Friday, May 30, 2008
"Did somebody cut my beam?" It was a fair question, really. Amidst a mountain of miscellaneous tasks I created for myself in order to feel useful--picking up scraps and garbage--I heard him ask it. He was the man with experience and understanding of the plans. In fact, the house we are building exists in precise sketch format on a simple graphing notebook. By sketch I mean a drawing of the house with all its rooms and exact measurements--where the windows are to go etc. But, the real plans of the house exist in this guys' mind. His and my husband's. We needed his help because he's built tons of homes and he understands the process. He knows exactly how to support a 28 foot ceiling and more importantly he knows how to make our house square. Earlier that morning he had made the cut for the beam that would go on this particular wall according to mathematical calculations. He builds the entire house according to math--it could be possible for him to do it without a level or a square for that matter. The cut that he made was accurate, but when the crew went to nail it on it appeared out of level. So, yes, someone had cut his beam. One half inch was all they shaved off, but the end result was a wall one half inch out. It doesn't seem like a lot, but apparently it is. Here's what struck me--other than secretly wondering whether that one half inch would mean a half inch gap in the roof where rain, could pour in, where bats and mice could crawl in, where snakes could slither in--he had made the cut according to a mental plan based on truth. "The math never lies." That's what he said as they were disconnecting all the boards and fixing the mishap. What had taken place was that when his crew--who didn't know the plan and couldn't see it--saw the way things were shaping up, they questioned his cut. And they changed things. They even got out a level and "shot" it to be certain. What they did appeared to be exactly right. Theirs was an honest mistake. So what got me thinking was this--they didn't trust because they couldn't see his plan and what they did see appeared wrong when in reality it was perfect and precise. Isn't it exactly the same with God in our lives? Psalm 112:1 says "How blessed is the one who obeys the Lord, who takes great delight in keeping his commands." We will struggle to obey God unless we trust Him completely with the set of plans for our lives that exist in his head. Sure, we've got a rough sketch--a general idea of the way things are taking form. But God sees it all. In Jeremiah 17:11 God says, "For I know the plans I have for you..." God knows them, but he never gave us a blueprint. Hebrews 11 reminds us "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence not seen." We can't see what God is doing and so it becomes incredibly hard for us to believe that He is right. One of the most powerful passages relating to trusting God and obeying Him is found in Jeremiah 17:5-8. "The Lord says, " I will put a curse on people who trust in mere human beings, who depend on mere flesh and blood for their strength, and whose hearts have turned away from the Lord. They will be like a shrub in the desert. They will not experience good things even when they happen. It will be as though they were growing in the desert, in a salt land where no one can live. My blessing is on those people who trust in me, who put their confidence in me. They will be like a tree planted near a stream whose roots spread out toward the water. It has nothing to fear when the heat comes. Its leaves are always green. It has no need to be concerned in a year of drought. It does not stop bearing fruit." Every single time we look at the circumstances in our lives--dwindling bank accounts, frustrating spouses, disobedient children, annoying neighbors, rude drivers, ungrateful friends, career changes, flirting colleagues, hurt, anger, disappointment--we have a choice to make. Will we trust God and obey Him though we can't see how His way could be right? Or will we take matters into our own hands and trust our human strength and wisdom to be greater than God's? It sounds ridiculous when put that way, doesn't it? In the moments when I snap at my children I've trusted that a hasty fleshly word will be more meaningful in raising them than a gentle rebuke from God's Word. In the times when I spend on credit because I want something out of our budget I've concluded that God's provision is not enough and I need to provide for myself on credit. If I were to entertain the advances of a forward gentleman we know I would be saying loudly and clearly that the husband God provided isn't right and I need to correct it. It seems preposterous that we would opt to trust our ways and thinking over the God of the universe and yet we do it all the time. The thing is when we opt not to trust God's ways our lives inevitably end up out of square and there are glaring gaps, sometimes larger than one half inch that leave us incredibly vulnerable. God's intention for us is a mansion of blessing but we are so quick to choose to build ourselves roadside shacks. And then when the rains come we find ourselves soaked in the very home we created. Obedience is our guarantee for protection and shelter. God said "My blessing is on those who trust in me...and How blessed is the one who obeys..." The promise is not that we will live without difficulty, but the trials we face will not be of our own doing. They'll not be the natural consequences of foolish living, they'll be trials hand-picked by God to refine us into a more beautiful reflection of Himself. What I love about God is that He knows we're gonna take matters into our own hands and end up way off in terms of His plan and in His foresight He incorporates our mistakes into his blueprints. Only God can do that. Only God can take our broken homes and make them right. He's not looking to condemn but to love us into trusting Him completely. The Israelites constantly took matters into their own hands and ended up spending quite a bit of time way out of square, but God never once recanted on His promise to them. He was faithful to carry His Word out in their lives despite their disobedience and lack of faith. God is not in the business of leaving us exiled with our gaps, He is in the business of restoring us and fixing every single area in our lives that's out of square. He doesn't show up on the scene and lecture us on how we've messed things up. He shows up and simply says, "Let's get this fixed. We don't want any leaks." Jeremiah 29:14 says "I will make myself available to you, says the Lord. Then I will reverse your plight and will regather you from all the nations and all the places where I have exiled you, says the Lord. I will bring you back to the place from which I exiled you." God's heart is to bring us back. Always to bring us back. And He is available to us every single moment. Trusting God is arguably the hardest part of my walk with him. I am a visual, show me kind of a person. When I come to a point of questioning God, it's important for me to stop and look back over my life at specific moments when without question I know He's been right. Those are my visual reminders of the character of a good, faithful and accurate God. When it comes to my life, God's never missed, never messed and never been mistaken. He's always been perfectly precise. They fixed the wall--it took some extra time and a bit of headache, but they fixed it. They would have saved a lot of time had they trusted in the first place. It's my prayer that when we take the beams of our lives from the Master Planner and lay them out we won't question the way things appear, but rather will say with the Psalmist, "I trust in the Lord without wavering...His work is majestic and glorious, and His faithfulness endures forever." (Psalm 26:1b, 111:3) Read: Psalm 91, 112
