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Posts Tagged ‘trusting God’

This is a Christian–one who dares to act as if God tells the truth.”  –Pastor Mark Bates

Faith means being sure of the things we hope for and knowing that something is real even if we do not see it.

His life reads like a Hollywood movie–the culmination of an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, forced to seek refuge in a distant land, and then offering his life in place of the soldiers who pierced his hands and feet…suffering for the sins of those who pressed a crown of thorns on his head…pronouncing words of forgiveness to a discarded, frightened man bearing the shame of Golgotha.

But, this is not a child’s fairy tale or a superstitious myth dreamed up to explain the unexplainable.  This is Biblical truth; the great love story of God rescuing His people from that great enemy, Sin. The beautiful giving of His life for those willing to risk belief.

Yet the world threatens to overcome…to overwhelm…to overpower belief.

A young man just beginning to live takes his own life–desperate for relief from consuming depression, a child’s small bones ache from arthritis, a next-door neighbor submits to another round of chemo and hopes she’ll have enough energy to play with her children tomorrow.

But there is a story much bigger than our smaller stories–these lives of struggle and prayer, tears and hope.  It is His story–one recorded for us–that tells of the Lion and the Lamb…the Beginning and the End….the Resurrection and the Life.

And while the world threatens, He promises to give abundant life (John 10:10)

…to provide freedom (John 8:36)

…and to love us with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3).

I dare to believe–to act as if what God says is true. Won’t you? Let us encourage one another to hold to our faith, dear Friend, even when we doubt.

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Peering beneath the edge of the steel frame where the carpet and dark space intersect, I imagined all sorts of evil lurking in the five inches of space beneath the mattress and covers.  Nibbling at the edge of a fingernail, I shifted from side to side considering my options. The risks? Certain punishment if I refused to quickly locate myself beneath the warmth of sleep-inducing blankets or—to my impressionable mind—possible capture by whatever monster or boogie man lurked beneath the confines of a seemingly innocent piece of furniture.

At the tender age of four or five, Shadow had become a thing of nightmares and illusory power.

Too often, though, it seems our fear of Shadow follows us into adulthood. While disguised in more grown-up form, we still tremble at its existence and our thoughts are filled with untrue or unfulfilled imagery that leads us from a place of comfort into the obscure illusion of “What If?”

The “What If’s” come in many shapes and may be different for each of us.

What if…my husband leaves me?

 What if…my child dies?

 What if…I’m really never happy?

 What if…this wound refuses to heal?

 What if? What if? What if?

 Oh, dear One, the Shadow of What If is—and always has been—a robber of joy and imitator of truth designed to obscure the Light of Hope. We fight each dark pursuer—out of breath and in need of relief. Somehow, we’re certain a jab or swing in the Shadow’s direction will ensure some sort of relief. So we listen to Oprah…read books by Dr. Oz…try the newest diet trend…anything to help us battle the dark, elusive threat that is our greatest Fear.

But in so much of the struggle we rely on ourselves—forgetting the promises of scripture. Psalm 23 reminds us that even when we’re surrounded by a darkness so deep it casts death’s shadow, He is there! Even in the most frightening of times or the loneliest moments he guides…protects…comforts. He is the one who will manage our struggles and wage our battles.

Our futile attempts at Shadow boxing can cease. No more useless jabbing or dodging. Let’s give the battle to the Champion of hearts and souls—the giver of life, conqueror of death, and victor over sin and its effects.

 Suggested Scripture and Questions for Reflection

Read Psalm 23.

What dark valleys has God guided you through already? If your journey is taking you through a place filled with Shadows are you relying upon the Shepherd—or self? I know I struggle with this–vacillating back and forth.

As a gentle reminder to yourself about God’s abounding faithfulness and protection, reread Psalm 23. This time, replace each “me” with your name and “my” with the pronoun “her”.

A David Psalm (MSG)

23 1-3 God, my shepherd!
I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner
right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.

Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
for the rest of my life.

 

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If we can trust Him with eternity, let's trust Jesus with our today

What happens when God doesn’t meet our expectations? When we’ve slipped a toe into the edge of the Jordan and suddenly we’re neck-deep in the river–disillusioned and doubting the call of the One who promised us beauty…bounty…blessing on the other side? What happens when our hopes or dreams are dashed against the rocks–shattered and floating further from our reach?

