Ambushed

Recently something surprised me and upset me to tears.  It was a small thing, but still “I don’t like surprises,” I told my husband.  “Well, I don’t like bad surprises,” I clarified as he was helping me pray about it.  I haven’t had many bad surprises in my life, but I go to pieces when I feel ambushed.  I sit down and wilt.  The Lord began to guide my startled heart and steady me with truth. 

Later that day I felt a worthy whisper to my soul, “What about all the good surprises?”  I stopped what I was doing and took in the question?  I liked it.  God was leading me to recollect and recount His goodness.  

That evening my husband was giving a live devotional teaching and I sat behind the camera listening.  Near the end of his talk he mentioned his mother who recently died and about how God had given him a comforting picture of her.  It’s a real picture of her actually.  We found it two months ago when we were going through albums.  She was younger, looking up and away, her eyes wide, bright and happy.  I’ve wondered what caused her such delight in that photo because what she is looking at is out of our view.  My husband says this is the picture that God has impressed on his mind.  He sees it as his mother’s glad surprise when she arrives in heaven.  When my husband uses the word surprise I’m arrested.  As he continues to share with his followers, God is speaking to me.  “Heaven will be the best good surprise.  It will be astonishingly good.”

As I lay in bed that night I have time to recount God’s good surprises.  My list begins when I am a young girl with my dad leaving new shoes by my bed during the night, shoes my mom asked him to pick up during his late shift at work.  I remember winning a poster contest.  I recall a hum drum evening turning on a happy dime with the announcement that we were going to the Dairy Queen.  There were many surprising blankets of snow.  I remember the day my dad accompanied us ice skating and we arrived home after dark to a cozy supper laid out by mom, a scene etched in my mind.  And then, there’s the surprise of Christmas presents.  So much kindness wrapped up under our tree…  I’ve spent many nights now recounting God’s goodnesses and I’ve yet to make it out of my childhood memories before I fall asleep.  I should work the list backwards next time. 

As a church we are reading the Bible through.  Recently we encountered one of my favorite stories. It’s about David when he was ambushed.  David had been through a lot, running for his life from King Saul, living hand to mouth, camping out in enemy territory, trying not to make any mistakes in his conduct.  He and his fighting men arrive back at their camp in Ziklag to find it destroyed by fire, their wives and children carried off by the Amalekites.  It was awful.  The Bible says that “David and his men wept aloud until they had no more strength left to weep.” (1 Sam. 30:4)  And that “David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him.”  They were so bitter in spirit over their loss. 

At this juncture David did two important things.  First, the Bible says he “found strength in the Lord his God.”  This is a habit that David had cultivated.  Second, David did not accuse the Lord, but “inquired” of Him.  “Shall I pursue this raiding party?  Will I overtake them?” he asked.  (1 Sam. 30:8)

“Pursue them,” the Lord answered.  “You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue.”    

It was an arduous battle but God led David and his men.  They fought for and retrieved everyone and everything.  Nothing was missing.  Plus, there was plunder.  So much plunder that David sent some as gifts to those in all the places he and his men had roamed.  It’s interesting to note that David did not think, “Surely after all I have been through I deserve this wealth.  I will keep it for myself.”

In this story we learn how to handle an ambush, a bad surprise, heartache, despair, betrayal, terrible news, whatever…  Here David shows us how true royalty behaves, for we are God’s royal sons and daughters.  And with God’s promises and His counsel there is always a way forward when we feel devastated.  Strengthening ourselves in God during any trouble, and inquiring of him, these are good things to learn and be practicing.

I think this attack at Ziklag was probably David’s toughest moment on the way to what God had anointed him for and promised him, the kingship.  Scripture proves that there is often a great and difficult battle before a breakthrough and a shift in the kingdom. 

