Proven Faith

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A “proving ground” is a military term – a place or situation used to demonstrate whether something, such as a theory or product, really works. Say a company has created something they want to market to the United States military. Do you think Uncle Sam is just going to take their word for it, buy this thing, and put it into a soldier’s hands? No – they are going to take it into situations and places in which it will be used and they will put it through rigorous tests. They may discover a weakness and will work on that area to strengthen it. And they’ll test it again. Only after it stands up on the proving grounds will it be purchased and put into use.
When God wants to “prove” the faith of His child He uses the fires of adversity, struggle, trial, heartache, disappointment, discouragement . . . I think you understand. The Apostle Peter wrote from very personal experience: “These [trials] have come so that your faith – of great worth than gold . . . may be proved genuine” (1 Peter 1:7). Remember the scene outside the house of the high priest? Peter denied three times that he knew his friend and Lord. But Jesus had warned him, “Simon, Simon, satan has asked to sift you (plural) as wheat, But I have prayed for you (singular), Simon, that your faith may not fail. (Luke 22:31-32).  But it did fail – for a moment – but in the end, Peter’s faith proved true. Why did the Lord allow satan to “sift” Peter? Because there were things in him that would prevent him from fulfilling God’s plan for his life. Jesus assured Peter, “When [not if] you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (v. 32). The Lord was molding Peter into a mighty leader in His Kingdom.

Beloved, when hard seasons come God is not out to destroy you, He is preparing you. He is proving your faith, finding the weak places so that He can strengthen you, making sure you are fit for the good work He has for you. The proving ground is the place where your faith takes root so you can produce fruit – fruit that will last. Fruit that will glorify the one who brought you all the way through the fire.

But . . .

Have you ever asked the age-old question, “Why?”  Perhaps you had enough spiritual understanding to wonder “What is this all about?” Or maybe it was so hard all you could do was cry out for relief. Oh, I have been there – the truth is, I’m still there. “God, why have you allowed these things to happen?” “What is your purpose in this?” “God, help me, I cannot take anymore!” I may look strong in this blog, but after a very long season of struggle, heartache, and enemy attacks, I am about worn out. And yet, something tells me to keep going and keep trusting the Lord. Maybe it’s Joy’s letter magnets. Yesterday I found one as I swept the floor and stuck it on the fridge. This morning, I found two more: “T” and “B” and I carried them to the kitchen and realized yesterday’s find was the “U.” BUT. I knew exactly what that meant. I went to the box with the rest of her letters and found the “G,” “O,” and “D.” BUT GOD. Next to “Jesus Christ”, they are my two favorite words in the Bible.

Over and over in the Psalms David and the other psalmists share their woes honestly and always come back to the “But” – “But You, O God,” (Ps 10:14) which then becomes “But I trust in Your unfailing love” (Ps. 13:5). Or “But you, O Lord” (Ps. 22:19) which is followed by “[those] who seek the Lord will praise Him” (v. 26). When Joseph confronted his brothers who sold him into slavery he said, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good” (Gen. 50:20).

In grammar, the word “but” is a conjunction, joining two phrases or clauses together (“Conjunction Junction,” anyone?). In the Bible “but” is a hinge. Like a door, “but” causes the whole trajectory of a sentence – or a life – to swing in the other direction. “But” enables us to pause and remember who God is and what He has done and can do. “But God” can change our feelings, our emotions, our thoughts, and our circumstances, and our lives – that’s what the cross is all about.

Beloved, I know it’s been a hard year for you too. BUT I am convinced that GOD is able and He is faithful and He will help us get through – not limping along, like wounded warriors, but leaping and dancing with Joy and hope and praise. I hear the music warming up!

Christmas Cookies

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“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man to takes refuge in Him” (Psalm 34:8).

I was searching for some recipes for Christmas cookies and scrolled through some offerings from one of my go-to recipe sites.  I saw a cookie recipe that looked particularly yummy. It called for all the basic ingredients: flour, sugar, nuts, cocoa, and shortening. I always check out the comments to see if others liked them and the first comment was: “I don’t like to use shortening. I’m using butter instead.” The original recipe poster replied: “It won’t turn out right with butter. It will flatten out in the oven. Only shortening will allow it to retain its round shape and texture.”

