Bootstrap Faith

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Do you have bootstrap faith? You know, when you are down and out and others say, “You’ve just got to pick yourself up by your bootstraps!” It was the psychology of my younger years – when life is tough you get tougher. (Modern psychology says your problems are someone else’s fault and you are entitled to compensation while you roll around in self-pity. But I digress.) You have to reach deep down inside yourself and grab on to your fortitude and strength and get on up out of that pit. After all, don’t we admire those who make something out of themselves from nothing but sheer grit and determination?  If you will it hard enough, you can do it!

So what happens when you realize you don’t have any bootstraps and you are all out of strength and fortitude and grit and determination? What do you do when you can’t carry the burdens another step? When your will just won’t anymore?

The Lord declared to His people, “I am He, I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and rescue you” (Isaiah 46:4). In all my years of reading the Bible from cover to cover, I never once found Him scolding His people for depending on Him too much. But He sure chastised them for pushing Him away and trying to handle life on their own. He doesn’t expect you and me to carry our burdens alone. Those weights become very heavy. Health burdens. Financial burdens. Relational burdens. Burdens of loneliness, depression, fear, failure, responsibility, and we could go on and on. I have mine and you have yours. And God promises to carry us through them all.

The reason you can’t find your bootstraps is because it is God who will lift you up. It is God who will reach down to pull you up out of the pit. It is God’s strength and fortitude that will carry you – and your burdens. It’s time to stop trying to do it all on your own, and let God be your Rescuer and your Strength. He is not only able to carry you, Beloved, it is His delight and Joy.

The Good Shepherd

The Lost Sheep, Painted by Alfred Usher Soord (1868-1915), Oil on canvas, Painted in 1898, © Alfred Usher Soord

My favorite “I Am” statement of Jesus is “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11). It always reminds me of a painting that hung in the vestibule of a church I worked at thirty years ago depicting Jesus as the Good Shepherd. He is reaching from the side of a cliff to rescue one of His little lambs. Sheep are notoriously clueless and helpless. They start grazing and fail to notice when they wander too far from the fold or too close to the edge of a cliff. They love to graze at the edge of the water because the grass is abundant and lush. But they step on the slippery rocks and tumble into the water. Their wool becomes so heavy they cannot right themselves or climb out. If the shepherd doesn’t hear their bleating, they will soon drown. Sound familiar? It sure does to me. I have often wandered from the safety of my shepherd’s side following the lush and tempting things of the world. But Jesus never fails to rescue me when I cry out.

I love how, in this painting, Jesus has put Himself in a precarious position to bring His wandering one to safety. What struck me the most about the painting though was the look on the little lamb’s face – absolute confidence in the Shepherd. There is no worry or doubt that the Shepherd will rescue her. She isn’t trying to pull herself up the rocky wall of the cliff but waits for Him to reach her and bring her to safety. There is no fear of anger from the Shepherd. Just trust. This little lamb knows the Shepherd, knows that He is able to rescue her, and knows that He loves her.

I don’t know what danger you may have wandered into. You may be trying to get yourself to safety, too ashamed to call out for help. You wonder if Jesus will come and if He will be angry with you. Beloved, stop trying to rescue yourself. Cry out to Jesus – there’s no need to be ashamed. He will come and He is not angry. The Lord is your Shepherd – whether you are safe in the fold or hanging on the side of a cliff. You are His beloved lamb.

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.

Stormy Seas

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Brave, confident Peter stood up and stepped out of the safety of the boat and onto the liquid surface of the lake – and the water held him up! That is until he looked around to see if what he thought was happening really was. “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” (Matthew 14:30). The laws of nature overrode his faith in Jesus. 

Peter knew Jesus – he had heard His authoritative teaching and had witnessed and participated in His miracles.  But in a moment, all he knew about Jesus sank into the waves with him.  He was overcome with fear.  Can you relate? Sometimes we seem to be doing good – walking along in our faith with our heads held high.  Then something happens – a crisis hits, the bottom falls out, and suddenly we are sinking and crying out for help.

I have walked with Jesus for almost 50 years and there have been many ups and downs, some pretty awesome highs and some very deep lows.  I wish I could say that I’ve always been a model of unwavering faith – but that would be a lie.  What I can say is that every trial has built my faith by degrees.  We’ve been through some very stormy seas the past three years.  At times, it all looked very dire, and we were sinking fast.  All I could do was cry out, “Lord save us!”  And He did. 

Here’s what I know – and what I want you to know.  God’s hand was in Peter’s stormy sea – and ours.  He stirred up the wind and the waves that rocked our boat and tossed us into the water. Why would He do that?  Because His was the hand that would reach out to rescue us.  Because I needed to know the power of His saving grace and the depth of His everlasting love.  And so do you.  You need to know that when all seems lost, God will rescue you.  When you think you’re about to drown, God will pull you up.  Your storm is real – but so is God.  Start looking for His hand over the waves.

