A Shipwrecked Life

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I love to flip through my Bible and see notes I have written in the past, reminders of a season or situation where the Lord came through or bestowed a particular blessing on me. The Bible tells us often to remember the works of the Lord and these notes serve as “memorial stones” to God’s active work in my life. I ran across one this morning that brought back a flood of memories – but not good ones. I had received some advice that disagreed with my plans. I ignored it and went head-first into a situation that turned disastrous further down the road. On June 2, 2013 I was terribly discouraged, grieving my foolishness, regretting my choices, and trying to gather up the pieces of my shipwrecked life (it didn’t help that the advice-giver was giving me the “I told you so” speech).

In my daily Bible reading, I came to Acts 27 where Paul had been arrested for preaching the gospel. He had pled his case before the local Roman rulers and was sailing from Jerusalem to Rome to stand before Caesar. It was a long journey and a choice had to be made to spend the winter in a safe harbor or chance the dangerous winter weather. The ship’s captain and crew ignored Paul’s warning not to set sail. As predicted, a fierce storm broke out while they were at sea and the ship was being torn to pieces. Their lives were in grave danger and they were desperate. Paul addressed the weary, frightened crew: “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete, then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. But now, I urge you to keep up your courage . . . do not be afraid, and . . . have faith in God” (vv 21-25, sel.).

My personal side note reads: “You should have taken ______’s advice. You would have saved yourself a lot of trouble and heartache. But now . . . keep up your courage. Do not be afraid . . . have faith in God.”

You may be regretting some life decisions today. You may be dealing with some unpleasant, hard consequences of some reckless choices you made that you wish now you hadn’t. Or like Paul, you may be suffering in the aftermath of someone else’s foolishness. Beloved, keep up your courage, don’t be afraid, and have faith in God. He has not written you off because of your recklessness. He has not given up on you because you made some bad decisions or got swept away in some else’s shipwreck. He is in the rescuing business. He rescued Paul and the ship’s foolish crew. He rescued me. He will rescue you too. The sea may be rocky, but your Savior walks on the water.

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The Life of the Party

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“My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you . . . “ (Psalm 42:6)
I used to throw amazing “pity-parties.” Like celebrations of ancient royalty, I could stretch a good bad mood for days on end. Of course, these soirees were always a solo affair. No one ever seemed to want to come. But a good pity-party was best when it was just me and my dark thoughts. Well, I stand corrected. There was always one guest I could count on every time: Satan. He loved my parties almost as much as I did. He brought the snacks and fed me hopeless thoughts and dismal forecasts. He lowered the lights and played the music of loneliness: “See, nobody notices that you are down. Nobody cares about you. Nobody loves you.” He was the perfect companion and kept the “party mood” going.
But something happened – or Someone happened. God. I discovered an incredible thing: it is hard to keep a pity-party going when God is around. Misery flees when the love of God is present. Despair has no place where there is hope and peace and Joy. Lies cannot exist in the presence of the Truth. And Satan will not stick around when God is in the house.
I still have down days and I will always fight against depression, but I’ve discovered a new way to “party.” I invite God as my Guest of Honor. He feeds me with His goodness and love when I meditate on His Word. I listen to the Spirit now instead of Satan’s playlist. I take negative thoughts captive and replace them with what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. God had brought light where there was once only darkness. He truly is the “Life of the party.”

I Need Peace

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I need peace. I need peace in my home and peace in my mind. I need peace in the midst of struggles and anxiety. I need a peace that doesn’t depend on knowing that everyone in my family is behaving and there’s enough money in the bank. I need a peace that doesn’t hang on having all the answers. I need a peace that:

  • “transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). In today’s language that means I can have a peace that doesn’t make sense, a peace that defies the circumstances of my life.
  • looks up, that “sets your heart on things above” (Colossians 3:1). Peace comes when I keep my heart set on “the hope that is stored up for me in heaven” (Colossians 1:5).
  • trusts in the heart of my Father, knowing that He is aware of my needs (Matthew 6:3) and is not just able to meet them, but delights in doing so (Matthew 7:9-12).
  • doesn’t deny the real challenges of life but “lets the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (Colossians 3:15). That is, I need to let the words of Christ answer my doubts and questions.
  • knows I’m not alone, that God is always with me. A peace that knows “the LORD your God . . . will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). 
  • calms the storm within me, even while the storm rages around me. I need to hear Jesus say to my heart and mind, “Peace. Be still.” (Mark 4:39).

