Have you ever heard or even “felt” these words? I have. It was awful to be on the receiving end of such a callous response.
God never treats His children this way. Like EVER. There is no “Pain Olympics” in God’s Kingdom where we have to meet or surpass some sort of arbitrary threshold of pain before God’s compassion is roused.
In fact, even if the pain we experience is our fault (aka the consequences of our sin), Jesus is still there to listen to our heartache and give loving advice. Remember the woman at the well? When Jesus met her, she had been married multiple times and was living “in sin” with another guy. Jesus didn’t lecture or condemn the woman for making poor choices. He listened. Jesus cared. His grace changed her life.
“I have no sympathy for you.” These are not the humble words of children redeemed by undeserved grace. These dismissive words come from of a place of pride, jealousy, or bitterness.
Know what though? I’ve said these words. I’ve thought these words. Like the Pharisee in the temple who said, “At least I am not like that guy!”, I’ve turned up my nose at another struggling human being. God forgive me for forgetting about all the grace He’s given me.
How about these hurtful responses?
“Good grief, first world problems.” <–Insert eyeroll here. (All of us want to be seen and validated. We are allowed to be overwhelmed or have bad days even if we live in a beautiful two-story home with our spouse, two kids, and golden retriever. We know there are starving children in Africa who deserve our prayers and generosity, but that doesn’t mean we are less deserving of a caring ear and a sympathetic response when we are truly struggling.)
“What’s the big deal?” (Trivializing another’s stress and pain is ignorant. Only God knows the full picture. Only Jesus knows our full stories. We need to stop making rash ill-informed judgments of other people.)
“Get over it already.” (Some people are born with more grit and resilience than others. If you happen to be one of those people who bounce back quickly after a setback or loss, thank Jesus that He gave you that kind of spirit.
One time, this guy I worked with was bragging about how he had never been sick in over three years. As he talked, I discerned that this gentlemen was silently judging co-workers for being ill and calling into work. When he walked away from my desk, I thought to myself, “God gave this man a wonderful immune system that wasn’t given to the rest of us. He should be grateful for his stellar health and not prideful about it… ‘cuz you know what they say… pride comes before a fall!” Wouldn’t you know it? A couple of weeks later, this guy was out sick for days with a terrible stomach bug.
I myself never understood depression, so I had a major lack of compassion for folks who seemed constantly bogged down and sad. However, Jesus allowed me to experience a season of crushing despair. It humbled me for good. Never again will I judge someone for not having the optimism and positivity God graciously wove into my DNA.
“At least you don’t have to go through what I am going through.” (One-upping is selfish, and well, just not nice!)
Finally, the second greatest commandment is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” When we say, “I have no sympathy for you,” we are not loving our neighbor.
Jesus’s compassion for us drove Him to leave His heavenly abode to not only dwell with us, but also to die on a cross for our mistakes. When the people of earth cried out in brokenness from the tragedies of their sin, God could have justly said, “They are only getting what they deserve. I have no sympathy for you.”
He did not respond this way. Instead He loved us before we even thought to love Him. Jesus chose to be the great High Priest Who experienced rejection, loss, pain, and grief. Therefore, we can boldly approach His throne of grace to be heard, validated, sympathized with, and healed. I am thankful to serve a King like that.
My son, Noah, recently began running cross country. He loves it! It’s a rare opportunity for him to unleash his magnificent youthful maleness which, for the most part, usually must be contained or kept in check by rules, chairs, desks, and walls. He’s having a blast exploring the world by foot. In fact, Noah and his other cross country friends have campaigned for others to join in on the running fun. Their efforts must have been successful, because two other boys showed up to run for the first time last week.
Before they began to navigate the course, Noah and his friends warned the newbies to start off slow so they wouldn’t lose steam midway through the trail. However, this good advice was ignored. The newbies took off like gang busters (most likely trying to show off) and put quite a bit of distance between them and those who had already been running for a few practices. Predictably, about five minutes in, the newbies completely ran out of gas, and Noah and the other veteran runners passed them easily. Later on towards the end of the trail, one of the new racers actually passed out from overexertion!
Noah told this story in his usual animated cadence. He said in a frustrated voice, “We tried to tell them to start slow! We warned them! I don’t understand why they wouldn’t listen!” I nodded sagely as he vented. This was an obvious teaching moment that had been gift wrapped with a big red bow from Papa God.
I said, “Noah, what happened in practice is a very good analogy for all of life. When adults, like your mother, give you advice, most of the time we are giving it with the benefit of experience. We’ve already run the trail. We know what’s coming and know how to avoid the pitfalls.” I paused to admit that sometimes adults can be wrong if we are not listening to or following the Lord’s lead. “Obey God even before your parents,” I said. But then I concluded, “Most of the time adults’ advice can be trusted because we have already been where you are.”
Noah is used to my parenting style, so he responded to this impromptu counseling session with, “Yeah, yeah,” and we moved on to other topics. However, I continued to chew on the runners’ analogy long after Noah and I finished talking. I thought, “How many times do we question the Lord’s advice, or worse, ignore it all together in our ignorance, pride, or outright rebellion?”
Sometimes when God gives a command, we talk ourselves out of obeying because we rationalize that somehow our situation makes us the exception to the rule. In other cases, especially in the United States, Christians don’t obey the Lord because we have no idea what His instructions are. In other words, we don’t take the time to read the Scriptures to know what God actually says.
Unfortunately, when we disobey the Lord’s good advice whether intentionally or unintentionally, we will end up like those runners who lose steam midway through the race. We can even pass out and be taken out of the faith race altogether. The Bible says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” (Hosea 4:6) This isn’t hyperbole. We really do decimate our lives and the lives of other people through our disobedience, which is sin.
God is the ultimate trail blazer. Jesus walked the faith road before us. He gave up everything to be our model, to go ahead of us, and to show us the way. Not only that, Papa God is the perfect Parent. He has the eternal picture in mind when He says things like, “Pick up your cross and follow me.” His ways are higher than ours and His love is limitless.
If Jesus is really Lord and King of the universe, then we must do what He says. We must recognize that we are clay and He is the Potter. Even if we disagree, even if we don’t understand… we must submit to His Word and trust that Father knows best. Because… He does.
Today is the last day of school. It’s a pretty relaxed day in class. The work is done, grades have been calculated, and summer fun and relaxation are calling. To entertain themselves, my 5th graders are currently building forts out of blankets, desks, and chairs. It’s fun to see them work as teams and use their creativity to make little nooks around the room.
“These forts are good!” I say silently. As soon as I think this thought, I hear the Spirit whisper, “Not all forts are good.”
Sigh. No. No they are not.
Today I’d like to talk about of unforgiveness. It’s probably the single most important blog I’ve ever written because I’ve seen first hand how damaging unforgiveness can be. If our sin is the fire that burns down a house, unforgiveness is the lighter fluid.
To demonstrate, it’s best to lay out a very true to life scenario from its beginning to tragic end. Sadly, a tired version of this story happens over and over again.
1. Someone does something to you to cause offense. Your spouse forgets your birthday. Your boss doesn’t notice the hard work you’ve done. Your mother-in-law is overly critical of your parenting decisions.
