Not Your Warm and Fuzzy Devotional

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There is a lot of hero-worship in the church. There are “rock-star” pastors with thousands of followers and Bible teachers who sell out auditoriums around the country. Jesus had quite a crowd that followed Him and hung on His every word. Take the fellow in Luke 9: “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you where you go.’” (v. 57). He wanted to be part of Jesus’ entourage. But Jesus didn’t encourage this would-be fan. His response: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head” (v. 58). I believe Jesus was saying, “This is not going to be the high-life you’re expecting. I don’t have a multi-million dollar mansion to put you up in. I walk hot, dusty roads and sleep where I can.”

What did you expect from Jesus when you chose to follow Him? A solution to all your problems? A good reputation in the community? A full life with heaven thrown in after it’s all over?

Just a few verses before this scene, He told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (v. 23) Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem and the cross. He might have also told the man, “Don’t hook your wagon to me unless you’re prepared to die.” There is a war going on between good and evil, between light and darkness. Evil and darkness have the upper hand at the moment. God’s people are the enemy of the present ruling authorities who are bent on destruction. If you choose Jesus, you need to know that you are also choosing self-denial, persecution, rejection, and suffering. That is what Jesus endured. Why should we expect any less?

But then, I look at the modern church, so comfortable in our air-conditioned sanctuaries. Where is the suffering? Where is the persecution? Where are self-denial and the cross? Maybe the enemy’s strategy against the church today is not a full-on battle, but just to make us relaxed and contented. Just before he hits us with an all-out assault.

Here’s a thought: If Christianity is comfortable, maybe we’re in more danger than we know.

When God Doesn’t Make Sense

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“He makes everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

When his two co-prisoners had strange dreams, Joseph interpreted them accurately and the men met the fates that Joseph had described. The chief baker was hanged, and the chief cupbearer was restored to his position. Joseph had asked the cupbearer to mention his unjust imprisonment to Pharaoh. “Surely,” Joseph must have thought, “I will finally be released from this prison.” But the Scripture says, “The chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph; he forgot him” (Genesis 40:23). And the very next verse tells us that Joseph was stuck in that prison for another two years. Freedom was so close he could almost touch it, yet it remained just outside of his grasp. Why would God allow Joseph to languish unjustly in prison, especially when He had given him visions of prominent position when he was younger? What purpose could that possibly serve?

Have you asked similar questions about your own life? God, why am I still single? Why am I childless? Why can’t I advance in my career? Why can’t I get healthy? Why am I stuck in ____________. It is so frustrating when we can’t see any logical reason for God not to answer our pleas. If you’ve ever scratched your head and thought, “God, you’re not making much sense here,” you’re in very good company. But dear one, you also don’t know the big picture, just as Joseph couldn’t know how God would unfold His plan.

The Bible says that after those two years, Pharaoh had an unusual dream that no one could interpret. It was then that the chief cupbearer remembered Joseph and told Pharaoh. Joseph not only interpreted the dream, but he so impressed Pharaoh that he was elevated to the second highest position in the land. In that position Joseph was able to save his family from starvation. If he had been released from prison two years earlier, he would have almost certainly high-tailed it out of Egypt and away from the plan of God for his life, for the lives of his family and, ultimately your life and mine, for in rescuing his family, Joseph preserved the nation from which our Savior would come.

When you find yourself becoming anxious about what God is not doing in your life, remember that you can’t see the big picture from your vantage point. Could it be that He is positioning you for a greater purpose than you can imagine? Could He be preparing you – and the situation you’re in – for a miracle? I believe Joseph would counsel you not to fret, but to trust God to move in your life in just the right place at just the right time. When He is directing the lives of His people, God makes every minute count towards His purposes. God has not forgotten about you Beloved; “He makes everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Including your life.

Guest Blogging Today

I am guest blogging today on the website “All Mom Does.”  Check out my Thanksgiving devotional, “Giving Thanks in the Desert.”

https://www.allmomdoes.com/2018/11/21/giving-thanks-in-the-desert/

 

I Wrote This for You

“Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs” (Matthew 10:27).

The truth is, what you see in me – or read in my words – is not all there is.  I may look wise and together on paper, but it’s not the full picture.  I wrestle daily with the dark devil of depression; it has been my constant companion since I was very young.  It has taken me to some deep, gloomy places.  It has cost me a great deal in my relationships, health, time, money, and hopes and dreams.   I’ve tried many things to keep it at bay; medication, Scripture and prayer have all been effective and helpful tools. But they haven’t made it completely go away.  Especially in the past few months.   This is what I wrote in my prayer journal not too long ago:

Lord, the truth is, depression lingers just below the surface.  I walk through my days like walking across thin ice on a river of discouragement, knowing that one misplaced footfall and I will plunge into the dark waters again.  Then sometimes I think, it would be so easy to give in to it; just take a deep breath and let myself slip under those familiar waves of despair.  In some weird way it is a comfortable foe – we’ve been together for a long, long time.  I fight it most days, but make no mistake – it’s always there, looming, dark and taunting, waiting for me to take that one wrong step and tumble in.

