Category Archives: Worship

Here I Sit

Here I sit, with none but the lights of the Christmas tree. I’ve just come in from a silent night, where the Christmas lights illumine the snow falling like the finest fairy dust. My table hasn’t been cleared in days, littered with ornament packaging, cast-off strings of lights and an assortment of odds and ends. The green and red storage bins covered in a year’s worth of barn dust are stacked in various degrees of emptiness around the room. My winter village is still on stand-by, waiting to be pulled out of boxes and lit to bring good cheer.

I’m not sure it’s ever taken me this many days to fully decorate for Christmas. But right now, I don’t even care. It didn’t matter to me last night or the night before that. Because there’s living to do in the midst of it all. A very real life that has nothing to do with lights, ornaments, garland and tiny villages, but everything to do with people, problems, schedules, growing and giftedness. And I’m okay with that. I love Christmas. I love the lights, the smell of pine, the spiced apple cider, and baking. But I love it even more when I stop to take it all in, whatever all happens to be this year.

My dad used to tell me to always keep it simple. The more we make of the excess, the more likely we are to miss the point. God made Himself man and dwelt among us; and we beheld His glory (John 1:14). That’s it. That’s the point. Without that, we’ve got nothing. GOD MADE HIMSELF MAN AND DWELT AMONG US! This is IT!! The great mystery, the great news, the great fulfillment of prophecy, the heavenly host’s praise. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Luke 2:15. Peace. Peace on earth.

What did God do on a chaotic night in Bethlehem? He did the inconceivable and became a man. Fully God and fully man. How can that even be? And do we stop to marvel? Not often enough. Instead we make December crazy, and all too often celebrations become stressful. All the parties, plans, and expectations sometimes threaten to undo us, but the only undoing I want is the undoing of my heart before a holy, marvelous God.

So here I sit. Just a fir tree full of lights and me. I’m savoring the silence. Enjoying the peace. Keeping this Christmas simple. The village will be lit by tomorrow night. I’m almost sure. The buckets will go back to the barn to collect more dust. The kitchen will smell of baked goods soon enough. But nowhere in all of that do I want it to be anything other than simple. God became man and dwelt among us. Could the news be any better? Yes, actually! When God became man, in the baby Jesus, He gave the right to become children of God to all who believe in His name, and from His fulness we receive grace upon grace.  So this is how I spend my December nights – overcome by God’s goodness every time I look at those little lights shining in the darkness. Jesus is the light of the world, shining in the darkness, and the darkness can’t overcome it. (John 1).

Peace.

 

©Erika Rice

I Cannot Live Without Jesus

I’m not very good at sleeping. I’d say I’ve never been very good at sleeping, but I remember hearing my mom tell people that my older brother was an early riser, go-getter type (still is) while I was a blob she could barely get to move. By high school I was listing sleep as a hobby on job applications because at that point in life I thought of hobbies as things that one really wanted to do, but for which they had no time. There might be a reason all my jobs came from people who knew me rather than people who read my applications.

Then children came on the scene and I discovered I was a very light sleeper, waking at every sound. But when the opportunity to sleep came around, I slept and slept hard. Still, I looked forward to the day when I wouldn’t be wakened by cries in the night and could get several hours solid sleep. No more living like a zombie. That, however, was not the reality in store for me.

When my fifth and final child was still quite young but finally upstairs out of light-sleeper’s earshot, and sleep should have been mine for the taking, insomnia set in. This was a hard pill to swallow, and an exhausting one! I had five young children, a million things to do, the need for wisdom and clarity, not to mention self-control; but instead of sleeping I spent hours staring at the ceiling. With the insomnia, came an anxious spirit.

I tried to control the situation, create the perfect environment, and make sleep happen. In the process, I shamed anyone who interrupted the process, whose attempts to aid my sleep failed, and I put my poor family through the wringer. I became desperate for sleep and let the desire for it take control. Every chance for sleep was also a time of fear that I might not. Don’t get me wrong, I prayed…a lot. I thought if I prayed my anxious mind would be calmed. I thought if I prayed, at least I wouldn’t be wasting my time. I thought if I prayed instead of worrying, I would be holier. Worry is sin, after all, and prayer a commendable thing. But it isn’t a magic potion to be used to my advantage, and my heart was not content with the wakeful nights. The prayers did not accomplish what I desired. I do not mean that my prayers were ineffectual. But my motivation for praying was not what it should be. God, however, is faithful and did not allow me to be tempted beyond what He also provided a way to endure (1 Corinthians 10:13).