Thursday, May 22, 2008
My purse is always full. In fact my sister teases me because my handbags are more like airport carry-ons and generally speaking you could find all things necessary for at least one week's survival on a deserted island. Life's like that too sometimes isn't it? Full of a million things that are necessary, and then overflowing with a second million things that probably aren't, life can become the suitcase that requires one person to sit on top while another attempts to zip it. Yikes! The last couple of weeks have felt that way for me--so many important things that can't go ignored. We needed to finish school, we're building a house, we have commitments at church, birthdays, guests for which to prepare, family emergencies, births, and well, you know what I mean. There are times when I feel like my brain is a tossed salad with all the wilting leftovers from the vegetable crisper thrown in. It's weeks like this when there is of course the temptation to stop doing the important things--time with God, eating right, exercising. Those are such basic fundamental things that we need and yet they are generally the first to go. These temptations are not unique to me and I realize that. I realize also that they are not a new phenomenon. They're the norm. Most of us face these choices every single day. Yet the thing that gets me is this: when we don't take time to feed on God's Word, we are literally running on empty. Last Saturday was so hectic that I realized around 2:00 in the afternoon I had never even bothered to eat breakfast or lunch. It wasn't until my hands were shaking and I felt weak that it dawned on me. I was literally running on fumes. Somehow in the midst of a thousand activities I just forgot to eat. (That's not normal for me!!) By the time I did actually sit down to eat my mind had gone fuzzy, my legs were wobbly and the last thing I wanted to do was lug that bulging purse around with me. I set it on the floor by the table and collapsed into a chair to eat. Sometimes, we forget to feed on God's Word and there are times when that goes on for days or weeks or even months. The tragedy though is that often we're not even aware how empty our spirits are--how void they are of the life-giving, strength-giving, nourishing Word of God. When we do finally come before God often we collapse into His arms utterly empty like I did at the table. It isn't a coincidence that Jesus said "Man cannot live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4) He knew the importance of being filled with the eternal Words of our Heavenly Father. My eldest son even gets this concept. Just the other day as our family was celebrating a friend's decision to become a follower of Christ, Nathan said," Mom, she's gonna need to start to memorize scripture and read it. If she doesn't, she might forget what God has done and not keep following Jesus." Wow. That came from my eight year old's mouth. He reminded us of a story of another man who had given up a life of partying and rebellion to follow Jesus, but fell away not long after. Perhaps had he hidden God's Word in His heart things would have been different. (Psalm 119:11) In John chapter 6 we read the miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand with five loaves and two fish. I've always wondered why Jesus performed that particular miracle. It just seemed odd to me that He would choose to feed all these people as opposed to healing more people. Recently though as I've been reading over this passage it occurred to me that Jesus gave those people a physical picture of what He wanted to do for them spiritually. In verse 6 it actually says "for He knew what he was going to do." I love that. Jesus knew exactly what He was planning, but He gave his disciples the chance to join in. He is intentional in our lives. He knows what He is doing and we have the choice everyday to join Him. He will accomplish His purpose irregardless of our choice, but when we choose to join in, we witness the greatness of our God. Later in verse ten he tells the people something that I believe to be key. He says "Have the people sit down." Man that is hard for us sometimes, isn't it? Just sit down and wait on Jesus to serve us? You've got to be kidding. We want to get up and get going--get started on the endless list of to-do's in our lives. But Jesus in the face of five thousand hungry men and their wives and children too said, "Tell them to sit down. I'll handle this." One man and at least ten thousand people total and he tells them to sit down! I bet he was thinking to himself "Man ya'll are clueless. I could feed you blindfolded with my hands tied behind my back and I could clean it up too." It's just so powerful to me that He specifically told them to sit. Psalm 46:10 is often quoted and for good reason. There are times in our lives when we need to simply "Be still and know that (He) is God." The New English translation says "Stop your striving and recognize that I am God!" Stop striving. Isn't that beautiful? If I had been there that day I know I would have been running up and down the rows of people taking an inventory of the food. I would have been on google looking for the local grocery store checking to see if I could get a discount on bread for such a large group. I would have been striving to help God. Are you like me in that? Are you striving to help the God of the universe accomplish the menial tasks of your life? If we in the midst of the beautiful fullness of our lives can learn to stop--stop for a bit of time once a day and close our eyes and picture the face of God before us. If we can look Him in the eye and say " God, you and you alone are God. There's nothing in my life that You aren't able to accomplish and handle. Fill me with Your word and may it so penetrate my being that I have baskets full left over to share with others..." then I believe we'll see the power of God in our lives. I don't' want to find myself in a spiritual condition where it's been so long since I've eaten that I can no longer see clearly, no longer focus on the author and perfecter of my faith. I don't want to find my spirit literally shaking because I haven't eaten the truths in God's Word regularly. I have to tell you though that the passage in John 6 is a sad one in many respects. Later on Jesus crosses the lake and another group starts following Him. Some of them are from the group that were fed and probably shared about what Jesus did with the loaves and fish because the passage says they went looking for Jesus. When they found Him Jesus says something very powerful. "I tell you the solemn truth, you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate all the loaves of bread you wanted. Do not work for the food that disappears, but for the food that remains to eternal life--the food which the Son of Man will give to you..." (John 6:27) These people didn't want Jesus. What