A God Who Remembers

The angel said to him: “Do not be afraid Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.”  Luke 1:13

 twilight-505849_640Have you prayed for something for so long that you finally gave up?  I confess that I have, but I’m so thankful that God remembers, long after my hope has faded.  We learn from the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth that God indeed hears our prayers and answers – but not always in the way or the time that we expect.  Their story is found in Luke 1:5-15 – take a few minutes to read this, I’ll wait right here for you.

This godly couple were said to be “upright in the sight of God” (v. 6), they were faithful and obedient in every way. Why, then, did God withhold the one thing that they desired – a child? Children were one of God’s greatest blessing to a Jewish family. Psalm 127:5 says “Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of [children].” Shouldn’t they, who were upright before God, have more blessings than anyone else? We look at this from our human perspective and say “This is not fair,” but God has another perspective, a perfect and purposeful vantage point to this whole situation – one that would fulfill prophecy and bring Him glory.

I am sure that Zechariah, like Isaac may years before “prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren” (Genesis 25:21). Doubtless they both prayed, and their families likely prayed, but to no avail. After many, many prayers over many, many years, it seems they accepted reality and adjusted their expectations to what would never be. They ceased praying for a child, because after all, “they were both well along in years” (Luke 1:7).  I mean, logically, isn’t there a time to give up on wishes and get on with life as it is?

Ah, but God had heard those prayers, and He was about to turn their lives joyfully upside down!  Zechariah was about the have the wildest meeting of his life.

In accordance to the Lord’s command, incense was offered morning and evening and the priestly ranks was so large that a priest could only make this offering once in his lifetime.[1] Lots were cast to determine who would be so privileged, but most priests never got the chance. On this particular day, Zechariah “was chosen by lot”.   But he was not there by “chance.”  Consider what Provers 16:33 says: “The lot is cast in the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”  His presence in the temple was less about the incense and more about what God wanted to do for him. The old priest was there because, in His perfect order of time, God had answered an old, forgotten prayer for a child.

I wonder if, when the angel spoke the words of our key verse, Zechariah thought, “What prayer?”  It had been so long, and they were “well along in years,” “surely,” he might have said to himself, “he can’t mean that prayer.”  But that was indeed the prayer that the Lord had set in motion.  At this one moment in time, on the cusp of the greatest event in history, God was saying “Yes!” to this simple couple’s heartfelt prayer – their lives – and the world would never be the same.

My friend, God hears your prayers.  He hears with the heart of a Father who loves you deeply, and He hears with the power of a God who can move heaven and earth to answer you. Does that mean that every prayer we utter is a “Yes” from God?  No – and that is a hard thing to hear when your heart aches before Him.  For reasons we are not always privy to, God sometimes says “No,” or “Not yet.”  But it is always spoken from that Father-heart that wants only the best for His child.  God does not withhold from us anything that is for our good according to His purpose in our lives, He is more than generous in His good gifts.  But when He must say “No,” He reveals that to us, so we do not have to pine and agonize over that which cannot be.  I know this to be true from very personal experience.

Is there something for which you have prayed for a very long time?  Is there a prayer that you once presented fervently in daily petition to God?  If you do not have a clear word from Him to lay that prayer down, then do not give up.  Don’t assume that God has forgotten about you and that prayer.  Keep your hope and trust in Him alive and remember that He is faithful and loving and always working for your good and His glory.  Who knows when an angel of the Lord will greet you and say, “Your prayer has been heard!”

Holy, faithful, loving Father – You have heard the prayers of your children, and You keep them before you, to answer in Your perfect time, according to Your perfect plan.  In fact, the only thing about your children that You ever forget is our sin.  Help us keep our eyes on You and wait for Your “Yes.” Amen.

[1] Gary M. Burge and Andrew E. Hill, The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2012), 1061-2.

Photo: https://pixabay.com/en/twilight-alone-sunset-dawn-nature-505849/

When Sin Can’t Hide

cat-393294_640You may be sure your sin will find you out.  Numbers 32:23

The Christian community has been rocked in recent weeks (months, years) with the revelation of several people who profess Christianity yet have acted in the most un-Christlike ways.  Almost all of these have been caught up in some form of sexual sin.  The media have jumped on these incidents and made them into six-inch headlines.  Anti-Christian activists parade these moral failures in their continuing effort to discredit Christianity.  Their comments are full of hate and venom.  The name of Jesus Christ is being publically dragged through worse than mud – more like stable muck, all because public (and non-public) Christians say one thing and do another.  The shame of it is the message they are espousing is valid and necessary, and in the case of the gospel, life-changing.  But the message is lost in the actions of the messenger.

Paul spoke a warning that rings true today: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Romans 2:24).  The name of God, the Son of God, the Church that He established and the faith that carries His title are blasphemed, derided and mocked because Christian integrity has gone out the window.  Integrity in the Bible is defined as blamelessness, innocence, soundness and purity.  Jesus was a man of integrity; He was true, genuine, reliable, and trustworthy, and what He spoke was valid.  By definition, the opposite of biblical integrity is to keep secret and hidden, to escape notice.  But sin will not go unnoticed by the One who sees everything.  God declared, “My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes” (Jeremiah 16:17). One of the greatest heroes of the Bible found that out the hard way.

