Knowing Our Mighty God

DSC00189Sometimes the most basic comment captures so much. Years ago, my husband and I were listening to a sermon about the pointlessness of trying to find answers in ourselves. Our pastor is a godly man, daily studying the Bible, deeply caring about God’s heart for mankind. One day, he said, whether it’s Disney, or self-help strategies, or the many “well-meaning” religions that are way off, we are repeatedly being told to look deep down inside ourselves to find all the answers we need. We waited with bated breath for what he, a very godly man, found…and….he said,

“I tried that. I didn’t find much.”

Huh. We all just stared at him. Here’s a pastor that spends all his time studying God’s Word, praying and teaching. And, he doesn’t find any answers in himself? What chance do I have!?

If we’re honest, we will all agree, any answers to be had are found in God, not in ourselves. We have great minds and can come up with countless ideas, but as far as spiritual wisdom and understanding that naturally exists in our sinful, selfish human hearts? Forget it! Our own “wisdom” is warped at best, and nonexistent at worst. Proverbs 14:12 says,

There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.

I came across Jeremiah 9:23-24 today,

23 Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; 24 but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD.

A few verses later, in Jeremiah 10:6-7, Jeremiah rightly worships God, saying,

6 No one is like you, Lord; you are great, and your name is mighty in power. 7 Who should not fear you, King of the nations? This is your due. Among all the wise leaders of the nations and in all their kingdoms, there is no one like you.

I would love to boast that I understand and know God, but does anyone truly? We really can’t even boast that we completely know the ocean, or the desert, or the sky! If we cannot even know these physical, earthly things that humans have been studying for many years, how can we ever say we know and understand the eternal, Holy God?

But that’s what we were created to do: know and understand God. God made us in His image. Before sin entered the picture, we were meant to

walk and talk with God like Adam and Eve did, as a dear Friend and Father.

Sin messed all of that up. It has warped our hearts to care only for ourselves and our own selfish desires. Yet, we are made in God’s image, and God still makes a way for us to know Him well and that should be our goal. 

Every day is an opportunity to know God better, love him more deeply.

So what if the immense ocean is only known cup by cup? That’s still progress! And so is seeking our amazing God more every day.

The best news is that God reveals Himself to us every day.

But, do we have eyes to see and ears to hear Him? He wants us to know him. He isn’t hiding from us or playing games. We can see His heart for us all around. We see His faithfulness in the cycles of the days and seasons, in nature, and His provisions and amazing care. We see His creativity and concern. He reveals his heart in the Bible, that He is love. He cares about every person, the outcast, the widow, the unborn child. We see the depth of His love in that He sacrificed His only Son, Jesus, for us, a people who prefer to turn our back on Him.  Would any of us sacrifice our only child for anything?

Today in particular, it impacts me that God delights in exercising kindness. The verse above in Jeremiah 9 says, “I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness“. He is so good to us so kind. He loves to shower His children with blessings and love. He is the best Dad, the kind that always has time for us, plans activities with us daily, surprises us with amazing gifts, encourages us and gives us His full attention. Zephaniah 3:17 says,

The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.

Let’s determine to know God a little better today. We can take that little cup of ours, and go scoop out a bit more of that enormous ocean of His love and grace, stare at the stars for a couple more hours, continue counting the grains of sand in the desert. It’s a wonderful task, full of joy, always rewarding and worth every moment of our attention.

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Faithful, Yet Unpredictable

raisedhandsGod is absolutely faithful and true to us. He promises He will never leave us or forsake us, and He doesn’t! Deuteronomy 31:6 says, Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” God promises His children that we will one day live eternally with Him in heaven, and we will. But faithful doesn’t always mean predictable. The sun and the seasons and the time and the stars….they are all faithfully predictable. Usually our school and work schedules, activities, friendships…they are faithfully predictable.

We can’t always predict how God will show His faithfulness.

I may feel particularly close to God for a stretch of time and get used to it. I’m sure this is now the new norm and I’ve achieved some new level of closeness with God! His presence is so obvious, almost like a person physically standing next to me. I read the Bible and it’s loaded with insights, so applicable. I get comfortable here, expect this from now on. I get used to feeling this predictable closeness.