He was working in me a better understanding of my lack of control and His overall control. He was teaching me to rest in whatever He sent my way. My days were less ruled by lists and the need to accomplish, and more relaxed in the joy that whatever came my way was for my best. I began to realize that if I said I believed in a sovereign God then I needed to be content in every circumstance. The unexpected was to be embraced with joy and gladness rather than railed against as an interruption or undoing of my plans. Over time, I found peace in midnight wakefulness. I had no better times of sweet communion with the Heavenly Father than in those dark and quiet hours.

I had made friends with insomnia. I ran tired, but I knew God’s sustaining grace and strength when I was weak. I trusted the wakeful hours were meant, even, to sustain me in a way that sleep could not.

But this summer, a whole new level of sleep deprivation kicked in. There were strings of whole nights lost and daytime sleep was impossible. Still, life moved on, and responsibilities called. There were days I didn’t know how I would continue, or how I would meet that day’s demands.  I was profoundly tired. Profoundly. I don’t know how else to describe it. Still, I could not physically rest.

This, however, is where the promises of God are proved. In our weakness and utter reliance on Him, He shows Himself to be true.
In Philippians 4:19, Paul says, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” He supplies every need. 2 Corinthians 12:9 contains a promise I have long been learning to rely on. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” “My grace is sufficient for you…” What a truth to cling to! Do I need sleep? No, I need GRACE, and grace is sufficient.

I found myself running late far more often than I would have liked during those weeks. Not because I didn’t plan and prepare, but because preparation was suddenly so different from what it had been. I had no legs to carry me, no stalwart emotions to trust, no strength on which to rely, no alert and ready mind to move me to action. I spent many mornings laid out on the floor, Bible open, in God’s Word and prayer, meditating on all He is and has done. Praying for the sufficiency of His grace in all things. Praying for His legs on which to stand and move forward, His fortitude to stabilize my emotions, His strength to enable in every way, His clarity of mind. The length of time it took me to get off the floor and moving varied, but God never failed to carry me.

Isaiah 40:30-31 says, “Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” I have loved this verse since childhood and often pondered just what it means to wait on the Lord. I’ve sometimes thought I had an inkling, but now I understand more fully.

Exhaustion makes us crave rest, but true rest is found only in Jesus. Weakness and pain make us crave strength; but it’s only in seeking His strength that we find ourselves soaring, which really is just knowing that He is accomplishing in and for us all that He wills. He will move us though we can’t move ourselves.

I’ve been to a doctor who discovered an underlying issue. Some solid nights of sleep and more typical, occasional insomnia are returning. Now that my body is learning to rest, I have hope for the day I lose the fatigue. But there’s one thing I don’t want to lose. If I keep just one thing, I’d like it to be the utter reliance on God for every moment. I want to start every day laid out before Him, seeking His everything to work in my nothing. His promises are real, His strength immeasurable, His grace sufficient for my every need. By His grace, I can live with pain, I can live with weakness, I can live without sleep. But I cannot live without Jesus.

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©Erika Rice

The Essence of Worship

It started with a plea. The plea became a rant, which turned into a temper tantrum. Literally, there was foot stomping and everything.

I am not proud of that moment. In fact, I hate it. Everything in my head said to sit down and shut up. But no part of me did that. Not until after I’d stomped my feet and yelled for a minute. Then it was too late. Anger, actions and words could not be undone.

The split second it took me to explode, even for only a minute, put me in a funk for the rest of the night, and I didn’t want to be in a funk. I wanted to be celebrating with my family. I just couldn’t rid myself of the guilt. It didn’t matter that this behavior was unusual. It would be remembered, I was sure, and held against me. And even if not, I wouldn’t forget.

I woke Easter morning still carrying the burden. My heart was still heavy, and I didn’t feel like putting on a smile and pretending to claim victory. I longed for the final resurrection when the full victory of Christ’s resurrection from the dead is finally realized and I will sin no more. I needed the worship service, but wished it was any other Sunday. I dreaded facing all those people in their new, pretty clothes with smiles on their faces and celebratory greetings when I knew I’d be there in the same old clothes wanting to lie prostrate on the floor in grief. I felt the agony of Good Friday hanging heavy over me. All that sin, all that shame, all those dark skies.

