The Gardener

Lord of glory, You dwell with the poor and destitute,
God of justice, You delight not in the death of the wicked,
King of Israel, King of all the earth,
Teach us gracious courage, humble wisdom,
Truth seasoned with gentleness,
Kindness stripped of appeasement.
Show us beauty from ashes,
That when all is against us, God intends good.
Help us learn patience toward those who are learning,
Compassion for the foolish and proud,
For our ignorance, too, led to darkness.
Open our eyes to see
That when we stand alone, we are least alone,
That grace calls forth extravagant sacrifice,
That strongest love requires strongest worship
Perfected in weak and broken vessels.
We love our friends, so we must love our enemies,
Because we were enemies until You called us friends.
In greatest anguish, there is greatest hope,
So we sing in the night to the Giver of songs
Who redeems our tears and answers our cries,
Who grows mercy from evil
And fills emptiness with life.
Whoever waits for You shall not be put to shame. Continue Reading

Remembered and Redeemed

When I look at the heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Psalm 8:3-4

When I think of the righteous and holy King, who am I that He should think of me? Who am I that I should be redeemed by His blood? I am a jar of clay, a creation from dust to dust, and in the end, an unworthy servant. That He should set His love on me speaks nothing of my worthiness and everything of His mercy.

I am as much in need of His sacrifice as I was the day I first believed. Were He a God of changing, were the shadow of His wing to depart from over my head, I would stand condemned and without hope in the world. Yet He is a God of covenant faithfulness, of eternal intercession, and of a perfect priesthood which once for all lifts me out of the mire and places me in the cleft of the rock. Sprinkled with the blood of Christ, the wages of my sin have no power to lay hold of me.

As many were astonished at you –
his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the children of mankind.
Isaiah 52:14

My Lord and my God, who are You that you would descend from so high a throne to so lowly a death? Who are You that You would pay the highest price for the most wretched of sinners? There is no other God like You, a God who creates life and conquers death, who brings healing with a touch of Your robe and authority with a whisper of Your name.

But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.
1 Corinthians 6:17

Would I be joined to the holy and perfect One? Would I, once dead in my trespasses and sins, caked in the mud of lawlessness and the disgrace of corruption, be united with Him who dwells in unapproachable light, who rules with a scepter of uprightness? Am I to be counted among the spotless bride of the most handsome of men? Am I to share in the righteousness of the Righteous One? Then it must not be my own doing, but only the redemption and grace of the everlasting God of Abraham, who numbered me among the children of His kingdom before the stars were ever hung in the evening sky.

Yet is 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.
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.
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.
Isaiah 53:10-12


The more I know of the Lord Jesus, the more I come to understand how surpassingly lovely He is. He is kind and gracious, patient and gentle, strong and mighty, meek and glorious. To catch a glimpse of His perfection is to be transfixed for eternity; He is living water that satisfies yet makes me thirsty for more. What will it be like in the New Jerusalem when earnest longing for more of Him undergoes a metamorphosis into complete and utter satisfaction?

This week, as I was finishing the vestiges of my fall study of 2 Corinthians, I was confronted with this unsettling truth: Christ Jesus, who fed the multitudes and healed the sick, called His listeners to take up their cross and follow Him. I think of all the goodness with which the Lord daily feeds me, not only with physical needs like food, clothing, and shelter, but with His constant presence, His light-giving Word, and His soul-filling peace. His guidance over the circumstances of my life (while not always understood by me) has been without compare as He roots out toxins, lifts heavy weights, and leads me to still waters and continuous restoration. Just as He once showed His ancient followers, He has today proved to me His storehouses of bread and His power to heal.

So now the cross comes. It is heavy, foreboding, and torturous. How can I bear it? Will I walk in stride with the Savior, or will I step back, horrified and despondent at the stripes in His flesh He now calls me to imitate?

The faith required to believe that God could save me is perhaps surpassed by the faith needed to believe He can keep me, that He can cause me to follow Him to the end. My strength is not adequate to carry that cross. I will run at the first thought of discomfort, and even if I am able to stomach the idea of it, I collapse under the weight of ostracization and pain. How can God keep me from turning back, as so many others seem to have done under this difficult saying?

It is only through the love of Christ that I can endure. While most hide their faces from the Man of sorrows, I must recall within my soul this most handsome of the sons of men, from whose lips grace is poured out like honey. Only as I behold His glorious beauty can my love grow deep enough to be rooted through drought, tempest, and shaking. Only in His love can my love be made strong enough to go to Him outside the camp and bear His reproach.