I wish we could avoid #1. But we can’t. We all have offended or will be offensive at some point in our lives because we live in a fallen world with fallen people. The problem begins when we refuse to deal with the offense in a Godly way.
2. Instead of doing the hard work of going to the Lord to talk to Him about the offense so that He can walk you through it, you hang on to the anger and pain like a shield. In this stage of unforgiveness, angry rash words are said. Those hurtful words are like salt on an open wound. Rifts begin. The silent treatment and stalemates abound. (FYI: Anger is usually pain’s bodyguard.)
You may feel completely justified in refusing to forgive another person because the offender has repeatedly shown an established pattern of hurtful behavior that does not change. You think, “I’m never going to be vulnerable again! All she ever does is hurt or disappoint me!” This is when the first blocks of a fort called Stronghold are laid. Instead of remaining open, you begin to build invisible walls to protect yourself from being hurt again. However, what you don’t understand is that unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
3. Self righteousness seeps in somewhere along the line. You forget how much you’ve been forgiven. You stand on top of the bricks you’ve laid and proudly pronounce, “I’ would never do that! She doesn’t deserve a second chance.” Meanwhile you forget that God considers gossip and slander grievous sins. Self righteousness is incredibly offensive to Jesus because we have all fallen short of His glory.
4. The fort called Stronghold is complete. With hardened resolve you declare, “I am never (never ever) forgiving that person again. I won’t be made a fool!” This is when you check out of the relationship. You shut the offender down and totally close off your heart.
At this point, the poisonous effects of unforgiveness in your heart are starting to show. The Bible teaches that unforgiveness is a bitter root. It takes time for that ugly root to burrow down deep and grow into an ugly warped tree. So, when the root of unforgiveness finally produces ugly fruit, you are in deep spiritual trouble. A small weed is easy to pull out of your garden. A fruit tree is hard work to remove.
And what is the fruit of unforgiveness? Bitterness. Resentment. Hostility. Anger. Fear. The fruit is the stuff that rips marriages in two and incinerates churches. As it does, our malicious ruthless enemy dances victoriously around the flames and rejoices over the carnage and ash.
Like I said, if sin is the fire that burns down the house, unforgiveness is the lighter fluid that speeds up the wicked process.
Stubborn Julie is sick and tired of being sick of tired of seeing Satan win in our relationships. Christ won 2,000 years ago at Calvary, and so we should win. It makes me madder than a wet hen when our enemy gets any lost ground back.
Good Christians, in order to keep the victorious high ground God’s Son gave us through His precious blood, we have to submit to God’s command to forgive. Obedience is hard- so hard- but the rewards are worth it. As we submit to God, the enemy will flee (James 4:7).
First of all, forgiveness is not optional for a believer in Jesus Christ. To demonstrate why, the Lord Jesus told a parable that can be found in Matthew 18. In the story, a servant owned his master ten thousand talents. This amount would be equivalent to several million dollars. Because the master was merciful, he forgave his servant’s debt. However, later on, the same servant who had been forgiven would not forgive another servant a hundred denarii- or a day’s wage worth approximately sixteen cents. The master heard about this and summoned his servant saying, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” The master then threw the servant in jail until his multi-million dollar debt was paid. Jesus finished the story with this warning,
“So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Folks, we owe God a debt we cannot possibly pay. We have sinned and offended a holy God. We are law breakers who fall short of His perfected glory every single day. However, because our Master is merciful, He sent His Son Jesus to pay for the debt we couldn’t possibly pay on our own. Through Christ, we have been forgiven. Therefore, when we refuse to forgive another, we are like the wicked servant in the parable.
Matthew 6:15 contains the single most sobering warning in all of Scripture concerning unforgiveness:
“But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Gulp. That’s pretty clear. Like I said, forgiveness is not optional! It’s a command. We have to forgive if we want God to forgive us. And boy do I need God’s forgiveness. I need it every single day. Furthermore, people who recognize how much Jesus has forgiven them have no problem with offering forgiveness to others. They give grace and mercy freely. Jesus said that those who have been forgiven much love much (Luke 7:47). Are you having a hard time loving people lately? You probably have unforgiveness in your heart.
I want to focus a bit on self righteousness because the Lord hates it so much. As item #3 on the list showed, self righteousness (aka pride) is always part of unforgiveness. Here are some examples of self righteous statements:
“I would never do something like that! How could you do this to me?” This is a self righteous statement. We all have our individual issues that may not be a struggle for someone else! Remember the pesky parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector? A refresher: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10-14)
“I’ve forgiven you before, and you didn’t change. I’m not forgiving you again!” Golly! What if Jesus treated us this way? I’m so glad that He doesn’t!
“I’m right. She is wrong!” Self righteous people are unteachable and are usually unwilling to examine their role in conflict. Jeremiah 2:35 says, ‘Because I am innocent, surely His anger shall turn from me.’ Behold, I will plead My case against you, Because you say, ‘I have not sinned.’” Self righteous people don’t say sorry because they don’t see their faults. But guess what? God does.
“Well, I’m justified in acting this way (bitter, angry, resentful) because of what she did. She did this to me! She’s why I am the way I am!” Maybe this isn’t very nice to say, but this excuse is #lame. “Jesus demonstrated His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”~Romans 5:8 God did not use our sin as an excuse to treat us poorly. Because we are in Christ, we have been given a new heart and have the mind of Jesus. We cannot use someone else’s bad behavior to justify our own. Ever.
If you hear yourself saying any of these statements, run, don’t walk, to the Lord in prayer to hash it out with Him. I guarantee you’ll walk away from that conversation humbled and with a different more heavenly perspective.
Finally, I cannot talk about unforgiveness without warning about the demonic activity it brings. I once spoke to a couple who have a deliverance ministry. They have prayed for many people experiencing great oppression and even demonic possession throughout the years. This couple found that the single common trait oppressed/possessed souls share is- you guessed it- unforgiveness. Scripture supports their findings.
Ephesians 4:26 says, “”In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”
Unforgiveness is an open door for demonic activity in your house. Is there strife and division in your family? The source is most likely unforgiveness. Some sicknesses have their root in unforgiveness.
Unforgiveness is the worst kind of poison. I exhort you with all I have to get it out of your heart! If for no other reason, forgive out of selfish reasons- it’s an act of self preservation to forgive!
Believe me when I say that I understand that forgiveness is hard when someone has hurt you repeatedly. Sometimes it is impossible to forgive in our own strength. However, with God all things are possible. If you are having difficultly obeying the Lord’s command to forgive, ask Him for help. Don’t try to do it on your own. When you do ask for help, Jesus’s power will give you the grace to forgive. Christ can uproot that ugly unforgiveness tree and stop its destructive fruit from ruining your life.
Tear down the fort of unforgiveness in your heart, and tear it down quickly, for it is certainly not good!