I picked up my Bible and turned to Isaiah 53. These verses became a balm even as I read them.

3  He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4  Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5  But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
6  All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

7  He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8  By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9  And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10  Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11  Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12  Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

As I read, the opening verse of the next chapter came to mind, “…break forth into singing…” Break forth into singing? But yes! I can break forth into singing! Didn’t I just read that He had borne my grief and carried my sorrow? Why was I bowed so heavy under the weight of it? It was long past placed on His shoulders! I continued my reading then through Isaiah 54, and the dark skies lifted to the full light of joy.

4 “Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;
be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
and the reproach […] you will remember no more.

…with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord, your Redeemer.

9 “I have sworn that I will not be angry with you,
and will not rebuke you.”

10 For the mountains may depart
and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,”
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

17 “…you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord
and their vindication from me,” declares the Lord.

In His death, Christ bore the burden of my sin and the punishment it deserved, removing even its remembrance. When He was raised from the dead, He raised me from my prostrate state of shame to stand in joyful song before Him. That’s what the resurrection is all about! Christ didn’t stay bruised and bloody, defeated by sin, shame and the guilt of the whole world while I lay sick and sorrowful at the foot of the cross. He rose to life and raised me with Him!

This is the essence of worship – the knowledge of my sin and shame giving way to the wonder that it no longer sinks me to the bottom of the sea (or the depths of hell)! Christ’s resurrection from the dead gives me new life and the ability to stand before Him in victory and sing with the angels “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12).

This is every Sunday, every worship service, every song of praise – a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, a death that was mine. I now live the life that is His! “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57). I don’t have to wait for victory.

What started with a plea also ends with one, even as I celebrate. “More love, O Christ to Thee, More love to Thee!” (Elizabeth Prentiss, 1856)

 

©Erika Rice 2016

Good News for the New Year

Today is the first day in a brand new year. Much will get said about where we go from here, how to move forward, and how to make this year better than the last. Resolutions will be made and people will try harder. They’ll try harder for a better life, a better persona, a better image, better body, better health. So much trying will be going on, or at least so many good intentions. But as we consider how to press on and move forward, I’d like to look back for a moment. Look back a couple years to something I wrote before this blog began. I don’t think this can be said too often. It’s one for this day, the next day, and the day after that. Year after year after year.

GOOD NEWS FOR THE NEW YEAR!

As we begin the new year, there is good news for the broken, hurting, wasted, sick and desolate. And who among us hasn’t been counted in that number? The less-celebrated but more important meaning of the Christmas season, good news in every season, is the birth of one who knows and heals all wounds. A baby born in under-privileged circumstances, living an unremarkable life from his neighbors’ perspective. A baby, once grown, suffering extreme rejection and physical pain, broken. What good is someone like that to me in my pain? This rejected and suffering man was God in the flesh. Not “…unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) “He learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” (Hebrews 5:9) Now we, in our brokenness, can approach God with confidence, “that we may receive mercy and grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16).

Jesus was born, suffered, died to bear our burdens, and lives again in defeat of death, so that we can draw near to God! Psalm 22 says that God has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard when he cried to him. This world will never be free from evil and pain. But there is another world to come, one in which those who see their need for God and trust Him for life will live in perfect unbrokenness. A world and time where tears will not be needed and the only cries of the heart will be praise to the God who has made all things new. Don’t wait for tomorrow, life to become un-messy, or a new year’s resolution to cry to God. Trust Him to forgive your sin and heal your brokenness. He gives new life.

And new life is the only way to start off a new year on the right foot, kneeling before God and moving forward in faith. There’s nothing wrong with setting goals and living intentionally. But all those things are meaningless without the God who directs our steps. You may not get a better body, a better image, or better health, but you will get a brand new heart!

Happy New Year!

 

©Erika Rice

How Do You Say “Merry Christmas!”?

I’ve had a few questions loitering in my mind this Christmas week. How do you say “Merry Christmas!” when your friend lies suffering, her body destroyed by cancer? How do you say, “Merry Christmas!” when a child loses her mother or a mother her child just as they should be unwrapping presents together? How do you say, “Merry Christmas!” to the married couple who is barely civil to each other these days or the one who spends their first Christmas alone? The pain cuts deep and there is little merry about any of it. Really, each is the same question asked a different way–how do we say “Merry Christmas!” in the midst of misery? It seems so flippant and insufficient.

