Desperately Seeking Jesus

I think we can all agree that 2020 has been one of the craziest years in our lifetime!  Political polarization.  Racial injustice.  Riots.  Murders.  Masks.  Earthquakes.  Fires.  Flooding.  Volcanic eruptions. Zoom meetings.  

In times like this, we are all looking to God for answers.  But how do we hear Him?  What do we even ask him?  And what is His response?

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
    my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
    as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Psalm 63:1

Sounds about right.

We desperately seek Him.  We want Him.  We know we need Him.  We cry out to him and yet the air is dry and thick around us.  It doesn’t feel like it’s even possible to hear from God in this mess.

But here’s what David did in Psalm 63:

So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
    beholding your power and glory.
3 Because your steadfast love is better than life,
    my lips will praise you.
4 So I will bless you as long as I live;
    in your name I will lift up my hands.
Psalm 63:2-4

If I can’t feel God now, I will look for Him where I have seen Him.  I will remind myself of who He is.  I will remember that His Love supersedes all fear, all trials, all division.  I will remember and I will give myself to Him again.  Fresh with praise, I will seek the Lord and the promise of His unfailing love.

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
    and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
6 when I remember you upon my bed,
    and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7 for you have been my help,
    and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
8 My soul clings to you;
    your right hand upholds me.
Psalm 63:5-8

And my praise turns to meditation.  It turns to the recollections of faithfulness that have been the hallmark of my relationship with Christ.  At night my mind stops wondering about the world and rests instead in the peace of God’s unending faithfulness.  

It’s so hard to feel God when we are in the midst of worldly trials.  Pain and conflict or hard to surrender to God because our flesh isn’t going to stop hurting just because we trust God’s faithfulness.  

Yet, in the agony, in the tumult of the storm, God is still with us.  

As David began to reflect on who God was instead of what God could give him, he began to feel a praise-worthy peace in his soul.  God had proven himself faithful to David.  Always faithful.  David could trust that even though his situation was dire and his weary, desperate heart was parched with raw emotion and fear, God would remain ever faithful.

We can trust that, too.  Even with the world falling down around us.

The trials will not stop in this lifetime.  Not until Jesus returns.  So we cling to Him.  We hold onto His promises.  We remember His faithfulness in our own lives.  We look back on our journey and see His provision and salvation.  We see Him.  And we know that in our current struggles he will remain faithful, just as he always has. 

The riots.  The politics.  The fear.  The desolations of this world.  They don’t matter anymore to the one who finds his peace in the shelter of the Almighty.  God’s wings are broad enough to cover all who would seek refuge there.  

But those who seek to destroy my life
    shall go down into the depths of the earth;
10 they shall be given over to the power of the sword;
    they shall be a portion for jackals.
11 But the king shall rejoice in God;
    all who swear by him shall exult,
    for the mouths of liars will be stopped.
Psalm 63:9-11

And so we can rejoice.  God will have his way.  He is speaking.  He is acting.  He is doing all that He has always done.  He is faithful and His steadfast love is better than life.  So reach out your hands to the ones who are drowning, to the ones who are desperately crying out for salvation, and bring them to the Savior.  

Because at the end of the day, most of our questions to God can be paired down to this simple request: “Will you save me?”

And God’s answer is always, “Yes.”

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30

The God of Jacob

The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Psalm 46:7

I have put all my trust in the God of Jacob.  But why the God of Jacob?  Why not “The God of Israel”.  That’s the question I can’t stop contemplating.  When you stop and think about it, something very specific is being magnified in that verse.  It’s the God of Jacob who is my fortress.

Jacob came out of the womb holding his twin brother’s heel.  His mother named him Jacob because the name meant to grab the heel of another person, or literally to supplant or trick someone out of something.  And Jacob’s name characterized him from the beginning.

Let’s look at him for a moment.  What is Jacob known for?  He tricked his brother out of his birthright.  He tricked his father-in-law out of his livestock. He was lied to and treated unfairly.  He was terrified and hid from his brother for years out of fear of retribution.  And then he wrestled with God and demanded a blessing.  

So, to recap: Jacob was a liar, a trickster, a scaredy cat, and a control freak who thought it was perfectly fine to make demands of God, steal from his family, and hide and run away from his enemies.

And it’s the God of Jacob that is our fortress.

Is it sinking in yet?  The God of Jacob is our fortress.  The God of the trickster, liar, coward, narcissist, control freak is our fortress.

I’ve had a lot of conversations with God about how unworthy I am.  I get hard on myself.  I’m overly critical.  I’m a perfectionist that fails at perfection on a daily–no, hourly–basis.  To chase a rabbit for a minute, sometimes I think that the only reason God loves me is because of Jesus.  Seems like a fair statement.  

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21

So before Jesus I wasn’t good enough for God.  Right?  Not quite.  

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

So, he died for us while we were his enemies, while we were sinners.  Before He died for us He loved us.  And we know that because of Jacob.  (And a million other people in the Old Testament who were equally awful.)  We know that God loves us before and after our salvation.  

The God of Jacob is our fortress because God made a promise to Abraham and God doesn’t break His promises.  

 When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty;[a] walk before me, and be blameless, 2 that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, 4 “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be called Abram,[b] but your name shall be Abraham,[c] for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. 7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”
Genesis 17:1-8

The next time you think God isn’t with you because of what you’ve done, I want you to remember this one simple fact:  The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.  

And who are we?  We are made by God with an offer to accept the rights of God’s promise to Abraham.  God made a way for us (and we know that way to be Jesus) and in that we have salvation from our enemies, even if your enemy is yourself.  

The God of Jacob is our fortress. It’s liberating, isn’t it? 

