Pebbles in Your Shoe

Satan would rather put a pebble in your shoe than a mountain in your path.  Why? Ever had a little pebble in your shoe?  Isn’t it amazing how something so small can be such a huge distraction? It is a constant irritation that will stop you in your tracks. Often it’s the minor, seemingly insignificant things that do the most damage. Fishermen in the sea of Galilee watched the skies diligently and hurried to shore at the first sign of a storm. But more boats were damaged by the steady slap-slap-slap of the constant smaller waves that slowly ate away at the boat’s wooden sides. The wise fisherman checked his boat daily for signs of wear that could give way unexpectedly in the middle of the sea.

 I am quick to call down the forces of heaven over those mountains – but pebbles are such small, insignificant things.  “I can’t bother God with that.”  We tend to put our needs into different boxes. “Too big for me,” or “too little for God.”  We call for prayer when Grandma is near death, our child is hurt in an accident, or amid a worldwide pandemic.  But we think that God does not want to be bothered with our petty problems.  Does He even care that your washing machine has died?   Should I even bother Him about the paper I need to write?  Why would God be concerned about a teething baby who has kept you up three nights in a row?  He is too busy for such petty little problems.

My friend, God cares about all your needs.  He wants to be involved in the “everydayness” of your life.  He wants you to come to Him with your frustrations and the demands of your day that wear you down.  1 Peter 5:7 says “Cast all your cares on Him, because He cares for you.” All your cares – not just the big ones.  Didn’t Jesus teach us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11)? Daily bread. Daily needs. He is a daily God.

God has not left you to manage this life on your own.  He sees all issues you face.  He cares about the most intimate details of your life.  Take it all to Him Beloved, the big and small.  He is the God that moves mountains that stand in your way.  And pebbles that get in your shoe.

Hanging by a Thread

I was standing in the kitchen, begging the coffee maker to hurry up when my son walked in to get something to drink. I heard him behind me – “HIC!” “HIC!” “HIC!” He said, “I don’t think there’s anything worse than waking up with the hiccups.”  I answered him, “There is – waking up and being sick to your stomach is worse.” And I playfully growled at him and said, “I know from experience – and it was all your fault!” Of course, I was referring to the morning sickness I endured when I was pregnant with him. But our conversation made me think – what would be the worst thing to wake up to? I could list a lot of things – I’m sure you could too. Waking up to pain or sorrow or loss or violence or loneliness or heartache would be hard to face first thing in the morning. Then I thought, the worst thing to wake up to is hopelessness. That feeling that life is awful and it’s never going to get any better.  I’ve had seasons like that and I know that you have too. You may be there now. When all those hard things feel like permanent fixtures in our lives, we wonder if there’s any point in waking up at all.

A few thousand years ago, a prophet was waking up to the reality that all of his efforts to turn the nation of Israel back to God were useless. Jeremiah watched helplessly as the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem – under God’s judgment. He said, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord . . . my soul is downcast” (Lamentations 3:18, 19). He had hoped to save his people. He had hoped God would stop the invasion. But his hopes were not to be. He wept bitterly for the rebellious children of God.

But he did not give up. He declared “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I HAVE HOPE: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (vs. 21-23, emphasis added). He still had a thread of hope that was tied securely to the love, mercy, and faithfulness of God. And that was enough. It’s enough for you too, Beloved. Tie your last thread of hope to the goodness of the Lord. He will never fail you.

Broken Glasses

Joy is learning how to swing on her own and honestly, I’m a little sad about that. But there is one piece of her swingset for which she still needs my help – the trapeze. Her favorite trick is to hang upside-down from her knees, so I set her up on it and we count 1 – 2 – 3 and I ease her back and down while she squeals with delight. Of course, I’m holding onto her legs the whole time. Then I raise her back up and repeat. And repeat. And repeat.

A couple of weeks ago she didn’t wait for the count and launched herself backward unexpectedly – and slammed her very hard head into the side of mine. The pain was stunning. My glasses went flying as I instinctively grabbed her legs to keep her from falling. I sat her down on the grass and heard her say, “Uh-oh Nana.” She held up my glasses with one leg spayed out at 20° instead of 90. I tried to straighten the leg but was afraid I would break it completely. The warped leg caused the left lens to sit so close to my eye that I couldn’t blink. It threw my vision off completely. I couldn’t afford to replace them so I wore them warped leg and all and I was constantly trying to adjust them so I could see clearly. My vision was badly skewed and everything was out of alignment. Reading was a challenge and driving was especially difficult.  We did finally get them a little straighter, but this certainly “opened my eyes” to something about spiritual life.

Some of us have a skewed image of God because life has dealt us some very painful blows. It’s as if we have been smacked upside the head and our vision is all wonky. Maybe you’re looking at God through the pain of broken relationships, broken promises, or a broken heart. No wonder you can’t see Him as He really is. Let me straighten your glasses, Beloved – God loves you. His heart is to bless you and heal you, not hurt you. David said, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). That verse gives me an image of a loving father, bending over His child, tending to her wounds, and speaking words of comfort and assurance. Like He is doing for you now.

