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.”

Hollow Faith

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Waking up on Easter morning when I was a kid meant a new dress and new shoes and an Easter basket at the foot of my bed, loaded down with goodies. There were always jelly beans and marshmallow treats and a book about Jesus. There was usually a necklace or bracelet in mine, while my brothers got toy cars and trucks. But best of all – there was CHOCOLATE! Chocolate coins and chocolate eggs wrapped in thin foil that always tore when you tried to open them. And the bunny. The smiling chocolate Easter bunny who stared at me with his little frosting eyes and beckoned me to nibble on his ears. Oh, I could not resist his charms. One year I pulled my chocolate friend out of his cellophane home and bit down on his ear and got a shock. The chocolate caved in and broke apart because the bunny was hollow inside! Mama didn’t realize the bunnies she bought for us were not solid. My brothers and I felt cheated. We had counted on solid milk chocolate that we could gnaw on for several days. We got a thin veneer of chocolate that was gone before bedtime that day. There was no substance to our chocolate Easter bunnies, they were just a shell.

Paul warned believers to be on guard against “hollow and deceptive philosophies” (Colossians 2:8) of this world that will try to fool us and draw us away from the solid truth of Christ Jesus. They are a very real and present danger to the Christian. Unlike Christ, in whom is “all the fullness of [God]” (v. 9), they are empty and foolish and they crumble under the bite of real life. Unlike Christ, who is eternal, these philosophies have no substance and no staying power, they are founded on the shifting values and priorities of the world. Even in my lifetime “right and wrong” have been turned upside down by the culture. Hollow, worldly philosophies are ever-changing. “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). And unlike Christ who is the Truth, they are rooted in lies and deception. At their core they deny the reality of God and His authority and put humanity on the throne of existence (Romans 1:18-25). And the sad truth is, they are not limited to the world; they are prevalent in the church as well. In Paul’s day it was the “higher knowledge” gospel and the “Mosaic-law” gospel. Enemies of the Christianity held to secret knowledge as the way to God while the Jewish traditions demanded obedience to the Law of Moses, including circumcision. Today we have the “prosperity” gospel, the “social” gospel, the “humanitarian” gospel, the “political” gospel, and on and on. All of these are hollow shells of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Beloved, when the winds of hardship howl and the heat of spiritual battle rages, you need something more than a hollow, Easter-bunny faith. You need something you can depend on, something that will last. You need the solid truth of God, His Son, and His Word. You need a faith that will not crumble. You need the solid rock that is Jesus.

God’s Sonnet of Love

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Her hands were rough from years of hard labor. Her face was lined with deep wrinkles from years of living. Her body was bent, her legs weak as she shuffled along. But still she carried herself with a grace that belonged to women in a royal court, not in a grocery store in Alabama. She was scanning the flowers on display in my floral department when I greeted her and offered my assistance.

“My great-granddaughter is coming for lunch today, I want some pretty flowers to let her know she is special to me.”

“How old is she?” I asked.

“She just turned 16 last month. Oh, she’s had such a rough time lately. She’s a little on the heavy side, and the kids in school have been so mean to her. But she’s a wonderful girl and I want to help her see that she is special to me and special to God.”

“She very blessed to have you – I sure could have used those kind of words when I was 16.”

She reached her rough, wrinkled hand across the counter to mine, “Sweetheart, hear it now, you are special to God – like I tell my girl – you’re His poem.”

I placed her bouquet in her cart, hugged her and thanked her for her purchase and her sweet words. She reached up and patted my cheek, “Look up Ephesians 2:10 dear.” I smiled because I knew the verse well: “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” I’ve referenced it often in the context of being created by God for a purpose and a good work. But I dug into it again when I got home. As I studied, I saw that the original Greek transliteration of the word workmanship was poiema – from which we get our English word “poem.” I read that verse again with a personal touch, “I am God’s poem.” What a wonderful thought!

