You Can Trust God

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In the past two years, it seems as if life has gone from one hard thing to another. From disease to riots to hate to natural disasters to political incompetence and international heartbreak –will it ever end? And how will we keep our sanity until it does?

Recently I was battling through a very difficult season involving a loved one that was breaking my heart and there was nothing I could do to change it. I questioned why God would allow this to happen. I knew it couldn’t possibly be His will. He needed to fix it and fast. I lived in my overwhelmed emotions and began to have physical health issues from the stress. I was mentally distracted from the work God had called me to and wanted to give up. But God (oh, how I love those two words!) began to slowly turn my heart from desperation to dependence. I started meditating more on God’s character and less on the problem at hand. I began searching the Scriptures and praying God’s Word over the matter. I stopped telling God what I thought He should do and began telling Him that I trusted Him in whatever He chose to do. God gave me a phrase that became my lifeline every time the panic would start to stir in my heart: “I have entrusted my beloved into the hands of my Father.” I posted those words on my desk and ran them over and over in my head. I often spoke them out loud so that I could hear them in my ears.

In that season I didn’t need fluffy assurances and pretty memes. I needed a real faith for real life. I needed to focus on God’s power, faithfulness, strength, and promises. I needed to go to the Word of God for a word for my soul. I needed to pray His will through His Word. As I came before Him in raw honesty I felt Him soothe my wounded heart and calm my frantic spirit. I found the strength I desperately needed. I found hope in a hopeless situation. I found peace in the storm. I found a real God for real life.

The Struggle with Sin

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Why, if I am saved, do I still struggle with sin? It’s not an uncommon question. I’ll bet you’ve asked it yourself. Even though we are new creatures in Christ we all still have the old fleshly sin nature demanding to be satisfied. Paul tried to explain it when he said, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 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, 18-19). He’s essentially saying, “There’s still a part of me that wants sin and even though I have Christ, I sometimes give in to that sin. I hate it when I do, but I still do it.” Why is this the case for us?

Look a little further in Paul’s words, “When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind . . .” (vs. 21-22). When we come to Christ, we have a new nature that wants to do what is good. But we still have that old nature that wants sin and we live in a world that offers it at every turn. James said we fall into sin “by [our] own evil desire [that] drags us into sin” (James 1:14). How do we overcome this?

If you and I are honest the sin we most struggle with is what the Psalmist called, “cherished sin” (66:18). It’s sin that we always keep our eye on, the sin we don’t want to let go of. Paul tells us: “Put to death the misdeeds of the body” (Romans 8:13) – meaning the sinful desires within us. Hebrews 12:4 says, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” Beloved, let me ask you (and me) bluntly – Are you willing to fight this sinful desire to the death? Are you willing to kill it? Or are you going to keep it in your line of vision? We can’t overcome a sin we still love. Put it to death. There’s no other way.

When You Want to Quit

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“I just really want to quit. Or run away. I don’t see this ever ending – at least not in a good way. I will always be caught up in it. There’s no way to untangle myself without someone else getting hurt. So I will press on. Still, I just want to quit. But I can’t quit. The stakes are too high. There are others in this thing – innocents I just can’t walk away from. But oh, I am so tired. I don’t think I’ll ever get my life back to normal.”

Yes, I could see that she was tired – more than tired – she was weary in her body, mind, and heart. I knew her situation, we’d talked about it many times. And she was right. She couldn’t quit. To do so would be to abandon the very ones who needed her the most. I also knew that, as hard as it all was, she believed in her weary heart that this was God’s place for her right now. And that was what kept her going. That and lots of prayer. And coffee. And three verses of Scripture:

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 1:16-18). The situation wasn’t “fair” – but it was God’s will for her in Christ Jesus. And that is where she wanted to be – in the center of God’s will. Knowing that she was doing what God wanted her to do gave her more strength and resolve than a strong cup of espresso.

Sometimes God asks you and me to do things that are very hard, that are heavy burdens, that even seem unfair. Do them Beloved. Even though God’s will is not always an easy place to be, it is the best place to be. It is hard.  At times you will get weary. But there is peace there because God is present in the center of His will. Don’t quit.