After this struggle to retrieve their families, King Saul who has hunted David for years dies.  And things begin to shift.  We see this at the cross of Christ as well.  That was a very dark day, a day of betrayal, desertion, abuse, loneliness, suffering…  Jesus inquired of the Father and pressed through in obedience, paying for our sins.  He rescued us from our enemy.  He brought us back home to God.  A kingdom shifted.  A great and glorious surprise for all mankind. 

What has the enemy run off with that belonged to you?  Do things appear lost or over?  Maybe they’re not.  Strengthen yourself in the Lord.  Inquire of him.  Is he telling you to go after something? 

He did me.    

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood… Take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  And pray…. Ephesians 6: 10-11, 16-18 NIV

For nothing is impossible with God. Luke 1:37 NLT

The King is Coming

We are in the midst of a pandemic, the global outbreak of a deadly virus, and all but essential businesses have been shut down.  Just like that, in a matter of weeks, no concerts, no sporting events, no March madness, no school or college campus classes, no church gatherings.  Even the Olympics have been cancelled.  Everyone is ordered to stay at home. 

What is God up to I wonder?  What is he doing?  And what does he desire to do in me?  Do I need to repent?  Let me do it.  Do I need to change my ways?  Let me do it.  Have I taken up an idol and allowed my heart to be divided?  Let me cast it down now for Jesus alone.  God alone.  These are thoughts that run through my mind.     

This past week I was FaceTiming my mom and she reminded me of a song called “The King is Coming.”  As a young girl I remember hearing Doug Oldham sing it.  It’s a very visual song and the scenes always played out in my mind when I heard it.  In the middle of our conversation my mom began reciting the words. The old scenes came back as I listened…

The marketplace is empty
No more traffic in the streets
All the builders’ tools are silent
No more time to harvest wheat
Busy housewives cease their labors
In the courtroom no debate
Work on earth is all suspended
As the King comes thro’ the gate.
O the King is coming
The King is coming…

I’ve been thinking about that song all week.  Never in my lifetime did I expect to see such a dramatic suspension of the world’s activities.  I’m still in shock.  And awe.  It makes me wonder, is it time for this prophecy to be fulfilled?  Is the King, Jesus, coming?  Who could clear a room quicker than God?  And why would he?  Why the suspension of activity?  Is it a holy hush?  Is God clearing the way for a greater entrance into my heart or his great entrance into the world?  I feel him directing my soul toward higher realities.  I see how I’ve been consumed with “my little kingdom” things.

One night on my couch, I’m listening to the song again.  It’s over and I’m thinking.  Truths are rushing in.  Today I pen them…        

There is a greater courtroom to consider  
A higher judge
A grander debate
A better business to be done
A more worthy race to run
There is a greater glory
One more worthy
Of our cheers than men
A higher arena
A greater drama
There is a grander stage
Truer songs
Words more worthy of our breath
Higher bread
Truer gold
A greater exchange to invest in
The gold of salvation
The ransom of men
For our King comes soon
Through the gate
There’s no time to sleep my soul
Be shaken now awake    

“…we wait for the blessed hope, that is the glorious appearance of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Titus 2:13 EHV

“Leave Room in Your Cart”

Last night I watched the news and began to worry.  What if supplies run out and we have to spend 2 weeks on lock down for this Corona virus.  Do we have all we need? 

This morning I showed up at Kroger before the doors opened.  I did not grab a cart but went straight for the toilet paper.  When I had 2 packages I went back for a cart and began my hunt for two weeks’ worth of groceries, dried beans, yogurt… I was trying to remind myself to be kind and gracious which is a stretch for me when I’m worried and wanting.  If I could just get my stuff for two weeks I would be unworried and comfortable, then I could be kind and gracious.   

In the checkout line the lady behind me looked at my supplies and said, “Oh, they had Clorox spray? I didn’t know they had Clorox spray?”  “Would you like one?”  I asked.  “I picked up two and don’t really need both.”  She thanked me and took the one I handed her.    

