Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The paradox of an infant Savior...

As 2019 and the Christmas season draws to a close, I find myself thinking about how many truths and principles exist as a paradox.  The first shall be last. The greatest is the servant. Love your enemy and do good to those who spite you.

To me, the biggest paradox is that God chose to save the world by sending what was the most powerful force in existence - His Word - as a helpless infant.

But it didn't stop there, for the salvation Jesus came to provide was not the salvation that people wanted. They wanted to be saved from Rome. He didn't come to save them from Rome.  Consequently, many were unable to believe that He actually was their Savior.

They missed their salvation
because it was not offered
in the form they expected or wanted.

For the last month or so, I've been increasingly impressed that the exact same thing is happening today.

Israel wanted to be saved from those who oppressed them and taxed them too heavily and took their rights away and made laws they didn't agree with.

Sound familiar?

The thing is, He did not come to give them the government they wanted. Indeed, the government they wanted would have been ruled by the Pharisees and Sadducees, and He had rather harsh words for them.

He did not come to give them freedom from their oppressors. He came to give them freedom from their spiritual and emotional burdens despite their oppression.

He did not come to lighten their taxes. He came to show them how God would provide the tax money. (And He further horrified them by how He befriended the local IRS agents.)

He did not come to give them back the rights that Rome took away from them. Instead, He asked them to surrender even more, and not just their cloak and shirt. In fact, He led the way in surrendering Himself, and He said in Matthew 16 that this is the only way to follow Him:

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 25 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?

Who can understand a paradox like that? If you try to save your life, you'll lose it? But if you surrender it for Him, You'll find it?

It's hard to understand and harder still to accept... which is why still today we live in a world full of people who cannot accept that Jesus is the Savior of mankind because His salvation isn't the kind that they think the world needs. He's not eliminating world hunger, child abuse, war, drugs, disease, etc. It all still exists.

We as Christians nod our heads wisely and say self-righteously, "So true..."

But what about us?

How much of our own salvation are we missing because it's not what we expect it to look like? 

Salvation is more than where you go when you die. He offers salvation from depression, anxiety, fear, and worry. He offers joy to replace our mourning. He offers peace in place of our turmoil. All of that is part of what He offers.

We know this... and yet we so often pray for our circumstances to change.

Maybe "Rome" is a work environment that oppresses us, so we're praying for salvation in the form of a new job.  It's not wrong to ask for a new job... but what if the salvation He's offering us right now is strength and grace and power to work that job with peace and joy, despite the oppression?  If a new job is what we're focused on, then we can easily miss the strength and grace and peace and joy that He's offering right now in the current job!

Maybe the oppression that we want to be free from is coming from our spouse, and so we beg God to make him/her stop doing those things that make us so angry and feel so wounded.  Meanwhile, He is saying, My grace is sufficient... let Me show you how to walk in peace and joy even while your spouse is doing that. Give Me time to work on them, and let Me set you free in the meantime.

Turn on the news and you're provided with a million reason to fear and worry. Fear is what news outlets and Facebook algorithms thrive on, and advertising agencies have fine-tuned it to an art... the more they can use your fear to get you to click here and there, the more ads they can serve you and the more money they make!  Consequently, we live in a world where anxiety and depression are reaching record proportions.  What gets you riled up and fearful?  What if instead of taking away that thing that threatens you, He is offering peace despite the threat?  

Most of the Jews totally missed their Savior. He came, He offered, and He died... and they gained nothing personally because their salvation did not come in the form they expected.

How often, in any given day, do you and I continue to live in frustration and worry and turmoil... because we too want our salvation that day to come in a different form?

He is challenging me with this... and I know I am not the only one!

Isaiah 60 says that darkness will cover the earth, and deep darkness will cover the peoples. I personally believe that the "darkness" refers to sin, but the "deep darkness" that is spoken of refers to depression, fear, and hopelessness.

My prayer for 2020 is that as we learn to walk in a Light that is independent of circumstances, that Light will reach into the deep darkness that is growing thicker and heavier, and enslaving more and more people around us. The world needs salvation, and the best thing we can do to let our light shine is to allow Him to show us what our salvation really looks like!
Isaiah 60:“Arise, shine; for your light has come,
And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2 “For behold, darkness will cover the earth
And deep darkness the peoples;But the Lord will rise upon you
And His (E)glory will appear upon you.
3 “Nations will come to your light,
And kings to the brightness of your rising.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Trust: Watching a chess game...

What does it mean to see the hand of God?

It might mean different things to different people, but to me, seeing the hand of God means that I see something that is happening, and I know that God was involved. Sometimes it's a big miracle that others can easily see, but more often it is small things here and there. Maybe I asked God to show me something, and hours later someone says a random something, not knowing how God spoke through those words to me. Or maybe I didn't even ask. God knows how much I love to see His hand at work, and He is so gracious to allow me to see or hear the evidence that He is indeed working in my life and in my loved ones.

