The Road is Long, But God is Faithful

Let’s be honest, life is hard. Sometimes it feels like we’re buried under burdens that threaten to crush us. Sorrow, responsibilities, anxiety, family, pain, injustice, sickness, and more. It wears on you. I understand. Paul did too. He said, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Gal 6:9).

But what if you just can’t keep going? What if it’s just too much? I understand that too. So did Jesus’ brother, James who said, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him” (Jas 1:12). James led the Christian church in Jerusalem – a church under severe persecution. He saw their troubles as a means to an end and called for perseverance.

Another brother, Jude, added some advice and encouragement for persevering: “But you, dear friends, built yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Chris to bring you to eternal life” (Jude 1:20-21).

Build up your faith by remembering God’s history of faithfulness, power, wisdom, and victory.  “Pray and don’t give up” (Luke 18:1) – that pretty well explains itself. Stand firm in the love of God – one of my favorite ways to do this is to consider 1 Corinthians 13 and how the Lord has manifested each expression of love.  And then wait. Augh! That’s the hardest part. How long? Until He says, “It is done” (Rev 21:6). And it will be done because God leaves nothing unfinished – “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6).

The choice to persevere or give up is one we all face. Friend, I don’t know your burdens, just the weight of my own. And friend, they are very heavy. Every time I think I can’t keep going God sends me a reminder of what – and who – is at stake. I can’t give up. I won’t give up. And neither should you. Let’s commit today to persevere with God’s help. And each other’s. The Lord says, “As for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded” (2 Chron 15:7). Hang on Beloved, there’s Joy ahead for us.

The Royal Priesthood of the Believer

I am in a group of believers who are writing – or “scribing” – our way through the Bible. Because we deal with smaller portions of Scripture and must slow down and pay attention to every word, we’re seeing things we would have normally missed on our fast-paced Bible-in-a-year plans. We’re nearing the end of Exodus this month and the people are building, weaving, hammering, and crafting all the elements of the Tabernacle.

Today’s text – Exodus 39:1-7 – is focused on making garments for Aaron, who served as the Lord’s high priest. These were “sacred garments” designed “to give him dignity and honor” as he went about his priestly duties (Ex 28:2). And they were a work of love and devotion. When the ancient craftsmen made the ephod, the apron-like garment worn over the robe and under the breast piece, the Scripture says, “they hammered out thin sheets of gold and cut strands to be worked into the blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and fine linen.  Can you imagine the amount of dedication and intricate work that required?

But that’s nothing compared to how God is working in you. Everything God does in your life has one aim, to conform you to the likeness of His Son (Rom 8:29). I admit, sometimes that work isn’t pleasant.  Lately, it feels like God is hammering away at me like the craftsmen hammered out that gold. You may feel that He has put you into a crucible for purifying silver over intense, prolonged heat. It might even seem that He has buried you underground like a seed. But the gold adds beauty to the garment, the purified silver reflects the Silversmith and the seed bursts forth from the ground to grow into a fruitful plant.

God has called you and me to be part of His royal priesthood (1 Pet 2:9)– not in the order of Aaron, but in the order of His Son, Jesus Christ. Like Aaron, we must be consecrated, cleansed, and made pure for this holy service. Aaron was washed with water and anointed with the blood of a bull. You and I are washed and anointed with the blood of the Lamb of God which cleanses us from all sin (1 Jn 1:7). Aaron received beautiful garments to wear; Christ gives us His own righteousness (2 Cor 5:21).

In the hammering and the heat and the darkness Beloved, consider this, God is not just weaving threads of His Son into your life, but making He is you into His very image.

The Truth is . . .

When I first sensed the call to write, I was excited to discover that a well-known women’s ministry had launched a program to train Christian writers – so I jumped on it. The first video lesson was by the founder of the ministry, a best-selling Christian author whose books take up a lot of space in Christian bookstores. “She knows what she’s talking about!” I reasoned as I settled in with pen and notebook to learn all about the craft of writing.

She said the key to writing books that sell was to write to people’s “felt needs.” Poll your friends and social media followers to find out what people are feeling then write to meet those needs. Her offerings follow exactly that advice as she writes about cravings and learning to love yourself, eating habits, and living a balanced life. Emotions are high on her list of books.

But God called me to write about truth not feelings. Granted, feelings are a huge part of our lives, but feelings are not truth. Feelings often deceive us. They are susceptible to every wind that blows by. The news can be depressing. Others’ emotions and actions affect our own. A song or a sunrise can stir our emotions. A woman’s hormones have powerful control over her emotions. For Pete’s sake, a good burger can make me giddy. And lest we forget, satan loves to prey on our emotions and draw our minds away from God. No, felt needs are not the truth.