A verse to bring the point home:
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22)
By saying we are to forgive those who sin against us seventy times seven, Jesus was not limiting forgiveness to 490 times. Jesus was teaching us that Christians are to never limit the number of times we forgive. We should continue to forgive with as much grace the thousandth time as we do the first time. Christians are only capable of this type of forgiveness because the Spirit of God lives within us, and it is He who enables us to offer forgiveness over and over, just as God forgives us over and over.
Several years ago when Noah was still swishing around in diapers, I used to love to watch a show on TLC called A Birth Story. The show’s premise was to document an expecting couple’s experiences as they prepared for and finally delivered their child. I was drawn to the program because I loved to “meet” different couples from all walks of life and discover how bringing a baby into the world unites us all. Plus, the babies were just too cute to resist! At the end of every episode, the producers would inevitably ask the new parents what their hopes and dreams were for their infant son or daughter. Almost 100% of the time, the new mom and dad would answer with something along the lines of, “We just want our child to grow up to be happy.”
Though the parents were obviously loving and well-intentioned in their response, my head would fall into my hands in frustration and sadness. Yet another couple and consequently another beautiful child were going to miss the purpose of life.
Which brings me to the purpose of this writing…
Just what is the point of it all? Why are we here?
I can assure you that the purpose of life is not personal happiness. Through His grace, the Lord has helped me to realize that chasing happiness is an entirely selfish pursuit. When we pursue happiness, we put our wishes, hopes, and dreams first. This is the very definition of selfish living. Predictably, when our entire motivation for life is selfish at its core, we end up disappointed, disillusioned, and yes, even angry when our wants and needs aren’t met exactly how we had hoped. The current divorce rate, the rise of Pfizer stock, and the ever increasing length of the self help aisle at the local bookstore prove my point.
There’s a better way to do life! Wise Jesus tells us how to find life fulfillment in Matthew 6:33:
“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
In these simple words, the Lord defines our purpose. First, God instructs us to seek His Kingdom. What is the Lord’s Kingdom like? In Jesus’s Kingdom, love and service to others reign. Papa God works tirelessly to heal and restore broken relationships. Christ’s mission on earth was to reconcile our broken relationship with God. So, as Christ’s disciples, we too should be about our Father’s business of love, service, and reconciliation.
Secondly, Jesus teaches His disciples to seek His righteousness. We are to thirst for Christ’s goodness. His purity far surpasses any good that can be drummed up through mere human effort. It’s holy. It’s magnificent and white hot in it’s beauty. When I look around this fallen, damp, and chaotic world, boy do I ever wish for Jesus’s purity of heart. Oh that I would be like Jesus! My heart burns in my chest when I think about the wonder of my Savior. He is altogether lovely and beautiful. I yearn to be daily transformed into the luminous creature that He has called me to be. I passionately pray to stick out not because of a bad attitude or because of the things that I have acquired and accomplished in life, but to break forth like shocking lightning in a black sky because He has molded me into His image. Full of grace and truth.
In short, we are to crave holiness, not happiness.
Incredibly though, when we seek Christ’s kingdom and His righteousness before all things, something miraculous happens. Contained in the final part of Matthew 6:33 is a promise. When we give God primary position in our lives, the Lord is faithful to give us what our sanctified hearts wish for. Because Abba is a good Father, He delights in lavishing His love and blessings on us. However, just as any good parent on earth does not want to spoil their children, Papa God does not want spoiled sons and daughters. So, we have to learn selfless love and righteous living before He can give us the desires of our heart.
We can’t leave God out of the equation and expect to find happiness. We. just. Can’t. This was why I was so saddened by the couples’ answers on A Baby Story. They missed it. They failed to realize or understand our purpose for being and were setting up their lovely children for lives of emptiness and oftentimes misery.
Personally, John chapter 15 is my most treasured chapter in all of Scripture. Christ’s last words to us before He suffered and died are so precious, elegant, impassioned, and important. For the record, my paltry commentary on these verses seems trite. Therefore, I would lovingly advise you to read Christ’s beautiful Words without my thoughts interrupting them and then bask in their profound perfection through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Soak in John 15 in its entirety when you can.
However, for the purposes to this writing, I want to point to a particular portion of Jesus’s beautiful speech:
In John 15:11-13, Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”
Here Jesus is speaking of joy. His joy.
What is joy? Joy is something that transcends happiness. Joy is strength in troubled waters. Joy sustains us through pain and disappointments. Joy wraps around our bones and sinews to buttress our body in the wind and heartbreak. Joy helmets our mind so that seasons of doubt cannot capsize our faith. Joy is shining steel in the rain. Joy is knowing Christ’s love and the power of His resurrection.
How do we find joy? Christ tells us in John 15: by loving each other as Christ loves us. We find precious solid joy, not flimsy fleeting happiness, through selfless living.
Last August, I began editing sermons for radio. This means that I’ve spent approximately 15-20 hours a week listening to the Word of God.
The past 10 months of listening and editing has been quite an experience. The Lord has sat me atop His wings and taken me on a wild ride in the heavens. I’ve gotten a wholistic view of what He’s done throughout the ages. It has been a radical view. I’ve cried. I’ve pounded my fist on the desk. I’ve shouted. I’ve temporarily slinked away from the voice coming through my headphones, too convicted to continue listening. Most of all, I’ve learned. Let me say with all the fierceness I can convey through weak human words: Jesus. Is. Beautiful.
I could stay right there for the rest of this post- writing about the loftiness that is my Savior. The greatness that is Christ. The glory of my King. But alas, that is not today’s purpose.
What I want to talk about today is the wholistic heavenly vision I’ve been given the privilege of glimpsing through radio edits. The most important takeaways I’ve gleaned from hours and hours of listening and learning can be summed up in three words: brokenness, sufficiency and dependency.
Those that say, “I’m a good person” are deceived by their own hearts. That may sound harsh, but it’s true. To these folks I would say this: “Yeah- you’re a “good” person according to man’s standards. But God doesn’t judge according to man’s standards. He’s not broken like we are. He doesn’t make mistakes. According to God’s holy standard, we are all a hot mess.” The Bible puts it this way: our righteousness is filthy rags. Those that foolishly self justify have not gotten a revelation of the glory, majesty and holiness of Jesus.
Many skeptics read the Old Testament stories and accuse God of being harsh or even malicious. They are wrong. WE are the ones that are harsh and malicious.
I have visited the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky a couple of times. Guests begin their tour with creation exhibits and then walk through others that portray the timeline of Biblical history. When I arrived at the flood exhibits, I could barely continue. No, I wasn’t overwhelmed by the horror of the world wide disaster (although it is admittedly upsetting). What completely tore me apart was God’s grace.
Before the flood, the Bible says that “people did evil all the time”. Can you even imagine what that must have been like for our Lord? (What do earthly fathers feel when their children do awful things? How much more did our Abba feel hurt and grief!?) Nobody called upon their Creator for help. No one cared about God or His will for their lives at all. Nobody except for one: Noah. Noah was a righteous man living in an unprecedented evil time. So, God gave Noah plans to build an ark and patiently waited for Noah to finish it. While Noah built that big boat, the Bible says that the earth “was filled with violence”.