David was the king of Israel, a position given to Him by Jehovah God, who brought him from the sheep-folds to the palace in Jerusalem.  David was a man of God, He knew the Lord intimately and knew all that he was and all that he had came from His hand.  But David wanted one thing God forbade, Bathsheba, the wife of one of his officers.  Despite his power in Israel and his relationship with Jehovah God, the king took the path of sin and entered into an adulterous relationship with the woman.  When Bathsheba learned she was pregnant, David sent orders for her husband, Uriah, to be killed in battle so that he could marry her.  Bathsheba gave birth to David’s son, and for a while all seem well hidden.  David continued to observe the practices of the Jewish religion, all the while stuffing his sin deeper and deeper into a pit.  But God saw, and God confronted David through the prophet Nathan, who upon telling a fictitious story of one man’s sin, pointed his finger at David and declared “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7).  David was overcome with grief over his sin and prayed for cleansing, but the end result of his actions was the death of his and Bathsheba’s child.  (Read the whole account in 2 Samuel 11:1-12:18.)

The consequences of David’s actions were the same as the consequences of the sinful actions of those in the public eye who have been caught in child abuse, pornography and marital scandals – devastation. The Bible assures us that the consequence of a lack of integrity is destruction. Marriages have been destroyed, families have been ripped apart, children harmed in horrific ways and reputations have been ruined forever. In addition to these, the Christian witness has been made a thing of ridicule and spite. The consequences in some instances are eternal. Many will reject any thought of Christ and salvation because of the sinful actions of Christians, in the public eye as well as in the house next door.

Solomon wrote: “The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes a crooked path will be found out” (Proverbs 10:9).  Trust me when I say, you cannot hide sin deep enough.  God can see through every shovelful of dirt you try to pile on top, and in this day of media investigation, your secrets won’t stay secret very long.

How can believers in Christ counteract this trend? We must become people of integrity, and of genuine faith, committed to uphold the name and reputation of Jesus Christ. We must surrender our sinful, lustful desires and lay hold of the power of the Holy Spirit to live godly, pure lives so that no one can point a finger at us and ridicule the entire Christian faith. Peter wrote: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us” (1 Peter 2:12). That is the kind of people we must be. We must determine to live in such a way that no accusation can be made against us and there is no hidden sin to be revealed. Let us commit to be Daniels in our generation, people of whom it can be said “No corruption could be found in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent” (Daniel 6:4). Integrity will always shine forth in this dark world. Let’s be people of light and illuminate the way to the Savior.

Holy Father, I am not a perfect person, but I desire to be a person of integrity, a follower of Christ in word and deed and an example of holiness in my generation. Amen.

 

In the Wineskin of Suffering

communion-wineI am in the middle of packing and moving, so I am re-posting a devotional I wrote two years ago.  I pray these words may bless and encourage you.

“Those who suffer He delivers in their suffering.”  Job 36:15

 Why must we endure suffering?

The question of suffering has plagued mankind since the days of Adam and Eve, and the answers we have crafted vary far and wide, often raising even more questions.  Why do some suffer and others seem to live a life of ease?  What possible good can come from suffering? Why would a loving God let His creation suffer? How can we avoid suffering?  Should we avoid suffering?

I have had seasons of suffering, and so have you.  At times I thought I would not survive those sufferings, the depth of pain and struggle was more than I could bear.  I have prayed for people I love in their times of suffering.  I have looked around at the ease of others, and questioned God’s fairness is allowing me to suffer while He showed His favor to someone else.  At the same time, someone else has considered my life one of ease and comfort in comparison to their own sufferings.  We will all encounter trials and troubles – no one, no matter how wealthy, brilliant, beautiful or godly, will be exempt from suffering.  I have wrestled for some kind of understanding in the matter of suffering.  By no means do I think I have all the answers or have figured out God’s mind on the subject, but I have found tremendous insight and comfort in His Word, and I hope it will be a blessing to you.

I find that suffering is one of God’s most effective tools in shaping us.  Like a sculptor with a chisel, sometimes God must use His tool of suffering to “chip away” at those things in our lives that would mar His finished masterpiece.  His plan is to make us like His Holy and Perfect Son, Jesus Christ, and He must remove anything from us that is not Christ like.  It is a lifelong and often painful process.  We can take comfort in knowing that the Father also allowed His Beloved Son to suffer.  The writer of Hebrews identifies two reasons for the suffering of Jesus.  Hebrews 2:9 says that “he suffered death so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.” In His great mercy and grace, God allowed His Son to suffer that we might be saved from eternal death, that is, eternal separation from Him.  This thought completely fills me with awe: Jesus Christ endured separation from His Father so that we would not have to.   He endured tremendous suffering for you and me.   Amazing!  Hebrews 2:10 follows by saying, “It was fitting that God should make the author of [our] salvation perfect through suffering.” If Jesus was made perfect through suffering, and God’s purpose for us is to be like Jesus, we will also endure suffering as God’s means to achieve His end.   This is why Peter wrote “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1: 6-7)” The good that comes from suffering is that our faith is being perfected and we are becoming more and more like Christ.

As I was reading recently in Jeremiah, I discovered something I had never considered before.  Jeremiah 48 is God’s message of coming destruction against the nation of Moab, one of Israel and God’s many enemies.  Jeremiah 48: 11 says “Moab has been at rest from youth, like wine left on its dregs, not poured from one jar to another-she has not gone into exile.  So she tastes as she did and her aroma is unchanged.”  You see, in making wine, the grapes are first crushed to extract the juice which is placed in bottles or wine skins and allowed to ferment.  During fermentation, the dregs, or sediment, settle at the bottom of the container.  After forty days the wine is poured into another container to allow the dregs to be removed.  If the dregs remain, the wine becomes too sweet and thick and it is spoiled.  Moab had always been largely at peace, and their turmoil-free life had made them spoiled.  The Lord gives the same description of the city of Jerusalem when he says, “I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think the Lord will do nothing, either good or bad. (Zephaniah 1:12)”

Sometimes God has to “shake” us out of our complacency.  I know that this has been true for my life.  God has used times of suffering to pour me from one container to another so that He can remove the dregs, and keep me from become thick and spoiled in the syrupy sweetness of complacency. If you find that hard to believe, consider that the Gospel of Christ and the Holy Spirit are the most powerful and effective in countries where Christianity is prohibited and Christ-followers are persecuted.  The suffering they are enduring for the Name of Jesus Christ strengthens their faith in ways the Western Churches do not see, because – at least for now – we do not endure real suffering for our faith. We have become satiated and complacent, and our witness as the Body and Church of Christ has become thick and sweet on its dregs.  Is it any wonder our nation has such disregard for God – as if to say “the Lord will do nothing, either good or bad.”?