Shaken and Stirred

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Oswald Chambers said, “Beware of the danger of spiritual relaxation.”  If every day as a Christian is an easy-breezy-peazy day, then we are in trouble. Following Jesus is not intended to be some blissful nirvana. It’s a climb, a race, a battle, a challenge. It’s a step-by-step, day-by-day, prayer-by-prayer trek over desert sand and rocky mountains and treacherous trails through hostile territory. That’s the life the Apostles experienced. That’s the life the martyrs endured. Their faith was tried and tested in the fires, and it came forth as gold. The Christians with the strongest, deepest faith are the ones who defy opposition, persecution, threats, and even death for the name of Jesus. The most dangerous state for a Christian is when all is right in their little world.
Jeremiah 48:11 points this out: “Moab has been at rest from youth, like wine left on its dregs, not poured from one jar to another. So she tastes as she did and her aroma is unchanged.” In making wine, the grapes are first crushed to extract the juice which is placed in bottles or wine skins and allowed to ferment. During fermentation, the dregs, or sediment, settle at the bottom of the container. After forty days the wine is “shaken up” – poured into another container to allow the dregs to be removed. If the dregs remain, the wine becomes too sweet and thick and it is spoiled. Moab had always been largely at peace, and their turmoil-free life had made them spoiled. The Lord said the same of Jerusalem, “I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs . . . (Zephaniah 1:12)”
Has your life – and your faith – been shaken lately? James says, “Count it all joy . . .” (James 1:2). God is sifting out the dregs, the dangerously sweet stuff that spoils you. He is making your life an offering worthy of Christ. Is it hard? You bet. Is it painful? Without a doubt. Is it worth it? Just ask the saints who endured. They’re the ones singing songs of joy and praise around the throne.

Don’t Give Up!

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9
Giving up is the easiest thing to do and the hardest thing to forget.
I’ve played “what if/if only” far too many times. You know that little game I’m sure. The one that runs an endless loop; “What if I had kept going? If only I had stuck it out. Oh why did I give up?” History is littered with men and women who decided that, for whatever reason, they were not up to the task or challenge before them. Do you remember any of their names? No? Neither do I. We remember the ones who stuck it out and stayed the course.
The Bible has a lot to say about not giving up; the two words that biblical writers used most frequently in their encouragement were persevere and endure. Both of these words share the same root meaning: “to be in a state that begins and continues, yet may or may not end.” But they each have another word attached that makes all the difference: endure includes the word hypo meaning “under”; while persevere attaches the word epi, which means –“on” or “over.” They are often used interchangeably, and you may recognize them from medical terminology. I believe these two words hold an important key for us, because they represent two vastly different mindsets. The difference is whether we will endure under or persevere over.
Let’s be honest – sometimes our circumstances seem to bury us – we’ve all felt buried under mounds of bills, or the heavy cloak of sorrow. We’ve all felt the weight of responsibilities that seem to crush the life out of us. The burden we bear at times is truly oppressive. Those are the times we endure our struggles by crying out to God and, follow Peter’s words to – “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you” (2 Pet. 4:7). We look to God for comfort that only He can give. We trust that He will carry us when the weight becomes “far beyond our ability to endure” (2 Cor. 1:8). Jesus understands the burdens we bear. We can trust Him to carry our suffering – and carry us through.
Then there are times when we must look at our difficulties from a different angle, not from under, but from above, and we must determine that we will persevere over our struggles. What situation or challenge has God placed before you? How will you approach it? What will keep you strong till the end? This is when we choose to persevere. Listen to what Scripture tells us we will gain when we persevere:
“You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised” (Hebrews 10:36)
“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).

