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.”

 

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Vision

“Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but see not, who have ears, but hear not.
Jeremiah 5:21

I’ve been struggling with my vision lately.  I can’t see anything! It’s affected every aspect of my life.  I try to continue on with daily activity squinting and straining to see anything, and it’s made me an irritable mess.  I had no idea how much I needed my eyes!

Now, I know that people can get along perfectly well without their vision, but having been sort of gently thrown into this, I know that God has something He wants to do with me.

What am I missing, God?  What don’t I see? How am I being a fool today?

I don’t have any sweet answers today.  I don’t have any words of wisdom from scripture.  I can look at all the times Jesus spoke those words to people who couldn’t see the Messiah right in front of their face. They couldn’t see the truth or see the prophecy revealed in Jesus.  All they could see was their tradition, their religion, their philosophy.

Have I fallen so far, Jesus?  Am I relying on tradition or religion or philosophy?  

Maybe this teaching moment isn’t some great epiphany, but instead a gentle redirection, a space and time for Jesus to guide me in ways I’ve maybe not let Him before.  Or maybe it’s not. Maybe sometimes blindness is just blindness.

I don’t know.  And perhaps that’s part of it.  I don’t have to have all the answers.  I don’t have to see every detail.

Or maybe it’s just time to give my eyes a rest and stop looking at everything so closely.  

Only God knows.  I just need to have faith that He will continue to give me what I need.  

Use my eyes for Your glory, God.

Leftovers

20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Ephesians 3:20-21

Thanksgiving in America has become a celebration of all matters of opulence.  We eat a huge turkey “stuffed” with bread. We engage in a feast of desserts and sweets and treats, before, during and after a grand meal.  Even our vegetables are celebrated in excess: sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, creamed corn, salad upon salad.

We come together and drink wine and celebrate our huge families, or our huge amount of friends, or our huge amount of food and festivity.  We argue over politics and social justice and how the government should spend its copious amounts of cash.

And then we go shopping and celebrate our own cash hoards.  Huge sales, huge expenditures, huge tvs, huge toys, huge crowds, huge SUVs to put it all in.  It’s just more and more and more. All in celebration of our abundance.

Our God is the God of abundance.  He is a God of provision. Of leftovers.  Of fullness. But we’ve lost the plot in favor of celebrating ourselves and our own achievements, our own leftovers.  What if we stopped looking at ourselves and our great prosperity, and started to look to God for our fulfillment, our nourishment, and our joy?

God loves to take care of His children.  We’re often just so caught up with taking care of ourselves that we forget that God wants to be our provision, and give us leftovers besides!

Look what happened in Scripture with Elisha:

42 A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing the man of God bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. And Elisha said, “Give to the men, that they may eat.” 43 But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred men?” So he repeated, “Give them to the men, that they may eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’” 44 So he set it before them. And they ate and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.
2 Kings 4:42-44

The servant immediately looked to find provision among the worldly offering presented by the man from Baal-shalishah.  He looked at the food and instantly decided that there was no way that food would go all the way around. But Elisha doesn’t look at the food, he looks instead to the provider of the food: God, who made the food and brought it to them.

Elisha then proclaims the Lord’s provision, “they shall eat and have some left”.  Elisha knew that God is a God of leftovers. He didn’t doubt it, or look to himself.  He knew.

In the New Testament, the Disciples got the same opportunity to look to God for provision.  They knew the scriptures and the story of Elisha. They had learned these stories from history since their childhood.  But when the time came to proclaim the provision of the Lord, they looked instead to themselves.

15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.”
Matthew 14:15-17

The Disciples fell into the same trap we are all guilty of at times.  They looked at what they had instead of what God could provide. Jesus had given them the perfect chance to fall back into the grace and provision of the Father, and instead they panicked.  Their response to the people’s need for food, “send them away to take care of themselves!”

It had to break Jesus’ heart to have His beloved friends so quickly turn from trusting God in the invisible things, but not trusting Him in the physical things.  They looked to themselves instead of the promises of God. Even though they had the Holy Scriptures to know that God could provide for them.

