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.

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God, I Don’t Understand

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One of my favorite ways to study the Bible is digging into one book and examining it passage-by-passage, verse-by-verse, and even word-by-word. There is so much wealth in every word of Scripture. I enjoy looking at each word as if I’m looking at all the different facets of a diamond. I love to study word definitions and etymology because one of the most important aspects of Bible study is to understand the author’s original intent. Because the meaning of words change from time periods and cultures, we often read a first-century word with a twenty-first century understanding and it affects the way we interpret, and thus apply, Scripture. For example, when Paul writes about “slaves” you and I picture the horrific slavery of America in the 1800-1900’s. But slavery in the Middle East in the first century was often a business transaction or even a relationship of loyalty between slave and master. So when we examine a passage such as Ephesians 6:5-8 we can have a better understanding of the concept of slavery when Paul told slaves to “obey your earthly masters with respect and fear and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.”

But is slavery really the point Paul is making here? If we pull back from this close-up of one word, we see that the bigger picture is that of obedience to and for the Lord. Pull back a little more and this section is sandwiched between family instruction and the armor of God. Once again the bigger picture is all persons doing all things “in the Lord” and being “strong in the Lord” (v. 1, 10). Pull back even farther and we see the whole theme of Ephesians is living as who we are “in the Lord.” As helpful as it is to examine each verse in a passage and even each word in the verse, we must not lose sight of the bigger picture. You could take this macro-vision even farther by noting that the entire New Testament is what God has done and is doing “in the Lord.” What is the focus of the entire Bible? The Lord.

Right now, you may be dealing with something very difficult and all your attention is centered on this one thing in your life. It’s all you can see. You are hyper-focused on this single issue, person, or struggle. You are looking at it from every possible angle, trying to figure out how you got here and testing out various solutions in your mind to determine the best course of action. Friend, you need a wider perspective. May I encourage you to pull back just a little and look for the bigger picture? This issue, person or need is one word in one sentence of one paragraph on one page of your entire life story. But it isn’t your whole story. God has a much bigger purpose in mind than just the solution to one problem in your life. Over and over the Bible tells stories of people who had a challenge—infertility, oppression, imprisonment, slavery, rejection, even lack of basic life necessities—and God moved in such a way that the resolution to their challenge became a much larger and more God-glorifying part of their story.

I find great comfort in Jesus’ words in the upper room: “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (John 13:7). When I want to say, “God I don’t get this; I can’t figure out what to do here” I hear my Lord say, “You can’t grasp it now child, but you will understand when you see the bigger picture.” Beloved, there is a bigger picture. There is a higher purpose. There is so much more to your story than you can see in the moment. Give God your troubles, your struggles, your difficulties and watch Him unfold something you never imagined. Your life is so much more than this moment. Trust the Author of your life story. He has a beautiful, wonderful ending in store for you.

The Day Between Death and Life

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“It was preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.  The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how His body was laid in it.  Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.”  Luke 23:54-56

It was the darkest day of their lives – the day after Jesus had been crucified on the cross.   They’d heard the hammers pound the nails into His hands and feet.  They listened to Him cry out to His Father in anguish and surrender.  They saw His body slump as He give up His Spirit.  They watched the soldiers pierce His side and witnessed blood and water drain from His battered body.  They held their breath as Joseph and Nicodemus took His lifeless body down from the cross.  They followed in a sad processional to the garden where their Lord was entombed.

In our modern understanding of these days, we hold solemn vigils on Good Friday, remembering the death of Jesus, and we come together for joyful celebrations on Easter Sunday to celebrate His resurrection.  But Saturday is the day for egg hunts, travel, shopping, and preparing our Easter Sunday finery.

More and more the Holy Spirit is teaching me to sit in the moment with the Bible characters.  To put myself in their sandals and their experience and not rush on to the end of a familiar story.  He is teaching me to take a holy pause.