There is a “recipe” for a godly life. The ingredients haven’t changed in thousands of years: Jesus Christ, the Word of God, prayer, faith, fellowship, and obedience. But like our baker friend, we often try to substitute ingredients in the original recipe. A five-minute devotional won’t produce the same flavor as investing time in the Bible. Love for God can’t be replaced with love of self. Complaining to your friends is a poor substitute for prayer. Watching that “adult” T.V. show that’s just a little spicy will never produce holiness. Following worldly wisdom instead of godly wisdom will cause us to go flat in the heat of life. Compromising at work doesn’t have the same consistency as integrity. Sundays on the ball field rather than God’s house means children don’t rise properly. Still, we mix it all up in the same way and bake it for the same amount of time. Then we’re surprised that we don’t get the same result.

If you want the cookie to turn out right, you have to follow the recipe. If you want life to turn out right, you have to follow the Word and the ways of God. Beloved, there’s just no substitute for Him.

Stop Telling God What To Do

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Reading in Genesis where God had declared His promise and covenant with Abraham to make him the father of a great nation. You know the story: Sarai grew impatient and nagged Abram into fathering a child by her maid Hagar. Several years passed and God came to Abraham and confirmed His promise – Sarah would still bear him a son. Abraham laughed to himself and questioned God’s promise: “Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old bear a child? (Genesis 17:17). Then Abraham said, “Oh, that Ishmael [his son with Hagar] might live before you!”

God had made His promise known to Abraham, but in the waiting, Abraham and Sarah decided God could not be trusted and they would go to “plan B.” Even in the presence of God with the promise still ringing in his ears, Abraham pitched another idea out – as if God’s plan was not sufficient. “You know Lord, that’s quite a stretch – that two old people would have a baby. We’ve got Ishmael already – why don’t you just do your thing with him instead.”‘

I am so much like them. “God I’ve got this situation, I need Your help. I need You to work on my behalf. You are the only one who can fix this.” Then – “Oh, and here’s my plan for what you can do.” Sound familiar? Why do we think we need to give God our advice? I’m speaking this to me as loudly as I am to you – God doesn’t need our input. He doesn’t need my solutions. He can take care of things without your human wisdom. What He wants is our trust. He wants us to give the thing to Him and let Him decide the best course of action. He wants us to believe that what He promised He will also accomplish – without our “help.”

Beloved, let’s commit right now to stop trying to tell God what to do. Let’s give Him free rein (and reign) with our lives and how to work in them. You know, I bet He will come up with a solution that will be “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).

Morning Prayer

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You give life where death once ruled.

You give hope in the midst of turmoil, and peace during the storm.

You give assurance in the face of doubts.

You give wisdom when we are bewildered, and strength when we are weak.

You give sweet rest for the weary, welcome to the lonely, and Joy to those who have been trampled by life.

You give cleansing for the stains of sin and redeem all we once thought was lost.

Lord, You are life and love, light and hope, joy and peace.

Oh that my heart would always stay fixed on You.

God teach me to abide in You, until that day when I abide with you for eternity.

Hebrews: Jesus Understands

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Joy helping Nana make “pankins”

Every Saturday Joy and I make “pankins” (pancakes) for breakfast. She loves to dump all the ingredients into the bowl and “crush” the eggs” then stir the batter. It is our tradition and I love it probably more than she does. I handle the skillet, which is positioned out of her reach, always telling her, “Don’t touch the skillet, it’s very hot. It will hurt you.” This past Saturday, she discovered that for herself. Before I could stop her, she stretched across the counter and barely touched the edge of the skillet. She didn’t have a mark on her fingers but it sure scared her. Later, watching me clean up, she said, “Careful Nana, dat skillet is hot.” I’m pretty sure I won’t have to tell her again not to touch it.

The writer of Hebrews, in discussing Jesus’ final hours, said “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him . . .” (5:8). Just as we saw back in 2:10, Jesus was, is, and will forever be the perfect Son of God. So why would the Scriptures say He had to “learn obedience” – wasn’t He already obedient? Absolutely. He didn’t learn obedience for His sake. He learned it for ours.