Even still, my love for Him may falter, but His love for me never fails; it is sure, steadfast, and boundless. Yet very often, I forget His love for me. His kindness toward me has been a decided fact in my mind for so long, and has become such a staple of my spiritual diet, that somehow it has grown bland in my reckoning. Without consciously uttering such an idea, I have made God’s love for me out to be, at worst, a distasteful obligation, and at best, the kind of love I use to describe my affection for, say, a favorite pair of shoes. Utilitarian, unremarkable, forgettable. I’ve let a lie enter my mind that sells God short. Satan hasn’t changed His playbook much since the Garden.

The Lord’s love is so much more. It is a love wide enough for the world, yet unique from all others when placed on me because He loves me as me. It is a chosen, perfect, all-consuming love. “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us” (1 John 3:16). His love goes beyond all that could be imagined. It is an impossible love which only a righteous Creator could possess, for His love loves the unlovable and, in doing so, makes them lovely.

I look back on the miry pit where I began and marvel at all the Lord has done for me. So many people want to become a better person in their own estimation, and yet God is working in me to make me perfect and complete in His holy and righteous sight. Even now, I am sure of the change in me from glory to glory. Where I see the rough stone, He sees the cut and polished jewel; what a joy to know that the refining of the present time is even now bringing a flash of light here, a deeper hue there, until one day I will know myself as the workmanship He designed from the beginning. From formless rock to priceless treasure – this is the power of God in me.

Therefore, when I ponder the future and feel my knees tremble, I’m going to seek the Lord who will sustain me to the end, and I will find strength of heart in His love for me. Do I not trust His promises? Are I so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, am I now being perfected by the flesh?

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).

With the Lord’s help, I’m going to take up the sword of the Spirit and destroy the stronghold the enemy has built in my mind that bears false witness, declaring my defeat. The Mighty God is my God, and this Creator and Sustainer of all dwells in me. It is impossible for Him to lie, and He has already shouted in victory and led me in triumphal procession. By His power at work within me, He will do far more abundantly than all that I can ask or think. He will make me to know the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, and as I am transformed into His likeness, my love too will become unshakeable. All that I desire to become in Him – all that ways I desire to be like Him – will soon be my everlasting truth.

I am so fed up with the sin in my life. I am so done with it. Yet I hold onto it so dearly, unwilling to relinquish the thing that both inebriates and emaciates. When my decisions side me with the world rather than with God, when I deny Him by my works or unsaid words, when I see the double-mindedness that clings so closely, I am disgusted and mourn that I am not what I should be for the One who is everything to me. But rather than climbing down into the pit of despair, I’m going to challenge the prognosis of never-ending shame and turn to the oath which swears that He who began a good work in me will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. I will hope in Him who is able to keep me from stumbling and to present me blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy, the only God, my Savior, through Jesus Christ my Lord. For it is He who works in me, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

As Spurgeon says,

“If the Lord has given you light, dear reader, He looks on that light with peculiar interest; for not only is it dear to Him as His own handiwork, but because it is like Himself, for ‘He is light.’ Pleasant it is to the believer to know that God’s eye is thus tenderly observant of that work of grace which He has begun. He never loses sight of the treasure which He has placed in our earthen vessels. Sometimes we cannot see the light, but God always sees the light, and that is much better than our seeing it. Better for the Judge to see my innocence than for me to think I see it. It is very comfortable for me to know that I am one of God’s people–but whether I know it or not, if the Lord knows it, I am still safe. This is the foundation, ‘The Lord knoweth them that are His.’ You may be sighing and groaning because of inbred sin, and mourning over your darkness, yet the Lord sees ‘light’ in your heart, for He has put it there, and all the cloudiness and gloom of your soul cannot conceal your light from His gracious eye. You may have sunk low in despondency, and even despair; but if your soul has any longing towards Christ, and if you are seeking to rest in His finished work, God sees the ‘light.’ He not only sees it, but He also preserves it in you. ‘I, the Lord, do keep it.’ This is a precious thought to those who, after anxious watching and guarding of themselves, feel their own powerlessness to do so. The light thus preserved by His grace, He will one day develop into the splendour of noonday, and the fulness of glory. The light within is the dawn of the eternal day.”


New Year, Eternal Savior

2018 is here, bringing new hope, new beginnings, and new resolutions. The new year can bring second chances and a clean slate, and it can seem so satisfying to turn the calendar page away from the hurts, worries, and failures of the past year and begin anew.

But there’s something about the yearly change of the guard that leaves me on edge. Those new hopes leave my heart open to new disappointments, those new beginnings can suddenly come to a close, and those new resolutions can be quickly broken. Even by the end of January 1st, I realize the challenges of living in this world, and I sense the strength of my flesh warring against me.

I don’t need a second chance. I need a Savior.

