Looking at Life from Higher Up

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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.
Some of you know the struggles we’ve faced for the past several months. My husband was injured at work and had to leave his 23-year career. At the same time I lost my job and couldn’t find another. Two months ago we moved back home to start over. During the move and for weeks after, I dealt with a serious health crisis – with no insurance. I’ve been diligently looking for a job and many of you prayed for me when I went on an interview last week – but I learned yesterday that I did not get the job. We have been without any income for 3 months and our meager resources are almost depleted.
So how do I deal with all this disappointment and life-shaking change? I have two choices – either look at it from the pit of despair, or approach it from a higher perspective. Will I see it all as a hard blow or as God’s shaping and strengthening my faith? Will I 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 been a shining example of faith. I’ve struggled. I’ve cried. I’ve worried and I’ve questioned God. But I realize 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. I know God is here with me. I know He is faithful. I know I can trust Him. I know He will come through. He is my Rock – a high place on which I can stand. Climb up here with me and let’s watch Him work wonders.

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The God I Know

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“They said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world’” (John 4:42).

Like most couples, my husband and I have some significant differences – like the way we drive.  I am a “straight-shot” driver – give me the most direct route with the fewest turns possible.  He likes to take -shall we say – alternate routes as he drives.  He is constantly trying to tell me his “better ways” to get from point A to point B, and I usually smile and go my own way. One of his shortcuts is a wide swing on a country road to avoid a city with heavy traffic.  I usually fought through the traffic because I wasn’t sure I could navigate his preferred route.  Until we moved a few months ago and we actually live right on this very road.  Now, because I travel this road all the time, I am confident I can navigate it successfully and I’ve found it really is a better way.

When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, He changed her life and she ran to tell her neighbors that she had found the Christ.  They came to meet this man and heard His message in the two days He stayed in their town.  John says, “Because of His words many more became believers.” (v. 41).  They didn’t believe the woman’s claims about who Jesus was until they saw Him with their own eyes and heard Him with their own ears.  Then they understood that Jesus was indeed God’s Anointed One – He was the better way.

In every life challenges and difficulties come and situations take us by surprise.  Health struggles, joblessness, relationship battles, loss and heartache happen and we’re left wondering where to turn.  My family is experiencing some of those right now and we are turning to God.  Why?  Because over the years, we have come to know Him through experience.  We’ve found Him to be able and faithful.  We’ve tried Him and are confident of His love and care.

Every challenge in life is an opportunity to discover who God is.  Sure, you read about Him in the Bible and you’ve heard other’s talk about what He’s done in their lives, but what do those stories mean for you?  Not much until you experience Him for yourself.   A recent health issue reminded me that God is my Healer.  In this present season, we are trusting in God as our Provider.  A dear friend recently experienced loss and now confidently claims God as her Comforter.  You can’t really know who God is until you have tried Him and found Him to be exactly what you need. Just as He said He would be.

Beloved, whatever your season, whatever the need – may I encourage you to try God?  I am certain you will find He is able and faithful.  Then you can say with confidence – “I believe because I have experienced Him for myself – I know He is everything He claims to be.”

Why the World Doesn’t Believe

577a5-157991596“When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).
Why do people reject the love and grace of God? Why do they refuse to receive the beautiful message of the Gospel? I’ve often wondered why people don’t want Jesus. I mean, who doesn’t want joy, peace, hope, and eternal life.
Then I read in Exodus, about the Israelites who were enslaved in Egypt. When Moses and Aaron delivered the Lord’s message: “Let my people go” (Ex 5:1), Pharaoh instead made their work even harder. Moses tried to encourage the Israelites, telling them that God would set them free from their bondage, give them their own land, and most importantly, He would be their God. The Scripture says, “They did not listen to him because of their discouragement and cruel bondage” (Ex 6:9).


Why does the world reject the love and grace of God? Because they are under bondage to Satan. They have no hope because they are over-burdened by a cruel taskmaster. They don’t understand the beauty of God’s offer because their minds are numbed by discouragement from the devil. Our key verse notes that Jesus saw the hopeless people and He felt deep compassion. Not hate, not disgust, not judgement. He felt the weight of their bondage and it broke His heart.


Maybe – just a thought here – but maybe Jesus is showing us the better way to reach the lost world. Maybe compassion rather than pointing fingers is the way to lead people to Christ. I’m not talking about the world’s humanitarian efforts to ease suffering. I talking about the love of God that cares about the body and the eternal soul. The lost world is under bondage. Christian compassion can loosen their chains so God’s mercy can set them free. Will you be the conduit of His love to someone today?

Holy Father, the world is in bondage to Your enemy and they cannot even envision freedom.  Satan continually tells them how helpless they are and how hopeless their situation is.  Let me be Your hand and voice of compassion.  Use me to open hearts to the possibility of a life without chains.  It was Your compassion that saved me, let me share that compassion so others might be saved too.  Amen.

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.

 

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!

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).

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.

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.