The crown of life is the reward for persevering and overcoming our struggles and challenges. But wait! There’s more! Hear Jesus’ own words from Revelation 2:19: “I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance…” What a testimony that will be when our Savior, our example for persevering, commends us!
How do we gain this ability to persevere? Hebrews 12:1 is the prescription for perseverance: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus…” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Who is your great cloud of witnesses? You and I have great witnesses in the men and women who have gone through struggles and trials and challenges – and persevered till they received their reward. Look to the saints of Scripture, those who believed enough to hang on to their faith and their God. My best friend finds great strength in the lives of the martyrs of the faith. Perhaps you can look back to a parent or grandparent who stood strong in the face of adversity and won the crown of life. You might even want to surround yourself with godly friends who will serve as a great cloud of encouragement for you.
What are you allowing to slow you down? In the earliest days of the Greek races, the runners would alter their clothing, or tuck their garments into a belt to keep from getting tangled up in the fabric around their legs. This is the picture the writer was projecting. Don’t allow anything to hinder your progress. Not sin, nor doubt, not fear and not the inevitable stumble. Shut out every voice but the ones that are cheering you on. Learn to listen for God’s voice, for He is surely your truest fan!
Run your race. God has not called me to run the same race He has laid out for you, and vice versa. Don’t look at the other runners and compare yourself, either good or bad. He will enable you to do what He has called you to do, not what He has called the runner in the next lane to.
Then consider, where is your focus? On yourself, your circumstances, or on God? Do you know that God is all-powerful? Do you trust in His love for you? Do you believe that He is sovereign and in control of your life? Are your eyes fixed on Jesus? Do you know how Jesus persevered as He suffered on the cross? By fixing His eyes “on the joy set before Him” (Heb. 12:2b). What was that joy? The vision of you and me, kneeling and casting before Him our crown of life.
The choice to persevere or give up is one you and I will face every day. Sometimes the consequences seem insignificant, but you will never know the joy of overcoming if you give in to fear and doubt. Let’s commit today to see this thing through, to go the distance, to run the race with our ears attuned to the Father and our eyes on Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). Then you and I can kneel down together and cast our crown at the feet of Christ.
Holy, gracious Father, fill me with the power of Your Holy Spirit, the hope of eternity and Your joy to give me strength. I am committed to run the race, because You are committed to see me through. Amen.

Lessons from the Farmer

“Ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God.”  Hebrews 6:7

Today begins a new year, shining and full of promise and hope.  Like a blank page, this year has endless possibilities for us – new stories to write, new songs to pen, new images to draw.  Like a kid on the first day of a new school year, I love fresh and new beginnings.

I always look for a Scripture on New Year’s Day that is hopeful and ripe with expectation, so when the Lord brought our key passage to my attention, I wondered what He was saying to me. It seemed an odd verse to start the new year – but as I studied the words and prayed, I began to see that this is indeed a word of hope and promise.

For some of us, this New Year’s Day signals a grateful end to the old year – a year marked with struggle, disappointment, pain, sorrow, hardship – I’m sure you could add to the list from your own experiences in the past year or beyond.   Like many others, I have been through a long season of storms and turmoil – and I am ready for it all to end.  That is where this verse speaks to me and two words stand out – “rain” and “tilled.”

Do you feel as though you have been standing out in the rain-wet and miserable?  Do you feel as if life has “plowed” you over?  Please hear these words from God – the rain and the tilling are meant to make your life and mine fruitful – “to bring forth vegetation.”

God means for us to drink in the rain that falls on us, just as Jesus declared “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37).  Jesus offers us Living Water for our thirsty souls, and He has said those who receive it will be conduits of this life-giving water – “streams of living water will flow from within him” (v. 38).

If you know anything about farming, you know that the farmer plows the field to prepare the soil for planting; sharp blades and tines dig deep into the fallow ground.  This is what I wrote in my prayer journal this morning: “Lord, I feel like I have been through a long tilling season – and sharp instruments have cut through my life.  But I think you have been plowing to sever the roots of plants that are not fruitful and break up clods that make it difficult to sow seeds in my heart.”  Take comfort in knowing that the plowing doesn’t go on and on. The land is tilled only to prepare for planting.  Hear the words of Isaiah 28:24-25 – “When a farmer plows for planting, does he plow continually? Does he keep on breaking up and harrowing the soil? When he has levered the surface does he not sow caraway and scatter cumin? Does he not plant wheat in its place, barley in its plot, and spelt in its field?”  Plowing and tilling doesn’t go on forever; eventually the seed is sown for a fruitful harvest. Fruit that will bless others as well as bless you and me.  Its God’s own promise, there in our key verse: The fruitful ground “receives a blessing from God.”

My friend, if you have endured difficulties in the past year, take heart – God has prepared you that He might bless you and bless others through you.  Nothing He does or allows is ever without purpose, even the hard things. Especially the hard things.

Holy Father, I look ahead into this new year with hope in my heart, taking Paul’s words as my own: “one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on…” (Philippians 3:13-14a).  Amen.