Suffering in the life of those who claim the name of Christ is not without purpose.  Suffering shakes us out of our settled complacency, and removes the influences of the world that threaten to spoil our witness.   Suffering makes us more like the One who suffered for us, perfecting us to fulfill God’s purpose and will.    Revelation 2:10 is a powerful message to all of us as we endure suffering: “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer…Be faithful, even unto the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

Holy God, I do not want to be complacent in a world of people who think “the Lord will do nothing…”  Shake me up that I may be a witness for Jesus Christ.  Amen

While You Wait

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.” Psalm 130:6

I sat in the doctor’s office and grew more frustrated every minute I waited past my appointment time. “Why do they schedule me for 2:00 if they’re not going to call me back before 3:00?” I fumed in my head. I had things to do, important things, yet there I sat seething inside and  impatiently flipping through a 3-year old issue of People magazine. After I was finally called back, it was another 45-minute wait in a lovely paper gown before the doctor breezed into the room. I am a pretty patient person most of the time, but long drawn out waits really do me in. Whether we’re waiting for an appointment, for a job to open up, or your kid to come back home, or waiting for a long and painful season to end, waiting is hard.   I think what makes it hard is how we wait.

Genesis 16 tells us the story of Sarah, the wife of Abraham, who was unable to conceive a baby. In the Ancient Near East, children were the mark of a man’s strength and a woman’s worth. A woman who could not bear children was disgraced in that time and culture. And as a woman who battled infertility for seven years, I can tell you the cultural disgrace was nothing compared to the agony in the heart of a woman with empty arms. To add to her despair, the Lord had promised them that Abram would be the father of a great nation (Genesis 12:2). Twelve years had passed and there was still no baby. Tired of waiting, Sarah determined Abraham should father a child with her handmaid, and when Hagar learned she was pregnant, everything went sour. Sarah was jealous, Hagar was arrogant and Abraham was caught in the middle.   God permitted this act, but assured Abraham that this son, Ishmael, was not the heir He had planned. Sarah did have a child some thirteen years later, Isaac, who was the child of the promise. There was tremendous tension between the two half-brothers. The conflict between Ishmael and Isaac still rumbles today in the constant battles in the Middle East, all because a woman grew impatient with God.

By contrast, look at Joseph, the great-grandson of Abraham and Sarah, who was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape and thrown into prison. While in prison, “The warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in prison . . . because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did” (Gen 39:22, 23).   One day, he thought he had found his ticket to freedom.  He interpreted the dreams of two of his fellow prisoners, one of release and one of death. The cup-bearer who got the better interpretation promised to speak on Joseph’s behalf, but forgot his promise upon his release. For two more years, Joseph remained in prison. But the Bible gives no indication of resentment or despair on Joseph’s part.  In his youth, God had made promises to Joseph in dreams that showed him lifted up in a position of authority and status, and Joseph trusted the Lord and was sure those promises would prove true – which they did. When the cup-bearer finally remembered his promise, Joseph was released at just the point in Egyptian history that he could be used by God to save his family and the entire Israelite race – the people from whom our Savior, Jesus Christ would come.

You see, how we wait is as important, if not more so, as the act of waiting itself. And whether we wait patiently or impatiently has everything to do with our vision of God. For Sarah, God was not trustworthy and she took matters into her own hands to force God’s promise to come to fruition. But Joseph believed God to be faithful and trustworthy, a God of His Word. Joseph waited for God to act on his behalf and in the waiting he faithfully served and ministered right where he was – in a prison. He did not continually query the jailer to learn how close his release was. He didn’t sit and sulk and become embittered. Sarah failed to trust God and the result was disastrous – and has kept the entire world in turmoil ever since. Joseph trusted in God and as a result, his family was saved from famine, and salvation came to the entire world through one of Abraham’s descendants – Jesus Christ.

Our key verse comes from Psalm 130, a cry for the Lord to rescue and redeem His people Israel. The Psalmist says “my soul waits for the Lord,” and this is not just aimless waiting, it is from a Hebrew word that means “to hope in, to look for, to expect (emphasis added).” It’s the difference between waiting with doubt and fear of disappointment and waiting for something you are certain will come.   Notice that the Psalmist twice says he waits “more than watchman wait for the morning.” Have you ever gone outside before dawn, while the night was still black to see the sun rise? Would you have been out there if you didn’t think the sun would actually come up? We watch for the sunrise because we know it will come, and when it does it will be a glorious sight. The watchman stood guard through the night, scanning the inky horizon, knowing that when the first rays of light hit, he could go home to rest.

When we are in a position of waiting, whatever we may be waiting for, we must adopt the attitude of the watchman and trust that when the waiting is over, the sun will shine in a glorious light and our rest will come. We must follow the model of Joseph who waited, confident that what God had promised him would come to fulfillment, and in the waiting gave himself to serve and minister wherever he was.

