Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Faith and Flames

This morning I sat down to my Bible with a heavy heart.  I opened my Bible app to read,

 “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid: for the Lord Jehovah is 
My strength and song.”  (Isaiah 12:2) 

I didn’t feel like singing.  I felt like crying. And I didn’t feel very strong.  I felt weak and helpless. I knew I could do nothing to change the pressing situation.  We were doing what we could, what we knew to do, but it wasn’t enough. “How long Lord?” I asked.  “How long can we hang on?”  
I am so grateful that God has given me His gracious gift of eternal salvation, but this morning we need another kind of “salvation”, a deliverance, a rescue, an intervention.  We need to see God do something only He can do to meet a pressing need. I want to continue to trust and not be afraid. And I know I can because He is a faithful Father.  

In the book of Daniel the three Hebrew children as they are often referred to, faced a huge crisis that could cost them their very lives.  (Read the account in Daniel 3.) Their commitment to King Nebuchadnezzar was called into question, but that was not the issue of greatest concern to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  They were faced with a question of devotion and loyalty to the one True God. Up to that point they had been able to peacefully serve God, and faithfully fulfil their responsibilities to the king and the kingdom they were a part of. But that was no longer enough to some of the government officials.  They wanted complete and total allegiance to their king and their gods at the expense of freedom to worship otherwise. The “three Hebrew Children” should never have been asked to make that choice, but they were. They were given an ultimatum: bow down and worship “our god our way”, or lose your lives.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego knew God was able to intervene. That was not questionable. And renouncing their devotion and worship to the only God that deserved it was not negotiable. So they responded to the ultimatum in this way:

“O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.  If this be so, our
God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will 
deliver us out of your hand, O king.  But if He doesn’t (italics mine), be it known to you
O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have 
set up.” Daniel 3:17-18

This was not about Nebuchadnezzar and his gods or statue, and whether or not they should be worshipped.  This was not even about the three faithful God-followers and whether or not they would bend and give worship and allegiance to another god other than the One True God they served.  Those are lessons in all of this for sure. This was about who God is. Nebuchadnezzar asks the million-dollar question earlier:

“But if you do not worship (the statue I have set up), you shall immediately be cast into
a burning fiery furnace.  And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” 
(italics mine) Daniel 3:15

Who is this God???  Is there One able to deliver from the powerful king?  Why is He to be trusted, worshipped, obeyed to the point of death?  Nebuchadnezzar’s question was about the Creator God’s sovereign nature and work on behalf of His Person and His children.  God was indeed able to deliver them from Nebuchadnezzar’s power. And He chose to intervene and rescue Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, keeping them from certain death in the flames.  Not only did God keep them from burning alive, He was there with them in the furnace!! And Nebuchadnezzar recognized Him as the Son of God! God gave this awareness to Nebuchadnezzar allowing him to recognize the Sovereign God and honor Him for Who He was.   

An amazing account... courage, commitment, crisis, undying devotion, determination, deliverance, faith.  And in all honesty, I am humbled. My situation pales in comparison to this, and the many dire circumstances and situations and suffering and heartache and loss and persecution that many are facing.  But that does not lessen the seriousness of my situation, or make it any less a concern of God’s. I am to “cast ALL my care on Him because He cares for me” (I Peter 5:7). I am His loved and valued child.  What I face by way of life’s challenges does matter to him, great or small. And in many ways it feels right now as if the heat has been turned up! The pressure is on!  

Needs can be great on a variety of levels.  Where does that leave us? As children of God we know, like the Hebrew children, that God is able to intervene in a miraculous way no matter the need.  His resources are limitless. He has made that clear in His Word. But God does not always choose to act in the way we most desire or expect. As His child, one who believes His Word and understands what He is certainly capable of, I have grappled with this from time to time as I face my own fiery furnaces, times when there are pressing needs and limited resources, limited abilities, times when there is absolutely no way to take away the hurt, fix the problem, provide the necessary finances, heal the sickness, fight the demons.  What do I do then? What is the answer? Where is the help, the hope, the comfort?

God stepped in and answered Nebuchadnezzar’s question, “Who is that god that shall deliver you out of my hands?”  Nebuchadnezzar was able to exclaim:

“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel 
and delivered his servants, who trusted in Him, and set aside the king’s command, and
yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God...for
there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.”  