Remember, the author has been building a case that Jesus is a worthy, compassionate high priest who can sympathize with us in all of our human struggles. He had previously said that “He had to be made like His brothers (us) in every way” (2:17). Including obedience. He didn’t need to learn obedience to keep him from the harsh consequences of disobedience like my granddaughter learned. No, it was to give us a high priest we could identify with. Perfect people are not much help to imperfect folks like you and me. His struggle to submit to the Father’s plan gives us the confidence to call out for His help when we are in the same battle. The best high priest is the one who can help us out of His own experience.

Beloved, what is that thing you’re clinging to that is so hard to submit to God? What has God called you to that you’re not sure you’re willing to do? Jesus understands. He can help you be obedient. He’s not so far above you that you can’t reach Him. He’s right there in the garden, on His knees.

How to Battle Negative Thoughts

“The Thinker” by Auguste Rodin

I’ve had several conversations recently with ladies who are struggling with oppressive, negative, angry emotions. They are surprised when I tell them that the key is to learn to take control of their thoughts. We tend to focus on our feelings, but forget that those feelings are fed by our thoughts.  And our thoughts can be controlled. Negative thoughts, depressive thoughts, sinful thoughts, angry thoughts can and must be brought into submission. It’s a matter of paying attention to what’s running around in your head.

Psalm 77 was written by Asaph, one of the Temple priests during the Babylonian captivity. The situation seemed hopeless, and this is reflected in his Psalm. In verses 1-9, Asaph lamented God’s apparent rejection of His people. In verse 2 he says “my soul refused to be comforted.” Ever been there? I know I have. But look at verse 10, Asaph turns his mind and heart on a pivot, like a door on its hinges. “Then I thought, to this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High. I will remember the deeds of the Lord…I will meditate on all Your words” (vs. 10, 11, 12). Did you catch the keyword? Thought. In that moment of despair, Asaph took control of his thoughts and changed the focus of his heart and mind.  He deliberately remembered and meditated instead on the character and deeds of God. And when he opened that door, hope and peace flooded in.

We see the same change of mind in Lamentations 3, which starts out: “I am the man who has seen affliction,” (v.1) and continues for 20 verses saying “my soul is downcast within me” (v. 20).  And then verse 21 begins with that hinge word: “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope.” There’s the clue again “I call to mind.”  Jeremiah’s whole focus and attitude is transformed. A change in his focus changed everything.

Paul said, “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Then we take the Philippians 4:8 prescription – I’ll let you look that up. It’s how we battle mental negativity. Beloved, the only sure way to find peace in seasons of struggle is to intentionally turn your thoughts to God, to wrap His Words around you like a comforter, and trust in His love, faithfulness, and peace to carry you through.

Hebrews: When God Says “No.”

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“We’re going to pray, and God will give us the funds for this new building,” the preacher bellowed, and the crowd, whipped into a frenzy shouted their agreement. “Yes!” “Amen!” “Hallelujah!” I, however, did not. The woman beside me said, “What’s the matter? Don’t you believe God can do it?” “Oh, I believe God can do it, I just don’t believe He’s obligated to do it.”  She looked at me like I had two heads and turned her back to me. Please don’t misunderstand me, I absolutely believe that God answers prayers – He’s answered more than a few of mine recently.  But some of my prayers are still hanging, and for some of my prayers, the answer was “No.” God knew better. God always answers according to what He knows is better – what fits His good, pleasing, and perfect will (Romans 12:2). Sometimes that means we don’t get what we pray for. Even Jesus got a “No” from His Father.

In our last Hebrews devotional, I left you in the Garden of Gethsemane, listening to Jesus plead with His Father, “Take this cup from me . . .” Let’s leave quietly and head back to Hebrews 5 to see how it came out. The writer said, “He was heard.” Jesus’ word did not fall to the ground nor fall on deaf ears. His Father heard His prayers and pleading. So Jesus got what He wanted, right? After all, the Father listened to His Son “because of His reverent submission” (v.7b). Yet you know the rest of the story. God said “No” to Jesus. And He knew He would – the eternal fate of the entire human race hung in the balance. If God had saved Jesus from the cross, you and I would be lost forever.