The answer is found when I open my Bible. But first, there are more questions. Why did Mary’s spirit rejoice in God her Savior at the angel’s news that she would give birth to the Son of the Most High (Luke 1:32, 47)? When the angels came to the shepherds and proclaimed the Messiah’s birth, why did the shepherds proceed with such haste to see him and leave glorifying God (Luke 2:8-20)? Why did the wise men travel so far seeking the king whose star they had seen (Matthew 2:1-2)? Why did Simeon, righteous and devout, wait so expectantly to see the Lord’s Christ (Luke 2:26)?

The indication is that they all knew what God had said about his salvation. The prophets had foretold of a king who would come humbly, setting free the prisoners of hope, reigning from sea to sea, and speaking peace to the nations (Zech. 9:9-12, Micah 5:2-5). The condition of people and their world was just like it is today. They longed for freedom from bondage, relief from heavy labor, healing from sickness, the end of war, and gladness instead of mourning.

There is no faithfulness or steadfast love,
and no knowledge of God in the land;
there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery;
they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
Therefore the land mourns,
and all who dwell in it languish, (Hosea 4:1b-3a).

They had spent their lives hearing of and waiting in eager anticipation for One who would come and bring them salvation. They had heard the words of Isaiah promising the birth of a child who would end oppression and injustice.

“The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light; […]

they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken […]

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given; […]

and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.” Isaiah 9:2-7

And then the sky lit up, the angels sang, the baby had been born, the promised One had come! How could they help but rejoice? No longer would they languish, but their eyes would see salvation! The birth of this baby, called Jesus (Yahweh is salvation) and Immanuel (God with us), brought new hope, restoration, peace and reconciliation with God. It was the fulfillment of God’s promise going all the way back to sin’s entry on the scene. When Adam and Eve chose to ignore God, wanting instead to BE God, they brought the curse of death upon all mankind. But even then, God promised to send from a woman one who would bruise Satan’s head (Gen. 3:15). And now God’s salvation had arrived!

Isaiah had prophesied God’s hope to the people. A hope that kept their weary eyes lifted and looking for its fulfillment. They were ready to see and believe God’s salvation. They went with haste, they kneeled before him, they sang songs of worship, and glorified God, testifying that God was with them. Immanuel, God with us.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. Isaiah 61:1-3

And Jesus said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21) He is the one proclaiming good news, setting captives free and opening blind eyes. There will be an end to fear, tears, pain and death, wiped away forever in His presence (Rev. 21:3-5).

That’s our expectant hope, and why we say “Merry Christmas!” It’s how we can say “Merry Christmas!” when we feel like crumbling. We know that Christ has come, conquered through his death and resurrection, and will return again for a final reckoning. We know that he has already brought salvation. There’s an end to our pain and sadness! So no matter our circumstances, we REJOICE in celebration at the thought of Christmas. Jesus birth brought God to us!

Perhaps an even more meaningful exclamation would be, “Immanuel! God is with us!” (Matthew 1:23). There will never be anything flippant or insufficient about that.

                 Come, Lord Jesus                                                                                            Come, Lord Jesus, to this sadness,                                                                         To our pain and to this madness.                                                                                Lift our weary eyes to see You                                                                          Humbly born but King of all.

Sent to reconcile us to You,
God with man on earth to dwell.
Bearing God’s full wrath in anguish,
Perfectly you took our fall.

Satan’s power has been banished,
Crushed, and conquered soon to vanish,
He no power has to shake us!
Blood-bought children You remake us.

Cause your Spirit to possess us
That we triumphantly might dwell.
Fill us with your might and power,
With hope, joy, peace our fears to quell.

Come, Lord Jesus, bring your gladness,
Ease this pain and end our sadness.
Lift our weary eyes to see You
Humbly born but King of all.

 

©Erika Rice

 

A Covering

I need a covering. After a string of dismal, rainy days in December, very unusual for my part of the world, the view is depressing. The sky hangs dark and gray. My yard is strewn with the debris of three dogs, two of them still puppies. Deer hides and bones dragged in from the fields after hunting season, leftover corncobs from harvest, and bits of plastic and tin cans salvaged from my recycling bins litter the backyard’s open spaces. The holes the dogs dug have become mud pots for rolling in before wanting in the house.

This bitter, ugly landscape mortifies me every time I look out my windows. The scene carries reminders of the past, embarrassment over the current state of things, and shame at my inability to bring lasting improvement to the situation. Oh, how I long for it all to disappear.