Hebrews: Jesus in the Flesh

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Paul Harvey told a story about a man who didn’t believe in the incarnation – the humanity – of the Son of God. Sitting home alone after sending his family to Christmas Eve services, he heard thuds in his living room. Looking outside he saw that it was snowing and a flock of confused birds had flown into a large picture window in an apparent attempt to find shelter. He was concerned for them and remembered the warm barn where his daughter sheltered her pony.  He opened the barn doors and tried to shoo the birds in, even spreading breadcrumbs as a trail for them to follow but they remained huddled and frightened. He realized that they were afraid of him! They didn’t know that this huge creature was only trying to help them find warmth and safety. “If only I could be a bird,” he thought to himself, “and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to the safe warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand.” Then he understood why God sent His Son in human flesh.

The author of Hebrews said, “Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity . . .” (2:14a). John said, “The Word [meaning the Son of God] became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (1:14). Why? So that he could make God known to us (see John 1:18). Jesus came as one of us so that He could express God’s love and care to us – so that we could hear and understand that the Father only wants to save us. Jesus became a man so that He could lead other men to His Father and to eternal life.

He also came “so that by His death He might destroy Him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil” (14b). Jesus came to fulfill God’s first promise “to crush the head” of the devil (Genesis 3:15).  “Every promise God has made is “Yes” in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20, paraphrased).

 Jesus became like us that we might become like Him. Holy. Righteous. Sons and daughters of God. Victorious over the devil. Not just in heaven but today and every day of your life. Beloved, this is your heritage in the family of God.

The Notes in my Bible

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Some people revere their Bibles and keep them pristine with all the pages smooth. They would never dream of making a single mark in them. I also revere the Bible, but mine is in pretty rough shape. The faux leather cover is almost flaked off. Pages are curled up at the corners and almost every page has underlines, highlights, notes, and dates on them – and a few coffee stains.

One page has two dates in the margin, a year apart. Zephaniah 3:20  is a reminder of God’s faithfulness and goodness to my family.

May 29, 2018: Verse 20a – “At that time I will bring you home.” On May 29, 2018, we rolled out of Tuscaloosa heading back home to Dothan after 23 years away. But it wasn’t exactly happy circumstances. My husband had to medically retire and my job had ended in a company merger that shut our office down. To top it off, I was dealing with a raging case of cellulitis that would leave me flat of my back for a month. So much was uncertain, and honestly, scary. We were trusting Him for – – well, everything. Provision. Healing. A job. Hope.

May 29, 2019: Verse 20b“I [will] restore your fortunes before your very eyes.” Here’s the note I wrote: “A year later and I’m stunned at what You’ve done for us. I never dreamed of all You would bring about – Thank you so much!” In those 365 days, we moved into a house we still love, I landed the best job I’ve ever had, and started Graduate school – for free! God had indeed provided, healed, and guided. Oh – and one more blessing happened on May 29, 2019 – a little girl came into the world and changed our lives forever. Exactly a year to the day after one of the hardest days of our lives, Joy was born. Talk about a turnaround!

But this is not about marking up my Bible. This is about encouraging you to trust Him. I know many of you are facing hard, uncertain, painful things. But don’t lose hope. God is all about rescuing and restoring and turning lives around. I’m living proof of that. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s another verse I’ve marked and dated: “From this point on, I will bless you” (Haggai 2:19) – 9/20/2012. Beloved no matter what, God is faithful.

The Momentum of Sin

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I carried a fresh glass of tea to my desk and set it down to plug up my phone. I reached for the old empty glass and started walking quickly toward the kitchen, but I soon realized I had picked up the wrong one. I tried to stop in my tracks and turn around, but my momentum took me a step or two further toward the kitchen. But I didn’t want to go to the kitchen. I wanted to go back to my desk and get the right glass and then go to the kitchen. I knew what I wanted to do but I kept going in the wrong direction. That may seem like a scene out of a cartoon, but what it reminded me of was the momentum of sin.

Paul said, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:15-16,18-19). We want to be right with God. We want to turn away from sin. Yet our sinful desires set us in motion toward what our flesh craves. There is a war waging within us between our desire to please God and our desire to please our flesh.

How do we break sin’s momentum? First, by preparing ourselves for the battle. Paul said, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (12:2). Renewing our minds is a life-long habit of reading, studying, and obeying the Word of God and listening to His Spirit. The more of God we put into our minds the less room there is for the world.

But what do we do when the momentum toward sin is so strong? I heard of an older man known for his godly life who was asked what he did when he was tempted. He replied, “Well, I just say, ‘Lord, your property is in danger.’” Paul said, “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (7:24-25). Beloved, the One who rescued you from death and hell can also rescue you from the powerful pull of sin. Just cry out to Jesus.

