The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
   I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
   your rod and your staff,
   they comfort me.
Psalms 23:4

The thought of dying is scary.  Trust me, it is. No matter how much faith and trust in the Lord a person has, facing mortality is hard.  Fear of pain, compassion for the family and friends left behind, all the things you’ve left undone. It is a lot to carry.

As I’ve endured this very hard season in my life.  (Hard season is what I’ve been calling this tremendous trial of pain and suffering, by the way.)  I have cried out to God in anger, fear, frustration, hope, trust, love. A range of emotions that varies moment to moment.

Dying is that inevitability that we all face. And it still sucks.  I’ve been sick for so long, slowly bleeding to death and there have been no real answers.  Medications, transfusions, iron infusions, more medications. Tests and more tests. And it all points to the same outcome.

Now I’m being faced with the opportunity to have it come to an end without my death.  It would come in the form of surgery. But I’ve got a lot of risk factors that have kept it from being a viable option over the last few years.  Yet, now I’m being encouraged to consider this option in the hope that it will save my life.

But I don’t want surgery.  They can’t do it laparoscopically.  They can’t use the robot. They will have to cut through me the old fashioned way and it’s not going to be pretty or easy to recover from.  And the risks post operative are just as bleak.

The problem should be solved by surgery, however.  And I’m tired of slowly bleeding to death. I just keep finding myself praying for a miracle.  I know that God can heal me. And I want Him to heal me. He can stop the bleeding. He can make me whole and alive.

On top of it all, though, is this faith building journey.  I have had to walk through the valley of the shadow of death in order to find the comfort in Christ’s rod and staff.  

I’ve had to face all the emotional and mental torment that I have bottled up over the years.  I’ve had to face the horrific PTSD that has plagued my life. I’ve had to go places in my memory (with the help of a gifted Christian therapist) that I never wanted to go back to, but were a festering poison in my mind and body.

Will I live or die?  Will I be healed by God through miracle or man?  Only the prayers of the saints can fuel God’s decision.  Only the hope in the testimony that glorifies God’s victory can keep me moving forward.  

I have to have hope.  Lord, give me hope to trust You.

I will not die but live,
   and will proclaim what the Lord has done.
Psalms 118:17

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Oh Mighty Man of Valor

And the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor.”
Judges 6:12

I’ve had a lot of people tell me I was courageous.  At times in my life I’ve felt like I was. I even have “Be strong and courageous” tattooed on my wrist.  But there are times when I just want to hide away from the world and stay “safe”, afraid and in the dark, but safe.  

But as I was praying this morning, the Lord reminded me of this verse from Judges.  Poor Gideon was hiding in a hole, afraid of getting killed, when he had a visitation and a calling from the Lord.  

Gideon felt and acted like a coward.  And that’s sometimes what I do. We all do it, right?  But that’s not what God sees. He doesn’t see our fear or failings.  He blotted out our transgressions, our fears, our cowardice, our doubt.  

Our God defined Gideon as a mighty man of valor before he’d done anything valourous at all.  But if you are familiar with the story, you know what happens with Gideon. God patiently, pleasingly, persistently guides Gideon into discovering who God made him to be.

We need to remember that.  We aren’t who we think we are.  We were made with a purpose, to be God’s ambassadors.  We were made to be strong and courageous, not by overcoming our fear and doubt, or fighting through our circumstances, but by God.  God made us strong and courageous. We walk confidently into battle because of Him.

As David said so confidently, as a kid with a slingshot against the world’s definition of a “mighty man of valor”:

“You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.”
1 Samuel 17:45

I think that one of the most important things we can learn from scripture is that we don’t have to rely on ourselves.  God is with us. And what a great relief that is. I don’t know about you, but I’m really done relying on myself. I put all my money on God’s power within me.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
Romans 8:31

I Can Trust Him

I can trust Him.

If God is good
I can trust Him
If God is sovereign
I can trust Him
If God is faithful
I can trust Him
If God is righteous
I can trust Him
If God is Holy
I can trust Him
If God is Faithful
I can trust Him
If God is Savior
I can trust Him
If God is God
I can trust Him.

I can trust Him.

Obligations

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9

Since when did God ever say to His children, “You are obligated to do such and such because I saved you…” or “You better be good or this is over!” or “You need to do this or I won’t love you anymore.” Never.

That’s not our God. The only “must do” in God’s book for us is to receive and accept His love and mercy, not work through a set of rules and obligations in order to earn or prove something to Him.  History has proven over and over that we suck at must dos anyway.

So, why on earth do we feel so obligated all the time?  We say things like: “I better not miss church, or…”, “I better give a full ten percent tithe, or…”, or “I better be this way or that way or…”  

We need to stop that.  We really do. What do we think grace means?  Do we do good or behave well because we don’t want to lose God’s love, or because we want to show God our love?

Why do we walk around with so much fear? Why don’t we trust. We don’t believe God’s promises.  We don’t trust His grace.  There’s got to be a catch, right?

Humanity is so fickle.  People stop being friends over ridiculous things.  Fathers abandon children. Mothers expect perfection.  Friends demand attention. But is that who we are, as children of God?  Is that our legacy? No wonder we can’t trust God!  We can’t always even count on our own family!

Wasn’t the whole point of God’s plan to get us out of that mess that is “obligation”, and into the peace of not having to worry about that stuff anymore?

But the ten commandments!  What about those, you say!? Those are rules.  Those are obligations!

“For it is by grace that we have been saved….”

The ten commandments.  The Golden Rule.  They aren’t contradictions, they aren’t demands.  They aren’t obligations.  They’re all just a way for God to show us how hopeless we are without Him and how beautiful life can be with Him. 