Do we blame Him for letting us down…for leaving us–struggling to manage the rushing water as we’re dragged somewhere unknown and unanticipated?

Instead of trusting that our Rescuer has already journeyed into the depths for us, do we give in to the pull of the current. Drifting. Doubting. Denouncing Him in our inability to see clearly from this side of the river to the other.

Maybe you’re at the place in your journey where nothing rattles your beliefs or sends you reeling–wondering if the God of scripture sees you…hears you…loves you. No matter the size of the Jordan, you trust Him to carry you across.

I’m not that grown up in my faith.

At times, I’ve been overwhelmed by the dark waves. Smashed against the river bottom. Sputtering for air. Shouting my doubts into the mist. Because suffering? It hurts. And sometimes I’ve felt like I’m drowning even in my living.

Some of you have shared about the Jordan your crossing right now. Cancer. Anxiety. Death. Divorce.

Pain so big it’d be easy to lose sight of the largeness and power of God. My heart aches for that journey you’re taking right now–the one causing fear unequaled. Feelings of aloneness. Deep soul-sorrow.

Can I remind you? He is El Roi–the God who sees.  He is Yishmael–the God who hears. He is Adonai–the God who loves you. And He is the God who walks on the water–right next to you…reaching out for your hand…and reassuring, “It’s me, don’t be afraid.”

If we can trust Jesus with eternity, let’s trust Him with our today–even as we totter toward the beckoning hand over the next wave.

Scripture for Reflection

As soon as the meal was finished, he insisted that the disciples get in the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he dismissed the people. With the crowd dispersed, he climbed the mountain so he could be by himself and pray. He stayed there alone, late into the night.

Meanwhile, the boat was far out to sea when the wind came up against them and they were battered by the waves. At about four o’clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them walking on the water. They were scared out of their wits. “A ghost!” they said, crying out in terror.

But Jesus was quick to comfort them. “Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

Peter, suddenly bold, said, “Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.”

 He said, “Come ahead.”

Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, “Master, save me!”

Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, “Faint-heart, what got into you?”

The two of them climbed into the boat, and the wind died down. The disciples in the boat, having watched the whole thing, worshiped Jesus, saying, “This is it! You are God’s Son for sure!” (Matthew 14:22-23, MSG)

 

Thought to consider:   In what area of your life is Jesus calling you to “come ahead”.

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“Let’s go now and take possession of the land. We should be more than able to conquer it.”.png

One of the most painful seasons of my life was ushered in the day my husband boarded the flight to a training school on the east coast. A military wife, I’d expected challenges. I’d managed years of work-ups, cross-country moves, and deployments. But this time, it seemed as if the one person I’d relied on for strength and direction was stripped from my life when I most needed him.

 Our two young teens were in full-out rebellion and another little child suffered for months as doctors and other experts struggled to determine a diagnosis. Parenting alone through unknown territory, I desperately needed assurance.

Have you been there–in the middle of hurt, heartache, or hopelessness?

While your circumstances are probably different, my guess is that you carry personal scars from your own story. Perhaps some remain open wounds–festering and seeping at the slightest provocation.

I don’t want to suggest there are simple spiritual answers. Some wounds take years to heal–but, He is able. Like the men who inhabited the land God gave the Israelites, your wound may be a giant–large enough to cast a shadow over your faith. Sometimes you might even doubt God is willing–or able–to move you from a place of pain to one of joy. From feelings of desert wandering to the relief of righteous restoration. From self-conceived-condemnation to the comfort of Abba’s eternal approval.

Those doubts? I used to entertain them.

I believed the Word. But, just in case He didn’t come through…on the off-chance His promises weren’t meant for me? I prepared for disappointment.  I lived my faith as if God were only god and the giant loomed larger than the One by whose stripes I had already been healed.

Despite my trust-you-today-but-maybe-not-tomorrow attitude, our merciful Father did the amazing. He slew my giants.

He was able.

The behemoths in my life? They are no larger than those in yours and I am convinced the Healer wants you to cross the Jordan into the land where your Goliath lives. Let’s move ahead in faith, Friends, trusting Him to conquer those places where we’ve been spirit-bruised-and-battered.

He is able.

