Monday, October 16, 2017

Where Hope Can Be Found

I don't think it's important for Christians to feel hopeful all the time. In fact, I am increasingly convinced that the most hopeful believer in Scripture is actually - Job.

You might want to read that again, because the prevailing sentiment in Christian teaching is often some version of "Christians should be the most hopeful people ever." I'm lovingly challenging the way that comment is often presented.

Such a theology has some truth in it, of course. But when you hit a stormy season - when you face a Job-type situation - that comment can quickly become overwhelming. It can feel like one more thing to add to a long to-do list.

I'm not saying that hope isn't important for Christians. What I'm saying is that hope isn't something we have to pursue. It's something we have, because of Jesus.

In a season of being wrecked, this shift in thinking can be profoundly freeing. It can move "hope" from a legalistic verb to a refreshing noun. Instead of being something we try to feel, it becomes the ground under our feet, the air we breathe, the water that fills every cell of our being. "Hope" in the Bible isn't a feeling - it is a confident expectation based on truth. Hope isn't something we do - it's something produced in us through the crucible of suffering (Romans 5:1-5). We are purified as we learn to hope in Jesus (1 John 3:3).

Perhaps surprisingly, the book of Job uses this word more than any other book in Scripture except for Psalms. I think that is likely because Job knew one of the deepest truths about hope: God Himself is a God of Hope (Romans 15:13). We never find hope by looking to a certain outcome, or by stirring up a certain emotion. Job teaches me that we can be totally grieved over our circumstances and still find hope in the truth of who God is. Job spends a lot of time talking about his frustrations and pain. He is authentically working out his suffering in the context of relationship with his Creator. But underneath it all, he knows that his Creator is the God of hope. He doesn't see it (because hope by definition is not seen - Romans 8:24), but he knows where to find it.

That's why I've come to love this song by Lauren Daigle so much. It reminds me that the kind of hope that is an anchor for my soul comes when I know where that hope is found - more specifically, when I know the One in WHOM that hope is found. True hope is Jesus. He alone is my hope. As the old song says, "My Hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness." Not just the eternal hope of salvation, but the hope for today. The hope that gets me out of bed in the morning.

If you or someone you know is going through a tough season, avoid the legalism of "feeling hopeful". Embrace hope as the Bible presents it - the person of Jesus. When we are in His presence, we are in the environment where hope can be found - whether we feel particularly hopeful or not.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

When You're Being Wrecked

One day the members of the heavenly court came to present themselves before the LORD, and the Accuser, Satan, came with them. "Where have you come from?" the LORD asked Satan. Satan answered the LORD, "I have been patrolling the earth, watching everything that's going on." Then the LORD asked Satan, "Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless--a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil." Satan replied to the LORD, "Yes, but Job has good reason to fear God. You have always put a wall of protection around him and his home and his property. You have made him prosper in everything he does. Look how rich he is! But reach out and take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!" "All right, you may test him," the LORD said to Satan. "Do whatever you want with everything he possesses, but don't harm him physically." So Satan left the LORD's presence. (Job 1:6-12 NLT)

In general I think we Christians overdo the Job analogies. We get a hangnail, sore elbow, and a cold in the same week and suddenly we are having a "Job week". No condemnation - I'm including myself here!


There are seasons.

Seasons when we are being wrecked. Not in the "that song wrecked me" sense, but in the "I don't know how I'm going to look when I pick up the pieces after this season" sense.

Maybe we feel left out on a limb to figure out alone what to do.

Maybe we feel like we're losing everything that is left of ourselves. We've died to self over and over and wonder how much more there is to surrender.

Maybe we've never struggled with the goodness of God before but find ourselves in a season of fighting cynicism all the time.

Maybe it's all those things at once. We know we are trusting God, we know we are walking in faith and not fear. That we are leaning on Him. We're doing everything we know to do, everything that has worked in previous tough seasons, but suddenly, it's not working.

We don't know what else to do, and even if we did we don't have the energy to do it.

If you are in such a season, let me encourage you, as one fellow "wrecking season" traveler to another, with a simple truth that God is teaching me. Simple, but not at all easy to walk out.

Walking with Jesus as a New Testament believer means staying in relationship with Him when nothing makes sense.

I know, "Duh," right? You may be thinking "Of course we don't leave Him when it gets tough."

But if you are in a wrecking season, you know the truth I've experienced a lot lately: Some days are John 6:68 days. Faced with the reality of many disciples deserting Him, Jesus asks the Twelve a crucial question: "Are you also going to leave?" Peter's response is important here: "Simon Peter replied, "Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life."