As I walked through the flood exhibits that day at the museum, I thought, “Father, how do You endure us? Why didn’t You just throw us out and start again? That’s what we, humans, would do!” I understood that God has absolutely no obligation to put up with rebellious humanity. In fact, because He is God (and we are not), He has every right to zap us into oblivion.
But the Lord doesn’t destroy us, because He loves us. God is so long suffering and patient that it defies human understanding. So, when those skeptics say that the Lord is malicious or vengeful, they are merely showing how foolish and ignorant they are.
Unfortunately the flood is just one of the many stories in the Old Testament that demonstrate our utter brokenness. We are disobedient, lustful, vengeful, prideful, envious, and full of hatred. We even selfishly inflict pain on those we love. Personal “countries” divide because of the hardness of our hearts. Husband and wives separate. Children disobey their parents. Parents cut off children. We war with each other just as countries war. National divisions are larger demonstrations of our individual brokenness.
Much blood, sweat, and tears has been shed in an effort to “fix” our brokenness problem. It’s no use though. Whenever we try to fix it ourselves, do religious works, or act piously to cover up our hard hearts, we eventually fail. We make promises and promptly break them. We pull up our boot straps in determination to do good but then give up when the memory of our moral resolve fades or temptation calls.
The simple truth is this: we aren’t good and we can’t be good. All have failed. All have fallen short of God’s perfection. No matter how hard we’ve tried throughout the ages, we have never been able to cross the gulf that exists between God and man.
What’s more, we stand guilty before the Lord. We deserve punishment. Because He is a good Judge, He has to punish us for our rebellion- the same rebellion that was there before the flood, the same disobedience that has always been since the fall. Our destination in the next life is hell because we’ve broken God’s laws over and over again. We are broken and powerless to do anything about our brokenness.
The good news is that there is hope for all of us who admit we are irrevocably broken.
God knew that we could never be good on our own. So, in a calculated move so compassionate and astounding that the angels watched in amazement, God emptied Himself of glory to become a man named Jesus. Jesus lived a perfect life and then took our just punishment upon Himself as He hung on the cross and died. For God so loved the world that He gave His One and only Son. Then Jesus rose again to prove once and for all His triumph over sin and death.
Folks… Jesus’s sacrifice was sufficient. He covers us and makes us righteous. We cannot be righteous on our own. History proves that we can’t be right or good. So, Jesus was right and good for us. HE DID IT. His shoulders are broad enough to carry us all into heaven. His blood is enough to erase all of our mistakes. His grace surpasses understanding. His compassion and mercy are beyond anything you or I have ever known.
Oh what a Savior. What a magnificent, triumphant, glorious Savior.
Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient to make you and I righteous. All we need to do is trust in His righteousness to be saved. That’s it. No human effort at all- because as we’ve learned- human effort fails every time. However, God’s effort on the cross is enough. It’s MORE than enough!
So what is our response to such a sufficient sacrifice? The New Testament teaches people who have put their trust in Jesus’ sacrifice to be totally dependent upon God. Christ is the only One Who can save us. Furthermore, just as we couldn’t save ourselves from our sins, we also cannot make ourselves more holy on our own. We need Christ’s power to save us just as we need His power to sustain us each day. As we depend on Jesus, we become more like Him. This process is called sanctification. Becoming like Jesus is a lifelong process, and it is a work that God promises in great faithfulness to complete.
The Bible warns us not go back to trying to work to earn God’s favor. The moment we slip back into the old pattern of trying to earn our way to heaven is the very moment we will fall. Again, the Old Testament and all of history prove that we can’t be good on our own. But, glory to God, Jesus is good… so we trust in His goodness and obey Him. There is nothing else that we need to do!
We simply must depend on Christ’s sacrifice like little children depend upon their parents to care for them. God can be trusted, and it is His joy to provide for His children.
My days editing sermons are coming to a rapid close. I recently got hired to teach a 4th and 5th grade split classroom at a small little Christian school here in Alabama. It’s a dream job! The school days are from 8-1:30 (yes!), and my children will matriculate there next year- every mother’s dream. We all start next fall.
While I was excited to accept the job and knew it was God’s will, I was also extremely nervous. I’ve never taught elementary kiddos before (well, with the exception of homeschooling my own 5th grader, Noah). My degree is in secondary education- high school is my specialty. However, I haven’t taught in years. Before moving to Alabama, I was an administrative assistant for 3 1/2 years. I was a nurse’s assistant before that! So, like a brand new teacher coming out of university, I knew I’d have to create each day’s lesson plans from scratch, learn all new curriculum, buy room decor, decorate my room to make it engaging and inviting, etc. etc. etc. Whenever I stopped to think about the amount of work I’d just inherited, I was a little overwhelmed. It prompted me to pray! I was also confessing this truth: “God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.”
Last week I went to the school to chat with the current 4-5 teacher before she left. I wanted to get my barrings and peruse the curriculum for the first time. Within 10 minutes of meeting this teacher, I was almost in tears and quite literally jumping for joy.
The lady is retiring, so she is leaving everything to me! Hundreds of novels and books. All of the room decorations. Because this person is very organized, she has a binder filled with lesson plans and detailed assignments from every single day of the 2015-2016 year. The worksheets are even there for me. Jackpot!
How could I have doubted God’s provision? Of COURSE He would provide for me! He always has. He always does. Time after time after time. As I drove home from the school, I could almost hear the Spirit whisper to me, “Oh ye of little faith!”
Dependency is a good thing- even if it feels a bit unfamiliar. We need Jesus. He’s not a crutch. He is life itself!
So- to sum it up:
*We are broken.
*Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient to fix our brokenness.
*We need only to depend upon Jesus to be saved and live holy lives.
This is the Gospel. It is God’s plan for salvation. It is the only salve for our ravaged souls.
So, dear one… what will you do now that you know… now that you’ve heard the story of all stories?
A few months ago, I got the opportunity to work for New York Times bestselling author, Mark Tabb. He was working on writing the story of Kenneth Bae, a Christian missionary who spent 18 months in a North American prison because of the Gospel. My job was to transcribe recordings of Ken telling his story.
I spent maybe 40 hours listening to Ken speak. As my fingers struggled to keep up with his quick speech, I grew to respect and love this stranger who is my brother in Christ. I rejoiced in Ken’s victories. I cried when he suffered. Many times I was forced to stop the tape so I could take time to really ponder what Ken was teaching me about Jesus. Because of Ken, I fell in love with the North Korean people, agonized in prayer for their salvation, and begged God to cause a swift and mighty fall of their current evil regime. In short, my faith was strengthened by Ken’s harrowing story. (The book is now out for purchase at Amazon, and it is aptly titled Not Forgotten.)
A few weeks after my transcription was complete, I got a check in the mail for my work. I expected the check to come from Mark Tabb. However, when I opened the envelope, I was shocked to see that Ken had written me a check in his personal handwriting from his own checking account.
Maybe it’s silly, but I was completely star struck. I experienced what I think others might feel meeting the Queen of England or Brad Pitt. I, Julie, held in my hand a check written by someone who was truly a hero of the faith. Ken had endured great persecution for Christ’s cause and had survived to tell about it. It was unbelievable that I should be paid to help tell Ken’s story. I almost felt guilty cashing his check (you better believe I tithed that sucker!).