I need a covering. A good blanket of pure, white snow would do the trick. It would wipe the ugly from view and make it a distant memory.  The forgiving layers of clean ice crystals would wipe away the stark evidence of the past and dying season.

It’s not just my view of the backyard that needs help, though. It’s my view of my heart. I am constantly mortified by what I see if I dare to look closely. Too often, I barely give it a cursory glance, like the way I avoid looking out the window this week because I know what I’ll find. I’m much less likely to see the extent of my need.

I need a covering, a covering for my sin. One that blots out its memory and offers forgiving relief from the painful reminders and evidences of the destruction I leave in my wake. One that hides the raw and bitter ugliness that makes itself visible too often. I need a covering that remains until newness of life springs eternal.

God has given just that–a covering for my sin. In the birth of his son as a little baby He offered forgiveness and healing. His son, Jesus, would ultimately take my punishment, give me His life, and cover me in the pure white of His perfection. I fail, too often, to remember that I am already purified. “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD; though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow…” (Isaiah 1:18). This covering is not whimsical like weather. It remains and brings the relief I long for.

I have a covering! My heart is clothed in Jesus’ righteousness and my yard is blanketed in pure white, for the snow has begun to fall.

 

“In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation [atoning sacrifice, covering] for our sins.” 1 John 4:9-10

“He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 2:2

“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” Psalm 32:1

 

©Erika Rice

Today, I’m Working on My Heart.

Today, I’m working on my heart. Oh, but that was yesterday, too, and for sure the day before that. I seem to be in an ongoing battle for the consistent joy I desire. Some days its easy to have an attitude of gratitude. Some days simply waking up is enough to start me complaining. As the days shorten, the rain and snow fall intermittent, the dogs bring the dirt and drizzle dripping through the door, shoes litter the entry and pile neglected underfoot, I come to a realization. I have not kept a quiet heart, but find myself living in a place of unrest. I have been ignorant of the level of my discontent until I listen to my own voice time after time, unrelenting in its disapproval. Oh, I can make a very decent list of things I’m thankful for at the end of the day, and I repeat the words “thank you” to my husband and children, with sincerity, many times a day, but know that the peace of a grateful heart is not in me. It’s as if the words are needed as proof of what I’d like to be true.

The Bible describes the Christian life as a race that needs to be run with endurance (Heb. 12:1) and in such a way as to win (1 Cor. 9:24). So I determine that I have been coasting and that is no way to win. I need to pick up the pace and leap this hurdle and finish victorious. I run what feels a frantic pace into a gale force wind that leaves me striving and exhausted but having gained no ground. The only marker I’ve reached is labeled Frustration and Failure. And agitation seems to be all I can muster. I know I need the strength of another, and I think He is the One I’m pursuing. He is the reason I’m running. I keep calling His name and reaching for His hand, but feeling it all lost in the wind. Then suddenly it comes to me, and my falling frame is lifted. I am not running the race to find Him. He is already holding me. (Psalm 63:8 & 73:23). “Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you [God] hold my right hand.” And He says to me, “‘Be still, and know that I am God […]’ The Lord of hosts is with us…” (Psalm 46:10) Just like that the wind has subsided. I am at rest. The race has not ended, but I am no longer running with my legs. Like one who runs and won’t grow weary, I am lifted on the wings that also are my shelter (Isaiah 40:31 & Psalm 91:4). I do not need to frantically strive to overcome my character flaws. It never gets me anywhere. I simply need to ask Christ. Christ is my salvation and my champion. He fights the battle. He runs the race. He carries me in His arms, and someday it will be across the finish line, complete in Him.

This changes everything. I can’t help but be thankful. The attitude of gratitude comes without effort when my eyes are fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith (Heb. 12:2). Tomorrow, I will not be perfect, but I will be forgiven; and my heart will be known by God, who will lead me in the right direction. (Ps. 139:23-24). Tomorrow, by God’s grace, I will rest in His unfailing love and His purpose that He promises to fulfill for me. (Psalm 138:8). Tomorrow, God is working on my heart, just as He has been all along. (Phil. 1:6).

 

©Erika Rice 2015

Resting

I have a confession to make: I rarely make it through the pastor’s sermon application and summation without having the “perfect” closing hymn come to mind. Certainly, there could be many hymns that fit the bill, and the one I think of is not usually the one we sing. But that’s not the point.

