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 life...at 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 well...ups 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!

Friday, December 14, 2018

A Christmas Fix-it Project...Me

Love is fixing me.

I have been reading a great deal of Lysa Terkeurst lately, on disappointment.  It has hit home in so many ways and has been such an encouragement as I am well aware of those times I need to be fixed.  At times everything gets out of sorts...my emotions, my focus, my expectations.

Christmas is a time of great disappointment for many; those trying to push through a holiday for the first time without a loved one, and something they certainly never expected they would so soon have to do.  Neither is it any less painful or any easier to deal with the hurt and loss just because it is somewhat expected. Relationships end, people find themselves in financial straits and thinking “Christmas just won’t be what it usually is.”  The disappointments loom large, maybe even larger at Christmas.

Sometimes it takes these very painful and personal experiences to bring Jesus and His healing touch to the forefront.  For me it was just a matter of being able to accept a situation I could not change. I wanted very much to be willing, and thought I was until the opportunity to move back to my normal seemed like a very real possibility.  When that didn’t happen I was quickly before the Lord asking Him to help me re-adjust my perspective, change my focus, desiring to be abundantly satisfied in Him regardless of my circumstances, and knowing that is His desire for me.  I needed Him to heal my disappointed heart so that I could move forward.

I love Christmas, and I am so grateful that it comes this year at a time when Jesus is “fixing me”.  Because all that Christmas is, makes shifting my focus so much easier, but I must choose. And it is a choice. You, and I, must choose to shift our gaze and dwell on the divine, not the disappointments.  I am praying you choose joy, that same joy heralded by the angels to frightened shepherds, deep joy that a Savior was born.  Yes, Christmas is about us and our need to be saved from the sin that enslaved us. The Savior came, lived and died, then rose again to bring us abundant life here and eternal life with Him when this life is over. Choose to rest in the peace that the gift of Christmas provides,the peace of a quiet but powerful presence, the very presence of God, with us. Choose hope, the hope promised Mary that she grabbed hold of that enabled her to accept her very frightening, confusing, precarious, unbelievable situation.  That same hope is available to us. It is Christ Himself and the riches of His great grace, grace that does not abandon but overshadows. Yes, it overshadows all our sorrow, all our need, all our disappointment, all our confusion and fear. Choose to adore Him for this wonderful gift, a gift of unconditional and forever love that never disappoints.

Mary was told, “For the Word of God will never fail.  Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant; let it be to me according to your word.”  

Abundant satisfaction comes at the moment we surrender to God in faith, accepting whatever He is doing (or not doing) in our lives at any given time.  For Mary this was demonstrated in a lifetime of hope, hope in the very child she had born, one day seeing him die for her as the very son of God, her Savior and mine.  For us, it is sometimes easier experienced though, than explained to others.

In the mid 1980’s, Mom and Dad Harding (my in-laws) found themselves without a ministry, with no income, and facing the loss of their home and a move to, well, somewhere.  We were there the day all their furnishings were auctioned off, personal possessions that could fit in their car and ours were packed, and a lock put on the house. They came to stay with us for a while, until another ministry opened up.  It was a time of healing from the hurt and loss. But they kept joy and hope that God had plans. They eventually did find themselves in another ministry but not for very long. Dad’s health worsened and the Lord finally took him home in March of 1991.  Mom was left alone. She still had her children, but they were scattered and living lives of their own, and except for Roger and me, not living for the Lord which was a continual heartbreak for her. But I remember hearing her the morning of the funeral on her knees in her bedroom crying, and praying a verse of Scripture from Isaiah, “Lord, please be my husband. I don’t even know what to do next.”  (Isaiah 54:5 For thy Maker is thy husband; the Lord of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.) You see, for years, Dad had been Mom’s eyes. She has suffered with retinitis pigmentosa for nearly 40 years, progressively going blind. In Dad’s last years, as his health deteriorated, he had encouraged her to go through the training to use a low-vision cane and she had done that. Little did she know it would be guiding her as she walked everywhere after Dad was gone.  And finances? Now what would she do? Well, the Lord had been working even when she was not aware and Dad’s time in the military would end up providing for her for the rest of her life because of an injury he had sustained that eventually contributed to his early death. The Lord put just the right people in her life that asked just the right questions and made the inquiries for funds that she would never have imagined would be available to her after Dad was gone. And now? After a year alone in Ohio, we were able to have Mom come to live in Beckley near us, in a senior independent living facility.  And she did just that, lived independently for 19 years before coming to live on the farm in a second home on the property, the farm we purchased five years ago. After two major life-threatening surgeries in 2017, and a fall in July of this year, she is now living in our home with me as her primary caregiver.

Why share a bit of her story?  Because Mom could have lived a life of self-pity, indulging in the lie that God had abandoned her but she has always chosen to see the good in every situation, or that God could bring from every situation, even losing her husband and home (Mom has never again owned another home). Mom is no saint. Neither am I, but she is an example of how God has a way of making a way for His children, sometimes in spite of us.  Choosing to trust opens the door to being abundantly satisfied in Him. There continue to be daily struggles and challenges for sure. They do not just go away. This is not about finding some source of freedom from fiery trials. No, it’s about being abundantly satisfied in Him, living life by faith with joy that gives strength to keep living by faith with joy….abundantly satisfied in Him.