This passage provides some answers.  First, I go back to WHO GOD IS. He is Sovereign over this world He created; He is Sovereign over this soul He has saved; He is Sovereign over this life He has given.  “There is no other god who is able to rescue in this way!” He is able. I know personally, am loved by, this great Sovereign God! And my part? Look at those words…”trusted, yielded up”.  That’s my part. I am to trust and yield to His sovereignty, His authority, His control over the details of my life. He can be trusted. His work, His reason, may be greater than what we can understand at the moment.  We may not be able to figure it all out this side of eternity, why He did what He did, does not do what we know He could, why He allowed certain sufferings into our lives. But His great love for us grounds us in Who He is and compels us to keep trusting, trusting in the fact He is God and He is able, regardless.  

“He that spared not His own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”  Romans 8:32

Until we come to the point in our faith-walk as “his devoted servants”, those He “spared not His own Son” for, that He is worthy of that kind of devotion and commitment; until we can trust Him in His Sovereignty, “yielding up” control and all the emotions of the moments--- fear, doubt, anger, “yield up” all the workings of our lives into His righteous, loving and just care;  until then we won’t see His amazing ability to work on our behalf. And when He determines that someone needs to see just Who He really is, He’ll step in. 

That’s just Who God is.   

What fiery furnace are you facing today?  What do you need to “yield up” to your loving, Sovereign Savior today?  In what ways are you trying to maintain or manipulate control of your situation? Have your decisions been made out of faith and devotion to Christ regardless of the cost, or out of fear of the consequences and changes that may come because of that decision?

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Elusive Peace

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts”...Colossians 3:15

The last few years have been some of the most unsettled and uncertain times I can remember in a very long time, well, except for when my teenage boys were driving!  And yet, there has been such peace. As the days roll into years that have been chocked full of change, at a time in our lives I thought things would be settling down, things are topsy-turvey again.  

Yes, again.  We’ve been here before.  Waiting on the Lord and wondering what next.  The wonderful thing in the middle of it all is that sweet peace, that calm and confidence in Jesus that “passes all understanding”.  I haven’t always been like this. One word that was once used to describe me (especially by my family) was ‘spastic’. And what exactly does that mean you might ask?  Well, in my neck of the woods, it was having some kind of emotional spasm, or what some today might commonly call ‘a melt-down’. Any major catastrophe, or minor one really, could send my emotions into overload.  The only thing I could never bring myself to do was break something. I might want to, but I knew that was taking it too far. But cry a river? Yes. Scream and yell? Yes, I could talk rather loud and excitedly. Worry and fret over something I could not change?  God had a work to do when I realized He wanted to have control over my emotions rather than me allowing my emotions to control me! He wanted me to have His peace.  

A situation like we have been dealing with now, years ago could have left me in a worried frenzy most days. Don’t get me wrong.  There are still occasional tears, and I’m not constantly jumping up and down for joy. But there IS joy, and that peace I spoke of earlier.  It has made all the difference between then and now.  

Experiencing God’s peace is SO much greater than experiencing the anguish of anxiety.  Peace is available with Christ, but it can seem elusive. Living IN CHRIST makes living in peace possible.  It takes a surrender of your will to His, maybe moment by moment until the calm and confidence comes. It means you are aware that Christ is holding you, with you always, praying for you, working all things for your good, comforting your tired and troubled heart.  When the heart is truly and fully confident in the goodness and greatness of God and resting in His Word and Way peace can reign. The emotions are checked and conquered in the certainty of God’s great love for me, especially when there is fear and uncertainty.   

Oh the questions and doubts that can surface in the fight for peace: Am I a loved and valued child of God?  Is God really concerned and aware of what I’m going through? If so, why isn’t He listening to me? Why doesn’t something give?  Be reminded here---peace is not the absence of chaos, conflict, pain and suffering, or violent, dark storms. Peace, the peace of Christ, is the beautiful sustaining strength and serenity in spite of it. It is not elusive. I just have to be willing to relinquish control to Him for it to be realized.  I can’t fret, can’t fix it, can’t fume or fuss...I must give in and give up. Surrender it, whatever IT may be, to Jesus. When what I want and what He chooses for me don’t line up, when my timing is not His timing, when the future is uncertain and the fears try to crowd in, when there are more questions than there are answers, when the needs are pressing and the provisions seem delayed, when the hurt is deep and the healing is long and painful...the true “Ruler”in my heart will present itself.  Is it the peace of Christ? Or is it me?

 For all life’s ups and downs?  I can do without the emotional roller coaster ride. I now prefer the “lazy river” ride myself.  

Peace, like a river.  

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Taking the Scenic Route

“So God led them in a roundabout way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea.”  Exodus 13:18

My husband and I determined a long time ago based on an understanding of God’s word and what He desires for us, that we would live by faith.  And the wonderful thing? God makes His great and amazing grace available to enable us to do that in His strength, not our own. This means we commit to following in obedience as He guides and directs in the path our life takes.  We just get to know Him better through His word and seek to live it out everyday, trusting Him completely. He does the rest.

