Sunday, April 23, 2023
Sunday, January 22, 2023
Monday, November 28, 2022
One of my very favorite words in the English language is “abide.” Learning how to abide in Christ is perhaps the foremost action we can learn to live out. Andrew Murray, in his widely read book “Abide in Christ,” describes it this way:
“Abiding in Him is not a work that we have to do as the condition for enjoying salvation, but a consenting to let Him do all for us, and in us, and through us. It is a work He does for us — the fruit and the power of His redeeming love. Our part is simply to yield, to trust, and to wait for what He has engaged to perform.”
While we are yielding, trusting, and abiding, God doesn’t want us to be doing this alone — far from it, sweet friend. Every year I pull out a purply-pink glass Christmas ornament. Some of the silver glitter, on the bottom half, has worn off through the years. When I gently unwrap it, I take a moment to cradle it in my hands. Bittersweet feelings bubble to the surface to interrupt my festive mood. It’s a push-me-pull-you mix of emotions. The words, written in silver Sharpie say, “Perseverance Posse – 2009.” Simply holding this ornament takes me back to the fragile woman whose husband had taken off and left her struggling to believe that God really loved her...
This week I am guest posting on my writing friend, Janis Van Keuren's, blog for her Heartfilled Stories Series. Readers and new subscribers to Janis's blog will be entered in a drawing to win one of four gift cards to Amazon and Starbucks as well as an opportunity to win some of my floral watercolor notecards.
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Tuesday, November 15, 2022
Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Since the fall of man, we are all broken. Label us “damaged goods,” much like the lonely, dented can of green beans on the grocery store shelf or the scratched coffee table marked down to “clearance.” We’ve arrived at somehow being “less than.” We are broken in our affliction, and grace is what we desperately need. There’s one small problem, our pride prevents us from seeing ourselves as the truly sinful and corrupt creatures we are. Take a survey on a busy street corner and the average passerby will tell you that they’ve tried to be a good person and, therefore, are doing okay by the world’s standard.
God, however, doesn’t operate by the world’s standard. He is just and holy, and in order to stand before Him (even when we’re suffering) we need to be just and holy as well. Yes, we can have complete forgiveness and salvation through accepting Jesus as our Savior, but are we then free to continue in our prideful, self-sufficient ways, or does life with Jesus require change?
Thanks to my husband, I’ve become a fan of old war movies. One of our favorites is “Heartbreak Ridge” which stars Clint Eastwood as the hard-nosed, hard-living, burned-every-bridge Marine Gunnery Sergeant, Tom Highway. He takes command of a spoiled, undisciplined recon platoon and is charged with whipping them into shape with a sort of “bootcamp on steroids.”
My husband’s father was a Marine, and so I’ve asked him if the commanding officers of bootcamp platoons are really as mean, nasty, ill-tempered, and downright ugly as they are portrayed in the movies — His answer? “They’re worse!” In one scene in Heartbreak Ridge, “Gunny,” as his men called him, tells his platoon they’d better turn in early because they’ll be getting up at 0600 for a long run with full gear. The next morning, at 0500, Gunny storms through the barracks, kicking bunks, yelling and cussing up a storm. With spittle flying from his mouth, he bellows, “FALL OUT,” as the bleary-eyed troops come to attention.
“Hey Sarge,” one platoon member interrupts, “I thought you said we’d be getting up at 0600…it’s only 0500!” To which Gunny barks, “So I lied. So, I can’t tell time. So, you think some commie ba$@!#rd is going to make an appointment to blow a hole through your head?”
I’m sure you’re wondering where I’m going with this story! Before Gunny’s bunch of misfits could be trusted in carrying out crucial recon missions, they had to be broken down completely and rebuilt with the grit, discipline, honor, and character that it takes to be a Marine. Before their transformation, these guys may have passed the world’s standard, but they certainly wouldn’t have passed muster with our country’s elite fighting unit.
God is known throughout Scripture as the Lord of Armies. He is the high commander of “good” in this ongoing spiritual battle between good and evil. As believers, we are recruits in the Lord’s army. For us to be trusted and reliable soldiers of the cross, we too, must go through a sort of “bootcamp.” Thankfully, God is nothing like “Gunny,” but we are no good to God if we persist in our fallen ways. God needs to subdue our flesh-life to bring forth resurrection-life in us. This might require taking a turn or two in God’s refining fire.
Scripture, in fact, refers to God as our Refiner. He will allow us to be held close to the red-hot flame in the crucible to cleanse and perfect us. The refining process is meant to burn away all the impurities so that what is left is metal (character) of the finest, highest, and purest quality. It’s painful, but necessary. It doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love us. He can be grieved by our sin, but never — for a moment — stops loving His children. He does, however, care for us enough to want to teach us important life lessons and grow us into Christ’s image.
“Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.” (Isaiah 48:10 ESV)
Affliction has been the crucible in which I have taken many turns. Are you in the crucible of affliction right now? If so, name your affliction. Write its name on an index card. Above your affliction’s name, now, in larger letters, write the name, “Jesus.” Remember Jesus is always above — and greater than— our affliction. God, however, will engage us in a process that:
- Disorients us
- Strips us of our comforts
- Crushes us
God does this because He is disciplining us and transforming us into the sainted soldiers that He wants us to be, but He will never let the fire consume us because He has engraved us on the palms of His hands.