The biggest difference between Sarah and Joseph was that Joseph knew God to be trustworthy and Sarah did not. Sarah assumed that God had forgotten them and had forgotten His promise. Joseph knew that God had not forgotten him and He would be faithful to His promise. Perhaps it was a hard-won lesson that Sarah passed down to her great-grandson, but it was a lesson that brought God’s salvation not just to a family, but to an entire nation and to the entire world.

So I ask you, what has God promised to you? Do you trust Him to fulfill that promise? Then spend your waiting season serving wherever God has placed you for the moment, and know that when the waiting is over and the promise comes, it will be more glorious than you ever imagined.

Holy Father, it has taken me many, many years, but I am slowly discovering that You never forget your promises. You are forever faithful, even more dependable than the sunrise! Amen.

Where Faith and Life Collide, part 2

at_the_crossroad_by_hermanne_allan_poe“So Abraham called that place, ‘The Lord Will Provide.’” Genesis 22:14

In my last post, “Where Faith and Life Collide,” I told you of my family’s upcoming move and how I was certain God was working in this change for His good purposes. I also told you that I was living in that place where my faith in God was being tested, because we needed to go to our new town to look for a place to live, with essentially no money to make it happen. Would I trust God? Would God come through for me? I promised you the rest of the story, but first I want to give you a glimpse into a wonderful facet of God’s character which is revealed in the Hebrew name: Jehovah Jirah – the Lord my Provider.

When we think of the provision of God, we think of God materializing the things we need, putting the rent money in the mail, or the food on the table, and that is very often exactly what He does. He has done so many times for me. But the name Jireh comes from the Hebrew word ra a, which has an even deeper meaning.  This is the name that an Egyptian slave-girl on the run from her cruel mistress gave to God when He found her in the desert.   She was pregnant with the child of her mistress’ husband. You may recognize her as Hagar, the slave of Sarah, and mother to Abraham’s son, Ishmael. God met her in the desert to tell her that He saw her miserable situation, and she was not alone. She gave the Lord the name Jehovah Raah – the One who sees me. The word ra a means “to see, look, realize, know” and from it we gain, not just an understanding of God who gives us what we need, but of God who provides for us because He sees us, He knows us and He give to us from the heart of a Heavenly Father who keeps a tender eye on His children. His provision is tailored to our specific need in our specific situation, and it is always good.

And this is the God who went with us to our new town. Our plans had been to leave early in the week and start our search, but our schedule had to be pushed back by a few days because my husband had injured his leg and needed a few days of rest, ice and elevation. In those days of delay, God provided the funds we needed to secure a place to live. We arrived in our new town and spent several hours the first day tracking down places we had found earlier on the internet. The more we searched, the more we realized this was not going to be an easy task. Why we thought it would be, I have no idea. The next morning we set out again, this time meeting up with my husband’s new co-worker and having him drive us around for several hours looking through neighborhoods and wondering if we would ever find anything. We did not see a single place to rent. We looked at apartments and nothing seemed right. We continued our search after parting company with our guide, and returned to our hotel exhausted and very discouraged.

As I sat at my laptop that evening, I remembered a friend recommending a website, so I checked it out and saw an ad for a place that sounded like what we were looking for. At 10 p.m. I shot off an email and crawled into bed with a whiney prayer for God to please help us. The next morning as we continued to ride around the town and scour newspapers and neighborhoods, a reply to my email came through. We immediately drove to the location and within minutes found the place that we both knew was our new home. Within the next couple of hours everything came together and our hearts sang songs of gratitude to Jehovah Jirah for providing as only He could do.

I discovered later that the ad I saw had only been placed an hour before and the place would not have been available had we come earlier in the week as we had originally planned. The ad was placed the day after we had planned to come back home. God has planned and orchestrated this entire move. He has prompted us at just the right moments, led us to the right places, and even slowed us down to make all things come together according to his timing.

There is a little piece of marble that sits on my laptop, just below these words as I type them that says “. . . relax . . . God is in control”. I know those words are true. I know because the Bible tells me they are true, and I know because my life bears out the truth of those words. God has moved in ways that only He can to guide me, provide for me, protect me, chasten me, lift me up, and set my feet on the right path. He controls my life and every circumstance.

I don’t know what you need today, but I know God is the answer. Maybe it seems small and insignificant to others – know that God sees it. It may be so huge it overwhelms you – trust that God has His eye on you and on your situation. He only asks you to believe that His love for you is as big as His ability to care and provide for you. Nothing is outside of His watchful gaze. Nothing is out of His control. No problem or need is too big for the God of the Universe. And you are not too small for Him to notice. He is Jehovah Raah – the God who sees you. He is Jehovah Jirah – the God who will meet your needs. He is in control.

Holy Father, thank you with all my heart for providing for our needs and guiding us to our new home. You are indeed the God who sees me and cares for me. You are in control of every aspect of my life. I trust you Lord. I know I am in the strongest, most capable and loving hands. Amen.

Where Faith and Life Collide

oakland-county-dangerous-intersections“Then Jesus answered, ‘Woman, you have great faith. Your request is granted.’” (Matthew 15:28).

Every Christian knows that God desires faith from His people. Hebrews 11:6 says that faith is necessary to please God. On six occasions the Scriptures say that Jesus commended the faith of those who came to Him in need by saying “Your faith has healed you . . .” and in the case of the woman who anointed His feet, Jesus told her “Your faith has saved you . . .” He confronted the disciples for their lack of faith and commended the Roman centurion’s faith. In fact, it seemed the Gentiles (those who were not Jews) were cited more often for their faith than His own followers were. What does it mean to have “great faith”? And how do we come to that kind of faith?