The questions, however, still surface from time to time.  “What in the world are you doing God?
Why this? Why now? Did you really mean this?”  It’s not always easy to discern the specifics of His guidance, but if we wait and trust until He makes it clear..and He has His ways of doing that...He does make His path known for us to clearly follow.  He uses time talking with Him (prayer) and listening to Him (reading/hearing/studying His word) to provide the guidance we ask Him for. Circumstances and situations, even conversations with others, will line up with how He is using His Word to teach and instruct and direct.  The Spirit of God living in you will impress you with thoughts and ideas, nothing that would contradict His Word, but just quiet inner assurances of His leading, gentle proddings and promptings.

It was this process that led my husband and I most recently to make the decision to sell our farm.  It’s our desire to just be available to minister unhindered, and with both the time and attention the farm demanded, and the financial burden it had become as our situation changed, it was now proving to be a hindrance.  But why would the Lord direct us to purchase the farm, make the move to another county only to have us turn around and sell it, moving back to where we were before? Was that really His leading? We were confident of His leading when we had moved forward six years ago with the purchase or we would not have done it.   And at the time, we could not have foreseen how much our situation would change in just six short years. Yet we do know God knew, and still He directed us to do it, just like He is impressing us to make the choices we are making now. And how would we know it would even sell as quickly as we would need it to? One step at a time...first, it was time to list.  

The above passage in Exodus that details the deliverance of the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt and the miraculous and astonishing Red Sea Crossing is just one example of how God has used His word to confirm His guidance and direction in our lives and the choices we are making. It was in reading it again that these nuggets of Truth made the profound impact on me that they did. Knowing we were earnestly seeking God about our situation, my youngest son sent me a link to a message by Tony Evans on “Divine Encounters”.  The message was taken from this same passage in Exodus and he spoke about God leading the children of Israel into what appeared to be a trap. And of course that raises the question, as he explained, would God really do that to His children? Intentionally lead them into a no-win situation? A dangerous dilemma? A terrible storm? His answer was of course, yes! Because God was preparing and positioning them for a divine encounter with Him. He was going to make a way when there seemed to be no way. He was going to do something astounding.  As I listened, then prayerfully read and studied the passage for myself, these are the lessons that loomed large before me and encouraged and strengthened my heart to see them again at this time.