When the Heat is On

A woman read in the Bible that God refines His people like silver and gold so she visited a silversmith and asked about the process of refining the precious elements. The smithy said he put the silver in a kettle and exposed it to extremely high heat that caused the dross, or impure elements, to rise to the surface where he could scoop it out. This process took intense heat and so she asked, “how do you keep from burning it?” The man replied, “I lean in very closely to the kettle and watch it carefully, using only as much heat as necessary until it is just as I want it.” She asked, “How do you know when it’s ready to be removed from the heat?” The smithy answered, “When I can see my reflection.”

You and I are called to be the reflection of Jesus Christ to the world and that image must be pure. God uses all sorts of “heat” – financial struggles, relational heartache, health problems, emotions, culture, rejection, persecution, consequences, and yes, often spiritual heat to bring the impurities in us to the surface where they can be removed. How do I know this? He’s been cooking some junk out of me for a while. Why would He do that to me? Because, like His friend Peter, some things in me need to be removed before God can use me for His Kingdom and His glory. Remember in Luke 22:31-32 how Jesus allowed His friend to be sifted by satan? He let His disciple go through the crucible of intense suffering to remove what was marring His image in Peter (Luke 22:54-62). Afterward, Peter became a mighty Apostle and preached the first Gospel message after Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 2:14-41. The Lord used a humble Peter mightily in the birth and growth of His church.

None of us welcome the seasons of suffering and pain in our lives but know that God is at work, purifying your faith and refining you to be His witness to the world. And you can be assured that in this time of intense heat, He is leaning in close and carefully watching over you, allowing just enough heat to accomplish His purpose – to see His Son reflected in you. And don’t forget that Jesus is praying for you (Luke 22:32). In the end you, Beloved, will come forth a beautiful vessel for His glory.

Tangled Prayers

There have been times in my life – even recently – when I was overwhelmed with pain and confusion and frustration. My heart was broken and when I tried to pray my mind was awhirl with a thousand thoughts going this way and that. It was like a hundred different voices all speaking at once in my head. I couldn’t shut them up long enough to get a word in edgewise. I know you’ve been there too. I’ve read your posts and we’ve had some deep conversations. When chaos surrounds us it affects our ability to think and to pray.

But that doesn’t mean that God isn’t hearing our prayers. Listen to Paul’s words: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will” (Romans 8:26-27)

This verse promises that the Holy Spirit is praying for us when we cannot pray for ourselves. The Greek word for “groans” finds its root in the word stenos – which means “to narrow.” The image in this passage is of the Holy Spirit sorting through the jumble of thoughts and feelings to pull out the thin, narrow strand of truth from our hearts. From that small filament, He weaves a tapestry of prayer to present to the Father. All you and I need to do is pour it all out and let the Spirit, who knows both our hearts and God’s will, sift out the prayer our lips can’t express.

Beloved, you don’t have to filter your heart when you come to God in prayer. You don’t have to have your thoughts and feelings organized – you don’t even have to know what you should pray for. That is why Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit. Let Him do the sorting and sifting – He’ll find the golden thread of your heart’s prayer and carry it to the Father.

Wait For It

When I quoted the verse to him, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him . . .” (Romans 8:28), the young man rolled his eyes. “Do you know how lame that sounds?” He asked. “There’s nothing good about this!”  Maybe you can relate to my friend. Life has handed you lemons – rotten lemons with rotten juice that makes horrible lemonade. Someone pats you on the shoulder and offers up The Verse. “But this doesn’t feel good,” you say, and rightly so. Life is not always sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine any good. That is when we have to look at the intent of God’s heart and watch the work of His hand.

Ask Joseph whose horrible brothers sold him into slavery. He was taken to Egypt where he was falsely accused of sexual assault and thrown in prison. There, he interpreted a dream for a fellow prisoner who promised to remember him to the Pharaoh but promptly forgot. Until two years later when Pharaoh had a dream and the ex-prisoner remembered Joseph and recommended him. Joseph not only told the Pharaoh the meaning of his anxious dream but how to resolve the problem that the dream was prophesying. Impressed, Pharaoh appointed him to the second-highest position in his kingdom and Joseph saved the lives of the Egyptians – and his family – including the brothers who had betrayed him. And in doing so, he saved the lineage through which the Savior of all mankind would come. Had Joseph not made it to Egypt to stand before the Pharaoh – however harsh the circumstances – there would be no nation of Israel, no Jewish people, no Jesus, and no salvation for you and me. Joseph told his brothers, “ You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20).

God’s intention is to bring good out of your circumstance and He is working toward that end. The problem is, you and I are living in the middle of the process – and it’s impossible to see the end. But remember this: God’s not done yet. What He intends, He works out. And God has good in mind for you. I know it’s hard right now. But when you get to the other side, you will understand. Give God time and room to work, Beloved. The rest of your story is still being written.

#waitforit

Conversations with God

I always start in my prayer journal with a verse of Scripture, usually something from the Psalms. This morning I was drawn to Psalm 28:7: “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him and I am helped.  My heart leaps for Joy and I will give thanks to Him in song.” The Spirit pricked my heart and said,

“Do you trust in Me, Child?”