they wanted were full bellies. They were looking for the benefits of Jesus, but they didn't care so much about Jesus Himself. So often when I come seeking Jesus I am sad to admit that I too am coming seeking His benefits. "Jesus, will you provide for this? Jesus will you work this out? Jesus will you help with this?" We want God to work out all of the matters of our day to day lives. The truth is He can work them out and He does, but our focus is completely wrong. Somehow we think that's the end of things, but this world is only the beginning. We work for the things that disappear. Nothing in this life is eternal except the contents of our souls. We need to go before Jesus and say "Fill our souls with the truths that moths and rust will not destroy." When we are filled with eternal things, we are not so quick to run out so to speak. Later Jesus says, "I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me will never go hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty." (John 6: 35) This I believe is the reason He performed that miracle in the first place. It's absolutely critical that we realize how often we seek Jesus for physical, temporary reasons when He has eternal plans for our lives and wants to fill us spiritually. To never feel thirst or hunger in the core of our beings is an incredibly profound offer. Those days when we are lonely, sad, hurting, angry, empty, longing, lusting, desiring, needing--those are the very days we need to "sit down" before God and fill our spirits on His Bread of Life. I'm not talking easy, perfect lives with no feelings but good ones. I'm talking about being satisfied in the knowledge that we are loved by a God who has planned our lives and our future and knows every need we have and can meet it with hands behind his back and eyes blindfolded. This kind of knowledge requires regular eating at the table of His Word. Back to my purse--there's nothing I can really take out. I need the items in there. It's that way with my life too--the things that fill it are not superfluous items that could be removed. For some of us I'm sure we can free up our schedules a bit, but that's not my point today. My point is this--we carry heavy loads. But Jesus said, "Come to me you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28) His desire is that we feast on Him, feast on the very words that come from the mouth of God and in so doing we would find rest and refreshment. May we not forget to eat. God's plan for our lives is one of abundance--He wants us to thrive. In order to thrive we must abide in Him. We must drink from His living water and eat the milk and honey of his Word. May we all join each other today and feast at His table. Lord, help us to slow down and take time before You and in Your Word. Thank you for feeding us with the nourishment we need spiritually to accomplish all of the physical things that fill our days. Amen. Read: John 15
Friday, May 16, 2008
It was a two hour mess--a creation of my five year old and his buddy or in this case perhaps I should say, his partner in crime. The closet shelf was empty and the clothing rod no longer held hangers or garments. The floor however was filled. The three by seven feet floor was littered up to Corton's shoulders in debris. The two boys had joined forces and embarked on the thrilling ride of completely tearing apart the bedroom closet. They took every single bin and box and scattered their contents onto the floor--the Lego, the cars, the rescue heroes, the kindergarten and junior kindergarten memorabilia boxes, the rock collection, and the racetrack. All of it they poured out like a gallon of milk over cereal, onto the floor. They removed every article of clothing from the hanger. They emptied every stackable bin too. With the exception of one small box, no item was left in it's original container--not a single one. When we found them, one was swinging from the clothing rod like a monkey and the other was hiding under the bed. Busted. Later they took turns hiding under the bed and like Adam and Eve hiding from God in the garden. The little criminals preferred lurking under the beds with the spiders and dust than to come out and face the music. Actually, there was no singing in our response so I probably shouldn't use the word music. In my entire life I have never seen such a mess. The thing that struck me is that Corton knew better--way better. But still the thrill and bliss of committing the crime somehow seemed worth it to him. He later described to me that in the heat of the moment they would stop and take inventory of their progress and literally belly flop themselves on the growing pile of toys and clothes. Yet when our footsteps could be heard coming down the stairs they knew their sins had found them out. When sin catches up with us it can be messy. I took a photo of both boys on top of the pile. There they sat on a pile as tall as they were and many times wider and deeper. Toy by toy, box by box and bin by bin they had created something far bigger than both of them put together. And on their own, there was no way they would have ever been able to clean it up. They wouldn't have even known where to start. That's just like us though, isn't it? When it comes to the messes we make out of our lives, sometimes we really don't even know how to begin cleaning things up. Later when it was just Corty and I, we talked. I explained that he'd have to help me clean up that big mess. Tears the size of marbles fell rolled down his cheeks. "Mommy, it's too much. I can't do this." There was no question about that. This wasn't even the type of thing I would make him start on his own. I knew he'd need me from the get-go. Sometimes our sin can overwhelm us so much that we can't even begin to face it. "Corty, mommy knows you can't clean this up by yourself. We're gonna do this together until every single thing is put back in its place." The Israelites were always making messes for themselves. I can think of one mess in particular that was really unnecessary. They had already disobeyed God and opted not to go up to Canaan and claim the promised land. So God had told them their consequence would be that they had to wait forty--count 'em FORTY--years before they could go into the land He had promised. That's a really long camping trip out in a hot desert if you ask me. Despite God's clear instructions, they decided to go up anyway and try to take the land. They must have had amnesia because relatives of the giants lived in the land and only days before they had insisted there was no way they'd go up there and fight and that was with the help of God. Now, they planned to go up on their own. Not overly intelligent. Moses called it like it was: "Do not go up, for the Lord is not among you, and you will be defeated before your enemies...you have turned away from the Lord, the Lord will not be with you." (Numbers 14: 42,43b) "But they dared to go up to the crest of the hill, although neither the ark of the covenant of the Lord nor Moses departed from the camp." (Numbers 14:44) I love the phrasing there--they literally dared to go up to the promised land despite the fact that they knew God nor Moses approved. They were on their own. Crazy! We do that though, don't we? We dare to mess with sin--sometimes just a little. It might be just one movie that we know is inappropriate. It might be just one