Storms

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It’s easy to trust God when things are going well and life is easy. But, it’s harder to trust Him when storms – literal or figurative – are raging around you.

Like when Jesus and His disciples were crossing a lake. “A furious squall came up and the waves broke over the boat so that it was nearly swamped” (Mark 4:37). A squall was a hurricane-force wind on the lake, and it was terrifying – even to seasoned fishermen. But Jesus was with them. He was probably helping them bail water or fight with the sails, right? Nope. “Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion” (v. 38). The terrified disciples woke him crying, “Teacher don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:38). Yes, Jesus cared. “He got up, rebuked the wind, and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm” (v. 39).

Then Jesus said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (v. 40). Why would Jesus chastise these men for a normal human reaction to a life-threatening situation?

I think there are at least two reasons. First, Jesus was with them. He had protected them before (John 17:12). Yet they doubted He would save them now. They thought He was “asleep in the job,” but He never lost control of the situation. Then, look back a bit at verse 35: “He said to His disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.” He had already told them that they would reach the other side but they forgot His words when the storm rose. Don’t we do that too? Sunday morning we nod when the pastor reads, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Then when the storm comes up on Tuesday, all we hear is the wind and the crashing waves. As if He had never spoken at all.

I’ve been through more than a few “squalls” in my life. Jesus has never failed me. He won’t fail you. He’s not asleep. He’s not forgotten you. Beloved, God has promised you a hope and a future. He cares about you. That’s a promise you can take with you to the other side.

Jesus Loves Sinners

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In the days after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the disciples wondered what they should do. Jesus had appeared to them and they recognized that He was the living Son of God. But what now? They had received no direction from the Lord at this point. Was their ministry season over? Peter, carrying the additional weight of his betrayal, decided to go back to doing what he knew best, fishing. I understand him. I’ve been in a season where my life was full of ministry, then a fall in my character took it all away and I wondered if God was done with me. Just like Peter, I discovered that the Lord doesn’t give up on His people.

After a night of futile fishing, Peter and the disciples who had joined him headed toward home. A man stood on the shore and called out, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” (21:5) “No.” they replied. He then directed them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat, where they caught more fish than they could manage. That struck a memory in John. He knew that man on the shore! “The disciple whom Jesus loved said, “It is the Lord!” (John 21:7).

Peter, the impetuous one, jumped out of the boat and into the water. The shame of his betrayal must have nearly drowned him. But to Peter’s credit, he didn’t try to dodge Jesus. He was oblivious to everything else but his Lord.

It is so easy to fall into sin; even the greatest saint is one temptation away from the pit. What do you do when the dust clears and you’re standing there in the aftermath of your failure? Judas refused to come to Jesus for forgiveness. But Peter splashed his way to Him. We don’t have a record of those few private moments before the rest joined them, but I have this picture of a repentant Peter standing on the shore, dripping with water and tears. Oh, the blessed, tender heart of Jesus. He forgave His rebellious disciple and restored him fully.

Beloved, have you fallen into sin? Have you stumbled in your walk? Do not sit in your guilt. Do not run away in your shame. Run to Jesus. He has promised, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). He stands on the shore waiting for you with forgiveness and restoration in His hands.

Change Your Perspective

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“From the ends of the earth I call to You, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2).

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

Life is hard. But you don’t need me to tell you that. After a year and a half of a pandemic and social and political unrest, many of us are just worn out. And to add to the stress, many of us are carry some heavy personal burdens too. You may be dealing with a scary diagnosis or a financial crisis. You may be trying to work through grief or disappointment or a difficult relationship. Maybe there’s upheaval at your job. Or you’re just carrying more responsibility than your shoulders can bear.

So how do we deal with it all? We have two choices – either look at it from the pit of despair, or approach it from a higher perspective. We can choose to see it all as a hard blow or as God’s shaping and strengthening our faith. We have to choose whether we will roll around in hopelessness or stand in confident trust that God has a purpose and a plan in it all.