This is our time to move through the water toward to the shore. Grab my hand–I’m coming with you.

Scripture for Reflection

“We went to the land where you sent us. It really is a land flowing with milk and honey. Here’s some of its fruit. 28 But the people who live there are strong, and the cities have walls and are very large. We even saw the descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites live in the Negev. The Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites live in the mountain region. And the Canaanites live along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and all along the Jordan River.”

30 Caleb told the people to be quiet and listen to Moses. Caleb said, “Let’s go now and take possession of the land. We should be more than able to conquer it.”

31 But the men who had gone with him said, “We can’t attack those people! They’re too strong for us!” 32 So they began to spread lies among the Israelites about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored is one that devours those who live there. All the people we saw there are very tall. 33 We saw Nephilim there. (The descendants of Anak are Nephilim.) We felt as small as grasshoppers, and that’s how we must have looked to them.” Numbers 13:27-33

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One moment the car was moving smoothly along the highway and the next it was spinning like a top—uncontrolled and careening toward a snow encrusted ditch. Time slowing perceptibly; the momentum of the vehicle carried me along with it. None of my efforts to correct the out-of-control movement or soften the impact proved helpful.

Just fourteen with nothing more than a driver’s permit; I sat motionless in the vehicle—my hands tightly gripping the steering wheel. I felt as frozen as the ice that set the car into a skid.

He can turn our

The thought of continuing toward that morning’s destination caused fear to swell large and unbidden in my chest. I was stuck…stymied…trapped by my own apprehension and unwilling to resume my short trip—even if it led me closer to home.

Not long ago, I felt God calling me to press deeper into my faith. To follow Him where I’d rather not go. To invite Him into the places of my heart that most needed His tender care.

Still, I held back—almost unwilling to place those carefully guarded heart pieces at the feet of the One who could repair them. Like the teenaged girl from years ago, I clung to the steering wheel—going nowhere fast and feeling irrevocably out of control.

Could it be God is gently calling your name? Is He asking you to trust Him? To release a burden you’ve borne for too long? Does He want you to give up the bitterness over a past wound or the guilt you’ve lugged along with you year after year?

Release that burden to Him, dear friend. Don’t allow it to hamper your living any longer. Let’s choose to believe the promises we profess to know. Today—let’s live unburdened lives.

“Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30

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I could see it crouching over her—almost visible in its size and heaviness. Depression. And dragging on its heels, you would recognize Pain and Despair if you looked carefully enough. Sliding slowly into the worn, wooden chair my friend attempted a weak smile as her hands gripped the thin paper cup and its warm contents.

The loud whirring of an industrial coffee grinder erupted over the chatter of the other customers and I asked, “How are you?”

“Desperate,” she replied.

And I thought back to a horrible night when another dear one was desperate and he begged God to help…to show mercy. And it was all he could do to survive physically when his soul felt as if it were drowning in an ocean of isolation and despair.

Then she uttered the words all of us have thought, but few are brave enough to utter in the presence of another—her heart bleeding its hurt from the inside out, “God is good…right?”

When the pain seems bigger than God, how do you answer a question like that?

I didn’t want to offer platitudes. Holy sounding Christian-eze. Cheery look-on-the-bright-side responses. Just what I knew to be true.

“God is still good. I know He is—I’ve seen it.” And I held her hand as we prayed—for comfort…for healing…for hope.

And don’t we all need hope, Friends? When nothing seems to penetrate the dark we need Hope desperately. A Hope that destroys the strongholds and promises deep, abiding soul-peace. Abiding Hope that lives larger than the problems of this world.

Lord, please! Give your child hope today!

 My words seemed almost foolish as I bent my head in a coffee shop asking for what seemed like the impossible. But, I have come to know this God–the Hope-Giver.

And knowing Him is the best hope of all.

So I keep praying for the impossible—until Hope responds to the heart cry of His child. And, He will—because He is good.

 

Scripture for Reflection

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3–5)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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psalm 73

 

All of my self-created, self-proclaimed, self-protective vows could fill a book. You know, the ones whispered under my breath when I’ve been near bursting with anger…fear…judgment…hurt. Those silent promises and I-will-nevers intended to set a personal standard or to protect my own heart or the hearts of those I love. They’ve often proven impossible to uphold and are usually a hindrance to personal, relational, or spiritual growth.

