Waiting on God

“Then God said to Noah, “Come out of the ark . . .”  Genesis 8:15
Noah, and company were on the ark for a total of 370 days.  After 150 days afloat, the Ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.  After 271 days, Noah sent out a dove who could not find a place to land, but 7 days later, the dove returned with an olive leaf.  After 7 more days, the dove did not return to Noah.  It was still another 29 days before Noah visibly saw that the water had completely receded and the land was dry.  This was at day 314,  That’s a long time in a boat full of people and animals – and oh, can you imagine the smell!
But here’s what amazes me – Noah waited another 56 days, until God gave him the all clear, to come out of the ark.  He saw that the ground was dry, in his understanding, the danger was past.  Yet he waited until God gave the word.  If it were me, I would have launched myself out of that ark at day 314.  Or at the very least I would have paced and grumbled and whined until God said “Go.”  The Bible doesn’t tell us why God waited 56 days to let them out of the ark.  But it does tell us that Noah waited on God.  And that’s really all we need to know. 
Sometimes God asks us to wait – and He reserves the right to not tell us why.  There may be other things or people that need more time.  There may be something in us that is not quite ready.  Despite what you think you know, God knows better.  We don’t need to know the reason, we just need to wait and trust.  Beloved, God is not going to leave you in that smelly ark forever.  He will open the door when He knows all is ready for you to proceed. Let’s wait on Him with confidence and faith.  Let’s be Noahs in our generation.
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God Knows

“For the Lord your God knows your trudging through this great wilderness.  These forty years the Lord your God has been with you” (Deuteronomy 2:7).

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen,

Nobody knows my sorrow

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen

Nobody knows but Jesus.

The beautiful old African-American spiritual was a testament to the struggles and the faith of the slaves of the 1800’s.  Louie Armstrong recorded the song in 1962 and many more have followed.  This song could have also been sung by the early church martyrs and even the Israelites who fled Egypt and set out toward the Promised Land.  It reminds us that life is hard, sometimes very hard, but God is aware and He is with us.

As the second generation of Israelites prepared to cross over the Jordan River, Moses reminded them of their own history and warned them not to turn again to the rebellious ways of their fathers.  Earlier, when they had neared Canaan, Moses sent twelve scouts to look over the land and bring a full report.  They confirmed that the land was rich and desirable, but they balked at taking on the current occupants, fearing they would be destroyed.  Their disobedience resulted in forty years of wandering to allow the unfaithful generation to die so that the next generation – hopefully wiser and more faithful than their parents – could go in.  It was forty years of hardship and drudgery – “trudging through the great wilderness.”  For the faithless Israelites it was long, hard journey to nowhere.

I think “trudging” is a great word to describe life sometimes.  It brings up the image of weary feet-dragging and endless, pointless plodding in a dry and unfriendly terrain.  Life feels like that sometimes, doesn’t it?  Day after day after day of struggle and difficulty.  You try to just keep putting one foot in front of the other, but even that feels like more than you can do at times.  You wonder if anyone sees you.  If anyone cares.

My friend, I promise you, on the Word of God and my own life experience, Someone does.  Someone sees every step you take.  Someone hears every sigh and catches every tear.  You know who that Someone is – it is God, the Creator, the Almighty, the Sovereign One.  He is watching over you, just as He watched over the Israelites in their forty-year trek across the wilderness.  Not only was He watching over them, He was with them.  Close enough to see the weariness on their faces.  And day by day by day He cared for them.  He led them.  He fed them. He provided for them.

I know sometimes it feels like you are all alone in your struggles but be assured God is with you.  He is near and He cares about you.  He will lead you.  He will provide for you.  He will comfort you and encourage you – it’s what He loves to do.  If He cared enough to send His one and only Son to die for you, do you think He will forget you in your daily struggles?  Oh Beloved, I understand – I’ve been through some very hard times. I’m in a difficult season right now.  At times I thought I was all alone – especially when my troubles were self-made.  But God has always been good, He has never abandoned me, and He will never abandon you.

The Israelites found God faithful.  The early church and the martyrs of the first century and beyond found Him to be the same.  And so have I.  He has never let His people down.  He has never left them alone in their struggles.  He has not changed.  He is as good and faithful today as He was hundreds, even thousands of years ago.

When you think, “Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen,” remember “the Lord your God knows.” He is near and ready to help.