  1. God in fact led them to the Red Sea and they had that divine encounter with God in an amazing way...but it wasn’t a “directly from point A to point B” path; no, He intentionally “led them in a roundabout way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea” (Exodus 13:18).  Sometimes the roundabout way is the best way, and I prefer to call it “the scenic route”. But it’s the learning and growing and stretching route, and that’s not always comfortable. It takes longer. It’s not always the most convenient. It requires faith and patience.  When we choose a scenic route while traveling it’s because we want to take the time to see the beauty along the way. Yet when God leads us along “the scenic route” when that’s not the way or time-frame we would necessarily choose, when it doesn’t seem to make sense, when it’s anything but beautiful...that can be exasperating!  Well, it’s best to sit back, enjoy the journey, and choose to see the beauty along the way. Look for it. Use the time to rest in Him, wait patiently for Him, and trust that He is doing what He is doing...leading the way He is leading...for a VERY good reason, even though we may not understand it at the time.
  2. Long before this event, hundreds of years prior actually, Joseph had been sold into Egypt as a slave only to rise to power as Pharoah’s right-hand-man.  God used this devastating, life-altering situation in Joseph’s life to in fact, bring the children of Israel into Egypt when they were just a single family, to save them and grow them into the nation they would become. When dying, Joseph looked forward in time and saw God once again leading the children of Israel out of Egypt back to the place they had come from.  It probably didn’t make much sense to most, and the Israelites had grown comfortable and prosperous in Egypt during these years. But the very thing that brought them comfort and provision, over time eventually enslaved them. Moses was reminded of Joseph’s words, “God will certainly come to help you. When He does, you must take my bones with you from this place” (Exodus 13:19).  Joseph did not say “if He does”, but rather, “when He does”. He was confident that the time in Egypt would only be temporary. One day they would make the return trip to their homeland and they would need the Lord’s help to do it. Joseph’s words reassured them they would have it. I find it fascinating that Joseph’s faith took him beyond his own lifespan, impacting future generations.  Do you see the big picture, the eternal perspective? Our life is not just about the here and now, or just about us necessarily. How we are living our lives now, the choices we are making are impacting future generations and perhaps even the destiny of many that will come after us.
  3. The Lord brought about a great deliverance out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses. They were on their return journey, on their way home.  God had made the way clear, and they were free. The Lord himself “went ahead of them, guided them and provided for them along the way” (Exodus 13:21).  And then something strange happens. “Then the Lord gave these instructions to Moses: order the Israelites to turn back and camp...between Migdal and the sea.  Pharoah will think...they are trapped in the wilderness! I will harden Pharoah’s heart and he will chase after you. I HAVE PLANNED THIS in order to display my glory through Pharoah and his whole army (Exodus 14:1-4). Wow.  They were on their way and the Lord intentionally had them “turn back”.  This was all His plan! The children of Israel were a part of God’s plan to show God’s glory to those that needed to see it.  We would need to hear of this! This great display of God’s glory and power resounds through the ages, proclaiming the awesome authority of the Creator God over His creation and His enemies!  So many lessons here...the enemy is no match for God’s power; when it looks like there are no options, there are always options with God...and there are others. But in this season, what I needed to see was that the Lord intentionally turned them back. Even if His plan for me includes some detours and backtracking, I need to stay in step!  I don’t want to miss the glorious display of His power and provision for me.
     4) Pharoah was not happy.  The children of Israel were panicked and began lamenting about
how much better it would be if they had just remained slaves in Egypt.  Admittedly, their plight
looked hopeless. “As Pharaoh approached, the people looked up and panicked when they
saw the Egyptians overtaking them.  They cried out to the Lord, and they said to Moses, Why
did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in
Egypt?  Didn’t we tell you this would happen?” Wonder how Moses is feeling about now? In
verse 14:14, Moses speaks and says, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord
rescue you today...The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”  Famous last words,
right? Just stay calm! But in the Lord’s strength it’s possible! And did you take note in
reading this entire account that even the complainers, the panic-stricken, the
“I-told-you-so-ers”, they all got to go across the Red Sea on dry land.  They chose to follow.
They may have been afraid. They had complained and second-guessed the decision to leave
Egypt. But they could not deny the walls of water they saw opening up before them. Even
feeble faith is honored and when exercised it can see some awesome things.  So don’t wallow
in your failures. Don’t fear that your faith is too small. It’s not about that. It’s about Who your
faith is in. And the enemies of God? Those specific enemies were never to be seen again.
God dealt a mighty blow to them. Just as He intervened on behalf of the children of Israel,
stepping in and making a way, providing a miracle, He works on behalf of His children today.
He is battling the unseen for us, Jesus is interceding for us. His angels are protecting us on
every hand. And nothing happens to us apart from His divine knowledge and sovereign care,
or providential hand. Regardless of how relentless Satan’s attacks may be, Christ remains in
How important it is for God’s children to grow in their understanding and willingness to follow the Lord’s leading in their lives. Knowing how God guides and directs us is key to spiritual growth and maturity.  But once we are aware and have that understanding, the next step is obedience...growing in our willingness to follow that leading, being sensitive to what He is doing or trying to accomplish in and through our lives at any given time.  Obedience in turn leads to the abundant life of contentment, blessing, and most importantly, no regrets.

What does that look like in our everyday life?  It means the choices we make each day are based on a knowledge of God’s word and a daily walk...a life faith.  This means we won’t always be able to know the outcome ahead of time. It means things may change and look different than they did at first. It means options may not seem logical, or make much sense especially to others, much less ourselves.  It means the eternal perspective bears more weight than this temporal existence does. It means there may be some sacrifice and suffering along the way, but following Jesus is worth it. Sometimes it can feel like we are just wandering in the wilderness of the unknown. Waiting can become a weariness if we lose sight of the fact there is purpose in “the roundabout way.” Everyone’s wait is different.  We have been waiting for three years now to see where God is taking us with all of this. And this last year has been especially trying...sickness, personal loss, health issues, transition, financial adjustments. Knowing, really believing in the goodness and faithfulness of God, is sustaining us like we have seen Him do in the past and for countless others that have chosen to trust Him and follow His leading.  

Don’t avoid the scenic route. Take it, and let Him wow you!  

PS.  The farm is under contract; trusting God with the outcome.

Friday, May 3, 2019


A friend posted an inspirational meme this morning on Facebook (thank you Kim!)  

The birds are out in multitudes and their early morning songs are waking me along with the earlier sunrises.  Nest-building is in full swing! When I read this meme I couldn’t help but visualize those mama and daddy birds in this very process with their young, and what a beautiful picture it is.  I am reminded that just like those little birds, I am in the care of a loving heavenly Father. Are the circumstances swirling in my life right now actually a loving Father “pushing me to the edge”, strengthening my faith and testing my wings for flight?  

