Do You Trust God?

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God doesn’t always do what I want Him to do. He doesn’t always answer my prayers according to my wishes or follow my well-laid-out plans. There are things I’ve prayed about for years that remain unresolved. Hard situations that didn’t magically get better. People I’ve laid at His feet over and over who get up and wander back into sin and self-destruction. What are we to do when – let’s call it what it really is – we’re disappointed with God?  I know. It seems almost sacrilegious to say it, but if we’re not honest with God we will always be stuck with this gnawing sense that He can’t be trusted. And while we’re being honest – that is the root behind our prayerlessness and our half-hearted study of His Word.

So what do we do when the doubts creep in? To borrow from my sister-in-love, we “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). I’ve told you before that I’m a word-nerd, and the Holy Spirit asked me – “What do those words mean?” Two key things stood out to me. First: “trust” – it means to “have confidence in.” Do you have confidence in God? Do you have confidence in His goodness and His love?

Then – and this was huge to me – three words: “heart,” “understanding,” and “acknowledge.” The “heart” is the seat of our thoughts, emotions, and understanding. “Acknowledge” means to know, recognize, understand. Did you see the word“understand” in both of those definitions? “Understand” at its root – this is key – means “to consider with full attention.” There it is. When we lean on our own understanding – we are giving our emotions our full attention. But when we“trust in the Lord with all our heart” we give Him our full attention.

I don’t know about you, but my emotions will take me all over the place. But God is the one who sets my path straight. Where are you focusing your attention today? Your Father is your solid rock. He will never betray your confidence in Him. Beloved, you really can “Trust in the Lord.”

Do not be Afraid

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As an aged priest performed the ritual of burning incense, an angel of the Lord appeared and spoke the first words that heaven had uttered in four centuries: “Do not be afraid” (Luke 1:13). God knows His creation so well. He knows that, because of the curse of sin, we live with fear. Fear makes us run. Fear makes us hide. Fear makes us cry out. Fear makes us worry.  So the very first thing God said after 400 years of silence is “Do not be afraid.”

I wonder this morning who needs to hear those words. I know I do. Every day the media bombards us with murders, hate, riots, and disease. Every day it seems evil becomes stronger and good withers away.  Every day satan stokes the fires of fear with his lies.

When fear tries to overtake me, I do two things. First, I ask God to flood my mind and heart with His peace. I don’t mean peace that sticks its head in the sand and ignores the realities of life. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and [here it is again] do not be afraid” (John 14:27).  Then He gave us the basis for this peace: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16: 33). We can have peace in this world because Christ has overcome the world and all the things that make us afraid. Trouble is a reality, but trouble cannot defeat the Lord Jesus Christ nor His people.

The second thing I do is remind myself of the wonderful, all-consuming, love of God. 1 John 4:18 says, “Perfect love casts out fear,” and the love of God is a perfect love. Maybe that’s why the angel spoke those words as his greeting to Zechariah. Perfect love was coming from heaven to the earth.

Beloved, whatever fear has gripped your heart, grab hold of these two things: Jesus has overcome the world and God loves you. That ought to fill your heart with peace.

Solid Rock of Love

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It was a very draining weekend– physically and emotionally. I’m struggling to be spiritually insightful this morning. I really just want to sit on my back porch swing and listen to the birds greet the morning sun. My dad’s health is failing. I’m fighting to stay motivated in school and especially to finish my final paper. A friend and spiritual mentor is struggling in her faith. We endured a lot of drama with a loved one yesterday. I had to fold our campus Bible study for lack of participation. Finances are very strained. And I miss my granddaughter. I told God, “I don’t just need you to speak through me this morning – I need you to speak to me.” As I skimmed the Psalms – that’s a great place to go when you’re down – God gently pointed to a verse.

“When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ Your love, O Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, Your consolation brought Joy to my soul” (Psalms 94:18-19).

Yes, it feels like I am slipping. So much has been shaken in my life recently – except God’s love. As I lean my weary self against Him, I find strength. He embraces me with His goodness, kindness, and grace and braces me with His never-ending, never-failing, ever-faithful love.

Yes, anxiety has nearly beaten me up lately. I know, I’m supposed to be “anxious for nothing,” but I confess that I’ve been anxious for a lot. But God hasn’t berated me. Instead, He has comforted me through His Word and through dear brothers and sisters in Christ who have reminded me that He is still very much in control of all these things that worry me. And then we got to Facetime with Joy and that did my heart so much good.

Yes, I desperately need God’s love and consolation. I’ll bet you do too. Life gets hard sometimes. God knows that. He cares about what you care about because He cares about you. Beloved, when everything around you is shaking, He is the solid rock of love.

Don’t Lose Your Grip on Jesus

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I had to do a small repair job on my shirt this morning. It wasn’t a difficult task, but the chiffon material wanted to shift and slip and I had to keep a firm grip on it with my left hand as I worked the needle and thread with my right. As I was stitching, the thread nearly pulled out of the needle. I needed to grab the loose end and pull to keep the needle threaded. That was a two-handed job but I didn’t want to let go of the fabric lest I have to gather it all back together again.  I needed to deal with the thread problem without losing my grip on the shirt.