Peter doesn't say that they'll stay with Jesus because things are so great. He doesn't give religious words or platitudes. He just basically says, "Where else would we turn?" He is certain of the truth, and knows that it's either Jesus or nothing.

In my season of wrecking, that is the most important truth I am holding on to.
Some days, other truths are just words on the page to me. God's goodness? Yes, I believe it, but don't feel it at times. His sovereignty? Sometimes like Job I can feel unsettled by that one. Purpose in the trial? I just want to skip the trial and get to the fruitfulness. Sometimes I don't even care if there is any. I just want it to be over.

But the words of eternal life? The heart of my faith, the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified, buried, and resurrected, saving me forever? That one keeps me coming back to the throne room day after day, sometimes crawling in tears, other times celebrating, still other days just gritting my teeth and doing it because it's on my list.

And what I am learning is that even on the days that the basics of the Gospel are all I can hold on to, when I just go to Jesus because it's either Him or nothing - that is still victory. Don't take my word for it. Listen to the Apostle John:

"For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith." - 1 John 5:4 ESV

In the Job passage we started with, Satan wanted one thing - Job's faith. He wasn't satisfied with personal and later physical attacks. He wanted to get Job to give up on God. Job wasn't having any of it. When we are in a wrecking season, we can be sure that is what Satan wants us to do as well.

In "The Insanity of Obedience" author Nik Ripken says that Job is a New Testament voice in an Old Testament world, and his friends are Old Testament voices. That is why they couldn't grasp how Job processed what he didn't understand. While Job certainly didn't have a full understanding of the Gospel, we see clear evidences of a personal relationship with God:

Job 19:25-27 NLT 25 "But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last. 26 And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God! 27 I will see him for myself. Yes, I will see him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed at the thought!"

Job 38:1 NLT Then the LORD answered Job from the whirlwind 
[God's words were directed at Job, personally]

If you are in a wrecking season, I highly recommend reading Job in the New Living Translation, and keep in mind Ripken's teaching on the Old Testament vs. New Testament perspectives. As I completed this over the past few weeks myself, I was able to understand much better the false arguments of Job's friends and the depth of Job's relationship with God. I saw in Job a John 6:68 type of faith - he didn't know what was happening, he didn't understand it all, but he had an unshakeable faith that there was nowhere else to turn. So he processed his pain, his anger, his resentment - every feeling imaginable - within the context of that relationship. His religious friends who lacked that relationship watched on in confusion, but Job held firm.

Remember my mention earlier of purpose? We see a glimpse of a beautiful truth in Job 1:6-12. Besides God Himself, the only ones who knew the whole story were the members of the heavenly court. God was showing off Job's faith to the whole spiritual realm. Job didn't know this, of course, but we have the full truth of God's word that gives us a similar concept:

Ephesians 3:8-10 ESV To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

Do you see it? The visible faith of the diverse people that make up the church shows God's wisdom to the spiritual realm! Just like Job, God can point us out and say "See her, she's holding on to the truth of the Gospel." "Look at him, not giving up his faith." Sometimes that might mean letting Satan try his hardest to attack us - always within God's sovereign limits. Some days, we may only hold on to that faith by crying out "Help my unbelief", remembering that faith itself is a gift.

When you're being wrecked, that might not always comfort you. But if you keep holding on to the John 6:68 faith, then I guarantee there will be a day when you can look up at Jesus and smile, knowing that you were a display of God's wisdom. 

Until then, it's perfectly all right to just feel like you are just barely getting through the day. As long as you do it with Jesus, that counts as a victory.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Patience and Suffering

For examples of patience in suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy. - James 5:10-11 (NLT)

Meet my daddy, the most patient man I know.

From the photo you can see some obvious things: He is getting on in years, was a little tired this day, defers the driving to my mom.

What you don't see is the lifetime of suffering behind that crooked smile. Born in a home birth as most were in 1939, he literally suffered trauma from the day he was born - the forceps the doctor used caused cerebral palsy, a disorder of the central nervous system. The doctor didn't expect him to live through the night. He's still here almost 78 years later.

Some people with CP cannot speak, walk, or get out of a chair. My daddy is blessed that he can do all of those things. His CP has caused him a lot of pain, but it doesn't define him. He's also sharp as a tack, has a memory like you wouldn't believe (like remembering weather details of specific dates), has a corny sense of humor, and is blessedly and frustratingly stubborn.