conversation laced in gossip or one drink too many. But before we know it, we are shoulder deep in a mess so big we can't get ourselves out no matter what we do. That's where the Israelites found themselves. The Bible says that the inhabitants of the land literally swooped down and chopped them to bits and pieces. They were literally and utterly crushed in defeat. That's the language the Bible uses. Tragic. They knew what they were supposed to do because God had made it very clear. And they just went right up to that land and did exactly the opposite. Talk about making your bed and lying in it. That's what they did and it was not pretty. It was the same with Corton and his friend--I had just recently sat Corty down and told him that when he had friends over he was not allowed to open his closet. I think that's pretty clear. No real grey areas there--nothing left for independent interpretation. But he dared do the very thing he knew was wrong. It's interesting to me that both boys had a very specific response. One was swinging on the closet rod and one was hiding. One was living it up--might as well have as much fun as possible because there was no going back after all. The other couldn't even face the fall-out and opted to hide. Again, we're kind of the same, don't you think? When it comes to making messes of our lives some of us end up living it up. What's the point in acting sorrowful? We did it. We wanted to do it. We had fun doing it. And there's no going back, is there? And others of us are so overwhelmed by the potential consequences that we stop facing life altogether. Both responses show a misunderstanding about God. He's just. If you're a swinging monkey when it comes to sin you need to know that God is gonna allow you to reap the consequences of your choices no matter how long it takes you to tire of swinging amidst them. And He's merciful. If you're a hider when it comes to sin, you need to know that He is not gonna leave you to reap those consequences by yourself. He promises never to leave us or forsake us and that promise isn't conditional on our behavior. In fact, the times I've been most grateful for God's presence in my life have often been times when I'm pushing a mop and lugging a bucket through the muck and mire I've made of my life. Do you know what the very next words God speaks to the Israelites after their defeat are? You'd think He'd say something like, "What were you thinking? I told you to wait forty years. Now look what you've done. You've gone and lost the land I promised to you." Not so. If you hear nothing else I write today, you need to internalize God's response to their mess. He says "When you enter the land where you are to live, which I am giving you..." (Numbers 15:1) He reminds them that His promise still stands. They messed things up but they didn't mess up God's plans or promises for their lives. In forty years time God was still going to give them that land, and in the meantime, He was still with them, still loving them, still standing by them. That's God, my friends. That's our Heavenly Father. He never quits on us. He never throws in the towel and walks away. He never says we've gone too far. When He makes a promise--it's His alone to keep, and keep it He will. God will not renege on the guarantees He's given you in His Word. Know that. Corty has been working towards earning a Big Wheel we found at a store. I bought it and gave him a goal to work towards in an area where he has been particuarly challenged lately. Part of that goal included keeping his belongings picked up. He confided in me that he thought I would never let him have the Big Wheel after he made that mess. He thought I would give it away to someone else. That broke my heart. Of course I still plan to give him that Big Wheel. He still needs to grow up enough to have the privilege of it, but it's his when the time is right. I think sometimes I view God that way--think that He's not going to allow blessing into my life when I repeatedly mess up. But that's not true. The blessings of God are always available to us when we return to His way for our lives. Here's the thing though. In forty years time, the Israelites would still choose whether they wanted to walk into that land with God or not. To return to God and receive His promises is our choice, but they are available. I was so proud of Corton. Despite the fact that he knew he'd done wrong and the fact that he was overwhelmed by the scope of his destruction, he stuck it out. We spent two entire hours with daddy's help cleaning up that closet. We didn't let him go out and play with his brother and friends until we were done. He didn't complain. In fact, I think it was a relief to him to be able to take responsibility for his actions. He persevered and the closet looked better than it did before we left it. That's the way God works too. He stands by our side and takes even our worst messes and makes them better than they ever were. The beauty of our sinful struggles is that if we are willing to submit ourself to the consequences and allow God to help with the clean up, He gets glory--even when we mess up. I don't know what kind of mess you may be sitting amidst. For some of us, the mess may be obvious and huge and for others of us the mess may be less visible. Sometimes it's not a ransacked life but maybe it's just a cluttered closet--a sloppy heart. It doesn't matter what it looks like, what matters is what you are doing. Are you hiding under the bed figuring you can't face God? You know what that often looks like? It looks like people who quit going to church. People who quit listening to Christian music. People who quit praying. People who quit reading their Bibles and Christian books. A lot of times they'll say things like "I don't want to be a hypocrite, so, I'm just not going to pretend everything is alright." I'm not trying to step on toes..it's just I've been here, so I know. We can't hide from God. He lives inside us. We may ignore Him, but He's not going anywhere. Or are you the one swinging amidst the debris? Living it up. I've been there too. I'd think in my head, "Well, I've already screwed up royally. I might as well have fun." Listen, you can swing for years and years but eventually that closet rod is gonna give and you'll come crashing down. I've done that too. If that's who you are, you need to know God is standing by waiting for the moment you fall--He'll be there to pick up you. But He'd much rather you just quit swinging and start cleaning. It'll save you the bruises of a fall. God's promises are faithful and true. When He promised to be faithful to complete the work He started in our lives, He meant it. He did. I'd of never dreamt of leaving Corton's side while we cleaned up that mess. I knew it was too much for him. God's the same way. He means everything He says to us--when He says he forgives and forgets, He does. Over and over and over again. Get before Him and ask Him to remind you of the promises He's made to you and ask Him to help you clean up the debris. He will. This I know for sure. Lord, sometimes we just take life into our own hands. We do things that leave us in messes so big we can't even find our way out. God we need your forgiveness and we need your mercy. We need you to help us clean up piece by piece. Thank you that you are not like humans--there is no limit to your forgiveness, your patience and your love. Thank you God. Help us to live in those truths. And Lord, help us to extend the same mercy and forgiveness to others who have made messes of their lives that you have extended to us. Amen. Read: I John 1:9 II Sam. 22:7 Psalm 145:8,9