Life has definitely whirled out of control lately on several fronts, and I find myself often seeking the solitude of the early morning to just get alone with God and get a grip.  In two short years our whole life situation has changed and we now seem to be headed in a completely different direction. I have stopped asking “God, is this You? Is this really what You are doing?” Our job situation has changed...drastically, thus our financial situation has changed drastically; our living situation has completely changed; our church and ministry situation has changed; our family roles have changed; our health has even changed!  

Is anyone else experiencing the tension and turmoil of what seems to be utter chaos?  Are you caught up in a whirlwind of overwhelming situations that are invading your life, one right after the other, trying to rob you of joy and peace, causing you to question and wrestle with choices and challenges?  Wondering where God is and why He seems silent? When you pray the only answer seems to be trust and wait and that just feels so empty?!

I’ll share some of the circumstances for those who want to take the time to read the details, but the specifics don’t matter as much as the take-away...and there is one!  GOD IS STILL GREAT AND GOOD! TRUST AND WAIT ARE NOT WASTED CHRISTIANESE NICETIES! They are powerful tools that sharpen and strengthen the Christ-follower if we let them.

The songs of the birds have reminded me of the beauty of just being.  I sense God’s presence ever strong and true. I know His promises are being worked out in my life.  I know the end result of all these challenges will be for our good and His glory. His Word is timely and practical and relevant and personal.  But it’s the process, just getting through the day-to-day that’s not so easy. As in the past, I will either “fall off the edge” into His loving hands, or I’ll soar, learning to reach new heights!  So can you. Just don’t give up and don’t give in. If you are a Christ-follower, the same God that resurrected Jesus from the dead (and that’s power!) is the same God that is at work in you and your world.  Keep your focus on the person of Jesus, not just on what He may or may not be doing. Ask God to grow your faith, believing what you cannot yet see. Ask Him to use your wait, for you or someone else, for heart needs and needed change, for spiritual and lasting impact.  Ask Him to deepen your compassion, enrich your prayer life, open your eyes to opportunities, to increase your ability to see all the positive and dwell on those things (Philippians 4:8) And daily, even moment by moment, thank Him for it all, all it involves, all it is and will accomplish, and for the great Savior, Friend, Guide, Provider, Comforter He is.  
(1 Thessalonians 5:18)

At my age, I thought my husband and I were settling in.  Our children were raised and I truly believed that was the larger part of my life’s work.  They are all faithfully serving the Lord, with beautiful families of their own, faith challenges and struggles of their own but with a big God.  And yes, one facet of our time of ministry is behind us for now as Roger is not currently pastoring a church. But God has given me an excitement for the new possibilities before us and that eventually all these changes, all this struggle and loss, will make sense. That’s just God.  He’s purposeful and particular. We just have to be open and sensitive to His way of getting our attention and directing us, leading us. Time spent in earnest prayer, time spent in the Word, seeing circumstances through the lense of faith and opportunity, continuing in faithful service and care for others...all this works to bring direction and stability...and answers!  I am choosing to not limit my God. The fact that God is in control and can be trusted is enough. Let that truth sink in and empower you to greater faith in Him today.

I do not have to know all or understand. God does.