You know what I mean, don’t you? We all have our nevers.

The divorced woman who has vowed to never marry another man—but lives as someone’s common-law wife. The woman who swore she would never smoke cigarettes after watching a loved one die of lung disease now burns through at least one pack a day. The grown man who was determined he would never treat his child that way—and hears the same ugly words of his father or mother erupting from his own mouth.

We all have our nevers. Read Peter’s words—his never—spoken boldly to Christ just prior to being turned over to the authorities.

31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” (Matthew 6:31-34).

Did Peter intend to live up to his words? Yes.

Was his motive wrong? Of course not!

Then what is the matter with Peter’s I-will-never? Is there something wrong with our nevers?

The problem begins with the words I will. Peter’s driving force—his strength—was centered on self; not on the sustaining power of God the Almighty. And self can only carry a given distance. Peter’s personal best? He made it as far as the walls of the court before betraying both Christ and his fervent I will never!

Let’s look to Jesus as he seeks solace in the Garden of Gethsemane just prior to his arrest.

And going a little farther he (Jesus) fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

Did you notice it, Friend? Jesus—who knew of the beatings he would endure and understood the shame of the cross—said, “Not as I will, but as you will.”

Isn’t that remarkable? Christ didn’t choose self. Self-protection. Self-interest. Self-will. Instead, he chose the will of the Father. And the best of Christ joined to the will of the Father resulted in unimaginably beautiful forever-life at the intersection of nail and flesh.

The next time a personal I will never thrusts itself into my thoughts, my hope and prayer is that I would it turn it over to God.

Lord, what is Your will in this situation?  In this moment?   In this hurt?

 And even more—would that I could bravely whisper, “…but as You will.”

 

Scripture for Reflection

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:26)

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. (Ephesians 6:10)

He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.         (Isaiah 40:29)

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

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A heart-rending scene in the movie Forrest Gump elicits uncomfortable emotions every time I revisit the movie. Why? Because I relate to Jenny—the young woman who returns to her family home only to be reminded of the pain and destructive secrets experienced in a place that should have been one of innocence and laughter.

 

Not Enough Rocks.pngPausing, Jenny leans almost involuntarily toward the ground where her hand wraps itself around something solid…indestructible. Determinedly, she hurls a rock at the faded, abandoned home in the distance. Glass shatters and one rock after another finds its mark—again and again–until Jenny presses her heaving body against the earth in exhaustion.

“Sometimes,” her companion laments, “I guess there just aren’t enough rocks.”

Do you find purchase with those words, dear Friend? Can you understand how deep a wound this woman may have experienced?

And you—what about you?

Do you carry around scars, too? Maybe your hurts grew in the promising relationship of marriage. Oh, the hope you had the day you pronounced your love for one another. Now, perhaps, the dreams have all but disappeared and you wonder if your aching heart can bear the loneliness any longer.

Or, it could be that the dreams you held for your child have been destroyed. An imposter stepped in and occupied their place—substance abuse…depression….a precious one’s death.

Maybe your hurts were borne in a moment of a friend’s unwarranted betrayal…a workplace disagreement…or, perhaps, even at the hands of other Christians.

Oh, yes. The pain is real.

But what I know? Throwing rocks will not relieve the ache. The stinging words of retort meant to shame our offender…the dissolution of an unfulfilling relationship for another…the temporary solace found in a habit turned master—none of these “rocks” provide lasting satisfaction.   Instead, these stones will hang heavy like a weight—gradually pulling us deeper into resentment…remorse…regret.

But The Rock? He is the place of refuge…restoration…renewal. If we just unfurl those tightly curled fists and allow the rocks to tumble to the ground—each bitter thought and every cry of the heart—our faith will grow bigger, our hope greater, and our love deeper.

Scripture to Study (Genesis 38-46)

Consider Joseph’s story.

Because he was his father’s favorite, Joseph’s brother stripped him of dignity, threw him into the bowels of a pit, and sold him for next to nothing to slave traders. Remarkably, Joseph survived—and he survived without allowing hatred to implant itself in the dark places of his heart.

Instead, Joseph chose forgiveness. Beautiful, undeserved forgiveness.  

