Monthly Archives: September 2018

When the Path Disappears

My people, your guides lead you astray;

they turn you from the path. (Is 3:12b)

Recently, at our midweek house church, we talked about how hard it is to have a good marriage, because we don’t get good examples of it from the media or society.  Instead, we get false expectations.  So we seek to have the Leave it To Beaver or the Chip and Joanna marriage where everything seems idyllic.  We think we should always be romanced.    And we don’t realize that a good marriage requires constant self sacrifice and servanthood.

And that’s why this verse hits home with me today.  It’s so true that we are surrounded by false guides, and this can lead us astray.

This morning, I was feeling sad.  I prayed about it over and over, asking God to help me with my low spirits.  Finally, I remembered my last blog, about how there is value in learning.  So I asked God, “What can I learn from this?”

And an answer came to me.  It was a breakthrough.  I need to learn that life isn’t permanent and fixed. It’s more like song says about God, “You give and take away.”

blessed be your name

I want to build stability by adding things I think will be solid and lasting.  But that’s not the nature of this world.  People die at all ages.  Friends move, or move on.  Things break.  Disasters happen. Changes take place.  It’s so true, what Jesus said, “In this world you will have many troubles.” (John 16:33)

I totally relate to Jonah, who had a wonderful God-given vine that grew up and gave him shade, and then got an attitude when God took it away.

Jonah

jonah 2

I want my shelter!  I’m trying to build this secure life, and my vines keep shriveling!

The thing is, I got mislead in what I thought my life should be.  I fell into the thinking that security comes from the people and things around me, instead of solely from God.

Literally, today’s verse reads, “Your guides mislead you and they have swallowed up the course of your paths.

That is so true for me.  The course of my path to live righteously got swallowed up.

A lot of roads were “swallowed up” in the latest hurricane.

Hurricane Florence5

That picture really does feel like what happened to me in my mind.  The path that was so clear became unclear.

So here’s one way I’m going to try and find the path again.  I’m going to listen for that phrase, “But I’m trying so hard.” Because if I tell myself that, it’s become about my efforts, and not God’s.  I’ have to recalibrate towards God.

You know, one surprising thing I’m learning about life coaching as I study it, is that when you do it right, it isn’t hard work. It’s more like a dance.  As you converse with your client, you listen hard, and then respond to their “steps,” and this naturally leads you to make “countersteps.”

I think life needs to be more that.  It needs to be like a dance with God, where we focus completely on God, and then respond to what he is doing.

I get off track because I start focusing on other voices, especially my own inner voice of fear and need, and stop focusing completely on God.  I find myself living my life like I’m constantly blazing a trail through a thicket.  It feels clunky, not graceful; rough, not smooth.

It’ doesn’t have to be so hard.  Let’s stay in the flow, by keeping our eyes on the Lord.  He is is our only source of security, the only place to find the answers we need.

 

 

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The Value in Learning

Tell the righteous it will be well with them,

for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds.

Woe to the wicked!

Disaster is upon them!

They will be paid back

for what their hands have done. (Isa 3:10-11)

Here’s what I am learning today:  What appears to be harsh may not necessarily be so.

It sounded like the Jews of Judah would be utterly destroyed forever.

But the same God who said they would be “paid back,” also said later in Isaiah,

For a brief moment I abandoned you,

but with deep compassion I will bring you back.

In a surge of anger

I hid my face from you for a moment,

but with everlasting kindness

I will have compassion on you,”

says the Lord your Redeemer. (Isa 54:7-8)

God didn’t permanently reject his people.  But he did allow them to experience the consequences of their choices.  They were his beloved children who had strayed away, but he intended for them to come back to him and be gathered into his arms and blessed like never before.

You know, the book of James says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:3-4)

Our trials feel harsh.  But James says to be joyful in them, because they are actually for the good.

I was talking with a friend recently, and she told me how she’s the “fixer” in her family.  But she’s beginning to realize that sometimes it’s better to not fix things for her family members, that there’s value in letting them learn from their mistakes.

And that is what God wants.  He wants us to learn from our mistakes.  More than that, he wants us to realize that there’s learning to be had in any situation.  Our agenda is to pray and ask him to fix our life right away.  But if he did, we would miss the growth.  We would miss the lesson of perseverance.