“But Zion said, “’The Lord has
the Lord has forgotten me.’”
15 “Can a mother forget the baby at
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are ever before me.” (Isaiah 49:14-16 NIV)
Though you are being refined by the fire, the Lord will NEVER let the fire consume you. His power and love are always over and above your affliction. I think of the Bible story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from my Sunday School felt board days. Though they were thrown into the fiery furnace, the dancing tongues of fire never so much as singed their eyebrows. The Lord protected them from being consumed. He is protecting you!
In 2 Corinthians, Paul asked God to remove an affliction in his life that he called a “thorn.” Theologians love to debate what that thorn was, exactly, but that’s beside the point. God answered Paul by saying, “no.” Instead, God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul then responded, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7–10 ESV)
If God were to remove the source of our pain and suffering every time things got a little uncomfortable, we would never come to experience His all-sufficient grace. The greater the pain, the greater the degree of grace. God’s grace grows in direct proportion to the severity of our suffering. He gives sufficient grace to cover our weakness. I had to learn through my “thorn” experience that when everything I normally relied upon was either exhausted or taken away (my self-sufficiency, my lucidity, my strength), that was the exact moment I came to know that Christ truly was sufficient for my every need. Why does our prideful soul have to dangle, exhausted, over the crevasse of catastrophe before it will accept God’s grace? Are you dangling and in need of God’s grace?
Corrie Ten Boom summed it up this way, “You can never learn that Christ is all you need, until Christ is all you have.” I may have forsaken some of my childish ways, but I have learned that as I get older, I need to depend on my Heavenly Father more and more. He is my sufficiency, and apart from Him I can do nothing (John 15:5).
If you would like to receive Christ into your life as Lord and Savior, pray this prayer with me:
Dear God, I know that I am a sinner. I want to turn from my sins, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe that Jesus Christ is Your Son. I believe He died for my sins and that You raised Him to life. I want Him to come into my heart and to take control of my life. I want to trust Jesus as my Savior and follow Him as my Lord from this day forward. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.
Sunday, November 6, 2022
Sunday, October 30, 2022
If I had a God around whom I could totally and completely wrap my finite brain, He wouldn’t be a God worth worshiping. Trying to comprehend the mysteries of God is like a preschooler attempting to grasp quantum physics.
I asked God to heal my first marriage, to remove the “thorn” of mental illness, to turn a prodigal back toward home and God was silent. I’ve sat with friends who’ve lost children to drug overdose, illness/disease, and suicide. I still have no good answers as to Why? I can only resolve that one day, God will make clear His perfect will…and then, I will understand.
“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me completely.” (1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT)
Prayers for loved ones or for relief from suffering, that confound our paralyzed heart, will stretch our faith. What can help, in the especially difficult times, is to remember that God’s timing is rarely our own. Things may seem to race from bad to worse, but God has complete authority over the situation. One of God’s greatest gifts to us is how He allows us to see, perhaps much later, how His timing and His plans are perfect. Can you go back in your life and think about times when, if you had received what you wanted in the moment, you would not have grown in your spiritual life?
I got pregnant easily with my daughter. I thought the same would be true for my second child. I was heartbroken when years went by and still no baby. I believe, looking back, I needed to learn to be content with what God had blessed me and let God’s will — not my own — guide my life. When it seems like all hope is lost, it may just mean that God isn’t finished yet — and remember, His timeline is eternal. I eventually had my son and my heart overflowed with gratitude. But, I still would be called to trust in God’s inherent goodness even if my son was never born. Hope never gets lost, it is just taking another way. Doubt’s haunting voice will never have the last word.
I love Ruth Bell Graham’s mother’s heart. She prayed her children through all sorts of trials and tragedies. Prayer has always been a mother’s default setting.
“When I am dealing with an all-powerful, all-knowing God, I, as a mere mortal, must offer my petitions not only with persistence but also with patience. Someday I’ll know why.” – Ruth Bell Graham
I have to remind myself, a lot, that His ways and His thoughts are “higher” than my own (Isaiah 55:9). God is never flummoxed or frustrated, and nothing can stop Him from carrying out His purposes — not even death. Much like a rainbow after a cloudburst, God shows up when we least expect Him. The Lord moves at His own pace and He’s never late. What we now see dimly in a mirror, we will see clearly, and God will give us complete understanding in heaven. In every mystery there is an element of truth. Often it is hidden or undetected. The author of all the mysteries will one day sit with us and will point out how what we couldn’t understand then, now overflows with His never-ending grace and wisdom.
So, how can we know the unknowable? How can we understand the mysteries of God? Hold this thought gently in your open hands: There is no understanding of God, and His mysteries, apart from a personal relationship with His Son. Jesus said that when we have seen Him, we have seen the Father.