What does this have to do with Lessons in Trust? Quite a bit! You see, when I'm in the middle of overwhelming and dark circumstances, those tiny little things that I see are powerful. They are proof that my all-powerful God is involved, even in the darkness. I know that He does all things well, and that He already knows all the moves that the devil is going to make.

A year or so ago, our family was going through things that were trying to tear us apart. I was able to see the hand of God in the middle of it though, and I realized that He had brought me to a new level of trust. I noticed how different my heart was responding in the situation. I felt almost no anxiety about the outcome of the situation, even though I was facing things more difficult than I ever thought I'd have to face.


As I thought about it, I found myself comparing the situation to a chess game.

I am not a chess aficionado. I know the moves every piece can make, and that's about it. So when I used to watch my dad play someone, I was typically able to see the chess board only for how it looked in that moment. I was not able to see the game as my dad was seeing it. I could tell who was attacking who, and I'd get worried when I saw one of his important pieces under attack.

But there's one thing about chess. A good player has to be able to think multiple moves ahead. Both players are constantly making attack moves that look strong in the moment. But the better player will let their weaker opponent make an attack and take a piece... because it fits into their own overall, long-term plan of victory. Maybe they sat back and allowed their opponent to set up an attack on their bishop. Meanwhile, they made a move elsewhere. And then the bishop was stolen. And still they made a move elsewhere... and then a few moves later, suddenly (to my uneducated eyes) the whole game was over, won decisively by the player who allowed the bishop to be taken.

The better player had the long-term plan. And they had the foresight and skill to carry it out, regardless of any weaker attacks their opponent made in the meantime.

That's what God does.  

Think about it this way. Let's say you're watching a game between your college team and your biggest rival.  The rival player makes a series of really strong moves, and you start to get nervous about whether your own champion is going to win after all. Why? Because both are only college-level players.

But let's say that instead, you've somehow got the world champion playing on behalf of your school. Again, the rival team's player has made a series of really strong moves.  Now are you going to be worried? Of course not! The world champion has seen it all, beating everyone in the world!  There is no way that a mere college student is going to defeat him!  So instead of worrying, you eagerly watch to see what counter-attack the world champion has got planned. You're excited even, because the more challenging the game is, the greater the victory will be!

See the difference?

When the devil makes a move, our attitude shows whether we really think God is the Grand Master and Universal Champion who has already defeated everything in existence.  If He is not, then we have every reason to worry.  But if He is the Champion, then we can continue to wait with baited breath until we get to see the hand of God move again. And even if His move is a small one, we can be confident that it's part of a master plan to defeat the enemy!

Be still and know that I am God.
                                                                     - Psalm 46:10

Monday, November 18, 2019

Trusting His leading...

More Lessons in Trust...

You've prayed, you've asked Him to lead you, and... you still don't know which decision to make. So you pray some more... and some more... and eventually, even though you're still not sure, you have to make a decision. So you do, even though you still can't really tell which direction God is leading.

I think most of us have been there... just wishing we knew. Sometimes we feel maybe a tiny bit more peace with one direction than the other, so we hope that is God's leading. But sometimes we just pick the one that our mind thinks makes the most sense. Sometimes we have a more emotional reason.

But then, a few months or a year or two or five later on, things get rough.

So often, the temptation is to doubt yourself and the decision you've made. I've heard people say (and been tempted myself to say), "I asked God to lead me, but it seems like I still made the wrong decision." That's a natural thing to think, isn't it?

After all, when we asked God to lead us, we were thinking, "Lead us to the decision that is going to be the best."  Best decision, of course, meaning our own definition of what is best.

And we know full well that we can (and have) made wrong decisions many times.

But we asked God to lead us!  And here we are, in a dark situation, confused and discouraged and overwhelmed.

It is here, in the darkness that sometimes follows a decision we agonized over, where we find our trust tested. 

I've walked through quite a few of those dark areas in the last few years... valleys that were a direct result of decisions my husband and I prayed over.   And when I started thinking maybe we had made the wrong decision, the Holy Spirit started pointing things out.  He started prompting me to ask myself some very pointed questions.

- Is He really capable of leading me, even when I can't hear, even when I doubt, and even when I'm feeling lost?

- In other words, is He capable of leading a deaf, blind, lame, and sometimes quite oblivious person who asks Him to lead them?

- If He is not capable of leading me even then, then why would I ask Him to do it?

So then, if He is capable of leading me, then I need to trust that He will!  Or - what is often more difficult...

I need to trust that He did lead me. Even if I couldn't see, hear, or feel that leading. 

After all, Jesus said, "Ask, and you shall receive!"

But that is difficult because it forces us to face something else! 

