Trust

So, to understate things, Israel had some trust issues with the Lord. (I’m glad to know I’m not the only one.)

The Old Testament spends a lot of time chronicling the ways in which Israel failed to believe God would/could take care of them, despite His promise that He would and His continual actions that showed He would.  They were quick to blame Him when they experienced the fall out of their own unfaithful actions (…this is starting to sound like someone else I know…).

In one particular instance (Isaiah 50:1), an exiled Israel dared to accuse God of abandoning them, comparing Him to a man who divorces his wife and a father who sells his children to pay off his debts (an acceptable practice back then).

God is quick to flip the tables on Israel, correcting their out of touch spin they’d put on the situation. He tells them, essentially, “Oh, you’ve been ‘abandoned’ all right, but not because left you; I gave you warning upon warning upon warning to stop committing idolatry, but you wouldn’t listen. Your stubborn hearts left Me, and now you’re experiencing the natural consequences of the choices you’ve made,” (Isaiah 50:1-2).

If the story had ended here, it’d be nothing more than a he-said-she-said middle school break up. Yes, Israel would’ve been guilty of breaking their covenant with God to only worship and fully obey Him, but God also would’ve been guilty of breaking His end of the deal to never leave or forsake Israel.

Frankly, I don’t have time for a God like that.

Can I say that?

I don’t need a “God” who isn’t true to His word (even when I’m not true to mine). I’ve got plenty of humans that can let me down in that regard (in fact, all of them can, myself included). An untrustworthy, undependable God is not something I am in the market for.

But the story didn’t end there… after God gives the exiled Israel their reality check, something intriguing happens.

He says, “Was my arm too short to ransom you? Do I lack the strength to rescue you?”

Do you see it?

God switches verb tenses.

The first question is past tense – was God unable to save Israel from whatever problems they were experiencing, “forcing” them to run to false gods?

The second question is present tense – is God too weak to rescue Israel from her current bondage in Babylon?

Of course, the answer to both questions is no, so the switch in verb tense not only highlights God’s sufficiency in Israel’s past and present situations, it screams the theme of the entire Bible, “REDEMPTION IS COMING!”

Rescue is imminent! God is with us – He always has been – and He is ready to rescue and redeem the hard parts of our lives – of our souls – when we’re ready for Him to. God has never been insufficient in our pasts, and He isn’t insufficient now!

Yes, this is prophecy referring to Israel’s physical rescue from slavery in Babylon. Yes, this is prophecy referring to mankind’s eternal salvation through the person of Jesus Christ. But I believe it is also prophecy referring to the Lord’s rescuing of believers from their everyday trials and tribulations.

The Lord is going to redeem this whole messed up world one day. When He returns, Christ will right it all. But in the meantime, He wants to redeem the individual heartaches we have and stupid choices we make in each of our lives, one by one.

Does He lack the strength to rescue you? Presently? Now?

No, His strength never diminishes. He is the omnipotent One.

Do you lack the strength to trust Him to rescue you? That’s okay. He doesn’t call you to trust perfectly, and His rescuing of you doesn’t depend upon your ability to do so. But being able to trust Him sure makes things easier on you. So ask Him to help you.

“Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God,” (Isaiah 50:10).

Advertisements

Rest

The baby wiggled uncomfortably in my arms, whining with his eyes closed. Over-stimulated and over-tired from the overflow of love my young daughters had been pouring on him all morning, my best friend’s baby boy needed rest. But he had no idea how to get it.

I held him close to my chest, put his pacifier in his mouth, and walked rhythmically around the room. He forgot his whimpering song within moments. No matter how hard he tried to fight it, sleep seduced him. His muscles relaxed, his little arms fell. His suckling stopped, and his breath calmed.

I smiled, the metaphor not lost on me.

I am that baby.

All too often I resist that which I know I need most – rest in the Lord’s unfailing arms. I cry and whine and flail, not realizing the very thing I’m fighting against is what I want most. Or, worse, realizing He is my truest desire and stubbornly refusing to go to Him anyway.