Monday, May 12, 2008
I prayed recently with a woman whose battle far exceeds any I've known--that of an addiction. Knees planted before the feet of her Father, she cried out to Him for deliverance from something so large she could no longer wrestle it alone. Like the vines of wild roses that overtook my mother's flower bed, this had worked its way into every aspect of her life--a life that was meant to bring God honor and glory. A soldier downed, but not defeated. There, on her knees she became like a bucket at the mouth of the spicket of God's grace and His grace flowed and flowed. There have been many I've known whose Goliaths have come to them in the form of addictions--prescription drugs, meth, food, pornography, internet, blackberries, work, exercise, alcohol. These kinds of attacks don't come just to gangly teenagers dressed in black wearing combat boots and eyeliner. These, more often than we realize are the Goliaths of moms, dads, brothers, sisters, uncles, grandparents--you and I kinds of people. And slowly over time they strip people of any signs of life. Where once there was laughter, promise and joy there is a barren desert that lays over their faces and souls like particle board over broken windows of abandoned buildings. Hope is gone. No one is home any longer. Soldiers fallen left and right--many right in front of us and we never knew. At least one in every eight Americans will battle drug or alcohol addiction and over 40% of internet users view porn on the internet with 372 users searching porn every single second of the day! Just about one in ten Americans are addicted to some form of prescription drug. I could go on. But my point is simply that there are good people, sincere people who are facing things in their lives so significant that only God Himself can free them and restore hope. Referencing only addictions, let me not forget the other things--illness, unfaithful spouses, indifferent spouses, angry children, depression, financial ruin. We know the giants that come trudging through our front yard calling out in loud voices, Come out and fight me. Face me and see if I don't take you and your family down. And so often, they do. I have lived to see the truth of the statistic that one in every two marriages will end in divorce and I have wept at the enemy's lethal blows to families and children. It's time. It's time we fall on our knees before God and then stand up filled with the power of heaven and fight. Listen to God's promise in Isaiah 35. Before I begin, let me just say that this is typically referred to as a Messianic chapter and it is obviously both relevant to the Israelites at that time as well as related to when Christ came to earth and when He will return. However, my point in quoting this passage here to to remind us that the very same God who carries these things out both in the past and in the future is present in our lives NOW, and it is before Him that we can go and plead our case and the cases of those we love just as the woman I prayed with did recently. Let the desert and dry region be happy; let the wilderness rejoice and bloom like a lily! Let it richly bloom; let it rejoice and shout with delight! It is given the grandeur of Lebanon, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon. They will see the grandeur of the Lord, the splendor of our God. Strengthen the hands that have gone limp, steady the knees that shake! Tell those who panic, "Be strong! Do not fear! Look, your God comes to avenge! With divine retribution he comes to deliver you." Then blind eyes will open, deaf ears will hear. Then the lame will leap like a deer, the mute tongue will shout for joy; for water will flow in the desert, streams in the wilderness. The dry soil will become a pool of water, the parched ground springs of water. Where jackals once lived and sprawled out, grass, reeds and papyrus will grow. A thoroughfare will be there--it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not travel on it; it is reserved for those authorized to use it--fools will not stray into it. No lions will be there, no ferocious wild animals will be on it--they will not be found there. Those delivered from bondage will travel on it, those whom the lord has ransomed will return that way. They will enter Zion with a happy shout. Unending joy will crown them, happiness and joy will overwhelm them; grief and suffering will disappear. (Isaiah 35: 1-10) I can't and won't make the promise of deliverance in this life because God's Word actually says in this world we will have troubles. He doesn't always heal, cure, or free us from the giants in our lives, but he will always make a way through them. (Think Red Sea. God didn't obliterate it. He caused a path through it and ever single step they took, those Israelites were still surrounded by it on both sides) Amidst our greatest battles God's glory is at stake and He is very concerned about His glory and reputation. This is critical because God's Word says "The victory is mine when the battle is the Lords." Whatever you are facing, this battle is not yours, it is God's to win. I don't know what Satan is throwing at you, but whatever it may be, go at it like David when he said "You come at me with sword and spear and javelin. but I come against you in the name of the Lord..." (I Samuel 17:45) You, my friends are facing life with the God who takes giants out with pebbles. We are fighting battles with the God who pours streams of living water into the deserts of our lives. He forms blossoms where once there were thorns. If you've gone weak, if you've faltered, if you're afraid, alone, hurting, then you must know that the Divine Deliverer is present and working in your life. Stand strong, my friend. Do not give up, give in, quit, stop, lay down and die--this battle is being fought as I write these words in the heavenly realms and you will see the deliverance of the Lord. So many of us just give up. We figure God can't work in our lives--something's wrong with us. Many of us just quit God in general--He just never worked out for us. Casualties in a war not our own we throw in the towel because standing is too hard. Christianity's not for the weak of heart and victory in this life may be a daily choice for the rest of our lives. While it's true that there are those who receive some miraculous deliverance after being prayed over or having some type of epiphany, more often than not, deliverance lies in the moment by moment choice that God is more powerful than that thing that we face. And tomorrow we will face again. And again. And again. But, if in our hearts we know the truth that God came to set captives free than the overflow will be a life lived in victory despite ongoing battles. Goliath may come knocking every single day for the rest of our lives, but God's not running short on pebbles. Pick one up, my friend and stand firm. Your God is greater. With love, S Read with Me: II Peter 1:3, Galatians 6:9, II Corinthians 4:8,9, 16-18, Isaiah 45: 15, 21b, 22, 24, Psalm 55:16
Thursday, May 8, 2008
"The Lord is near all who cry out to him, all who cry out to him sincerely."
