Breaking Bad

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5

It can be so easy to lose trust in God’s comfort.  A bad day. Bad decisions. Bad news. Bad memories.  Bad cold. Bad cramps. Bad paycheck. Bad Chinese food.  Sometimes life just hurts. And sometimes it hurts really bad.

It’s great to know that our pain might someday be an opportunity to encourage and empathize with someone else.  But what about now? What about in the midst of your “bad”.

I wish I could say I had a good answer.  I’m in the middle of my own bad right now, and if I’m being honest, I’m feeling too bad to see the good.  

Yet, somehow, because God is so good, there is always an answer, even when I have nothing.  I can trust God. I can trust His promises. I can trust His Word and speak it out.

17 The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
   he delivers them from all their troubles.
18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
   and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34:17-18

When I’m feeling brokenhearted.  When I’m feeling bad. I can trust that God is near to me.  He is drawing close to me even in the midst of my pain and suffering.

When I don’t know how to draw close to Him, He draws close to me.  

“The God of all comfort, who comforts us in all affliction” will comfort me.  He will pull me close and kiss my tears away. I don’t have to understand. I don’t have to believe.  I don’t have to do anything.

The God of all comfort does it all.

 

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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.

 

 

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.

Adversity Brings Intimacy with God

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

As hard as it may seem to be to believe, adversity brings intimacy with God.  But it takes practice, trust, and faith. Throughout the Bible we are given a series of lessons regarding our response to suffering and adversity.  God wants us to know the fruit of what adversity brings. He wants us to learn to look beyond ourselves and find the joy in looking only to the Lord Jesus.  

When we catch glimpses of God’s plan to glorify Himself and us through our trials, we can see and experience the depth of trust and love we can have with Him.  We aren’t promised a life free of struggles, but we are ensured that as we love Him and follow Him with our whole hearts, He will exchange beauty for ashes.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
   because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
   he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
   and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
   and the day of vengeance of our God;
   to comfort all who mourn;
3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
   to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
   the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
   the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.
4 They shall build up the ancient ruins;
   they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.
Isaiah 63:1-4

There’s no better way to experience and receive God’s offer of renewal and intimacy than through that passage of scripture.  God has sent Jesus to restore all that has been lost and broken. He’s promised us that! He’s promised our trials and struggles will be repaired and restored.  What a wonderful way to know God better, than to meditate on those promises, especially when we are in pain.

Adversity draws us closer and closer to God. So when we read in James about counting our sufferings as joy, we can remember why! The Lord will be glorified and we will be drawn near to Him, and become stronger in our understanding and intimacy with Jesus!

2 Count it all joy, my brothers,when you meet trials of various kinds,3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
James 1:2-4

Lacking nothing! We lack nothing when we are within the shelter and comfort of the Lord.  That’s the biggest, deepest intimacy there is! No wonder everywhere we look in scripture we are urged to trust in God, hide in the shadow of His wings, be protected in His fortress, and more!  These are all a call to intimacy with Him! When we have faith in Him, we have hope in His promise of Salvation and Love.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 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 5:15

There’s great comfort in those words.  Not that we are to enjoy our adversity, but in that we can see what adversity brings us: intimacy with God. And what Christian doesn’t want that?

Here’s another look at building our intimacy with God.

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

A Worker Approved

15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15

For a very long time, and sometimes still, I have felt that the work I’ve done for the Lord was insignificant.  I longed to be known for my good works. I longed to be recognized for my “accomplishments” for the Kingdom of God.  Embarrassing, right?

I’ve come so far over the years, though, and that is something only God could do.  Is my ministry more famous or more recognized now? Nope. Is my work for God more relevant now? Nope.  My work is generally the same. It’s only me that’s changed.

So, Paul’s advice to Timothy was to be unashamed, approved, and to rightly handle the word of truth.  Hmm. So working for God means being the perfect pastor, right? Or maybe the perfect evangelist? We know a lot of their names.  The ones on tv must be pretty good. They are surely unashamed and approved or God wouldn’t let them be on TV, right?