Jesus is patient, though.  He would not waste the lesson He wanted to teach because of His friend’s lack of faith.  Instead, He spoke with authority and faith to His Disciples.

8 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

God is the God of leftovers.  Isn’t it time we celebrated Him instead of ourselves?

give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
Luke 6:38

 

Come Let Us Reason Together

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
   they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
   they shall become like wool.
Isaiah 1:18

Going back to the Garden of Eden, we get a story of how the Lord intended things for humanity.  He created a world that man and woman could live in, enjoy, and tend to. He gave them stewardship over all that He had created.  And in that creation, He walked with them. He listened and encouraged them. He gave advice. He made suggestions. He reasoned with them.  God and man worked together in His creation.

Only when Adam and Eve were seduced into the arrogant notion of gaining the “knowledge of good and evil” for themselves, did they cut God out of the picture, and fall into the terrible temptation and condemnation of sin.  They no longer reasoned with God over what was right or wrong, they decided for themselves.

The battle between right and wrong entered into the world of man, and with it life and death.  This perversion of God’s plan started a series of events that would culminate into the Salvation and Restoration of God’s people to Himself through Christ.

With it also came the tragic perceived contradictions in scripture that often play havoc with our intellect. If we are not clear and precise in our understanding of the character and transformative power of Jesus, we will question and doubt God, or worse, only consider ourselves in regard to our interaction with the world and God’s plan for it and us.  

The knowledge of good and evil broke our dependence on God to show us right from wrong, and brought into question every future act committed by man.  Right or wrong, man got to choose, and in so doing, his perspective might or might not line up with God’s. Man had been shown in the Garden that obedience and partnership with God brought life and happiness.  Unfortunately, man also learned that life apart from God would bring death.

To man, the human existence is life, followed by death.  Comprehending the reality of what life and death mean to the human condition is best explained by the Lord himself.

“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

Death comes before life. Jesus proved this point through His own body.  He allowed himself to die, be buried, and then resurrected, to give us the ultimate picture of the obedient sacrifice and what it would bring. He gave up His own “right” to life in order to receive the fullness of His deepest most joyful desire: the salvation of the lost (Hebrews 12:2).  His was a perfect sacrifice with perfect obedience. His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, right before being arrested was this:

“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”
Luke 22:42

Too often I think our church culture suggests that we beat down who we are and what we think in regard and response to Jesus: that beating down our own thoughts is how we “die to self.”  We tell ourselves and each other that we must consider “what Jesus would do” and forget that Jesus might want to actually have a conversation with us about it. Jesus had a conversation with God in the garden of Gethsemane, not a silent robotic command.

We don’t give up our self to “live as Christ, to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).  We let ourselves shine by sharing our thoughts with God and then letting him tell us how best to proceed, knowing that His decisions will lead us on a course of life.  We die to having the “final say” on what we will do. We let Him tell us what is right for us and what is wrong.

I’d like to add, though, that as we muse and ponder and plan with the Lord, though, we should act with care and caution.  Otherwise we open ourselves up to the attack of the enemy, who prowls around at all times, looking for ways to exploit our weakness and stir our insecurities.  

8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
1 Peter 5:8

In our obedience to God, and our active intention to put to death our sinful desires, we find peace.  Peace and joy and power come from walking in the Presence of the Lord and reasoning together with Him. When we follow our own hearts without God’s input, we are submitting to the death of this world instead of receiving the life of Jesus that we are promised.

Jesus said,

10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
John 10:10

 

Unfaltering Faith: All is Well

Unfaltering faith.  It is a gift God offers us on a daily basis.  Do we have the faith to trust Him with our provision?  Do we have the faith to walk in submission to Him? Do we have the faith to even believe He is real, moment by moment, day by day?  Faith can be a bit of a sticky mess when we start to think about it.

We get caught up in our circumstance.  There isn’t enough money in the bank to pay the bills.  There’s been a horrible diagnosis from the doctor. Someone needs prayer, and we can’t even muster the faith to pray for ourselves.  And then enemy uses shame or fear or sorrow to come in and steal whatever he can of the little faith we have left.

