Therefore, I Hope

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“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but not crushed and broken. We are perplexed because we don’t know why things happen as they do, but we don’t give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going. These bodies of ours are constantly facing death just as Jesus did; so it is clear to all that it is only the living Christ within who keeps us safe.”

 – 2 Corinthians 4:8-10, TLB –


Something buried deep inside the human soul clings to hope.

Once I heard the story of a baby born months prematurely, at 23 weeks and 6 days gestation. Four months early. She was incredibly small, her skin bruising dark from the gentlest touch, her internal organs so delicate that they could give out at any moment.

Her parents didn’t know what to expect. The baby, whom they named Juniper, seemed always on the threshold of death. But time after time, she pulled through the night. Her tiny chest would still be rising and falling the next day, no matter how many times she flatlined in the night.

Her father began reading to her every day. Inexplicably, the child’s heart rate would lift as she heard her father’s voice reading a story he loved and wanted her to love too. He imagined that Juniper was interested in the story. I imagine that the voice of her father broke into that baby’s pain and gave her something to cling to.

She made it. Today she is five years old and bouncing with good health.

As unbelievers, her parents and the others who tell her story discuss ethical implications, viability, Roe vs. Wade, and the unearthly aura of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit they affectionately call “Nick-u.” They have straddled life and death.

In their daughter’s story, they perhaps see evolutionary triumph, or the inexplicable emotional attachment of a parent to a child.

I see the hope that God kindles in the heart of every living soul, a will to survive. Juniper’s survival declares to me that nothing is by chance, and living isn’t a coin toss. Living–hoping–is engrained in us.

Someone once said, 

“Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air…but only for one second without hope.”

It’s true that, short of despair, we grasp furiously at existence. Something deep inside drives us to “live and life abundantly,” and as long as hope lives, humanity’s will to survive is incredible.

I believe God placed this desire in us. More than just an instinctive fight for supremacy, hope is a highly spiritual thing.

Do I have a reason to take another breath? Yes or no?

Humans again and again weigh their options in the balance, stacking up pleasure against pain, measuring heights of clarity against depths of confusion.

Those who do not believe in the hope of God often lose sight of hope entirely. Rejecting the possibility of His goodness and power, they unknowingly reject the one and only unshakeable hope.

People pin the happiness of their existence on many things. Wealth, pleasure, love, success, conquering. When their anchor of hope can no longer hold them down, what is left for them?

Every object of hope changes, fails, ceases to satisfy.

Except Jesus.

He never changes, never fails, never ceases to satisfy, because He is our Creator God. He made us to thrive in His presence. Nothing else can ever quite fit the bill.

You know, I’ve set my hope in other things. And I see people around me all the time trying to fit something human into this God-shaped need. It just doesn’t work.

So a world full of people are on a desperate hunt for hope…and only a few actually find it.

What does Christian hope look like? What does it do?

Hope is something believed in, something that keeps people alive, some ideal they see as worth their devotion. Hope is our internal answer to the “why” of existence.

Christian hope is turning away from sin and turning to Jesus Christ as your only chance for this life and the next. It is placing the weight of your belief in His simultaneous divinity and humanity, His death that satisfied God’s justice on your behalf, and His miraculous resurrection breaking the power of sin and death. It is giving Him sway over your entire being, which, incidentally, is already His anyway. You stop running from Him and start running to Him.

This hope is a true anchor for the soul (Hebrews 6:19).

This is why, really, only Christians can be real Optimists. Of course things in this world are messed up. Of course it is sometimes awful, painful, and dark. But something good is coming. We know this for certain.

This is why the theme verse of this post rings true:

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but not crushed and broken. We are perplexed because we don’t know why things happen as they do, but we don’t give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going. These bodies of ours are constantly facing death just as Jesus did; so it is clear to all that it is only the living Christ within who keeps us safe.”

 – 2 Corinthians 4:8-10, TLB –

Christian hope can propel us through absolutely anything. We have a Savior who is both near and powerful, strong and kind, just and overflowing with grace.

To grasp on to this hope, we fix out eyes on Him.

He is the already-salvation who makes life livable, and the not-yet salvation who, one day, will make all things new.

Do you have this hope? If not, I assure you that nothing else you try is going to work. Jesus is the only hope that will satisfy the cries of your soul. Believe in Him.

If you have believed, but the pain of life is smothering your hope, don’t be afraid. Keep believing. This life may be marred, but it is marred beauty. It may be corrupted, but it corrupted joy. It may be dark, but darkness can never overcome light. Very soon, the marring and the corruption will end and the dawn will become noonday. Believe in Him.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for. In believing, you take hold of what is sure to happen, because God never fails, never changes, never ceases to satisfy.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever–the same Creator, Redeemer, and Restorer.

