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.

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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.

Hiding from God

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?'” (Genesis 3:9)
Did God really not know where Adam and Eve were?  Is it possible that the omniscient, omnipresent God who called the universe into existence was clueless to His beloved creation’s whereabouts and actions?  Not a chance.  I believe God was asking Adam, “Do YOU know where you are?”  “Do you realize what you have done?”  They had walked with God every day in the goodness of His creation, but now thought they needed to avoid their Creator.  They hid their bodies from one another and tried to hide themselves from God.  Sound familiar?
When you and I fall to the temptation of the enemy, when we surrender to sin, our first inclination is to hide, to cover ourselves so God can’t see our shame and to avoid Him at all costs.  Do I really think that He is unaware of my actions?  Do you think God doesn’t see you cowering in the bushes?   We can’t hide from Him.  We can’t cover it up.  But that is a gift, not a source of fear.  When David sinned, he tried to dismiss it, but it was futile.   “I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” (Psalm 51:3).  You know that too.  We can try to dodge it and hide it and pretend it didn’t happen, but it’s always there. When he finally came clean with God, confessed his sin with brokenness and sorrow, he found sweet forgiveness.  His spirit was renewed, joy was restored and he now had a testimony of redemption. (See Psalm 51)
Where are you?  What are you trying to hide?  God knows. It’s time to bring your sin out of hiding. God will forgive you.  God will restore your joy and turn your failure into a beautiful testimony.  Come out of the bushes Beloved, your God stands ready with arms open wide.

Help is on the Way

I need God’s help.  I have a difficult situation – one that is bigger than I can handle on my own.  I need God to rescue me.  Again.  I expected Him to be frustrated with me by now and I asked if He was tired of rescuing me.   You know, deep sigh, then – “Child, when will you stop getting into trouble?”  But that’s not what He told me. 
He sent me searching for the word “rescue,” and highlighted one Scripture in particular, “He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because He delights in me” (Psalm 18:19). And then His Spirit impressed this thought on my heart – He doesn’t rescue me because I am in trouble, He rescues me because it delights Him to do so.
The enemy would have us imagine God as an exasperated parent, weary of our foolishness.  That is not the God who sent His Son to die on the cross.  Ours is a God who delights in rescuing His children.  He knows that we will stumble, He knows that troubles will come our way.  He knows we will get in over our heads. And He is always ready and willing to come to our aid.  Hear this Beloved – God doesn’t rescue you and me out of sense of duty, but out of His extraordinary love.
Do you need to be rescued today?  Cry out to the One who delights in flexing His muscles on your behalf.  Your hero is on the way.

Wherever You Go

Hagar was an Egyptian slave, serving as handmaiden to the wife of Abram and as a surrogate mother to bear a child for the barren Sarai.  This caused much strife between Sarai and Hagar, as you can imagine and Hagar ran away from her mistress, into the unforgiving wilderness where, “The angel of the Lord found Hagar…” Genesis 16:7.  The Hebrew word for “found” means “to cause to encounter.” God purposefully put Himself in Hagar’s path to cause her to have an encounter with Him. That means He didn’t go on a seek-and-find mission, He set Himself right where He knew she was going, because she was His wounded child and His heart was tender to her. 

One of the most precious promises in the Bible to me is “The Lord your God will be with you where you go” (Jos. 1:9).  I have found myself in some difficult places and very hard circumstances, often of my own making, but I have never been out of my Heavenly Father’s sight.  In the margin of my Bible I have written these words that God spoke to my heart: “Child, there is no place you can go that I will not be.”  Whether they are physical places or emotional pits or spiritual dark caves – God has promised “I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5).  If He willingly went to the cross, and into the dark grave of death for us, then we can trust that He will never abandon us, no matter where we are. 

Beloved, I don’t know where you find yourself today but this I know for sure – God was there for a frightened, lost Egyptian slave girl, He has been there for me and He is there with you.  The truth is, He was there – waiting for you – before you ever arrived.

Praying With Faith

“But when He asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6)
 
The old preacher announced from the pulpit – “Come out tonight as we gather to pray for rain to ease this drought.  And bring your umbrella, or don’t bother to come.  We need prayers of faith, not doubt.”
 
What are you praying for today?  Are you believing God will answer – or are your prayers empty petitions?  Oh I’m so guilty of this.  I’m going to be honest here – I have prayed while doubts dug deep ruts through my mind.  “God I ask this of You, but I really don’t expect it.”  Sometimes my doubts were caused by the size of the problem, or the pain of the circumstance.  Sometimes I doubted because it just seemed too much to ask; like I was weighing God’s faithfulness against my failures.  And sometimes my prayers are empty because the enemy has filled my mind with fear.
James calls me “double-minded” and “unstable” (v. 8).   Jesus said it only takes a “mustard-seed” of faith to move the Father’s heart on my behalf (20-21).  Do I believe in God’s goodness – even a mustard seed worth? Has He ever done anything to warrant my doubts?
Beloved, it’s time to put real faith behind our prayers.  I’m praying for some big things from God – for myself, my family and my ministry.  Oh, and I’m gonna grab my umbrella on my way out the door!

I Can’t Forgive Myself

“Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven” (Luke 7:47).

