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.

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.

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.

Pray and Never Give Up

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“We didn’t have enough money for our rent last month.  I prayed to God for help, and the next day, this unexpected check showed up in my mail – just enough to cover the rent!”

“Amen!  God is so good!  Who else can testify?”

“God healed my sister from cancer – her scans showed several spots in her lung, but when the doctors went in to remove her lung – there was nothing there!”

“Glory to God!”

I sat there in my chair, trying my best to rejoice with these testimonies of God’s action in the lives of these precious women.  But I didn’t have a victory story.  I had a long, drawn-out prayer that God seemed to be ignoring.  I had been lifting this before Him for several years and it seemed that heaven had shut the door on me.  My friend sought me out after the gathering – she knew of my long-standing prayer and she knew that, while I was happy for these ladies, my heart was heavy for my own situation.  She tried her best to encourage me while I washed serving spoons in the kitchen.

“Don’t give up your prayers,” she said with a hug.  “God will be faithful to you too.”  Then she told me “When you get home spend some time reading 1 Kings 18 – I think it will encourage you.  I’m praying with you and for you.”

I gathered my purse, Bible and the used kitchen linens and headed out the door.  At home I made a cup of coffee and headed to my porch swing with my Bible.  Pushing my feet against the wooden porch floor, I set the swing in motion and flipped to the story of Elijah, the Old Testament prophet of God.  In this chapter of his story, the land had been under a long drought, and because of the drought a severe famine had taken many lives. Elijah pointed his finger directly at the problem – the wickedness of King Ahab and his queen, Jezebel and of the nation of Israel that followed them into the worship of Baal.  Elijah proposed a challenge: the God of Heaven and Earth against Baal.  The priests of Baal prayed and danced and cut themselves all day to entice their pagan god to set fire to the sacrifice on the altar.  No response.  No fire.  No god.  Elijah prepared the same sacrifice, and even drenched it with water, making it an even greater challenge.  With one prayer “the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench” (v. 38).  Instant answer to prayer!  That’s the God we like to see!

After this victory, Elijah declared to Ahab that the same God that burned up the sacrifice would bring the rain the land so desperately needed.  He went to the top of Mount Carmel with his servant and began to pray.  “‘Go and look toward the sea,’ he told his servant.  And he went up and looked. ‘There is nothing there,’ he said” (v. 43).  Not a single cloud in the sky. Elijah had no evidence that his prayer was going to be answered – except for God’s word. The Lord had told Elijah “‘I will send rain on the land’” (v. 1).  Elijah sent his servant back to scan the skies. Seven times.

God said it would happen. So look again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

And the seventh time the servant saw a tiny cloud “as small as a man’s hand, rising from the sea” (v. 44).

Unlike his prayer at the altar, this prayer was not answered instantly.  Elijah had to persist and trust the word of the Lord.  There are two things we can take away from this story:

  1. Watch and pray until the Lord answers. When Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7), the phrases were given in the present, active form: ask, and keep on asking; seek, and keep on seeking; knock, and keep on knocking.  Be persistent in prayer, knowing that your God is faithful.
  2. Don’t overlook the small answer – it may be the first sign of a great blessing coming your way. Elijah recognized the hand of God in the cloud the size of a man’s hand.  He knew that this was the first sign of God’s promise being fulfilled.  That tiny cloud signaled the beginning of the end of the drought as “the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, [and] a heavy rain came” (v. 45).

The truth is, many years later, I still have not received the answer to my long-held prayer.  But I’m still praying.  My best friend prayed for her son to come to Jesus for more than 30 years.  And God saved him just a couple of years ago.  She never gave up on her son because she never gave up on God.  Beloved, I don’t know what you’ve been praying for nor how long you’ve been praying, or if you’re even still praying.  But I know that God is faithful – in the short-term and in the long-term.  He has never failed.  He’s not about to fail you.

“He who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:8).  Jesus said “always pray and never give up” (Luke 18:1).  Friend, you can take Him at His word.

Just Believe

 

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“Don’t be afraid; just believe” (Mark 5:36).

Jesus spoke these words to Jairus, a synagogue ruler and more importantly, a father.  His 12-year-old daughter was desperately ill, and he had sought out Jesus to come and heal her.  This was great faith, especially for one entrenched in the Jewish hierarchy.  On their way, Jesus was delayed by an old woman who had suffered for many years.  Jesus stopped to heal her, and during the interruption, Jairus’ daughter died.  Can you imagine the swirl of emotions and thoughts this father was experiencing?  Grief, despair, heartache, disappointment, fear, and let’s be honest, probably some anger at Jesus and the old woman for wasting his daughters’ last living moments.  One emotion we know he wasn’t feeling was hope.  One thought he wasn’t having was belief.  But that is exactly what Jesus said to him: “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”  It was much the same words he spoke to Martha at the tomb of her brother, Lazarus: “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40).

Did you notice what Jesus didn’t say?  He didn’t say, “Believe that your loved one will be raised from the dead.”  “Believe that I’m going to do a miracle for you.” He said explicitly to Martha, and implicitly to Jairus – “Believe in Me.”  He told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believe in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).  “Martha, believe in Me.”  “Jairus, believe in Me.” Don’t believe in an outcome.  Believe in Me. It took faith to call for Jesus to heal a dying little girl and a dying brother.  But Jesus asked for greater faith, because He was going to accomplish a greater miracle that simple healing.

Beloved, what has “died” in your life?  What did you pray for and hope for day after day after day until there was no reason to hope anymore?  Are you sure about that?  Can you believe still?  Not in an outcome, but in Jesus – the I AM. If it only takes faith the size of a grain of mustard seed to move a mountain[1], then surely you and I can muster enough faith to believe in Jesus who has proved Himself over and over and over again.  Remember, we are not believing Jesus for anything we need, we are believing Jesus is everything we need.

“Don’t be afraid, just believe.”

Lord, hope in You is hope that never dies.  You are everything I could ever hope for.  Please help me keep my heart focused on You alone.

[1] Matthew 17:20