Yes, Lord, I trust in You.

“Then where is your Joy? Where is your song?”

They’ve been beaten down by angry people and responsibilities that shouldn’t be mine and not enough funds to get through the month and not enough time for myself. Yes, I do trust in You, but I’m just tired, Lord.

“That’s because you’re trusting in me with your head, and not your heart.”

Oh, Father, I long for Joy, I long for a song in my heart. How do I do this?

“Give thanks.”

For . . .? Do you have any idea how heartbreaking and draining this season has been? It’s gone on so long and there’s no end in sight. Honestly God, how can I be grateful for all this?

“Be Joyful always. Pray continually. Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess 5:16-18).

This? This is Your will for my life?

Then He reminded me of Corrie and Betsie ten Boom, the Dutch sisters who endured the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp for the crime of hiding Jews from the German Polizei.  The building in which they were crammed was infested with fleas, which cause Corrie to complain.  Betsie reminded her that they must “give thanks in everything,” which Corrie could not understand.  But because of the fleas, the guards refused to go into their building and they were free from sexual assaults and also free to hold daily prayer and Bible study sessions with their fellow prisoners.

Beloved, if you’re finding it hard to give thanks because of people or problems or struggles or heartache,  may I gently remind you – as I remind myself – to turn your gaze from your circumstances to the God who is able to make even fleas a blessing. He is up to good in your life – and mine. In all things.

Tapestry

May be an image of indoor

Our Sunday School class is studying Job and this poor fellow has lost everything including his wealth, his children, and his reputation. He was left with a bitter wife, a few terrified servants, and painful boils all over his body. In his pain, he said, “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, they come to an end without hope” (7:6). Beside this verse I wrote, “Unless God is the weaver.”

Years ago I was an avid cross-stitcher. One day, as I was working on an intricate design-a mixture of dark and light colors and metallics, I flipped the fabric over and saw that the reverse side of my work was a mess of knots and tangles and threads crossing from side to side, looking nothing like the picture that was forming on top.

That is when the Holy Spirit revealed a precious truth to me: My life is like that cross-stitch picture. While I only see the bottom of the fabric, with all my imperfections, sorrows, hurts, and trials, God is working on the top, and He sees the beautiful picture He is creating from the master design He has planned. Where I see tangles and knots and wonder why there are so many dark colors – God sees light contrasting against dark and how brilliantly the gold and silver threads of His majesty and glory stand out against the dark places in my life. And isn’t that the purpose of my life – to make much of God, to glorify Him and show His beauty to the dark world?

Your life is a masterpiece in the making and the Master Craftsman is adding light here and shadow there, a splash of joy, broad strokes of wonder, and accents of peace amid dark shades of sorrow and heartache. Oh, Beloved if you could only see – the pattern God is using as He crafts your life is the image of His Perfect Son.

The Weaver

My life is but a weaving

Between my Lord and me,

I cannot choose the colors

He worketh steadily.

Oftimes He weaveth sorrow,

And I in foolish pride

Forget He sees the upper

And I, the underside.

Not till the loom in silent

And the shuttles cease to fly

Shall God unroll the canvas

And explain the reason why.

The dark threads are as needful

In the Weaver’s skillful hand

As the threads of gold and silver

In the pattern, He has planned.

– Grant Colfax Tullar 

Stars in the Night Sky

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“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

“Light and momentary?” I want to ask Paul. “Do you have any idea what we’ve been through this week? It isn’t light! The past 18 years? That’s longer than a moment!”  But then I remember I’m yelling at Paul who endured thirty-nine lashes on five occasions, who was beaten with rods three times, stoned once, shipwrecked three times, spent a night and day floating in the sea, facing constant danger, persecution, sleepless nights, without food, water, or clothing – all for the gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 11:24-27). He may not know the specifics of my life – or yours – but the man has known suffering and hardship and pain.

My next question then is, “Why, if we are God’s children, do we have to endure so much difficulty?” Paul never stopped serving the Lord; even in prison, he shared the gospel with the guards (Philippians 1:13). I’m trying to be faithful to God’s call to study and write and teach. You’re trying to stay faithful to what God has set before you in your family, work, church, and community. Shouldn’t that get us a pass from troubles? Yet not even God’s perfectly faithful Son was exempt from suffering.

But I think I found a clue to our struggles and sufferings. So that we may “become blameless and pure children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation in which you shine like stars in the universe” (Philippians 2:15). When are the stars the brightest? When the night sky is at its blackest. When is God’s glory most visible? When things are at their darkest. Like now –in my family, in our nation, and in the war-torn country of Afghanistan.

Friend, believe me when I say, I understand. Just because I’m a Bible teacher doesn’t mean I am exempt from the harsh things of life. In fact, I feel like it puts me constantly in satan’s crosshairs because he would love nothing more than to beat me down until I quit. But I won’t. Paul didn’t. Jesus didn’t. Because this world needs shining stars to bring light into the darkness. The world, Beloved, needs you.

For the One Who is Losing Hope

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

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

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

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