Life hands us so many challenges. Like when we think we’ve got things under control, or at least in some manageable form of chaos, and a new crisis comes at us. A job loss. A life lost. A marriage unravels. A frightening diagnosis. A beloved child moves away. It all feels like we’re coming apart at the seams. I get it. I’m right there too. Can I tell you how I’m getting through?

I am determined to hang on to Jesus. That’s it. That’s my whole survival strategy right there. The writer of Hebrews put it this way: “ Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23). Whatever unexpected crisis and trials come up in my life, I’m not going to lose my grip on Jesus. Because I know He is faithful. I know He is powerful. I know He loves me. He is my hope and my peace – and yes – my Joy in every situation. This morning I dealt with my thread problem by sticking the needle in the fabric and using my now free hand to adjust the thread – I never let go of the fabric in my left hand. I deal with the challenges of life by staking my hope and confidence in Jesus and by holding fast to Him with all I’ve got. And sometimes that’s all I’ve got. But it’s all I need.

It’s all you need too. Beloved, when life seems to be coming apart at the seams, don’t lose your grip on Jesus.

When Life Stinks

“God, this stinks!” I cried one morning. Why did you let this happen?” I wondered if He was paying attention. I felt like Daniel, “O Lord listen! O Lord, hear and act!” (Daniel 9:19). “God deal with this! Fix it! Make it go away!” Again I cried out – “God this stinks! It’s not fair!” Finally, my anguish gave way to the root of my question: “How can You say that You love me and let this happen?” With those words still hanging in the air, I turned to the devotional reading for the day and found the Scriptures, John 11:1-43 where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Martha’s words caught my attention. “But Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days”( John 11:39). Jesus had told Martha just a few minutes before “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25). But when He commanded that the stone be rolled away, Martha protested, pointing out the obvious – her brother’s flesh was rotting away. I almost hear her saying “Lord, this stinks!”
Jesus’ reply to Martha began to seep into my heart, filling the places of fear and anxiety and soothing the deep pain I had been carrying around with me. “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God” (John 11:40)? “Child, haven’t I shown you my love in a thousand ways? Haven’t I rescued you from trouble again and again? Haven’t I always proven faithful to you?” Yes. Yes, He had. So why would I imagine that He would fail me now? Why would I doubt His love for me? Why would I question His tender care and His constant presence? As I remembered those times, peace settled in my soul. I could trust Him. Yes, my situation stunk, but God had never run from my messy, smelly life. He always received me at my worst and gave me His best.
Beloved, you may be in a mess today. Life stinks and you don’t see any good outcome. I understand, I’ve been there too. May I encourage you to trust God even in the middle of it? He has this wonderful way of bringing freshness and hope into our smelly, chaotic, desperate messes.

The Real Cowardly Lion

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I write notes and comments in my Bible. Sometimes dates when a Scripture spoke powerfully to a need in my life. Sometimes a verse that connects to what I’m reading, and often notes about what the Spirit impresses on my heart. And there are a few snarky comments scattered about. I saw one when I was skimming through 2 Kings. In chapter 18, Hezekiah is the king of Judah. He is a godly king and trusted in the Lord. The scripture says that “There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord . . .” (v. 5). I sure hope that can be said of me when my life is done.

In Hezekiah’s 4th year an enemy army began a march through the middle east, capturing cities with ease. The chief office was Sennacherib and he began a push into Judah, coming dangerously close to Jerusalem. He called a conference with King Hezekiah just outside of the city. The armies of Judah and the people were all gathered atop the wall, watching and listening as Sennacherib made threats and even claimed that the Lord had sent him to destroy them. He said the king was a fool to claim that the Lord God would protect them. He said that if they would surrender to him, they would have more than Hezekiah could provide. He said that no other nation’s gods had been able to deliver them out of his mighty hand. Then he said, “How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hands?” (v. 35). And here I have jotted down this note: “Oh, you don’t know Who you’re messing with!”

Friend, if Christ Jesus has claimed you as His own then you have an enemy – satan. He stands only as close as God will permit him and He bellows threats. But he is all talk. He doesn’t have the authority to pull off his threats. Not when God has you. Peter said, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion – but all he can do to you is roar. Jesus took away all of satan’s power at the cross and the empty tomb. Sennacherib didn’t know who He was dealing with, but satan does. You need to know it too, Beloved. You have a mighty, mighty God on your side.

Water in the Desert

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Hagar and Ishmael had been banished to the desert with just a skin of water and no direction. When the water ran out so did Hagar’s hope. She couldn’t bear to watch her son die, so she set him under a bush and walked away. As her tears fell, God sent an angel to comfort her and give her hope. And water. The Scripture says “Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water” (Genesis 21:19). A well. In a desert. Just at the moment she needed it. Right where she stopped in her hopelessness.