Have you ever awoke with a burden--one of those situations that grips you so tightly that the very air is sucked from your lungs when you think of it? Or perhaps your day was going fine until a single phone call tilted your world? All of a sudden a storm flooded the contents of your life? There are times, like this morning when I am confronted with the reality of my sin nature and it shakes me to the core. It was a simple thing really--my eight year old did something I've told him a thousand times not to do--and my response proved me a fallible sinner. Within a matter of moments a calm, peaceful morning turned into the day in May when God reminded me that I still have much to learn about patience and unconditional love. And the rain poured down in my heart. How in the world can I have been a follower of Jesus for over twenty years and still struggle with these things? I'd be okay with imperfection if it only affected me, but the truth is that our sinful ways affect very deeply those we love and sometimes those we don't even know. That I'm not okay with.
Maybe the situation that grips your heart is more significant than frustration over your sin nature. Perhaps you've been hit with a disease you never expected at this age or worse yet, your child has been given a dismal diagnosis. Maybe you found out your husband has been cheating on you. Maybe your bank account is empty and you are two weeks away from payday. I know there are a million things that shake our lives.
This morning as I read, the Lord reminded me of His nearness. "The Lord is near all who cry out to him, all who cry out to him sincerely." (Psalm 145:8) God remains near. Yahweh remains present when you face Red Seas and Walls of Jericho. He has not moved. He has not changed. He has not gone deaf. He is present and wants desperately to respond to our sincere cries for help. That word sincere can be translated "in truth." And I love that. God wants us to come to him with the truth. This morning for me, it was "Lord, I'm impatient with my children sometimes. I'm sorry to come before you and say that again, but it is true. I need you to fill me with yourself so much that Your patience overflows from me. Lord, I need wisdom. Wisdom, God. Patience, God. You are Yahweh, the source of patience and wisdom. God, on my own, I'm just not enough. I'm not leaving this place of prayer and seeking until You respond, Lord. I need you."
Sincerely means genuinely cry out to God. Do I really want patience and wisdom? Am I willing to do what it takes to get to that point? Do I really want God's presence to fill me? Because He may need to move things around a bit. But if I'm sincere, then the very next verse promises "He satisfies the desire of his loyal followers; he hears their cry for help and delivers them." (Psalm 145:19) When your desires fall into line with His heart He will act. He will respond. This is our God. He's not sitting with eyes closed and ears shut. He stands as a warrior poised and ready and waiting for the battle cry. When we cry out to Him, the battle cry has gone out, and He delivers .
Thank you Lord that you are near us. Thank you that you respond to our cries and that you deliver us. Over and Over and Over. God we need you. We're crying out to you. We're storming the gates of heaven and we are anticipating your deliverance. Amen.
