Treasure out of Darkness

Psalm 139, a Psalm I’ve written about previously, is one of sweet assurance not only of how precious God’s children are to Him, but also of the reality they can know that He has His protective hand over His own. If you are God’s child, then those promises are yours.

In the first chapter of the book of Job, the curtain is parted between the physical and the spiritual, and we see the reality of God’s protection on our lives as Satan comes before God and states that of course Job’s life is good, because God has a hedge of protection around him. Satan couldn’t do anything to Job without God’s permission. Many times I’ve heard people say (and have said myself), “I’d rather God didn’t notice me! God was the one who highlighted Job’s righteous life to Satan so that Satan brought the challenge to lift that protection and see if Job would still serve Him! No thanks, I’d rather God not take notice of me!” Interesting how we focus on the negative (fear of what God may allow) rather than recognizing that we can have peace because God, who loves us more than we can fathom, is in control of our lives. And it is good to remember that untested faith isn’t really faith at all. It is when we go through difficulties that put our faith in God to the test and we trust Him through it, that we gain a faith that is real and a joy that can’t be crushed because we know that what we believe is real (and when you know that the things you read in the Bible are real, that’s a big deal).

Eight days ago we had our sweet dog put down, something I never, ever wanted to have to face in my life. But we prayed, seeing her suffering, and we knew it was the unselfish thing to do. God gave me peace to move forward with it. I was with her when she died, and God answered my prayers and those of my friends that I wouldn’t fall apart at the vet. But afterwards, not only did I melt into tears, but the peace from God that I had before was gone. I was second guessing the decision, and I couldn’t shake the turmoil it was creating inside of me. I was confused — had I really not had God’s peace? Had I just convinced myself it was right? But, no, I knew that God’s assurance had been there because it was so outside of what I had wanted, so why did He take the peace away?

For six days I struggled with this, and it was agonizing. I cried out to God, but I couldn’t see how He could fix it; I thought I’d just have to learn to live with this struggle and find a way to cope. But then God broke the silence. There was something He wanted to teach me, something that deepened my heart to love others in a way that I hadn’t been able to before. Though I cannot share the details of that right now, I am seeing on the other side of what seemed to me an impossible situation to resolve, that God was in it — He was there before, during, and after. He has given me something precious out of the trial, and I am the richer for it. I still miss my wonderful dog, but I am thankful to my God who gave her to me and took her from me, all the while holding my life in His loving hand.

Don’t fear what God may allow to come into your life. Live in the peace of knowing that He loves you and that He is always working for your good — always. There are treasures He wants to give you that you cannot receive until you walk through the dark valley of faith unseen. Trust Him there. He will not disappoint you.

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The God Factor

There are so many things that come before me every day that can instill fear. Just watching the news opens my eyes to the fact that the world is a mess, and that there are people with ill intent everywhere, including where I live. And then there are things like rattlesnakes in Brown County (that’s not random — that was one fear I recently had to deal with), or tick bites that can give you lyme disease. What about the fact that my children live all over the United States, and that I have no input into the day-to-day decisions they make regarding their own safety and well being? Recently, someone showed me an article alerting them to the fact that lightning strikes are more prevalent in their area than in other areas, due to building heights and topography. I could go on. The fact is that every day many things come at me that can make me fearful.

But God. That is the difference between living in fear or not. God promises for those who are His that He holds us in His hand. He has enclosed us on every side, and nothing can touch us without His permission. If He lets something difficult come into our lives, we can be sure that He has a good reason, and that it is for our good, even if it doesn’t make sense to us. Even then we don’t have to resign ourselves to the pain and confusion because God promises He is always with us, so we can talk with Him about our struggles and our pain, we can seek Him for relief as we walk the hard path. He is even listening when we don’t understand and aches in heart when we plead with Him to take the pain away. Sometimes He even changes His plans.

There are many fears that I have embraced, including the snakes in Brown County while we were camping there. So I’ve been praying about that, knowing that God doesn’t want me to live in fear, but in trust. And knowing, too, that as much as I want to believe I can control outcomes, that I cannot — but that He can, and does, and that He wants me to leave it in His hands and rest from worry. So a few days ago He gave me a living illustration of this to give me assurance that I can trust Him.