It goes like this:

- I asked God to lead me, and I meant it. ie: I wasn't willfully running in the other direction.
- God is capable, so I must trust that He did lead me down this path.
- But this path has led to what seems like a bad situation.

Sooo.... did God do something bad?

Or is my understanding and viewpoint of this situation faulty?

Am I willing to trust that He is good, 
He knows what is really good for me and what isn't... 
and therefore, right here is where I need to be?  

That, for me, is the hard question... because sometimes my definition of "good" isn't the same as God's.

Consider Psalm 23.  All of us know it.  He is the Good Shepherd.  That is, He is good, and He is our shepherd, leading us and caring for us.  And yet, the psalm specifically says that He will in fact lead us through the valley of the shadow of death!  But it promises that even while we are there, we will fear no evil because He is with us.

To me, trusting that He is capable of leading even deaf, blind, lame, and ignorant me when I ask Him to... that decision to trust that He was leading me no matter what the result is.... that is what carries me through those difficult times. Because He is good. So if He led me or my husband or my kids into a difficult situation, then He is with us now, He knows what He's doing, and there is something totally worthwhile that is going to come of this!

When His leading resulted in a car accident that caused me to total my car on black ice and suffer PTSD, the result was that He used it to teach me how to trust Him in ways that have given me a peace I did not know existed before that car accident!

When His leading led my kids into seasons of life that tested and tried them and brought them pain, I continued to hold onto to this... we had asked Him to lead us all, He is capable, and He is good, and therefore this is part of a good plan.  And indeed my son and daughter can now tell me the good that came of it and that the good was worth the turmoil and pain.

Holding onto Him in these dark times brings such amazing peace... as I discovered in the weeks after my car accident!

Are you in a similar situation? May I encourage you to simply reach out for Him, and trust Him?  He is so very, very able to care for us!

Listen to this song if you're struggling... and let go!

Monday, October 28, 2019

Trust vs. my tongue...

More lessons in trust...

I don't remember exactly the first time He stopped me. I know He tried to stop me years and years ago, but I thought I knew better.

But I think it was a year ago or so that the Holy Spirit got more insistent.

I was talking to someone... maybe Him... about some minor situation that I don't remember the details of. I was thinking through the possibilities of what might happen... something like this: "I'm hoping it gets here in time, but I'm afraid it won't, and then..."

Why are you afraid? He asked me.

"I'm not," I replied. "It's just a phrase. It won't even matter that much if it doesn't come, and I trust You if it doesn't. I'm just thinking through what might happen. I'm not really afraid."

Then why do you so often say that you are?

That stopped me, but only for a moment. "It's just a phrase," I insisted.

But He was even more insistent. A few days later, I was talking about something else and the preparations I'd had no chance to make. "Well, I did the best I could," I said, "but I'm worried that..."

Again He interrupted. Why won't You trust Me?

"I do trust You," I again insisted.  "It's just a phrase."

If you aren't worrying, then why do you say you are?

As the weeks went by, we had many variations of the same conversation. He never gave up - quiet, calm, patient, but very, very insistent. I couldn't even think the words "I'm afraid" or "I'm worried" without Him stopping me over and over again with a simple, Do you trust Me?

I found myself completely re-examining my thought processes. Those phrases were such a part of my vocabulary and expressions that I often found myself unable to even find alternate words to express what I thought I meant... which then made me start to realize that He was right. (Of course.) If I wasn't worrying then I would have easily been able to find other words to use. If I wasn't afraid, then other words wouldn't be so hard to find.  "The mouth speaks from what fills the heart" is what Jesus said.  Was it severe worry and fear? No... but fear and worry is still what it was!

And thus, as time went by, He taught me how to turn over even all those little things to Him. He taught me to trust Him when my performance at work wasn't quite what I wanted it to be. I learned to trust Him with things like when the mail would arrive and when I would have time to make phone calls about hospital bills. He took the trust that He has been teaching me for years in the big things down to a much more detailed level.

And my peace increased.

It is positively amazing how I can now even trust Him with my own performance, actions, and abilities! Where I used to berate myself, even after putting forth whatever effort I had time and energy to do, I can now trust Him. Because let's face it... sometimes we're worn out physically, emotionally, and mentally, and we know that our best that day was not our best on other days. And sometimes we run out of time. And sometimes we run out of patience and stamina. But His grace covers those as well... thus if my heart was right, then I can trust Him with the fact that that's all I had that day! (And if my heart wasn't right, then I can make it right and trust that He will still work and move as He knows is best.)

The ability to trust in this way has been transformational in my life! If you struggle with the same things, may I encourage you to allow Him to work and set you free as well?

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Trust's foundation...

Another lesson in trust...