Beloved, do you know that you are also God’s poiema? You are His sonnet of love, of grace and beauty and rhythm in a world that is ugly and chaotic. When you look in the mirror you may see freckles or wrinkles, blond hair, or strands of grey. You may see someone with a little extra weight, or the effects of time and life etched into your face. But never forget that you are looking at the pièce de résistance of the One who created stars and mountains and vast oceans. You are the expression of God’s creative brilliance and power. You were formed and fashioned to show the world the creative beauty of the Author of your life. You, beautiful one, are a masterpiece.

When God Doesn’t Make Sense

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“He makes everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

When his two co-prisoners had strange dreams, Joseph interpreted them accurately and the men met the fates that Joseph had described. The chief baker was hanged, and the chief cupbearer was restored to his position. Joseph had asked the cupbearer to mention his unjust imprisonment to Pharaoh. “Surely,” Joseph must have thought, “I will finally be released from this prison.” But the Scripture says, “The chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph; he forgot him” (Genesis 40:23). And the very next verse tells us that Joseph was stuck in that prison for another two years. Freedom was so close he could almost touch it, yet it remained just outside of his grasp. Why would God allow Joseph to languish unjustly in prison, especially when He had given him visions of prominent position when he was younger? What purpose could that possibly serve?

Have you asked similar questions about your own life? God, why am I still single? Why am I childless? Why can’t I advance in my career? Why can’t I get healthy? Why am I stuck in ____________. It is so frustrating when we can’t see any logical reason for God not to answer our pleas. If you’ve ever scratched your head and thought, “God, you’re not making much sense here,” you’re in very good company. But dear one, you also don’t know the big picture, just as Joseph couldn’t know how God would unfold His plan.

The Bible says that after those two years, Pharaoh had an unusual dream that no one could interpret. It was then that the chief cupbearer remembered Joseph and told Pharaoh. Joseph not only interpreted the dream, but he so impressed Pharaoh that he was elevated to the second highest position in the land. In that position Joseph was able to save his family from starvation. If he had been released from prison two years earlier, he would have almost certainly high-tailed it out of Egypt and away from the plan of God for his life, for the lives of his family and, ultimately your life and mine, for in rescuing his family, Joseph preserved the nation from which our Savior would come.

When you find yourself becoming anxious about what God is not doing in your life, remember that you can’t see the big picture from your vantage point. Could it be that He is positioning you for a greater purpose than you can imagine? Could He be preparing you – and the situation you’re in – for a miracle? I believe Joseph would counsel you not to fret, but to trust God to move in your life in just the right place at just the right time. When He is directing the lives of His people, God makes every minute count towards His purposes. God has not forgotten about you Beloved; “He makes everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Including your life.

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.

Draw Near

I love mornings because they are almost always Joyful! My sweet granddaughter usually wakes up around 6 a.m. and we get to visit while her Mommy fixes her morning bottle. She always wakes up happy and smiling – she lives up to her name every morning. We’ll talk and smile until her breakfast is ready. I’ll lean her little head back into the crook of my arm and touch the bottle to her lips. She smiles and starts to drink, all the while her gray-blue eyes are locked onto my face. As she enjoys her breakfast, the early hour and the bottle start to call her back into the world of sweet dreams. Then the most wonderful thing happens. As she starts to drift off, she will turn her whole body in towards me and give a deep sigh. I draw her in closer to my chest – her head nestled hear to my heart. I feel her body relax and watch her eyes close in sleep. I whisper a prayer that she will always know that she trust me to hold her close to my heart, even if I can’t always hold her in my arms.

These precious moments always bring a verse to mind: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8). It is an invitation with a promise. God is inviting you and me to turn our whole selves toward our Him, and He promises that He will pull us closer still. He will give us the comfort and blessing of His presence. He will give us His peace. Beloved, how long has it been since you’ve rested your weary head against your Father’s chest? How long since you’ve felt the beat of his heart against your cheek? The invitation is yours for the taking. His arms are open wide to receive you. Draw near. Nearer. You can “approach the throne of grace with confidence” (Hebrews 4:16). Climb up into His lap and feel His strong arms enfold you. Breath a deep sigh Beloved, and rest.