It was after dark, and I was on my way home from a meeting. My route took me through a highway construction zone (it is said that in Indiana there are two seasons, winter and construction, so a route through construction is rather assumed). There were two lanes open with cement barriers on the left and barrels on the right. I was in the right lane, and the vehicle in front of me got off at the exit. That’s when I saw the big arrow pointing left. The right lane was being merged into the left. There had been no warning prior to the arrow, and the barrels were stationed to force traffic to the left immediately. With a semi next to me on my left, and heavy construction equipment beyond the barrels, I tried to stop (traveling at 60 mph) as I heard the thumps of hitting three of the barrels pushing me left and saw my front end come dangerously close to the semi. Next thing I knew, I was behind the semi with my right mirror turned in. As you can imagine, I was shaken. But I was also bewildered. How did I end up behind the semi? From what I had seen, there was too much of the big rig left to pass when I had desperately needed to get over. Then God spoke to my heart. He was in control, as He is — always. There was nothing I could do to ensure a good end to the situation I was in, but He never lost control of my life, not even for those few seconds. The sudden merging was a surprise to me, but not to Him.

That night could have had a different kind of ending. I am not saying that because God is in control things will always bring a pain-free, and sometimes miraculous kind of ending. What I am saying is that regardless of how things are, God is in control, and He is good, and He is doing everything to bring the best to me. I do not need to fear, I do not need to seek to control. God has it. I don’t know these things about God just because of what recently happened. I know them because I know what is written in the Bible. I haven’t cited any verses, but I could. I cannot make God be anything other than who He says He is, and so all that I have said about Him comes from the things I have read about Him in His Word.

Make time every day to take in some Scripture so that you can know your God. Then pray through the things you don’t understand. God will take what you know in your head about Him and bring it to become the truth that resides in your heart as He brings those truths to reality in your life. He wants us to live in trust, not fear. We can, because we have the God factor.

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One Road

My favorite game is Ticket To Ride, which my husband and I play a lot (just ask my youngest daughter, and she’ll roll her eyes). You have to connect train routes between cities, and some cities are tricky because there are only two ways to get to them. If others put their game pieces on both ways there before you do, too bad for you! There are other cities that have multiple ways in, so those are much easier to get to, and though someone may block the best route for you, you can still get there a longer way.

Many people advocate that, like the easy cities in Ticket to Ride, you can use many paths to get to God. We live in a world that is continually pressing for everyone to accept everyone else’s religious preference and not push their own because they all will get us to the destination. It sounds so nice, so peaceful. But if it isn’t true, then it’s a problem. If I believe I can get to New York City by heading south from Indianapolis, I won’t get there. I can believe it with the sincerest of beliefs, but it won’t do me any good because it won’t lead me to my destination.

Just before He was to be arrested and crucified, Jesus told His disciples that He was going away, and that they knew the way He was going. One of the disciples responded by saying, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” Jesus answered him with these words, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” Jesus unequivocally stated that He was the only way to the Father. There are not many paths, there is only one.

Don’t be angry if I tell you that you need Jesus to save you, and that through Him is the only way to God. It is not a mean-spirited thing, but actually just the opposite. You see, I asked Jesus to do that for me and now He is with me every day as I journey toward that day when He will lead me to the place where I am face-to-face with God the Father. I want you to know the joy of belonging to God and of knowing that you will never again face this life alone. I want you to know the certainty of the destination of getting to God. I can’t force you, nor will I try. But I will not be silent because I care about you. There are only two destinations, Heaven and Hell. I want Heaven for you.

Take the time to read Jesus’ words above for yourself in John 14:5-6. Better yet, read the whole book of John. Ask God to show you the truth and seek it — He will show you. He made you, He loves you, and He wants to give you real life and an eternity of joy.

 

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Will YOU be Saved?

It breaks my heart to read Facebook posts and news articles that are pointing at this person or that one and saying, “If this is Christianity, I don’t want it!” First of all, they assume that the ones they are talking about are Christians, but the Bible makes it clear that it isn’t that easy to know who is a Christian and who is not (Matthew 13:24-30). Further, the Bible also teaches that there will be some Christians who do nothing good, but will still be saved (1 Corinthians 3:11-15). Jesus died to save us from sin and He wants those who trust Him and are saved to do the good works that result from that salvation (Ephesians 2:8-10), but there will be those who will believe and yet never do the good things Jesus intended.

There is an enemy who will point out these kinds of people and do whatever he has to do to distract you and keep you from learning the truth. If you clicked the link for Matthew 13 above, you saw that an enemy planted the tares. That enemy is Satan and he is real. He does not want you to be saved, and he has plans for you that are not good. He wants to steal from you, kill you and destroy you — but Jesus wants to give you life, abundant life (John 10:10).

It will do you no good to look around and determine whether or not you want to be a Christian, based on who you think is a Christian. The real question is, will you be saved? And if you are saved, will you do the good works God intends for you to do so that others will see those good works and seek after God (Matthew 5:16)?

There is a war going on, and your soul hangs in the balance. Don’t be fooled into believing that anything, including your own good deeds, can save you. There is only one means of salvation, and that is through believing in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, John 1:12, Romans 10:9-10). The question remains… will you be saved?

 

 

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Don’t Need God? Think Again.