Joseph decided upon generosity. Life-giving, beyond expectation liberality.

The one who had been cast aside offered grace. Bountiful, unwarranted blessing.

 

-How do you imagine you would have reacted in Joseph’s situation?

-What is your response to those who have caused wounds in your life?

-Do your thoughts or actions align with the truth of who God says He is?

-What one step can you take today to let go of your grasp on a past hurt?

 

 

 

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What matters more than material blessings are the things He is teaching us in our spirit.

Charles Stanley

It all began much earlier for him, but most of the nascent signs were quiet and crept into life bit by bit–a silent predator slowly introducing the victim to its presence. Then two years ago, the boy’s everyday life shifted with such suddenness there could be no doubt. Our son knew what it was to struggle with anxiety and depression.

Sleep oscillated between the extremes of non-existent and constant.  Recurring migraines…weight loss…lack of appetite. And my adventurous, full-throttle son retreated to a solitary world that seemed impenetrable.  Once in a great while I would catch a glimpse of the boy , but the cloud of oppression that hung over him was normally the more visible of the two.

There is no heartache quite like that a parent has for her suffering child and in my grief I confronted God.  I wept.  I raged. I begged.  I prayed.

Please, Lord, please!

After more than two years of trial and error…missed school days and fading dreams, we discovered the right combination of interventions and supports–not the least of which included medication.  Finally…some relief for the boy I had soothed with lullabies not so many years ago.

During this time, my boy continued to seek after God.  He wanted more of Jesus–and, unlike me, didn’t seem to struggle with blaming God for allowing this trial in his young life.  Despite the depression…regardless of the anxiety…in spite of the weariness.

One evening he returned from youth group, his face transformed by joy.

We asked God to heal me.  I don’t need my medicine anymore.

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I was skeptical…fearful…doubtful.  I believed in miracles, but this? A young man’s life could be at stake.

Slow and methodical in my response,  I have taken the “yes, but” approach to this precious boy’s healing. “Yes–God can heal, but…”

Yes, but…healing is not probable…practical…likely.

Yes, but…this could be temporary…time-inhibited…explainable.

Yes, but…are you sure you can sleep…function…manage?

And he continues to do well.  Feel well.  Live well.

I have begun to relate to the Bible verse, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” in ways I never expected.  And I wonder if any of you understand?  If you’ve lived it, too?  At some level, those of us who are Christians must grasp the mystery of such things–at least a little bit.

We trust in Jesus, after all.

Yes, but…a virgin birth is impossible…unimaginable…implausible.

Yes, but…a resurrected Messiah is unbelievable…incredible…miraculous.

Yes, but…can we know we are sanctified…rescued…redeemed?

Yes, but…He was born of a virgin, died on a cross, and rose again in three days.

Scripture for Reflection

Mark 9:24

Genesis 15:6

Isaiah 43:10

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Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that—heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them. (Hebrews 11:13-16)

“Do something radical this week–live like you believe.”  There were some nods, nudges, and Amens  before God’s people bowed their heads for a final prayer.  Help me live like I believe.  

Then I remember yesterday’s stroll in the orange and yellow dappled woods outside of Divide.  The children were on a journey of discovery…Mom, look at this!  But my mind had been captured by the struggles of a dear one and I wondered–even shook my fist– at a world bursting with beauty and struggle, joy and grief, blessing and affliction.

Separating from my family, I lay beneath the aspen trees.  The sounds of father, boy, and girl slowly give way to the rustle of raindrop-shaped leaves. And I grieved over the young man–praying, hoping, wishing for more for him.  More living. More loving. More of the Lord.   But, the prayers have been slow to be answered and I think of the contrast between the two trees I see raising their arms to heaven.

One stands tall–its patterned bark and amber colored leaves offering tribute to the Artist.  An arm width’s distance away, another aspen stands –blackened patches and burn scars testifying to a lightening strike.  There are no leaves.  No signs of vitality.  But its roots dig deep into the   life- giving earth and it awaits the quickening of a new day.  A day of restoration…renewal…redemption.

Just by being, we bear the scars of the world.  But, dear friend, God proves Himself greater…more powerful…and true to His promises. The risen-Christ is living proof.

 Lord,help us live like we believe!

Scripture for Reflection

I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.”   (Rev. 21:3-5)

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