In My Own Strength

27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
John 14:27

I’ve been told my whole life how strong I am.  How courageous I am. I’m a fighter. People say I’m tough as nails, that I have true grit, that I’m so brave. I even have Joshua 1:9 tattooed on my wrist.  To the world, I am so strong.

But I’m not strong at all.  I’m weak and fearful and tired.  And every time I try to fall back on my strength and grit my teeth to work through something, I fail.  That’s right. All my strength, all my courage, all my grit is nothing.

Without Jesus it is nothing.  I am nothing. My strength, my courage, my lionheart…they all come from Jesus.  He is my strength. He’s the one who made me this way. He’s the one who brought me through trials over and over again.  When I rely on Him to see me through my circumstances I somehow manage to make it through. He has made me strong.

I think for too long I’ve thought that God’s strength at work in me was actually me.  So when I tried to fight through things I struggled, I bruised my knees, I cried, I failed.  Ya. It sucks to fail. And it’s hard to admit that I can’t do anything in my own power. Even the air I breathe is dependant on God’s grace.

But when I look back on all the triumph, and all the times I made it through to the other side of whatever I was fighting, I see that the one thing they all had in common was Jesus.  When something was hard and I succeeded in pushing through it, I realize that the power came from asking Jesus to help me.

When you’re in the midst of trial it is so hard to rely on God’s strength because everything is hard when you are suffering.  It was hard for Jesus to carry that cross to Golgotha.

What I’m learning is that I don’t have to feel, see, or even trust that God is giving me His strength.  I know that sounds crazy, but because I love God and because He has a 100% track record with me, I don’t have to get it.  I don’t have to understand. It is a fact that is not dependent on my understanding, or even my faith. It just is.

Releasing my feelings, and releasing my worry, and just remembering that God always sees me through is enough.  God brings His strength and peace because He promised He would. And that is enough.

So, Lord, help me get passed myself and my feelings and my arguments.  Give me the strength that you have promised me and see me through this trial and the next by Your power.  I don’t have to understand. I don’t have to worry. I can trust You. Help me to trust You, Jesus. Help me to trust Your perfect record with me. Give me faith. Help me stay in Your arms no matter what battle rages around me.  Help me to know that You are God. I love You, Jesus. Thank You for Your strength.

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
   I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
   he makes my feet like the deer’s;
   he makes me tread on my high places.
Habakkuk 3:18-19

 

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Hiding in the Right Place

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
   will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
   my God, in whom I trust.”
Psalm 91:1-2

I’ve discovered something recently.  I don’t dwell in the shelter of the Most High enough.  I let fear rule me and I make hiding places like two of the three little pigs.  

Mostly, I think I do it out of laziness, if I’m being honest. I know how to hide in Jesus, but I get comfortable doing things my way.  I want to hide in my work, or a delicious piece of chocolate cake, or a big shopping spree. Instant gratification. Physical reward.

Hiding in Jesus looks like nothing in the physical.  It looks foolish. It looks vulnerable. It looks very poorly planned to the outside world.  But I was reading in 2 Kings this morning and I got embarrassed.

15 When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” 16 He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
2 Kings 6:15-17

I was embarrassed because this is a story you learn in Sunday School.  This is the type of story we teach in Vacation Bible School and backyard Bible Club.  This is a familiar story to me. Very familiar. And, like Elisha’s servant, I revert to looking only at the physical, instead of seeing and knowing from experience that my God has power in the unseen as well as the seen.

This can sound like I’m beating myself up a bit, but I’m not!  I’m rejoicing that the Lord kept me from taking this truth for granted.  He reminded me again that He is my shelter and that there are things in the unseen that carry power in the world that we can’t perceive with our eyes. Power for good and power for evil.  And I need to make my shelter in the strong fortress of God if I want to be protected!

27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 1:27-31

See, this isn’t about me.  It’s about God.

if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
2 Timothy 2:13

God is faithful when I am not.  I’m a fool. I lack wisdom. I see the world instead of looking with the eyes of the Spirit God gave me.  But He is faithful. He is happy to show me the angels camped around me with their stony eyed glares and their fiery chariots.  That’s our God. That’s my God.

Lord, help me take shelter in You, the unseen fortress of strength and courage that protects me amidst the flying arrows of the enemy.  Give me spiritual vision and deeper faith to trust You even when it’s hard. Let Your name be glorified in me, Jesus. Let Your name be my shelter. Amen.

 

 

Dying to Self

24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
John 12:24

It’s hard to imagine that dying to self could be a pleasant experience.  It goes against all reason and sense. Dying is bad, right? Dying hurts.  Dying is the end. But not to God.

Each day I am dying to myself.  I am letting all that I am, all that I have, and all that I want be broken down into death so that it can be resurrected by Christ for His glory.  