I’ll never get it right on my own. I don’t even stand a chance. The world likes to tell me that I can do it, but the reality Jesus reveals is that “apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). As much as that ruffles the feathers of my pride, deep down I know it’s true. I know I’m in need of a God who offers not second chances, but new life.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
2 Corinthians 5:17

In Christ, I am a new creation. Not a better me, but a new me. A me that’s blameless and above reproach in God’s sight. Jesus Christ has accomplished once for all what I could never hope to attain in a lifetime: He has made me right with God. At the foot of the cross, I am pure and holy for all time. Having once shed His blood, He has washed me completely, and I don’t need a new year or a new start, because what He offers is sufficient. His grace is enough.

Yet I’m often tempted to believe that it’s not enough. Sometimes I think that I need another new start, that I need to do something to begin again, and I inadvertently reject the truth that the regeneration God has worked in me is sufficient. I listen to the lie that says that I’ve ruined His new creation with my sordid sin. I begin to feel useless to serve the Lord, and I imagine that I’m a reject product of God’s workshop.

When that happens, I have to shift my mind off of hopelessness and onto the Giver of hope who has made me acceptable in the Beloved. I need to remember that in God’s courtroom, Jesus is my Advocate, and that when the Righteous Judge looks at me, He sees His Son.

As I walk daily with the Lord, even in the midst of my seeking Him, I will sin. But He has made provision for my every need, including forgiveness and cleansing. He picks me up and dusts me off and helps me keep walking. Never, never again do I need to fear wrath and condemnation. I never need to look for a new stain remover for my sin, and I should never feel too far gone, because the good that the Lord has begun in me He will complete. No matter how I fail this year, His mercies will be new every morning – not just on New Year’s Day.

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
Ezekiel 36:25-27

I’m not going to be a new person in 2018 because I already am a new person, clean from all my uncleanness, with a new heart softened toward God. I don’t follow Christ perfectly, but His forgiveness is enough to cover me, His life is enough to get me through life, and by His Spirit and Word I can continually be renewed and have the courage to overcome.


His Grace is Sufficient

“Whatever is good, Christ’s grace is sufficient to bestow. Whatever would harm, His grace is sufficient to avert. Whatever you need, His grace is sufficient to give, if it is for your good. Whatever you would avoid, His grace can shield, if His wisdom dictates.”


A Time to Pray

My heart is broken for our nation. Having refused to love the Lord, we now find the ability to love one another slipping through our fingers. Why are we surprised that we cannot obey the second greatest commandment when we have failed to heed the first? If what is divided is to be brought together and made new, we must be dependent upon the Great Physician who heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

I don’t have simple solutions, profound answers, or innovative plans that would make everything right. Even if I did, they would be a brittle, fading, and insufficient response to the present need. To trust in any person – a friend, a teacher, a leader, or myself – is both dangerous and disappointing. It is better to fall helpless and broken, in need of wisdom and grace, at the feet of an all-sufficient, ever-present, and enduringly trustworthy God.

Understanding cannot come through tireless thinking, or agreement through ceaseless arguing, or rest through endless effort. No human endeavor can suffice when a God-sized solution is required. Only Jesus can change hearts of stone to flesh, only He can break down dividing walls of hostility, and only in His love can we learn what love truly is – not a warm and fuzzy feeling, but a perfectly complete, wholly undeserved, and entirely selfless sacrifice.

In the spiritual battle we face today in our country, I refuse to surrender to human vision, or capability, or reasoning, or reassurance, or willpower. I look to the Captain of my salvation, whose weakness is stronger than the greatest human might, whose foolishness is wiser than the accumulation of all knowledge, and whose love is more powerful than any earthly attempt to find reconciliation and peace. Nothing and no one else will do.

I think it is best to follow in the footsteps of those counted faithful before us – Abraham, Moses, David, Esther, Daniel – and pray with humility, intercede with expectancy, and find strength in our God. Perhaps you would like to join me in praying

For a mind to understand the times, how God is working, and what we ought to do

For the discernment to recognize the Spirit in a world of many spirits that are deceitful and false

For the strength to hold fast to truth in the midst of lies

For feet that walk in justice, mercy, and humility before our God

For the decrease of our own kingdoms, and the glory of His

For the composure to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves

For the ability to forgive when we are wronged and seek forgiveness when we wrong others

For an ear that listens, not prepared to win an argument, but ready to minister with compassion, truth, and gentleness

For the wisdom to recognize needs and the grace to satisfy them

For an open heart that shares generously

For a hunger to hear from God daily in His Word, and for a thirst for righteousness

For the boldness to share the gospel in season and out of season

For the dignity to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry

For the meekness to possess a righteous anger that does not sin

For hands that are willing to wash the feet not only of friends, but of those who will betray us

For eyes always fixed on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

I don’t know if God will reach down in mercy to heal a land that has turned its back on Him, but I know that He can heal you, I know that He can heal me, and perhaps through us He might begin to bring healing to those around us. In the midst of the mighty winds, raging fires, and terrifying earthquakes, may we perceive the quiet whisper of that still, small voice and follow the One who speaks.


