Wednesday, September 30, 2015

God Is

Does it ever seem like everyone in your life is going through something really terrible? I don’t mean just the regular everyday trials of life, but extremely difficult, even seemingly impossible circumstances. That’s where I find myself lately. Friends, family members, caregivers, counselees—all suffering significant loss, pain, or trial, and there is absolutely nothing that I can do to change any of their circumstances. I can encourage them, speak truth to them, and help in practical ways, but nothing I can do will stop their pain.

What do we do when life brings us to this place? Well, the way I see it, we have a couple of choices. The first, which I have to admit has been my default at times, is to become discouraged. The weight of suffering we see our loved ones going through is so heavy that we are crushed under it. Their burdens break our hearts, and we weep with them. We cry out to the Lord in pleadings for them. We soak our pillow with tears as we lie awake in sorrow for them. And still, they get no relief.

Then, even as we cry and pray, our friend’s husband passes away from cancer. Our sister’s premature baby girl takes her last breath. A fellow church member receives a devastating prognosis. What are we to make of these outcomes? Were our prayers and tears wasted? Did they fall on the ear of a God who doesn’t care enough to hear or answer? Though these thoughts may cross our minds, they must never take root in our hearts.

I have said this many times on this blog, but I will say it again today: We must never base our view of God on our circumstances. If we let what’s happening around us determine whether God cares about us or not, we will come to the wrong conclusion. God is God, and He is who He says He is, no matter what is happening around us. So, who does God say He is? Here are just a few of God’s statements about himself. There are many more.

God is faithful and just: Deuteronomy 32:4
“The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is He.

God is love: 1 John 4:16
So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.

God is merciful: Deuteronomy 4:31
For the Lord your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.

God is righteous: Psalm 11:7
For the Lord is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his his face.

God is creator of everything: Proverbs 3:19
The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens…

God is the owner of everything: Psalm 50:10-12
For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.

God is faithful:Deuteronomy 7:9 
Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations…

Dear friends, keep praying and crying out for those in need. Believe what God says about Himself, no matter how you feel or what you see. Remember Romans 8:28, and trust that He is working everything for good. God is God, and we are not. While we may not understand what He is doing or why, we must remain solidly rooted in our belief that He is who He says He is. If this seems too hard, and you think you just can’t believe, depend on the Lord to help your unbelief:

Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh: is there anything too hard for me? Jeremiah 32:7

Even when our world seems to be crumbling around us, God will hold us tightly, keeping us believing in Him. It is He who saved us, He who sustains our salvation, and He who will bring us to glory in just a little while. Believe Him and trust who God is.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Can God be Trusted?

“He didn’t protect me, so I don’t trust him.” Have you ever heard someone say these words, or something like them? Perhaps it was someone who was in a terrible, life-changing accident. The Lord did not protect them from spinal cord injury or some other life-altering tragedy. Now, they just can’t bring themselves to trust God any more. He let them down.

When a counselee makes this type of declaration, I know that they have trusted God for the wrong reasons. It is easy to trust God when things are going well and life is reasonably smooth. What is the basis of your trust in God in those good times? Is it the evidence you see around you, the smoothness of life, the satisfaction of having your material needs met? If so, you are setting yourself up for a big fall if things go south.

Often, it is in trials that we find out our trust has been misplaced. We thought we’d been trusting God, but when tragedy strikes or troubles come, we find out our trust was not really in God, but in something else. Many people find out that their trust was really in themselves. They take great pride in their self- sufficiency, trusting in their own strength to see them through. When times get tough and their strength proves inadequate, they begin to question God. Others put their trust in money, and the comforts it can buy. Inevitably though, the money runs out, and they begin to doubt God.

Some put their trust in people. They surround themselves with friends, employees, or others who will build them up and make them look good and feel good about themselves. That’s all great until life gets hard, the job gets down-sized, and the fair-weather friends go looking for bluer skies. When the person is left alone, she begins to question: Where are you, God? You promised to be with me, but now that times are tough, you are nowhere to be found!

Are you suffering right now, my friend? In the midst of that suffering, are you doubting God’s goodness or love for you? Think about the God you trusted when things were going well. Why did you trust him? Was it because He was answering your prayers and bringing you success and good health?  If so, you need to meet the real God of the Bible. He is trustworthy for one reason: Because He said so. Paul suffered greatly (See 2 Corinthians 11:22-29 for a detailed list), yet he was able to say this, in 2 Timothy 1:12:

For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.