Therefore, I hope.

But seek His kingdom, and these things will be provided for you. Don’t be afraid,little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom.

 – Luke 12:31-32, HCSB –

 

 

 

 

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My Grip

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“Many plans are in a person’s mind,
    but the Lord’s purpose will succeed.”

 – Proverbs 19:21, CEB –


Not long ago, I realized that I take a lot of pride in my grip.

And I don’t mean how strong my hands are.

I like to have it all together. Yeah…classic firstborn. Self-made standards, organization, to-do lists, and all. And then, a couple months ago, a crisis bared my inadequacy.

My mom, a friend, and I were talking with some neighbors near our home when a pack of dogs rushed past us and attacked my dog Tex, who is a border collie/German shepherd mix. The dogs’ owner ran into the fray, yelling as if his lungs would burst any second. My mom rushed across the grass to the fight. Bystanders tried to shoo the attacking dogs away.

Me?

All I could do was cry.

I had never felt more helpless in all my 22 years. My friend later commented that all the hope seemed to go out of me.

See, I knew those dogs. I was scared of them, and I knew my dog was a wimp. He was not going to put up much of a fight, especially against such massive, snarling opponents. He would have turned tail and whimpered away…but he couldn’t.

In that awful moment when the dogs attacked, I remember grabbing the nearby fence, doubling over, praying, and just crying. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t think. I just knew my dog was dead. I gave up, right then. It was over.

That’s when I learned how much I trust my grip.

When my control was stripped away, I stopped functioning.

Now, that was a tiny moment in life. And, thank God, I was proven wrong. The dogs’ owner was able to save my dog’s life. He walked away without even a scratch.

But that tiny moment showed me a big flaw in myself. Because I like to be in control. I really, really like it.

Sometimes, I still feel my grip tightening. It is not as instant and dramatic as the dog fight incident, but I get paralyzed by fear all the same. Somehow, I think that if I could just get a handle on everything, it would be okay.

“Never fear, Shelbie is here!” Right?

Today, a friend wrote me and told me about some of the hard things going on in her life.

My grip tightened–I wanted so badly to give her all the answers. I wanted so much to be the savior, the one who could make the hurt go away. I wanted to play God a little while and wipe the tears and make things come out happy in the end.

And I couldn’t.

I offered a few words of truth, but I felt the powerlessness of my replies.

It was out of my control. And there was nothing I could do about it.

And you know what? I am not the savior of this world. So why do I so often try to be just that?

Why do I lay upon myself the responsibility to make sure my life, and the lives of those I love, go smoothly? How full of pride am I, to think that I can handle this job of Manager of the Universe? Where did I get the idea that the position was even up for grabs?

My grip of late has been loosening.

Throughout my Christian walk, I’ve been learning to let go of things. My future, my health, my dreams–I’ve placed them in my Lord’s loving hands again and again.

But somehow I keep sneaking off with a piece of my life and try to smooth it all out on my own.

It is silly. It is a deadly toxin of pride and fear. It can steal all the joy out of living, and strip everything of color.

Because I really don’t have a very good grip at all.

Often, lying in bed, I think about things: future things, past things, things I wish I could do. The person I wish I were. So many plans.

And I’m learning to let them go. It is scary, and painful, and so very freeing.

It boils down to what I trust: my sweaty, white-knuckled grip, or the unwavering, all-powerful, love-scarred hand of my Lord?

So I offer up my life again.

My dreams. My friends. My trust in my own sufficiency. My independence. My quest to always have the answer. All of these, I offer up.

This is what it must mean to be a living sacrifice. Old things are dying, sloughing off, and new life is starting to shine through.

He must increase, and I must decrease.

Trust me, everyone is much better off. His grip is way better than mine.


“Day by day, and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure,
Gives unto each day what He deems best,
Lovingly its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.”

 – Lina Sandell –

No Good Thing

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When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.”

– Corrie Ten Boom –


Help me trust you.

I DO trust you. But I also fear you, dear Lord. I, silly child, fear that this one thing will be kept back from me. One incredibly good thing, scooted away from the table’s edge out of the reach of my grasping fingers.

But You do not withhold any good thing from me, do You?

“For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
The Lord will give grace and glory;
No good thing will He withhold
From those who walk uprightly.” – Psalm 84:11, NKJV

I was praying this last week, struggling with fear. Fear that my plans would go awry and all my carefully-constructed life would go tumbling off into uncertainty.

I’m not sure this has ever happened so vividly before, but as I was praying–nearly crying–over my fear, this verse popped into my head. “No good thing will He withhold…” I suddenly thought. The words were immediate and forceful. Not a voice, but a sudden assurance.

It took me by surprise. What a good God we have! Not a moment after I confessed my fears, He allowed this perfect verse to jump into my mind.