Why do I do that?

The Lord is waiting with bated breath, “Come to Me…and I will give you rest!” (Matthew 11:28). He longs to lavish refreshment upon me, but I must choose to come…

“I will lead you beside quiet waters!” (Psalm 23:2) He says, but if I want the renewal, I must choose to follow Him to the stream…

“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it,'” (Isaiah 30:15).

The baby analogy breaks down in that I was able to override his 4 month old free will. He had no choice but to succumb to the physiological trance his pacifier and my bouncing put him in. (There’s rather fascinating brain science behind this… get on the Google.)

I, on the other hand, being a slightly bigger and smarter human being (questionable), require a lot more coaxing before I can be forced into rest against my will. As near as I can tell, I have a say in the matter, and God isn’t willing to violate that say.

As much as I wish He sometimes would, God doesn’t give me a pacifier and hold me tight until I pass out. He allows me to stay as cranky as I choose to stay until I decide I’ve had enough and will come to Him for rest on my own accord. And, sadly, I can fight Him a lot longer than my little buddy who falls asleep by our third trip around the coffee table.

Why do I do that?

I could learn a lot from my little baby friend.

When I’m tired, when life is overwhelming and I’m over-stimulated and over-extended and flat OVER everything… Lord, help me choose Your rest, and help me to trust it really is what I want and need most. 

How to Stop Feeling Disappointed

Sometimes I feel disappointed.

You too?

It really doesn’t take much to cause us to feel disappointed. That’s kind of just life’s default setting. Even for you optimists it takes effort and intentionality to overcome our hard-wired inclination to feel less than impressed with a lot of facets of life.

But why do we feel disappointed so often?

I suppose the clinical reason is because our expectations aren’t met.

Expectations

Lower your expectations, they say, and your expectations will be more easily met. So, in theory, you’ll be disappointed less often.

Can I say that emotional math has never really sat right with me? 

We are created in God’s image, and I don’t think God restrains His desires and dreams and feelings in an effort to self-protect against disappointment. So neither should we.

We were created with the ability to feel deeply, just as the Lord does. And with those feelings come expectations… of ourselves, of other people, and of God.

And that’s okay!

Expectations are perfectly logical and reasonable things to have.

The trouble comes when we misplace our expectations – when we set them on people (including ourselves). It turns out people can’t handle the full weight of other people’s expectations. And when we think they should, we set ourselves up to be disappointed at some point or another.

So if people can’t bear the weight of our undiluted hopes and dreams and passions and feelings, and if dialing our emotions back a bit in an attempt to self-protect isn’t the answer, what is?

What are we to do with our God-given emotions that naturally produce expectations?

In the book of Isaiah the Lord says, “Then you will know that I am the LORD; those who hope in me will not be disappointed,” (Isaiah 49:23).

When is “then”?

For the original audience of this prophecy, “then” was after the Lord brought back the rebellious Israelites to their homeland, after 70 years of living in exile in Babylon. So, basically, after they realized the gravity of their idolatry and repented, then Israel would know that God is God.

Our “then” is along the same lines. After a period of discipline for committing idolatry in our own 21st century ways, after we’ve come to our senses and repented and the Lord has chosen to forgive us and restore us, then we will know that God is God.

And whether it’s old school Israelites or modern us, when we know God is God, when we choose to put Him where He belongs – on the thrones of our hearts, above all other loves we have – what we’re really doing is hoping in Him. In other words, we’re placing our expectations on Him.

And when all of our emotion-driven desires are placed on God, we will not be disappointed. 

Where disappointment comes from

This is a promise! And an exciting one, at that. This is emotional math I can get behind.