David experienced every kind of defeat, loss, disappointment, and shame, yet he was able to pray this prayer in 2 Samuel 7:28:

"Now, O Lord GOD, You are God, and Your words are truth…”

The writer of Psalm 111, recalling the Exodus and wilderness wanderings of the Israelites, has no complaint of the hunger or difficulty his people suffered during those 40 years. Instead, he says this:

The works of His hands are truth and justice; All His precepts are sure…

Perhaps, somewhere along the way, your trust in God has shifted to a trust in something else. The God of the Bible never changes. He is faithful and true, regardless of your circumstances. If you are beginning to doubt God’s goodness and love, you need to go back to the Bible and reacquaint yourself with the One True God. Open Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy , or Pink’s Attributes of God and begin to read about the God you have said that you trust. You will see that none of the attributes of God rely on earthly circumstances for their truth. God is God. He is who He says He is, regardless of what you see with human eyes. If your trust truly is in Him, then it cannot be shaken.

The only God you can trust is the God of the Bible. If you’re doubting today, go meet Him again. He is better than money, fame, friends, and He is a much better savior than you are! Study the God of the Bible, and place your trust only in Him.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Follow the Leader

Life is hard. We make plans, pour our hearts into things, and sometimes, they just don’t work out the way we want them to. It is so easy to become discouraged when we truly believe we were seeking wisdom and guidance from the Lord, following His leading along the way, only to have our plans come to an unexpected and disappointing end.

What do you do when this scenario plays out in your life? As I see it, there are two roads we can go down as we struggle to make sense of and respond to life’s disappointments. The first is to become discouraged, and to take the road of giving up. What’s the point of trying, when every attempt ends in failure? This road is fairly easy to travel. When you’ve given up the fight, there are no more blows to endure, no more hills to climb, no deep waters to navigate. This road is pretty crowded, and you can just get lost among all the others who have given up and are now strolling aimlessly with you. 

But there is another road we can choose when life delivers disappointment. It is the road of perseverance. This road is less crowded, but there are some great people on it. Paul is there, way up ahead. Always fighting the good fight and keeping his footing in the race, he chose this road long ago and never left it. Peter is there too, encouraging his fellow travelers (yourself included) to be strong in the face of persecution. Timothy is there, wielding the sword of the Spirit. David is there, and so are Moses and Jacob. Sinners all, though they often failed, they each ultimately chose the road of perseverance.

Also on this road, way up in the distance, the leader of the whole crowd of persevering saints, is Christ Himself. He leads gently and lovingly, never abandoning His followers, even when they are slow or seem to be stalled out. Sometimes, they consider turning back, or look longingly over at the easy road, where others have given up the fight. But He patiently circulates among them, reminding them of His love for them, and encouraging them in their walk. Sometimes, he sends Peter or Paul, Moses or James to tell them the Truth. Some are slowed down by heavy burdens of guilt and shame. These he offers His easy yoke in exchange for their weary load so that they can travel more easily.

Are you disappointed and frustrated today?  Are you at a fork in the road of life, weary of the struggle to do right and to honor God with your response to trials? If so, I’d like to invite you to join this band of weary saints who are doing their best to follow their Leader. The Holy Spirit travels on this road and refreshes the saints, always at just the right time. Though this road may be harder, there is sweet fellowship along the way, and there are great rewards at the end. If you are weary today, check in with Paul about how to persevere (Romans 12:12; Colossians 1:11-12; Galatians 6:9). Ask Peter how he kept his faith in the face of persecutions (1 Peter 4:12; 4:16). Ask the Lord how to resist temptation (Luke 4:1-11) when you are feeling weak.

Also, remember that there are others behind you on this road. They may be newer to this struggle, weaker than you, and tempted to turn back. Reach back to them, even if it is with what seems like the last of your strength. Together, you can strike out again, encouraging one another in this long haul toward Home (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12; Proverbs 27:17).

Yes, life is hard, but it is also a very brief pilgrimage on the way to Glory. Don’t give up, sister! God has called you to serve Him, and if you’re still breathing in and out, you’re not finished! Stay on that road of perseverance, in good company with other weak and weary saints. You Leader will never leave you or forsake you, so contentment is yours for the asking (Hebrews 13:5). Press on toward the goal, and let’s continue to encourage one another. God has promised strength for today and hope for tomorrow. Hallelujah, what a journey! What a Savior!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

What is That to You?

Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following… Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.”  ~John 21:20-22

If we’re honest, most of us are jealous or envious of others. Regardless of how good we have it, there is always someone who, at least in our view, has it better. It’s pretty easy to envy others, isn’t it? I have struggled quite a bit with this particular sin. I am pretty young to be as limited in my mobility as I am. Many friends my age are still running, playing tennis, and hiking. Since my surgeries, I’ve known several people who’ve had knee replacements, and not one of them has had a single complication. They all came back from their six weeks of rehab ready to get back into their active lifestyle, while I struggle just to maintain the minimal functionality that I have. It is easy to feel envious, and would be just as easy to become bitter.

But the Scripture that I quoted above is a saving grace for me each time I have an opportunity to be jealous. No matter what the temptation, as my thoughts try to default to envy, I can almost hear my Savior saying to me, “If it was my will that she had a perfect knee surgery, what is that to you? I’ve called you to follow and serve me. I’ve given you all that you need, to do the things I’ve called you to do. Stop looking at her and look at me.” This thought stops me in my tracks every time, and renews my mind so that I can tell my friend how happy I am for her that her surgery went well.

When we are happy for the blessings of others, we can love them as Christ has called us to do.  As believers, we are called to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves. How am I loving the Lord if I am discontented with what he’s given me, coveting his gifts to others? How am I loving the Lord if I am questioning His love for me by calling Him unfair? Am I loving my neighbor if I have bitter envy and self-seeking in my heart (See James 3:14)? The answer to all these questions is, “I’m not.” If I am envious of others, then I am discontent with what I have, and I am not grateful for what my Father has given me. If I am envious of others, I am not happy for them, and I cannot love them because I resent their happiness.

My friend, I know that there are many people who appear to have it better than you. But rest assured, you have it better than someone else. That’s right, probably even in your own church right now, there is someone who sees your life or circumstances as better in some way than theirs. Everyone has pain of some kind, and everyone longs for something that they don’t have. The response that is always better than envy is love: Love for the Lord and love for your neighbor.

Look around you, sister. There are many hurting, many grieving, many suffering. Reach out and help one of them. You will quickly forget your petty jealousy and self-focus when you reach out to help someone who is suffering. If you have been envious, stop looking at others and what they have, and look at Christ. Follow Him in obedience. There is no better cure for envy than love. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Safe Am I

My dear friend and prayer partner, Nancy, had her 90th birthday last week. This lady has been a great inspiration and encouragement to me over the last couple of years, as we have talked about what the Lord is doing in our lives, and as we have prayed together. She suffers greatly with many orthopedic and other medical problems, and lives with pain every day.

Last week, I took her to an appointment with a specialist who might be able to help her with her pain and other issues. She was nervous about the appointment, anxious about remembering all she wanted to ask, and concerned about what changes they might make in her medications and therapies. Would it help? Make things worse? Many questions were going through her mind as we waited for the doctor to come in. Then, I heard her faintly singing. She seemed to relax, and a great sense of peace came over that cold, sterile room as she sang:

Safe am I, Safe am I,
In the hollow of His hand;
Sheltered o'er, sheltered o'er
With His love forever more
No ill can harm me, No foe alarm me,
For He keeps both day and night,
Safe am I, Safe am I,
In the hollow of His hand.

When she finished singing, she was visibly calmer, and so was I. I had never heard this song before, and now I will never forget it. The truth of it rings as clear as Scripture (Psalm 91). One thing I have learned about Nancy is that she has great faith. She was a pastor’s wife who raised five sons. She has been through many deep waters over the course of her life, but has always landed safe in the hollow of His hand. Why should she doubt now? Why should we?

Oh my friend, we are safe in Christ. Do you believe it? Then don’t be afraid of what people can and can’t do to you. Don’t be afraid of sickness, pain, or disability. Don’t be afraid of sleepless nights or sorrowful mornings. Remember that you are safe in the Lord, in His plan and His purpose. He is good and faithful, and no matter where you go, you are indeed in the hollow of His hand. 

Photo: Copyright 1992 Art By Jonathan