God may be good for some, but you don’t need Him. You do just fine on your own, thank you very much. As much as you may believe that, you’re wrong. Look around you. Everything you see was made by God — everything. Now granted, the earth has been corrupted by sin, but everything good in your life is from God. That’s what God has told us. Not only that, but the only reason it all keeps on going is because God is holding it together. And it all belongs to Him, too.

So, yeah, you need God. But do you want Him? That’s a decision He, incredibly, leaves up to you. Right now you are living in His blessings, but a day will come when He won’t make you do that any longer. If you don’t choose Him, then He will let you have your way and will remove Himself and all that belongs to Him from you. I cannot even imagine how horrible that will be.

If you knew what you were missing, I know you would want Him. God’s plan has always been to undo what sin has done to destroy good, and those who choose God will realize this fully when they die and enter His presence. In the meantime, He walks with those who choose Him, making good of the bad in this life. It’s a hard journey with or without God, but a peaceful one when you know He has it completely in control and works everything for good for those who love Him.

You need Him, but will you choose Him? It’s as simple as recognizing and then telling Him that you need Him and want Him to take care of your sin and to lead you into life. If you want to know more, read the gospel of John in the Bible — here’s a link to chapter 1. I send this with a prayer that you will choose Him.

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I Can’t Do That

If you’ve never read something in the Bible that you knew you couldn’t do, then you probably haven’t read very much of it. If the Bible was composed of physical tasks like “read your Bible each day” or “give away a shirt every time you buy one”, you could probably pull that off. But instead God says things like “you must forgive from your heart” and “love your enemies” — things that you might be able to convince others you do, but not God who knows your heart.

When we reckon with this, we can become discouraged or, if it’s someone who is considering this as the truth of being a Christ follower, they may just turn away thinking it an impossible path for them. When Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all that he had and follow Him, he just couldn’t do it, and so he turned away.

Recognizing that you can’t do it is exactly where you need to be, and it’s exactly where God wants you to be. The ones who are really in trouble are those who think they can do it and keep trying on their own. The truth is I need God — we all do. The things God puts before us to do are the things that bring us life, things that are impossible to do without Him. And that’s the point. When He tells me the impossible, then I turn to Him and He does in me what I cannot do. Most of the time this doesn’t happen in an instant, but happens as I continue to walk with Him, day-by-day, bringing to Him my struggle to do what He tells me.

Forgiving from the heart was a huge battle for me over many years. Some things that had been done to me were a big deal and had impacted my life greatly. But I knew Jesus said that for God to forgive me for all of the wrongs I’d committed against Him, that I had to forgive those who had hurt me. And so I kept coming to Him over and over. One by one and over many years, I was able to forgive those who had hurt me, and to forgive them from my heart. He did the impossible.

So what impossible task has God put before you today? Will you try to do it yourself? Will you turn away from God? Or will you turn to Him, however many times you have to, until He does in you what you cannot do. If you do turn to Him, I promise that you won’t regret it. There is peace, freedom and joy on the other side. I know because I’m living there now.

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Lent – Give Up or Take Up?

Have you chosen to give up something for Lent? Many people do, and for various reasons, but the reasons are not what I want to talk about today. This post is to encourage you to take up something — something you may already do, but which you may understand you need to do even more.

In Luke 21, Jesus told His followers about some pretty scary things having to do with the coming fall of Jerusalem as well as the difficulties of the times before He would return. He ended the discourse saying, “But keep on the alert at all times, praying in order that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” We know that Jesus also pressed His disciples to pray with Him in the Garden before His arrest, telling them to pray so that they wouldn’t fall into temptation. They slept instead, and the result was that they ran away in fear and Peter even denied Jesus publicly.

It was while in prayer that God called Paul and Barnabas to set out on their missionary journeys. It was during a gathering for prayer during a fearful time that the Holy Spirit filled the believers with courage and power. There are countless stories in the Old and New Testaments where things happened because people prayed. You see, we need to pray because we need God. All too often we worry rather than pray, or we set out to deal with something rather than kneel before the One who has the battle plan in hand. And the days we live in are dark and they are difficult; we must pray so that we remain true to our God. Many things will pull at our time and our hearts to distract us from pursuing God’s Kingdom and lead us, instead, to indulge in worthless things. It is through talking with our Father that we can avoid the trappings, that we can find what we need for each moment, that we can be empowered by His Spirit to live courageously and victoriously in this world.

During this Lent season, pray. And if you give up something, let what you’ve given up remind you to pray. When the stomach rumbles, or the blank screen of the T.V. woos you to turn it on, or that piece of candy keeps calling out to you — whatever it is that you give up, let it lead you to take up prayer.

 

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A Kind God?