“To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are His”  Job 12:13

Those details I mentioned:  
Having bought our farm six years ago in the next county over, it now appears we may be moving back to where we were for the first 20 years of living in WV, unless the Lord makes it clear for some reason that we are to completely relocate altogether.  Remember, I’m trying to be open to whatever, especially when it doesn’t seem to make sense that we would be led to make these life changes only to be redirected in a short period of time!! But, “trust and obey, there’s no other way”, as the old hymn says!  So for six years, together with our 2nd son Dan, and his family, we have tried our hand at raising goats, chickens, rabbits, and primarily alpacas. Our farm was ideal for our living situation...the larger home on the property for our son, his family and us; the smaller home was a perfect “mother-in-law cottage” used and loved by my mother-in-law.  We were located exactly halfway between our church/ministry and our jobs. Once our jobs ended, for the last two years, I have worked with my son Dan, to open and operate a coffee shop here in the small town of Oak Hill where we have the farm. In October he opened another shop in nearby Beckley. Eighteen months ago my husband took a position back in Beckley as administrator of Greater Beckley Christian School and we all joined Faith Baptist Church. In July of 2018 my mother-in-law fell and we moved her in with us and I became full-time caregiver.  Until recent new health complications with her, I was still able to help at the coffee shop a few days a week, but that is becoming harder and harder with the 24 hour care Mom is now needing. In February Roger experienced a mild stroke and is now having to work to keep his blood pressure in check. I was sick the entirety of November and December with bronchitis/sinus infection/pneumonia and chronic urinary tract infections. I tried to go back to work in January only to have 10-day-long relapses in both February and March. Dan and Steph during this time, had their 7th child and there were complications that kept her and baby Benaiah hospitalized for longer than usual.  (There were only four children when we first came to the farm!) And now Dan has found he will be needing a surgery. This will all affect the shops of course. And with Roger and Dan so busy with other responsibilities, Steph busy with the children and new baby, me busy with Mom Harding, well, the care of the farm was lacking and taxing. So, we have been making the necessary adjustments (listing our farm, downsizing the animals, changing vehicles, etc…) to better suit our new situations, but you likely understand why some days I can find myself a bit overwhelmed. As mom’s health declines and I spend multiple days in doctor’s offices, as new challenges surface almost daily, we are grateful for the many ways God has proven His love and faithfulness to us.  I just want to scream it for all those that may not know Him or may not choose a daily faith-walk with Jesus!

All these things have also served to make me even more keenly aware of the struggles and hurts of others.  I look at our situations and I can only see the goodness and greatness of God as He gives great grace in the middle of great suffering that others are experiencing.  We have dear friends in Venezuela, and all they are experiencing at the hands of a misguided, cruel and collapsing government system is heartbreaking.  I pray desperately and daily for their life and work there and the Venezuelan people they love. There are other atrocities, occurring daily abroad, in Nigeria, China, North Korea to name a few. Then there is abortion and addiction at home, in my own community and family, destroying individuals, families and whole communities.  My personal struggles pale in comparison when I take a step back and consider the broader perspective. Oh how this world needs Jesus! And oh how we need the encouragement, support, and prayers for each other!

It’s hard to express the joy and anticipation I am truly experiencing as I share these developments.  Yes, there have been, and I am confident still will be, plenty of tears...that’s just me! And again, that’s not all clear yet, and that’s stressful.  The financial pressures are draining, the uncertainty is unsettling. But there have been lessons in praying, lessons in waiting, lessons in repenting and forgiving, lessons in relationships, lessons in giving...yes, giving. We are seeing our giving in spite of our need overflow in rich generosity and abundant joy (2 Corinthians 8:2).  We are going along the path with just enough light for the next step. But that’s all that is promised, and all that we need!! (Psalm 119:105).

So hang in there, this ride is not over!!  Thank you Jesus!

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Hope, or Hogwash?

Some would call the situation hopeless.  There appears to be no positive outcome, no escapes, only dead ends and desperate attempts to just hold on.  The days are long, the nights short and sleepless. Even the quiet prayers of your quivering heart seem to be slipping away as you wonder where this will all end.  I know with all my heart that God knows the agony of those fitful moments, and He is ever so close, encouraging us to just lean into Him and keep hope alive.

I sat down in “my chair”, the one I have my quiet time in, glanced up over my coffee cup as I always do, and saw the word “Hope” on the wall across from me, along with some pictures of the farm. Hope. That one-word reminder is all I needed to begin quickly recalling in my mind all the ways God has led, protected, and provided over these years.  And that led me to nothing but gratitude and praise, even in a stressful, uncertain time. In a phone conversation the night before, this hope in Jesus to provide, deliver, and direct us as we trust Him, and even to return soon, was summed up as “hogwash”. I know to some it may make no sense. It is only logical to be seen as needing to do more than simply trust God.  But at the moment it is all we can do and all we need to do. As doors open and close, Jesus is quietly showing us the way. As we remain open and committed to following Him, He continues to shed light on a shadowy path.

The winds of change are blowing, some days as strong as these gusts of spring.  But it is also a time of great beauty as all of creation comes alive after the winter’s sleep.  And just as God cares for the lily and the sparrow, he cares even more for us. That means there is always hope because Jesus is faithful. So I am not just “hoping my situation will change.”  I am hoping I see Jesus more clearly in this, know Him more intimately, trust Him more fully, because of my situation.

My situation may or may not change, but because Jesus is faithful His unfailing love holds me, His wise counsel guides me, His sweet Spirit comforts me, His powerful, relevant Word sustains me, His peace calms me, and hope, hope in Christ alone keeps my heart focused on Him and my eyes ever looking to Him.  I choose hope over hogwash!