I always turn to Paul’s counsel in Philippians 4:8 when emotions are taking over. He wrote: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” If I just take the first one – whatever is true – I can override my out-of-control emotions. That’s been huge for me these past few months as my family has been in chaos. When anxiety and sadness grip my heart, I have to tell myself the truth – God has not lost control of the situation. He will do what is right. If I gave in to my feelings I would wallow for days in self-pity and despair.

I’m not discounting emotions – they are part of what makes us God’s image-bearers. The Scriptures often speak of God expressing emotions, but He does not allow His emotions to control Him or direct His actions.  He always works in truth. You and I can too. No matter our circumstances or our feelings, turning our thoughts to what is true will redirect our emotions and refocus our minds. Let this be your mantra today Beloved, “What is true?” Then take your mind there. Because what is true will always turn you back to God.

Even if . . .

 “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,

though the olive fails and the fields produce no food,

though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls . . .” (Habakkuk 3:17)

I confess this is not my favorite verse. Especially not right now. I want the fig tree to bud. I want grapes on the vine. I want olives and sheep and cattle. I want God to set things right. I want the huge hole in my heart to be filled with Joy again. Maybe you know where I’m coming from. Something has rocked your world and left you in pain. Someone walked away. Someone passed away. You received a scary diagnosis. Your workplace shut down. You got a foreclosure notice in the mail. And all you can do is beg God to fix it.

I’m not a Pollyanna by nature – I don’t gravitate toward optimism. Neither did Habakkuk. In the opening of the Old Testament book that bears his name, he said, “How long, O Lord . . .” (1:2). How long until you answer and rescue your people from their enemy? How long will you tolerate these wicked people? How long will you let us suffer? Sounds a lot like me right now – “How long God will you let this drag on?”

But somewhere along the way, something changed in Habakkuk’s message – and in his heart – and I think I know what it is. “The Lord is in His holy temple . . .” (2:20). God is still on His throne and very much in control. The Sovereign of the universe has not let anything – not figs or grapes or olives or sheep or cattle – or little girls – slip from His hands. And that is why, even when there is nothing in Jerusalem to rejoice over, Habakkuk can say, “ . . .yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be Joyful in God my Savior” (3:18). Because God is always God.

In this hard season of my life, I am learning that God is worth rejoicing over even when my heart is heavy. God is still good. He is still able. He is still faithful. He is still God. Beloved, that is something to rejoice about.

Who Can Know the Mind of the Lord?

I have this bad habit of trying to figure out how God can resolve my problems. As if He needs my suggestions. My little mind thinks in little terms. My imagination is limited to what I can see and understand. Not God’s. Isaiah spoke of a God who “did awesome things that we did not expect” (Isaiah 64:3) and Jeremiah 33:3 says that He knows “great and unsearchable things” that we do not know – things we have no capacity to discern or understand. Who am I to tell God what He should do?

The theologians call this God’s omniscience – His perfect and complete knowledge. I learn new things every single day.  There is nothing that God does not already know. He knows science because He created everything that exists (Gen 1: 1). He knows every human language because He gave the gift of words to us – and made us speak in different tongues (Gen 11:1-9). He knows every facet of wisdom because He is the source of wisdom (Prov 2:6; James 1:5). He knows truth because truth has its essence in Him (Jn 14:6). And yes, He knows you and me – inside and out – because He created us in His image (Gen 2:7). He also knows the future because what is ahead for us is the present in His view (Is 46:10).

In this present moment, the future is very murky for me. I am sitting in the middle of a multi-faceted mess with no idea how to get over it, past it, around it, or through it. It all looks impossible from my vantage point. But not from God’s. My sister-in-law recently reminded me that God is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power . . .” (Eph 3:20). In other words, I don’t have to dream up a solution – what could I possibly tell Him that would be better than His own plan?

What I do have to do is wait for Him. Quietly. And in the waiting, to watch and serve. And trust. He knows how to bring Joy back into my life. Beloved, God knows what to do with all the broken pieces. He knows how to overcome all that the enemy is trying to do. He knows the perfect plan for this situation. Stop trying to figure it out. Trust in the Lord. He’s going to do something you could never expect. Just wait for it.