But God isn’t content to let our faith be stolen.  We all know that He promises He will work all things for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28) Though, when we’re in the faltering moment, it can be hard to remember that.  Faith needs to come from God through hope: hope that God is who He says He is.

8 One day Elisha went on to Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to eat some food. So whenever he passed that way, he would turn in there to eat food. 9 And she said to her husband, “Behold now, I know that this is a holy man of God who is continually passing our way.10 Let us make a small room on the roof with walls and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that whenever he comes to us, he can go in there.”
2 Kings 4:8-10

This wealthy woman takes it upon herself to honor a man of God.  Her hope isn’t in the man, but in the God the man serves. She wants to serve this man of God and give him her best because of her blind hope in God.  She shows a faith she may not even be aware of, all because of hope.

God honors her hope and builds her faith further by offering a blessing through Elisha, His servant.  

11 One day he came there, and he turned into the chamber and rested there. 12 And he said to Gehazi his servant, “Call this Shunammite.” When he had called her, she stood before him. 13 And he said to him, “Say now to her, ‘See, you have taken all this trouble for us; what is to be done for you? Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?’” She answered, “I dwell among my own people.”
2 Kings 4:11-13

The woman asks for nothing in return for her provision for Elisha.  She never looked at her hospitality as a way to earn anything from God or His servant.  She gave from what she had. I don’t think she thought anything more about it, but that it was right to honor God’s servant. She was content with the blessing of being able to serve God as she had.

Elisha, though, is prompted to do more for her.  He wants to show her God’s blessing. God’s blessings can be a reward for faith.

16 And he said, “At this season, about this time next year, you shall embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord, O man of God; do not lie to your servant.” 17 But the woman conceived, and she bore a son about that time the following spring, as Elisha had said to her.
2 Kings 4:16-17

God offers her something miraculous.  The gift of a son wasn’t even on her radar, and that’s what He offers her.  God uses her faith to foreshadow the coming Messiah: a son born of miraculous circumstances.  The woman is startled and uncertain, but she receives her son.

And then he dies.

18 When the child had grown, he went out one day to his father among the reapers. 19 And he said to his father, “Oh, my head, my head!” The father said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother.” 20 And when he had lifted him and brought him to his mother, the child sat on her lap till noon, and then he died.
2 Kings 4:18-20

Wow. The son she was given dies. How could that be a blessing?  How could that be good? Why would God punish her for serving Elisha with such a cruel joke? It’s hard not to think these things.  People do it all the time. Something goes wrong in the moment and the response is to go right to the source and question God.

But not this gal.  Nope.  She’s resolute.  She’s unfaltering.  Her faith is solidly built on the hope of God’s reality.  Like Abraham, she decided to persist in her faith, even though her son was dead.  Even Abraham didn’t have to go that far! He got provided with a ram for sacrifice before having to kill his son. (Genesis Ch. 22)

Then she called to her husband and said, “Send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, that I may quickly go to the man of God and come back again.” 23 And he said, “Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor Sabbath.” She said, “All is well.” 24 Then she saddled the donkey, and she said to her servant, “Urge the animal on; do not slacken the pace for me unless I tell you.” 25 So she set out and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel.
2 Kings 4:22-25

Her response?  “All is well.”  Wow.  What a powerful testimony.  Unfaltering faith in action! She knows all will be well because of her faith and hope in God. With expediency she sets out to receive her son’s life back.

When the man of God saw her coming, he said to Gehazi his servant, “Look, there is the Shunammite. 26 Run at once to meet her and say to her, ‘Is all well with you? Is all well with your husband? Is all well with the child?’” And she answered, “All is well.” 27 And when she came to the mountain to the man of God, she caught hold of his feet. And Gehazi came to push her away. But the man of God said, “Leave her alone, for she is in bitter distress, and the Lord has hidden it from me and has not told me.”
2 Kings 4:25-27

Again, as she approaches Elisha and he asks her what is going on, she responds with “All is well.”  Wow, again! Though she is in the midst of “bitter distress” she clings to the hope of God with the steadfast truth that “all is well.” In her heart, God would and could give her son life.  