What must this day have been like for these devoted women?  Were they numb with grief?  Or was it the kind of sorrow that aches deep in the bones?   This day – the day after darkness filled the noon-day sky and the curtain was torn in two – must have left them empty inside – confused, in anguish, and filled with disbelief.  How could this be?  Their Jesus was dead.

Looking back from this side of the Cross, we want to take their faces in our hands and tell them, “Just hold on! Don’t grieve. Everything is going to change tomorrow!”  As Paul Harvey says, we know “the rest of the story.” We know death cannot keep its grip on Jesus. We know they will soon find the tomb empty.  We know this is only the day between death and life.  But they didn’t.  In their world, death was final.  It was all over.

They didn’t know they were only waiting. . .

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 Can Do All Things . . .

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“I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13)

“Let a Christian begin to boast, “I can do all things,” without adding, “through Christ who strengthens me,” and before long he will have to groan, “I can do nothing.” Charles Spurgeon

Philippians 4:13 is one of those favorite “pull-out” verses for believers, and it is a good reminder when we face big tasks.  But do you know this verse in its context?  It really isn’t about strength at all.  It follows up a different principle altogether.

Paul is in prison – and 1st century prisons were nothing like our modern American facilities. There were no cots, no pillows or blankets, and no meals provided. Prisoners slept on hard floors and were at the mercy of others for their basic needs. If family, friends or a kind benevolent soul did not bring them food, they would starve to death in prison. This “strength” verse comes as Paul thanks the Philippian church for their gifts and concern for him.  He wants to assure them that, despite his situation, he is not in despair.  Rather, he says, “I have learned to be content’ whatever the circumstances . . . In any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:11-12).  Paul is making a point about contentment.  And he said that the secret behind his unshakable state of contentment is the strength he receives from the Lord.


This is not a power-lifting verse.   It’s not a touchdown verse (and I do love Tim Tebow). It’s a getting through life verse. Paul is not trying to perform great feats of strength – he’s trying to endure his chains.


The beauty of this verse is that the same strength that sustained Paul in prison is there for you and me in the challenges we face every day.  I can do all things . . . be gentle with my frustrating child this morning – face my overly demanding boss – have a Christ-like spirit towards those co-workers who reject my faith – eat beans and hot dogs for supper for the third time this week – bathe my aging parent who can’t remember my name. We don’t just need Christ’s strength in the gym or on the ball field. We need it in our homes and workplaces and relationships.


Beloved, whatever your “all things” is today, God will give you strength, not just to do the thing that needs to be done, but to do it with a heart of contentment, knowing that One who provides the strength also holds you in the palm of His great and loving hand. Yes, you can – through Him.

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. 

Is the “Good Book” Really Any Good?

Know What You Believe; Believe What You Know: The Bible

“We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. . .” (2 Peter 1:16).

Oh, the B I B L E,

Yes, that’s the book for me,

I stand alone on the Word of God,

The B I B L E!

This little children’s chorus has been around since I was a girl.  I taught it to my son and to children in the preschool department for years as we shared stories of Creation, David and Goliath, Noah’s Ark, Jonah and the Whale, the fall of Jericho, Baby Jesus, the Cross and the Empty Tomb.   I loved learning and later telling those familiar stories and like all the other children, I believed them.  But come on you say, you’re an adult – isn’t it time stop believing in “stories?”

I suppose that’s a valid question, and it deserves a solid answer.

The truth is, I would stop believing if I thought they were only stories made up in the minds of men.  But I am confident in the authority of the Bible as the Word of God from the mind of God given to human authors through the Spirit of God.  That’s exactly what Peter says following up our key verse: “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation.  For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21).  God wrote the words of Scripture through the pens of men like Moses, David, the Prophets, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, and James.  David, in the last of his Psalms said, “The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; His word was on my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2). It is so important to understand that the Bible is not man’s ideas, thoughts, opinions or views on what God has said – it is man as the scribe recording what God has said through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Many people view the Bible as a directive for how we are to live our lives.  Paul said, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  First, notice that Paul confirms the inspiration of Scripture as coming directly from God to man.  Secondly, notice that Paul said the Scriptures are useful for life-direction – but that is not the chief purpose of the Holy Writ.