Only Jesus could be so good to me. He is the giver of the best gifts.
If I had to pick just one book of the Bible to take with me on a deserted island, admittedly it would be difficult to choose just one. However, if you pinned me down, I’d take Ephesians. I simply love this powerful letter penned by Paul. The Apostle begins Ephesians with a greeting full of truth and joy, and then says this in verse 3:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.”
Here Paul introduces the reader to the ecstatic theme of his letter: we who are Christian have been blessed with every heavenly blessing. Then the Apostle gives a little history lesson to swiftly and soundly prove his bold declaration. That lesson goes something like this (Julie’s paraphrased version):
All people are born rebellious and selfish. This is a big problem because God, being holy and good, cannot allow law breakers into His presence. We deserve punishment for our rebellion. Death, sin, suffering, and decay abound because of men’s poor choices.
The Lord could have justly done away mankind because we are all sinners and law breakers, but instead He chose to patiently endure men’s rebellion. Why? Because He inexplicably and irrevocably loves us. He also had a plan for men’s redemption.
Eventually God chose and then set apart for Himself a special people called Israel. The Jews became the people of the Covenant Promise. They received the Law and the promise of a Messiah Who would save them from their sins. God’s faithful heart was on display when He said to Israel, “You will be my people, and I will be Your God.” (Exodus 6:7)
What the Jews did not know was that God’s plan was bigger than they could have possibly imagined. When the Messiah came in the Person of Jesus Christ, salvation would not just be for the circumcised Jew, but also for any uncircumcised Gentile who would believe. Through the Holy Spirit, our hearts are circumcised, or set apart, to God. People from all over the world are brought together in unity in One Body of Believers Whose Head is Jesus Christ.
God didn’t stop giving with the gift of His One and only Son Jesus. He continued to give us every spiritual blessing. We have been given the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit indwells us, we are given gifts to testify of our betrothal to our King. The gift of the Spirit acts as a seal until the consummation of all things on the Last Day.
We have access to God the Father through the blood of Jesus. We can take our request and petitions to God whenever- no more sacrifice is necessary.
We have peace. We have joy. We have power. We have life everlasting. We are co-heirs with Christ, brothers and sisters of Jesus, adopted into God’s family forever!
Finally, and most staggering, we have been given the power through the Spirit to understand the height, depth, and width of God’s limitless reckless love.
Paul says we have been given every spiritual gift through Christ in Ephesians 1:3, and then proves it for the rest of chapter 1 and then in chapter 2 by naming those blessings listed above. Isn’t Paul’s list staggering? It is absolutely mind blowing!
Paul ends Ephesians chapter three with this declaration in verses 20-21:
“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
Uh… yeah amen, Paul! Context is everything, right? God is able to do more than we can ask or think. While Israel was thinking that God’s plan was for them only, the Lord revealed that His salvation was for everyone. When we thought that we would be mere servants in God’s household, Papa God calls us sons and daughters. When we feel powerless, the Spirit shows us that we are more than conquerors through Christ Jesus.
A-MA-ZING. Amazing. The only way to comprehend such staggering blessings is to know the One from Whom the blessings come. I hope you know Him!
So… back to that check I got. Given that I’m Abba’s daughter, I guess I should not have been so surprised to be given such an abundant blessing through the gift of a wonderful job. Only my generous Papa could have orchestrated such a task for me. I was and am His awed daughter.
God is so big. Jesus is the giver of the very best presents, and His plans for me and you are just that good.
You know those weird people that laugh at funerals? Yeah- that’s me. I have inappropriate reactions to stress. It gets worse than laughing at a funerals though. For example, several years ago, I was selected to serve as a juror in a murder trial. After two days of testimony, arguments, and deliberation, we, the jurors, entered the courtroom to deliver a verdict. As I walked towards my seat in the jury box, I could feel the stares from the friends and families of both the victim and the accused on both sides of the aisle. The tension was palpable. Suddenly, my eyes locked with those of the lead defense attorney. I could tell he was trying to “feel” me out- trying to gauge what decision the jury had reached based on my observable body language. Quickly I turned my gaze away and bit the inside of my cheeks to quell the nervous laughter trying to bubble out. I could actually hear Perry Mason music inside my head, and the whole thing seemed too utterly ridiculous to be real. But it was real.
Although my thoughts were jumbled that day, if I could have verbalized them, they would have gone something like this: “How can this be real? I live in world where lovers actually kill each other?! Someone wake me up from this nightmare, please!”
Often I’ve wondered why I am like this- why I laugh when I should be somber. I guess it’s easier to smile than it is to cry.
When I was four and living in a foster home, I used to stand at the top of the stairs each morning shivering in fear at the prospect of facing another day. Some days my teeth would chatter in terror as I gazed down at the stairway. I used to stand at the top of the stairs for many minutes most days silently willing my right foot to take the first step down. I don’t know how this happened in my four-year-old creative mind, but somehow the stairs became representative of the real enemy that was my loveless, hopeless life. I knew that if I descended the stairs to join the world below, I had to face another day. Thus, going down the stairs became a battle- a daily valley to be traversed. Sometimes, I would take two or three steps downward toward the reality awaiting me, but then I would chicken out and run back to my bunk bed to hide away under the covers for a few more minutes. One time I hid so long upstairs that it was after lunch before I was finally brave enough to come down. Nobody checked on me to see if I was okay in all that time. Such was the nature of my life.
To cope, I built invisible walls inside. Mostly, I detached entirely.
Later on after I was adopted, most who observed me would have called me a happy child. They would have been mostly right. I smiled easily and did well in school. However, the hurts inside were always there lying dormant, just waiting for the right set circumstances to make their appearance.
And appear they did. During my senior year in high school, I finally let someone in- a boy. I loved him so. He made me feel wild and beautiful. But also scared and vulnerable. I clung to him with all I had. When he suddenly moved mid-way through my senior year, my worst fears were realized. I lost him and then most of my mind for a few months. The pain and grief I experienced is not something I would wish on my worst enemy. I still carry the scars.
My mother took me to a therapist around this time. A middle aged professional doggedly asked me questions for an entire hour in a feeble attempt to get me to open up. I smiled mutely, brushed him off, or redirected the conversation throughout the appointment because I refused to let him see who I really was. I walked out of his office towards the elevators feeling smug. Julie 1, Counselor 0. Mom never took me back to that poor guy again.
Why am I writing all this depressed stuff? I hate doing it. I prefer the happy stuff, right? Walls are my MO.
Recently, I got an email from a friend. She is an extremely private person, so I’ll just call her Ann. Ann wrote to let me know that she has cancer and does not have long to live. When I read the news, every cell inside my body ceased moving. I stopped breathing. Then the walls that I work so hard to hold up crumbled. I laid down, hugged my pillow, and cried. Ann is one of the very few people I’ve managed to let in. She is a beautiful Christian lady, so I know I’ll see her in eternity. I also rejoice for her because she is going to meet our King Jesus soon. But… she’s my friend. She’s a guide and mentor. Ann is my lovely, beautiful, wise, quirky, insightful friend. Oh I’m going to miss her.