First, let me note that we are not talking about saving faith – the faith that constitutes belief in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross to save us from our sins. Saving faith recognizes our need to be cleansed of our sin and our sinful nature and turn to Jesus as the only way to be made right before God. That faith is essential before any other faith can be enacted. If you do not have a saving faith in Jesus Christ, I invite you to read my devotional Please Forgive Me and learn how you can put your faith in Him and be saved. And if you do, please let me know so that I can rejoice with you!

By definition the faith we are looking at, in the Greek has a very explicit meaning: the word pistis means “a belief or trust, with the implication that actions based on the trust may follow” (emphasis added). Faith, as Jesus and the other New Testament writers used the word, is not simply sitting around thinking theological, ethereal thoughts about God. This faith is down to earth, practical for everyday life – and powerful for the not-so-everyday stuff we face. Faith did not appear with the coming of Jesus, it is as old as – well Noah. Noah obeyed God’s command to build an Ark despite the fact that rain had never fallen on the earth up to that point. God said “it is going to rain,” and it was settled for Noah, he went to work building the boat that would save the remnant of God’s creation. Another great example of faith is Abraham, who believed God would fulfill His promises and was rewarded with a son – a son whom Abraham was prepared to sacrifice to the Lord as a demonstration of His faith and trust in God. Again Abraham’s faith was rewarded and he came to call God Jehovah Jireh – the Lord my Provider (Genesis 22:1-18).  Faith and actions go hand-in-hand, which is why James declared “I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:18). Faith, as the Bible expresses it, is lived out by actions that prove our firm conviction that God can and will do what He promises to do. This kind of faith is tested and proven in the fires of life.

Which is why I am writing this post today. God is putting my faith to the test in a huge way. My husband’s employer is transferring our family to another state. This a location we have always wanted to live in and it is a step-up in his career.  The job is a tremendous opportunity for him and will be a blessing to our whole family. I say the employer is behind the transfer, but I have no doubt that God is the orchestrator of this transition. We were not looking to make a move, the Lord just brought this to us and set it in place in four days. To say we are excited is an understatement. To say I am overwhelmed is another understatement. There is so much to do and such a short time in which to do it. The packing isn’t the concern for me, I’m a military brat and I learned from my mom how to pack up my whole life and relocate on a moment’s notice. What has my stomach tied up in knots is finding – and financing – a place to live. You see, we have been a “one-paycheck-family” for more than a year as I’ve pursued a seminary degree (oh yes – I have to keep my school work up while all this goes on!), and our savings is non-existent. My husband and I have arranged to go to our new town five days from now to find a place to live and I have been scrambling this week trying to find the money we will need for this move, for deposits and moving trucks and so on. It’s not coming. And yes, before you ask, I have been praying diligently.

So here is where my faith and my life come to a collision point. If I believe God has put this into place – and I do – do I have faith that He will provide and lead us to a place to live as well? Or is His part done – He has arranged the transfer – and we are left on our own to figure out the rest? The bottom line: Do I believe God is completely faithful when He promises “Your heavenly Father knows that you need [all these things]. But seek first His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow” (Matthew 6:32-34). Do I trust Him when He says “My daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask.” (Ruth 3:11)? Do I go to our new town to look for a place to live with no money in hand and no clue how or when it will come? This is the real stuff of life. Is my faith great enough to meet the challenge?   What does Jesus say? “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed . . . nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20). Do I even have a mustard seed of faith?

So – I’m letting you bear witness to what can happen when we have even a little bit of faith in a faithful God. With shaking hands I am declaring that we will go to look for this place – a place I am confident God has already picked out for us – whether I have money in hand or am as empty-handed as I am today. I’m going to believe God is Jehovah Jireh – the Lord my Provider and that He will be faithful to me just as He was faithful to Abraham. I’ll report back to you in a few days. The truth is, it’s not my faith that matters here, it is God’s faithfulness – and of that I am rock-solid sure.

Holy Father – I’m counting on You. You have never let me down before and don’t expect you will now. Lead us and provide for us as only You can Lord, and I’ll shout Your faithfulness from the rooftops. Amen.

Unfinished yet Complete

13_19_4_web“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known” 1 John 3:2.

There is something in us that longs for completeness. Donald Grey Barnhouse tells this story: “The children of the great composer, Bach, found that the easiest method of awakening their father was to play a few lines of music and leave off the last note. The musician would arise immediately and go to the piano to strike the final chord.”[1] For many years, a house in a near-by neighborhood stood framed, but incomplete because the owners did not have funds to finish the building. I have many craft projects started but shoved aside and unfinished. We have all started painting projects at home or gardening projects in the yard, a craft project, a book we want to read (or write, as I look in the mirror) and stopped before the task was done. We run out of time or funds or energy or motivation. We lose interest and give up. I am so thankful that God is not like me, He has never started anything He did not bring to completion.

Consider creation. God planned each day the project He would start, and at the end of every day the Scripture tells us God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25). At the end of creation week, after the earth and the heavens, the sun, moon and stars, plants and animals and human beings were made and all things were set in order, “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good” (1:31). He set out with a purpose, to create the universe and all that would inhabit it, and He worked until everything was done. Psalm 33:11 says “The plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” He has a plan and a purpose and the power to fulfill everything He puts His hand to. He never leaves anything unfinished. And that includes you and me.

The question then is, “What is His plan for our lives?” I don’t mean the details of where we live, who we marry, what job we take or how we serve Him, although they are encompassed in God’s full purpose. But Paul tells us that God’s perfect plan is to “conform us to the likeness of His Son” (Romans 8:29). His whole “project” is to make us into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. To make us walk like Jesus and talk like Jesus and live like Jesus and love like Jesus. This work is done through the Holy Spirit that lives in the believer as, day-by-day, God chips away at our selves to reveal more and more of Christ is us.   It is not easy nor painless. It is not a quick process or a one-and-done. It is a life-long daily transformation, that will involve struggle and heartache and we will often become weary and restless – unless we remember God’s purpose.