Then, out of nowhere, He seems gone. I wake up and open my Bible and it just seems to be empty words that morning. I can’t focus and I think, can you give me something here, God? Hello? Remember me from yesterday?? I’m sure He must be hanging out with someone else, because I feel completely alone. (Thankfully God is omnipresent as well!) I have trouble praying or worshipping. It’s like everything good and spiritual was sucked into a black hole and I’m here to fend for myself. (Now, it certainly is possible there’s a reason for God’s sudden distance. If I am not being obedient or am grieving the Spirit, I’ve known Him to seem pretty distance from me.)  I want to panic! God, did you leave me? Are you upset with me? (And yes, I remind myself a billionth time, He never leaves me or forsakes me.) Where did You go? Why the change?

I’ve heard a few answers to why God seems distance at times, but that doesn’t necessarily make them any easier to bear. Maybe our faith is needing to be exercised and strengthened and that happens when we have to trust God though we don’t feel Him there. I know it brings Him glory when we hold fast to Him and praise Him regardless of our circumstances.

Or maybe it’s just for reasons only God knows, like the book of Job. Job was just going through life being faithful and obedient to God. God pointed him out Satan and then Job is tested by Satan in really every way possible, except directly killing him.

 8 The LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” Job 1:8b 

I struggle a bit with that…but, isn’t it God’s choice how He grows us and how He reveals Himself to us? Since His ways and thoughts are so much higher than ours, shouldn’t we expect He will do things differently than we would guess or imagine, or sometimes even want?

8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.

9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9

The word “predictable” is defined as  “unsurprising, foreseeable, expected”. And I think we all can agree God is not predictable. We’re talking about the God that parted the Red Sea, brought water from rocks, walked on water and sent His only Son to die for sinful people because we were worth that much to Him. Many things God does is excitingly unpredictable and I love that (usually)! Every day is an adventure with God.

But, I also have to give up my desire to control everything because  He knows best how to grow me in my faith and purify me. There’s no syllabus I can look at. There are no patterns God promises, like “for you, we’ll do one happy month, then a week of complete silence. Repeat. Your friend, I think I’ll go with 2 weeks happy, 2 weeks silence.”

It all comes back to trust, AGAIN. Feelings cannot be trusted. They can be very useful and I wouldn’t want to live life without them. But they are also fickle and often way out of proportion. So, I’m working on noticing when I begin to feel anxious or worried because I’m doubting God’s promises. That’s where I need to focus on fact and truth and overrule what my feelings are screaming.

As we trust God and believe His promises, despite our feelings, He grows our faith and peace. The next time we face a similar situation, we can do a little better. Sure, I’ll probably have another panic attack…but even if I’ve lasted one more hour, or day or year in God’s peace, that’s progress! Tomorrow if I get up and can’t “sense” God there, I can say to myself, That’s ok, He’s here and I will praise Him. Nothing has changed on God’s end of things so nothing needs to change on mine either. I trust Him.

When We’re So Tired of Pain….

teddy-bear-bandaid-cheat-sheetAs my kids were heading off the school this morning, one of my sons and I laughed about a movie line from Harry Potter. It’s a line Lord Voldemort hisses as he is about to chastise his not-so-faithful followers. But it’s the style that is makes it a classic to us. In a wonderfully understated, calm and hideous way, he says,

“I confess myself…..disappointed.”

Then he unleashes his wrath upon them.

The morning continued and the kids left for school, but that line remained stuck in my mind and heart. I’m not that surprised anymore how

God uses just about any comment or happening to speak a bit of truth to us.

In that still, small voice, He begins to develop an idea He wants us to understand better about Him and His love for us. Sadly, it is very easy to miss, because more often than not it isn’t easy to hear, though it always is for our good and brings healing into our lives.

I confess myself…….disappointed. “Aren’t you,” I could hear God ask me. So I thought about it a while and decided, yes, He has a point. I am disappointed. Here’s why, it’s taken me a long time to come to peace that the Christian life is not easy, and often is quite hard.

But, why is the Christian life so painful???

Since we are adopted into God’s eternal family, why is it that we spend so much of our lives hurting, and limping and broken-hearted?

When it’s consequences of our own bad choices, I see why. But many, many times, we can see no reason or purpose for our pain and we must figure out how to trust God and His plan in spite of it. And if we never do understand why, not in this life any way, what then?

Perhaps one reason is just that God is often healing so much in our hearts and minds? A wise word from a friend popped into my mind…

“Often healing is painful.”

My friend continued to explain that as she was recuperating, everyone was eager to say, “Hey, I’m praying for healing for you!” Of course getting better is great, she said, but healing, well, it’s often very painful! Yes, healing, definitely! But in God’s timing please! Something I had not thought of before….