Grief. How could anyone put good in front of that word? It scrapes at your outsides. It rots your stomach. Brokenhearted isn’t the right word for grief, is it? How can the heart be broken when it is the organ that keeps you alive. Instead, acute grief feels like a vice grip around your heart. When grief is at its maximum intensity, a broken heart would be a mercy over the pain of a very real and pumping restricted heart. Grief is manic panic and sluggish sadness wrapped up into one ball of hell. I have worked my whole life to avoid it.
God won’t let me get away with that anymore. Grief is a part of the human experience. My Savior can attest to that.
I edit sermons for radio at home. Predictably, I began editing a sermon series in the book of Job after hearing Ann’s news. Job is not exactly joyous reading. Poor Job. When I read and heard the pastor describe just how much Job went through, I really had no idea how he was able to continue and remain faithful. He did though. I suppose that’s why we keep telling his story. 🙂
I am a good student of the Bible because of my memory. I can retain information fairly well. However, the Lord usually speaks directly to me with quick, simple bursts of truth. It only takes one or two sentences from an entire message to stick to my insides and change my life. I’ve been directed to travel great distances to hear one sentence in an entire message. One sentence is all it takes though. That is the power of the Word.
Do you what sentence changed me in this latest sermon series based in Job? (It is a little embarrassing because it is so cliche´.) It is this: Just keep going.
I’ve learned through Job’s story that grief is something that is universally experienced. Even when we feel alone in our pain, we are not. We live in a fallen world, and as such, we must grieve. We must cope.
What do we do when a wave of unrelenting grief comes crashing down on us? In those moments, we can only cry out to the Lord. This is a recent conversation I had with Jesus just two days ago when one such wave of grief threatened to drown me:
Me: “Lord, I just want to be where You are. I am tired of this pain. I want to be with You!”
Jesus: “I am with you.”
Me: “I know, but You are not right here WITH me. I miss You. How can I miss Someone I’ve never met in Person? But I do!”
Jesus: “I missed my Father too (when I was on earth).”
Me: Silent sobs.
Jesus was gently reminding me that there is no pain that I could ever experience that He has not already walked through. In fact, Christ willingly drank my grief just so He could hold my hand today.
“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3)
“For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)
“The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” (Psalm 34:8)
Jesus is with me.
What I haven’t told you about Ann that I want to tell you now is that God gave me a gentle heads up about her health last summer. One day as I was writing her, the Lord gently whispered that the time with my friend was coming to an end soon. Immediately understanding what the Spirit was saying, I swallowed past the lump in my throat and continued to write. I never mentioned a word of what I heard to anyone, but tucked it away.
When I got Ann’s news, I was immediately comforted. The Lord had told me this was coming. He was with me. He would walk me through it. And somehow, because God is God, I knew I would look more like His Son when I made it past the wave. That’s the only way grief can be good.
I have no choice but to keep going. To descend the stairs and join the real world. To silence the Perry Mason music and face harsh reality. If brother Job could do it, I can do it. I can do it because Christ is with me.
Just keep swimming. Seems like Dory was on to something.
Before arriving at Alabama, someone asked me this question: “If I could do anything in the world, what would it be?” What a wonderful, thought provoking question. After pausing for a few moments to think, I quickly arrived at this answer: “I would spend my days alone in a closet praying.”
I had no idea that the Lord was listening to my answer that day. Months later when I arrived in Alabama, I walked through my home for the first time. (Yes, I’m crazy enough to move into a home I’ve never set eyes on!) To my astonishment, for the first time ever, I saw that I had a closet all to myself! Wow! I’ve made good use of my little room. It’s precious to me.
My prayer closet door with scriptures, topics and names
In addition to my prayer closet time, I chose to spend last week in intentional prayer. I did this because my pastor asked his flock to set aside a time for prayer and fasting. The purpose was to launch us into 2016 with vision and holiness. We were told during Sunday services that the doors of the chapel would be open the following two weeks from 8 am until 8:30 pm so that anyone who wanted to pray could come to church and do just that.
So, for hours each evening last week, I drove to the chapel with a full heart. Soft worship music played in the room to invite us to quiet our hearts and sit at the Throne of Grace. Daily, I closed my eyes and poured out my heart to Father in Heaven. By the end of the week, my spirit was full but my body was exhausted. True prayer is labor because it unites your heart with the heart of God. When I pray, my spirit travails. Oh that many sons and daughters would come home to Papa’s house because of my prayers!
Unfortunately not many showed up to pray last week. The average number of folks there each evening was only a half dozen or so (and the church has well over 500 members). I found the lack of intercessors to be sad. The church’s lack of hunger for God also made me angry. Yes, it made me angry! We are so needy as a people, but we don’t even know it.
I honestly do not understand why my Christian brothers and sisters care so little about prayer. I have led different prayer movements throughout the last few years, and getting people to pray is the single most difficult thing you can do in ministry. I believe there are several reasons for this.
First, we live in a culture where people want to see immediate results and production. We set about our days doing. My mind spins as I read through the activities in church bulletins. There is so much busyness! I watch God’s people run from one activity to another and get fatigued just observing them. We rush to work, sign our kids up for activities, do domestic tasks, hurry hurry, rush rush, do do do. We feel we are accomplishing more for the kingdom when we serve a meal, teach a message, or participate in any myriad of ministry activities than we accomplish sitting quietly before Abba in prayer. I can promise you, dear ones, that nothing could be further from the truth!
Secondly, I don’t think we even know how to be still anymore. We have a hard time stopping for more than five minutes to have a real conversation with each other. Social media is partly to blame of course. Prayer demands that we still our hearts and minds. I spend as much time listening when I pray as I do speaking. Prayer is communion with God. It’s abiding in His presence. When we take time to pray, we demonstrate to God that He is important to us. We spend time with people that we love, right? Why, oh WHY aren’t we spending more time with Jesus?
The final reason I believe we don’t pray as much as we should is the most grave of all. We fail to realize our desperate need when we are slothful in prayer. Jesus said, “I am the vine. You are the branches. Apart from me you can do nothing.” We can do NOTHING without the Lord. This isn’t saying that we cannot fill our days with activity apart from Jesus. It is saying, however, that time will show that our fleshly works amount to nothing because God is not in them. This fact is sobering. Prayerlessness explains why so many ministers burn out. It’s why we quit running the race of faith. It’s why we live in defeat. Apart from Christ, we can do nothing.
Oh dear ones, the good news is that with Jesus, we can do ALL THINGS. We are more than conquerors in Christ Jesus. His grace covers us when we fall. Whatever we ask in Jesus’ Name in His will, we will receive. These are amazing promises in Scripture. When we remind God of His promises in prayer, we demonstrate our faith and our need!
I also want to mention one final undeniable fact: whenever Jesus did anything on earth, He prayed first. If God’s own Son needed to pray, why do we think we don’t need to as well?