Trust in the Lord

I took my heavy heart to the Lord this morning, asking for a word for today. I told God that somebody needed hope this morning. Somebody needed peace. Somebody needed Joy. And that somebody is me. I need to hear from God in the deepest part of me. And He spoke two simple words: “Trust me.” Then came: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

It’s a very good word for me right now – and maybe for you too. Trust means to have confidence in; to feel safe. I confess, my anxiety level has been off the charts this week. Things and people I love are not in a good place. But when I trust in God, I am confident that the situation – and the people involved – will be safe, even when they are out of my reach.

I have to remind myself of that multiple times a day, which brings me to trusting “with all my heart.” The heart, in the original Hebrew, is really the mind, the place of thinking and reflecting. So, trusting in the Lord with all my heart is thinking about how faithful and trustworthy and powerful He is. It’s reminding myself that nothing and no one – big or small – is too much or too little for Him.

But leaning on my own understanding will cause me to think about all the ways this situation might go wrong. It’s like trying to steady myself against the false wall they use in the theater. It won’t hold me up. My understanding is clouded by my emotions which are wrapped in hurt and fear. There is no stability there. The wall – and I – will fall.

But when I acknowledge God – and this word is powerful – He will make twisted things straight. Acknowledge is not just a nod in God’s direction, like “Yes I see you there.” It is to know God in the most personal sense. It is the same word that describes the intimacy between a husband and wife that leads to full surrender. And deep, abiding, trusting love.

Right now, the path ahead of me is dark and full of twists and turns. But God knows the way I need to go. He will lead me, if I trust Him, lean on Him, and stay close to Him.  Yes, “Trust me” is the word I need. Perhaps God is speaking the same to you too. Beloved, trusting Him with all our hearts is the only way to hope and peace and Joy. We have His Word on it.

Sonrise

In the garden on the Mount of Olives, Judas led a crowd of angry men toward Jesus.  You know this account – it’s almost required reading at Eastertide. Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Peter cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest, which, of course, the Lord immediately healed (Lk 22:47-53; Jn 18:10).  Before He is led away, Jesus, speaking to His arrestors says, “This is your hour–when darkness reigns (v. 53)”. Now, I’ve read this passage multiple times, but this time one word stood out to me. “Hour.” And the question came: What does that mean?  That is the signal from the Holy Spirit to start digging because there is something I need to discover. I live for these opportunities.

The Greek word for “hour” means “a moment; a short period; a fixed portion of time.” Jesus said that darkness had been given an hour to reign – but only an hour, a sliver of time. The darkness is, of course, evil. But even the power of evil was held to just a moment with a beginning and definite end. Just enough time to accomplish God’s divine purpose – salvation.

Who has sovereign authority over time?  Who established the rising and setting of the sun?  Who determined the seasons on earth?  Who made the sun stand still to prolong the day (Jos 10:1-14)? Who moved the sunlight backward ten steps to prove his power (Is 38:7-8)?

Is it dark in your life today? Does it seem that evil has the upper hand? Remember, darkness is only allowed a moment – a fixed portion of time. And only until God’s purpose is fulfilled. The same One who commands the sun holds the hourglass of your life and He will not allow darkness to reign one grain longer than necessary. Rest in His providence and care Beloved. The night will soon be over and the Son will reign forever.

Acts: The Plan of the Ages

I interviewed an atheist for a class assignment. While I asked my questions, he peppered me with his own. I remember one question clearly, even after so many years: “Why would a good God let His Son suffer and be killed on the whim of evil people?”

“He didn’t,” I replied.

“But isn’t that what your Christianity teaches?” he insisted.

“Not exactly,” I answered. “God didn’t let anything happen. He planned it and foretold it. Jesus’ death wasn’t by the whim of man. It was an intentional act of the sovereign God to fulfill His purpose – the salvation of men.”

He cocked his head to one side, “I’ve never heard it put that way.  My church always taught us kids that people acted of their own free will to kill Jesus.”

“They did,” I replied. “But they acted within the sovereign will of God.”

At that moment I felt like a salmon swimming up a waterfall, trying to explain a concept that has baffled the wisest theologians for ages. I still don’t understand it completely, but I know it is true. The Bible clearly teaches both and doesn’t try to make it neat and tidy.

Please take a moment to read Acts 3:17-26.

When Peter addressed the crowd that gathered around the once-crippled man, he invoked the name of Jesus as the source of healing power. The same Jesus they had crucified. The same Jesus God had raised from the dead. Peter said that they had “acted in ignorance,” not realizing that this Jesus was God’s Messiah (Christ). But Peter also said that God used their actions to fulfill His Plan of the Ages. God had foretold the suffering of His Servant through Abraham, Moses, Samuel, and all the prophets. He had promised salvation long before Jesus’ birth.

