Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Alchemist

Authenticity is really important to me. I don't ever want to be one of those "happy clappy" types who just share the good side of things. Jesus is Lord over my bad days as well as good ones, and authentic faith encompasses the hard questions. 
Our family is going through a deep trial right now. Some days are filled with joy. But there are really hard things and really bad days. Yesterday was one and it ended with me standing in the kitchen bawling the ugly cry while putting up dishes. It's not that I wasn't still joyful over the blessings from the day before. But the joy was mingled with grief, with pain.
This morning as I processed the contrast of Friday night and Saturday night, these words poured forth when I tried to pray. I'm sharing them, because they reflect a truth that we all have to grasp in one way or another. Roses have thorns, and life has trials, because we live in a fallen world. Yet there is One who has redeemed it all, who is working it to transform me and you for our good and His glory.
The Alchemist
I stood in the kitchen and wept last night
Tears of sorrow, not joy this time.
24 hours earlier I was on cloud nine.
Oh, this disease.
I'm promised so much -
The spiritual returns of what I give up for HIm -
Yet wrapped up in the promise, trials.
Oh, this life.
Joy mingles with sorrow in the cup.
This much pain, this much blessing, a dash of strength, a dollop of peace...
The alchemist hands me the cup.
Oh, this drink.
I didn't ask for it.
Not this drink, not this flavor.
Yet in faith I sip, the drink burning my throat, warming my soul.
Oh, the cost and paradox of discipleship.
I set the cup down.
Through tear-filled eyes I see in the remains - a cross. 
And on the handle, written in blood, the single word - 
                        HOPE.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Knowing

So Jesus said to the twelve, "You don't want to go away too, do you?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God!" (John 6:67-69)

I live in a part of the country that experiences almost every type of weather, including short-lived summer storms and the longer-lasting spring and fall variety. I've lived long enough to know that rarely do storms that last a long time leave quickly. Usually, the clouds gather for a while, they stick around, and then take their time moving out. There is a time, though, when you can tell the worst is over and the clearing has begun.

I'm just emerging from a couple of storm-tossed years. The sun has started peeking through increasingly, and I sense that the stormy transition is settling in to the daily reality of a new season. 

During the worst moments of this storm, I've lived a number of what I called "John 6:68 days". For far too long than I ever want to experience again, I lived through days where every single thing I did felt like a "should". I was depressed, but I had to keep going, so I kept doing all the "right things" with no heart in it. I prayed, but didn't feel God's presence. I read His Word, but didn't hear His voice. I served, but didn't readily notice His strength. I was going through the motions. 

On the worst of those days, I was tempted to want a different option. The cost of discipleship felt too great. His sovereignty was something I believed, but struggled with. I was being wrecked, and I hated it. I never doubted Him, but I couldn't feel Him. Hope wasn't a reality, just something I knew had to be out there somewhere.

But I kept coming back to the truth Peter proclaimed: There was nowhere else to turn. I knew, in my heart of hearts, that I preferred to be in the storm with Jesus, rather than out of the storm without Him. I was often mad about the storm, but I knew there was no better option out there. As I wrote at the time: 
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
But oh, joy of joys, today I realized something precious. As I worshipped in church like I have almost every Sunday through this storm, I realized that the "where else could I turn" faith had shifted back to a "knowing" faith - a knowing that God is in control and working all things for good. A knowing that He is sovereign AND good, and that I can trust Him utterly. This "knowing" didn't happen in a moment, nor is it new. But being aware that it is there, and has been all along, was a beautiful gift today. 

My pastor went on to preach about the importance of having a foundation in the Word of God. As I listened I thought about my 20 years with Him up to this point and all the foundation we have laid together. Day after day in the Word. Worship song after worship song in the background. Church service after church service. Book after book. 

Today as we sang, "Never let go", the lines jumped out to me: "Even though I'm caught in the middle of the storms of this life//I won't turn back I know You are near". One of the most tender moments I've ever had with God was when He taught me how I'm literally carried by His grace and mercy. Today, as I thought through the past couple of years, I thought of this lesson in a new light. Acts 27:17 tells of Paul's journey to Rome and the scary storm onboard the ship that caused them to consider turning back.
(Acts 27:17) After they had hoisted it up, they used supporting cables [literally = helps] in undergirding the ship; and fearing that they might run aground on the shallows of Syrtis, they let down the sea anchor and in this way let themselves be driven along.
What I realized is that the ship had to have these supporting cables already in place. The ability to stay in the storm and not turn back was dependent on having the right equipment - the right foundation, if you will. 

God often gives new believers a precious gift, and I was no exception. He often provides a season of deliverance, joy, and victory. Much like the foundation we lay for our children in the preschool and early elementary years, this time provides a place to learn trust for the future when the lessons are more challenging. As seasoned believers, one of the best things we can do for new followers of Christ is to help them build that foundation for when they will need it most. If you are a new believer, or maybe one who hasn't spent the time on the foundation, I encourage you to start today! Find a church and be consistent (spoiler alert, it won't be perfect. Don't let that stop you.) Read the Bible daily. Attend a Bible study. Put on worship music every chance you get. The storms will come. Build the knowing in now, for the time when you might feel like giving up is coming. 

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!

But.

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

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.