She is the town tramp with a well-earned, shameful reputation.  Women whisper about her when she walks past and pull their children close lest her degenerate nature somehow infect them.  Men look at her with disdain – on the outside at least – and lust for her on the inside.  No self-respecting religious authority would publicly be seen near her.  Yet here she is kneeling at the feet of Jesus, weeping tears onto His dusty feet, tenderly drying them with her hair and anointing them with expensive perfume – no doubt funded by her illicit acts.  She is a sinful woman.  And Jesus loves her.  He who alone has the authority to judge her, instead forgives her.  The sin she carried into the house is left in a heap at those perfumed feet and she walks out forgiven and free from the weight of her shame.

David said it beautifully – “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, who sins are covered.  Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him” (Psalm 32:1-2).  This woman is blessed.  She has been forgiven, her sins are covered and the Lord does not hold them against her anymore.  Jesus has spoken His forgiveness over her.  I cannot image that she spent the rest of her life wrapped in a shawl of shame grieving her past.  So why do we?

Through many years of serving in women’s ministry, the most oft-repeated statement I hear is: “I just can’t forgive myself.”  The weight of shame and the burden of past sins and failures seems to be the most popular accessory for Christian women today.  What if I told you that you didn’t have to carry that over-stuffed bag around anymore?  Sweet friend, if you have accepted Christ as your Savior, your past – regardless of how ugly it is – is covered by the all-sufficient, all-powerful, perfectly-cleansing blood of Jesus.  Hear what the Lord says: “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12).  If God doesn’t remember your sins, why do you need to?  They are gone. Done. Washed away.  If you continue to carry the weight of your sins around, you are saying that Jesus is not a sufficient Savior and that God is a liar.  He has declared you forgiven through the blood of Jesus – why would He say it if it were not so?  Why would you continue to hold onto something that is no longer there?

That fashionable bag of shame you are carrying is empty of all your sins.  Oh, there is still a heavy weight there, but it is not your sin – it is stones of false guilt put there by the enemy – the accuser who wants you to feel the weight of a sin that no longer exists.  He wants to weigh you down with your past so you cannot walk confidently into your future.  Beloved, do not let him steal your freedom.  But you say, “I don’t feel forgiven.  Here is where you are going to put faith in action.

I want you to grab 2 pens – one of them with red ink, and go to an empty page in the back of your Bible.  One by one, take out those stones from the bag – yes, your sexually promiscuity, the abortion, the affair, the failed marriage, the crime you committed, the stupid thing you can’t believe you did – and write it down.  Now beside every entry write in red ink “1 John 1:9.”  This verse declares, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  Confess it, thank God for His forgiveness and claim it as a truth, not just a feeling.  If something new comes to mind, write it down and add your declaration of forgiveness.  Then when the enemy tries to throw that rock back in your bag, point to your written confirmation of freedom and own what Jesus did for you. [1]

Here’s the bottom line my friend: you don’t have to forgive yourself.  God has already forgiven you through Jesus’ sacrifice.  There is nothing left to forgive.  Now pick up your empty bag, fill it with the joy of freedom in Christ and claim the new life you have been given.

“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” Romans 8:1.

[1] There are times when we must also confess our sins to someone who has been wronged by our actions.  Prayerfully ask God if this is something you should do.

Dilly, Dilly! (It’s Not What You Think)

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”  2 Timothy 3:16
“Why are those kids singing about beer?” I asked as I walked past the T.V.  My husband was watching a movie and a children’s chorus was singing a song – all I caught were the words “Dilly, dilly.”  I’ll bet, like me, your mind jumped to a popular beer commercial set in the medieval period where the king and his court toast their favorite brew with a robust, “Dilly, dilly!”  The phrase is actually from a children’s nursery rhyme that dates back at least to the 1600’s, called “Lavender Blue,” It has been recorded by multiple artists, including Burl Ives and even David Bowie, but to my 2018 mind “Dilly, dilly” brings up the image of beer and Camelot.
By now you’re wondering why a Christian writer is blogging about beer and nursery rhymes.  Because it points out the importance of context as it relates to understanding the Bible. When you and I read the Bible we often apply 21st century context to the ancient words of God, and in doing so miss the intended meaning and principle.  We must be careful to read and  study the Bible with the original context in mind.  Just as “Dilly, dilly” reminds us of a beer commercial today rather than a child’s nursery rhyme, the Scriptures are often misapplied with a modern, cultural twist.  If you want to have a deeper understanding of God’s Word you need to understand the original context of God’s words and apply their timeless principles to your life today. The Scriptures may have been written thousands of years ago, but the truths they contain are as fresh and current today as the day they were inscribed on ancient scrolls.
Beloved it is time for the people of God to go deep into the Word of God and live out the truths of God in a world that desperately needs God.  What did God say to you today through His Word?

God Knows My Heart

My friend had been trying for 20 minutes to explain why she did something she knew God would not approve of. She wanted to put this thing behind her, but she kept going back to it. “I guess I’m just weak,” she sighed. “In my heart I want to do better, isn’t that good enough?” “After all,” she said with a shrug, “God knows my heart.”
I threw out one of those breath-prayers, took her by the hand and said, “Yes sweet friend, God knows your heart – that’s why He sent you a Savior.”
God does know our hearts. Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts” (Luke 16:15). God knows that in its natural state “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9). He knows that our hearts are very human and prone to mislead us by our own desires (James 1:14). The only hope for the human heart is a divine Savior. Jesus. He knows your heart and mine and He came to redeem our hearts through His death on the cross. Will you always get it right then? I’m living proof that the answer is “No,” but a heart that has been rescued by Jesus is a heart that can be renewed and restored.
Beloved, God knows your heart – does your heart know Him?