God Can Heal the Broken Places – A Post-Abortive Women’s Life is Changed

daffsThis is the Hope Blog, and in coming days I intend to share more of the wonderful and hopeful things I come across. A woman’s story at Live Action is so beautiful and simply put. She had multiple abortions and was living in despair, ready to take her own life. Then God did an amazing thing. The abortion worker at the clinic where she was about to kill yet another baby intervened in a stunning way.

You can read the woman’s story here. Please share it with anyone who may need to know that God can heal and forgive women in the wake of abortions.

There Has to Be Hope in the Story

englandA writer friend told me that publishers of fiction today don’t want much descriptive language. In today’s soul there is no time or patience for the poetic or anything that makes the reader slow down to reflect on beauty or really see the setting vividly. It an author can’t cut to the chase, forget it.

Much of today’s fiction reflects society. It’s coarse, violent, irreverent, and ironic. Gradually, libraries are putting the old fiction on the book sale tables and replacing it with the new vulgarity. There are some libraries in our system that I don’t bother to visit anymore. After realizing that the old books I have loved are gone or dwindling, I wander the aisles pulling book after unfamiliar book down, only to replace them on the shelf. The fly leaves say it all. Postmodern despair. I simply refuse to fill my mind with that. It isn’t the reality of sin and trouble in books that turns me off. It’s how the author handles the realities of life that matters. An author will either leave you with hope or despair, depending on their view of life and truth.

I find used books where I can as I’ve noted in other posts. There isn’t a lot of time for reading in my life, but in that I don’t watch much TV (unless it’s the odd special on PBS), reading is my favorite pastime. A couple of nights ago, I took down a book from my shelf by one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Goudge. The book is The Scent of Water, published in 1963.

Reading before bed, I found myself again in the lanes of rural England where a middle-aged, single career woman travels to find the house left her by her elderly Aunt Mary. She has given up her life and job in London for a life in a small village.

The characters are immediately interesting. The former Oxford academic and now vicar in the village and his sister who lives with him are two of the compelling characters. I loved the vicar’s sister, Jean, best in this book. In many ways, I can identify with that sister. Also in the story are the blind writer and his wife who is resentful at the way her life has treated her. No character remains unchanged in this story, and this couple is no exception.

Two of my other favorite characters are the elderly retired military man, Colonel Tom Adams and his wife. Despite tragically losing three of their four sons in the war, these two are the picture of love and contentment, even with their straightened circumstances financially. One of my favorite paragraphs is when Tom’s wife shares a surprise with her husband as they sit in front of the small fire in their cottage.

“Tom,” she whispered, her face alight with the joy of divulging a secret she had been keeping for this moment, “there’s a fowl for lunch tomorrow, plucked and ready for me to cook. Gladys from the Vicarage brought it this morning while you were in the garden.”

Those words might not seem like much, but they describe the pleasure these two take from simple gifts like having a chicken to cook, the kindness of neighbors who help them with household chores they can no longer do, and the love of each other’s company. What happens with their remaining, troubled son makes up an important part of the story.

If you would like a beautiful, heartwarming story, The Scent of Water will give you delight. How mercy, goodness, forgiveness and hope overcome failure, shattered dreams and fear is the heart of this book. It is only one of the many treasures given to the book world by Goudge.

By contrast, I picked up a book on a library table that initially looked attractive. It shall remain unnamed. Published in 1949, the book was also about life in England between the world wars.

There was no hope in this book. Every character you began to like and champion ended up being a letdown. There was no moral center to the story, even when you thought that one was developing. Shallow, stupid, unloving people injured each other again and again. The book is a classic, and I really have to wonder why. There was nobody to like in the story, no redeeming qualities emerged, the characters got worse and worse. I threw the book aside.

Am I just looking for happy endings? Literary white bread and Miracle Whip? No. I love happy endings, but some books I have read have had a powerful message without them. It’s the worldview of the author that comes through, and for me, even in death, or sorrow or hurt, there has to be hope and there has to be love somewhere in the story.

Light and Love in a Bleak Place at Christmas

Many years ago when I was expecting my first baby, Charlie, I was asked to accompany a group of school children to an inner city nursing home and play the piano for their caroling. It was a nursing home for the blind in a very down at the heels part of town.

The stale smell of institutional food and disinfectant greeted me as I entered the building. A feeling of depression fell on me as I passed room after room where patients in wheelchairs sat, TV’s blaring, some elderly and blind, others not old, but also blind and disabled in some other way.

We were taken to a multi-purpose room with a long table and an upright piano against the wall. The school kids were told to stand around the walls of the room to sing. The patients were then wheeled in around the long table. There were about 20 people there in wheelchairs that day.