But the reality is that he has suffered. His CP causes him to drag his right foot and makes his right arm very limited in usefulness. He is a "forced lefty" because of the limitations on his right side, and all those years of walking awkwardly have resulted in arthritis in almost every joint of his body, and severe sciatica. Most recently, a fall resulted in an elbow injury that is likely a fracture at the elbow joint (we are waiting on MRI results now). Beyond all of that, he suffered the ridicule of classmates and the limitations of a pre-ADA society. Undeterred, he graduated college, moved across the country to work two years, moved back, met my mom, married, and became my ever-patient daddy :).

Back in May, I was visiting my parents for a few days and I was hit with an insight: My daddy's patience is connected to his suffering. He simply has never been able to do anything quickly, due to his mobility issues, and so he presses on, slowly but surely, the tortoise that wins the race due to sheer persistence.

As I have reflected on it in the weeks since, I realize what a wonderful example my daddy is of the truth James is presenting in his example of Job. Patience comes as we press on in our suffering, remaining persistent and enduring, not stoically or passively, but actively, in faith, continuing to walk the walk, even if every step is painfully slow, like it is for my daddy.

Perseverance means we keep going. One of the fruits we will see from the effort is an increased patience. We will experience God's tenderness and mercy in new ways.

Keep pressing on today. It's worth it - and not without purpose.

Monday, December 19, 2016

When the angel departs too soon

Each Advent season as I read through passages pointing to the birth of Jesus, I pray for fresh eyes to see the familiar story. Most years, God leads me to see something in the words that I've overlooked before. Today was the insight for this year and it comes from Mary's interaction with the angel, when she was told that she would be the mother of Jesus despite being a virgin. Read her response with me from Luke 1:38: "Mary responded, "I am the Lord's servant. May everything you have said about me come true." And then the angel left her."
My focus has always been on Mary's words, her humble and submissive response. There is much to learn from Mary, but today my heart was drawn to the next immediate phrase: "And then the angel left her."
I don't know about Mary, but I would have been tempted to protest the angel leaving and ask him to join me in telling my family and fiance! From our earthbound perspective, It seems such a strange time to leave a young girl alone.
But the truth is, Mary now had everything she needed to move forward with this hard but beautiful task God called her to do. She had a clear word from God and promise that whatever others would say in the months to come, HE was pleased with her. She knew everything He thought important to tell her about His beloved Son. It was enough, because her focus was on Him and not herself.
Soon, at what point we don't actually know, the Holy Spirit did come upon her and she did become miraculously pregnant with Jesus, who was fully God and fully man even in her womb. While she walked outwardly alone on the hard path of telling Joseph & her family, the deeper reality is that she was literally carrying within her the life of God Himself. He came to be Immanuel, God with us, and He demonstrated that first of all as God with her, His own mother.
"Mary did you know" captures some of this in the closing lines, "The sleeping child you're holding is the great I AM." But we could equally say, "The tiny seed inside you is the great I AM." Because of that, she was never alone - even when the angel left her.
Today, many of us are facing times when we wish God would send an angel to walk us through the fire, to trumpet the truth, to intervene on our behalf. I still believe He does that. But the greater miracle is coming to realize that, like Mary, when we belong to Him, even if He doesn't, He is still Immanuel, God with us. Paul put it this way in Colossians 1:27: "Christ in you, the hope of glory."
Yes, the angel departed just when Mary might have thought she needed him the most. But God had spoken. And it was enough.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Because He Lives: Conclusion


   (Last of a series sharing my devotional thoughts from almost two decades ago. For the back story & links to other posts, see the first post in the series.)

What does it mean that Jesus is alive? Human wisdom cannot grasp the depth of what Jesus’ resurrection means, but Christians recognize that it is so crucial, so vital, so significant to know that His grave is empty.
God has impressed upon me that this devotional is not complete without touching upon what it means that Jesus not only died for us, but He was also raised from the dead by God the Father. I have come to recognize these truths about the importance of Jesus’ resurrection as God has begun giving me understanding of the Scriptures. I make no claims for the following to be an exhaustive list of the significance of Jesus’ resurrection, but I do know that because He lives ...