I look at my own life sometimes, all my starts and stops of Christian growth, all the vows I made to change my life for good (only to have to make the same vow again the next day and the next) and wonder if God has given up on me. Has He finally decided that I am just more trouble than I’m worth? Has He become frustrated with me (as I do with myself) and moved on to someone who is more capable, more intelligent or more “spiritual” than me? Is He just going to leave me here in this unfinished state?

The Bible assures us that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). God never takes on a project without knowing the full cost, the time and effort involved, and – most importantly – a vision of the end result. You see, when God picks up his brush and approaches the canvas of our lives He sees a completed portrait and every stroke of light and dark that He applies is done with the image of His Son in mind. Our perspective is vastly limited, but His is perfection. God knows “the end from the beginning” and He has declared “My purpose will stand. What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned that will I do” (Isaiah 45:10, 11).

I remember a song I taught to the children at church once that I think is just as appropriate for adults.

He’s still working on me

To make me what I need to be

It took him just a week to make the moon and stars

The sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars

How loving and patient He must be

‘Cause He’s still workin’ on me[2]

If you are frustrated because you just can’t seem to “get it right,” don’t give up on yourself. God hasn’t.

Holy Father, I am so thankful that You never give up on anything You start. You started working in me the moment You saved me, and You won’t quit until all You see in me is Jesus. I am Yours to mold and fashion according to Your perfect design. Amen.

 

[1] Donald Grey Barnhouse, quoted by David Jeremiah, Agents of the Apocalypse: A Riveting Look at the Key Players of the End Times, (San Diego, Turning Point, 2014), 86.

[2] Joel Hemphill, He’s Still Working on Me, 1980, Hemphill Music Company/BMI

A Light in the Darkness

LightInDarknessGod is light; in Him there is not darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

It is only a brief memory, when the sky went black as night in the middle of the day. I was in school when the intercom in the classroom crackled to life and the principal’s calm but strained voice came through. Everyone was to immediately get into the interior hallways and sit against the wall with our heads tucked between our knees, arms covering the back of our necks. This was no drill – this was the real thing. As we trooped out of our classroom we saw through the windows – nothing. Blackness wrapped around our school as if someone had thrown a heavy blanket over the whole building. Several of us began to cry as our teacher tried her best to put on a brave face. We knew something very bad was happening – it wasn’t supposed to be dark in the middle of the day. Several tornadoes were reported in the area that day. Eventually the weather passed and we were relieved to see light coming in through the windows again. We even spotted a rainbow in the rain-washed sky.

What a blessing when light replaces darkness – in the sky and in our lives.

The name of God that reflects His character and His first act of creation is Yahweh Ori – the Lord my Light. Genesis tells us that “in the beginning . . . the earth was formless and empty and darkness was over the surface of the deep” (Gen. 1:1, 2). The first thing God did was “turn on the lights.” Genesis 1:3 tells us “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” Interestingly, this was not the day God created the sun, moon and stars – that occurred on the fourth day of creation. No this light was called forth “from a fixed source outside the earth,”[1] The light came from God Himself.

What is light? Light can only be described as a contrast to darkness. In both Genesis 1:4 and 1:18, when God created the sun, moon and stars, the Bible says the light was created “to separate the light from the darkness.” They are two polar opposites – darkness is nothing but the absence of light. There was nothing, utter darkness – then God emanated light from Himself and that light dispelled the darkness.

Darkness happens every day when the sun sets; it happens when the skies turn black with a storm’s fury. Darkness happens in the world when evil and wickedness rule over men. That is why God sent “the true light that gives light to every man” (John 19) – His Son Jesus Christ. The hearts of men are darkened by sin, so Jesus came as “the Light of the world’ and He promised that “whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). The light that Jesus offers is a powerful light that nothing can extinguish. John 1:5 declares “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it.” Jesus quoted Isaiah 9:2 when He said of Himself “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16). Consider this – when Jesus died on the cross, Luke 23:44 tells us that “darkness came over the whole land.” For several hours the darkness was like that blanket that seemed to wrap around my school – total blackness – the evidence of the death of the Light of the World. But on resurrection morning, Jesus burst forth from the grave and the Light of Life broke the grip of darkness over the hearts of men. Jesus is the Light and He brings Light to the darkness of the world.

Darkness also occurs when our hearts and minds are gripped with sadness, grief, hurt, anger, bitterness or despair. This is darkness within our spirit and Yahweh Ori brings His light to bear in our sufferings too. David said in Psalm 139 “If I make my bed in the depths . . . if I say surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me, even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day for darkness is as light to you” (vs. 8, 11-12) When your circumstances are shrouded in darkness, when grief shakes your soul to the core, when defeat and discouragement threaten to snuff out the last rays of light in your life, you can be assured that God stands ready to bring His Light to your heart. His light encourages and strengthens us to take the next step, to get up the next morning, to draw the next breath. David also said “You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light” (Ps 18:28).

Jesus also tells us that when His Light shines in our lives, we become “the light of the world” (Matt 5:14). We are bearers of His light and we have the power to shatter the darkness in the world around us. We live in His light and our lives shine that others may see. When we walk in the light of Christ we are “children of the light and children of the day” and we “shine like stars in the universe” (1 Thessalonians 5:5; Philippians 2:15). That is the kind of influence I want to have – to bring the light of love and truth into the darkness of sin and suffering.