Would it not make great sense, then, for us to desire, with all our heart, to be in an intimate relationship with the lover of our soul? One day we will understand the word of God in its fullness, and He will reveal to us the mysteries that presently our minds just cannot understand. On our own, we can’t please God, but we can, through His Son, be part of the most holy and fulfilling relationship this life affords. I know that if I can’t be healed, then I want to be tenderly held in God’s embrace.
If you are struggling with the answer to a prayer, you’ve seemingly been given, or you flat out don’t like how life’s play is unfolding, do know that God often doesn’t give us what we wish for. He gives us what we need. Bad things will happen to “good” people in this world, but take heart, this world is not the end. When our tender flesh is scraped along the concrete of life, we have a choice: Will we, or will we not, adopt a more eternal perspective?
“We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18 NIV)
One day we will see God’s good plan in it all. We will have a great reward on that day, and it will be glorious!
Dear Heavenly Father, I admit there are times I don't like your answers to my prayers. Help me to humbly submit myself to Your sovereign will. I take heart that my prayers are "deathless" and will definitely be answered in eternity. When I don't understand, enable me to turn my heart to what I DO know to be true about you. Give me the faith I need to believe in your goodness, mercy, and faithfulness. I praise you that you are not a God I can put in a box and fully understand. I allow for your divine mystery knowing one day I will fully understand what now I only see dimly. May your perfect love cast out the doubt and fear in my life and draw me into your loving embrace as I wait upon You. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.
Friday, October 21, 2022
Even as a child I was a bit of a worrywart. Are you a kindred spirit? My mother would say, “There you go again, putting the cart before the horse.” I always wanted to know what was coming so that I could be prepared. Desperately seeking to control is symptomatic of living in fear and not trust. In this case, getting ahead of myself was not a good thing, but when it comes to praying and persevering, I am learning that I need to thank God, in advance, for what He is going to do.
Yes, we are to be grateful to God, after the fact, to thank Him for our blessings, but we are compelled to practice a new way of praying. God invites us to come boldly before His throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). We know God will answer when we call on Him. The Bible reassures us of this over and over again. Therefore, we ought to thank Him for the answer that He is going to give. God wants us to wait expectantly for His answer.
Maybe you have been praying and waiting patiently, i.e., enduring, suffering, persevering, and wondering if the Lord is really going to show up? Is that you today? Is it possible to wait expectantly and wait patiently? From firsthand experience, I know the answer to this question is, “yes.” Just as joy and pain can coexist, so can we wait expectantly and with patience marked with endurance and suffering. Hold fast and know His grace is more than sufficient to see you through.
I grew up in the South Hills of Pittsburgh and the only way to get from my home into the city was to go through a long, dark tunnel fondly referred to, by locals, as the Fort Pitt Tubes. While zooming at high speed, through the dark, claustrophobic tunnel, you get antsy to reach the light at the other side. It’s a hair-raising stretch to travel. I often found myself holding my breath wondering, how much longer until I get to the end of this blasted tunnel?
At the very moment when my knuckles grew white from clenching the steering wheel, and my face turned bluish from lack of oxygen, when my patience was spent, it was then I’d shoot out into the awesome expanse of sunlight. In a flip-of-the-switch sunrise, the glistening buildings of the city burst onto the horizon. Simultaneously I’d gulp in air, relax my clenched fingers, and see the breathtaking beauty that I thought would never come.
How do you know that you aren’t in that split second before the glorious end of your tunnel? Perhaps the answer to your prayer upon prayer is up ahead but just hasn’t happened yet. Maybe the pink-hewn sunrise is on the other side of the dark, moonless night. God has a way of surprising us when we least expect it. Often the answer lies just around the next bend, but we need to hang on to see what God’s love has in store for us. We need to trust Him. It’s imperative that we believe in what is unseen.
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18 NIV)
God answers prayers in a multitude of ways. I’ve experienced many “God-winks.” These are answers to prayers that we haven’t even prayed — like when God surprises us with a rainbow at the end of a violent storm, or the person in front of you in the coffee shop drive-through pays for your coffee. God says, “I love you and I’m for you,” even when we didn’t ask. Have you ever barely had a prayer pass over your lips and God is already answering it? It’s an answer to prayer that reinforces the fact God knew what you were going to ask even before your mind formed the words. Those are, what I call, the “instantaneous answers.”
More often than not, we put in endless days and nights — many, filled with tears. We are brought to the end of ourselves and to the point of giving up. We wait patiently (enduring, suffering) with virtually nothing to show for our effort. These are the prayers of the persevering heart. God loves you and longs to draw near to comfort you in the waiting.
“I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you.” (John 14:18 KJB)
Like the Good Shepherd who goes after the lost sheep, though the way is long and hard and uphill, He’ll persevere too. He knows where His sheep are, and He will find the way to them. He will find the way to you. This gives us the hope we need to continue pressing on. Just as the lost sheep may be right over the next hill, your answer to prayer may be as well.
What about you? Have you ever tried thanking God, in advance, for the sovereign way He is going to answer your prayer? Do you find it hard to wait patiently and expectantly at the same time? Is there a person or a situation you'd like me to pray for -- feel free to leave a first name or initials in the Comments and I would be honored to pray for who or what is weighing on your heart.