            • I am a new creation. 2 Cor. 5:17 says, “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” All of my previous sin and shame have been forgiven, but God’s grace goes beyond that: Romans 6 explains that my old self died with Christ, and I have been raised up with Him and have been made new. Because Jesus lives, I am simply not the same person that I was before I became a Christian.
            • I have an eternal hope. 1 Cor. 15 is a key New Testament passage explaining the importance of Christ’s resurrection. Paul makes his main point in verse 19: “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” Paul explains that if Christ didn’t rise from the dead, we have no hope of a resurrection of the dead, either. If there is no resurrection of the dead, there is no eternal life. Paul goes on in verse 52 to emphasize the truth, which makes our hope a certainty: “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”
            There will be a “last trumpet” that calls the dead to life. Those who are not alive at that time will be resurrected from the dead, and we shall all be changed. This last trumpet call will summon believers in Christ to heaven for eternity. It will also summon those who did not believe in Christ on this earth to eternal judgment. Because Christ was resurrected, we have the assurance that someday we, too, will be resurrected.
            • I have an intercessor in heaven: Jesus. Hebrews 7:25 says: “...He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”
            Jesus’ purpose RIGHT NOW is to intercede for believers. 1 John 2:1 calls Jesus our “Advocate with the Father”. What assurance it is to know that Scripturally, when I sin, Jesus stands before the Father with the scars on His body from His crucifixion, interceding on my behalf.
            Please listen to these precious words: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness....if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation [acceptable sacrifice] for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” (1 John 1:9, 2:1b-2).
            Becoming a Christian doesn’t make us sinless. But because Jesus lives, His wounds bear eternal testimony that He bore our sins. Because He lives, we know the penalty for our sins has been paid in full.
  • I have an example of God’s limitless power. When Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, he shared part of his heart’s desire: “that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings,” (Phil. 3:10, emphasis mine). When God resurrected Jesus, He demonstrated His power over death. Romans 6:9 says, “knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again: death no longer is master over Him.”
Because Jesus lives, I know that God has power over anything I may face. As Paul explained to the Ephesians: “...These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come” (Eph. 1:19b-21). His resurrection is evidence of God’s power -- the “strength of His might” to which Paul referred.
Never, never, NEVER, do I have to wonder if my circumstance is hopeless or my problem too big for God. Because Jesus lives, I know that God is in control.

            My desire is that as you read this devotional, God spoke to your heart. I pray you have either accepted Christ’s offer of salvation or renewed your commitment to Jesus Christ with a more fervent love. If you are not a Christian, I pray that some of God’s truth from the scriptures in this devotional will take root in your heart, and that one day you will become my brother or sister in the Lord. If you are a Christian, I anticipate meeting you someday -- maybe on this earth, but definitely in heaven ... because He lives.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Because He Lives: God Has a Plan

   (Part of a series sharing my devotional thoughts from almost two decades ago. For the back story & links to other posts, see the first post in the series.)

Are you in the midst of a painful, difficult, or confusing circumstance? Or are you perhaps struggling to understand the “why” of a hard time you are now past? If so, you are in good company.
One of the most wonderful verses in Scripture is Romans 8:28 -- “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God...”. A beautiful verse -- but one that sounds almost too good to be true, especially when we are in the midst of something bad, something from which no good could possibly come -- in our human way of thinking.You may be asking yourself right now, “Does that really mean good can come from my situation? Oh, I see what He’s trying to say there, but He surely didn’t mean this. No way.” But the precious thing is that no matter what your situation, He DID mean it. If we love Him, He WILL work everything -- even the bad, even our mistakes -- together for good. Because you see, GOD HAS A PLAN.
The Bible is filled with examples of people and circumstances which, from human perspective, looked bleak and dismal, and quite opposite of anything good. But in each case, GOD HAD A PLAN. Consider:
+ A teenage boy is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, who tell his father a wild beast killed him. Later, that same boy is wrongly imprisoned and then forgotten for two years by someone who promised to help him.

+ A young Jewish girl finds it necessary to reveal her identity to a king who has signed an order allowing people to murder Jews on one certain upcoming day.

+ A few short years after being told to be God’s witnesses to the world, the first Christians find themselves persecuted and their lives threatened to the point they are scattered, no longer having daily communion with other believers in this hostile environment.

+ In a society where childlessness is considered a sign of God’s displeasure, a Godly, righteous priest and his wife remain childless into their old age.

In each case, GOD HAD A PLAN. Wonderful things resulted from each of these seemingly hopeless scenarios:
+ Joseph was eventually named the highest ruler in Egypt except for Pharaoh, and put in charge of the storehouses of food. As a result, his family members survived a seven-year famine, preserving the nation of Israel and fulfilling God’s promise and plan. (See Genesis 45:5-8; Joseph’s story is told in Genesis 37-50.)