I will hope in Jesus.  He has never failed.  However this particular situation plays out I can know, you can know, that it will be good.  It might be draining, require some adjustments, or it may even be painful. But with His grace and help we can accept that His ways and thoughts are much higher than ours and rest in His love and care, moving forward into the future with hope.  Always with hope.

He is my hope, and I pray He is yours.  

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in Him.” Lamentation 3: 22-24  

“Look at the birds of the air. They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they? Consider the lilies of the field how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”  Fear not therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows. Matthew 6: 26, 28-29; 10:31

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Infamous "If"

I have begun my journey through the pages of Scripture once again this new year to read it in its entirety.  (If you have not, I would really encourage you to do so. My 14 year-old granddaughter read through the Bible last year and is starting again this year.  You can do it!) I have used a number of different approaches over the years, and the Lord has helped me finish my goal, and encouraged my heart with the growth accomplished even when I failed.  I also journal along the way (with a file cabinet full of notebooks to show for it!), trying to capture those moments when a truth freshly jumped off a page, or a concept became so clear, or I saw something from a new perspective.  I also wanted to cement Truth into my thinking, especially when it served to correct me in some wrong, or comfort me in some distress...and there have been lots of those times through the years. I especially remember how precious and intimate it was to have the Lord meet me exactly where I was emotionally and spiritually when I would be up in the middle of the night with one of the kids sick or unable to sleep. I would turn to my Bible, not randomly, but where I was last in my reading, only to have the Lord use that specific passage at that specific time to lift my heart heavenward, grateful that He knew about some specific concern or struggle I was having.  Its Truth would so amazingly be applicable to my situation. Have you ever had that happen? I hope so. It still awes me that God would and still does this.

Why does that awe me?  Well, in Genesis this morning reading of Jacob I found myself considering two sides of an “if”.  

“Then Jacob made a vow, saying, If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God.” (Genesis 28:20).  

I must admit my first thought on reading this was that Jacob was a foolish, faithless man. “If?”  Really Jacob? You really did not understand this great God of your ancestors. You knew of Him no doubt, but did you really know Him in all His greatness and holiness?  Did you not understand that God is faithful and can be completely trusted to carry out His will and perform His Word? Why would you question “if”, unless there was some doubt in your mind that He could not? It sounds at first like Jacob is bargaining with God, much like we might attempt to do...."God, if You do this, then I'll do this."

This passage of Scripture details an encounter with God after Jacob has fled his home in fear of his the hand of his own brother!  And it began with Jacob deceiving his father and stealing the birthright and blessing that rightly belonged to the oldest, Esau. Many of you may be familiar with this story and remember Rebekah, Jacob’s mother, putting him up to this scheme.  That’s a thought for another time. For now, my focus is Jacob, and he agreed to go through with it. After all, he had already taken advantage of a famished (and careless) Esau at an earlier time, gaining the birthright for a pot of beans.

Jacob, the deceiver. Lies, deception, manipulation, and whatever his motives for obtaining the blessing and birthright of the family, he did not come by them honorably. It is probable, and likely that Rebekah had told him what the Lord had told her about her twins when they were born, that the older would serve the younger, and the struggle in her womb would become a lifetime of struggle between the brothers.  Perhaps it was completely unnecessary for Rebekah or Jacob to manipulate and manhandle situations to see God’s Word accomplished. If God had already determined that Jacob would be the son of blessing, then God would see to it that circumstances and situations worked to bring this to pass. In other words, God did not need their help to see to it that His divine plan was carried out. In fact, God’s plan was much bigger than either of them realized.  

Foolish and/or faithless as he may have been, God chose Jacob, directed him, provided for him, protected him.  And for the first time I considered that maybe Jacob did understand. Perhaps his great “if” moment was not about his understanding of God at all.  Maybe it was more about his understanding of himself. When Jacob laid his head down on that rock that night on the run, God revealed himself to him in a powerful and life-changing way, promising Jacob He would be with him and would keep him wherever he went.  Jacob was probably no more sure of God’s abiding presence with him at this point, as he was of God’s protection and provision for him. His future was uncertain, and after all, he had not shown himself to be an honorable man, one that necessarily revered God and His Word up to this point.  In all of his failures, weaknesses, lies, deceit, fear, why would God care for him or promise him anything? Why should He?

Was this “if’ moment for Jacob a question of God’s ability, as in “is God able?”, or was it rather, “will God really do this for me?  Me, after all I’ve done?” God was most definitely able, and willing. Jacob just needed to choose to believe and accept it, in spite of himself.  