I was immediately both calmed and convicted. A moment before, I had been almost panicking because I was not getting my way. Now, I breathed and realized something:

If something would be good for me today, God would have given it to me.

The fact that He held back this desire of mine doesn’t mean He is not good–instead, it means that what I wanted wasn’t the best thing for me right now. Maybe it will be good for me later. Or maybe it will never be a good thing for me.

How simple! And yet, my heart was so comforted by remembering the God is not a hard taskmaster scheming for my misery. How often do we picture Him that way, just waiting to squelch our dreams?

He is not like that at all! He is a loving, indulgent Father who delights to bring us joy…but He also delights to strengthen our character. Sometimes that means doing things that we don’t particularly understand or even like at the moment. But it will end up for our ultimate joy and good.

“My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing. But anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask.”

– James 1:2-5, CEB –

That is my big struggle, how about you? To believe that “God is up to something good for us in all our delays and detours” (John Piper). Because, honestly?

They just feel like plain ol’ delays and detours. And dead ends, sometimes, too.

But I believe they are so much more than that. Today, I chose to smile at that precious verse–that reminder that God will not withhold one single good and lovely thing from me. And I choose to trust that His definition of “good” is a lot more accurate than mine.

Take a deep breath. Isn’t that freeing? Today, God has given me every gift I need. Because He is so good.


“Outside of the will of God, there is nothing I want, and in the will of God, there is nothing I fear.”

 – A.W. Tozer –

 

Joy’s Nemesis

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As I talked to a group of girls last night–one old friend and two new–one of them started talking about the connection between fear and the lack of joy.

I realized that it is true.

Fear chases away joy, in just a whisper of time.

We, white-knuckled, clench imagined control…and joy evaporates.

There are so many fears that run at us and storm our hearts’ gates. They crunch down the doors with solid bolts of facts, worry, despair.

And you know what…maybe we have good reason to be afraid.

If your goal is to stay safe, untouched by pain, hidden from trouble, tucked away from loss, un-torn by loss of people you love–then yes, you have much to fear indeed.

I have to tell you a story–a story that is very, very true.

As a twelve-year-old girl, I was diagnosed with cancer. Lymphoma.

Yes.

That word that carries a host of terror. Cancer. I had it. Inside my body was a wild thing tearing at my seams.

But that is the short part of this story.

Because, you see, a host of prayers went up, and I went to M.D. Anderson where I clutched an oversized teddy bear named Andy and slipped into a hospital gown. They took out a biopsy from my side.

Weeks later, I was declared cancer-free. Doctors claimed to have made a mistake.

Funny thing was…I was okay, then. A little nervous. But I was young and–by some mercy–did not have to take myself to that dark place. I never considered the worst–that cancer kills, and I could be its next prey.

But I wasn’t.

I moved on with life–cancer-free and largely untroubled by the experience, except for a tiny puckering scar over my rib cage.

It was several years later that the fear stole back to haunt me.

I had been experiencing strange symptoms in the site near my scar, and the terror suddenly loomed over me.

I. Could. Die.

That terrible disease could creep over me again and…this time it could take me.

The reality of death hit me in the chest and sat there a while. I cried in the quiet dark. I feared.

And then I gave in. Gave over.

In that still moment, I surrendered my future–whether life or death–to the Lord. I shrank from the idea of pain, from the thought of wasting away before the eyes of my family. But I gave that to Him. (Of course, it was His already…I just needed to align my will with His!)

Easy?

Not at all. Desperately, terribly hard.

But there was peace…washing, cleansing peace…

And  wide-open gates of joy.

This was only one of my battles–vivid still in my memory. I’ve felt the paralysis of fear. It seeps deep into your bones, freezes your joints, immobilizes you until you think every scrap of bravery is gone.

Fear is being haunted by possibilities.

Fear is to stop living to keep from dying.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” – C.S. Lewis

So…as I was saying above…you might have good reason for fear.

Believing in God doesn’t mean that you’re promised earthly happiness. The pain of this life is inevitable (John 16:33).

How will you handle it?

Because you MUST handle it. Or let it handle you.

You can run out to meet the fear, or let it catch you as you run. But you will meet it, and you will get to know it well.

I’m just telling you this straight: Life is hard.

So what are you going to do about it?

Are you going to keep running? Are you going to let the fear breathe down your neck every minute?

Or will you let go of the fantasy that you can dodge the pain?

The relief does not come when you hide from the bad things–it only comes when you accept the possibility and yet know that even if the worst comes, you will still be standing at the end.

How could you know this? How could this be your stand?

To face coming days in this way is Joy.