As I headed for the exit I thought maybe I should just see if they still had another Clorox spray.  I could replace the one I had given away.  A little voice in my heart said “don’t… just trust.”  I didn’t heed it.  Instead I asked the gentleman at the self-checkout if I could leave my cart sit for a moment and went straight to aisle 19.  I picked up and paid for another Clorox spray (that kills 99.9 percent of bacteria and viruses) and pushed my cart out the door.  I had gone four feet when something fell from my very full cart and hit the ground.  It was the Clorox spray.  The lid was now cracked and the liquid was pouring out on to the road.  As I picked up the ruined bottle what came to mind was moldy manna… 

When God supplied his people with manna in the wilderness he had one rule (Exodus 16).  Take only what you need for the day.  He was trying to teach them to trust him a day at a time.  Those who gathered to hoard found the manna molded if they kept it overnight.  I felt convicted.  I knew God brought this story to my mind as a caution to my heart.  He wants me to trust him deeply.  And this virus outbreak is a perfect opportunity for me to practice the trust I want to have.   

Will I walk by faith through this?  Will I allow my cart to be less full in order to leave room for trusting?  Will I train myself in this smaller crisis how to act in a bigger crisis?  Will I become the person I want to be when things get really hard and truly frightening?  Here is my opportunity to act on what I say I believe, that “God will supply all my needs according to his riches in glory” and that His mercies are indeed “new every morning.” 

Later that day I pulled out a devotional book I had not looked at in a long time.  When I turned to the bookmarked page here is what I read:

The Cure for Care

… Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”  1 Peter 5:7 NASB

We imagine that a little anxiety and worry are indications of how wise we are.  We think we see the dangers of life clearly.  In reality, however, our fears are only an indication of how wicked we really are. 

As Charles G. Trumbull says,

“Worry is a sin; a black, murderous, God-defying, Christ-rejecting sin; worry about anything, at any time whatever.  We will never know victory over worry and anxiety until we begin to treat it as sin.  For such it is.  It is a deep-seated distrust of the Father, who assures us again and again that even the falling sparrow is in His tender care.”

The only way blunders and destruction can occur in our lives is when we forget to trust God.  When we take things into our own unskilled hands…

(Clippings from My Notebook– by Corrie Ten Boom)

Dear Lord,

Forgive me for trying to take comfort in a stock pile (toilet paper, paper towels, water bottles…)  I want to walk by faith and not by sight.  I want to heed your still small voice.  Teach me how to live with open hands and loose ends.  Help me to be generous like you.  Give me the grace I need to take faith steps each day.  Thank you for your Word.  It is a faithful corrector, a trainer and a guide, the truth.  Thank you for blessing me with a huge stock pile “in the heavenly realms” and “with every spiritual blessing in Christ!” (Ephesians 1:3)   

In Jesus name,

Amen.       

Finally, brothers and sisters, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable… think about such things.

Philippians 4:8-9 NIV

Best Cup of Coffee Ever

We drove home from Jake’s moms one morning and stopped at McDonalds for a cup of coffee to share.  As we pulled away from the drive thru I was happy.  It was one of those moments when your heart is full and you feel thankful for the simple opportunity in front of you, a beautiful peace-filled drive with your husband. 

I removed the lid from the large coffee we were to share and poured a creamer in.  Jake had an empty Styrofoam cup in the car and as I got ready to pour half of our coffee into his cup I glanced over at him.  He was frowning.  He didn’t say anything but in an instant I realized what I had done.  He didn’t want creamer in his coffee.  I knew this.  I’d made this mistake before.  Why didn’t I remember?  My heart sank and my happy moment vanished in an instant.  I started to cry, and not just a little.  I bawled.   What on earth was wrong with me?  I have heard of crying over spilt milk, but coffee with misplaced creamer?