There’s no random list of rules. No list of obligations.  No “you better, or…” All any of those rules God laid out to us proved is that we can’t do it.  We’re going to make a golden calf every single time, because we’re scared and broken and full of our own great ideas, and have no trust in God.

But we can’t do anything good enough to earn God or His love. We just can’t.  He has been offering us those things since the beginning of time.  And we could either accept it or not.

Grace.  Forgiveness.  Love. Why do we want this from people, but struggle to receive it from God?  Maybe it’s fear. Maybe it’s obligation. Maybe it’s habit. It doesn’t really matter why,  

God loves us.  He doesn’t obligate us.  He loves without condition.  He loves when we hate. When we are evil.  When we are wrong. When we are broken. He loves us.

8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8

He gave us Christ so we wouldn’t be obligated.  He gave us Christ because He loves us.  Only in Christ can we recieve God’s love and forgiveness.  Only in Christ could God give us what we need, what we deserve, what we want.  Only Christ could take our deserving punishment of death and conquer it.  Only Christ could give us His love without asking anything in return.  Only Christ could reunite us with what the Creator of the Universe.

Only Christ. 

The only way we can screw that up is to not believe it.

So, please stop fighting it.  Just recieve it.

16 “For God so loved the world,[i] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
John 3:16-21

 

Working on the Sabbath

A few months ago I reopened my Clothing Resale Store on eBay after a four year break when I had to stop to take care of my ailing mother full time.  Now that I’m back at it, I find myself working very hard, often as many as 16 hours a day. That’s just the life of a reseller. And I love it. I truly do, which is why it’s not a surprise that I would throw myself into it with such exuberance.

As I’ve contemplated how to find a healthy balance of work, life, and ministry, I began to marvel at the unending attention of Our Heavenly Father.  He is always at work, even when He’s at rest. Look at Jesus: He got in so much trouble with the Pharisees for healing people on the Sabbath.

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus,[a] to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Mark 3:1-6

I think working to do good, working to heal and comfort and encourage, working to love and to smile even when things are hard, are all things we don’t need to take a break from.  Does God ever stop listening? Or stop blessing? Or stop comforting?

We can rest in doing what comes natural to us. God asked us to keep the Sabbath and keep it holy so that we would stop and remember all that God has made and done, just like He did “in the beginning”. And He called it good.

I’m working through a lot of hard stuff lately. For me, it has become season in my life primarily of seclusion and introspection.  In a lot of ways, I’ve seen it as a season of Sabbath rest. I know that may sound like an oxymoron. I’m working to think on things.  

Now, stay with me here, I’m working to see that all that God has made and done is good. I’ve stopped trying to be good and started recognizing God’s good in me.  Like with my eBay store. He gave it back to me so that I could have something in my life again that was mine. That may sound strange, but as a mother and wife most of my life, my world has mostly been about other people.  Even my ministry is about others: encouraging, prophesying, hugging, loving the unlovable.

My store has given me a chance to stop and think about me.  It’s a time of solitude and work, but also a time of reflection and peace in what God has given me and made for me.  It’s an opportunity for me to experience joy during a time when my heart is heavy with sorrow and difficult emotions.

God is working.  That’s something my therapist keeps reminding me of.  God is working. He’s healing me, even on the Sabbath.  Even when He’s resting and smiling at me and what He has made in me.  He is working on me. He is loving me and teaching me.

Work can be love.  It can be healing. It can be rest.  And maybe that stuff isn’t “work” after all.  Maybe that was Jesus’ point. Love shouldn’t stop on the Sabbath because it might take work.  Like His own nature, Love is Eternal and Infinite. It never stops. It never takes a break. And it is always good.

Modern Miracles: Controversy Alert!

I spent a good portion of my adult life in churches that believed that miracles were something that only happened during “Biblical Times”.  The idea that the giftings of the Spirit of God were only true in a long time ago when the Church really needed it to advance the Gospel. (This view is called cessationism if you were wondering.)

Never having learned anything else, I accepted this as fact even though it twitched in the back of my head as not feeling right.  Now, I’m not trying to start a debate with anyone, and I’m not trying to say that millions of people with this point of view are wrong. I’m just saying it didn’t sit right with me.

As I grew in my relationship with Jesus, and grew in my love and reading of the Bible, I began to experience things in my life that could only be described as miracles.  And I didn’t know how to partner these experiences with the teachings I heard from the pulpit.

I watched my devout Muslim husband come to Christ.

I experienced physical, instantaneous healings.

I knew things about people that I couldn’t possibly have known and was somehow able to speak to them in that knowledge and offer supernatural encouragement and wisdom.  

I began to hear God speaking to me in my “heart”.  I heard scripture that I didn’t know but googled to discover was in the Bible.

I got comfort when I should have felt nothing but pain.

I felt freedom when horrible things in life had enslaved me.

I could go on and on and on about this stuff.  And the older I get, and the more I “grow” in my love affair with Jesus, the more experiential and miraculous my encounters with the Living God become.  It has become undebatable to me. I know what I know. It’s my testimony.

God has empowered us, gifted us, to do miracles.  Ya, that’s what I said. And He did it for His Glory and for His bride and for His Honor.  In other words, He did it for us and for Him.

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
2 Corinthians 4:7-11

Do you hear that?  Those are miracles.  Miracles that glorify a Good God, a Worthy God, a Loving God.  Miracles we might miss if we are too busy questioning the validity of such things.

Lord, teach us to see the miraculous.  Teach us to see Your Power. Teach us to be Your Bride and Your Sons, with full inheritance to what You offer us.  Teach us to listen better to You and test everything against Your Word and Your Spirit. Lord teach us to think and listen and learn through Your Spirit, so that we can be more conscious of the miracles you want to perform through us and for us.  Amen.