Physically, we know the process of healing a wound can be a long, slow and painful process. Antiseptic hurts. Stitches hurt. Shots hurt. Removing splinters hurts. (My kids have vowed to never ask me to remove another splinter. They’d rather deal with the pain I guess.) Surgery hurts and then, physical therapy seems to continue to hurt! Muscles have to get torn to get stronger. We ache and groan as our bodies heal from injury. Is it much different for us emotionally, spiritually, mentally? Probably not. Yet, God does have a purpose for everything in this life, pain included.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:28

So, why is my life, your life, painful today? I don’t know. But, there is a reason, and God knows it. Whether we get to find out in this life or not, I don’t know. Whether He’s doing a work of healing, or changing our views of life and love, or drawing others toward Himself through the hardship, or…..? But, as we wait, we can remind ourselves of some important truths.

God is good and kind.

God does not punish His children for the sin Jesus already died for.

God’s way is best, no matter what it seems like today.

And, God is trustworthy.

These are facts.

Yes, today may be painful and you may be weary of pain and suffering. Tomorrow may look like it will be the same. Maybe years have already been a nightmare and you don’t see it changing ever. But, somewhere in there God is working and we can 100% trust Him.

Regardless of how much pain, and suffering and trials we each have, we are not in them alone. We have a perfect, holy, good God that is working in our lives for good in every situation, whether great or terrible. Not until heaven will we see how our puzzle piece uniquely fits into the whole grand scheme of things. But, it does. And it takes every event in our lives, sorrowful and joyful and everything in between, to shape that piece to its unique and perfect design.

The River of the Heart

WaterfallThe ways of the heart… such an intriguing topic for me the past few years. God made people full of passion and that passion flows from our hearts, ideally toward Him! Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

I looked up the word “wellspring” and the definition is “the head or source of a spring, stream, river, etc. A source of support or supply of anything, especially when considered inexhaustible.” So our hearts are the source of our inexhaustible desires and passions, which can be a great thing. Yet Proverbs 4:23 also mentions us needing to guard our hearts. Why?

 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9

We are fallen, and our desires are ONLY selfish, not a bit selfish, ONLY selfish. We are appalled at all the horrible things going on in our world, but all of that pain and suffering, all of that evil, comes from our selfish hearts. Loving and submitting to God not only holds no appeal to sinful man, it downright repulses us. I decide what to love and how to love it. I make my own rules. I, I, I, me, me, me…..Sin ruined Adam and Eve’s blessed life in the Garden of Eden and continues to prompt us on a wild goose chase to fill our empty hearts with what makes us feel good and worth something.

We want excitement, pleasure, admiration and power. We want, we seek, we dream and we desire….and as every human being knows, we are often disappointed and hurt. We either redouble our efforts and dig deeper into our bag of addictions and anesthetizers or we can try to deaden our hearts completely and pretend that is a fulfilling life.

This wellspring of our hearts is a spring just gushing out passion everywhere, unhindered and wasted. Before sin ruined everything, our passion had a very exact course toward God. There was no need or desire to go anywhere else. Life must have been fulfilling and joyful always.

But now we don’t want to be bothered with a God whose main concern is not ME. So, we take charge and dig out our own streams toward what we think is fulfilling… power, people, riches, jobs, hobbies, pleasures, following rules, looking generous or even religious. These grooves become deeper and deeper and the stream becomes more and more branched and weak.

Thankfully God steps in. He calls us to Himself and enables us to hear Him and respond to Him, if we choose to. I have a better way, He tells us. Would you like to know it?

Then He begins the difficult process of restoring the mess of our hearts. He starts with the very salvation of our souls, restoring us to Him, our Lord and Savior. He makes a nice, deep path toward Him, toward real fulfillment and purpose and love and protects us on both sides with strong, tall banks. God continues to work on our hearts throughout life and He does require our cooperation.

Only God’s wisdom and protection can keep us single-minded, single-hearted as it were, on course for Him. He guards our hearts continuously, building needed walls and regulating the water flow from the source to Him, the destination, to keep us purposely and intensely only pursuing him.

Psalm 139:23–24 Search me, oh God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

We need to daily ask Him to search our hearts because they are so volatile and fickle. What one day seems no problem, the next day may take a strangle-hold of our heart. One little influx of water runs over the edges of the bank, and isn’t that all it takes to catch our attention? One glimpse of an Internet picture, one sip, one burst of adrenaline, one pat on the back, and our heart go hurtling toward its new passion and obsession. I heard long ago that our hearts are perfect little idol making factories, and that is so true.