I really think God wants me to get this in my head.  After I started writing this blog, I was in my life coaching class telling my instructor how I was trying to help one of my clients come to a solution.  My teacher told me that helping the client figure out a solution isn’t always the point.  The point is also to help them see that there is value in learning from their struggles.  Ack!  There it was again!  It’s hard for me because, like my friend, I always want to help people fix things!

But even Jesus learned from his struggles.  “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8)

And how did Jesus learn?  By wrestling in prayer. The Book of Hebrews explains, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (Heb 5:7)

This verse has to refer to the time when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemene, pouring out his heart to God and begging that the “cup” would be taken away. As Jesus did so, he strengthened his conviction that no matter what, he would do God’s will, not his own.

What if Jesus hadn’t gone to the garden to pray?  He wouldn’t have been able to go through with God’s plan.  It seemed like a horrible plan, that he would have to be tortured and executed.  But we all are the beneficiaries of the plan.

Which brings us back to the original point.  What seems harsh may not necessarily be so.  There’s value in the learning we can have from the situation.  And what seems horrible can lead to good . . . IF we wrestle to submit and have a victory in the testing of our faith.

Oh, how we want to be able to have this victory!  And we will, if we remember that the God of Isaiah 3:11 is also the God of Isaiah 54:7-8.

That he’s the God of everlasting kindness.

That he wants to bless us like never before.

That he’s committed to us in love and faithfulness because we are his family.

For your Maker is your husband—the Lord Almighty is his name.  (Isa 54:6a)

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!  (I John 3:1)

 

 

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Filed under Isaiah, Perseverance, Surrender, Things I Am Learning, Uncategorized

Trading Up

Jerusalem staggers, Judah is falling; their words and deeds are against the LORD, defying his glorious presence. The look on their faces testifies against them; they parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to them! They have brought disaster upon themselves. Isa 3:8-9

The people were defying God’s glorious presence.   Literally, the Hebrew means they defied “the eyes of his glory.”

This reminds me so much of the verse “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts completely belong to him.” (II Chronicles 16:9,)

God’s eyes are always watching.  He sees each person, and each action that is for him or against him.  He sees all the way into each heart, whether it is devoted to him.

His face is perpetually turned towards mankind.

And the Jews of Judah were like, “In your face, God!”  They paraded their sin.  Their expressions were rebellious.

We’ve got to be a people who seek God, instead of turn away.

Because what I love about II Chronicles 16:9 is that God will strengthen those whose who choose to put their eggs in his basket.

And that’s what I want to talk about today, making the choice to put our eggs in his basket.

The thing is, we usually don’t feel like our “eggs” look that impressive.  Our faith can seem, as one friend described it when she texted me this week, to be “smaller than a seed.” How can we come to God with a faith that doesn’t look like we think it should?

But that’s the thing.  We give God what we have.  We choose to put our trust in him, even if it’s not pretty.

My friend Yesenia told me about a book she’s reading, “Love Does,” by Bob Goff and Donald Miller.  In this book, the authors talk about how we “trade up” with God.  They tell the story about a guy who only had a dime, but he traded it for something a little better, and then he traded what he got for something a little better, and so on, until he actually had a truck.

And Goff and Miller say that’s the same way with God.  As my friend Yesenia told me,  “He asks us to give up ourselves (the dime) for something bigger and better (a life with him where we are fully engaged and living.”

We give God our puny little faith, and he gives us much more in return.

I have found this to be so true over the course of my life.  When I was in my late teens, I was adrift and struggling after my mom’s divorce.  I took a step towards God, and he gave me a a Christian husband and a church full of great people.  In my 20’s, I got off track and floundered.  We moved to Atlanta to seek God more wholeheartedly, and the whole course of my life improved.  We joined a church that made a tremendous difference in my life.

This pattern continued.  I had years when things were very hard.  Yet as I held to God, and put my eggs in his basket, he gave me more at just the right time. We had a tough time raising our kids through their teen years, and also felt like we were failing as we tried to lead a church family group.  But we moved to Auburn to help the small church here, and our life has been blessed beyond imagining.  I am so grateful.