So, am I a fraud when I write words of encouragement and hope? Not at all.  Do I really believe the things I write about God breaking through despair to bring hope?  Yes – because those are the very same words that God speaks to me – His continual stream of goodness and inspiration that keeps my feet steady and my head lifted.  They are His constant reminders of love flowing through His Word and His Spirit and shining in my darkness.  He knows me.  He knows that I can’t make it one day without the hope He gives.  He knows that the frustrations and uncertainty I am facing right now threaten to do me in.  So He speaks to me.

Then He tells me to speak to you.  Because He knows you too.  He knows that some days are so hard you don’t even want to get out of bed.  He knows that you are lonely, grieving, hurting, fearful.  He knows that you have been disappointed, forgotten, rejected, passed over – and so He tells me, “Take the words that have spoken over you and speak it over them.”  That is why I write.  It’s so you can grab onto the same lifeline God threw out to me.  Paul said, “The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort . . . comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).  I can’t keep this comfort and encouragement to myself – it’s much too big and wonderful for just me.  It’s for you too.  It’s a warm blanket we can share in a cold world.  The blanket of hope.  The quilt of encouragement.   And the beauty is – there’s always room to welcome more.

Beloved, come join me in the sweet, blessed comfort of our Heavenly Father.  Hear His words of hope, of peace, of encouragement and of joy.  Let Him wash over you with the warmth of His love.  We’re in this together – you and I – and the God of Heaven and Earth.  We’re gonna make it—He told me so—and then He told me to tell you.

Holy Father,  You are so faithful to speak words of light and life over me.  As long as I have a voice, whether speaking to one person, a crowd, or the whole world of cyberspace, I will speak of Your goodness and faithfulness and love.  Let me always be a conduit of Your comfort. Amen.

Face-to-Face

Many years and a lifetime ago, my ex-husband abandoned me six hours away from my family. I called my mom (collect) and cried. She said that she and my dad would be there at the end of the week to help me pack up and come back home. I called her every day that week, multiple times a day and cried as she comforted me. I was so grateful for those phone conversations, but nothing could take the place of that moment when she stood with her arms around me and said, “We’re here. We’ll help you get home.
There are two verses in Isaiah 41 that came together for me in a powerful way this week. Verse 10 says: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” That is awesome! God has taken hold of me with His right hand. But then I saw something in verse 13: “I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” Did you see it? God has taken hold of my right hand. With His right hand. The only way that works is if God and I are standing face-to-face.
I know life has been a struggle lately and you wonder if God cares or is even paying attention. Oh Beloved, t’s time to look up. See your Heavenly Father standing right in front of you. Feel the warmth of your right hand in His right hand. Hear Him as He looks into your eyes and speaks. “Don’t be afraid. I am here. I will help you.” He knows. He cares. He is with you. Face-to-face.

Where Are You?

“Where are you?”  “I heard You in the garden and I was afraid. . . so I hid”         Genesis 3:9,10

 “Where are you?”

Have you ever asked that question? Perhaps you were looking for your friend in a crowd or frantically searching for your child in the store. I’ve often impatiently asked that question while waiting for someone who is running late. I have an unmarried friend who often cries as she asks that of a future soul-mate. It is sometimes said in frustration or fear or wistfulness. But did you know that the first time those words were spoken, it was God asking the question?

“Where are you?” God called out to Adam and Eve as He was “walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8). It was their usual habit to meet every day and fellowship together, but today, they were nowhere to be found. I imagine they had always eagerly met Him in their paradise home, but now the two humans had hidden themselves because they had disobeyed God and done the one thing He had forbidden them to do, eating of the tree from which the Lord God had said, “You must not eat.” From their hiding place, Adam answered God, “I heard You in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (Gen 3:10).

This is a familiar story and as I read the passages today I was thinking, “Yes, I know this story very well.” Until I came to that question and the answer that followed, and the words lit up on the page as if I were reading them under a laser light.

God is asking Adam the question, “Where are you?” Forever after this fateful moment in time, the question turns, and man has been asking God, “Where are You?” When troubles come we ask God, “Where are You?” In the face of bad news, rejection, grief and struggle, we ask the question. When the world turns upside down and violence and disaster and disease seem out of control, we look up, sometimes with a clenched fist and shout, “Where are You!?” When our hearts are breaking we cry out in a whisper “God, where are You?” God asked the question first, but we have been asking the question ever since.