I have a vision of this joy. Maybe it was birthed in my imagination, or implanted in me by other tales. I picture a woman lifting her eyes to the dawn, face radiant. It isn’t a care-free face. It is lined with the trails of years and tears and many laughs. But as this woman looks up, her beautiful, worn face is lit with wild sort of joy–so much joy that it seems that a army could not trample it, or an ocean wash it away. It is a holy, unwavering thing–a way to laugh in the face of death. A way to smile as dawn rises on more trouble. A way to keep loving when it seems all that you love dies.

She is fearless.

And there is only one explanation.

Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
    they will be remembered forever.
They will have no fear of bad news;
    their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear;
    in the end they will look in triumph on their foes

– Psalm 112:6-8 –

This is the only well of joy.

Truly, “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Fear cripples us–but trusting God’s eternal love breaks its hold.

The question is not whether pain will find you. This world is crying out, waiting for Christ’s final renewal.

The real question is whether you will take refuge in God’s love to carry you safely through the storm. He alone can hold you tight–even giving you faith enough to believe in Him.

I can’t promise you happiness… 

…nor a smooth ride through life…

…nor an emotional high that some call joy..

…but would you really want that, when God’s adventure awaits?

When His pure Joy is just on the other side of your fear?

Nothing is strong enough to part you from Him–not even fear itself.

So…will you run from fear?

Or will you run to your Jesus and together run at the fear?

May you throw back you head and laugh, for your future–however mysterious– is perfectly secure.


 “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

– Romans 8:31-39, NIV –


My dear friend Emily wrote a post about this very thing. How about checking out “Whale-Lines, Foolish Elves, and the Faith of Laugher”?

Navigating the Tsunami: 3 More Emotional Survival Tips

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Ever had a storm of feelings bowl you over? I sure have! How do we deal with our wildly-crashing emotions Biblically? 

Last week, we looked at Emotion Facts 1-3. This week, I’ve got three more for you! 


4. Emotions are not indicators of spiritual experience.

“Though our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not.”

 – C.S. Lewis –

Some mornings, the sun is streaming in golden through my window, my bed is so soft, and I stretch awake and pray it with a glad heart: “Good morning, Lord. Help me serve You today.”

And other mornings, my alarm blares and I groan. Half-asleep, all I can think is, “I don’t want to get up. Ugh.”

Sometimes, I’m this way when it comes to my walk with God, too. I’ll be ready to tackle the whole book of Leviticus one day. The next? I’m barely feeling up to the book of Jude.

However, a “mountaintop” experience is not a way you should gauge your spirituality. Even if your emotions don’t stand up and shout during your church’s service, you can still be in a right relationship with God. You can be praising Him even if you aren’t moved to tears with every song. You can be thankful without feeling a huge, overwhelming current of praise.

Sometimes we don’t feel much. That’s okay. Sometimes we just have to say, “Lord, I love you and I thank you for ____ even though I don’t feel like it. Please help me desire what You desire.” Act on what you know to be right. God is able to bring your desires around even when you don’t know how.

5. Emotions can be directed.

Emotions are crazy, knee-jerk things. I can’t concoct them, but I can choose whether to nourish them. I can fuel them, one way or another. When someone offends me, I can decide to dwell on the problem, or I can turn to truth. Reminding myself of how offended I have a right to be–that makes the sinful emotions grow. Reminding myself of how much I’ve been forgiven (and also that I’m not the center of the universe) helps realign my emotions with God’s word.

The emotion isn’t the problem. My response to that emotion is the issue.

Something I find myself doing often is this: When struck by a fit of feelings, I try to stop and pray. Right there, whether I’m unloading the dishwasher and feeling mistreated or I’m struggling to find a kind response to an out-of-sorts family member, I just have one refuge: God. I call it “shooting up a prayer.” It goes something like this:

“God, help me. I’m feeling____, but I want to honor You. Please help me respond like You would want me to.”

Those prayers lead my emotions, submitting them to God and asking Him to help me wrestle down these contrary attitudes.

As I said above, act on what you know is true and right. Surprisingly, I’ve found that my emotions climb aboard after the train starts rolling, not before.

6. Emotions are not the goal.

Chasing emotions for their own sake is a waste of time. Yes, following the way of our Master is the path to abundant life. I’ve often been blown away by God’s goodness, carried up on the heights of joy, or swaddled in the security of His peace. But seeking these blessings for their own sakes is not the answer. We can’t manufacture God’s gifts.

And, in the thick of swelling emotions, I recognize something deeper than my feelings…a settled thing called desire. It is more solid, more satisfying. It is something like believing that there is still a sun on the other side of the storm clouds.

Sometimes I feel out-of-sorts, but my deepest places long to glorify my Savior. Sometimes a fear  flickers into my life, but inside my fire still glows bright and strong with faith.


