But God keeps his promises  December 19, 2022

Psalm 145:13-14 The Lord always keeps his promises; he is gracious in all he does. The Lord helps the fallen and lifts those bent beneath their loads.

Psalm 119:140 Your promises have been thoroughly tested; that is why I love them so much.

Matthew 11:28 Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Last night Dave and I watched a movie reminiscent of “The Notebook,” called “Still Mine.” 89-year-old Craig (James Cromwell) tells his memory-challenged wife, Irene (Geneviève Bujold), “I have never broken a promise to you.” Amid the insecurities she experiences, Craig wants Irene (her name means “peace”) to know she can trust him to care for her.

Psalm 145 also links confidence in God’s promises to relief from the burdens we carry. We can trust him to help us bear the weights of our lives. As we trust him, our burdens ease. Isn’t it true that when we worry about whether we can trust someone, our concerns in relation to them are heavier?

It occurs to me that Jesus’s invitation can include sharing with him our doubts and concerns, even about God’s trustworthiness. We can tell him how it feels to want something very badly and not see God doing anything about it. We can tell him we don’t always understand why he doesn’t apparently act on our behalf. We can weep in his lap about the disappointments and betrayals we feel so keenly.

Doing so in itself is an act of trust. I love Psalm 116:10-11, I believed in you, SO I said, “I am deeply troubled, Lord.” In my anxiety I cried out to you.

We’ve reached the fourth week of Advent, the last week before we celebrate one part of what we’ve been waiting for: the Incarnation, the birth of our Savior. In one system of naming the Advent candles (there are many!), the fourth candle represents Peace. Peace is the direct result of trust, so easily seen in the comfort of a child relaxed in his or her mother’s lap.

Or in the case of Irene, resting in Craig’s embrace, his tears reveal his heart touched by her trust in him.

My granddaughter Talita with her daddy

You will find rest

But God always keeps his promises

Psalm 145:2, 4, 13-14 I will praise you every day. … Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts; let them proclaim your power. I will meditate on your majestic, glorious splendor and your wonderful miracles … I will share the story of your wonderful goodness. … The Lord always keeps his promises; he is gracious in all he does. The Lord helps the fallen and lifts those bent beneath their loads.

It helps. It really does.

When Karis and I came to Pittsburgh in March 2004 for the terrifying prospect of intestinal transplant, not knowing anyone, feeling completely alone and vulnerable, leaving a fruitful and creative life behind, I made a decision. I would find something to thank God for every day. No matter what happened, I would look for what God was doing. “I will praise you every day.” It wasn’t easy, because terrifically painful things occurred, and sometimes the battle for Karis’s life seemed endless.

But I learned a way of seeing, in, through, and beyond the circumstances of a given day or hour. That practice continues to shape me. When troubling and difficult things happen, I know that’s not the whole story. God is keeping his promises today, even with the hard thing I face now. Whatever it is at a given time.

God is gracious in all he does. He helps the fallen and lifts those bent beneath their loads.

What weight are you carrying today? Allow the Lord to bear it with you. Ask a friend to help you do this. Maybe you’ve picked up more than is meant for you. Maybe you’ve let others overload you. Perhaps saying “no” can be a good thing, for you and for others. I need this kind of help a lot.

Shutterstock: Sergey Nivens

What is tripping you up? Stretch out your hand to his strong and loving and faithful one. Let him help you get back on your feet. Perhaps the physical hand grasping yours belongs to one of his people. We are all called to be the Lord’s Body in the world, helping each other as Jesus would if he still lived physically among us.

Has someone you trusted betrayed you? Have you betrayed a promise to someone you love? Lean into God’s faithfulness. The promise-keeper can help you repair and heal your heart and give you strength to live faithfully.

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” Matthew 11:28-30).

A call to holy living

But God’s word remains forever

1 Peter 1:13-2:3 So think clearly and exercise self-control … For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy” [Leviticus 19:2]. Remember that the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favorites. … Show sincere love to each other. … “The grass withers and the flower fades. But the word of the Lord remains forever[Isaiah 40:8].  And that word is the Good News that was preached to you. So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.

In the grocery store Tuesday with Caleb and Talita, I felt embarrassed when suddenly they broke away from me, chasing each other around the legs and grocery carts of other shoppers, yelling at the top of their lungs.

Why did I feel embarrassed? Because they represented me. Their behavior resulted in everyone nearby looking at me askance. They caused discomfort and could have caused harm to themselves and others. And they hindered my objective of getting out quickly so we would have more time to play, since we lost our place in line.

Thanks to Covid, Caleb and Talita have hardly ever been in grocery stores, I realized. They need to be taught proper behavior in that setting. I hadn’t explained to them what was appropriate. Once I did, they were contrite (at least, Caleb was).

Best of 26: a recent attempt to get all three of our cherubs sitting still, looking at the camera and smiling all at the same time!