Last year, while participating in a once a week fast during Lent season with some others from my church, I set out on my first fasting day early in the morning to seek the Lord. I was stunned when He spoke to my heart that He didn’t want me to do a total fast that day, just a fast from sugar. It seemed too easy, especially since I don’t take in a lot of sugar anyway. And it was out of character for the way I saw God. You see, somewhere along life’s way I got the idea that God likes to make people squirm, likes to make things hard for us. Though I wouldn’t have said so, it’s almost like I saw Him as having a bit of a cruel side to Him.

Probably the one place we might justify God being hard on us is when we have acted out against Him. But He is not even desirous of bringing pain to us there – just look at the story of the Prodigal Son in Scripture. Jesus often gave stories to help us understand God, and in the Prodigal Son we see a God of great kindness. In the story, when the young son insisted on his own way, the father let him go. He didn’t want to let him go; he didn’t want to release him to all of the pain and sorrow that would await him ahead because of his choices. And when the pain came and left the young man destitute, his father, who had been looking for him every day since he left welcomed him with open arms and threw him a party.

Our God is the one who said to His people Israel (who were so insistent on their own way that He had to remove His blessing for a time), “I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you… plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:10-11, NIV). No, our God is not a cruel God at all, but very kind, always wanting the best for us. This is peace for my heart during times when I am feeling pain because I know God doesn’t like it either, but is leading me to good.

In that “easy” fasting day God had something wonderful He wanted to teach me. He wanted to correct my wrong thinking about Him and draw my heart ever closer to Him. And the next week? The lesson was over, so I didn’t get off the hook. But I now know, whether in pain or at ease, He is taking me ever deeper into His great love, and that is a wonderful gift from a very kind God who loves me immeasurably!

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I Got No Time for That!

Lord, My plate is full today. There are bills to pay, taxes to work on, cleaning to do… and that along with things like making meals and doing laundry. And since I stayed up later than usual last night (squeezing out every drop of Friday night freedom I possibly could), I got up a little later this morning. And, well, Saturdays are tough anyway because I am not in my routine. I usually have breakfast, then time set aside with You, then exercise, shower, and then I fly into my activities for the day, and it’s easy because it’s habit. But it’s late today, Lord, and the morning has flown by and it’s already lunch time, and I haven’t had time to sit down with You yet. If I do that now, how will I get everything else done?

Then that still, small Voice, “I’m what puts the rest of your day in order.” So I listen to that Voice, and I open my Bible on my lunch table, nourishing my soul along with my body. And He meets me, and He blesses me, and I know that nothing else matters except getting my soul aligned with my Maker. And suddenly I realize that my perspective has changed. My day is no longer a list of things I have to do, but a path I get to take with my Lord who will, through these things, make eternal deposits in my soul.

Thanks, Lord, for having the last word. Thanks for the way You always lead me to life.

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Every Part Matters

If you’ve done any reading on what happens when you begin to exercise muscles that you haven’t worked on for a while, you are probably aware that expanding your muscles really means creating little tears in them that, when healed, result in bigger, stronger muscles. But the tearing hurts, and that’s what causes the soreness you feel after working out some underworked muscles. The soreness is usually a pleasant feeling in the sense that you know you’ve really worked on something.

Recently, however, I inadvertently worked a little muscle that I found has a big voice of pain (not a little pleasant ouch). Wanting to bless my hard-working husband, I decided to get out his ladder and take down some Christmas lights. Moving a ladder that is about 3 times my height proved to be a formidable task and gave me a new appreciation for the summer painting my husband does. The lights were removed without incident, or so I thought. But there was this little muscle in my back that had been doing its job supporting my body quite nicely. However, when I moved that ladder around, that little muscle was called upon to work harder than it normally needs to, and I had not adequately prepared it for the task. The next day it complained… loudly.

That little, seemingly insignificant muscle has been a source of terrible pain, and has limited my ability to move and live life as I normally do. My doctor assures me it will heal, but the journey has not been a pleasant one.

God tells us that every part of the church, the body of Christ, is necessary. There are many in the body whose tasks run in the background, or who may feel that what they do isn’t really needed. A little muscle in my back reminds me that every part is significant. That muscle has been doing its job every day, unknown to me. But when it was called upon to work in a way for which it wasn’t prepared, I suddenly realized not only that it is there, but that it has an important function in my body. And the pain that it has experienced has affected my entire body.

I see two lessons in this. First, each of God’s children has a function in the body of Christ (read about it here). What is your part? If you don’t know, ask God to show you. Second, we need to be building ourselves up for our tasks. Are you learning from the Word regularly? Are you growing in your faith?

You have a task ordained for you from God, and He has given that task to you only, so you are a necessary part of His body, the church. Step up today and live your part so that the body of Christ may function as God intends.

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