Holy Father, some days feel like I’m trudging through an endless wilderness.  I need Your help and the comfort of Your presence.  Help me to trust that You are watching over me and that you are with me every step of the way.  Amen.

 

Life Lessons in the School of Hard Knocks

“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”  Psalm 119:71

 I am somewhat hard-headed and tend to learn life lessons in the “School of Hard Knocks.”  I’ve found that the most effective teacher in life is consequence. Or as my Mom used to say “Bought lessons stay with you longer than taught lessons,” and I have paid dearly for some lessons.   I learned to choose more carefully who I hung around when I sat through a police interrogation on prom night.  I learned the value of money when I found myself deep in debt.  I learned to pay attention to my driving when I ran a red light and t-boned a car.   But the most important life lesson I learned wasn’t from my own failure – it came from the life of Peter.

In the Lord’s most vulnerable moments, Peter denied knowing Jesus.  As his Friend stood trial before the High Priest, his boldest disciple was arguing about his association with the one he had previously declared as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:13).  Peter repeatedly rebuffed accusations that he was one of Jesus’ followers.  And when, as his Friend prophesied, the rooster crowed, Peter realized what he has done and “he went outside and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:62).  He was brokenhearted over his betrayal.

Thankfully the police didn’t lock me up, I paid off my bills, and the DMV allowed me to drive again. And blessedly, Jesus gave Peter another chance.  After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter and the boys went back to fishing, and Jesus showed up on the beach with breakfast and forgiveness.  Three times Peter had denied Jesus.  Three times Jesus gave Peter the opportunity to profess love for his Lord and friend.  Jesus healed Peter’s broken heart with overflowing grace.  He reaffirmed His call on Peter’s life and this formerly unfaithful disciple preached the first evangelistic sermon, and three thousand souls were nourished and saved by the Gospel.

The lesson: God’s not done with me just because I messed up.

Peter’s life shows us that the mistakes we make, our failures and missteps are not the end. God doesn’t write us off, wash His hands of us or give up on us because we are hard-headed. If that were so, mankind would have never made it past Adam and Eve, much less to you and me. All through the Bible God tells us that He is patient, forgiving, compassionate, merciful and full of grace. He loves you, even when your knees are bloody because you fell. He loves me, even when I am covered in the stench of my own choices. Jesus died so you and I can be forgiven; So that we could have a second chance at life. Or a third or a seventeenth.

Have you made a mistake somewhere along the way? Have you run in the wrong direction, played with the wrong people, kept going when you should have stopped? Have you professed Jesus as your Lord then denied Him by your words and actions?  Take heart Beloved, God has not given up on you. Take your mistakes, your failures, your denials, and your sins and place them before your loving Heavenly Father. Then take the nail-scarred hand of Jesus and start walking, a little wiser, in the right direction. 

22 Inches

“Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent”  (John 17:3).

It’s been a long dry spell in my heart lately.  I’ve sensed a distance between me and God.  Not that He has moved away, but more that my focus is off and my passion has cooled.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not abandoning my faith.  I love the Lord, I am committed to follow Him and live for Him, but something seems – off. Prayer has been a struggle and while I continue with my daily devotions and Scripture reading, I’m not all in like I once was.  I’ve tried to figure it out.  Maybe it’s the turmoil of the past year and the uncertain future we are facing.  Maybe it’s disappointment or disillusionment. Maybe it’s a lot of heartache. Maybe . . . maybe . . . maybe.

One recent morning, as I rolled this over in my mind again, I had the urge to grab a tape measure and measure the distance between my head and my heart.  22 inches.

“What does that mean Lord?”

“That is the difference between what you know in your head and what you know in your heart.”

Last fall I completed my Bachelor’s degree in Biblical and Theological Studies.  It was four years of hard work, study, and pounding out acres of papers, reports and tests.  I loved it! I learned so much about the Bible, God, Jesus, creation, the Church – and yes, even algebra.  I read hundreds of pages every week in my textbooks and read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation with courses dedicated to individual books. I dug into words and context and history and ate up every minute of it.  Mind you I am not a biblical expert – far from it.  I don’t know it all; in fact, I barely scratched the surface.  But I learned a lot.  You would think all that I learned would cause me to draw closer to God, but in truth, the opposite seems to have happened.  You see, I was so busy and so focused on learning all I could know about God and His Word that I failed to know Him.  All that knowledge does me no good if it just sits in my head and never reaches my heart.  It’s like a seed lying dormant on the surface rather than under the ground where it can put down roots and grow strong.