God’s glorious presence is all around us.  His eyes are upon us.  Will we take a step towards him, or a step towards what we want instead?

Will we trade up or trade down?  It feels scary to trade up.  We would much rather rely on what we can see and do, especially when the winds of life roar around us.

But as I reflect over my life, I see that sometimes God allowed the wind to roar so that I would learn to surrender and put my life in his hands.  Then he gave me the blessings I really needed.

PC Bayou

From a family trip to Panama City. To me, it illustrates that the path to God leads to good!

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. Luke 9:24

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A Remedy for the Refugee

People will oppress each other— man against man, neighbor against neighbor.

The young will rise up against the old, the nobody against the honored.

A man will seize one of his brothers in his father’s house, and say,

“You have a cloak, you be our leader; take charge of this heap of ruins!”

But in that day he will cry out, “I have no remedy.

I have no food or clothing in my house;

do not make me the leader of the people.”  Is 3:5-7

I’ve been reading beautifully written novel about Syrian refugees.  It really brings home to me what it would be like to lose everything we take for granted — our  home, food, schooling.

It reminds me of this passage above.  Isaiah prophesied about a tumultuous time when people would oppress and destroy one another.  All would be laid waste, like rubble.  If this isn’t a description of a Syria, I don’t know what is.  I’m not saying this prophesy was about Syria, only that Syria gives us a good picture of what this passage is describing.

Here is a picture of Syria right now:

Syria

 

And here is a video with a view of what it is like to be a Syrian refugee.

Two of the Syrians who were interviewed in the video said, “We used to be comfortable and safe all day.  Now we have to stay here with nothing to do.. . . There is no water, you have to buy it.  Now you can’t get anything you need.  It is difficult to buy bread because we don’t have enough money.”

Over six million Syrians have been displaced.  It is estimated that 10,000 more Syrians become refugees each day.  They struggle for even their basic needs, and families are reported to spend up to twenty percent of their income on clean water.

We can see the hopelessness.  We can see the heartbreak.

It is as the verse in Isaiah 3 says, “I have no remedy.”  Or a more literal translation is, “I will not be a healer. In my house there is neither bread nor cloak.”

I have been thinking a lot lately about people’s souls.  For a long time, my dream has been for our church to grow, for it to be a place where people could come and find shelter from the world, could find wholehearted joy in God, and could worship in spirit and in truth.

But lately I haven’t been doing anything to help the church grow.  I haven’t been reaching out to people and inviting them.

And as I’ve thought about it, I’ve realized that my goal needs to be more than growing the church.  It needs much more be to reach out to people’s souls.  I need to long for each soul to be saved.

You know, when Jesus saw the people of his day, his heart went out to them.  He didn’t just condemn them for their poor decisions or their worldliness.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.

I so need to be more like Jesus!  People are like refugees on the inside, bereft, wandering, needy.  They need healing, and I have a remedy for those who would listen.

But it’s hard to be the worker who reaches out. I told myself this morning when I went to a kids’ consignment sale that I would open my mouth and share my faith.  I talked to two people, but didn’t get any further.  My motivation just wasn’t great enough.

And then I remembered that I have heard many, many people say that they were praying to know God better, or praying for a church, and within a few days someone shared with them.  And I thought, the next person I meet could be one of those people!  They could be the person God put in my path for a reason.

So when I went to pick up my groceries from Kroger ClickList this afternoon, I asked the young woman who loaded up my bags if she would like an invitation to church.  She told me about her church, and how she has a daughter who is 14 who feels called to the ministry, and the daughter has already given a couple of messages to the children in the elementary school ministry.  It was a heart warming story.  I don’t know if me sharing with the woman made a difference in her life, but it enriched me!

Let’s reach out more.

Maybe we will find someone who is searching.

Maybe there’s a little refugee in all of us, and we can touch one another’s souls.

 

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Filed under Compassion, Evangelism, Isaiah, Uncategorized

He Will Do It Again

See now, the Lord, the Lord Almighty,

is about to take from Jerusalem and Judah everything they depend on:

every bit of bread and every drop of water,

the hero and the warrior, the judge and the prophet,

the diviner and the elder, the captain of fifty and the man of rank,

the counselor, skilled craftsman and clever enchanter.

