Seeing God More Clearly

Recently, I was looking through pictures from the past three years. And I could see in these pictures when pain and suffering came to visit us. I saw pictures from our family’s trip to Chicago. On the surface, they looked like pictures from a fun family vacation. But then I remembered we had gone to Chicago for the funeral of a beloved aunt. Then I saw a picture of me with my mom and dad taken less than ten days later. Another beautiful family shot, except we were standing graveside for the burial another well-loved aunt. Then there was the picture of Journey smiling, sitting in an ER bed with swollen lips, the result of an unexplained allergic reaction–just another incident in a string of illnesses and strange symptoms he experienced that year. And so I chronicled the beginning of our season of suffering. Things got progressively worse. There were more deaths in the family, more illnesses and the most painful blow of all–a marriage coming apart.

It was strange looking back at these pictures and reflecting on where I am today compared to then. Somehow God seems nearer now than He did then, despite the fact that the suffering, at least on paper, hasn’t lessened. I have more peace, joy and hope in my life than I had before all of this began.

How is it possible that I can see God more clearly in the suffering than I did in the pleasantness of life? The enemy of our souls designs suffering to pull us away from God. He uses it to try to convince us that God is not good and that He doesn’t have good intentions toward us. His goal has been and continues to be to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). But therein lies the beauty and the contradiction of suffering. If we allow it, we will experience a nearness of God we couldn’t know otherwise. Our Father is so present during our trials. Isaiah 43:2 says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you” (ESV).

I have learned that God is not some far-off, distant God. He’s the Father who is orchestrating things to accomplish His good purpose for my life (Genesis 50:20). He’s the Son weeping with me at the tomb (John 11:33-35). And He’s the Spirit making intercession for me with groanings too deep for words (Romans 8:26).

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Possessing the Promise

“And the Lord spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places. And you shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it'” (Numbers 33:50-53 ESV).

God had promised the land of Canaan to the people of Israel. It was their inheritance from their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was theirs…no doubt about it. But God didn’t simply just hand it over. He instructed them through Moses, to “drive out all the inhabitants of the land…” He could have destroyed the inhabitants  ahead of them. But instead, He gave the people of Israel the opportunity to partner with Him for the possession of the promise.

What if the people of Israel didn’t actually take possession of it? What if they had stayed on the other side of the Jordan, looking out at the land that was theirs, but never doing anything about it? That’s kind of like receiving a check for a million dollars but not cashing it. Sure, that money is mine and it’s pretty cool to be able to say I have a million dollars. But unless I actually deposit it into my account, it’s of no use or value to me.

The same is true for the promises God has for me. His word is chock full of promises for you and me. But unless we take possession, we will not experience all that He has for us. So we must take possession. That sounds pretty daunting and it would be if God expected us to do it on our own. But the awesome thing about this is we don’t have to do it on our own. He has said, “You shall not fear them, for it is the Lord your God who fights for you” (Deuteronomy 3:22 ESV). He’s also said, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 ESV).

How Do We Take Possession?

What does it mean to take possession? Is it enough to believe and even agree with God about His promises? I think that’s a great first step. But I don’t believe it’s sufficient to simply believe. There have to be action steps we each take to partner with God. I’m reminded of James 2:17 which says, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

What do those action steps look like? I think it’s different for each person. For me, it’s to continue in my obedience to whatever He tells me. It’s to “…not grow weary of doing good” (Galatians 6:9). It’s also to continue to contend in prayer with thanksgiving.

For you, it may be taking a leap and doing something that’s been on your heart to do. It may mean discontinuing doing things that God has told you to stop doing. But no matter what the step is that God is calling us to, we won’t possess the promise until we move.

So what steps of faith is God calling you to take in order to possess His promises?

Be Faithful with the Small Things

A couple of weeks ago I wrote how details are important to God. But just as it is important for me to follow God’s instructions, it’s equally important that I’m faithful in my obedience.