To God, dying brought life and light to the world.  Jesus conquered death so that it no longer had to hold me with its fear and power.  Jesus rose from the dead! Jesus rose other people from the dead! Jesus brings life from death in all of His creation!  The seed that dies and is buried springs for life. Every 24 hours, the day itself dies in a glow of majestic color and beauty only to succumb quickly to darkness, and then be reborn again the following morning.  

So I guess death isn’t quite as bad as it sounds.  Nihilists make death the end. Not Jesus. Jesus proclaims death to self for us, so that we might live:  not on our own, with our sinful brokenness and decay, but with Christ who lives within us, magnified, glorified and free.

20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Galatians 2:20

I don’t know about you, but I like the sound of freedom.  The evil in this world sickens me. It sickens most of us.  We hate it and we wonder why God would let it happen. But God has offered us a free solution if we want it.  And the solution is to let God make us alive through Jesus Christ. When we submit to Him and die to our own desires, we receive the fullness of life that God always intended.  

So, I choose to let myself be put to death so that I might find and enjoy life in Christ, because Christ Himself lives in me by His Spirit.

“We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us.” 2 Corinthians 4:7

In the Summer of 2016, while praying the verse above, I received the following vision:

On a plain pedestal rests a cracked and pitiful clay pot.  The pot is large. It is crazed with lines and imperfections.  It isn’t made to last. It isn’t even finished. It isn’t fired.  It’s fragile. Unpainted. Unadorned. But little beams of light stream out through the cracks and chips. The light inside the pot makes ornate patterns across the shell and beautiful pictures reflect on the walls of the room.  The pot is me.

Without warning a giant sledgehammer slams down on it.  The pot is annihilated. Dust and debris remain for a moment and then dissipate in the breeze. The light within the pot also explodes, but the light has form.  The light covers everything. It cannot be extinguished. The source of the light remains bright and strong. It throbs with power. It is joy and peace and love.  It is unquenchable. The light coats everything it touches with a thickness that spreads and grows. Little splatters become throbbing pulsing lights of their own.

 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:5

My earthen vessel, my jar of clay, has been shattered by the enemy, but the Lord’s hand is upon the hammer.  The Lord made the hammer and the jar. The Lord decides what the hammer can strike and what the outcome will be. The Lord will use the destruction of my body as an instrument to spread his enduring, powerful light, his love, his joy, his peace, to thousands upon thousands of people.  Even creation itself will be affected by the light that explodes out of me, and the light will never die. I will never die. The power of God will only spread and multiply.

24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
John 12:24

 

Are You There God, it’s Me, Daisy

Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
   I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
   for how should my name be profaned?
   My glory I will not give to another.
Isaiah 48:10

The holidays are here. Pretty lights, joyful songs, bright smiles from strangers, all create an expectation of joy and anticipation of presents and family and celebration.  Candy and baked goods are passed around with enthusiasm. Decorations fly across houses and yards and streetlights and shop windows. Trees full of lights and shiny ornaments fill up living rooms, and gaily wrapped gifts pile up beneath them.

But what if you’re not feeling it?

Holidays are hard. For so many of us, Christmas and Thanksgiving become a time of sorrow.  Loneliness, depression, past memories and expectations from others take our minds and hearts to a place of affliction and trial, instead of joy.

There’s so much pressure to smile, to laugh, to celebrate. Our lives become performances of their own as we travel to shopping centers, recitals, concerts, parties and religious services.  Music and movies demand our happiness and celebration. It’s exhausting.

In times like these it’s no wonder people get cynical. As the season progresses our “bah humbugs” get louder and louder in our hearts.

It’s an affliction of false promises.

Where are you, Lord, when I feel so terrible?  When the world is singing praise and I’m full of constant sorrow, where do You go?  

Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord?
   Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!
24 Why do you hide your face?
   Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
Psalm 44:23-24

I feel so alone, Jesus!  Are you even there? Do You see my sorrow in this festival of light and joy?  Icons of trees and saints and presents and reindeer and lights, and You’re not in any of it.  It’s all a lie of faith. And Your name will not be profaned.

I see a baby in a filthy cave surrounded by animal dung and the sounds of lowing cows, snorting goats, and pecking chickens.  

In darkness and filth came the Light of the World.  

2 The people who walked in darkness
   have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
   on them has light shone.
3 You have multiplied the nation;
   you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
   as with joy at the harvest,
   as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
4 For the yoke of his burden,
   and the staff for his shoulder,
   the rod of his oppressor,
   you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
   and every garment rolled in blood
   will be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
   to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon[d] his shoulder,
   and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
   Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace
   there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
   to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
   from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Isaiah 9:2-7

You are here.  You do understand.  Help me, Father, to receive the fullness of joy that comes only from Jesus. “The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will do this.”