“I will make mere youths their officials; children will rule over them.” (Isa 1:1-3)

Sometimes God takes away the things we depend on.  We can lose our job.  We can lose a relationship.  We can lose our health.  We can even lose our church.

God can take away that strong leader whom we relied on, and put someone who feels like a child, a simpleton, in their place.  Some in our nation feel as if that is happening right now.

So much was taken away from the early believers.  Jesus died, and then went up to heaven.  The church was persecuted, and it had to split up.  Disciples were jailed, beaten, and even killed.

But look at what Paul wrote about this:

We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it.  In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead.  And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us.  II Cor 1:8-10

God allows us to experience loss so we learn to rely on him. This was certainly the case for the Jews in the time of Isaiah.  They needed to learn that all they put faith in was worthless.

And sometimes it’s true for us as well.

What I like about the passage in II Corinthians is that we see how God is faithful.  Even though we feel like we’ve lost everything, we never lose God.   He is always with us.  And he will rescue us in the end.

It reminds me of the song, “Do It Again” by Elevation Worship.  Here are some of the lyrics:

Walking around these walls
I thought by now they’d fall
But You have never failed me yet
Waiting for change to come
Knowing the battle’s won
For You have never failed me yet .  . . 

I’ve seen You move, You move the mountains
And I believe, I’ll see You do it again
You made a way, where there was no way
And I believe, I’ll see You do it again

God wants to rescue us.

The ropes of death entangled me; floods of destruction swept over me. The grave wrapped its ropes around me; death laid a trap in my path. . . He reached down from heaven and rescued me; he drew me out of deep waters. Selections from Ps. 18

How do I explain that I am at peace this week, when I was in so much turmoil before?  I see myriad strands of ways God worked to weave together a change for me.  How do I explain that so much of what I’ve dreaded hasn’t come to pass?  It could only be God. It could only be God who put marriages back together, who moved hearts to repent, who put the right person at the right place at the right time.

I want to keep repeating the words of the song, and keep believing that God has moved the mountains and he will do it again.

He will allow us to go through the loss of everything we depend on.

And out of that, when it seems at the worst, he will rise up to give us relief, and work in amazing ways.

To him be all glory and praise.

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Fear, You Don’t Own Me!

People will flee to caves in the rocks

and to holes in the ground

from the fearful presence of the Lord

and the splendor of his majesty,

when he rises to shake the earth. (Isa 2:19)

This passage talks about a SUPER earthquake, something cataclysmic that happens when the Almighty and Holy Lord comes to earth and the whole planet is shaken.

Let’s look at some other places in the Bible that mention this:

  • The earth is utterly broken apart, the earth is split open, the earth is shaken violently. Isa 24:19
  • But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar, the elements will be dissolved in the fire, and the earth and its works will not be found. II Peter 3:10
  • At that time His voice shook the earth, but now He has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth, but heaven as well.” Heb 12:26 (Quoting Haggai 2:6)

This has got to be the Day of Judgment, when this world will pass away and a new heaven and earth will come.

  • “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.”  II Peter 3:13 (Note that this follows the II Peter verse above.)
  • Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. Rev. 21:1

There’s actually a pretty cool contrast here.  On one hand, there will be terrible destruction, but on the other hand, something is created that is indestructible.

It is as Daniel prophesied: “In the days of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, and this kingdom will not be left to another people. It will shatter all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, but will itself stand forever. ” Daniel 2:44

Wow.  Just wow.  Think about all that for a bit.

And there’s more.  I believe that this eternal kingdom that will never be destroyed isn’t just the new heaven at Judgment Day.  I believe we are experiencing it now with the salvation of our souls. Look at this passage:

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect . . . Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” (Heb. 12:22, 23, 29) ”  

In being saved, we are in such an amazing place.  Our names are written in heaven.  Our spirits have been made perfect.

And it makes perfect sense that God goes on to say at the end of the chapter:

Stop trusting in mere humans,

who have but a breath in their nostrils.

Why hold them in esteem? (Is 2:22)

Exactly!!  Why trust in men, or, for that matter, anything else on the earth, which isn’t secure, but will be destroyed?

We can only trust in God.  He’s the only thing that is truly solid and reliable.