+ Esther’s impassioned plea to the king resulted in a new order arming the Jews to protect themselves against attackers. Esther 9:1 records the results: “...on the day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, it was turned to the contrary so that the Jews themselves gained the mastery over those who hated them.” Once again, in God’s plan, the Jewish people were preserved. This time God used a young girl who had been raised to a position of royalty “for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14)

+ When the first Christians were dispersed throughout Judea and Samaria because of persecution, they carried the message of the Gospel with them. Acts 8:4 records, “Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.” The evangelization of the world which had started in Jerusalem reached new places after the dispersion.

+ Zacharias and Elizabeth are greatly blessed when, in their old age, God gives them a son: John the Baptist, the promised forerunner to Jesus Christ. (See Luke 1)

You see, in all these humanly impossible situations, GOD HAD A PLAN. Those who faced the difficult circumstances eventually saw the good that God wanted to bring out of them. Joseph, in fact, told his brothers who had many years earlier sold him into slavery, “ meant evil against me, but God meant it for good...” (Gen. 50:20).
Never underestimate God’s methods for fulfilling His plan by focusing on what is seen by human vision. Joseph, being in a position to preserve the life of God’s chosen people, could not have foreseen that plan when he was pulled out of a pit and sold to traders. But that was the good that God had for that situation.
So whatever situation you are in right now -- or whatever past circumstance you are trying  to understand -- trust in God’s sovereignty and His goodness; do what is right despite circumstances just as Joseph did; and anticipate the end result that will be good, glorifying to God, and fulfilling of His purposes. Because GOD HAS A PLAN.
Yes, He even has a plan for you.
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good for those who love the Lord, who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Because He Lives: Do You Pass God's Vision Test?

   (Part of a series sharing my devotional thoughts from almost two decades ago. For the back story & links to other posts, see the first post in the series.)

Have you ever been completely, totally lost? I mean, you have absolutely no idea which direction you should take. I have. I remember one day driving with my husband and step-son where a hilarious sequence of events found us on back roads in the southern part of our county. As we finally came to a paved road, we had to determine which direction to take. I made a random guess -- which turned out to be wrong -- and realized I had been completely turned around. Somehow we made it back to the main highway and survived the experience with a funny story under our belts.
The answer in that situation wasn’t so apparent. But as I think about times in my life where I was spiritually directionless, I realize that God has made the answer very clear.
You see, all of us who are Christians occasionally have to take what comprises God’s vision test: Where am I looking? Hebrews 12:1-2 makes clear the correct answer: “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, FIXING OUR EYES ON JESUS, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (emphasis mine).
Whenever I have been directionless in life, without exception I eventually realize that I have failed God’s vision test -- my eyes were somewhere besides on Jesus. Maybe I was focusing on my problem; perhaps I was being self-centered; sometimes I was looking too much at what others would think or say or do or feel. In every case, I find that when I shift my eyes to Jesus, everything else comes into focus. And then I find that I am no longer directionless; I know which way to turn.
Psalm 23:3 says, “He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” You see, when my eyes are focused on Him, I can see the paths of righteousness in which He is guiding me. I can then choose to follow those paths -- all the time keeping my eyes on Him -- with the full assurance that I am on the right path because He chose it, not me.
If you are confused right now and don’t know which way to turn ... if you feel directionless ... you don’t have to take a random chance of getting on the right road. Shift your eyes upward from wherever they are looking right now. See Jesus -- resurrected, victorious over sin and death and the grave, eternally bearing the scars for our sins, seated at God’s right hand -- and keep your eyes there. Worship Him. Ask Him to guide you in paths of righteousness. Let Him teach you through His Word. Take His wisdom for your problem. And discover the wonder of a life that suddenly comes into focus as your vision is clear and your eyes are rightly fixed on Him. God will guide you and show you where to go and what to do. Then, as Hebrews 12:1 says, you will be able to run with endurance the race that is set before you.
One final note: You never have to doubt what’s at the end of the road God has you on. James 5:11 makes God’s intended result clear: “Behold, we count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.” So take out the Bible (your road map), pass the vision test (by focusing on Jesus), and trust Him as you start down the path of righteousness in which He is leading you into His mercy and compassion.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you.” Isa. 43:2

“Lift up your eyes on high
and see who has created these stars,
The One who leads forth their host by number,
He calls them all by name;
Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing.”

Isa. 40:26