How do I get this peace? Can I make it? Where can I buy it? Could I even afford it?

There’s only one place to find this peace – Jesus. And it is free for the taking. He said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (John 14:27). Jesus offers real peace for real life. Do you need peace today Beloved? Come to the source where peace overflows. Come to Jesus.

Real Faith for Real Life

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“Take your stand and see this great thing which the Lord will do before your eyes.”  1 Samuel 12:16, NASB

How can we learn to have real faith in a real world full of real problems in our real lives?  By focusing our hearts on a real God and our minds on a real Word. Let me give you an example from my own life.

No too long ago I was dealing with a heart wrenching situation and there was nothing I could do to change it. God knows I tried. After several exhausting months, I finally came to the point of understanding it was out of my control. So my next step was to I beg and plead with God to fix it.  As it drug on and on and took many twists and turns, I began to have physical and emotional health issues from the stress. I was sorely distracted from the work God had called me to and thought about giving up.   Then I realized that was just what the devil was after – to make me abandon the kingdom work and run back into my protective shell. But God (oh, how I love those two words!) began to slowly turn my heart from desperation to dependence.   I started meditating more on God’s character and less on the problem at hand. I began searching the Scriptures so I could pray God’s Word over the matter.   I stopped telling God what I thought He should do and began telling Him that I trusted Him in whatever He chose to do. God gave me a phrase that became like a mantra whenever Satan started to taunt me over the situation: “I have rested the matter in the hands of my Father.”  Mind you, the issue still wasn’t resolved, it continued on and for a time looked even bleaker than when it first began. The devil continued to hammer away at me, but I ran that phrase over and over in my head, and often spoke it out loud so that the enemy could hear me.  I cannot describe the peace that filled my mind and heart.

Beloved, that is real faith for real life. It is making the moment by moment determination to keep your focus on God’s power, faithfulness, strength and promises.  It is trusting in Him rather than trying to solve the problem on your own.  It is looking into the Word of God for a word for your soul, and praying His will through His Word. It is coming before Him in raw honesty and allowing Him to soothe your wounded heart and calm your frantic spirit. And most importantly it is holding up your shield of faith (Ephesians 6:16), remembering His character, remembering His Words and choosing to believe that He is with you in the battle; and God never loses a battle.

God, I Don’t Understand

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One of my favorite ways to study the Bible is digging into one book and examining it passage-by-passage, verse-by-verse, and even word-by-word. There is so much wealth in every word of Scripture. I enjoy looking at each word as if I’m looking at all the different facets of a diamond. I love to study word definitions and etymology because one of the most important aspects of Bible study is to understand the author’s original intent. Because the meaning of words change from time periods and cultures, we often read a first-century word with a twenty-first century understanding and it affects the way we interpret, and thus apply, Scripture. For example, when Paul writes about “slaves” you and I picture the horrific slavery of America in the 1800-1900’s. But slavery in the Middle East in the first century was often a business transaction or even a relationship of loyalty between slave and master. So when we examine a passage such as Ephesians 6:5-8 we can have a better understanding of the concept of slavery when Paul told slaves to “obey your earthly masters with respect and fear and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.”

But is slavery really the point Paul is making here? If we pull back from this close-up of one word, we see that the bigger picture is that of obedience to and for the Lord. Pull back a little more and this section is sandwiched between family instruction and the armor of God. Once again the bigger picture is all persons doing all things “in the Lord” and being “strong in the Lord” (v. 1, 10). Pull back even farther and we see the whole theme of Ephesians is living as who we are “in the Lord.” As helpful as it is to examine each verse in a passage and even each word in the verse, we must not lose sight of the bigger picture. You could take this macro-vision even farther by noting that the entire New Testament is what God has done and is doing “in the Lord.” What is the focus of the entire Bible? The Lord.

