Muddy Child of God

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Do you remember the old saying: “You made your bed, now you have to lay down in it.”? In essence, I have to live with the consequences of my own foolish choices. Sometimes the consequences cost us money like my son having to replace a window he broke, or rest – like losing sleep finishing an assignment I put off too long. But some consequences are painful. Ask any prisoner in a cell or my cousin who cut his foot off playing around with a chain saw. Sorrow and suffering are magnified when the offense against us is our own.

The people of Israel found themselves in just such a situation. Against God’s direct command, Israel allowed the pagan Canaanites to remain in the Promised Land. The Canaanites worshiped Baal and Ashtoreth, and their worship was largely sexual and perverse. Their evil practices spread throughout Israel. In their lust, they forgot the Lord who rescued them and broke their covenant agreement to worship only Yahweh. Judges 2:14 says “In His anger against Israel the Lord handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around.” They had danced to the devil’s tune, and now it was time to pay the piper.

What misery is greater than witnessing our own fingerprints in our suffering? I’ve been there several times. I expect you have too. Perhaps you’re sitting right now in a mud pit of your own making, wondering how you could have been so foolish and how will you ever get out of it. I used to believe that God was unwilling to help me when I got myself into trouble. “Sorry child, this is your problem, I’m stepping out on this one.” But that is not Him at all.

Even after the Israelites rebellion, “The Lord was moved to pity by their groaning” (Judges 2:18) When His children are suffering, God hears, He sees and He rescues. His compassion is boundless. “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” (Lam 3:22). That’s good news if you’re struggling with the consequences of your own decisions and actions. Beloved, God has not and will not abandon you – even in your self-made misery. He hears your cries. He sees your tears. His heart is moved on your behalf. He rescued His people, He rescued me, and He will rescue you.

Give God the Glory

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I’m preparing for my fall class by reading Romans over the summer. Actually, I’m writing it out. This is my favorite way to study the Scriptures because I have to pay careful attention to every single word.  This is when the Spirit sends me on those wonderful word studies and calls me to think carefully and deeply about what a verse says.

I hit one of those the other day and I’ve been chewing on it ever since. Paul is explaining why God is justified in pouring out His wrath on sinful, rebellious men. Here’s the verse that caught my attention: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (1:21). There are several major points here, but we’re going to focus on two:

Men – all men – know about God. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made . . .” (v. 20) They know that Someone is the creative force behind everything that exists. Paul said that creation is intended to draw men to “seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him . . .” (Acts 17:27). Man is “without excuse” (v. 20b) when he denies the truth of God.

Then, here’s what caught my attention – the very minimum man owes God is glory and thanks. God is worthy of glory – which means declaring his splendor and brilliance and power with words of honor, praise, and excellence and assigning the highest status to Him. Not that He needs it. We do. We need to give Him glory to turn our minds and hearts to Him who alone is worthy. And we owe God our thanks as our Creator. We exist because He decided we should. That in itself should be enough to thank Him.

The wicked man refuses to give God even the least He deserves – glory and thanks. Oh but He is worthy of so much more and when we receive His Son as our Savior we give Him the rest – love, faith, trust, devotion, service – our very selves. Beloved, what about it? Are you giving God everything He deserves or just the bare minimum? Or are you refusing to give Him anything at all?

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