John wrote that Jesus is “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). Before the first human and the first sin. This was all within God’s eternal plan: the salvation of humanity. I once heard a preacher say that long before Jesus came to earth God knowingly planted the seed that would become the tree that would be made into the cross on which His Son would die.

I take great comfort in the truth of God’s sovereignty over the will of human beings. I am sitting in the middle of a family mess right now because of another’s free will choices. But I am convinced this did not occur outside of God’s sovereign plan. Somehow this too will fall in line with His “good, pleasing, and perfect will” (Rom 12:2). And when it does, there will be Joy.

Bullseye

It was my verse through seven years of infertility. It has been my verse through hard times of struggle, sadness, disappointment, and longing. It is my verse now in this season of anxiety and uncertainty and heartache. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when dreams come true at last there is life and Joy” (Prov. 13:12 TLB).

Hope, on its own, implies delay; the word means to wait for, to be patient. Paul wrote, “Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait patiently for it” (Rom 8:24-25). But it’s more than waiting. It also means to expect. To borrow from Paul; who hopes for what she doesn’t think will ever happen? Hope is patient expectation rooted in trust. But there’s one more word connected to hope: pain. I’ll bet somebody is shaking their head. Waiting can be painful. Just ask me thirty-something years ago in that season of waiting for God to bless us with a baby. I trusted God, but my empty arms ached.

But this verse adds another layer: Hope deferred . . . This means hope dragged along. To the waiting, we add tension. One definition means “to draw the bow” and it reminded me of taking archery in high school. First I would seat the arrow in the bow and find my target. I fixed my sights on the bullseye, lifted the bow into firing position, and pulled the arrow back, stretching the bowstring taut. In the moment between setting the arrow and letting go, there was incredible tension in the string and in my arm. We had to wait until the instructor gave the firing order. If that order was delayed, my arm would start to ache and tremble. But I had to hold my position. If I dropped my bow, I might miss the call. If I lost my visual focus, I would lose the target. Hope deferred often causes pain and we may tremble in the waiting, but we do not lower our bow – or our shield of faith. We do not take our eyes off the target – the faithfulness of God.

This verse says we may even become heartsick – grieved and weary. We may feel like all we do is beg God to act. Believe me, I’m there. “But” – oh how I love the “buts” in the Bible – “when dreams come true at last there is life and Joy” You know what jumps out at me? “When” not “if.” When the arrow hits the target dead center. When God comes through. And I’m counting on God to come through. Beloved, take up your position, don’t drop your faith, and keep your eyes on the Lord. When. Not if.

Waiting on God

Psalm 106 is a “Salvation History Psalm” – a retelling of God rescuing His people from slavery in Egypt.  You know the story: God brought the Israelites out of bondage and led them to the edge of the Red Sea – impassable waters in front of them and their enemy close on their heels.  He made a way through the sea and when the last Israelite foot cleared the dry sea bed, He closed in the walls of water on Pharoah and His army.  The Scripture says, “Then [the Israelites] believed His promises and sang His praise” (v. 12).  Wouldn’t you?  If God had done a miraculous thing for you, wouldn’t you believe?  Wouldn’t you sing a chorus of, “You’re a good, good, Father!”?

But wait. The next verse says: “But they soon forgot what He had done and did not wait for His plan to unfold” (v. 13).  And they grumbled. On the heels of the Red Sea miracle. Remember the celebration in verse 12? Check out verses 24-25: “They did not believe His promise. They grumbled in their tents and did not obey the Lord.” Makes me want to shake my head.  They failed to trust God – the same God who had rescued them in dramatic fashion just a few weeks before.

But, let’s be honest here, don’t you and I do the same thing?  God works powerfully on our behalf and we celebrate and sing His praises and the next time we face a challenge, we worry.  We forget what God did and focus on the new hardship as if God used it all up on the first one.  Or maybe that’s just me. 

I wrote in the margin: “Lord, I want to always believe Your promises and sing Your praises while I am still waiting.”  I am there right now – waiting. And trusting.  And reminding myself of His powerful acts of the past, how he made a way where I couldn’t see a way. How He softened hard hearts. How he rescued someone I love. And I know He will do it again. So I’m gonna sing His praises now, during the crisis, not just after. 

Have you forgotten His goodness to you?  The God who was faithful yesterday will not be unfaithful today. He is the same good Father who carried you through the last storm – and He will not abandon you now.  Beloved, come sit here with me, and let’s praise the Lord while we wait.