We’re our Father’s “kids.” What we do and what comes out of our mouths reflects positively or badly on him just as surely as my beloved grandchildren’s behavior and speech impacted others at the store in their view of me. Fortunately, God does tell us what he expects of us.

True, holiness in speech and behavior—according to Peter, actions and words which show and promote love—is out of vogue in our society among adults who should know better. Damaging and deceitful actions and words are flung about publicly (and, I suspect, privately) as if adults believe they bear no responsibility for the harm they cause.

Peter says, NOOOO!!!! No more of this!! Don’t shame the name of God, claiming him as your Lord, yet “slipping back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires” (verse 14).

God has no favorites. He will judge or reward you according to what you do. So you must live in reverent fear of him (verse 17) and love each other deeply, from the heart (verse 22).

Our Father paid an enormous price to save us from empty living: “And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God” (verse 19). When we hurt each other, we betray his sacrifice.

So how can we learn to speak and behave differently? Moses (1500 BC), Isaiah (700 BC), and Peter all remind us of the eternal, indestructible Word God has given to teach and guide us. Peter calls it spiritual milk, whose nourishment we babies need in order to thrive. “Cry out for it,” he tells us.

Shutterstock: LittleDogKorat

Lord, thank you that your word doesn’t pull any punches. Show me today my need to repent and be cleansed, so I can regard even my “enemies” with your kind of love. Make me hungry as a baby for your life-giving word, to strengthen me for holy, counter-cultural living and speaking that honors rather than shames you, and makes your heart happy.

Where do you go for refuge?

But God cannot lie  March 17, 2022

Hebrews 6:18-19 It is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.

Jeremiah 17:7 Blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.

I love what this image communicates to me about resilience. I took it Monday beside our front steps.

The world is full of misinformation, and no one is smart enough or wise enough to figure it all out. So, I love this word from Hebrews. There is a place where we can relax and rest, a place to anchor our souls with confidence: God’s strong and loving heart. A place to anchor our resilience in the face of all the challenges we each face.

I want to share with you today the “But God” story of Lawrence Chewning. I don’t know him, but he’s made his story public through youtube.

And I think you’ll be encouraged with me by singing “We have an anchor” along with Loretta Adjetey from Ghana (“Lor” is her stage name). Priscilla Jane Owens, 1829-1907, wrote this song. I’ve been to Accra and have worshiped with and been blessed by the generous hospitality of Ghanaian people. Listening to Lor took me right back there. If you know any of their history, you’ll appreciate even more the beauty of this song in their context. It’s an amazing story of resilience.

Hope for 2022

But God’s hope can anchor us

Hebrews 6:18-7:2, 26-28 It is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. … Jesus has become our eternal High Priest in the order of Melchizedek. … The name Melchizedek means “king of justice” and king of Salem means “king of peace.” … He is the kind of priest we need because he is holy and blameless, unstained by sin … the perfect High Priest forever.

We’ve had surprisingly mild weather for Pittsburgh in December. A couple of weeks ago, my 22-month-old granddaughter Talita climbed a playground ladder I didn’t know she was yet capable of, turned, and threw herself into my arms. A sobering moment! I could so easily NOT have been attentive enough to catch her.

Yesterday, the same child, on a simple walk through our neighborhood, as I watched her brother brandish a long stick (“I’m a fierce dinosaur”), pulled her hand from mine and ran into the street. So easily, a driver could have turned the corner and not seen her. Caleb was as upset as I was. “NO, Talita! You can only walk in the street holding Grammy’s hand!!”

Talita, anxious for action, resists restraint (at the beach in Brazil in November)

The question came to my mind, “Am I safe walking into 2022? Whose hand am I holding? Am I pushing beyond my own experience and wisdom?”

All of us have reasons to feel insecure about what may happen in the new year. Though we may already be concerned about “what’s next” regarding the pandemic, global warming, politics, economics, etc., we’re as unaware as toddlers of what we don’t yet know or understand. In many ways, despite our best efforts, we feel vulnerable and out of control, especially if we’ve suffered significant losses in 2021.

How can we, then, enter 2022 with hope, expectancy, confidence, optimism, faith, trust?

I spent some time this morning soaking in this passage in Hebrews 6 and 7, asking the Lord to anchor hope deep in my soul—hope rooted in his sovereignty, his power and love, his plan for redemption of our broken world, broken relationships, broken trust.

The refrain of a song we’ve been singing in church through Advent rings in my mind at odd moments: “Prepare him room, prepare him room, let the King of Glory enter in” (Sovereign Grace Music). It’s become my chief ambition for 2022, to stay firmly connected to my Caregiver. Like Talita, my safety, my hope, depends on trusting his wisdom and direction. And I have the advantage of one who is absolutely trustworthy.

O Thou, whose glorious, yet contracted light,

Wrapt in night’s mantle, stole into a manger …

Furnish and deck my soul, that thou mayst have

A better lodging than a rack* or a grave.      George Herbert, “Christmas I”

*Historically, a rack was an instrument of torture.