Listen: Cry Out to Jesus, Third Day
Saturday, May 3, 2008
I woke up this morning and read Psalm 145. The fifth verse gave me enough to stand on for quite some time and it is now etched into my heart. "I will focus on your honor and majestic splendor and your amazing deeds!" If ever there were a nugget, a good solid meaty piece of God's Word in simple terms, this is it. This one is like a "to go" kind of a passage that can be taken anywhere and applied to every single situation. Shifting our focus from whatever circumstances we face today onto the majestic splendor of God will literally change everything.Just driving can be overwhelming to me when I stop and consider the mountains that cradle the road on which I travel. God Almighty spoke some thousands of years ago and those mountains came to be. That's majestic splendor. Or nearer to home when I look into the eyes of my little five year old who is having yet another meltdown and I begin to unravel within as a mother, I can stop and focus. Just focus. Within that small frame of a boy God's majestic splendor is housed in the flesh. God willed this beautiful boy into being. And in that focus, I can proceed to exact some form of discipline for a little boy who needs to learn these same life lessons. Then there are the surrendered hands of my grandmother--who's life has been given to the slow motion death of Alzheimer's--I can still see the splendor of a God who allowed her life and has given three more generations since hers the chance to follow Him. And what about His amazing deeds? Sometimes the tiniest of deeds are the ones worth stopping over. My boys are at their auntie's house. My niece is here with me. She sleeps in. My boys don't. God, in His faithfulness gave me an extra half hour of time this morning to meditate on His Amazing deeds while my niece is quiet and my boys are waking their auntie instead of me. Even the opportunity to have a little bit of extra quiet time is an amazing deed accomplished by the hands of a loving God. Of course there are the greater ones too--the time God healed me after I almost died a few years ago from a surgery hemorrhage and infection. There was the time God sold our house in Ontario before we ever even put it on the market for the full asking price. There was the time God gently guided our car back from the mountain's edge when two friend's and I faced certain death heading over the mountain. You have them too--probably more dramatic than my simple list of amazing deeds. Yesterday at a mommy's group a dear woman of God mentioned that when David talks about God's rod and staff being a comfort to him, he is literally referring to something the Israelites did. They would record their family history and God's faithfulness on their staff. Then they would read it. Imagine a staff with a list of God's amazing deeds. I love the thought. Every single step they took, they gripped within their hands a list of the faithfulness of God in the history of their lives. Our lives are filled with the amazing deeds of God, but so often we fail not only to record them for our memory's sake, but tragically, we fail to notice them in the first place. And our staff's remain empty of the etchings of a faithful God. From this passage though, the part that has given me greatest pause is the phrase "I will focus on your honor..." Focus here can be translated as ponder or meditate, but I am rather fond of the simplicity of the word focus. That's one that I can relate to. Looking through the lens of my camera, I love the moment my camera zooms in and focuses on the object I'm photographing. For a few seconds everything is blurry--no one could make sense of the picture--but then with a simple zoom, everything is clear. It all comes into focus. When we take time to focus on God's honor, much becomes clear. Ephesians 2:10 says we are God's "workmanship created in Christ Jesus..." and that means that we are a direct reflection on the skills and abilities of our Creator. When I make a wedding cake people examine the details of the icing, the flowers, and then they taste it to decide whether or not they think I've done a good job. Looking at the finished product, they make conclusions about whether or not they could trust me with a special cake of their own. It's the same with God, when people look at our lives, they draw a conclusion about Him. And guess what? He knows that! When it comes to our lives, it is his reputation and honor on the line. We get wrapped up into thinking that somehow our lives are simply a reflection of our choices, but when we are a follower of God, they reflect far more than that. Like a billboard on the interstate they call out to people. What they say matters significantly to God. Not coincidentally, after I read this passage my pastor spoke about God's honor in church. After sixty-something years of exile, Daniel cried out to God on behalf of himself and his fellow Israelites. "So now, our God, accept the prayer and requests of your servant, and show favor to your devastated sanctuary for your own sake...O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, pay attention, and act! Don't delay, for your own sake, O my God! For your city and your people are called by your name." (Daniel 9:17b, 19) Daniel got it. When we cry out to God we need to do it from a focused vantage point. From the platform of God's honor we can stand before God and plead our case. When it is His integrity, His power, His ability, His reputation in question, the stakes are high. God Himself said "For you must not worship any other god, for the Lord whose name is Jealous , is a jealous God." (Ex. 34:14) He's not a God looking to share his glory and honor with some other. Look how Satan has chosen to attack God in our current culture. We live in a society that insists on tolerance of the idea that there are many ways and many gods...that God is perhaps not even a deity so much as simply the notion that there is good within all of us. Imagine how that grieves the heart of our God whose desire is that the world would know He loves them. Solomon too knew this well when he prayed, "May the Lord our God be constantly aware of these requests of mine I have presented to him, so that he might vindicate his servant and his people Israel as the need arises. Then all the nations of the earth will recognize that the Lord is the only genuine God." (I Kings 8:59, 60) The contents of our lives though trivial in light of eternity, matter. They matter more than we know. They matter to a God who's honor is at stake. They matter and He will act. So, stop. Focus. Zoom in on the honor of God and rest. Because in the shelter of your honorable heavenly Father is fullness of joy. He's aware of the situations we face and He's more than willing to work amidst them. The victory is ours when the battle is the Lord's. Remember, it's his honor on the line, not ours, and so he is guaranteed to act. He'll not let His name be put to shame, and we are the recipients of the protection that fact offers. Lord, teach us to trust you. Teach us to open up our hands and our hearts and release the things that cause us greatest concern. Teach us to quiet our souls before you. Teach us to focus on your honor. Amen. Read With Me: Isaiah 26: 8
Thursday, May 1, 2008