So how do I make all this knowledge jump from my head to my heart?  I don’t think it’s something I can do but only the Holy Spirit.  Still, I do have some responsibility, like blocking out all the distractions (can you say Facebook?) and inviting the Spirit to speak to me as I read His Word.  By sitting still before Him and listening with intention and focus, praying about what I’ve read, then living it out.  Then again, experience is often the best teacher.  Sometimes we don’t know who God really is until we have to.

Through my studies I learned that God is El Roi – the God that sees – but how do I know that He is the God that sees me. He is Yahweh Maphalti – the God who delivers – but I won’t know that in my heart until He has to deliver me.  How will I know Yahweh Chereb – the Lord—the sword – unless He fights for me? Is He Yahweh Sali – the Lord my rock? Do I know El Simchath Gili is God who brings me joy? Is He El Hayyay – the God of my life?

I used to think it was enough to know all I could learn about God, but I’m finding that when it’s all head-knowledge, it doesn’t move my heart – and my heart is what God is after.  My heart is where change happens.   So every morning when I come to meet with God, I will turn my phone off, log out of Facebook and email and soak in His Word.  I will come in a spirit of humility and be still and listen.  I will meditate on the Word and let the truths—and the Truth—take root in my heart.  I will pray about what God says to me and ask Him to help me receive it and believe it.  I will “come near to God and He will come near to me” (James 4:8).

Twenty-two inches isn’t much on tape measure, but it is the difference between knowing about God and knowing God. I’m not satisfied with a head full of knowledge anymore.  I want to know God with all my heart.

I’ll share my journey with you in this blog.  I pray you too will discover the difference 22 inches can make.

El Hayyay, God of my life, please don’t let me waste all I’ve learned about you.  Take all my head knows and make it take root in my heart.

Friday the 13th

It’s Friday the 13th – does that make you a little nervous?  Why are we so fearful of this day?  Tradition refers back to the fact that Jesus was the 13th person at the table on the night before His crucifixion on a Friday.  So, does that mean that Jesus’ death was just bad luck?  Absolutely not!  Jesus’ death was the perfect plan of God.  The day was not by accident either – in the same early morning hour that the Passover lamb was being slaughtered for the sins of the Jewish people, Jesus, the Lamb of God, was being nailed to a cross to die for the sins of all mankind.

Nothing in the life of the person devoted to God is ever “lucky” or “unlucky.”  Did Joseph consider being sold into slavery and falsely imprisoned to be a stroke of bad luck?  If so then he would have had to conclude that luck put him in the second highest position in Egypt.  But he told his brothers – the very ones who sold him out – “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).

Sometimes it’s very hard to believe that God, not luck or “karma,” is directing the path of our lives, especially when things go awry.  As I sit here now, my husband is in the process of medically retiring and I am three days from the end of my job, with no offers in sight.  Either we are very unlucky, or we are in the good hands of a good God with a good plan.  I’m trusting in the providence and sovereignty of God.

Beloved, wherever you are today, what ever your situation, it’s not because of luck or happenstance.  God has you.  He has not surrendered control for even a millisecond.  Nothing – not one single thing – escapes His notice or His charge.  So lay down your 4-leaf clover and your rabbit’s foot and stop avoiding ladders and black cats.  Who knows? Friday the 13th may turn out to be the best day of your life!

All That Glitters is Not Gold

I used to be so “star-struck.” I was fascinated by the life of the rich and famous. I bought all the magazines so I could keep up with my favorite celebs. I soaked up every detail of their lives – where they went, what their house looked like, and especially what they wore. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be them.
Then I met Someone – He wasn’t a star by the world’s standards, but He created the stars and calls them all by name. And suddenly the lives of actors and singers fell far short; their glitz and glamor couldn’t compare to His splendor. I don’t waste money on magazines since I found the Book He wrote. I want to soak up everything about His life. I want to walk like He walked. I want to be wherever He is. I want to look like Him and talk like Him. I want to be like Him. His name is Jesus.
This world idolizes celebrities and makes kings and queens out of men and women who can sing a song, pretend to be someone else, bounce a ball, or show themselves off in outlandish ways. But there is One who set aside His incomparable splendor and became the most humble of men. He deserves all our worship and all our praise. One day, at the mere mention of His name, “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10-11). Even LeBron and Miley and the whole Kardashian clan.
Beloved, who has caught your attention? Who is a “star” in your eyes? No one will ever shine as brightly as Jesus.