Truth is a foundation that stays solid even when the tsunami hits.

The secret is this: give your emotions to God. Whenever an attitude strikes, lift it up and say, “Here, Lord, please take this.” When you’re feeling awful and you don’t know how to hold yourself together, pray “Help, Lord.”

Enjoy the emotional highs, but don’t trust them.  When the lows hit, don’t believe their whispers.

Look to the hills, where your help comes from. Look to the Rock that is higher than you–and yes, the Rock that is higher than your Inner Tsunami.


“But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.’ And Peter answered Him and said, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ So He said, ‘Come.’ 

And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’

And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him….”

– Matthew 14:27-31, NKJV –

 

My Least Favorite Word

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“Jesus replied, ‘You don’t understand what I’m doing now, but you will understand later.’ “
– John 13:7, CEB –

I get along quite well with most words, but there is one word I intensely dislike.

Waiting.

Not because I’m impatient (well, maybe a little…), but the word waiting is just so…dull. Lifeless. Boring. Blah.

When we talk about waiting–waiting to hear about a job, waiting for that scholarship board to make a decision, waiting for the right guy to come along, waiting for high school to end and college to begin–something settles over us.

When thoughts of waiting creep up on me, I think that I’m becoming discontent. Sometimes that is true, yes. But lots of times, I don’t think that is my problem. So, this is not a post about contentment. Sorry.

The word waiting seems so terrible because it takes my mind off the things God has me doing now, and puts my attention on the things God will do in the future.

The waiting isn’t the problem, actually. It’s not the poor word’s fault. The problem is ME. Even when I’m altogether happy with what God has given me to do in this season of my life, I can get wrapped up in the idea of waiting.

Waiting is not a bad word. The Bible talks about waiting on the Lord a lot. What I am talking about is the frequent use of “I’m just in a season of waiting,” as if we are not ALL in seasons of waiting. We’re always waiting on something, really. It’s not just a word for single girls to pull out to explain the lack of a significant other. In a constantly-changing world, there’s always going to be something coming up for us to dwell on. But that’s my point.

I would never tell you to stop thinking about the future. Single ladies, I would never tell you to completely stop thinking about getting married. Job seekers, I would never advocate ditching your career goals and living entirely for the moment. Mothers and wives, I would never tell you to stop thinking about when the kids will be grown-up, or when your husband will retire. That’s silly–the Bible commends wise planning and encourages us to look in hope to the future because God is in control (Proverbs 31:25; Romans 8:25; Romans 15:13).

However, I think the word waiting and I got off to a bad start because when I’m always thinking about what I’m waiting for, I lose the potency of the present moment. It’s good for me to smile at the happy things to come and to wonder what new bends in the road I’ll discover, but not at the cost of the Present.

You see, if I’m always focused on the waiting, I’ll never be able to concentrate on what God has given to me right now.

The concept of waiting has been rolling around in my mind for a while, and yesterday a novel I was reading helped me find the key. The book quoted from 1 Thessalonians 5:18:

“Give thanks in all things.”

Plenty of books have been written about giving thanks, but between a busy schedule and a large dose of forward thinking, it’s something I aspire to, but rarely do.

Do you know what else I’ve discovered?

Thanking is about trusting.

When I stop dwelling in the future and instead thank God for this moment (yes, even the hard moments), that is an act of faith. Deep down, I am declaring more than simple contentment. I am saying, “Lord, I have no idea what you will bring into my life tomorrow, but I trust you. I am not guaranteed one more moment than this moment, so in this moment, I praise you. In this moment, I choose to believe that You are good and faithful. With this moment, and every moment to come, I trust You.”

So…

Waiting is not really my enemy–but I refuse to make it my full-time job. Tomorrow holds adventure, it’s true. But I am not living in Tomorrow, I’m living Today. I will praise Him today.

God took good care of yesterday. I trust Him with today.

Tomorrow is in good hands.


“I do not know what next may come
Across my pilgrim way;
I do not know tomorrow’s road,
Nor see beyond today.
But this I know — my Saviour knows
The path I cannot see;
And I can trust His wounded hand
To guide and care for me.

I do not know what may befall,
Of sunshine or of rain;
I do not know what may be mine,
Of pleasure and of pain;
But this I know — my Saviour knows
And whatsoe’er it be,
Still I can trust His love to give
What will be best for me.

I do not know what may await,
Or what the morrow brings;
But with the glad salute of faith,
I hail its opening wings;
For this I know — that my Lord
Shall all my needs be met;
And I can trust the heart of Him,
Who has not failed me yet.”

– E. Margaret Clarkson –

 

God’s Show and Tell

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“Then the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?’ “

– Job 1:8, NKJV –


 Why?

If I were summarizing the book of Job in one word, that would be the one. “Why?”