As the creation account in Genesis shows us that God brought light into the darkness of the universe, Revelation tells us that there will be no source of light other than God and Jesus in heaven. “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp” (Rev. 21:23). There will be no darkness, because the eternal light of the Lord will be always shining. Where there is Light, no darkness is found.

Perhaps today it is dark in your world, there may be gathering storm clouds that no one else sees but you. Maybe you have given darkness a foothold in your life through a sin that has you hiding from the light. You might be experiencing the darkness of sorrow or disappointment or hurt. Whatever the cause, know that when you invite in the Light of the World the darkness is overcome by the brightness of God’s love and goodness.

In the dark of night, in the dark night of the soul, in the darkness of evil in this world Yahweh Ori – The Lord my Light shatters darkness and illumines every shadowy corner.

Yahweh Ori – You are my Light and my salvation (Ps 27:1), You gave me eternal light when You saved me and You give me light in the dark times in my life. With You as the Light of my life I will never be overcome by the darkness.   Amen.

 

[1] John J. Davis, Paradise to Prison: Studies in Genesis, (Salem, Sheffield, 1975), 49.

Names of God Series: Yahweh Rohi – The Lord My Shepherd

shepherd-and-lamb-pic2“God has been my Shepherd all my life to this day” Genesis 48:15.

I remember a painting I saw in a church, a depiction of the Shepherd Psalm – “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want” Psalm 23:1. The scene was a rocky mountain-side and a little lamb was precariously tangled in a bush growing out of the side of the cliff.  A shepherd stood over him, reaching out to bring him back to safety.  What has stayed with me ever since I saw it was the expression on the face of the lamb  – it was a look of utter trust and confidence in the shepherd with not a trace of fear.  It was a look that said, “I’m glad you’re here. I know you will save me.”  This is the image of God that I love the most: Yahweh Rohi – The Lord my Shepherd.[1]

In describing the Lord as a Shepherd, David wrote out of his own experience because he had spent his early years caring for sheep.  Sheep are completely dependent on the shepherd for guidance, protection, and provision.  The welfare of the sheep depends solely on the care they get from their shepherd.  The better the shepherd, the healthier and happier the sheep.  When you see weak, sickly, or pest-infested sheep, you can be sure that their shepherd does not really care for or about them.

The shepherd guides the sheep by leading them to the good pasture.  The 23rd Psalm reveals God as our guiding Shepherd, and us as sheep who follow Him.  How does He guide us?  By His Word as we study the Bible every day, by His Spirit as we listen to Him speak to our hearts, and most importantly, by His example in Jesus Christ.  Jesus’ life on earth is our example of trust and obedience, the two most important attributes for a sheep. He always obeyed His Father in everything and because He trusted Him, Jesus’ life was marked by peace even in the face of the cross.   When we allow God to guide us, we have peace and contentment.  Our Shepherd knows where to find the green pastures that nourish us and the quiet waters that restore us.

The shepherd is also the protector of his flock.  Sheep are easy prey for predators.  They have no natural defensive abilities and are easily panicked.   The put their head to the ground and graze, never bothering to look up to see where they are or what is around them.  Sheep have been known to graze right off the edge of a cliff.  A sheep who strays from the protection of the shepherd is completely vulnerable.  The good shepherd knows where the sheep are at all times, calling them back to safety, and searching diligently for them when they stray too far.  The shepherd fights for his sheep – a hungry wolf is bold enough to attack the flock even with the shepherd nearby.  The shepherd must defend his sheep from these attacks even at the risk of his own life.   Jesus said “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).  And He did – He gave His life for you and me, to save us from the enemy who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).   The shepherd is always on duty, even at night.  In the evenings sheep were brought into a simple enclosure for the night, it might be stone or mud-packed walls if they were close to home, or just branches twisted and bound together in the open.  In order to keep them safe, the shepherd would sleep with his body across the opening of the sheep pen to keep his flock in and predators out.  This is what Jesus was describing when He said, “I am the gate for the sheep” (John 10:7). He protects His sheep day and night.

The good shepherd also made sure his sheep were well-fed.  Sheep were completely dependent on the shepherd to provide good pastures in which to graze.  The shepherd constantly scouted out the best pastures and would lead his sheep to good land.  Because sheep eat continually, the shepherd always had to be prepared with the next pasture in mind.  Sheep couldn’t wander long looking for food – it needed to be available to them every day.  As the Good Shepherd Jesus meets the needs of His flock, both for physical food and for spiritual nourishment.  He fed multitudes of people in his earthly ministry, surely we can trust Him to provide for us as well.  He provides Himself as nourishment for our souls through the Sacrament of Holy Communion.  As we partake of His Blood and Body, our souls are being fed and nurtured.  Jesus is our provider for body, soul and spirit.

The good shepherd has a special, tender relationship with his sheep.  He knows them by name and he talks with them so that they know his voice.  He laughs at their antics and comforts them when they are hurt.  Many a shepherd sings his sheep to sleep at night.  Theirs is an intimate relationship, like a father caring for his children.  Jesus, as the Good Shepherd knows each of us by name and He talks with us so we can learn to recognize His voice – if we’ll listen.   He draws us close just to be with us; He comforts us when we are hurting, binds up our wounds and applies His healing grace.  Not only that but He “will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). Imagine that – drawn up in His embrace as His voice floats down on you with songs of delight.

No wonder the image of the shepherd is one of God’s favorite ways of expressing His care and love for us.  It captures the beautiful relationship of God and His people.  The Lord our Shepherd – Yahweh Rohi – will guide us to the green pastures and still waters, He will protect us and care for us with tenderness and love.  He will cover us with goodness and mercy all the days of our lives; and when this life is done we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23:6).

Good Shepherd, how blessed I am to say “The Lord is my Shepherd – I am His little lamb.” Amen.