This Christmas season finds us under a great deal of pressure, dizzy from being pulled in different directions, having to adjust yet again to major life changes and roles.  But choosing to accept what God is doing in our lives right now rather than fume or fret over it brings that abundant satisfaction. There are some tears no doubt, and lots of prayers, but at the same time confidence in His great faithfulness.  

He is in the business of fixing the broken focus. He fixes me, every.single.time.

I can not but adore Him.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

"Flawed, but Fiercely Loved"

The words from my morning devotional gripped my heart; “flawed, but fiercely loved.”  Part of me was overwhelmed with my failures and inadequacies as I zeroed in on that word that I understood so well…flawed.  I could relate and was certainly feeling the weight of them as I approached the Scripture that morning. Even my prayers were flawed.

I stammered and attempted to verbalize to the Lord just what I was dealing with but the words wouldn’t come.  I asked for forgiveness. I had not willingly or knowingly tried to dishonor Christ in any way, but my heart was heavy with the weakness and waywardness of my thoughts. Such unrest in my spirit that morning.

And then, almost at the very same moment I was overwhelmed with His great love for me.  A fierce love. A pursuing love. One that doesn’t let go. All the flaws make His love for me an even greater wonder.  “Jesus loves even me”. The old hymn came floating back into my memory. Even me. I needed it, wanted it, but still had moments of struggle accepting it for what it is, just pure, unadulterated love.  

Gripped by this great truth I was awed at the greatness of His patience with me.  Patiently allowing me to wallow in my whirlwind of emotions, Patiently waiting for me to lift my eyes off myself and back to Him.  Patiently waiting for me just to come with a heart of worship, not “woe is me”.

According to the powerful Truth of His Word, I am eternally held.  I am forever accepted. I belong to Him. I came to Him in belief, trusting Jesus that HE is Who He says HE is and that He died for me….in my flaws and failures.  He embraced me in them, lovingly accepted me in spite of them. Who He is and what He did is what mattered, This faith journey did not begin and does not rest on what I have ever done, or what I can or cannot do.  My belief brought me to Him, but it was His death and glorious resurrection that saved me.

As if saving me was not enough, I can bask in this fierce love, eternally held, daily carried.  And this Truth lifts me above my flaws and empowers me to live for Him, this great Savior. I am not defined or deterred by my flaws and failures.  They are His because I am His.

“Flawed, but fiercely loved!”  This may just be my new battle cry to shout in the face of Satan when he would attempt to defeat me with self-pity, discouragement and doubt.  The banner of Jesus’ love is lifted over me, His Truth goes before me, putting Satan to flight. “Run devil! Yes I am flawed, but fiercely loved!”   

The sunrise that morning was breathtakingly beautiful. Just a simple little reminder from the Creator that I am fiercely loved.


Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Struggle is Real

The last day of Summer.  I was sitting on the front porch with a cup of coffee, contemplating how quickly things can change. One hot day in July, in an instant, I was in a new role.  My mother-in-law fell. Just last year I was challenged to care for her through two major surgeries, staying with her and juggling work for several weeks each time as she transitioned back home. But now it was clear she could not live alone any longer. The decision was made to move her in with us.  But, this meant our son and his family that currently lived with us would need to move into her home. Major adjustment and transition for everyone. It was just across the driveway, but it may as well have been 500 miles for what it involved!! Well, that’s an exaggeration of course. But it was definitely an undertaking to move two families at once and made quite the spectacle at times as we drove everything from beds to boxes across the yard in the back of our gator. As if that wasn’t humorous in itself, It took the dogs and the two younger grandkids a couple weeks to figure out what had actually taken place and where they actually lived!  

And now, here we are.  We’re all settled and the arrangement is working very well. I am not back to work full-time yet but doing a little here and there part-time.  So in the last four months we’ve made a major ministry move, moved Mom in to provide round-the-clock care, and my work situation changed drastically which in turn affected our financial situation as well.  Just when you think life is getting somewhat routine and boring….umh, that was sarcasm by the way.

I’ve found myself struggling a bit to just sit back and well, not do much.  And I’m used to doing a lot, all the time. Being home everyday, and as Mom has improved,  I’ve actually been able to do a lot of things I haven’t had time for before like organizing closets, cleaning out drawers, sorting through stuff (you know, all that stuff that can accumulate that can actually be thrown out if given any attention) and, sitting on my front porch sipping coffee.  So there I was, sitting and sipping, praying, and trying to process it all. I turned my head and wow, the most beautiful sunburst was peeking through the trees. I couldn’t pull my gaze away. But I didn’t just see sunshine. I saw rays of hope bursting through the morning mist. I prayed a prayer of praise for the awesome reminder to keep the eternal perspective, and asked the Lord to just help me stay in step with Him through all the changes.   

The Struggle is Real

Don’t lose sight of the eternal in the middle of the NOW struggle.  

The “now” struggle is very present and pressing.  It is real. But, so is the eternal. So is Jesus!