We don’t have to dial back our passions or build self-protective walls of “_____ isn’t that important to me…” No, we can feel the full effect of our hopes and dreams and have no fear of disappointment if we put all of our hopes in the Lord

Are you feeling disappointed about something today? Ask yourself two questions:

  1. What expectation do I have that isn’t being met?
  2. In whom or on what am I placing that expectation?

Then pray something like this, “Lord, I feel disappointed about ______. I have wrongly put my hope in ______ to fulfill my expectation about this. Forgive me, Father, and help me to put my hope in You about this situation. The Bible says if I hope in You I will not be disappointed. I’m taking You at Your Word and trust You because You are faithful.”

It’s Clear Above the Clouds

If I had to guess, I’ve flown about 100 times in my life. As a military kid, flying was a way of life. Whether we were moving halfway around the world or traveling to visit extended family members we weren’t privileged to live near, I spent more time at 34,000 feet by the time I was 12 than most people do in their whole lives.

All that to say, I’m familiar with the process.

Yet, every single time I ascend in an airplane, I am filled with wonder. Good wonder, mostly. (I have bad wonder too – how do people taller than 5’6″ and more than 115 lbs use the lavatories, for instance.)

My flights Thursday and Sunday were no different. Like a child on her first flight, I peered out the oval window almost the entire time, waxing philosophical.

During the initial climbs I pondered, as I always do, how it is that the human brain came up with this extreme way to defy gravity. I imagine God was laughing as gleefully as the Wright brothers were when they finally got their contraption off the ground. The joy of creating and the thrill of invention is something God is quite familiar with.

Then, as we passed through the clouds, I thought, as I always do, how mysterious clouds are. They look so soft and fluffy, like cotton stuffing from a child’s teddy bear, yet we physically pass through them as if they are phantoms. I’m not up on the science, so perhaps that’s why it perplexes me that we can see clouds but we can’t feel clouds…

photo (2)

After we passed through the clouds, we were, as it were, above the clouds. We settled in at cruising altitude and sped across the round surface of the earth at over 600 miles per hour, but it felt like we were crawling… another enigma that always comes to mind when I’m flying.

It’s at this point I always think about how close, relatively speaking, I am to space. The clouds beneath me, the light blue sky bleeding imperceptibly into navy blue, I suppose, as a result of the dark, atmospheric blanket hugging our little world – it’s miraculous to me that the average human (astronauts not withstanding) can safely and successfully travel that far off the ground…

photo (1)These are the things that run through my mind on each and every flight I take. But that’s not it. There’s always more. I always have at least one unique revelation when I’m hurtling through the sky in awe.

(For instance, when I was 13 years old, flying alone, peering out the window, I decided the deceptive nature of clouds was a symbol for life – nothing is as it seems, and everything is a disappointing facade. I was delightful back then 🙂 )

Thursday’s flight was no different. With my forehead pressed against the plexiglass (I hope someone cleaned that before I got on the plane), staring straight out at the bluest of sky, I realized something.

It’s always clear above the clouds. 

When planes take off, assuming it isn’t an entirely clear day, they are below the clouds, and their goal is to get above the clouds to make a smooth ride for the passengers. Pilots may disagree with me, (and they certainly would be qualified to do so), but I personally have never been on a flight where we didn’t get above the clouds and discover every single time that it was clear up there.

We pass through the clouds, sometimes being unable to see anything at all and often uncomfortably bumping our way to higher elevation. But once we get up there, it’s clear… always.

And so the spiritual analogy practically writes itself.

There are real clouds in our lives. I spend most of my time living under them, fretting about the storms they potentially hold. Sometimes I climb inside them, disoriented as to which way is up, blindly searching for safe ground to return to. But rarely do I successfully navigate through them to higher, clearer, peaceful sky.

The Lord doesn’t want us to stay beneath the clouds, too afraid to deal with the painful things within us and that life has in store for us. The truth is, we can’t avoid all pain. If we don’t go through the clouds, sometimes the clouds come down to us – all the way down to the ground in a thick haze of fog.