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.

Wait A Little Longer

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I stood there tapping my toes impatiently.  “Come on!” I muttered under my breath as I watched the timer tick down. 5 . . . 4. . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1.  Then the shrill “beep, beep, beep.”  About time!  My breakfast pastry was finally done!  I popped open the microwave door and juggled the hot food.  Then it dawned on me.  I just told a microwave to hurry up.  I couldn’t wait a minute and forty-five second wait for my breakfast.

In our hurry-up society, we hate waiting.  Doctors’ offices, the DMV, a child who’s late coming home – they all make us a little crazy as precious minutes –or – hours tick away.  Perhaps you know the anxiety of waiting days for test results, or for a phone call after a job interview.  Or maybe your waiting has stretched beyond minutes and days to months and even years.  And you’re not waiting on a doctor or a kid or a phone call.  You’re waiting on God.  You’ve been praying.  And praying. And God delays.  You haven’t gotten a closed door.  But you also haven’t gotten an answer yet.

You’re in good company.  Revelation tells of some folks who are also waiting on God.  They are “the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.  They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’” (Revelation 6:9-10).  They are waiting for God to do what they know He alone is able to do – but isn’t.  Sound familiar?  “God, You can do this, You can fix this, You can stop this.  But You aren’t.”

The Scripture says that “each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer . . .” (v. 11).  When God tells us to wait it is because He intends to act.  Are you waiting for God?  Have you been praying for a long time with no end in sight?  Oh, please, don’t despair.  Our Father doesn’t tell us to wait in vain.  And He doesn’t tell us to wait unless there’s something worth waiting for.  Beloved, will you “wait a little longer?”

Thy Will Be Done

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Recently a friend asked me about prayer specifically about why some prayers are answered and others are not.  And how should we pray? And what about God’s omniscience and sovereignty?  And what does that mean for our prayers when a loved one has cancer or is seriously injured, or a young person is facing a frightening diagnosis?   I know he is not the only one asking these questions.  I have asked them.  And so have you.  I told my friend that I don’t have the best answers, but I have the Bible and that’s where we’ll find them.

Paul said, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).  James counseled, “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2).  And our Lord told us to “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  He assured us: “For everyone who asks received; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). We have God’s approval to “approach the throne of grace with confidence,” (Hebrews 4:16).  And nothing is off-limits – we are encouraged to pray about everything.

So what happens when we pray and the situation goes the other way?  My confidence in God and in prayer was severely shaken when my Mom was diagnosed with cancer.  I grabbed hold of Matthew 21:22: “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”  No one ever prayed harder than I prayed that God would heal my Mom, and no one ever believed stronger than I believed that He would do it.  My mom died.  What happened to “you will receive whatever you ask?”  Was my whole-hearted-faith still not enough?  Or did Jesus not mean what He said?  The fact is, prayers don’t always get answered the way we hope.  What do we do with that?

We go to the garden with Jesus.  Just before his betrayal and death, Jesus prayed with deep earnestness for this cup of suffering to pass from Him.  He knew His Father had the power to take it away.  He said, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for You.”  Everything – curing cancer, healing broken bodies, taking away suffering.  But he came to the one prayer that God will always answer: “Yet not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:36). “Not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).  “May Your will be done” (Matthew 26:42).  My friend shared that more and more, this has become his prayer too.  I also have learned the value and peace that comes with this prayer.  Because it is not a prayer of resignation – it is a prayer of trust and of confidence that God’s will, whether it agrees with my desire or not, is “good, pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

Sometimes we pray and God miraculously answers – this past year has been living proof for me.  But sometimes we pray, and God says, “No.” which, by the way, is still an answer.  My Mom’s grave is proof of that reality.  I don’t know why.  What I do know beyond any shadow of doubt is that I will continue to bring every petition to God, I will ask, and seek, and knock, and then I will put it all in His hands and surrender it to His will.  And I will trust that He is good.  For my friend and for all of us who pray the prayer of Jesus in the garden – may the Father’s will be done.