The foreshadowing of Christ returns again!  When Jesus died on the cross, all was still well, even in the distress and pain and fear of that moment.  His friends and family were distraught. But all was well. Jesus would be resurrected! The Promise was not defeated.  The Promise was victorious. Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead!

Life would also be given to the Shunammite woman’s son.  But not before a testing and trying of faith and hope. What happens if nothing happens?  

28 Then she said, “Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me?’” 29 He said to Gehazi, “Tie up your garment and take my staff in your hand and go. If you meet anyone, do not greet him, and if anyone greets you, do not reply. And lay my staff on the face of the child.” 30 Then the mother of the child said, “As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So he arose and followed her.31 Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the face of the child, but there was no sound or sign of life. Therefore he returned to meet him and told him, “The child has not awakened.”

It’s hard to keep ahold of hope when nothing happens.

But something does happen.  Elisha contends for the woman’s son.  He doesn’t give up. He stands in faith with the woman that God will act.  They partnered in faith and stubbornly waited for God.

32 When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. 33 So he went in and shut the door behind the two of them and prayed to the Lord. 34 Then he went up and lay on the child, putting his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands. And as he stretched himself upon him, the flesh of the child became warm. 35 Then he got up again and walked once back and forth in the house, and went up and stretched himself upon him. The child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. 36 Then he summoned Gehazi and said, “Call this Shunammite.” So he called her. And when she came to him, he said, “Pick up your son.” 37 She came and fell at his feet, bowing to the ground. Then she picked up her son and went out.
2 Kings 4:32-37

A partnership of unfaltering faith between the woman, her husband, the servant Gehazi, and Elisha, brought life.  Partnership strengthened faith. Hope in God strengthened faith. And unfaltering faith brought life.

So, as we look to Jesus and his death, burial, and resurrection, may we join together with unfaltering faith, knowing that the Lord will be true to His promises for us.  All is well.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
John 10:10

 

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.

 

Follow Me

“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” –Jesus 

When Jesus called his disciples, He didn’t mess around. By the leading of the Holy Spirit, Jesus openly and overtly invited men to follow Him.  But what did that mean? And why did complete strangers give up lives, jobs, and family to obey Him?

Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them.22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
Matthew 4:20-22

The call of Christ has power!  With only a few words, the Lord Jesus, carrying His mantle of salvation, spoke to the hearts of these men. They wouldn’t be following just anyone.  In their hearts, and in the sound of salvation that rang silently into their hearts, simple fishermen gave up everything to follow Jesus.

They perceived the truth when He called out to them.  And in that recognition, they believed Him, and followed him. As believers in Christ, we too, at the point of our adoption into Jesus’s family, perceived the truth and chose to follow Him, instead of continuing on the self-destructive force of our worldly nature destined for death.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
Ephesians 2:8

Jesus initiated an invitation to acknowledge the Truth and to follow Him. For these first Disciples, the invitation was bold but also optional.  Jesus asks them to fo follow, tells them what following will give them, and then lets them decide. Immediately they choose Jesus.

We, too, are called boldly to follow Jesus by the Spirit of the Living God who speaks intimately into our hearts.  We feel the tug of God’s love and forgiveness beckoning us, longing to have us united to Him, and we then have the choice to take it or leave it.

23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
Luke 9:23-24

Jesus makes it clear to us what following Him should look like. To follow Jesus is to give up your own desires and dreams to serve a greater good, one that will lead to a eternal life for yourself and the people who we invite to also follow Jesus.  It is to put the lives of others before your own, to point them toward their salvation and life with Jesus.

Jesus asks us to walk in death to ourselves, taking on the shame of the natural of world, in order to show the love of Christ. And by doing so, we gain the peace of God and the salvation and life that has been prophesied for us from the beginning of time.

25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”
Luke 9:25-26

What does Jesus mean then, when He calls out to us, “Come and follow me!”

It means to step out in faith that what Jesus is offering in leadership is more than we could ever achieve on our own.  It is an opportunity to give ourselves to Christ and trust Him to be our provision in life, for salvation, sustenance, work, and peace.  

It is to receive the glorious gift of salvation in all its forms, from the only one who can provide it: Jesus.