Ancient Words

Reading the Bible is paramount for the believer who wants to live and walk as Jesus did – after all, that is the purpose for our salvation – “to be conformed to the likeness of [God’s] Son” (Romans 8:27).  I’ll bet you have started trying to read through the whole Bible and found it to be more challenging than you thought.  Especially in the Old Testament – especially in Leviticus! What do all those old rules and sacrifices and rituals have to do with us as New Testament believers?  EVERYTHING!
The entire Old Testament looks ahead to Jesus Christ.  He fulfills every promise and completes every command.
In Genesis He is the Seed of the woman who will one day crush the head of Satan.
In Exodus, He is the Passover Lamb and the one who leads His people out of bondage.
In Leviticus, He is the great high priest and the perfect sacrifice.
In Deuteronomy he is the Great Prophet to come.
In Joshua, He is the Captain of the Lord’s host.
In Judges, He is the one who faithfully delivers His people from the cost of the sin.
In Ruth, He is our Kinsman Redeemer.
He is the anointed King in the line of David in the books of Samuel.
In the books of the Kings, He is the Spirit filling the Temple.
He is the great Teacher in Ezra and the Rebuilder of broken walls in Nehemiah.
He is the Interceder for His people in Esther and the coming Redeemer in Job.
He is the Shepherd in Psalms and the Source of all wisdom in Proverbs.
He is the Beloved Bridegroom in the Song of Solomon.
In Isaiah He is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace and Suffering Servant.
In Jeremiah and Lamentations He is the Man acquainted with sorrows.
In Ezekiel He brings life to dry bones.
In Daniel He is the Ancient of Days.
He is the faithful Husband in Hosea, the Hope of His people in Joel, the Judge of the nations in Amos, and in Obadiah the One who warns of coming judgment.
In Jonah He is the preacher of the Good News, in Micah He is the Ruler from Bethlehem.
In Nahum, He is the judge of His people’s enemy,  the Sovereign Lord in Habakkuk and in Zephaniah He is the God who is mighty to save.
In Haggai He is the Glory of the House of God, in Zechariah He is the Royal Priest and in Malachi Jesus is the Son of Righteousness.
When you read the Old Testament, always look for Jesus, He is on every page, in every verse.  Then read the New Testament with a fresh understanding of Jesus who was and is and is to come.
I love the power and truth in Michael W. Smith’s hymn, Ancient Words – (written by Lynn DeShazo)

When All Is Lost

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 learn from this account, and 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.

Okay God, Here’s Our Plan

Reading in Genesis this morning 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 Ismael [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 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 make a commitment right now to stop trying to tell God what to do. Let’s give Him free 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).

What’s Your Plan?

Murphy’s Law says, “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” Robert Frost wrote: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” In the south we often say, “If the good Lord’s willin’ and the creek don’t rise!” You get it, we make plans – big and small – and life happens. In high school I planned to go to college, get married, be a journalist and live happily ever after. Five years later I never made it to college, was working at a dead-end job, and going through a divorce. Not exactly what I had in mind. Perhaps you intended to get a big project finished at work yesterday, but a minor hitch derailed your plan. Flat tires, sick kids, an unexpected phone call, or the boss’ priorities can turn our day upside down. Divorce, cancer, lay-offs, rebellious kids, and death can turn our lives upside down.
Aren’t you glad God is not subject to the winds of change and the whims of other people? Job testified, “I know that you can do all things; no plan of Yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:1). God is the perfect planner because He is sovereign; that is He has absolute authority to determine what will happen and He has absolute power to pull it off. He also has the advantage of seeing “the bigger picture.” Like putting together a puzzle, He sees each piece as it fits into its place and becomes part of the whole. In fact, He is the one who designed the picture in the first place. In hard seasons I find comfort in knowing that God is never taken by surprise when life takes a left turn. He has already determined how this thing that has rocked my world will fit into the completed picture of my life.
God never sits on His throne and wrings His hands over the unexpected. Because nothing is unexpected to the One who rules over it all.