"Is God going to answer my prayer and grant my request? The Bible says not to doubt, and others are saying that they're believing that it'll happen. But how do they know? And do they really know or do they mean that they're just hoping God will move the way they want Him to? After all, sometimes He doesn't move the way we ask.  Am I wrong if I'm honest with myself and admit that I don't know if God is going to do it or not?"

Ever been there?  I have, many times, and the confusion that results can be debilitating and make you question everything. I've at times gotten so lost in a circle of vicious questions that I can hardly find the way out. I've found myself wondering if I had enough faith or not and if my lack of faith might someone result in someone else's lack of healing or breakthrough, etc. I've wondered if faith had anything to do with why my mom died years ago from cancer, and I've wondered many similar things in the years since.

But then the Holy Spirit taught me this pivotal lesson in trust that totally changed my perspective and brought me peace. (If you want to know why I say "Holy Spirit" instead of "God," see this post.)

The Holy Spirit used two stories.

The first is in Daniel chapter three, when the angry king demanded that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego bow before his image and worship it. They refused, and their answer is very powerful and significant. They did not say, "We will worship God only, and we're believing that He is going to save us."

No. They said, "We will worship God only. We know He is able to save us from your fiery furnace. But even if He does not, we still will not serve your gods or worship your image."

According to some, this admitting that they did not know if He would do as they were asking was doubt... doubt that can stop the miracle from coming. But not only does this not happen, the Bible even refers to them as being of great faith!  (Hebrews 11:34 briefly includes them (not by name) in the list of those who were great in faith.)

The Holy Spirit used this story to show me that it is perfectly okay to not know what God will do. It does not display a lack of faith!  Sometimes He shows us what He's going to do and gives us the gift of faith to simply know.  And many times He does not.  We cannot even claim that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego's faith is why they were saved from the furnace, for Hebrews 11 goes on to say that others were tortured and killed by faith. In fact, Hebrews 11 shows quite clearly that whether or not someone is saved from death is not dependent upon how much faith they have, for verse 34 says that some escaped the sword and then verse 37 says that others were put to death by the sword... and then 39 says, "And all these, (meaning both those who were put to death and those who escaped) gained approval through their faith..." So then, if some escape by their faith and others do not escape and endure by their faith... then we see that our faith and trust have to be in something other than in the answer that we want God to give.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego's faith and focus was not on what God might or might not do. Their focus was on the character of God... who He is... what He is capable of... and who He was to them no matter what He chose to do or not do.

He was their God. 

They knew He was able to save them, but they didn't really care whether He did or not, because they had committed their worship to Him and Him alone... regardless of whether or not He chose to save them. 

We see the same thing in Mark 9:20-25. This chapter has many lessons on many things, but I want to focus on the part that the Holy Spirit used to teach me this lesson.

This father was really struggling with the same thing that I used to. His son was afflicted by a demon that caused him to thrash about and foam at the mouth, and so far, his son had not been healed. The father said to Jesus, "If You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!”

Jesus saw that the man's focus was on the wrong thing.  He was focused on whether or not his son would be healed. Jesus brought his focus around by asking, "If you can? All things are possible to him who believes."

The Holy Spirit pointed out that Jesus was not asking, "Do you or don't you think I'm actually going to do it?"

See the difference? Maybe the difference isn't significant to you, but to me, it was a life-changing difference.  Just like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, my faith and trust shouldn't be focused on what might or might not happen. Jesus was saying, "Do you or don't you believe that I am able to do this?" Another way of putting it might be to say, "Stop thinking about whether or not I'll do what you want and instead think about who I am!"

My focus needs to be on who He is.

How did the man talking to Jesus respond? “I do believe; help my unbelief.”

The man made no pretensions at all about his faith or lack thereof. I believe his statement, "I do believe" was nothing more or less than an affirmation that Yes, he did believe that Jesus was able to do it. That much, at least, he was convinced of. Even more importantly, he did not pretend to have the ability to increase his faith on his own. He knew that not only was Jesus the One who could deliver his son, but Jesus was also the One who could help his unbelief.

And so I shifted my focus. I realized that I do not need to know what He will do to trust Him.

But I do have to know Him. 

If I was not fully convinced of His power, then I could not trust Him any more than I could trust some unknown man's ability to do anything. If I did not truly believe that He has perfect knowledge of how to use that power, then His power might be something to fear... for what if He used that power in the wrong way? And if His love was not perfect and complete and compassionate and unending, then again, how would I possible trust that His knowledge and power would be used in only the way that was best for me?

And so we see that the foundation of trust is who He is.  What He does is always the result of who He is, and my ability to trust Him is dependent upon my revelation and understanding of His nature.

If you feel like your trust is lacking, simply follow the example of the man who turned His focus to the One who is able. "Lord, show me who You are. I want to know You."

23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” 
24 Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”
- Mark 9:23-24
Sponsor a Child in Jesus Name with Compassion