Why, God, is everything going badly for me? Why, God, am I suffering when all the evil out there seems to be winning? Why am I the one with the trials when my unbelieving friends seem to have nothing but good times?

Immediately, voices chime in. “We deserve nothing but condemnation from God. It is only His grace that gives us less pain than we deserve.” Everyone seems to agree. “Wrong choices have consequences. You must have done something wrong, and now God is chastening you.”

There is truth–or at least some of it–in these typical statements. Of course, no human except the Lord Jesus was ever truly undeserving of any punishment. This is true. But that second analysis is, according to the book of Job, often untrue.

Certainly, God deals with us as His children. He does discipline us at times (Hebrews 12:5-11), but is that the only reason we suffer? Because we sinned?

Jesus’ disciples had this question too:

” Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’

Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’

When He had said these things, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay. And He said to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which is translated, Sent). So he went and washed, and came back seeing.”

– John 9:1-7, NKJV –

Jesus’ answer? Sin wasn’t the cause of this man’s blindness. His temporary disability was so that God’s healing work would be put on display.

When I recently read through the book of Job, I experienced something very strange. You would think that Job’s story might make me uncomfortable. In the first two chapters, God grants Satan permission to send all sorts of pain and grief into righteous Job’s life. In fact, Satan didn’t even start the conversation–God did. “What do you think my servant Job? He’s the most righteous man alive.”

Satan sneers. “Well, if You hadn’t blessed him so much, Job wouldn’t love You at all. I bet that if You took all those blessings away, Job would sing a different tune. He’d curse Your name.”

And so God said, “Do it. Just don’t touch his health.” And a chapter later, God lifts even that stipulation, merely forbidding Satan to kill Job.

Whoa. Hold on. What? God just hands over Job just like that? HIS child Job? The man who serves him with a pure heart?

Why?

Job is full of theories about God’s reasons. Job’s three “friends” who come visiting during the course of the story–Eliphaz, Zophar, and Bildad–all have the same idea. Job must have done something terribly wicked.

Their thought process went something like this: God is just. God punishes sin and blesses righteousness. Therefore, Job must have sinned–and pretty badly–for God to do this to him.

But they were dead wrong.

Pastor Mark Dever has this to say about Job’s friends:

“Most of the book consists of Job’s friends saying to him, ‘Hey, Job, I know you look virtuous, but there must be some sin here. Otherwise you would not be experiencing such severe punishment.’ But so far were Job’s friends from being right, that, ironically, someone could have said to them, ‘Eliphaz, Zophar, Bildad, this suffering might have come on you had you been more virtuous!’ We the readers know that God did not allow Job to face these trials because of Job’s vices–but because of his virtue! God looked over the world, wanting to brag on part of his creation of Satan. And he chose to brag about Job….No, this is not a Pelagian man-can-choose-what-is-right theology. Job is God’s own workmanship. God had caused Job to trust him, and God knew that he did.”

The Message of the Old Testament, page 477 –

But, as Pastor Dever points out in his discussion of Job, God never told Job why. From Job’s perspective, things just went bad. He didn’t get a message from heaven explaining the reason for his trials. He didn’t get a Divine apology. He didn’t get to read about “this heavenly court scene that we are allowed to peek into in the first chapters of the book. All the evidence he has for trusting God in these trials is the fact of God himself, and Job trusted that God” (The Message of the Old Testament, page 476).

And yet, as I said earlier, I finished the book of Job with a very strange reaction: Job’s story gave me intense satisfaction and peace.

Why? Because, as much as we want to find meaning in our suffering, sometimes we can’t. Like Job, we can’t see into God’s mind. Like Job, when things go bad, we wonder why God is doing this to us. When we’re serving Him with all our hearts, we wonder why He lets things go wrong.

And the book of Job tells me the only reason I can understand: God is putting his handiwork on display. Sometimes things go wrong and the only reason we can know for sure is that God is being glorified in our pain. 

“God Is Most Glorified in Us When We Are Most Satisfied in Him.”– John Piper –

When God allows our comforts to be stripped away, our health to fail, and our hearts to break, all we have left is Him. And his praise is shouted to the ends of the earth when we discover something in our pain: He is really enough. He really satisfies.

Pain puts our trust to the test. As Job was tested, he asked God why. God did answer him, in a way. In a swirling whirlwind of responses, He revealed His glory to Job in chapters 38-41, listing His mighty works, creative power, and incredible wisdom.

“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said:

” ‘Who is this who darkens counsel
By words without knowledge?
Now prepare yourself like a man;
I will question you, and you shall answer Me.

‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements?
Surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
 To what were its foundations fastened?
Or who laid its cornerstone,
When the morning stars sang together,
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?’ “

– Job 38:1-7, NKJV –

I would summarize God’s response like this: I am God. You are not. Trust me.