Wrong.

Obedient submission to God is what grants us the ability to be unashamed.  To have the faith to accept that God’s answer for my salvation is from Him and not from me. The righteousness of God, given as a free gift, unearned, undeserved, that’s what lets us approach the throne of grace with confidence.  Having Jesus as our high priest, Jesus as our righteousness, Jesus as our savior, Jesus as our King. That’s what gives us the right to be unashamed.

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

So how do we know we are approved?  “We are afflicted and not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed, always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”

And look at what Paul says in Romans:

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
Romans 4:1-3

Approval doesn’t come from anything we’ve done or are doing!  It comes from faith. Abraham believed God. That’s approval. When I believe God and what He says, that’s approval.  That’s it. Nothing more. Faith brings God’s approval.

So, when I act according to God’s will for me.  When I trust that He is going to use me as He sees fit, that He will give me opportunities to trust Him and serve Him, and revere and worship Him, that’s when I’m working for God.  He’s given me gifts and tasks to use for His glory and not my own.

Did He ask you to hug that lady at the grocery store, and you obeyed?  That’s God’s work. Did He ask you to give up your career and serve refugees in the Middle East and you said, “ok”?  That’s God’s work. Buy someone’s groceries because you felt stirred? God’s work. Preach a sermon because the Lord has burned it in your heart to share what He has taught with His people? Yep, God’s work.

But here’s what’s not God’s work: quitting your job to become a missionary because that sounds like a great adventure.  Or, going on a mission trip to Nicaragua every year because the church body will know how holy you are. Or, teaching a Bible Study because you want people to think your smart.  Or being the front man of the church band so that you can maybe get a record deal or you love the attention. The list can go on forever.

So many things in this world sound good to us.  King David thought building a temple for God was a great idea, but did God ask him to build it?  Nope. Did God let David’s son Solomon build the temple? Yes.

God will partner with us even when we’re wrong.  He’ll partner with us in folly just to teach us how to hear His voice better.  Was building the temple folly? Of course not. But did it last? Nope. God will let us “work” for Him in a million different ways, just to teach us, just to show us that it all comes down to Him in the end.  Nothing else.

Have faith in Him, the One who made you, the One who calls you. To work for God is to submit to His rule.  You must stop obeying your own heart and the picture the world has offered you of what ministry is supposed to look like.  You’re never going to find it that way. And you’re not going to accomplish much for the Kingdom, either.

Instead, keep your eyes on Jesus.  Trust Him. That’s it. Only trust Him and do what He says.  That’s how I’ve changed the most over the years. I’m much quicker now to want to glorify Jesus, instead of myself.  If God asks nothing more of me than to point my silent smiling face to the King of Kings, then that’s what I’ll do. That is being a workman approved.  

Jesus, give me the faith to trust You.  Help me to stop looking at myself. Help me to hear Your voice and obey Your commands.  Thank you for how far You’ve brought me. Teach me and help me to go further for You and for You alone.  

7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
John 10:7-18

 

Having A Broken Spirit Sucks

Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
   the Lord answered me and set me free.
6 The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.
   What can man do to me?
Psalms 118:5-6

What can man do to me?  Well, in two words: a lot.  Especially when that “man” is yourself.  I’ve despised myself so many times. I’ve beaten myself up for the tiniest mistakes.  I’ve thrown up false humility in the presence of the Lord just to seem like a “good Christian”.  I’ve hated God in my heart because I didn’t get my way. I’ve thrown tantrums of fury over pure folly.  And, perhaps the biggest sin of all, at least in my own heart: I’ve hated myself.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
   a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psalms 51:17

But having a broken spirit sucks.  What if depression, and scars from the past, and broken promises, and failed outcomes have you thinking that there is surely no one more broken in this world than you? What a horrible feeling to strive and strive and fail and then hate yourself for it.  What a horrible feeling to hate your past and your mistakes and your brokenness.