There are volumes here we can talk about from this account. Hagar was in a place she didn’t want to be – does that ring a bell? She was there because of other people’s sin and abuse – that might resonate with someone. She saw no good end to her situation – anyone else feeling that? Her heart was broken for herself and for her child – I know many of you have been there.  A good preacher could get a month’s worth of 3-point sermons out of this story. But here is my take-away: God brings hope into hopeless situations. He gives water in the desert, peace in the storm, direction in the wilderness, and light in the darkness. He is watching with tender care to meet you wherever your struggles take you. Whether you are in the desert or on a stormy sea – if your life is a train wreck or you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, God knows right where you are Beloved. He knows exactly what you need. He will meet you in the middle of your hopeless situation. Just when you think all is lost, God says you are found.

Skinned Knees and Old Sins

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When I was a kid I hated to skin up my knees and elbows. Of course, there was the pain of the injury, but what was even worse to me was the bandage. Mom would plaster one of those plastic adhesive strips with a gauze square to my body part and it would sit there all day, gluing itself securely to my wound. Actually, the bandage itself was not the problem cause we had those cool ones with cartoon characters printed on them. What I dreaded was when the bandage had to be replaced at the end of the day. My mom didn’t believe in coddling me so it came off with one swift jerk. Oh, the pain! Oh, the wailing! It’s a wonder those wounds ever healed because they were constantly being reopened and irritated.

Some of us treat our past like my mom treated my poor knees. We constantly rip off the bandage and reopen the wound. We agonize over our failures and sins over and over again. We pick at the wounds of yesterday and make them bleed and hurt, and we experience the pain as if it was new and fresh. I know. I’ve relived my past a thousand times. Every foolish decision. Every moral failure. Every sin. And the wounds bleed and never heal.

Dear friend, if you have been to the cross and claimed Jesus as your Savior, everything that haunts you from your past – every sin and failure – has been covered over by Christ’s blood. They have been forgiven and they are gone. The Bible says, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). The east is eternally separated from the west, the two directions will never meet. God has eternally separated the sins and failures of your past from you. He will never make you face them again.

But you’ve got to let them heal. You’ve got to stop reopening those old wounds. You are “a new creation in Christ; the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Corin 5:17). Let the old sinful you go, Beloved, and embrace the new you in Christ.

A Shameful Woman and a Gracious Savior

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Luke 8:42-48 tells the story of a very shameful woman and a very gracious Healer. She had “an issue of blood” or as we might say in the South – “She had woman troubles.” In that culture, a woman’s monthly cycle rendered her “unclean” for the duration (Lev. 15:19. Anyone who touched her or anything that she touched, such as furniture, would be unclean. This woman had suffered for twelve years!  Twelve years of being unclean had heaped tremendous shame and isolation upon her. Plus she had spent every penny on doctors who could not help her.  She was a woman in desperate need of divine help.

She knew the Law and the ramifications of what she intended to do. But she had heard of the rabbi’s healing miracles and somehow knew He could do the same for her. So she dared to approach Jesus, albeit stealthily. She thought she could receive healing without His notice, but – horror of horrors – He stopped and sought her out. “Who touched me?” He demanded (v. 45).  The disciples pointed out the crowd around Him, but this touch was different from the rest. He knew the touch of faith when He felt it. When she bravely came forward, He was gracious and merciful. Before the whole community—those who regarded her with shame and had ostracized her—He commended her faith and proclaimed her healed. Can you imagine how her disgrace surely turned to rejoicing? She “owned up to” what she had done – “In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched Him and how she had been instantly healed” (v. 47). Listen to Jesus’ response to her confession: “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace” (v. 48).  Did you catch it? Because of her faith, the Lord not only healed her but claimed her as His own. And announced it to all her neighbors. Oh, had she never stepped forward she would have still been healed, but what a witness she was to the community.

Beloved, I don’t know what scandalous burden you carry. But I do know that when we are honest with the Lord, no matter what we have done or how shameful we feel, He honors us with healing and acceptance that is evident to everyone around us. I just really believe God wants someone to know that.

2020 From Higher Up

Years ago a choir director told us altos that the best way to hit a high note was not to struggle to climb up to it – that almost always caused us to flatten the note – but to see ourselves gliding down to it from above. He was trying to get us to approach the difficult note from a different – higher – perspective.

This has been a hard year for all of us, full of change, frustration, and disappointment.  We hate the masks.  We miss hugs. We want to get together with friends and family. Kids are isolated, trying to learn from a computer screen. Many people have lost their jobs and businesses because of shut-downs. We are sadly watching our seniors wilt away from loneliness. Fear and fatigue have gripped the world. For me, the hardest part of this year was knowing my brother died alone in a hospital after a motorcycle accident; we were not permitted in the facility to be with him. Many shared the same heartache.

How do we deal with all this disappointment and life-shaking change? We have two choices – either look at it from the pit of despair or approach it from a higher perspective. David’s Psalm speaks volumes to us: “From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2). David wanted to view his circumstances from a higher perspective – from God’s vantage point.  What a difference it makes when we do the same. Believe me – I haven’t been a shining example of this. But I learning more and more to climb up on the Rock that never fails.

I don’t know your struggles – but I know that your perspective affects your ability to face it with confidence and hope. And perspective has everything to do with how you see God – as faithful or fallible, as near or distant, as caring or unconcerned. Beloved, God is in this with you. He is faithful. You can trust Him. He is you Rock – a high place on which you can stand. Climb up and watch Him work wonders.