A Case of Stolen Identity

The world has gone nuts over the Covid-19 virus.  Our homes have become quarantine zones: a refuge from a suddenly terrifying hostile environment beyond our walls.  Hand-sanitizer, bleach products and toilet paper have disappeared off grocery store shelves. Everyone can tell you that you need an N95 respirator mask, but good luck finding one.

Everyone has become some sort of apocalypse prepper.

Every conversation is about this virus.  The news is all about how bad it is, or how bad it isn’t.  We’ve heard every statistic about the R naught value, fatality rates, countries infected, citizens at risk, complication rates, and on and on.   Have you seen some of those graphs!?

You have to be a mathematician to even understand it. 

What about social distancing?  It’s really just a fancy term for becoming a hermit.  Are you a loner? No? Well you better lock yourself in a closet, because you are now!  Or at least you better be if you’re listening to the preppers and the mathematicians. Stay away from people!  If you smile at a stranger you might get infected!

Solitary confinement is the new social butterfly in town.

Public gatherings are a thing of the past. Jimmy Falon is doing monologues from his living room.  My daughter’s high school graduation? Cancelled. Disney World? Cancelled. And you can forget about sports. Cancelled, cancelled, cancelled.  

Social media and Netflix here we come.

Then there’s church. Pastors are running around trying to solve this problem of not being able to congregate their congregations!  Live streaming sermons. Small groups? You guessed it! Mostly cancelled. We’ve got Zoom calls for prayer meetings. Praise and worship on Facebook live videos.  Long distance everything. We must have no human contact. What have we become?

We’ve become isolated and frightened mathematicians, with a special emphasis in the pseudo-sciences, desperately mumbling conspiracy theories and hoarding toilet paper like doomsday preppers with no N95 masks and nothing but a box of Cheerios in our cabinet.

Can I get an amen?

We are in a war with the world over our identity right now. We need to stop allowing Covid-19 and the complications there entailed, to define who we are! 

I’ll admit it, I’ve been an anxiety ridden mess.  I’ve been talking to the Lord about it and He’s been gently reminding me of who I really am.  I am a daughter of the King of Kings, yes, and I’ve never lost sight of that, but I’m also so much more.  I’m a warrior woman. A preacher. A worshiper and a prayer. I’m a mother, a grandmother, a wife, a friend.  I’m an encourager and a writer and a speaker of truth. I am alive in Christ and I don’t have to be afraid.

Has your identity been stolen from you?  

The enemy is doing his best to throw you into fear.  But fear doesn’t have to be who you are. Go ahead and let it be a feeling, that’s fine, that’s normal, but don’t let it rule you or define you.  

9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

God is with you, and He’s got this.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8

 

 

Fear, Fear, and More Fear

Fear, fear, and more fear.  That’s all I hear from everyone.  Fear of getting sick.  Fear of getting quarantined.  Fear of falling apart in fear.  Fear of being fearful.

For me, I’ve been afraid of my husband getting stuck over seas.  Ya.  He’s due to travel over seas next week and he still feels like he is supposed to go.  He isn’t afraid.  He isn’t worried.  He’s just trying to obey what the Lord has been calling him to do.

And yes, I don’t want him to go.  And yes, it’s because I don’t want him to get stuck there, or end up sick, or end up carrying the illness home, or any number of other things.  I just want him home.  And guess what?  I’ve been afraid of “not being willing to obey God.”

No.  I’m not afraid of getting “the virus”.  I don’t think that’s really the issue for most people.  Really, I think people are just afraid of the unknown.  The chaos.  The unanswered questions.  The “who can I trust and who can’t I trust” resources.  The fear of fake news.

Haven’t we all got a list of “fears” around this stuff?  Whether it’s some kind of conspiracy, or infectious warfare, or an act of God, or the Apocalypse, we all just want to be okay.  We’re afraid of what we don’t know.  Will we be okay? Only God knows.

The answer will always be the same.  The only way to know you are going to be okay is to trust that whatever happens, God’s got it.  No virus, no chaos, no fear, no conspiracy can overcome the God of all things.  And that’s hard to hold onto sometimes.

We want to trust God in all things, but anyone who’s walked with Him for awhile, knows how hard it is.  It’s easy to trust when things are going great.  It’s a lot harder to trust God when things are not okay.  But, God has gotten me through a whole lot of chaos and uncertainty, and He’s likely done the same for you. He loves to prove to us He’s trustworthy.

This pandemic is no different.  It’s just another scary, chaotic, uncertainty that we must face, whether we want to or not.  Are people going to freak out?  Yes.  Are people going to do foolish things?  Yes.  Are you going to freak out?  Maybe.  Are you going to do foolish things?  Maybe.

Trust God.  Trust Him in the chaos.  Trust Him that He can use the chaos for our good and the good of others.  Trust the God of Peace to bring peace to your own heart in this tumultuous time.  Trust God and don’t look back.  God is trustworthy.

Psalm 23

The Lord Is My Shepherd

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2     He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.[a]
3     He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness[b]
    for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,[c]
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
6 Surely[d] goodness and mercy[e] shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell[f] in the house of the Lord
    forever.[g]

I shared a prayer I had regarding this whole issue on my Facebook page.  I want to be comforted and I want other’s to be comforted.  Here is that prayer:

Jesus, we lift up the fearful as well as the fearless to You, Our King. Bring Your peace and wisdom. Settle hearts to receive You. Help us to keep from fighting fear with fear of fear. Lord, speak kindly to Your Church. Give us discernment to act when we should act and be still when we should be still. People are panicking. Protect them from the harm or actions they might take that would bring harm to themselves or others. Lord, we will not be ruled by fear, but we will also not be ruled by a stubborn desire to prove we are not afraid. We want to act on Your guidance alone. Help us not to waver from the path You have laid out for us. We trust You in all things. Amen.

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

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.