Neil Lightfoot, in his study How We Got the Bible notes, “It was God’s purpose that by means of a written record he would be revealed to all ages and tongues as Creator and Redeemer.”[1]  God is all about relationship, about knowing and loving us and us knowing and loving Him.  Since the beginning God has been revealing Himself to His beloved creation.  He came to Adam and Eve in the Garden until sin broke that pure fellowship.  He revealed Himself in various ways to Noah and to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and to Moses.  He revealed Himself through words given to His prophets.  And finally and perfectly, He revealed Himself through His Son, Jesus.  The Bible is a written testament to the reality of God the Creator and Redeemer of all that exists.  Over and over in Scripture God reveals His will, “That you may know Me.”

Consider this:  If God desires to reveal Himself to humankind, why would he allow men to include fantasy and fallacy in the written account of Himself? Archeological finds such as the Dead Sea Scrolls confirm the accuracy of the Bible as we have it today in comparison to the most ancient manuscripts available.  Most modern translations have been painstakingly taken from the ancient Hebrew and Greek and research has proven that any changes from those manuscripts are minimal and do not affect the original message.

That said, I don’t hold to the authority and authenticity of the Bible because of these things.  They support my faith in the Bible, but they are not the reason I trust it.   I believe in the Bible as the inerrant and infallible Word of God because it has changed my life.  It was there that I met Jesus and He turned this sinful woman into the daughter of the Most High God.  The Bible is so much more than a good book – as Moses declared, “They are not just idle words for you—they are your life (Deuteronomy 32:47).

Holy Father, thank You for all the ways You have revealed Yourself to human beings.  Thank You for inspiring men to records words that we can understand to make Yourself known.  Give me a holy passion to drink in the words of the Bible for as long as I live.  Amen.

[1] Neil R. Lightfoot, How We Got the Bible: Third Edition, (Grand Rapids, Baker, 2003), 23.

The Bigger Picture

world-map“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).

“I need a bigger map than this,” I complained. “I need to see my whole route.”  The image on my GPS only showed the next several hundred yards in front of me.  But that wasn’t enough for me.   I needed to see my present location in relation to where I wanted to end up.  I needed a bigger picture. 

Of all the lessons the Lord has taught me in the past 45 years, I think the most powerful teaching has been that of gaining a bigger picture.  We live in the moment, in the hours of our days, looking at our weekly schedules and our monthly calendars, planning big events a year or more ahead.  We plan for college educations and retirement and think we’re wise in our future forecasts.  But life isn’t just about our plans for the here and now.  Life – real life – is eternal, and the greatest lesson I’ve learned is to have an eternal perspective in all things.

I’m learning to evaluate every situation and circumstance and consider what kind of impact it will have in eternity.  Is this struggle I am in going to change my eternal destiny?  Will this difficult season continue on eternally?  Yes, this life hands us some very hard and painful things, but this life is also temporary, and eternity is—well—eternal, it’s forever and ever and ever.  Just prior to our key verse, Paul wrote: “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (v. 17).  Though they often do not feel “light and momentary,” in the reality of eternity, they are just one tick on the clock of forever. 

I’m also learning to let the words I say pass through this eternal filter.  Several years ago, God gave me a verse to motivate me towards my calling: “If you utter worthy, not worthless words, you will be my spokesman,” (Jeremiah 15:19).  I’m making an intentional effort to speak and write “worthy words” that have an eternal purpose.   I ask myself, “Will the words I’m about to say have an eternal impact?”

This eternal perspective affects my desires too.  When I start to feel the pinch of envy, I remember that Jesus is preparing an eternal place for me that my brother’s beautiful, custom-built home can never match.  I will wear a robe of righteousness forever that no fashion designer could ever create.  I will have a perfect body that doesn’t require hours in a gym.  Even the events of this world don’t seem so overwhelming when viewed in the light of eternity.