Through out this challenging season, there have been “small” points of obedience that God has asked of me. Sometimes they’ve made sense. I could see how one “little” act would impact a bigger situation. But other times, they haven’t made sense, at least in my very limited perspective. In those times, I’ve been pretty compliant. My side of the conversation with God usually goes something like this, “Okay, Father. I’ll do this. I don’t understand, but I’ll do it.” And I do! I follow through with full commitment…at first. Then I get discouraged and start thinking about how much it really doesn’t make sense. It’s not changing anything or mattering to anyone. So why am I doing this?! I actually had a one-sided conversation like this with God recently: “Yeah, so I’m not going to do that anymore because it doesn’t make sense and I don’t really like doing it. I’m tired of doing senseless things.” Let me tell you, God is a much more patient Father than I am a mother. If one of my kids came to me with such a bratty pronouncement, it would not have been a one-sided conversation. But God just let me say my piece.

However, as I was praying for a friend recently, God reminded me of Matthew 25:23 which says, “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master'” (ESV). In my piety, I thought, “Oh this is perfect for her! She needs to remember that her little acts of obedience matter to God.” Then God finally responded to me: “This is not just for her, but for you too!” Oops! For my friend, it was an encouragement for her to continue doing the things she deemed as “small.” For me, it was a correction of my refusal to do the things I counted as insignificant.

I realize that I’m not always going to understand why God asks me to do certain things. I’d like to think at some point it will all make sense. But there is no promise of that. So I have to decide if I’m going to be faithful to do the “small” things He’s asked of me. To quote my wise friend, “I don’t have to worry about the success…of a matter. I just need to be faithful in doing it.” And that’s really what it comes down to! “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Revelation 2:10b KJV).

Read, Think, Do, Repeat

I love spending time reading God’s Word. It’s truly the highlight of my day. I love to crawl into my little closet, open the Word and hear what God has to say to me for that day. During this intimate time, I’m at such peace with God and myself.

If I could just stay there all day, life would be great. But I can’t stay there all day. I have to go out into the world and deal with people and torrential rain and garage doors that won’t open. Talk about a buzzkill!

My time with God should pour over into the rest of my day. If my experience in my prayer closet doesn’t have an impact on my everyday life, what’s the point? This sacred time should make a difference in how I treat people or handle challenges. Unfortunately, too often I find that my circumstances or emotions dictate my responses.

Psalm 119:165 NLT says, “Those who love your instructions have great peace and do not stumble.” Ouch! Perhaps I don’t love God’s Word as much as I think. Maybe I’m not letting it have it’s full transforming work in my life.

How do I let God’s Word transform every part of my life? Fortunately, the Bible has clear instructions for how to do that:

  • “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8 ESV).
  • “But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night” (Psalm 1:2 NLT).
  • “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what is says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourself” (James 1:22 NLT).

If I had to break it into simple steps, it would be:

  1. Read it!
  2. Think about it!
  3. Do it!
  4. Repeat!

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edge sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12 ESV).

 

 

Details Matter

Details matter to God. You only have to read Exodus 25 through 30 to see how important they are to Him. In these chapters, God gives Moses the instructions for the tabernacle and its furnishings. God was very specific about every aspect of the tabernacle. He didn’t miss one detail. And at no point was Moses scratching his head at something vague God had told him. It was all spelled out clearly, in such intricate detail–down to the type of raw material that should be used.

For me, the details in these chapters can be overwhelming. Do I really need to know that the ephod “shall have two shoulder pieces attached to its two edges, so that it may be joined together” (Exodus 28:7)? Part of me wants to skip this whole section, wishing it simply said, “God gave Moses the plan for the tabernacle and he built it.” But one of the things I love about the Old Testament is how it shows God’s character. And what this shows me about God is how much He really cares about details.

But why is it important for me to know that details are essential to Him? First, when I know that He was that specific about the manufacturing of inanimate objects, I can only fathom how much He cares about the details of my life. There’s not one aspect of my life that He’s forgotten or not made plans for.

Secondly, it helps me to understand why it’s important for me to follow His instructions. He told Moses, “Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you” (Exodus 25:9 NIV, emphasis mine).

There have been so many times in my life when I’ve been frustrated by my assumption that God isn’t giving me direction. I had one of those moments this week. One of my biggest challenges with Journey is getting him to stay focused on a task. It’s been a source of much consternation and a frequent point of prayer. So when I read Exodus 25:9, I plainly asked God, “Why haven’t you shown me exactly how to help my son?” But in His loving way, God used this same verse to correct me. He reminded me that He’d given me instructions, but I hadn’t followed them exactly.