Believe me – I haven’t always been a shining example of faith in the hard times I’ve encountered. I’ve struggled. I’ve cried. I’ve worried and I’ve questioned God. But I’m learning that I can either drag myself into misery or climb up on the Rock that never fails.

Beloved, I don’t know your struggles – but I know that your perspective affects your faith and your ability to face it all with confidence and hope. And perspective has everything to do with how you see God – as faithful or fallible, as near and caring or as distant and unconcerned. Beloved, know this – God is with you and me in the hard stuff. He is faithful. We can trust Him. He will not fail us. He is our Rock – a high place on which you and I can stand. Climb up here with me and let’s watch Him work wonders.

For the One Who is Losing Hope

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It’s been such a hard year and a half for the world. So much tragedy and pain and loss and anger. So much despair and hopelessness. I see you, friend – struggling to hold your head up. This message is for you – the one who is losing hope. I know how that feels. I have been there. When you think that these hard days will never end, the pain will never stop, the sin will never leave you, the loneliness will never go away. When you wonder if there’s any point in going on.

Please hear me: there is a reason to keep going – you are only in the middle of your story. When I read a book, and the plot twists put the heroine in a desperate situation, I know there are more pages and chapters for the story to turn around. But when we are in the middle of our life story, we think this is all there is, and this is how it will always be. But there are more pages and chapters to come. And with them comes hope. Because the Author of your story is the God who loves you, and He is writing a glorious turnaround for you. He sees your story from beginning to end. He sees you in the middle, where the struggle is now – and He sees you on the other side, whole, stronger, at peace.

Psalm 33:11 says “The plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” He has a plan and a purpose for your life – and for this present season that seems unbearably hard – and He has the power to fulfill His plan. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). He never leaves anything unfinished. And that includes you and me.

If life is hard right now, remember that this is one page in the story of your life – but it’s not the whole story. The struggle, the pain, the ache you’re feeling now is not the final word. Let God keep writing your story. Trust Him to turn the plot around. Beloved, as long as there is breath in your body, your story is not done – there is hope. Please keep reading – the best is yet to come.

A Strong Foundation of Love and Peace

I began praying for my granddaughter before she was born and have prayed every day since. I pray for her health, protection, provision, and growth and I pray Ephesians 3:17-19 over her. “That Joy, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that she may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” That part, “to know this love that surpasses knowledge” always puzzled me.  It brings to mind Philippians 4:7 that says that “the peace of God, which surpasses understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” How can you know something that surpasses knowledge and understanding? This is a beautiful expression in both verses and it means to take firm possession of something that has complete authority over you and gives you an assurance that cannot be overridden. Specifically, in the terminology for Philippians 4:7, it means to have a superior hold of the mind in reference to “alarm and agitating emotions.” So I am praying that the love of Christ would rule and reign over her. Yes, she is only 2 years old, but I’m praying a foundation for the rest of her life. And I’m partnering with God in “rooting and establishing” her in love so that one day when she is a little older, she will be able to grasp the immense love God has for her. Is there a more important job for a grandmother?

Beloved, the love and peace of Christ are available to you too – today – right in the midst of anxious, frustrating, heartbreaking circumstances. The key is in the verses that surround these two verses – about living in God’s grace, rejoicing in the Lord always, trusting in His presence, praying about everything with thanksgiving, and keeping your thoughts focused on the good stuff.

I encourage you with all my heart to sit with your Bible and a fresh cup of coffee and meditate on Philippians 4:4-9. Then “the God of peace will be with you” in ways you cannot understand, but you can certainly know and rest in.

The Notes in my Bible

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Some people revere their Bibles and keep them pristine with all the pages smooth. They would never dream of making a single mark in them. I also revere the Bible, but mine is in pretty rough shape. The faux leather cover is almost flaked off. Pages are curled up at the corners and almost every page has underlines, highlights, notes, and dates on them – and a few coffee stains.

One page has two dates in the margin, a year apart. Zephaniah 3:20  is a reminder of God’s faithfulness and goodness to my family.