One man’s face was so horribly mangled, clearly something terrible had happened to him. I wondered if he had been in an accident. He did not look old.

The kids sang out, and I played my best on the old piano. A few requests were called out by those in the audience, and we did our best to accommodate those.

A few heads nodded along with the familiar old carols. Silent night. Away in the Manger. Hark the Herald Angels Sing, O Little Town of Bethlehem, The First Noel, all the usual ones.

Mr. Griffey, the very kind man who led the singing, then opened his Bible and shared the simple story of God’s astounding love in sending His dear Son to a dark world. He told of a Savior who did not come in regal splendor as He could have, He came in the lowliest fashion, for a world of lost sinners. He told how God’s marvelous plan of redemption was begun in that stable in the little village in Bethlehem.

He told of our Lord who came in humility to this world as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. He came to pay a debt we owed that could be paid no other way but through his death on the cross and his glorious resurrection.

He told how Jesus touched those in need. He reached out to the lepers and the lame and the woman caught in adultery. In an age when women were second class citizens, He gave women dignity as He sat with Mary, the sister of Martha and answered her questions. He memorialized a woman who poured out her perfume on his feet. He spoke to and gave hope to the Samaritan woman at the well who was living in immorality and should have been an outcast to him. He heard the cry of the blind Bartimaeus, the lame and the sick.  He ministered to all, rich and poor, who welcomed him and would hear His message. Mr Griffey shared the truth of the Gospel that day with the souls that were there.

As we left the home for the blind that day, Mr. Griffey told me about the man without much of a face left. As a young man, he had tried to kill himself with a gunshot to the head, but instead of dying, the man had only horribly disfigured his face, blinded himself and rendered his legs paralyzed. He would live out the rest of his days in that wheelchair.

That is just one who heard the message of hope that late afternoon, 26 years ago. The love of Jesus was there in the room that day for those people as that message went out. That is the message we need to share this season and every season. There is a hurting world out there, filled with people who are suffering in so many ways. We can be light and help and love in this dark place when we place ourselves at God’s disposal.

Just because I love it, I want to share the lovely Candlelight Carol by John Rutter with you.

Where Are We Looking?

There is a wonderful Swedish song called, “I Look Not Back.” I learned it from a recording at a Lutheran college some years ago. Here are the words:

I look not back; God knows the fruitless efforts,
The wasted hours, the sinning, the regrets.
I leave them all with Him who blots the record,
And graciously forgives, and then forgets.

I look not forward; God sees all the future,
The road that, short or long, will lead me home,
And He will face with me its ev’ry trial,
And bear for me the burdens that may come.

I look not round me; then would fears assail me.
So wild the tumult of earth’s restless seas,
So dark the world, so filled with woe and evil,
So vain the hope of comfort and of ease.

I look not inward; that would make me wretched;
For I have naught on which to stay my trust.
Nothing I see save failures and shortcomings,
And weak endeavors, crumbling into dust.

But I look up–into the face of Jesus,
For there my heart can rest, my fears are stilled;
And there is joy, and love, and light for darkness,
And perfect peace, and ev’ry hope fulfilled.

The author of these lyrics is listed as that famous person, “Anonymous”, but the lovely tune is by Oskar Ahnfeld. I wish I could share a recording of it, but sadly, I couldn’t find a link.

The words underscore the importance of watching our view in life. Where we look can make the difference between despair and discouragement and having joy and hope.

Austin Sparks, an old path preacher from the last century, wrote a wonderful message on this theme, “Looking Unto Jesus.” The full message in print is at this link, but here is an excerpt:

“…Now this word is – adjust everything to the end, have all your affairs in life brought into line with God’s end. When you are considering a relationship, have God’s end in view. When you are considering the next step in your life, have God’s end in view. When you are deciding where you are going to live and do your work, have God’s end in view. When you are deciding what your business is going to be, have God’s end in view. Everything brought into line – that is the meaning of this “Make level the path of thy feet” or “Weigh carefully the path of thy feet”. We have to say to ourselves, ‘Now then, this is an opportunity, a prospect, that seems to hold a lot of good; but first of all, what is this going to mean for the Lord, how does this relate to the full end of God?’ Nothing less than that must weigh with us. “Let thine eyes look right on” – not just at this thing, not even at what it seems to promise, but right on. How does it relate to the end? In all things, look beyond; see what is the relation to the full end of God; and adjust accordingly. Get the vision, and adjust life as far as possible in relation to it. “Weigh carefully the paths of thy feet and order them aright. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left”. “Let thine eyes look right on”.