Yesterday while we were working at our property an elderly couple drove by in their minivan. I knew right away they might be our neighbors up the hill. I went over to greet them and hoped they wouldn't be offended by my dirty tank top and muddy hands. I am so excited to tell you that not only are they seniors (those of you who know me know how I love having elderly neighbors) but they are Christians too! After a short conversation I discovered that they are retired from a lifetime of pastoring, but in no way are they retired from ministry. They continue a CD ministry to shut-ins and send out weekly Bible time CD's to children as well. Within a five minute conversation, my CD library grew by four CD's with a promise to send more each week! I was elated to the point of tears because having these godly people just up the street somehow confirms deep in my spirit that this is where God would have us--that He caused this to be. In addition, a Christian friend of ours is the contractor another house in this small neighborhood. Two Christian contractors we know are putting a bid in on another home that is soon to go in. At a time when building is progressing at a snail's pace in this hibernating economy, there are Christian builders and neighbors scampering about our new neighborhood like ants! I can't ignore that. I have to stop and say with certainty: "The LORD has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes." (Psalms 118:23) The word LORD in that passage is the most commonly used name for God in the Old Testament--used over 6,500 times. Translated as Yahweh, it means to cause to be. It oozes of self existence and self-sustainability. It informs all who hear it of God's presence before anything came to be, of God as the source of all life, all occurrences and all that is. The first time this name of God is used in the Old Testament is in the account Cain and Abel's birth. I hope you won't mind if I take the liberty of writing out that passage here with the definition of YAHWEH inserted everywhere that name is used. Eve said "I have created a man just as The One Who Causes All To Be did!" Then she gave birth to his brother Abel. Abel took care of the flocks, while Cain cultivated the ground. At the designated time Cain brought some of the fruit of the ground for an offering to The One Who Causes All To Be. But Abel brought some of the firstborn of his flock--even the fattest of them. and the One Who Causes All To Be was pleased with Abel and his offering, but with Cain and his offering he was not pleased. So Cain became very angry, and his expression was downcast. Then The One Who Causes All To Be said to Cain, "Why are you angry and why is your expression downcast? Is it not true that if you do what is right, you will be fine? but if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it. (Then Cain takes Abel out and kills him.) Then The One Who Causes All To Be said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" And he relied, "I don't know! Am I my brother's guardian?" But The One Who Causes All To Be said, "What have you done?" (Gen. 4:1-10a) When you read this passage knowing the Hebrew meaning of the word translated into English as LORD in our Bibles it takes on an incredible level of irony. Did you pick up on that? First Eve brazenly claims that she brought forth a child just like God (the source) created humanity! She may have simply been astonished at the miracle of life--after all she'd never seen that happen before, but irregardless she has a great deal of audacity to literally say I created a man just like God did! I have to wonder if God was thinking No, Eve. That was actually me who placed that child within your womb. I AM the source of life, Eve." Then Cain is angry and down-trodden because his offering wasn't good enough for God. Again, it's so ironic. He missed the point entirely. God doesn't need our offerings--He causes our offerings to be in the first place. Cain actually believed in his heart that he was capable of pleasing Almighty God in his own strength. Cain then wrongly concludes that the source of his troubles was his brother Abel and removes that source of struggle. Wrong again. He didn't get it. God allowed that to happen. If he had stopped to acknowledge God as The LORD, Yahweh, perhaps he would have begun to understand that the things happening to him were coming through The God Who Causes To Be. He wrongly concluded that he controlled his own destiny. Finally, this tragic account is concluded with The God Who Causes To Be's question to Cain, "What have you done?" The source of all asks a mere man, "What did you do?" Every single event, person and thing that come into our lives are filtered through Yahweh God. Even the bad things that happen are allowed to come into our lives by Him. I know this is a tough concept. Look at Cain. I've always felt sorry for him. To me, it appears he wanted to do his best. Perhaps though, he was not usable by God because he didn't understand that even his very best was not remotely good enough for God. Perhaps he wrongly concluded that he could be good enough for God. We know how the story plays out--all of our righteousness is as filthy rags in comparison to God. None of us measures up. The thing is that had Cain realized that God allowed his brother to give a better offering and gotten on his knees before Yahweh and said, "LORD, I am humbled by your presence. Even my ability to produce the right offering will only find it's source in You. I ask You to help me to bring something that is pleasing to you." Perhaps the story would have ended differently. Acknowledging God as Yahweh changes everything. When my new neighbors pull up and I discover they are Christians I can quickly think about how lucky I am to have good people living up the hill from me. Or I can immediately stop and worship Yahweh, The God Who Causes All To Be. God allowed them to live up the street. That's GOD!! Let me tell you something else I found interesting. It isn't until Exodus 6 that the Israelites begin to know God as Yahweh. They are enslaved in Egypt and facing circumstances far more difficult that any I've known. Moses is frustrated that God has asked Him to deliver these people. He actually asks God why He's causes more trouble for them and calls God out on the fact that He has yet to rescue them from their bondage. Up until now, the name Yahweh has been used 215 times, but in this moment the lights go on. "God spoke to Moses and said to him, "I am the LORD. (The God Who Causes All To Be) I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name 'the LORD' I was not known to them." (Ex. 6:3) Though their forefathers experienced incredible miracles like Abraham's barren wife Sarah becoming pregnant with Isaac and though they saw the faithfulness of God's provisions like Jacob's family being fed by Joseph in Egypt, they had not known God as Yahweh. The Hebrew meaning of the word known speaks to an experiential knowledge of someone as opposed to an intellectual knowledge. I may know that chocolate is supposed to taste good, but until I've felt a morsel melt on my tongue, I've not known it to be true for myself. The same is true here. Though this generation of Israelites had known of God as Yahweh, they didn't know it to be true in their own lives. What a tragedy that generations of God's people didn't truly know Him. And yet, the reality is that we are no different. We have the entire written word of God, we have experienced the faithfulness of God in our lives and yet most days, we rise, eat, live and sleep without ever stopping to acknowledge the greatness of Yahweh in our lives. When I wake, the very first breath I take found it's source in the self existent Yahweh. When I eat, the very grains of my cereal found their origin in Yahweh. The very soil my husband digs out to create a spot for our home found it's beginning in the spoken words of Yahweh. These things we face daily--job losses, broken marriages, struggling children, sick parents, promotions, tests, new friendships, moves, love, births, deaths--they all find their source in Yahweh. It is my prayer that I'll know God as Yahweh every single day. It is my prayer that I'll not be oblivious to his presence like Cain was and that it will be said of me: She knew me as YAHWEH God. May my children's children's children know God as Yahweh. Amen.