I have heard it said, “If you’re not hearing from God, go back to the last thing He told you to do and do it.” And I think there is such wisdom in that. I know in my own life, it has often been the case that when I’m not hearing from God, it’s because I’ve chosen to ignore something He’s instructed me to do. Just as He told Moses to make the tabernacle and furnishings precisely as He had directed him, God expects me to obey His instructions without compromising.

So I’ve been doing a lot of backtracking this week–seeing where I’ve missed God’s instructions. It’s a humbling process. But if I’m going to be serious about being His disciple, I need to make sure I’m following His directions exactly.

The Long Way Around

Sometimes I feel like God is taking me the long way around to fulfill His promises for my life. And it can be frustrating. I know He’s working. But sometimes it feels like there has to be a more direct route.

But as I was reading in Exodus recently, I noticed that God did the same with the children of Israel after their release from Egypt. “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although it was near. For God said, ‘Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.’ But God led the people around by the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle” (Exodus 13:17-18).

So why did God take them the long way? I think one reason is the children of Israel were just starting to learn they could trust God again. They had been in captivity for 430 years (Exodus 12:40). In that time, I’m sure they had grown suspicious of God’s intentions toward them. They even showed their faithlessness when they saw the Egyptians chasing after them: “And they said to Moses, ‘Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt? Didn’t we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, “Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!”‘” (Exodus 14:11-12 NLT).

“… So the people feared the Lord and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.” – Exodus 14:31

But because God hadn’t taken them by the shortest, most expedient route, they didn’t really have the option of trudging back to Egypt. This gave God the opportunity to remind them of His power so that they would learn to trust Him more fully. “Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses” (Exodus 14:30-31).

I believe another reason God led the Israelites by the long way around was to display His glory to the surrounding nations through His miraculous intervention. “The peoples hear and tremble; anguish grips those who live in Philistia. The leaders of Edom are terrified; the nobles of Moab tremble. All who live in Canaan melt away; terror and dread fall upon them. The power of your arm makes them lifeless as stone until your people pass by, O Lord, until the people you purchased pass by” (Exodus‬ ‭15:14-16‬ ‭NLT‬‬).

Our world tells us that the best way is the quickest, shortest route from Point A to Point B. But God’s not so worried about expediency. He’s more interested in my development in the process. And He’s more concerned with using my life to display His glory to those around me. So sometimes that means taking the long way around. But in the end, I am convinced it will be worth it.

Please note: I left out a lot of the details from the biblical account, assuming a basic familiarity with the overall story. But if you haven’t read it before, it’s definitely worth reading. It can be found in Exodus 13-15.

Hope and a Good Future

“‘I say this because I know what I have planned for you,’ says the Lord. ‘I have good plans for you. I don’t plan to hurt you. I plan to give you hope and a good future‘” (Jeremiah 29:11 ICB, emphasis mine).

My son handed me a 3″ x 5″ card with the above words written in my own handwriting. I didn’t even remember writing it. But there it was. At the time, I had been asking God for a guiding theme for our family in 2019. Our church was planning “New Beginnings” as a theme for the new year. And I so wanted that to be for us too. It sounded so nice–it sounded exactly like what I needed. But I knew in my heart God had something different in mind for us. So when Journey casually handed me this card, with this verse in an obscure translation, I didn’t just brush it off…well, I almost did.

For me, Jeremiah 29:11 was an overused verse. I categorized it under  my “cliche verses” file, along with Philippians 4:13. You know, the verses that are printed on coffee mugs and T-shirts. And because it is so often used, I tended to discount its truth, as if somehow its popularity made it less true. But God’s word is true no matter how many farmhouse-style signs are printed with it. So after I got over my snobbery, I allowed God to begin to speak to me the truth of this verse.

In its context, it’s part of a letter the prophet Jeremiah sent to the Babylonian exiles. In this letter, he’s basically giving them some less than thrilling news and some instructions:

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: ‘Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.’ This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘Do not let your prophets and fortunetellers who are with you in the land of Babylon trick you. Do not listen to their dreams, because they are telling lies in my name. I have not sent them,’ says the Lord. This is what the Lord says: ‘You will be in Babylon for seventy years'” (Jeremiah 29:4-10a NLT).