And the Lord doesn’t want us to get stuck in the clouds – to begin to unwrap the parts of ourselves that need His healing, to begin to embrace the painful parts of life that are meant to grow us into Christ’s image – only to get turned around and fearful when confusion sets in. If we scramble back to the “safety” the ground has to offer, those clouds will still be there, looming, waiting for us to gather up the courage to try to deal with them again…

God wants us to persevere, pushing through the clouds, trusting that He is guiding us by our right hands, leading us to clear, peaceful skies above the clouds.  He wants us to trust Him with our hearts, our pain, our scary circumstances, our needs, our wants, our everything – even when we can’t see – and to allow Him to bring us to the place of His peace that surpasses understanding.

It’s not that the clouds aren’t there anymore when you’re flying at 34,000 feet. They are. You just have a different perspective on them. The storms they contain aren’t so threatening when they are below you. And when we are truly trusting God, allowing Him to infuse our hearts with His peace, the broken parts of ourselves and our lives don’t seem quite so consuming anymore.

“For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”

Isaiah 41:13

Do You Want to Get Well?

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” – John 5:6

Jesus had said this to a man 2000 years ago, but He may as well have said it to me.

To you.

The man in the verse – he had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.

3-8.

I shake my head as I read, thinking how sad a situation…

But then…

How long have you and I been disabled in our own ways? 

I’m pushing thirty-one. How about you?

I shake my head as I reflect, even if I had a couple good years on the front end of my life, I’ve been an invalid for far too long… saved by grace and Heaven-bound, but disabled nonetheless…

The man in the verse – he doesn’t answer Jesus’ question. Jesus is looking for yes or no – do you or don’t you want to get well? But the man says, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me,” (John 5:7).

I guess that’s as good as a yes to Jesus… the man had been trying to get well… he just couldn’t find the help he needed. His heart wanted healing; but the path to healing was so difficult, especially for an invalid. The way to the healing water was littered with people inadvertently blocking his way to full health.

They were probably his friends, those people going down ahead of him. They had spent many days (years?) together, forming relationships as they begged on the side of the road, waiting for the pool to stir… They had nothing but time to build friendships…

So when the waters stirred and all his friends rushed ahead of him, pursuing their own healing, not one stopping to help him down to the pool… I wonder if the invalid was angry… or if he had compassion on them, wanting healing for them, too, because he understood the emotional pain of being disabled…  or if, on account of his love for them, he let them go ahead of him?

If real love is laying down your life for another (1 John 3:16), looking to another’s best interest no matter the cost to you, how are you and I loving the broken around us by encouraging them to pursue healing?

Whatever his feelings about the others going down ahead of him, the man expressed the desire to get well. So Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk,” and the man was healed (John 5:8). Not by some magic waters, but by the very Word of God. 

I wonder if Jesus would’ve healed the man if he had responded differently to Jesus’ question… if the man had said, ‘No, Jesus, I don’t really want to get well… I’m pretty content to sit here and beg my way through the next 30, 40 years with my broken legs and empty heart.”

I can’t think of one example in the entire Bible of God forcing healing or blessing or favor or health on someone who didn’t want it. 

But the examples of the Lord healing those who want to get well? Those are numerous.

 I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. – 2 Kings 20:5

They will turn to the LORD, and he will respond to their pleas and heal them. – Isaiah 19:22

LORD my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me. – Psalm 30:2

How many years have you and I been sitting disabled by the pool?

Do we want to get well?

Or are we comfortable, albeit miserable, with our familiar disabilities?

Like the invalid by the pool, I think healing of any spiritual infirmity must start with our wills…

Lord, help us want to get well, and help us to trust that You will heal us if that is our desire.

Isaiah 43:11-13

Isaiah 43:11-13. I read it and smile. Because the Old Testament always points to the New. The Bible isn’t 66 books – it’s one book pointing us to our need for the one God.

“I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior.”

God said this to the Israelites some 700 years before Jesus was born.

God gave Himself in Jesus to save a people that could be saved no other way.