[1] Alternately: Yahweh/Jehovah Roi

Out of the Darkness and into Life

 

crying-eyes-wallpapers-31“I will exalt You, O Lord, for You lifted me out of the depths . . . O Lord my God, I called to You for help and You healed me. O Lord, You brought me up from the grave; You spared me from going down into the pit” Psalm 30:1-3

Memory is a powerful thing. It can bring us delight in the thoughts of a loved one, or joy in the remembrance of a special day. It can take me back to the innocent days of childhood or allow you to recall again the arms of your daddy carrying you up to bed. Memories can also cause grief and pain to resurface, people whose absence haunts us, or situations that come rushing back from dark times we’ve tried to forget. I experience one of those painful memories in, of all things, a computer game. It was a game I played for mind-numbing hours when sleep escaped me and anxiety overwhelmed me. It was one of the deepest, darkest seasons of my life.

Like most of us, I’ve had “blue days” when my heart and mind were in a low place, but they usually came and went in a day or so. Many times they were connected to disappointments, frustrations and hormones (every woman reading this just nodded her head).   But they didn’t prove to be debilitating so I just rode them out like waves at the beach. Until a tsunami of anxiety and depression hit me and knocked me off my feet with a force I’ve never felt before. There was no riding this one out. There was no jumping back to my feet. There was no shaking it off, no bootstraps to pull myself up by, this was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. Night after night I lay in the bed trying to sleep, racked with body aches and mental anguish. When I did manage to drift off, as soon as my body relaxed, my muscles would jerk me awake from the tension I held all day. The cycle repeated itself hour after hour, night after night. I drudged through my days in a sleep-deprived stupor.

As bad as the nights were, the days were even worse. The constant bombardment of hopelessness, anxiety, and despair never left me. I cannot describe in words the mental torment I experienced, but anyone who has endured that kind of hell knows exactly what I mean. While I don’t condone it, I came to understand how people suffering from severe depression might welcome the relief of death. At one point I stood in my kitchen contemplating which knife would do the job the quickest when my son came in for a drink, and I realized I couldn’t do that to him. I never thought about suicide again.

I had been writing in notebooks for years, before blogs were ever the thing to do, thinking someday there might be something to my words. But in the midst of this season, I believed I would never get my mind back, never be able to write anything that made sense, and I threw years of writings in the fireplace and watched my words curl up in the flames and turn to ashes. I couldn’t bear to be constantly reminded of what I had lost and would never get back. Besides, I reasoned, I won’t be able to take them with me into the mental institution I saw as my future.

So how is it that I am here, ten years later, writing these words to you now, pursuing my dream to study as a seminary student and finding joy in my life again? How did I go from the deepest pit to standing here with the sun shining on my face? In a word – God.  Even from the beginning, I sensed that if I had even the smallest chance of survival, it would only be if I clung to God like a drowning man clings to a life preserver. Somehow – no, not somehow, I know how – deep in my spirit I knew that God could rescue me. I knew that if I grabbed onto whatever I could of Him, I had a sliver of hope. The truth is, I wasn’t clinging to God because all along God had been holding on to me. The only solace I found was in my Bible, in the pages of the Psalms. They speak to every emotion man experiences, and they were the words I couldn’t find at three o’clock in the morning. I read the Psalms constantly, wrote them in my prayer journal, prayed them aloud and wrote my own. They were my lifeline to God. They were God’s gift to me.

And one more thing – one early morning as I was reading Psalm 19, I noticed how David called God “my strength, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, my shield and the horn of my salvation” (vs. 1-2). I sensed God speak to my heart, “Child, who am I?” “You’re God,” I said, “Who else could you be?” Again in my heart I heard “There’s so much more to me than you realize. Know me.” Those two words rang through my mind the entire day – “Know me.” I remembered a small book I had picked up several months earlier at a conference, Time Out: Planning a Personal Prayer Retreat, by Mary Kassian. It was published just for the retreat – I bought it for $5 – but it had listings of the names of God in Hebrew with scripture references. This book became my personal study manual as I poured over each of those names, looking up the Scriptures and writing each one out. I began to see God as I had never seen Him before. God was Yahweh Magen – the Lord my Shield, Yahweh Rophe – the Lord my Healer, El Emunah – the Faithful God, and the name that became most precious to me, El Hayyay – God of my life. Every name gave me renewed strength and hope and peace. In studying the names of God I felt like a parched, cracked desert suddenly graced with spring showers, drinking in liquid life.  That study continued for six years as I found more resources with more information. I began to study the original word terminologies in the Hebrew, a passion that has carried over in my studies and writing today. The God of the Bible literally saved my life. I will be sharing some of these names in a series of blog posts in the coming weeks. I pray you will find new facets of who God is and come to appreciate His multi-dimensional nature. I hope you will find a special name that becomes your personal, intimate connection to your Creator.

It was two very long years before I could sense a return to “normal” (whatever that is), and I still have bouts with depression from time-to-time. I learned later that I was experiencing a serious chemical imbalance that triggered the depressive episode. Medication is part of my self-care routine, but I always turn back to the Psalms and my studies of God’s names when I feel myself heading down into the pit again. I’ve learned through study and by experience that whatever I need – whether a Rescuer, Helper, Redeemer, Rock, Shield, Defender, Healer, or Comforter, God is always and forever El Shaddai – the Almighty Sufficient God. He is whatever I need.

El Hayyay – You are the God of my life, You saved me from my sins and you saved me from despair. You are Yahweh Shalom – the God of Peace, for only You could bring peace to my misery and pain. You will forever be Eli Maelekhi – God my King, and I will forever serve You. Amen.