The point is that my pick for today’s closing hymn actually came before the sermon. It’s been floating around my head the last couple days. In fact, I caught myself drifting to it during the sermon more than once and had to reign in my thoughts so as not to miss anything my pastor was saying. Today, he was helping us understand Moses’ pleading with God in Exodus 33:12-17, pleading with God to go with him. It’s all about knowing God and being known by God. His conclusion was that in God’s presence, in knowing and being known, because of Jesus’ work on our behalf, there is rest and there is joy. All of a sudden, I was right back in the middle of that hymn, the hymn whose words have been floating through my head for the last couple days. We sang a different hymn to close the service, but that’s okay. I love the one we sang just as much, and another day I’m sure it will be the one I can’t get out of my head. But for today, Jesus, I am resting, resting, in the joy of what Thou art.

Jesus! I am resting, resting
In the joy of what Thou art;
I am finding out the greatness
Of Thy loving heart.
Thou hast bid me gaze upon Thee,
And Thy beauty fills my soul,
For, by Thy transforming power,
Thou hast made me whole.

Jesus! I am resting, resting
In the joy of what Thou art;
I am finding out the greatness
Of Thy loving heart.

Oh, how great Thy loving kindness,
Vaster, broader than the sea:
Oh, how marvelous Thy goodness,
Lavished all on me!
Yes, I rest in Thee, Beloved,
Know what wealth of grace is Thine,
Know Thy certainty of promise,
And have made it mine.

Simply trusting Thee, Lord Jesus,
I behold Thee as Thou art,
And Thy love, so pure, so changeless,
Satisfies my heart,
Satisfies its deepest longings,
Meets, supplies its every need,
Compasseth me round with blessings,
Thine is love indeed.

Ever lift Thy face upon me,
As I work and wait for Thee;
Resting ’neath Thy smile, Lord Jesus,
Earth’s dark shadows flee.
Brightness of my Father’s glory,
Sunshine of my Father’s face,
Keep me ever trusting, resting,
Fill me with Thy grace.

~Jean Sophia Pigott, 1845-1882

©Erika Rice

 

Break Forth Into Singing

“Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor!” Isaiah 54:1a

Ten days into the new year I can’t shake the promise stalking me since New Year’s Eve. It lurks at every corner, appears with every bend of thought. As sinister as that sounds, it is more like the security of a strong presence on a dark street at night, or the warmth of an embrace when waking from a bad dream.

That’s exactly what Isaiah 54 was meant to be to the people of Israel–comfort after a time of desolation. The people were bereft, abandoned, scattered, grieving and shaken. Yet suddenly they are being told to sing. To sing in spite of their sad state. How does a barren and desolate woman sing? The answer follows in a promise, the promise of blessing and a relationship with God.

“For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,” says the LORD. (Isaiah 54:1b)

“For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left, and your offspring will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities.” (vs. 3)

“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth…

For your maker is your husband…

and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer…

For the LORD has called you like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit…

with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD, your Redeemer. (Isaiah 54:4-8)

Such tender, soothing words from a loving maker continue:

“O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted, behold, I will set your stones in antimony, and lay your foundations with sapphires.” (vs. 11)

“In righteousness you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near you.” (vs. 14)

Oppression is far away, because fear is removed. How is this even possible? How can one so oppressed, afraid and grief-stricken believe that good, beyond imagining, can happen? That answer is found before the promise of such abundant blessing, in Isaiah 53.

“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrow, and acquainted with grief […] He was despised and we esteemed Him not. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned–every one–to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:3-6).

He (Jesus) was oppressed, and He was afflicted, led like a lamb to slaughter. (Isaiah 53:7) He knew greater grief than I will ever know, but because of HIS grief, I have the assurance that MY grief will not last forever. The promise of restoration and blessing and a glorious future are mine.

As I look back on the last year and the loss of family members to the ravages of cancer, the new diagnoses of cancer in close friends, see accidents and illness taking their brutal toll, and think of the mothers I know whose arms are now empty, I feel the weight of so much grief. But I know the One who bore those griefs on His own beaten and bloody back, who was stricken, crushed, and pierced to bring me peace. My sins and sorrows were heaped on Him and the anguish of His soul is where satisfaction is made. Because Jesus Christ bore my sorrows first, I am not crushed beneath the weight of sin and grief. I can do as Isaiah said in chapter 54 and break forth into singing! This grief is passing, but the promised reward is everlasting. It’s a reward that  will wipe sorrow and despair from memory.