Adam answered the question, “I heard You…so I hid.” Forever after this fateful moment, God has said, “I have heard you” (2 Chron. 34:27) and “I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10). God hears you when you call out His name. He hears your cries. He hears your heart. Hagar named her son Ishmael, which means “God hears,” because He heard her cries in the desert. He heard the grief of His people in bondage in Egypt. He heard their call for help when they faced great armies. He heard David’s pleas for forgiveness. “You heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help” (Ps. 31:22).  He heard the groaning of men’s spirits bound by sin and death. God hears you beloved.

Unlike Adam, when God hears us He does not hide Himself from us. He promises to be with us, and He has kept His Word faithfully to His people. He promised to be with the Israelites as they crossed the wilderness, and as they faced their enemies. He promised to be with them as they settled in Canaan and He promised to be with them even as they were taken away into captivity because of their own sin.   He promised to be with them and redeem them, and He came to be present with His people in flesh and blood; flesh that was torn and blood that was spilled at the cross.   He did this so that we could be with Him forever in eternity.  It is the same promise Jesus made to His disciples and to all who would follow Him, “Surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  He is our Immanuel, God with us.

God first asked the question, and Adam’s answer broke God’s heart. Now our broken hearts ask the question, and God’s answer gives us hope and comfort and peace.

“Where are you God?”

“Right here with you my child.”

“I love you Lord, for You heard my voice; You heard my cry for mercy. Because You turned Your ear to me, I will call on You as long as I live” (Psalm 116:1; para).

Related posts: Hope in the darkness

 

Hold My Hand

“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”  James 4:8

When my son was much younger he was afraid of thunderstorms, especially those that came through at night.  Like every child, he wanted to be near his parents, where he felt safe; but he was at the age where he really wanted to be “a big boy.”  He didn’t want to give in to his fears, but his fears were very real.  I’ve been there, and I am sure you have as well.

I remember one night in particular, when a storm rolled in just as his dad and I were going to bed.   He said to me, “Mommy, I’m just gonna lay down here by your bedroom door.  I really don’t need to get in your bed anymore.”  “Okay son that is a good idea.  I am here if you need me.” And so he curled up with his pillow and blanket by the door.  The thunder crackled outside and lightning flashed through the sky.  “Mommy, I am going to lay down here on the floor beside your bed. Don’t step on me Mommy!”  “Okay son, I will be careful not to step on you. I’m here if you need me.”  Another bright flash followed by a crash of thunder.  “Mommy will you put your hand down here so I can hold it?”  “Of course son, here’s my hand. I’m here if you need me.”   Suddenly the sky lit up and a “BOOM!” rattled the windows.  “Mommy, I’m comin’ up there!”  And in just a few minutes, nestled in my arms, one hand reaching out to touch his dad, my son was fast asleep, even as the storm raged on.

Doesn’t life throw some awfully frightening storms our way at times?  The rain pounds down on us and we frantically search for a safe haven from the lightning.  I think the emotional and mental thunder is the worst.  The crash of a breaking heart, the crackle of frayed nerves and the BOOM that rattles our lives makes us want to reach out to someone, anyone who will comfort us and make us feel safe and secure.  Where do grown-ups go when the storms roll through?

Like many, I turn to the Word of God, and especially the Psalms. Psalmists like King David and Aseph, one of the Temple musicians, peppered the book of Psalms with both pleas and praise for God’s protection during stormy seasons.   God is called, a “shield” (Ps. 3:3, 5:12, 7:10,), a “refuge and stronghold” (Ps. 9:9), and a “place of shelter” (Ps. 55:8), just to name a few.  David finds security “in the shadow of [God’s] wings” (Ps. 17:8).  One of my favorite phrases is “But God…”  Over and over again, the Psalmist expresses his fears over the storm he is in, and then turns his heart around by saying “But God…” as he proclaims his confidence and trust in the Lord.  Psalm 73 could have been my son’s verse: “Yet I am always with You; You hold me by my right hand.”  And David expressed what I am sure were his feelings that stormy night: “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (Psalm 4:8).

Remember how Jesus calmed the storm in Mark 4: 35-41, and even walked on the tumultuous waves in Matthew 14:22-33?  He is still walking out on the choppy seas of your life and mine to calm the storm around us. Life is hard, but you don’t have to face it alone.  You have a Shield, a shelter and a refuge. Storms will come, of that we can be certain.  But God… God calls out “I’m here if you need me.”  He holds His arms open wide to draw His child near, and in the arms of God is peace, safety, security…and rest.