Right now, you may be dealing with something very difficult and all your attention is centered on this one thing in your life. It’s all you can see. You are hyper-focused on this single issue, person, or struggle. You are looking at it from every possible angle, trying to figure out how you got here and testing out various solutions in your mind to determine the best course of action. Friend, you need a wider perspective. May I encourage you to pull back just a little and look for the bigger picture? This issue, person or need is one word in one sentence of one paragraph on one page of your entire life story. But it isn’t your whole story. God has a much bigger purpose in mind than just the solution to one problem in your life. Over and over the Bible tells stories of people who had a challenge—infertility, oppression, imprisonment, slavery, rejection, even lack of basic life necessities—and God moved in such a way that the resolution to their challenge became a much larger and more God-glorifying part of their story.

I find great comfort in Jesus’ words in the upper room: “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (John 13:7). When I want to say, “God I don’t get this; I can’t figure out what to do here” I hear my Lord say, “You can’t grasp it now child, but you will understand when you see the bigger picture.” Beloved, there is a bigger picture. There is a higher purpose. There is so much more to your story than you can see in the moment. Give God your troubles, your struggles, your difficulties and watch Him unfold something you never imagined. Your life is so much more than this moment. Trust the Author of your life story. He has a beautiful, wonderful ending in store for you.

In the Morning

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I wait for the Lord, my soul waits. And in His word, I have put my hope.  My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen wait for the morning.  More than watchmen wait for the morning.  Psalm 130:5-6

 If the past eighteen months have taught me anything at all, it is that waiting on the Lord is never futile.  It may be uncomfortable, it may be nerve-wracking, and even a bit frightening, but it always ends with blessing.  I have also learned that the key to waiting is to put my hope in God – not in an outcome, but in the Person.  The outcome I hope for may or may not come to pass.  But I can put my hope in God because He never fails.

 The Psalmist understood that as he talked about watchmen waiting for the morning.  The city slept as the watchman kept vigil.  His responsibility was to be alert for any possible danger.  It was an intense and exhausting job.  And he couldn’t wait to see the sunrise so he could go home to his bed.  As he stood guard in the black of night, he never once doubted that the morning would come. It came yesterday.  It came the day before that and the day before that and all the days before – all the way back to the day when God said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3).  It was dark through the night, but the morning never failed to come.

 You and I can hope in God through the night because He never fails to come in the morning.   He comes just as surely as the sun rises morning and morning.   Even more than this – He is the reason the sun rises morning after morning.  Yes friend, God always comes.  No power in heaven or earth could keep him from coming, not even death. 

He comes every morning with new mercies (Lamentations 3:23).

He comes with glory (Exodus 16:7).

He comes with redemption (Ruth 3:13).

He comes with listening ears (Psalm 5:3).

He comes with rejoicing (Psalm 30:5).

He comes with strength (Psalm 59:16).

He comes with wonders (Psalm 65:8).

He comes with unfailing love (Psalm 143:8).

He comes with a sustaining word (Isaiah 50:4).

He comes with justice (Zephaniah 3:5).

He comes with resurrection power (Luke 24:1-6).

He comes with daily provision (John 21:4).

He comes with His Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4).

He comes with the Morning Star (Revelation 2:28).

 

He comes with peace.

He comes with joy.

He comes with promise.

He comes with faithfulness.

He comes with unfailing love.

And when you hope in Him, He comes with even more hope.

Beloved, are you surrounded by the darkness of a long night?  Put your hope in the Lord.  Morning is coming.   Like the sun that rises at dawn, He always comes.  Keep watching.  Keep waiting.  Keep hoping.  The Lord your God is coming.

Are You Disappointed With Me God?

