendor, and that to be satisfied in Him alone, remains my highest call. Joy is delighting in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is and will be my joy wherever He takes me.

The Alps and Lake Geneva from the promenade of Port D’Ouchy, Lausanne, Switzerland

“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory…” 1 Peter 1:8

The love that compels us…

Montserrat (serrated mountain) Catalonia, Spain

Montserrat is a beautiful mountain range not far from Barcelona. The name stands for “serrated mountain” which is very descriptive of its physical form. During a Christmas vacation, my entire family (except for me) went on a hike to one of its peaks. While I was standing at the base where the train dropped us off to visit the monastery and museum, I briefly looked at the height of this enormous mountain in front of me, and quickly decided that a snack of chocolate y churros at the nearby cafe was more appealing. Unfortunately for me, I missed a once in a lifetime experience I could have shared with the people I love the most.

“This hill, though high, I covet to ascend; 
The difficulty will not me offend. 
For I perceive the way to life lies here. 
Come, pluck up, heart; let’s neither faint nor fear. 
Better, though difficult, the right way to go, 
Than wrong, though easy, where the end is woe.” 
― John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress

What motivates us to climb our mountains? What compels us to choose to do something even though it’s hard or risky? Some would take up a challenge to satisfy a sense of adventure. For others, it’s a response to the call of duty and even heroism. Many would take risks and sacrifice comfort when there are significant benefits to be gained in return.

The apostle Paul who undoubtedly took great risks to follow Jesus, gave us his reason when he wrote to the Corinthians: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” 2 Corinthians 5:14-15

The love of Christ and gospel truth equipped Paul to endure everything from illness to imprisonment, from shipwrecks to snakebites; he was in danger with his own people and in danger with the Gentiles; he faced danger in the wilderness and danger at sea; he would go days without food and nights without sleep. We only need to read 2 Corinthians 11:16-33 to realize that there was absolutely no physical place of safety in his life and ministry. But that never stopped him. Why? It’s the love of Christ and gospel truth. He was willing to risk it all. “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Phil 1:20-21

In his book Risk is Right, John Piper wrote this about Paul’s sufferings: “Affliction raised his sword to cut off the head of Paul’s faith. But instead the hand of faith snatched the arm of affliction and forced it to cut off part of Paul’s worldliness. Affliction is made the servant of godliness and humility and love. Satan meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. The enemy became Paul’s slave and worked for him an even greater weight of glory than he would have ever had without the fight. In that way Paul— and every follower of Christ—is more than a conqueror.”

To this day, followers of Christ who suffer great persecution pray for faithful obedience, more than they pray for a change of circumstances. No, it’s not a sense of adventure or a sense of heroism that sustains the people of God. It is only the love of Christ and the grace he provides that can crush the idols of safety and security, and free us to live courageously for His glory. Some of us are being prompted by the Holy Spirit to take a step of faith in a certain direction and haven’t done so because we’re still counting the potential losses of doing so. We may have been procrastinating and sitting on the fence because choosing one way or the other would entail significant risks. I pray we may have faith that Christ has indeed freed us to no longer live for ourselves and that we may find strength in the truth that nothing can ever separate us from the love of Christ who is worth our all.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation,or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35,38-39

Yes, Jesus is worth it all….

Matthew 13:44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Jim Elliot