Hebrews – Jesus and Angels

To the Jewish people, angels were just a notch below God Himself in power and authority, and that’s not far from the truth. Angels are God’s messengers and advocates between heaven and earth. They are His instruments of judgment and Scripture shows them engaging in warfare against satan’s angels. In heaven, they constantly praise and glorify God and rejoice as they witness God’s perfect plan unfold. Like humans, they are created beings – thus they are never to be worshipped, even though humans are “a little lower than the angels” (2:7). But humans have a distinct advantage over angels – we can experience God through His saving grace. That’s a perspective of the Creator that angels will never know. In speaking of our salvation through Christ, Peter said, “even angels long to look into these things” (1 Peter 1:12).

The Jews held angels in very high esteem, but the author of Hebrews said there is one who should be held even higher – God’s Son, Jesus. “He became as much superior to the angels as the name He has inherited is superior to theirs” (1:4).

The Bible holds many accounts of angels coming to the rescue of humans, saving them from certain disaster. But angels cannot save a sinful soul from eternal death. Only Jesus can. Because only He is God’s Son. Glance back at the end of verse 4 – that “superior name He inherited” is “Son” (v.5) “For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father?’ Or again, ‘I will be his Father, and he will be my Son.’”  (v. 5). Only the Son of God could save the world. Paul said that He is “seated at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given (Ephesians 1:20-21). That includes presidents, kings, priests, Imams, Muhammad, Brahma, Lucifer, and the angels in heaven and in hell. Jesus is superior to them all. 

That is why the author of Hebrews says that faith in any other being, even angels, is misplaced and unstable. Only faith in Jesus, the Son of God, can save you perfectly and eternally. Even the angels know that to be true.

When God Gets Angry

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“The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because He was angry” (Psalm 18:7).

David’s Psalm is full of vibrant imagery describing God’s anger and wrath: trembling, quaking and shaking, smoke, fire, darkness and rain, hailstone and bolts of lightning shot like arrows. It is very clear – God was “on the warpath.” Something was not pleasing to Him and He responded in righteous judgment. This is a frightening scene, one that makes us want to find a safe place to hide. Unless we understand the reason behind His anger.

Just before the earth begins to tremble in verse 7 David said, “In my distress, I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From His temple He heard my voice; my cry came before Him, into His ears” (v. 6). David was in grave danger, “The cords of death entangled me, the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me” (V. 4). God was angry because His beloved was being threatened. The fire and smoke and lightning meant He coming to the rescue. The wrath of God – the storm and the shaking – is not directed at David, but at David’s enemies.

Sometimes it is hard for us to understand what God is doing. We see the lightning, we hear the thunder, we feel the ground shaking and we are afraid. It is a natural reaction to God’s extreme response. But He is responding out of His great love to save you. The fearsome things you see and hear and feel are not directed at you, they are directed at whatever threatens you, His child. I know this is true, I’ve lived it myself. It can be very frightening to witness God’s wrath unless you know that the Lord is on your side. Don’t fear the storm Beloved. Just trust in the one who “parts the heavens and comes down” (v. 9). He is coming to rescue you.

A Shipwrecked Life

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I love to flip through my Bible and see notes I have written in the past, reminders of a season or situation where the Lord came through or bestowed a particular blessing on me. The Bible tells us often to remember the works of the Lord and these notes serve as “memorial stones” to God’s active work in my life. I ran across one this morning that brought back a flood of memories – but not good ones. I had received some advice that disagreed with my plans. I ignored it and went head-first into a situation that turned disastrous further down the road. On June 2, 2013 I was terribly discouraged, grieving my foolishness, regretting my choices, and trying to gather up the pieces of my shipwrecked life (it didn’t help that the advice-giver was giving me the “I told you so” speech).

In my daily Bible reading, I came to Acts 27 where Paul had been arrested for preaching the gospel. He had pled his case before the local Roman rulers and was sailing from Jerusalem to Rome to stand before Caesar. It was a long journey and a choice had to be made to spend the winter in a safe harbor or chance the dangerous winter weather. The ship’s captain and crew ignored Paul’s warning not to set sail. As predicted, a fierce storm broke out while they were at sea and the ship was being torn to pieces. Their lives were in grave danger and they were desperate. Paul addressed the weary, frightened crew: “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete, then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. But now, I urge you to keep up your courage . . . do not be afraid, and . . . have faith in God” (vv 21-25, sel.).

My personal side note reads: “You should have taken ______’s advice. You would have saved yourself a lot of trouble and heartache. But now . . . keep up your courage. Do not be afraid . . . have faith in God.”

You may be regretting some life decisions today. You may be dealing with some unpleasant, hard consequences of some reckless choices you made that you wish now you hadn’t. Or like Paul, you may be suffering in the aftermath of someone else’s foolishness. Beloved, keep up your courage, don’t be afraid, and have faith in God. He has not written you off because of your recklessness. He has not given up on you because you made some bad decisions or got swept away in some else’s shipwreck. He is in the rescuing business. He rescued Paul and the ship’s foolish crew. He rescued me. He will rescue you too. The sea may be rocky, but your Savior walks on the water.