As things worsen in our culture and in the visible church, we need to make sure our eyes are firmly on Jesus. The enemy will try endless ways to distract us from the One who matters. Thousands of hours are filled on America’s airwaves each week documenting the collapse of everything that once stood firm in our society. As Christians, we work for what is right and do all we can to be lights in our culture, but whatever we do, we have to ultimately have our eyes on Jesus and His glory. This world is temporal. As Kipling put it, “Lo, all our pomp of yesterday is one with Nineveh and Tyre!”

God is eternal. Our souls are forever. We need to keep our eyes on Jesus.

(I wrote another post here 2 years ago on the same theme!)

Hope Amid the Ruins

Hope itself is sort of like this blog over the last year and a half. It is sometimes strong, sometimes flickering and sputtering, sometimes going out completely, sort of like those trick birthday candles that blow out and then come back.

It’s been a very complex time in our lives. Everything in this world has become very strange and confusing. Christians are not exempt from experiencing those things. Old landmarks, old trusted institutions, churches, people we admired or followed, all of the old is rocking and shaking and changing.

News last week of a big name pastor among far-right fundamental Baptists who got caught after sexual involvement with a 16-year-old girl he had been counseling really wasn’t much of a surprise. What would once have been shocking is almost not shocking anymore as the sad news that yet another big name has crashed and burned in the middle of a double life made headlines.

Christian rhetoric and high external “standards” can be the ultimate smokescreen for the reality of our lives. It is very easy to appear to have our spiritual lives together if we spout the right phrases, quote a few verses, stay clean cut in appearance and windex our “windows” that people see. But internal rot cannot be hidden forever. It will be revealed in time.

There is a passage of Scripture (Jesus’s words in Matthew 24:12) that talks about how in the last days of history, the love of many Christians will grow cold because sin is so rampant. It is happening before our eyes. These evil times have even the most devout Christians looking around, trying to make sense of the senseless ruin in so many lives of professing believers. I say senseless, because it is difficult to understand how we could hold the cure for it in our own hands or promote the cure to others while ignoring it in our own lives.

This is the time when hope can flicker in our own hearts and lives. The primary problem is that a relationship with a doctrinal position is not the same as a relationship with Jesus. Rectitude in your theological position is not the same thing as having the Spirit of God within, convicting of sin, creating new life in the old person.

We are told what the fruit of the Holy Spirit looks like. There is no mystery here. And there are no special exemptions for those who have done enough spiritual work to get a free pass on a fruit check.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…(Galatians 5:22-23)

The hallmark of believers is love for others. We are told in plain terms what that love looks like.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.

For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

~ I Corinthians 13

There is no way in ourselves that we can have that kind of love. Hurt creates resentment and bitterness. Hurt left unresolved for years can created a veritable tsunami of rage and un-forgiveness. It can wash away your very view of God. Only the work of the Holy Spirit within our hearts can change this, but if we are children of the Light, this is what must happen.

The world around us is only going to worsen as the natural consequences of our culture’s and much of the visible church’s anarchy against God grows worse. Only God at work in our hearts, through His Son, can keep us in times like this. Our prayer has to be, “Lord, heal us, and we shall be healed. Rescue us from the tidal wave of sin and wrong reactions to the filth and destruction around us. We can’t handle it on our own.”

There is another part to this, however. My favorite music is sacred music. The opening lines of Elijah by Felix Mendelssohn is the great chorus singing, “Help, Lord!” The idolatry of God’s people had brought them drought and ruin. God showed himself at Mt. Carmel in a powerful way, the prophets of Baal were destroyed, and God was returned to His rightful place in their hearts. This is the area God, I believe, wants his people to address. We have to tear down these high places of idolatry, and then our prayers for healing spiritually will be answered.  The healing rains of God’s deliverance will come. Only each of us individually knows if or where we have these places, but I know this: If we ask, God will answer us and point them out.

No, the Hope Blog has not completely sputtered out. The hope in my heart that has flickered and sputtered at times over the last 18 months is still here, and for that I give the Lord Jesus Christ all of the credit. He alone is the answer to our broken state, no matter how much we may want to find the cure elsewhere, no matter how much we want to write off spiritual answers, or walk away from the faith in the face of so much treachery and ruin.

Men and women will fail us. We will fail completely in ourselves. But Jesus never fails. He shines as our ultimate hope. Brighter than the sun at noon. Take the scales from our eyes, God, so we can see Jesus in all His glory and fall at His feet and  worship.

Give Me Jesus

The news stories today are filled with blood and terror, pain and sorrow. Families are torn apart, children abused, politicians and pastors alike fall from corruption. Good seems so weak sometimes in the face of evil.

This week in London, votive candles and offerings of vodka bottles were left at shrines to the latest god to fall, singer Amy Winehouse, who died in a drugged and drunken binge. She had all this world can offer, and she had nothing.

You can have the world’s fake promises. Give me Jesus.