This is such a beautiful picture of grace.  Jacob would indeed receive something from God that he did not deserve and certainly didn’t earn through his righteous behavior.  No, he came face to face with the Lord God, was provided a promise, and all he had to do was believe and act upon it. That, is faith.  Jacob chose at this moment, even though there would be other failures, to exercise faith and say, “If God would indeed do this for me, then He will be my God”.  This seems more a declaration of Jacob’s feeble faith than a bargain he is making with God.

We don’t bargain with God about anything.  He offers the great gift of salvation, inviting us each personally to come to grips with our own sinfulness and inability to be free from the weight and penalty of our sin, and gain forgiveness and an eternity with Jesus by trusting Him.  We exercise faith, believing what God has told us in the Bible about Himself and His Son, about the death of Christ on the cross and the fact that He rose from the dead. That simple choice changes everything. It provides an everlasting life with God throughout eternity to come, instead of eternal punishment and separation from God.  It provides the chance for an abundant life now, not just an empty existence with no real and lasting purpose.

No, we don’t bargain with God about anything.  He has promised so much, made so much available to us in choosing to live for Him...Great joy, peace, provision, protection, wisdom, guidance, comfort, encouragement, grace.  But we must trust His ways, His timing, His plans and purposes that are higher than ours, not attempt to finagle and finesse our way through life. God is the one over all, in charge, ruling and reigning, even when it does not seem like it.  He is good at being God; He has been doing it a very long time….eternity. Let Him be God!

What side of the “if” are you on?  Are you struggling to decide if God is truly who He says He is and is able to do what He says He will do?  Do you see Him as the all-powerful, saving God that He is, able to care for you and all your concerns? Or, are you wondering if this great God, seeing you and knowing you for who you are (and He does see and know), would actually want to have a real and personal relationship with you? And if He does, would He care enough about what you are going through to want to come alongside and be your help and guide, never leaving you or abandoning you to yourself or your situation?  

“If” moments.  Jacob had one in Genesis 28.  I had mine. I was on the side of complete wonder that God loved even me.  I had no reservations about my sin, failures, inadequacies, weaknesses. They stared me in the face...stare me in the face...everyday.  But Jesus lives in and through me. I am an overcomer because of Him. It may not seem as apparent to others all that Jesus has done for me, but I know God is great and good and FULL of grace and mercy to love the likes of me, and to care and be involved in the details of my life.  

Oh God, even though I sometimes question why you would love me, why you would die for me, I thank you that I never have to question your greatness or goodness, your willingness to reach to me where I am.  You are able and faithful and amazing.

God is bigger than your “ifs”.  

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

So, perhaps you are evaluating the year past, looking back reflectively, or looking forward wondering if 2019 will bring change or the same-old same-old.  If you are like me, you are hoping and anticipating some positive things ahead, things you have prayed about for years, looked forward to. The wait lengthens to see plans and purposes come to fruition, yet you trust a Sovereign God to work and move in His perfect time.  The transition has begun, but there seem to be some pauses on the path.

It’s easy to get impatient in the pauses, to begin fretting when things don’t seem to be moving along. Or maybe 2018 brought drastic changes and you’ve not even begun to deal with them yet in all the many emotions and challenges. We experienced that as well.  Life can change on a dime as the saying goes. And then even the dime disappears.

I am encouraged today as I go the Scripture; it quiets my heart as it always does.  As I move into a new year, eager to possess all that waits me, yet considering all the uncertainties, I am promised that the Lord God cares for all of it and He is already there.  

“But the land that you are going over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water by the rain from heaven, a land that the Lord your God cares for. The eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.” Deuteronomy 11:11-12

As the children of Israel stood on the threshold of entering into their long promised home, they were reminded that this was a land God cared for. It was His, gifted to them.  He nourished it with rains from heaven and kept a watchful eye over it always, “from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.” Replace that word “land” with the words “new year”, and consider the parallel.  A land of opportunity and possibilities lay before the children of Israel. A year of opportunity and possibilities lies before us. God had personally and directly led them to where they were at this point in their lives.  So it is with us, He has brought us through the years, leading, guiding, providing. The New Year will no doubt be full of hills and valleys as and downs inevitable in this life. But grab hold of the amazing assurance of God’s care for your future.  From the beginning of the year to the end, our faithful God has His eyes on us and whatever will take place in this year. We don’t know, can’t know what this next year will bring, but it is comforting to be able to rest with confidence in the fact that Jesus knows. We don’t face it alone.  And it will be good because God is good and does only good for His own. Move with me into the new year with hope, faith, joy, and a peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7) because God’s got this.

“Pray, hope, don’t worry!” ---Saint Padre Pio.

Happy New Year!