Holy Father, like a little child, I will draw close to You when the thunder crashes, all the way up into Your strong and reassuring arms.  You are my comfort in the storms of life.  Amen.

The God of My Life

“Therefore we do not lose heart…For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”  2 Corinthians 4:16, 17

I have been thinking a lot about struggles and trials in our lives, and judging by the feedback on a recent devotional about suffering, I am not the only one who is seeking answers and a measure of understanding for times of hardship and heartache.  I have heard it said that in life, you are either about to go through a trial, in the middle of a trial, or just coming out of a trial.  It’s not scriptural, but I think it has a ring of truth to it nonetheless.  In case you didn’t get the memo: Trials are a part of everyone’s life.

One of the questions we so often ask in times of trouble is “What good can possibly come out of this?”  Isn’t it a little easier to endure difficulty when we know something good will ultimately come from it?  A mother endures the pain of childbirth, because she knows that her baby will soon be born.  College students endure the intense work of school because a good education prepares them for a successful future.  Our military men and women fight in battle because they know they are ensuring freedom for their loved ones.  I believe our struggles and sufferings always have potential for good in God’s hands.

Paul gives us one good end to our suffering in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort…comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received.”  Though it’s hard to see in the midst of trouble, God is shaping us to be His arms of comfort for others who are enduring trials.   Who better to comfort a young woman grieved by an abortion that another woman who has done the same; a woman who can testify to the power of God over that situation.  Organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous and Teen Challenge work because those who have been freed from addiction can offer help, accountability and hope to another addict from their own similar experience.  I have a lot of difficult things in my past (and present); abuse, rebellion, divorce, infertility, financial hardships, and rejection.  I have suffered from the choices and actions of others, as well as from my own decisions.  They were hard things to go through, but they have enabled me to reach out to others who are struggling in the same ways and offer them the comfort and hope that God gave to me.  I can look a hurting person in the eye and say “I know how you feel,” and I have their trust.  I can share in their suffering because I’ve been where they are.  I can reach out to them with the love of Christ as a fellow divorcee or abuse victim or rejected friend, and I can tell them how God worked in my life through that situation. It gives them hope, and brings meaning to my struggles.  When I allow God to turn my suffering in ministry, my friend is encouraged, my faith is strengthened, and my Father is glorified.

Times of struggle and suffering are also meant to turn us to God.  We were created with one purpose above all else: for a love relationship with God, and He often uses difficulties to turn us back to Himself when we have wandered away.   You can see the pattern throughout the history of Israel, God’s people began to be enticed away from Him, they sought other gods that seemed to offer them the pleasures they craved, but they didn’t realize the dangers these idols posed.  God gave them over to enemy nations, to hardship and slavery, and they eventually cried out and turned back to Him.  Psalm 119:57 says “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your word. Sometimes God allows us to suffer the consequences of our choices so that, in our misery, we will seek Him again.  How often I have run back to God after a season of rebellion, and He welcomes me into His loving and comforting arms, He forgives me, cleans off my skinned knees and sets me back on the right path.  He has never rejected me or turned me away, no matter how messy I am or where I have been.

One of the sweetest blessings that has come out of suffering is that I have learned more about God in times of difficulty than I ever could otherwise.  How would I have ever come to know God as Jehovah-JirahThe Lord my Provider, if I never had a need? Would I know Jehovah-Rapha – The Lord my Healer, if I had never been sick?  I discovered that God is Jehovah Shalom – The Lord my Peace during a time of turmoil and chaos, and that He is EmmanuelGod With Us, when I felt abandoned and alone.  He is Yahweh TsuriThe Lord my Strength when I am at my weakest, and He is Jehovah OriThe Lord my Light when the darkness of depression surrounds me. When the enemy is attacking me, I know that Jehovah Gibbor MilchamahThe Lord Mighty in Battle is at my side.  David wrote in Psalm 9:10, “Those who know Your name will trust in You.”

The sufferings of my life have shaped me like nothing else ever has.  Struggles have driven me to my knees, and I stood to my feet as a prayer warrior.  Disappointments in my life have driven me to God’s Word for comfort and encouragement, and I am a Bible teacher and writer today because of them.  I have come to see the hardships and sufferings of my life as God’s sculpting tools, and because I know that He has brought victory from past struggles, I can trust Him in the difficulties I face today and tomorrow and all the days to come.

My favorite name for God, the name that means everything to me, became most precious when my life fell completely apart and I was surrounded by the shards of my hopes and dreams.  It was there that He came to me – El EmunahThe Faithful God – and He has proven Himself to be so ever since.

By day Lord, You direct Your love for me, at night Your song is with me – You are El Hayyay-The God of My Life; my joy and my delight.  Psalm 42: 8; 43:4