The exiles believed that their time in Babylon was going to be short. They thought they would be returning home soon. But this letter from Jeremiah breaks the news that they would be there for 70 years, so they might as well unpack and get to living. I can imagine how disappointed they felt. I’ve been there. It’s that moment when you realize there’s no quick fix to the mess you’re in, no “special prayer” to make it all go away. And God surely knows too and that’s where we get to this beautiful promise of a future and a hope:

“‘But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not disaster, to give you a future and a hope'” (Jeremiah 29:10b-11 NLT).

During the past year and a half, I’ve felt like an exile. I’m in a place I never intended to be–living in a “land” that feels foreign and scary. But I’ve had to make my home here and allow myself to grow. It can be dark and frightening here. But God has promised “hope and a good future.” How exciting and reassuring is that?!

So I embrace Jeremiah 29:11 as a promise and a guiding theme for my family this year. As we move into and through 2019, this promise will lead us. When fear and doubt creep in, as they will, we can point back to the promise of “hope and a good future.” And we can remind ourselves that God is a promise keeper and that His word does not return to him void (Isaiah 55:11).

The Victorious Life

Happy New Year! I hope your year is off to a prosperous beginning.

As a point of personal reflection, I’ve been reading through my personal journal from the last year. It’s been both encouraging and challenging to review the things God taught me in 2018.

The following is an entry I made last Good Friday (March 30, 2018). I decided to publish it here because I believe it best encapsulates what God taught me in 2018:

What does a victorious life in Christ look like? Is victory in Christ a life without trials and challenges? Is it a life where everything always works out as planned or hoped for?

That’s what I wish it looked like…all of my troubles and challenges all tied up neatly in a pretty bow. No pain, no discouragement. But that’s not victory in Christ. That’s a fairy tale. John 16:33 says, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, I have overcome the world.”

I’ve been looking at “victory in Christ” all wrong. I’ve somehow bought into the lie that because my situation hasn’t resolved itself the way I’d like, I’m not experiencing victory.

The victorious life is not a life absent of trouble. It’s one that enables me to walk forward in the challenges. It’s one that gives me crazy, ridiculous joy and peace in midst of the most heart-wrenching circumstances.

This is the victorious life: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned and the flame shall not consume you” (Isaiah 43:2-3). The victorious life is one where God is with me in all of my troubles, carrying me and not allowing them to overtake me.

I think about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the furnace. They still had to go through it. God could have prevented them from even being put in the furnace. But He had a greater victory in mind. He allowed them to walk through it, but He kept them and walked with them. As a result, King Nebuchadnezzar worshiped the one, true God (Daniel 3).

God could rescue me from my troubles. He could have kept me from going through any of this. But He has a greater victory planned. He is walking with me through this. And others will worship the one, true God when they see His hand keeping me in the midst of the flame.

Victory in Christ is not the absence of trouble, it’s the presence of God in the midst of it.

Will I Still Trust?

“…Let it be to me according to your word.”
– Luke 1:38 ESV

As Christmas has approached, I’ve been reading, or rereading, the Christmas story. For the first time, I’ve been really intrigued with Mary and her response to God, “…Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38 ESV).

It seemed so easy for her to respond to God with a “yes.” She had only one question, “How will this be since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34.). That would have been the least of my questions: “What am I supposed to tell my parents? What about Joseph? What’s he going to think? And all the people in town? They’ll judge me for sure! What do I tell them?”

I always want more information. I want to know how and why and when. I’m sure Mary had the same questions in her heart. But she responded with faith instead of more questions. She had a choice to believe what the angel was telling her or demand more information.

Can you imagine if she hadn’t been so willing? What if she had told the angel, “Let me think about it, weigh the pros and cons and get back to you.” Seems reasonable, right? But that’s not what God was asking of her. He wasn’t asking her to put this plan through some decision matrix and get back to Him. He was asking her to trust Him.

“You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.”
-Luke 1:45 NLT

Because she trusted God and took Him at His word, she was able to take part in the greatest story of all time. It was said of her, by her cousin Elizabeth, “You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said” (Luke 1:45 NLT).

I’m not always going to get my questions answered. So the bigger question is, “Will I still trust God, even when I don’t have all of the answers?”

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