I am embraced and secure and comforted, and it stirs a song way down deep that can’t help but be sung.

“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;
be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.” Isaiah 54:4

“Sing, O barren one, who did not bear;
break forth into singing and cry aloud,
you who have not been in labor!
For the children of desolate one will be more
than the children of her who is married,” says the Lord.        Isaiah 54:1

©Erika Rice 2015

Dark Decembers

December a few years past was a tough one for me. I struggled each day to keep my thoughts from dragging me down into a pit of despair. It was a moment by moment battle to fix my mind on things above, the truths that are unchanging, and take them off my pitiable self. Since that is so much more easily said than done, I needed help. I couldn’t allow any negative thought to fully form or it would carry me away. I had to keep returning to the rock that is higher than I (Psalm 61:1-3). Music was a balm, though not all music was helpful. My Exalted Worship album (hymns interspersed with Scripture and prayers) was well-played that month. Sometimes I would just reach over and turn on the radio, hoping to get outside my head with some Christmas music. But I was mostly disappointed and aggravated by the Christmas music played on the radio. What were silver bells and red-nosed reindeer, Christmas lights and rockin’ around Christmas trees to me at such a time?

I longed for Christmas songs with depth and meaning. Songs that reminded hurting people like me that Christ brought hope and healing and suffered my anguish to replace it with joy. Joy that would be my strength.  He brought joy! Not just a happiness for the moment, but a resounding heart’s-cry that God is good when all around me is not, when life is a battleground or people fail me. I was tired of hearing more about the superficiality of the season than the deep, abiding truth that Christ came to bring life to dead souls, to pull me from the pit I could not climb out of on my own.

Then one evening as I stood at my sink, a new song came on the radio. It was the first time I heard Third Day’s song “Children of God”. I turned to my kids and said, “THIS is Christmas!” This made me sing. This made me dance. What glorious truth is contained in these words:

Praise to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
Our God and our King, to Him we will sing
In His great mercy, He has given us life
Now we can be called the children of God

Great is the Love that the Father has given us
He has delivered us
He has delivered us

Children of God, sing your song and rejoice
For the love that He has given us all
Children of God, by the blood of His Son
We have been redeemed and we can be called
Children of God
Children of God

A mystery is revealed to the universe
The Father above has proven His love
Now we are free from the judgment that we deserve
And so we are called the children of God

We are the saints
We are the children
We’ve been redeemed
We’ve been forgiven
We are the sons and daughters of our God

“In His great mercy, He has given us life!” “The Father above has proven His love!” I am a saint. I’m a child. I’m redeemed and forgiven! I have a reason to celebrate, regardless of what anyone else says or does. And I can rejoice in Christmas, with or without silver bells and presents under the tree. Christmas runs so much deeper than traditions and tinsel. The hard in life doesn’t disappear because the calendar says it’s the holiday season. I need the knowledge of a solid foundation, an immoveable rock, a fortress in a storm. I need the sweet, gentle hand of mercy, lifting my load, raising my weary head, and helping me to my feet.

That was a dark and difficult December, one I won’t forget. To worship was to live. To exalt Christ was breath. To exalt myself was death.

If you are struggling this Christmas, wishing you had the picture-perfect family gathering, or maybe just someone to love you,  a life with fewer worries or a bit less drama, I encourage you to stop those thoughts dead. Recite Scripture verses and sing praises. Remind yourself of who God is and forget about who you wish you were or think others are. Sometimes prayers are hard to come by, though we know we should be praying; but songs are there for the repeating. Sing a song of life to your soul, a song full of the truth of God’s great character, abiding love, deep compassion, mercy and forgiveness, of His strength and power and gentle, Fatherly touch. This is Christmas! These truths. Christmas is not the time of year or the traditions. It’s hope in the heartache, dancing in the dark Decembers. Not because of ourselves or anyone around us, but because God makes us His children, and there is no safer place to be than in the arms of the Father.

We think Thanksgiving comes before Christmas. But the truth is it’s the other way around. Christ came to our darkness with His wonderful light and brought life to our souls. When our hearts see the truth, we can’t help but give thanks. Life breeds worship and to worship is to live.

Hear “Children of God” here.

Find Exalted Worship here.

Read Psalm 61 here.

 

©Erika Rice 2014