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“I am so disappointed in you.” She could have hit me, grounded me and taken away my car, and it wouldn’t have cut me as deeply as knowing I had disappointed my Mom. Her words stuck with me for many, many years and colored my life and my relationships. I have always feared disappointing others – teachers, bosses, friends, family, strangers. And most especially God. Oh, I know I am saved and have eternal life – that is rock-solid. But I have carried this sense of being a disappointment to God for as long as I can remember. Until this morning, and something the Lord impressed on my heart.
Paul wrote often about being “in Christ,” meaning to trust in Him for salvation and eternal life. And I have. That also means that Christ is “in me” (John 17:23). I in Christ and Christ in me. By that, God considers me as one with His Son and all that the Son has is mine (Corinthians 3:21), including His righteousness before God (Romans 3:22). Now come stand with me at the water’s edge and hear the Father’s words as Jesus emerges from the Jordan River: “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). This, too, is mine in Christ. This rocked my world this morning: God is never disappointed in His Son. And because I am in Christ and Christ is in me, God is never disappointed in me. Friend, the same is true for you – if you are in Christ, He is never disappointed in you.
“But,” you argue, “Jesus was perfect and sinless, and I am not.” It doesn’t matter. You and Christ are one in God’s eyes. “But I am disappointed in myself.” That doesn’t change the truth. You are in Christ and Christ is in you. God is not – will never be – disappointed in you.
When you grab hold of that, it will change everything. It will become your mantra when the enemy tries to dump shame on you. “There is no condemnation for me, because I am in Christ Jesus!” (Romans 8:1). You will “approach the throne of grace with confidence,” (Hebrews 4:16) because you know He gladly welcomes you into His presence.
Beloved, when God looks at you, He doesn’t see the foolish, sinful person you think you are. He sees His Son in you. And He says – “This one is mine, the one I love, with whom I am well pleased.” Not disappointed. Ever. Christ in you and you in Christ. It’s a beautiful combination.

God in the Darkness

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It was thirteen years ago, but I remember it like I am still there. My season of great darkness. To this day I don’t understand why, but the enemy came down on me with both feet. It was an emotional breakdown and it was spiritual oppression. It manifested physically in sleepless nights and body aches with no medical explanation. I could not stop the tears and the constant thoughts of self-destruction. I truly believed I was losing my mind. I had been writing for several years, and I threw all my notebooks in the fireplace because I didn’t think I would ever have normal, sane thoughts again. And I thought God had abandoned me. The enemy kept telling me so. One day my then 12 year old son came through the kitchen singing, “Jesus loves me,” but he stopped short of the chorus. I said, “please keep singing” but he said, “you finish it Mom, I’m going out to play.” But I couldn’t sing “Yes, Jesus loves me,” because I didn’t believe He did.
One morning in the very wee hours, I sat on my back porch, wrapped in a blanket with my Bible in my lap. The only thing I knew for sure was it I had any hope of survival, I had to stay connected to God, even if I wasn’t sure He wanted to stay connected to me. I was reading Exodus 3 and the story of Moses and the burning bush. When Moses asked God’s name, I “heard” in my heart, “Child, who am I?” “You are God,” I answered, “who else could you be?” “Oh, there is so much more to me than you ever imagined. Know me.” I remembered a little book I had picked up for five bucks at a women’s retreat a few years before, that had a list of the names of God with Scripture references. I started at the first name and day-by-day worked my way through that list. God met me and revealed Himself to me every morning, name by name. I researched more names and for three years I studied until the fog dissipated and I could breath again. He saved my sanity and my life.
Now I know that He is El Emunah – the Faithful God and He is Yahweh Sali – the Lord my Rock and He is Yahweh Gibbor Milchamah – the Lord Mighty in Battle. But most of all I know that He is El Hayyay – God of my life. And He’s proven it over and over and over again.

Christians and Depression

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“Elijah was a man just like us” (James 5:17).

I’ve been studying Elijah lately for one reason: I wanted to understand why, after all God has done for me in recent months, I could tumble into depression. Elijah was a prophet of God – a very outspoken prophet – and most of his outspokenness was directed at King Ahab and His queen, Jezebel who were evil personified.  Elijah predicted a season of drought because of the evil and idolatry in Israel. During that drought, God miraculously provided for the prophet – he never lacked for his daily needs.  Elijah defeated and put to death the 450 prophets of Baal, Jezebel’s god, and showed the Israelites the power of Jehovah. Because of him the people’s hearts were turned back to the Lord. What a victory! Yet when Jezebel got wind of it all, she threatened Elijah. And the prophet ran. Depressed and overwhelmed he begged God to take his life.  Despite all that God had done for him and through him, Elijah wound up in the pit – or cave as it were – of despair.

I can identify with old Elijah.  God has been so good to us through a very difficult year of health problems, unemployment, family strain, and financial hardship.  So why this downward spiral into depression?  It isn’t the first time I’ve battled this – I am prone to the grip of depression, and it often comes on the heels of blessings and fruitfulness.  I suspect, based on conversations and comments, that I’m not the only one.