 

The Salvation of the Lord is Constant

The salvation of the Lord is constant, never ceasing to be at work in us as we strive against the evil of this world and the temptations it offers us.  Like Paul, it is a continuous battle of our fleshly desires and our cleansed and forgiven spirit, brought into unity with the Spirit of God by the shed blood of Jesus.

24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
Romans 7:24-25

Each moment we exist we are blessed to feel the effects of Christ’s salvation. As we muddle through dilemmas of the flesh and mind, the Holy Spirit interacts with us, reminding us, delivering us, disciplining us, and reminding us of our Salvation through Christ.

Too often I think we are guilty of only looking to Jesus when we are desperate.  Because we are taught (correctly) that ALL of our sins have been paid for on the cross by Christ, we don’t stop to experience His salvation acting out on us moment by moment. We forget to trust.  We forget to stop and wait and watch.

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
   “therefore I will hope in him.”
25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
   to the soul who seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
   for the salvation of the Lord.
Lamentations 24-26

In those moments when we have forgotten to trust Jesus for our problems or mistakes, we must make a conscious effort to listen and look for the salvation of the Lord in our life.  As the Lord is always telling me, “There’s grace for that!” It’s His little reminder for me to look to Him for my salvation instead of trying to figure it all out on my own.

12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Hebrews 4:12-13

It’s just so darn easy to think God isn’t interested in my little problems, or that God might be too mad at me for some wretched thing I have done to save me from what I’ve done.  But we’ve, been promised eternal salvation. Eternal. It is active and working in us on a daily basis. Jesus is our salvation. So, it isn’t like Jesus was our salvation and now He’s not.  He is and always will be our salvation, working within us eternally, shining His salvation upon us as The Good Shepherd.

27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”
John 10:27-30

We can trust in the Salvation of the Lord because he promises it to us.  And He has taught us to hear His voice, and obey His words. We’re safe with Him. There is never any reason to fear, because Jesus is faithful.  His Salvation is constant and eternal.

 

Suffering Sucks

Suffering sucks God.

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Romans 5:3-5

It sucks, God.  I hate it, even though I know that You will use it.  I know what Your word says about suffering. I know Jesus suffered.  I know David suffered. I know the Apostles suffered. Paul suffered.  And God, I am suffering.

I’m tired from fighting.  It takes so much energy to cope with physical pain.  And, Lord, I feel like I’ve dealt with crisis after crisis for most of my life. I know that lots of people suffer, God, and I am no better or worse than anyone else.  But right now this is about me and You. And I hurt, God.

It’s not even just the physical pain, Lord.  Sometimes, I really think I can live with that stuff.  But the emotional pain is equally hard.  It’s exhausting. Therapy has brought so many horrible things to the surface.

It’s stuff I buried.  Stuff I didn’t want to see again.  Even though it’s festered and rotted inside of me.  Even though it has slowly been killing me, I still feel like it’s too hard to get it out sometimes.  

You showed me a vision of Your steady hand carefully cutting out the dead flesh within me.  Precision isn’t even a good enough word for what You showed me You were doing in my heart. But it hurts, God!  It hurts so bad.

Then there’s all the physical junk.  My knees hurt.  I can barely walk.  And I feel like I’m a breath away from being stuck in my wheelchair again. Why did You allow the doctor to take away my pain meds and my arthritis meds?  I know the medical reasons, God. I even know the spiritual reasons. It draws me closer to You. It helps me have compassion and empathy for others.  It teaches me patience. It shows me a deeper level of Your faithfulness and compassion.

But the process sucks.

I keep thinking about Jesus in the Garden.  He had a serious “it sucks” conversation with You that night.  What He was facing was beyond horrific. I can’t even imagine. You know, though, God.  You know my hurt, my frustration and my fear.  But like Jesus said, “Not my will, but Yours, Father.”  Help me with that, would ya?

I’m afraid.  I’m afraid of what’s next.  I’m afraid of what pain I may have in my future.  I’m afraid of what harder suffering may lie ahead.  I know a lot of people are thinking right now that You didn’t give me a spirit of fear, and believe me, I know it!  But I want to keep things real, God. Only when I acknowledge my fear can I give it to You to turn to courage.

You make strength from my weakness, God, and I am so weak. Take my weakness.  Take my fear. Take my pain and my suffering and my grief and my tears. Take them and use them for Your glory God.  Your glory and Your Kingdom are the only things that keep me going.

Father, my suffering is bringing more and more death to myself and my wickedness.  My suffering has brought me perseverance in You. My pain has taught me endurance. It’s built my character.  It’s done all the things that You said it would.

You are faithful God. My suffering builds my hope in You.  And hope doesn’t suck at all.