I have read stories of revival. I love to read these stories because they stir up my faith and help me remember all that God has done throughout our history. And you know what? All of the earth’s major revivals have started with prayer.
If ever there was a mighty man or woman of God to be found on earth, you can bet that their walk with Jesus started and ended in prayer. A few quotes from some of my personal heroes:
“Nothing tends more to cement the hearts of Christians than praying together. Never do they love one another so well as when they witness the outpouring of each other’s hearts in prayer.” ― Charles Finney
“The condition of the church may be very accurately gauged by its prayer meetings. So is the prayer meeting a grace-ometer, and from it we may judge of the amount of divine working among a people. If God be near a church, it must pray. And if He be not there, one of the first tokens of His absence will be a slothfulness in prayer!”- Chalres Spurgeon
“To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” – Martin Luther
“I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”-Martin Luther (I love this one!)
“Prayer at its best is the expression of the total life, for all things else being equal, our prayers are only as powerful as our lives. – A.W. Tozer
“He who kneels the most, stands the best.” D.L. Moody
“I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.” – Abraham Lincoln
“Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” ― Corrie Ten Boom
Do you see that prayer is where the power to do God’s will is found? It’s where relationship with God is cultivated. Folks, we must pray. Brothers and sisters in Christ, we must pray!!!
I have been praying for another Great Awakening to rise up and sweep over this country.
I have been praying that the Lord God would grant us in His great grace national and private repentance.
I have been praying that Jesus would stir up a supernatural hunger and thirst for Him among His people.
I have been praying that God would wake up His sleeping Bride in our nation so that when we meet Him face to face, we would not be ashamed, but found spotless and beautiful.
Why do I pray so earnestly? I pray because I love Jesus so desperately. I thirst for Him. Some days my heart feels like it will burst because I love Jesus so much. I also pray because I so want to be beautiful in my Jesus’s eyes. I want to hear Him say, “Well done.” I believe with all my heart that this hoped for pronouncement can only happen if I take the time to pray. ♥
(If you want to pray but don’t know how, simply pray this prayer in faith: “Lord, teach me to pray.” God will answer. He would love to answer that prayer! Also, I would highly recommend that you watch the movie called War Room. It will help you get started.)
The other day my family and I were doing an outdoorsy cabin-on-the-lake thing for a couple of days. I admit that I’m more of an indoor girl. I joke that if there isn’t a number on the door, I am not interested. I do love nature, natural beauty, and quiet reflection, but I also like running water, fragrant lotions, and nice restaurants.
So, yeah, I’m (a fish out of water) at the cabin and it’s time to go hike. I donned my running shoes and yoga pants and went for a two mile easy walk. It was still in the cool of the morning as I ambled along, so the hike was wonderfully restorative. I took a bazillion pictures as per usual because I just can’t get over the Spanish moss hanging down from huge southern trees and the other stunning vegetation in my new Alabama home. We walked about two miles in total. After the hike and some other mucking around, we ate lunch. Then we went to the Nature Center at the park so we could ask some questions of the park rangers (home school never stops). I was interested in the different plants that I had seen along the path and wanted to know about the wildlife that is so foreign to me in my now native state. The very nice and helpful gal there suggested that our family take another hike that included alligators and a butterfly garden (swoon). So I jumped up and down and tried to rally my pretty tired troops for another 4 mile (e-hem) walk. I thought we’d be fine. The morning hike had gone smooth. It had been lovely in fact. Why not double the distance for an even better time?
At a little after noon, we got out of the car and started walking at the trail head. Instead of being in the shade like we had been in the morning, we were in the full afternoon Alabama sun- about 90 degrees and crazy humidity. Foolishly we took no water with us. At mile one I began to do my best cheerleading moves (now 3 total miles walked for the day) because my Noah was choking back tears from exhaustion. I made bad jokes. I sang and tried to distract with stories and silliness. I pointed to turtles, cactus, and wildlife. That worked for a bit, but my children were tired and thirsty. I couldn’t wait to get to the half way point (mile 2 on the trail) because we knew from the map that there was a restroom with a drinking fountain.
Finally the family got to the halfway point with blessed water. We rested there for a full 30 minutes because I wanted to rehydrate Zoe and Noah. I made the kids drink and drink and drink feeling like a total failure as a mom. I kept sending them back to the fountain because I was fearful they would get sun headaches or worse get truly over heated walking the rest of the way. I soaked my hair to try and lesson the effect of the relentless sun. Then we could put it off no longer- it was time to do the final 2 miles.
At mile 3 I started to pray. I was totally tanked out. My kids and I began to say scripture out loud. We sang spiritual songs- they’d sing a phrase, then I’d sing a phrase. I looked up at the mocking cloudless sky and tried to breathe away the subtle panic in my veins. At one point I had to stop and sit because I began to see stars and feel faint.
Slowly and all at once, I began to comprehend that God was showing me something. I was walking out a parable. For the first time I could understand what it might be like to be truly thirsty- to be trapped in a dry desert place with no water.
Before I moved to southern Alabama, I prayed specifically for a closet. My own closet. I wanted a place that I could sit each morning to bare my soul and cry out to the Lord. I had no idea how Jesus would accomplish this because, well, we were working with a very limited budget. An individual closet seemed rather far fetched in natural terms. However, I knew my God was big enough to handle such a small request.
I was still working in Indiana when Jason found a place for the family to live. So, the day we moved in, I saw the home for the first time. I was astonished to find Jack and Jill closets. I had my own closet separate from Jason! (I hadn’t told hubby that I wanted a prayer closet, because it sounded weird and I didn’t want to pressure him to find something so specific.) Prayer answered! Praise the Lord!
I have several pieces of paper taped to the door of my closet with names of loved ones and lost souls that need the Savior. I also have these verses:
O God, You are my God;
Early will I seek You;
My soul thirsts for You;
My flesh longs for You
In a dry and thirsty land
Where there is no water.
So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, To see Your power and Your glory.
There on that hot and dry path as I pushed to finish, when my tongue stuck to my lips and my legs began to fail, I looked up to the heavens and thought, “This is how my soul thirsts. It longs for love. It searches like a madman in the desert for the love only found in God’s eyes. My cells were made to reach out and grasp. As they live, divide, and die their DNA is programmed for love.
I watched my son and Jason walk ahead until they were out of view. I continued on with Zoe the last quarter mile. She talked of Jesus and His attributes to console her wimpy mother. Every memory verse she could think of came out of her precious body to encourage my feet to keep moving. She was so strong and my friend. Zoe was the rock that God promised she would be and will be. I didn’t have to thirst alone. (Jesus has such big plans for my girl- but that’s another blog post.)
About a month after arriving here in Alabama, God got really quiet. After 24 hours of silence, I was panicking. Jesus is with me- always. He’s THERE. I had never felt Him withdraw His presence before (even on my worst days) since I saw the Holy Spirit above my bed in 2003. He walks with me and talks with me. But suddenly…. silence. SILENCE. I heard echoes- but I couldn’t hear Him speak to me directly. He was distant.
I tearfully prayed:
“Lord, what did I do to offend You?”
“Why are You so quiet?”
“Where are you?”