May 29, 2018: Verse 20a – “At that time I will bring you home.” On May 29, 2018, we rolled out of Tuscaloosa heading back home to Dothan after 23 years away. But it wasn’t exactly happy circumstances. My husband had to medically retire and my job had ended in a company merger that shut our office down. To top it off, I was dealing with a raging case of cellulitis that would leave me flat of my back for a month. So much was uncertain, and honestly, scary. We were trusting Him for – – well, everything. Provision. Healing. A job. Hope.

May 29, 2019: Verse 20b“I [will] restore your fortunes before your very eyes.” Here’s the note I wrote: “A year later and I’m stunned at what You’ve done for us. I never dreamed of all You would bring about – Thank you so much!” In those 365 days, we moved into a house we still love, I landed the best job I’ve ever had, and started Graduate school – for free! God had indeed provided, healed, and guided. Oh – and one more blessing happened on May 29, 2019 – a little girl came into the world and changed our lives forever. Exactly a year to the day after one of the hardest days of our lives, Joy was born. Talk about a turnaround!

But this is not about marking up my Bible. This is about encouraging you to trust Him. I know many of you are facing hard, uncertain, painful things. But don’t lose hope. God is all about rescuing and restoring and turning lives around. I’m living proof of that. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s another verse I’ve marked and dated: “From this point on, I will bless you” (Haggai 2:19) – 9/20/2012. Beloved no matter what, God is faithful.

Losing Hope

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“But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise You more and more” (Psalm 71:14).

Something really painful happened this week that hit me like a dagger to my heart. I was blindsided. I was stunned and hurt. I felt like a kid watching their balloon float away. Except it was my hope drifting off. But it was only for a moment.

It made me think of two of Jesus’ followers who were walking on the dusty road to Emmaus when they encountered a stranger.  They tell him about a man named Jesus and sadly said: “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21).  They had believed that this Jesus was going to make right everything that was wrong. I get it. I also found myself wondering why Jesus wasn’t fixing a very big wrong in my world.

Part of the problem is our understanding of the word “hope.”  We say, “I hope it doesn’t rain out the picnic today.”  “I hope he asks me to the prom.”  “I hope you feel better soon.” – but these are spoken like “wishful thinking.”  That’s a “cross-your-fingers” kind of hope.  The Bible portrays hope as “an attitude of confidently looking forward to what is good and beneficial.”  It’s a hope that serves as “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19).  It’s not a hope in circumstances, but rather hope in the One who called us and sustains us and guarantees a good outcome.  It’s a hope that we can carry with us no matter what twists and turns life takes.  Better yet, it’s a hope that carries us no matter what.  That’s the kind of hope you and I need.

Remember those disciples on the road to Emmaus – the ones who had lost hope? Their story didn’t end there.  At the end of the Emmaus road was the joyful realization that the stranger in their midst was the resurrected Lord Himself.  In the end, their hope was renewed – it was even stronger than before. One of my favorite verses in seasons like this is Proverbs 13:12: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when dreams come true at last there is life and Joy.”   God expected that unexpected turn, even if I didn’t, and somehow, I know He will right what is wrong. And when He does there will be life. And Joy.  And hope.

When Life is a Puzzle

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Murphy’s Law says, “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” Robert Burns wrote: “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” In the south, we say, “If the good Lord’s willin’ and the creek don’t rise!” We make plans – big and small – and life happens. In high school, I planned to go to college, get married, have 3 kids, be a writer, 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’s 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 set a plan and absolute power to pull it off. He also has the advantage of seeing “the bigger picture.” Like putting together a puzzle, He not only sees each piece as it fits into the whole but He’s got the box lid with the finished picture. And what is that picture? “The likeness of His Son” (Romans 8:29). That’s the good that God is working toward in “all things” in your life (v. 28). In hard seasons you and I can take 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 your world will fit into the completed picture of your 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. You can rest in that, Beloved. Nothing in your life will ever take Him by surprise.

Solid Rock of Love

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

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

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

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

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

When Life Stinks

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