What do we do with those “Nos?” The same thing Jesus did. “He learned obedience from what He suffered,” (v. 8a). We accept the “No” as coming from the heart of our loving, gracious, all-knowing Father and submit to Him in obedience without grumbling. Are we disappointed? Sure – and we can take that disappointment right back to Him and say, “I’m surrendering this to You because I trust You, but my heart is hurting.” God honors honesty and “He heals the brokenhearted” (Psalm 147:3).  Whether the answer is “Yes,” “No,” or “Wait,” you can trust the heart of your Father, Beloved. It’s the same heart that said “No” to His Son so that He could say “Yes” to you.

Does God Ever Get Tired of Me?

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Which is harder to deal with – a big storm in your life or lots of ongoing frustrations? On the Sea of Galilee, fishermen are constantly on guard for storms. A big storm raging on the lake can overwhelm the strongest fishermen and take out a whole fleet of boats. But equally destructive are the constant waves that are driven across the sea’s surface by the wind, slap, slap, slapping the side of the boat. They wear away the boat’s hull and can eventually bring the boat down.

Sometimes life hits us with an unexpected crisis – the sudden death of a loved one, a health crisis, a job loss, a betrayal – we are overwhelmed and shell-shocked. We need the support of our friends and family. We need prayer. We need help. And thankfully the Body of Christ meets those needs. I can’t imagine where I would be without my church family and Christian friends. But for many of us, the damage comes from a continual struggle, that long-term problem that slap, slap, slaps us day after day after day. The wayward child, an ongoing health issue, the juggle of too many responsibilities, financial struggles, or a frustrating work situation. We still need support and prayer and help, but we’re hesitant to keep asking – or maybe just too weary to talk about it anymore. We feel like we’re just a cumbersome weight. Oh, I know this one well.

But “The Lord will not grow tired or weary . . .” (Isaiah 40:28). His patience never wears thin. He never sighs when we approach His throne of grace with our hands full of needs. He doesn’t dodge us because He’s tired of hearing our woes. I have often come to him over an issue I’ve struggled with for many years, saying, “Father, I know You’ve heard this before . . .” and I sense Him saying, “Yes, but I don’t mind if you tell me again.”

The Bible tells us to “cast all your cares on the Lord because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). He will bear the weight of your burdens – and you. What concerns you, Beloved, concerns God because He loves you. He cares about the big storms and He cares about the constant daily battles. If you’re like me, that’s very good news.

Hebrews: Jesus, Man of Sorrows

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I’ve been told I am a “strong” person. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I appear strong because I do a pretty good job of hiding when I am falling apart, although some of you have learned to read between the lines. Like you, I have cried and yelled and begged God to change certain things in my life. Like you, I have struggled with depression and anxiety and despair.  But you and I are in good company.  Even the strongest person in human history came under the weight of emotional affliction.

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death . . .” (Hebrews 5:7). If you didn’t know who Jesus was, you would probably think that this guy went into whatever he was facing kicking and screaming all the way. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. Luke said, “As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (9:51). Jesus walked toward the cross with determination. But the Scriptures are clear that it was a terrible strain on Him.

Of course, you know that this verse is speaking of His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of His arrest. Jesus was “very sorrowful and troubled,” even “to the point of death” (Matt. 26:37, 38). He said, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour” (John 12:27). Luke said His anguish as He prayed produced “sweat like drops of blood falling to the ground” (22:44).  He pleaded, Abba, Father, everything is possible for you Take this cup from me” (Mark 14:36). I’ve prayed much the same thing, and I am sure you have as well.  The difference is, you and I bear much smaller burdens compared to Jesus, who was feeling the weight of the sin of the entire human race being piled on His shoulders. Isaiah called Him “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3). So when the author of Hebrews says that Jesus, our great high priest can “sympathize with our weaknesses” (4:15). it is because He also felt the weight of despair. It was one of the most “human” moments in Jesus’ life.

I’m going to leave you right here, Beloved, in the Garden with Jesus, watching Him cry to His Father. But know that He was not lost to despair, nor are you and I. When we return to Hebrews, we will see that this very human moment is also a moment of divine glory.