Yes, Jesus is very real and very present in your present struggle.  He is ready to calm your heart, quiet your fears and help you rest in His unfailing love for you.  

In your confusion, as you are hurting, as you wonder what the future holds and what your next step will be...be confident He is loving you still.  He has not abandoned you to yourself or your circumstances.

Whisper His name.  Let your heart sing if your lips cannot.  He will fill you with His peace and the overwhelming sense of His purpose in it all, even if He does not immediately (or ever) reveal to you what that purpose is.  

It is enough.  HE is enough. That is the essence of hope in the struggle.  

“So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:16-18*

“Let your unfailing love surround us Lord, for our hope is in you alone.  
Psalm 33:22*

“Jesus...our Hope”  2 Timothy 1:1*


Friday, May 11, 2018

Getting a Grip

"I just need something tangible to hold on to."

The woman that spoke these words was raising three children by herself after losing her pastor/husband to cancer.  She was hurting, and searching for answers.  In trying to encourage her to hold onto her faith, the well-meaning Christian cliches she was getting from some weren't helping.  The reminder to "just hold onto your faith" wasn't enough.  What that really meant was now being questioned.  Thankfully, there were those that came alongside her in her pain, in her anger, in her confusion, and just "did stuff", living out the Truth she knew.  The tangible evidence of God's love expressed in human action became a guiding light as people did yard work, went to her children's ballgames, took a teenage daughter shopping, brought ice cream late at night and pigged out on the sofa with her.  It allowed her a chance to grieve, to breathe, to question without being judged, to find her faith path again, to be patiently guided back to God's Word and the truths that brought comfort, calmed fears, gave wisdom...answers, and peace, all the eternal blessings of being a child of God.    

"You have endowed him with eternal blessings, and given him the joy of your presence." Psalm 21:6

This is the epic essence of faith...to live experiencing eternal blessings, to know the joy of Christ's presence as an always present reality and how that impacts my daily life. Eternal blessings...not what we would label just good things, but things of eternal value.  These things are not tangible, but they are just as real.  Things like unexplained peace and joy in loss; wisdom that enables you to "just know", even against the odds; a calm assurance in what seems an impossible situation.  It's about living in the heavenlies, having an eternal perspective, seeing God at work in every circumstance, and rejecting mere happenstance.  From the mundane to the magnificent of this life it all reflects the Savior's hand and His heart for His creation.  We just have to strive to see it with His eyes, His patience, His hope, the Hope of eternity that brings meaning to this madness.  And sometimes it takes a tangible expression of His love for the eternal to be recognized.  

As eternity grips the heart, directing the focus back to the heavenlies, the earthly resolve is strengthened.  You can trust.  You can move forward.  You can wait.  You can let go of what you cannot control.  You can laugh.  He wants to give us eternal blessings that guide the heart and give hope and meaning to this life.  It is powerful and empowering to grasp the gravity of the eternal.  This life was never intended to be just an existence, but rather a purposeful passing of time and relationship, with God and others, full of meaningful (and fun!) experiences. 

"The earth is the Lord's and everything in it.  The world and all its people belong to Him.  Psalm 24:1

Not everyone understands, acknowledges, or accepts this great truth.  They don't know the Creator God in a personal way through the saving grace of Jesus.  Some know it but lose sight of it in the moment.  But He knows them.  He knows, and He loves.  He works through people, through situations and circumstances, through His creation, through His Word, to draw our focus back to those eternal blessings...what really matters and gives greater significance to the life we are living.  

Are you seeing something of eternal blessings in your daily routine? in the hearts of your children as they play?  in painful or challenging circumstances?  in relationships?  in your physical surroundings?Take a moment to seek God, asking for a glimpse of the eternal in this moment, this situation, this day.  

Get a grip on the eternal.  It will change your today.  

Friday, February 2, 2018

Determined to Love

Waking up to a snow day today.

The battle of the emotions can be a fierce one at times.  Thankfully most days are good ones, but some days the emotions conquer.  I read last night of love, and went to sleep asking the Lord to just help me love better, and more like He loves. 

So maybe the snow day is just what God did for me today.  It's a beautiful reminder of His blanket of love covering me, cleansing me; a reminder of His great grace covering all and making all "whiter than snow".

Colossians 4: 5-6 says to "Make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone." 

That's definitely a challenge when the emotions are running high.  But it's not impossible with God's help, when you love the way He loves. Consider the opportunity you have with your family, your loved ones, the person in the long line in the grocery store...a treasured and timely opportunity, not one to be wasted with hurtful words and harmful attitudes, or trivialized with carelessness.  Moments matter.  They become a lifetime.  Treat them with significance, knowing you might be the light or hope someone needs in that moment. 

And if you blow it?  Allow God to deal with your own heart first, finding His readily available love and forgiveness.  Then, fix it if you can.  And if you can't, do your best to learn from it and go on, stronger and more gracious and caring because of it.

Determine to just love. 

"Someday, after mastering the winds,
the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness
for God the energies of love, and then,
for a second time in the history of the world,
man will have discovered fire."
                                     -----Pierre Teilhard De Chardin