I had two thoughts as I began to cry.  One, I ruined it.  I ruined a beautiful moment.  And two, why couldn’t he just drink the coffee.  Soon I realized what was really going on.  I collected myself and turned to my husband who was feeling terrible.  In a nutshell I bumbled through an explanation like this, “I’m sorry.  I’m just crying because this is my issue, my big issue.  I’m scared I’ll ruin something.  I’m scared I’ll ruin something really big.  Like my chance to get into heaven.”  I know it sounds crazy but I had a history with this topic.  My husband knew about it.  We had talked about it before.  He nodded in understanding. 

I faced the open road and wondered why I was so afraid of messing up.  I looked at the coffee.  I wanted to get rid of it. I wanted to pitch it out the window…

Then it was the most amazing thing.  All I can say is that grace poured into the moment.  And a wonderful truth came to my heart.  I turned back to my husband.  “I’ve got it,” I said.  “I’ve got the truth.  Jesus will drink the coffee.” 

On the hinge of that truth things swung in a different direction.  I began thinking about the cup of sin and suffering that Jesus said he would drink when he went to the cross.  He was speaking figuratively of course but that cup he would drink held all my sins and mistakes.  Because I haven’t just ruined a cup of coffee.  That’s the least of it.  I’ve ruined opportunities and relationships, with things I’ve said or done, or haven’t said, or done.  And Jesus, my Lord, is the only person I know who will take the cup of my mistakes, past present and future, and drink it. 

What a gift.  Who of us wouldn’t wish for that?  And want that.  Want that hero to come into our lives and swallow all that stuff so we can be free.  And forgiven.  So we can smile again.  Hope again.  And try again.  Makes me want to shout Halleluiah!

I thought about this truth and felt a deep happiness.  I looked at the cup of coffee I had wanted to pitch out the window and I wanted to drink it.  Because now it was a communion cup, a celebration of Jesus sacrifice for me.  I sipped that coffee and I drank deeply of the love of God. 

My husband smiled at me.  “I want some of that coffee,” he said.  So I poured some into his cup.  He took a sip then lifted his cup up in my direction.  “Cheers.  To Jesus,” I said as I touched my cup to his.  

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them saying, “Drink from it, all of you.  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Matt. 26:27-28 NIV 

Hustling Mistakes

Sometimes it’s tempting to just be an armchair Christian, a Christian commentator, or a spectator, because when you’re “in the game” you’re going to have moments where you goof up, and it never feels good.  I was doing something a little out of my comfort zone, trying to do the right thing for the Lord, but I messed it up.  My heart felt right, it’s just that things didn’t go right.  I was deflated.  Why do I always blow it?  I thought.  Chalk another one up to my awkwardness.  “A” for idea.  “F” for execution. 

As I stood in the worship service that Sunday morning I was tempted to make everything about me- my failure, my wishing I could be better at stuff- which is not at all what worship is about.  Worship isn’t about looking at me.  It’s about seeing God and all that he is in spite of me- my sins and mistakes.  It’s about noticing his perfection.  And celebrating the fact that when we blow it, he’s still there, and picking up the pieces.

I had made a hustling mistake, that’s all.  It happens.  I just needed to do what good athletes do, and that is, let it go.  Get up, dust myself off, remain focused, and move forward.

As I emotionally “dusted myself off,” I remembered how I used to be a referee instead of a player.  How I sat back, watched what others did on the field, judged them, and called infractions.  I was good at that.  But, it wasn’t my job.  And one day the Lord let me know that I was to stop judging what everyone else was doing and get in the game.  Because my team needed me to be a player.

And so I’m learning that when you’re in the game, as much as you want to, you just won’t play perfectly.  Baseball players strike out.  Football players fumble.  Basketball players miss the net.  And so do Christians.  We will foul someone, we will sin, and we will make hustling mistakes, but we have to get over it.  And we do that through the cross, which is the key to being a good player and staying in the game.  We will never outgrow our need for it.  When we drop the ball, we have to turn to the cross and apply Jesus grace to the situation.