One more crucial aspect of asking God to guard our hearts is then listening to Him and obeying Him. No matter how horrible God’s requests seem at first, He always is good and knows what is best for us. I admit, at times I really struggle with some of the processes He has put me through. But I know eventually I will understand and be glad I trusted Him. God knows and loves us too much to ignore what can eventually destroy us and our relationship with Him. He wants all our passion and then He will tell us where that water should go next.

When’s the last time you heard His still small voice? Has it been awhile? When’s the last time you read His words in the Bible and they pierced your heart with conviction or love? Did you say, “Yes Lord, I’ll do that”? Or did you turn down His volume and say , “Nah, I didn’t hear a thing. I’m sure this is fine with God.” If you’re ready to hear more from the God that adores you and sent His very Son to die for you to live eterenally, tell him. Repent. Ask Him to show you what’s true and right and good and then make that decision to obey him, right now, and tomorrow, and every day the rest of your life.

More Cookies, Please!?

What do you mean, “No”? I want them.

N1110P66026CHow frustrating it is to realize that what we think is right and good isn’t necessarily right or good. The world tells us to “trust ourselves”, our instincts. Yes?

Truthfully, no.

Proverbs 3:5-6 instructs us to

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;

6 in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.”

That’s why we need to pray, Lord, teach me your ways. Teach me your paths. Teach me what is best for me. Keep me open to learning and being corrected by You because otherwise,

I am a fool.

My reality is tainted. God’s reality is truth. I want to be healthy, wise, and strong in Him. Because God does not force wisdom on us. He does allow us to make choices and live with their consequences.  Who of us doesn’t know that….I sure do.

Even with good upbringing, there’s no guarantee that our own kids will heed all our warnings, is there? I was sure my parents didn’t really get me. My husband and I laugh that even though our families growing up took different approaches to eating sweets, we ended up with the same cursed sweet tooth. At my house, there wasn’t really a limit but goodies weren’t around all of the time. In his house, the rule was you could have one, maybe two cookies and that was it. Neither of us learned moderation, though we could have, because we didn’t want to. We knew better…. and now as adults we struggle all of the time to eat well. We could have listened to our parents and saved ourselves a lot of struggle later in our lives. But, no, we were sure we knew best.

Although that may seem a rather humorous example, down deep, it really isn’t that funny. God reminds us so often in the Bible about the way we should live life. He is the Good Father. Perhaps He at times can sound like we do with our kids…you didn’t pack a lunch? Go do it. You’ll never have enough energy without it. You packed what….a block of cheese and a bag of cookies?! I don’t think so! Do it again, vary the contents! Where did the second bag of chips go? Why are there wrappers in your room? Let’s go over this again, the night before works really well to pack our lunches for school. And on. And on. And on. We don’t give up because we love our kids and we want them healthy and wise.

Likewise, God does that with us. Whether it’s food or rest or relationships or how we view God, whatever it is, He continues to remind us what is right and best. You’re spending too much time and energy here, let’s adjust. No, you don’t really need that, do you? Hand it over. You need to meet with me, how about now? And on and on He goes. Praise God He does that. He loves us too much to allow us to head to destruction because we are thinking poorly or deceived.

Like a child should heed his parent, let’s heed God. Let’s ask God for His way of seeing life, our job, friends and family, pleasure, pain, sorrow, all of it. We feel we get life and that our viewpoint is right Yet,  Proverbs 14: 12 tell us,

 There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.

But, we can be encouraged because James 1:5 reminds us

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

That Step of Faith

Kjerag-probably-dont-want-to-fall-without-a-wingsuit-on-I don’t think it’s that difficult to MOSTLY obey God. Sure, I can follow Him with MOST of my heart. I can give Him MOST of my dreams, my life, my passion. Is that enough?

It’s the ALL that is so difficult. ALL means I can’t save anything for myself. I don’t get a contingency plan. No back up comforts in case He isn’t there when I need Him. No back up plans in case I decide I don’t like His plans as much as I thought I would.

He’s an all-in God.