Set Free

Hallelujah! I have found Him
Whom my soul so long has craved!
Jesus satisfies my longings;
Through His blood I now am saved.1


What a beautiful and perfect covenant it is that satisfies the infinite righteousness and eternal love of the Lord of Hosts yet is mindful of me, to satisfy the searching of my soul. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).

“The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Revelation 22:17). How glorious that we who are thirsty and desiring of the water of life may still take it freely. How cool and sweet and pure it is! It is beyond price and obtained without payment. In great mercy and grace the Lord has passed through my Samaria and has spoken such curious and good news – that I need not draw water from earth again. He has met me at my broken cistern and shepherded me to a fountain that never runs dry. And there I have found the Scripture to be true, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3).

Our Father is faithful to provide for my every need. The least of His riches are far better than the sum of the world’s treasures. Just a drop of His grace outweighs oceans of human striving. His name is the LORD who Provides. As He sent the manna in the wilderness, He daily sustains me by His Word. And though it is not I who bring payment or provision, it is He who Sees for Himself a Lamb.

Truly no man can ransom another
or give to God the price of his life,
for the ransom of their life is costly
and can never suffice.
Psalm 49:7-8

But He is merciful and says,

Deliver him from going down to the pit;
I have found a ransom.
Job 33:24

As when He began His work in me, so it has continually been thus far. He knows all the days ordained for me and the needs of each one. “As your days, so shall your strength be” (Deuteronomy 33:25). For it will never be my strength, but only His:

He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might He increases strength.
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.
Isaiah 40:30-31

How I need to remind myself every day of what the Lord has done for me! How I need to trust the great love He lavishes on me! How I need His heavenly perspective to assure my heart. Because He remembers me continually, because I am inscribed on the palms of His hands, He has willingly forgotten my sin and no longer holds my transgressions against me. He chose me before the foundation of the world and predestined me for adoption, and not an adoption at arm’s length, but by a Spirit crying “Abba! Father!” He has made me accepted – now, despite my imperfections – in the Beloved.

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD;
my soul shall exult in my God,
for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
He has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
and as a bride adorns herself with jewels.
Isaiah 61:10

Jesus took on my humanity and bore my sin that I might be clothed in His righteousness. What more can I do? What more do I need? My God and Father has caused me to stand holy and blameless before Him according to His will and has seated me with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. I need not say with Adam, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself” (Genesis 3:10). I need not cover my sin with the blood of bulls and goats or the dirty rags of my good deeds. No, for He has carried my cross on His shoulders and placed His royal robe on mine, and I may boldly come near to the throne of grace and dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

How lovely is Your dwelling place,
O LORD of Hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God.
Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at Your altars, O LORD of Hosts,
my King and my God.
Psalm 84:1-3

It is a peculiar truth that as a bondservant I am free, that I who once was a slave to sin, to fear, and to my accuser, should find freedom under the shadow of my Master’s wings. My Redeemer has bought me at the highest price and set me free.

Forever Free.

May I cease striving and know that He is God, that He will be exalted among the nations and in all the earth, that He does as He chooses, and nothing can stay His hand. All that He says will come to pass, and He has assured me that He will keep me from stumbling and present me blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy. The only God, my Savior, began His work in me by the Spirit and will complete it, not by my works in the flesh, but through His own righteousness credited to me and perfected in me by the power that raised Jesus from the dead. Nothing more can be added; it is finished.

It is finished, it is finished,
No longer need I labor for His love,
For Christ fulfilling the Law of God
Was deemed by God to be enough.2

I need to stop – stop trying to earn God’s love, stop trying to prove my stature as His child, and stop minimizing His grace by casting it in the shadow of a looming mountain of requirements and religious inventories. I need to stand firm and not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

I am no longer under law, but under grace and led by the Spirit. I am no longer instructed by the tutor, but by the Wonderful Counselor and Mighty God Himself. He has high standards, but it is not I who live, rather it is Christ who lives in me.

So I will stand in the gospel. I will build all my life and hope on the bedrock of grace. And I will rest, knowing that the battle is the Lord’s, that it has already been won, that my enemies have been put to open shame, and that I can walk day by day beside the Lord with my head held high as more than a conqueror.


1.  “Satisfied,” Clara T. Williams
2. “It is Finished,” Jimmy Needham