But if I believe the Bible, and I do, then God actually likes my broken spirit.  My broken and contrite spirit means I’m ready to repent. I’m ready to admit that I don’t know near what I think I do, especially in regard to God’s plan for me. God’s intimate knowledge of me is far better suited to make proclomations about my character than I am.  I’m not getting anything passed God. He KNOWS me. He made me. He knows my heart and my mind. He knows everything. I can’t fool Him or trick Him.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
   you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down
   and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
   behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
Psalms 139:1-4

And even knowing every part of me, He chose to die for me, to give me life, and to make me His!  KNOWING everything about me, what I would do with my life, how I would fail, how I would succeed, how I would struggle, He still chose me. His response to knowing everything? He says triumphantly, “Daisy, YOU ARE WORTH IT! I LOVE YOU.  YOU ARE MINE!” We all are, when we have submitted to Him.

I guess that’s real love, isn’t it?  We always want to have someone love us unconditionally, and that is exactly what God has given us.  He loves us without restriction. Without remorse. And He’d do it all over again.

That brings me back to my self loathing and depression.  What am I supposed to do with these feelings when I can’t love or forgive myself?  I am weary. I am exhausted from the thought of one more step. I have been driven hard by my own expectations.  I’ve suffered and strained under the burden of life’s challenges, most of which I never had any control over in the first place.  

And yet, through my struggles, through my fear, through my self described failure, the Lord responds with victory.  Which is more real?  Which is more true?  My feelings of failure, or His proclomation of victory?  Kind of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?

I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
   but the Lord helped me.
Psalms 118:13

Yes, I’ve been pushed hard.  Yes, I’ve been falling and holding on by the smallest thread of hope, and my fingers quickly began to slip from even that tiny shred of faith. How do I go forward?  How do I hold on? It is impossible for me.  Hopeless for me.  But not for God. Nothing is impossible for God.  Nothing is hopeless with God. Nothing. Not even me.

14 The Lord is my strength and my song;
   he has become my salvation.
15 Glad songs of salvation
   are in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the Lord does valiantly,
16     the right hand of the Lord exalts,
   the right hand of the Lord does valiantly!”
Psalms 118:14-16

The Lord deals with me valiantly.  Valiantly! I’ve maintained the weakest grasp of that wisp of hope because the Lord has been my strength.  And He is infinitely strong. I can look back now and see the millions of times that His strength brought me through trial.  His strength, His faith, His love, His salvation. They saved me. They save me still.

I shall not die, but I shall live,
   and recount the deeds of the Lord.
18 The Lord has disciplined me severely,
   but he has not given me over to death.
Psalms 118:17-18

I can proclaim the Lord’s goodness.  I can proclaim that He has treated me valiantly!  He has given me victory. Though I have been disciplined, though I have felt the pain of unrepentant sin, He has brought me through it.  He has created in me a clean heart.  He has urged me lovingly, patiently, toward repentance and communion with Him without shame or fear.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
  and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
   and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
   and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Psalms 51:10-12

His discipline restores me.  It repairs my brokenness and brings me through to victory.  Though it is painful, it is transforming. Though I suffer for a little while, I will have my reward, both now and in the age to come.  Abundant life is mine to take.

Jesus is my righteousness. I am not hated for my sin.  I am loved despite my sin. The gates of righteousness have been opened for me, because the Lord has opened them.  He has become my salvation and I have no need to fear myself or my wickedness. I can proclaim His victory in me instead.  

Open to me the gates of righteousness,
   that I may enter through them
   and give thanks to the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord;
   the righteous shall enter through it.
21 I thank you that you have answered me
   and have become my salvation.
Psalms 118:19-21

For more on trusting God and being thankful, you can check out my blog post here:  On Being Thankful