And that is why the story of Job makes me smile. This foundation is unshakeable. No matter what gets thrown at us, we can trust that God’s glory is being put on display.

What will tomorrow bring? I don’t know. But whether bright with joy or clouded with sorrow, I trust the God who brings all things to pass. I trust Him with the whys I may never know. Whatever may come, it will be for His glory and my good.

I believe it with all my heart.


 “What does this mean for us, friend? It means that we do not trust God because we are clever or holy but because his character is trustworthy.”

– Mark Dever,  The Message of the Old Testament, page 477 

 

Hungry and Lost

goats

“Aren’t two sparrows sold for a small coin? But not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father knowing about it already. Even the hairs of your head are all counted. Don’t be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.”

– Matthew 10:29-31, CEB –


She was lost.

Standing right in front of me, searching everywhere to be filled, but finding nothing to satisfy her thirst.

She cried, begging for help. “Someone! Anyone!”

I stood right there, holding out everything she needed.

But she walked around me, into me–would have walked through me if she could have–scouring the area for nourishment.

All along, I was there. She just couldn’t see me.

This drama played out last week in the goat pen. Our smallest baby goat wobbled around in the straw and nudged my knees, desperate for a drink. She cried hungrily. But she refused to drink out of the bottle I held out to her. It was full of milk, heated to just the right temperature so it would warm her belly without burning her. I had done everything necessary. But she wouldn’t drink.

I held the bottle closer to her face. She ignored it.

I brushed the red-and-yellow nipple against her lips. She shook her head and ran away.

Watching her run, I grew frustrated. “Just drink!” I told her. “That’s all you have to do.”

Tinier than her brother and cousin, the kid didn’t seem to be growing much. I was concerned that she wasn’t getting enough food.

After several ineffective efforts to get her to drink, I settled on a solution. I grabbed her head in one hand, the bottle in the other, and held her mouth to the nipple. She struggled and tried to back out of my grip, but I held her. It was drink or drown, as the milk slid out of the bottle into her throat.

She drank.

Struggling every so often, she drank the milk I forced her to take. It didn’t kill her. She didn’t like it much, but it gave her the strength she needed to keep going.

As I crouched in the pen with a bottle and a very stubborn baby, I realized that God does this to me.

Suffering, so often, is God holding my head to the nourishment I need. Hard things are often His way of making me get close to Him, when left to myself I’d just walk away. I’m like that little lost kid, wandering around her pen looking for food when the source of it was right there all along.

When God puts me in a headlock, I kick and struggle like that little goat. I squirm and bawl and cry. “Why are you doing this to me? I thought you loved me? Why are you making me go through this?”

And all along, as I throw my tantrum, His truth and strength and love flow into my unwilling body and fill me.

This is how trials make us stronger. They aren’t mistakes. They aren’t blips on the radar that God somehow missed.

Sometimes, when we pray for health or safety or prosperity or a good day, God says no.

Most of the time, we’re no smarter than that baby goat. We don’t know what we really need. We just know that it doesn’t feel nice to have big hands clamp down on you and hold your head still.

But these hands holding us are steady and strong, and the God of these hands sees our true need. He is willing to do what it takes to fill us up, even when we don’t know yet that the pain will turn into a good thing.

She’s learning. When I go to the pen now, she’s already at the fence, crying for milk. She knows. She finally knows that I’m bringing blessing.

Friends, life can be hard. But let’s stop struggling in God’s hands.

He knows exactly what we need.

“But God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn’t come through.”
―Francis Chan, Crazy Love―

Although Men Fail

 

church-and-storm

 “You have crushed beneath your heel the vile serpent. You have carried to the grave the black stain. You have torn apart the temple’s holy curtain. You have beaten Death at Death’s own game. Hosanna! O Hosanna! Hail the long awaited king, come to set his people free. We cry O Hosanna! Won’t you tear this temple down, raise it up on holy ground. O Hosanna! I will lift my voice and sing: you have come and washed me clean. Hosanna.”

– Andrew Peterson, from “Hosanna” –


 Anger. Disbelief. Accusations. Defense. Fear.

And rubble.

You’ve perhaps heard about them, how in half a year two “pillars” of Christian conservative teaching have fallen.

Followers of them, now seem a bit lost.

Some fly to defend the teachings–or question them in light of the ruined reputations,

Others are confused.

Still more, incredulous at the vain fruits of faith in men.

My mom has always said it: “Never follow a man.”

Never trust solely in another man than the God-Man.

Do not set all your hopes on one who is but dust.

Though so silver the tongue, so winning the smile, so lofty the aims–

A David, though king, can fall.