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
1 Peter 4:12-13

For my take on depression, see my post: Having A Broken Spirit Sucks

Disobedience and the Temptation to Sin

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, 2 from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love.
1 Kings 11:1-2

Admittedly, I can’t relate to loving many foreign women and taking them as brides, but I can definitely get on board the disobedience bus. My heart can be so quickly drawn away from the things the Lord has warned me against.  I justify and explain it away every day in order to have the things I want.

For Solomon, disobedience and temptation came from having a blessed and rich life.  God had granted Solomon wisdom, vast fortune, and long life. Enjoying worldly comfort gave Solomon a false sense of security.  He began to look at his success and blessings as gods instead of God Himself.

We all do it.  We say things like, “I can teach the Bible great.  I went to seminary!” or, “I worked really hard to get that promotion!” or, “I set my mind to it and I got it done.”  We are so arrogant. We forget that every breath we take is a gift of God. Every celebration, every penny, every good thing in our lives comes from God.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
James 1:17

Nowhere in that verse does it say we can give good gifts to ourselves.  The lie of the arrogant heart is self sufficiency. Without God we would not even have our life.  So, why does the comfort in provision take us down the road of disobedience?

If the Lord had blessed Solomon with wealth, and wisdom, and good health, why shouldn’t He also provide beautiful, exotic women to enjoy it all with?  Sure, those women were idol worshippers and devoted to destruction by the Lord for their denial of His sovereignty, but he could change their minds, right?  He could show them the beauty and glory of God because of how richly God had blessed him.

Hear what I’m saying?  In my ministry I am constantly trying to talk young women out of  “missionary dating”. People hear my testimony about praying for my Muslim husband to come to Christ and they think that’s a great way to win thier beloved to Christ.  But it’s not.

I am not special.  I was a fool to marry someone who didn’t know Jesus.  It caused great sorrow and pain in my life to be married to a man utterly opposed to my religious point of view.  My husband didn’t come to Christ until I had repented of my foolishness and pleaded with Jesus to help me.

I think Solomon felt untouchable.  I think he had enjoyed so much blessing that nothing would keep him from continuing to receive it.  He might have looked back at his father’s life and thought himself no different. David loved beautiful women, too, so what’s wrong with that?

For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. 5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. 6 So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done.
1 Kings 11:4-6

David repented for his folly time and time again.  His default with God was to be a humble servant. Every failure he met with repentance.  Every blessing he received with humility. David’s heart was for God’s promise of salvation.

Solomon had fair warning, but chose to disobey anyway.

And the Lord said to him, “I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you have made before me. I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time. 4 And as for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules, 5 then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’ 6 But if you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, 7 then I will cut off Israel from the land that I have given them, and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight, and Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples. 8 And this house will become a heap of ruins. Everyone passing by it will be astonished and will hiss, and they will say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land and to this house?’ 9 Then they will say, ‘Because they abandoned the Lord their God who brought their fathers out of the land of Egypt and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore the Lord has brought all this disaster on them.’”
1 Kings 9:3-9

I think that seems pretty clear.  The Lord is surely quick to bless and to forgive, but He wants us to trust Him in obedience and humility.  God asked Solomon to simply trust God’s way over his own: to obey and be blessed. And in his old age, Solomon decided not to.

So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. 7 Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. 8 And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods.
1 Kings 11:6-8

Solomon turned away from the provider of all his blessings and honored his wives above his God.  

I don’t think it was intentional.  I truly think it was arrogance. How often do I become over confident in my own success?  How often do I attribute my accomplishments to hard work and diligence instead of to God. God lovingly partners with me, and He wants to give me good gifts.  Shouldn’t I enjoy that beautiful privilege and walk with Him?

God’s grace is never ending.  His mercy is not dependant on my behavior.  The day I accepted His promise of salvation, He sealed me with His Spirit so that I would maintain a confidence in Him that I couldn’t have known before.  My sincere love for Jesus is undeniable to Him, just as David’s was.

It’s not about our disobedience so much as our trust.  Do we trust God or do we trust ourselves? Do we obey God because we trust His good gifts for us, or do we obey ourselves because we don’t want to put our trust in someone else?  Or do we just get complacent enjoying the good gifts we have been given, and forget about the One who gave them?

Jesus, help me not to take you for granted.  Help me to believe and trust Your will for me.  Lord, when You give me good gifts, help me to appreciate them as gifts and never take them for granted.  Protect me from my own arrogance. My sinful self is incapable of obedience, but You are my obedience, Lord.  You are my righteousness. Let me fall back into Your perfection. Let me serve You with a humble and repentant heart.

For the Lord takes pleasure in His people;
He adorns the humble with salvation.
Psalms 149:4