I see some similarities between Elijah and me.  The old prophet was physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted.  The long-standing conflict with Ahab, three years of drought in the land, coupled with the intensity of the showdown with prophets of Baal drained Elijah.  Likewise, we struggled for over a year with my husband’s work-related injury, surgery, rehab and battles with worker’s comp and his company.  I had made a disastrous job change and was miserable. We were caught up in a great deal of relational tension with a family member.   Then the heat intensified.  My husband could not go back to work, so now we faced settlements, disability, and the loss of his income.  When my employer found out I was looking for another job, they hired my replacement before I had a job to go to.  Faced with double unemployment and a minimal settlement, we realized all we could do was move back home near family.  Two days before we loaded the truck I was hit with a severe leg infection and excruciating pain. That meant medical bills with no insurance and no income and nearly a month of being flat of my back.  God had graciously led us to a great house to rent, but before we could move in, the house flooded from an open tap and we juggled furniture around while the floors were replaced and I tried to recuperate with the daily noise of saws and hammers.  There was the added anxiety of being separated from our adult son for the first time in his life as he decided not to move with us.  As soon as I was back on my feet I began searching for a job with disappointing results. 

But God had been good to Elijah by miraculously providing for His prophet, and He did the same for us.  Despite all our struggles, God poured out blessings on us and provided generously and unexpectedly.  And He eventually opened the door to a wonderful job for me at a small Christian college nearby.  You would think, with all this, I would be on the highest of highs.  But I soon found myself crashing physically, emotionally and spiritually. Like Elijah, the long drawn out struggles and intensity of the recent months had drained me.  Elijah fled to the desert, a fitting place for a dry and weary soul.  There he begged God to let him die, “I have had enough, Lord” (1 Kings 19:4).  And the overwhelmed and exhausted prophet lay down and slept the sleep of the depressed.  While I haven’t physically run anywhere, I have retreated into an emotional desert of discouragement and weariness.  That is why, you may have noticed, I have been silent on my blog and social media the past month or so.  I just haven’t had the energy or the heart.

So how did Elijah come out of the darkness of despair?  The same way I will.  Through God’s tender care and hearing the voice of the Lord.  As Elijah slept in the desert, God sent an angel with food and strengthened him so that he had just enough energy to get to the mountains where he hid in a cave.  But it was there, in a dark and lonely cave, that the God of mercy and grace spoke to him in a gentle whisper.  I am seeking the help of a physician to deal with the physiological aspects of depression, and I am digging into the Word to glean the whispers of God for my soul and spirit.

Why am I sharing this less-than-encouraging message with you?  Because I don’t want you to think I am some super-Christian through the words I write.  I am just as prone to the struggles and hardships of life as anyone.  The have the same discouraging effect on me as they do on you.  In all honesty, I write to encourage myself as much as to encourage you.  And I am just as prone to failure in my walk as anyone – but that’s a post for another day.  I’m also sharing this because someone else is struggling with depression – someone who loves Jesus and is doing their best to be a good, faithful Christian.  You’re questioning your faith because of this season of darkness.  You may even be questioning God’s love for you.  And the enemy is using that to his advantage.  I hear the accusations too: “If you were really a Christian you wouldn’t be depressed.  God is so disappointed in you.  Why don’t you quit pretending to be something you’re not?”  I hear the reminders that Christians are supposed to be full of joy, joy, joy!  So why aren’t you?  There may be many reasons; everyone’s situation is unique.  And there is no shame in reaching out for help.  Doctors, counselors and others have the God-given wisdom and expertise to treat depression.  Please get the help you need. Today.  I am writing this so that you, my weary and hurting friend, will know that there is no shame in depression – even for Christians.  The Bible shows that we are in very good company in this cave – Moses, Elijah, David, Jeremiah, and Paul all expressed similar emotions and seasons.  Many of the great men and women throughout Christian history struggled with depression.

I am also writing this to let you know that God really does love you – even in the pit or desert or cave of depression.  He is not angry or disappointed in you.  He has not written you off.  In fact, He has drawn near to you, like a loving parent does when their child is hurting.  He speaks gentle whispers of love and encouragement, and He tenderly wipes away the tears on your face.  Let Him love you.  Let Him minister grace to you.  Beloved, there is hope for you and for me in the face of depression.  I’m going to get better and so will you.  God is too good to leave His child in pain. He will turn the darkness into light.  We have His Word on it.