A Solomon, wisest of men, can choose a fool’s way.

A Peter, with close-clustered memories of three years hearing the Christ’s own voice, still somehow can deny Him at the last hour.

Hear me, dearly loved sisters.

Only one–One alone–is worthy of your trust.

Yes, hearts will still ache when respected men crash down from their pedestals.

But it should not shake you from the truth.

How can we understand these things?

How can we orient ourselves when the starlight blinks out above us?

All is not lost, my friends.

The Sun still shines, though His little lights flicker (Philippians 2:14-15).

It is good, certainly, to sit beneath a pastor. Wise, yes, to read and listen to men of God.

But never must we see any of these as flawless or above sinning.

News of scandals saddens me, and I’m tempted to cast looks of disdain.

But wait–there is yet a lesson for me.

When the first board of these shipwrecks washed up, at first I was startled.

It was easy to point my finger. But, as a thing etched to my soul, I can again feel the stone I weighed in my palm.

“Are you without sin? Then cast your stone.”

These men–stumbling leaders–are they not yet men? Corrupted, waging war inside themselves between flesh and spirit, light and dark. How am I different from them, when my own heart deceives me every day?

Be humbled, my heart. Pity the men, denounce the sin, and see! See, that for all their pomp and pedestals, all the woven lies and secret lives, those men are much like…me.

So then, how do we yet stand when leaders fall?

How do the sheep find pasture when shepherds stray?

God be praised–our standing before Him does not crumble with an erring man’s reputation.

You know, there’s only one Mediator between me and God.

Only one Intercessor,

Only one Priest, the Highest Priest.

And, all the King Davids fall short of this position; today’s Solomons aren’t wise enough to compare.

When the foundations  shake, only one Rock doesn’t shift in the sand.

“Remember those who rule over you…considering the outcome of their conduct. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them.

We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.”

– Hebrews 13:7-10, NKJV, emphasis mine –

An altar that even God’s Levites could not touch? Sisters, fear not, fear not–a table has been laid in the wilderness.

Jesus is the One who stands in the gap for me–Him alone and no other man.

That Calvary day, the veil ripped down.

And now I can enter–a chosen one, a part of his Bride, a member of his holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). Boldly, I can step into the holy presence of God Most High, through the veil of Christ, not barred by a heavy cloak of separation (Hebrews 10:19-22)…No need of another Christian to bridge the chasm–God Himself has already brought that job to completion. It is finished.

So, when you hear of apostasies and scandals and unthinkable deeds by those who claim our Master’s name, remember in Whom you trust.

Men, however well known, do not hold this world in orbit. That job is owned by a fully-capable God.

And that, though darkness still thrashes, is the Light that makes me hope.


“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. Therefore He says:

“Awake, you who sleep,
Arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light.”

– Ephesians 5:8-14, NKJV –

 

 

 

 A big thank you to George Hodan and Public Domain Pictures for today’s photo!

 

Of His Weaving

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“The fear is suffocating, terrorizing, and I want the remedy, and it is trust. Trust is everything.”

― Ann Voskamp ―

Life.

Such a terribly sweet, sharp, messy thing.

A web,

Spangled through with silver-light threads

So easy, easy, easy

To snap with a searching hand.

So I walk on,

On, in this maze of misty strands

That pop and strain with tottery steps.

Tempted I am to

Shrink still, frozen,

Fearing with another footfall to

Break a fractaled weaving

From this shroud.

Or yet, fearing that with spinning fingers I might spout lines

Wisping, shooting into new-tangled lace not meant to be.

Shall I, oh shall I, crumple years’ weavings

Into a snarl beyond patching?

But calm, calm, blessed calm,

For the Weaver pushes His shuttle yet

To make taut the sure-silvered strand,

Send it flying, ducking here, leaping there,

O’erleaping scarlet, blue, and gold.

In all the right places, a web forms

Unbreakable, that spans out from

My trembling, time-bound hands.

And, I, still unseeing, do not see the forming mosaic, but

Fear yet that crucial bindings will be undone

By my own fingers.

But no,

No, the feeble glistening spinnings hold,

Though soft as silver breath, yet when I fall

Against them, are steel woven, thin-drawn but strong

As the immutable Hands that strung them.

Sweet, solid lines, may I not fear

To grasp you on the way,

For you, webbed art, are sure art,

And His hands are steady

In my faltering.

So will I hold tight to Divine weavings

As the taut sail lines cling to the Mast in the wind,

For in this way will I sail

And step on secure through the geometric filaments of His life-weaving

Not shrinking from a chance stumbling,

For nothing, nothing

Can unknot the threads of His tying.


Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

– John 14:27, NKJV –

Thank you, Petr Kratochvil at Public Domain Pictures for today’s photo!