God gave Himself in Jesus to save you and me because we can be saved no other way (John 14:6).

“I have revealed and saved and proclaimed… You are my witnesses that I am God.”

God revealed Himself to Israel in a number of ways… burning bushes and separating seas and babies for the barren and on and on.

God reveals Himself to us in the pages of scripture and in the pulse of His Spirit keeping time with ours and in promises proved sure and on and on (2 Timothy 3:16, John 16:13).

God saved His nation from enemy after enemy – Egyptians and Canaanites and Philistines and more.

God saved you and me from the death our sins worked hard to earn us when we accepted the gift only Jesus could afford to give us. And He saves us still from living each day as if we are still hell bound (Romans 6:23, Galatians 5:1).

God proclaimed to Israel over and over – speaking it loud to messenger after messenger – “I am the Lord your God,” (Leviticus 18:4, Exodus 20:2-3).

God proclaims the same message to us – speaking it loud in book after book – “I am the Lord your God,” (John 17:3, Colossians 1:16).

Israel witnessed God’s displays – grand and subtle – of His Godness. Passover protection and morning manna and lavish land…

Do we see?

Look around at our divinely orchestrated lives within a divinely complicated creation. He still protects and provides and pours out blessings too numerous to count and too good to convey on us.

We are witnesses when we choose to be.

“No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?”

Not then. Not now. No one can undo what the Lord does. He has revealed and saved and proclaimed, and there will be no undoing any of it.

We can’t cover up His working. We can’t explain it away with scientific theories or paint over it with another coating of skeptical shellac.

He has revealed what He has revealed.

We can board a ship sailing away from Nineveh – we can try to flee His presence – but He goes with us. We can deny we love Him – deny we know Him – three times before the rooster crows, but He still claims us, holds us, preserves us, redeems us from ourselves.

He has saved whom He has saved.

We can say it’s all untrue – believe lies about ourselves and our God – but He still says what He says in scripture – we are His, we are forgiven, and He has good plans for us (1 John 3:1, Romans 8:1, Romans 8:28).

He proclaims what He proclaims.

Who can reverse it?

Not us.

Not any one.

Amen.

A New Thing

This is what the Lord says –

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:18-19

I am guilty, as I’m sure you are, of remembering the former things instead of forgetting them, of dwelling on the past instead of moving forward, of not perceiving what God is doing in my life because I’m stuck on what’s already been done.

We rehearse the ways we failed and the ways we were failed by others.

Combing through our childhoods, looking for explanations – excuses – as to why we are what we wish we weren’t.

Combing through our careers, looking for choices we made that led us to the jobs we wish we didn’t have.

Combing through our marriages, looking for moments that brought us to the places we wish we weren’t.

Combing through our broken relationships, looking for reasons we aren’t as close as we wish we were.

Other times we run to the former things because we’re certain they were better than where we are now. 

We replay those handful of good memories made perfect by the passage of time, wishing we could rewind to relive those days we’re certain were our best.

All of this dwelling on the past, whether we’re loathing it or glorifying it? It’s no good.

Because when we look back – with our eyes and with our hearts – we can’t see what’s happening now. We can’t perceive the new thing – the good thing – the Lord is doing right under our noses when they’re pointed toward the past.

The Lord – He’s always doing a new thing for us – in us. He’s always making a way in the desert, streams in the wasteland.

A New Thing
image via numanzaa at freedigitalphotos.net

He  is continually renewing and redeeming all that we thought was barren and parched (2 Corinthians 4:16).

Do we perceive it?

Are we paying attention to the now?

The new things God is doing in each of our lives – they spring up like Jacks in boxes. And like children surprised something so delightful comes out of something so plain, God wants us to laugh in astonishment as He raises new things from our nothings.

Don’t miss it. 

Spread your smile wide and your eyes even wider and delight yourself in the Lord (Psalm 37:4).

He is doing a new thing. For me. For you.