And again, “Why are You so quiet?”
I sang somberly, “Where are You, Lord?” as I went about my day. I spoke to my friend in Portland and cried some more. I waited for Him to break the silence. I waited some more.
I tried to tell Jason what I was feeling. With tears running down my cheeks, Jason offered words of comfort. “It’ll be okay,” he said. “It’s not that long of a time for Jesus to be silent- He’s will speak soon.” Although I tried to let Hubby’s words soak in, they wouldn’t. I went to bed that night with a whisper of anxiety that even plagued my dreams.
Then the Lord put me in a cabin and had me hike in 90 degree heat. He showed me what it was like to truly thirst. He was pushing me that day and answering my heart cry. I knew He was even though it hurt. It was a good hurt.
There are moments in the mundane that lack all routine. They give us a glimpse of the divine. They are promised stones that mark our short time here on earth and signal change, growth, and things remembered. Finally, after two weeks of heavenly silence, I got a rock.
“Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.” (Psalm 84:10)
One afternoon shortly after returning home from the cabin, I was taking a bath and praying. I was talking to Jesus again- but again hearing silence. God promised me in His Word that He’d never abandon me, so I knew He was there even though I felt alone. Soft tears joined the water in the tub. I would wait and wait until He decided to speak.
Then suddenly I remembered a dream I had before coming down here. In the dream, I was put in a place of distraction and opulence- but the Lord wasn’t there in that place. (If that doesn’t describe my touristy beach town, I don’t know what does!) Then, the scene in the dream changed. I saw the finger of God hover over the ocean.
Stunned, I thought, “He told me this (the silence) would happen.” And then finally… finally… I heard the Lord say:
“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3)
It was beautiful. It was water. This time instead of tears, I sobbed. Beautiful healing sobs. He had been there all along as He promised He would be. Teaching. Instructing. Stretching. Training. Cold water tastes so much better when you are thirsty.
This is also on my prayer closet door:
“For you have need of patience, that, after you have done the will of God, you might receive the promise.” Hebrews 10:36
Oh be careful what you pray for, because the Lord hears and honors our righteous prayers. He is so wise and so so good.
My son, Noah, was born precociously curious. Even as a toddler swishing around in diapers, he always found ways to ask questions.
“What does that mean?”
“Who is that, Mommy?”
When he was six, I took Noah on a trip to Benjamin Harrison’s home in Indianapolis because he asked so many questions about this Hoosier President. As we toured the old home, I thought, “What six-year-old cares about this stuff?”
I used to feel confident answering his questions. However, by the time Noah was in second grade, his inquiries got much harder.
“Mommy, why does God allow pain and suffering?”
“Oh boy,” I thought, “A budding philosopher.” I paraphrased a C.S. Lewis quote:
“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
I then explained that it was man’s choice to do bad things, and God was not to blame for those choices.
“But Mommy, why doesn’t Jesus just stop the bad stuff now and come back to get us?”
I tried to cover my shock at the fact that he was already wrestling with the same questions that kept even the brightest minds up at night and bravely forged ahead. “Honey, if time and space were through today, no one else could call out to Jesus and be saved. God waits because He wants all to come home. He is patient and kind. However, there will be a day in the future when God’s patience will run out. He will come back to defeat His enemies and make everything right again.”
Now that Noah is ten, I worry that I won’t be able to keep up with his quick mind. Here is a list of topics discussed in one twenty minute car ride a couple weeks ago:
North Korea; How and why its people are oppressed
Martin Luther King and his philosophy of nonviolence; Rosa parks, bus boycotts, sit-ins and other ways of protesting
How Gandhi was MLK’s example; Gandhi led the folks of India to independence from British rule through nonviolent protest
Malcolm X, the Black Panther Party and violent resistance
Malcolm X’s Muslim faith
Islam and Mormonism; How both religions began with an encounter with a bad spirit masquerading as an angel of light; How the Bible warned about such spirits, and if the Prophet Mohammad or Smith had been knowledgeable of these warnings in Scripture, they and their followers would not have been deceived
The continuing racial tensions in this country and how they differ in the north and south
Noah peppered me with questions so fast that I was sagging with mental exertion by the time we got to our destination. Inwardly I thought, “Man, I’m in trouble. I am out of my depth here.”
I am preparing to launch into a new season homeschooling. It’s a bit scary to think that I will be my children’s teacher this fall. History, philosophy, literature, and science all weave together to show the character and nature of God. They shout of His love and faithfulness if we take the time to listen and observe. While the core subjects are important, it is so much more important that my children learn more about King Jesus as they study. What an exciting challenge!
If the above conversation in the car and other such discussions have taught me anything, it is this: they are poignant reminders that I cannot do this task of teaching my kids by myself. Every day of school will begin with prayer, and I will need to rely on God each moment of the day.
After chewing on these thoughts for a few days, I finally looked at my son one afternoon and said with earnest, “Noah, you are so smart. There will be a day in the future that I will no longer be able to answer your questions, but there is someone who can. Do you know who that is?”
“God,” he replied.
“Yes, that’s right, Noah. Know that He is just waiting to talk with you.”
I believe that questions are good. So does Our Father. He says, “Come, let us reason together.” (Isaiah 1:18) There are no subjects off limits, and no question is too big (or too small). He loves when we come to Him and invites us to the table of discussion. He’ll even feed us while we are there in His house. (Matthew 4:4) 🙂
My parent’s pastor once taught that we should never presume to ask Our Father, “Why?” I understand where this beautiful man of God is coming from, but after thinking about it very carefully, I would like to amend to his teaching. I have arrived at the conclusion that Why? is an okay question. I don’t think Jesus would chase the curious away if they are truly humble and seeking.
Why is a question often asked by the more spiritually immature. When we first come to Christ, we are learning to trust Him. We have not experienced God’s provision yet, have not learned of His kindness, and His amazing love for us is brand new. We are like little children trying to understand what it is to live in a broken world. It’s flabbergasting. It’s painful. We look up to heaven and ask, “Why?”
Why did you take my mother, God?
Why did You make me with big feet?
Why is there so much suffering?
This is where my son is in his development. He is trying to understand and discern. He is wrestling. Wrestling is good because after Noah has sat at Jesus’s feet and hashed through these hard conversations, his faith will be richer, more meaningful, and most importantly rock solid. It’s a little nerve wracking to watch him work and wrestle, but it is also so beautiful.
However, as we grow in God, we begin to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ (Ephesians 3:18). Our faith grows and morphs into total trust. We know that God is sovereign and only has what’s best for us in mind. It is then that we begin to ask the question that my parents’ pastor condones: What?
What are You teaching me Jesus?
What am I to learn, Lord, as I experience the loss of my mother?
God, I know that big feet help me in some way because You are altogether good. What is the benefit? Help me see it!
What can I learn about Your patience and compassion in suffering?
As we approach the world with open eyes and ears, each day becomes a chance to grow. More importantly, each lesson gives us the grand opportunity to learn more about Jesus. Oh it’s marvelous. HE is marvelous.
So, dear ones, I invite you to ask. Ask away. There is no question that He can’t handle.