Do you remember the old Indiana Jones movie, The Last Crusade, where Indy searches for the holy grail? As a kid it really intrigued me that Indy had to go through tests of his faith to get near the grail…swooping sawblades, imitation grails. But, it was the step of faith into apparent nothingness that really impacted my young heart. He was up high and had to cross a huge divide….how would he do it? He had a trick of course and sprinkled a handful of sand and pebbles in front of him and it all worked out. Hollywood:)

But, there’s really no “trick” to taking that step of faith with the Almighty God. Deciding to obey Him and live a life that glorifies Him really does require a step out into apparent nothingness. Many of us can stay on our side of the chasm for years, putting it off just a little longer. But, stepping out in faith to trust God is a choice each of us has to make on our own and live with. Are we happy to watch others step out in faith and seem to walk on nothingness over to the arms of God? Or perhaps we feel the pull, and we know we should, but we stand there like we did at the top of the high dive as a kid….so close, so close, but not yet. Can we just skirt the side of the chasm, feeling part of a life of faith? Eventually we see those that have chosen faith in God round the bend, and are once again alone. Do we give up or head back to the invisible bridge?

I’ve been pretty intrigued with Psalm 119 the last few weeks. It’s just bothered me I suppose. Why? I decided it’s the insistence on seeking and obeying God with all of our hearts, everything. We are to:

Seek Him with all our heart (Psalm 119:2)

Fully obey His precepts (Psalm 119:4)

Meditate on God’s law all day long (Psalm 119:97

Hate every wrong path (Psalm 119:104)

Let no sin rule over me (Psalm 119:133)

Put our hope in His Word (Psalm 119:147)

Summed up, “Let me live that I may praise you, and may your laws sustain me.” (Psalm 119:175)

These concepts go completely against worldly wisdom, and really they kind of ruffle my feathers. I don’t like this pass or fail way God seems to have in place. What about A’s, B’s C’s? What about grading on the curve? We are taught our whole lives “not to put all our eggs in one basket.” Now God is saying, put them all in, trust me, decide you’re done with yourself and your plans and dreams and hopes. It’s Indiana Jones and that cliff. God says, trust me. Take a step, you’ll be ok. You know I’m good and I have good plans for you so trust me.

Where are those pebbles to throw across the path? Where is the sand? There isn’t any. It seems to be nothingness, imminent death, but in truth it is the beginning of life abundant. And what can we expect as we take one step? Well, I’ve found, then we get to take another step into nothingness. And another. And finally, finally, we get so used to trusting God is always leading us that we can stop looking down all together.

Have you taken that first step? Are you lingering on your side of the chasm in fear? God will not let you down. There hasn’t been one casualty yet for those that choose to follow Him. You won’t be the first! Don’t wait any longer to start true living! Every single Christian is in that same place every day and it gets easier and easier to trust God. Don’t put Him off one more day!

Elusive Joy?

flickerlightThe book of Acts reminds me that the life we live as Christians is not going to be an easy one. Big surprise to you? No, me either. The apostles had very difficult lives full of persecution, physical suffering and frequent opposition.  Yet they, together, were encouraged. God does expect a lot from us as His followers, but

God also equips us, empowers us and blesses us as we obey.

What didn’t the disciples sacrifice? Jesus called them, and they immediately left everything and followed Him. Their lives would never be the same. They had amazing fellowship with God and their fellow believers. But all the trials they each suffered were intense to say the least.

So why do most of us, modern-day Christians, assume life should be easy and comfortable? The usual thought is, if God is pleased with us, shouldn’t we expect an easy and sunny life? God blesses His children, but often not as we expect. Regardless of circumstance, what characterizes so much of the disciples lives is joy, praise and gratitude. Obviously when God is pleased with us, it does not mean our lives will always be carefree and fun.

The early Christians chose Christ and came to understand that meant a life of sacrifice, discomfort, accusation, separation and usually a painful death.

Yet they rejoiced.

They were real people, flawed and sinful. They made mistakes and often needed forgiveness. But they also rejoiced that they were counted worthy of suffering for Christ. They sang in their prison cells. They knew their bodily needs came below their devotion to Christ and endured so much discomfort, pain and sorrow.

Yet they were joyful.

What do we expect will lead to joy? Comfort? Financial security? Safety? Worldly praise and acceptance? Fulfilling jobs? Knowledge? People alone? Combinations of two or three, or all of these? No, they don’t really lead to joy as most of us know by trial and error.

I’ve found joy is a bit of an elusive blessing.  When I seek it, I can’t find it any where. But when I seek God and obey Him, it seems joy eventually creeps into the nooks and crannies of my heart and mind. And just as I’m sure something is hopeless, I see that shimmer of hope. It’s a gift of the Spirit that I personally have no control over. I can chase happiness and find it, perhaps, often short-lived. But God alone gives us true joy and we find it doesn’t hinge on circumstances. As we take a step of obedience, choose faith though it’s more easy to doubt, we find joy we could never have understood or predicted.