And when we realize that, we worship with gratitude, reverence and awe.

Having a fear of God, rather than a fear of man.

Lately, I’ve been plagued by the wrong kinds of fears, fears that crawl around my insides like ugly creepy insects and resist extermination.  I saw that these fears began to control me, instead of vice versa.  They dragged me down the path of negativity.  Something would go wrong, and I would start to believe that more and more would go wrong.  I felt like I wouldn’t be able to make it right.  People would get upset, and I felt like I wouldn’t be able to mend the relationship or help them feel better.

I  knew I was going down this path of cynicism and defeatism.  I felt the ickiness and the wrongness of it, but I didn’t know how to change directions.

Until I realized that I have to start believing in good again.   That’s what resonates in my deepest self.  I have to believe there is good in people, kind of like there was in Darth Vader.  And I have to believe in the good in God, that he will do what is best at the right time.  I have to have that magical, Pollyanna, makes-no-sense kind of faith, knowing there is hope!

I have to remember, and listen to the voice that will get me back on track, not the voice that has me quaking.

I love the chorus in Francesca Battistelli’s latest hit:

Fear, you don’t own me
There ain’t no room in this story
And I ain’t got time for you
Telling me what I’m not

Tell fear, “You don’t own me!”   Walk away from it, and walk towards the knowledge that you stand with God in a place of goodness that nothing can shake.  There’s always hope.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. 

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.  Ps 42:1-2

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Hearts That are Bowed

The Lord Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty,

for all that is exalted (and they will be humbled),

for all the cedars of Lebanon, tall and lofty and all the oaks of Bashan,

for all the towering mountains and all the high hills,

for every lofty tower and every fortified wall,

for every trading ship and every stately vessel.

The arrogance of man will be brought low and human pride humbled;

the Lord alone will be exalted in that day, and the idols will totally disappear. (Is 2:12-18)

This passage talks about a day that is coming when man will be totally humbled, and God alone will be exalted.  Today we call this the “The Day of the Lord.”
On one hand, the Day of the Lord is Judgment Day.  Romans 14 says, “For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.'” (Romans 14:9b-10)

And Romans 14 refers to Isaiah 45, when God proclaims,  “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.  By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘In the LORD alone are deliverance and strength.'”

But I think there is more to the Day of the Lord.  This chapter we’re reading in Isaiah starts with, “In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.”

The time of humbling will not just happen at Judgment Day, it is a part of the “Last Days.”  What does it says will happen in the Last Days?  The Lord will be exalted.  It’s the same theme.

And man will find humility.  The beginning of the chapter goes on to read:  “Many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.’”

People will no longer follow their own ways.  They will look to God to be taught how to live.

Today, I believe we are living in the Last Days.  I believe that it is a time when people can see the uselessness of their idols and their empty way of life, and seek God instead.

Why do they seek God more at this time more than they had in the past?  Because of Jesus.  Look at this parallel passage in Philippians:

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death– even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Phil 2:9-11

There’s something incredible in the story of Jesus.  It alone has the power to put us on our knees.

We see his humility.  We see our sinfulness, in comparison to his example.  We see how he took the punishment that should have been ours.  We see how he loved the least, the sinners. We see his power, his miracles.  We see the astounding work of resurrection from the dead.  We see his words, which resonate more with us than anything else on earth.  We see forgiveness, and salvation for our own souls.  We see value, and everything we esteemed pales in comparison.

Under the force of Jesus’s example, we can humble ourselves.

Or we can continue to be caught up in the conceit of our our lives, and be humbled on Judgment Day.

Lately people in our church have been going through some serious stuff!!  So my friend Marisha decided to have a few of us over to pray last Thursday.

prayer-night.jpg

We got on our knees and made fervent petitions to our Father.  It felt good to be on my knees, abject before the All High.  I wanted to kneel lower, and lower still, to be nothing, to put myself completely in God’s hands.

 

Since then, when I find myself awake in the middle of the night, my thoughts racing, I remember and picture myself being yet again on my knees, completely humble before the Lord.

It helps my heart like nothing else.

We are in the Last Days, and the Day of the Lord is coming.  Let us remember to live with hearts that are bowed.

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