Thinking back to my GPS, when we have a “bigger picture” of life that culminates in eternity, we understand the journey we are on and the route before us.  We can traverse twisting roads, sharp turns, long stretches and detours with the assurance that none of these will stop us from reaching our final destination – heaven and the presence of God forever.  Beloved, I encourage you to widen the view before you and trust the One who is leading you.  This life with all its heartache and struggle is part of the journey to your perfect eternal destiny.  Let’s travel on together with our hearts set on forever.

Life from Death

garden-angel“By faith Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead” (Hebrews 11:19).

What has died in your life?  Your marriage?  Your future goals?  Your plans?  Your hopes? Your dreams?  Your faith?  You sit there staring at this thing that you built your life around as its heart slowly stops beating.  What do you do now?  Where do you go from here?  Why should you even bother to do or to go anymore?  I’m not talking about simple everyday disappointments; I’m talking about those soul-crushing desperations that drain your hope and leave you empty.  I’m talking from experience.  I’ve been in those places, I’ve felt the heart-rending pain.  I’ve buried hopes and dreams – and yes I’ve even buried my faith.

But the God who created me is also the God who brings life from death.  Abraham understood that – God had made promises to him that centered on his son Isaac, then God asked him to put his son on and altar of sacrifice.  Abraham didn’t understand God’s plan, but he knew God would never make a promise He didn’t intend to fulfill.  He knew that whatever God had in mind by making this request of him, He would still be faithful to the promise of descendants – coming from the very son over whom he now held a knife.

I’m sure you know the story, and if not check out Genesis 22.  God stayed Abraham’s hand and brought Isaac from the brink of death.  God fulfilled His good promise.  The thought that runs through my mind over this account is not that Isaac had to die, but that Abraham’s dependence on Isaac had to die.  Abraham had to put all his hopes in God, not in Isaac.  Now, the question for you and me is, what are we depending on?  A hefty bank account?  A great job?  A college degree? (That one is for me.)   Who are we depending on? A spouse?  Children? Parents?  A significant other?  God had to put some things to death that I was building my life around.  He had to break my dependence on things and people so that all I had left to depend on was Him.  It wasn’t just to bring me pain; it was to bring life out of death.  It was to let the perishable die so that the imperishable could live.  Beloved, in God’s hands is life – everlasting and abundant.  You can trust Him to resurrect what you have buried.  You can trust Him with your heart.

Advent 2015 – Day 13 – Peace in the Storm

advent2a“He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Peace!  Be still!’  Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.”  Mark 4:39

My pastor says that you are either going into a storm, in the midst of a storm or just coming out of a storm.  It is one of the constants of living in this fallen world.  Difficult times will come.  Sometimes the best we can hope for is to go through them with someone who cares and can help.

The disciples faced “a furious squall” as they fought through that long stormy night on the Sea of Galilee.  They worked to keep the boat upright and frantically bailed the overflowing water.  While they struggled, they no doubt cast furtive glances at the end of the boat where Jesus slept.  “Is he going to sleep through this whole thing?”  “Why is he leaving us to fight the storm by ourselves?”  Finally, when they had no strength left to battle the wind and the waves, they woke Jesus up and cried, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown” (v. 38)?

You’ve asked those same questions, haven’t you?  “God, are you going to sleep through this storm?”  “Are you even paying attention?” “Don’t you care if I drown?”  Jesus knew the situation on the lake that night.  He knows your situation too.  Though He may seem uninterested, He has his eye fixed on you.  He will not let the wind and the waves drown you.  He knows the exact moment to speak peace into your storm.

We are wise to remember that sometimes the Lord speaks peace to the storm, and sometimes, though the storm rages on, He speaks peace to His child.

Jesus’ command was only three little words: “Peace!  Be still!”  His words are almost identical to the words of Psalm 46:10.  Jesus spoke them to the wind and waves.  God is speaking them to your heart today.  “Peace.  Be still . . . and know that I am God.”