As I processed these things, my gaze shifted from my imperfect self to my perfect Heavenly Father.  I imagined him looking down at me and smiling.  Smiling because I was trying to do what pleased him, and had a heart to play.  I wasn’t looking at my failure anymore or thinking about what others might think.  I was looking at God, my Coach.  I felt he had called me aside to say, “Thanks for stepping up and giving it a go.  Now let it go.  Trust me.  Enjoy me.  Know that I take delight in watching you play.  Don’t give up.  Keep doing your best.  Thanks for being on my team.  And remember, whatever happens, we do win this thing.”

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.                                                                                                               Philippians 3:13-14 NIV  

3 Things to Do in a Storm

Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.  The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”  He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet!  Be still!”  Then the wind died down and it was completely calm… “Who is this?  Even the wind and waves obey him!”          Mark 4:38-39, 41 NIV

When the Lord calls you to do something, don’t be surprised if a storm comes up.  This is what happened to Jesus disciples.  They were doing exactly what Jesus had told them, heading where Jesus wanted them to go when a storm blew in.  The disciples weren’t just rattled, they were deeply terrified.  “Lord, don’t you care if we die?!”  they cried.  At this Jesus awoke, rose up, spoke, and all was calm.

When a storm rises in our heart or blows in to our lives, we should cry out to God like the disciples.  They didn’t pray a pretty prayer.  It wasn’t polished or composed.  It was honest, desperate and uncensored.  “Lord, don’t you care….?” they cried.  Storms will bring these kinds of prayers up and out of us.  And that is important.

When we cry out to Jesus, he will take command.  Our voices have no authority over wind and waves. But Jesus voice carries authority over all he has made.  Everything.  And everyone.  We should wait for him to speak to whatever assails, “Quiet down!”  “Stop that!”  “Be still!”  He will.

The disciples made it through.  They arrived where Jesus wanted them to go.  They were tossed about, but they weren’t traumatized.  Yes, their clothes were wet and their hair was windblown, but their hearts were awash in wonder.  “Who is this, that even the winds and waves obey him?!”  they now cried, for they had witnessed things they thought were impossible.

Like these disciples I often think I need to wake Jesus up to what is happening with me; I act like I’m pounding on God’s door, “Help me bail this water!  I’m going under!”  But the truth is Jesus wants to awaken me to who he truly is, because I don’t know.  And storms wash my eyes.  Their waves beat up against my doubts and break into my small view of God.  Storms shake me up to the fact that Jesus is far more than I ever thought he was.  And when I pass through them, I arrive on the other side to find a good chunk of my false beliefs washed away, and my doubts over what God can do dissipated.  Like the disciples, I’m wet and windblown yes, but greater still I’m on my knees wonderstruck and worshipping, saying “Jesus, I had no idea you are so powerful!  Forgive me.  I didn’t know you don’t bail water!”

Where do you need Jesus power and “Peace be still” today?  Will you let him awaken you to his command of things?

Pray an honest prayer.
Let Him speak to what threatens.
Prepare to be awestruck.

 

“Ye fearful saints fresh courage take, the clouds you so much dread,
are big with mercy and will break, in blessing on your head.”
– William Cowper

 

Returning Thanks

 

One of them when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.  He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him- and he was a Samaritan.”  Luke 17:15-17 NIV

Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem when 10 lepers cried out to him in loud voices from a distance.  They were terminal, contagious, and had to keep away from others.  “Jesus, Master, have pity on us.”  Jesus heard their cry.  “Go, show yourselves to the priests,” he said.  And as they went they were healed.

One of the lepers returned to Jesus with praise and thanks.  The other nine walked on, why?  Were they too excited about the blessing they had received, too busy making plans?  “How should we spend this new lease on life?  What do we do with this dream come true?”  Or, were they just in such a hurry to finally be together with their family and friends?  And why would I fault them?  Weren’t they obeying what Jesus commanded?  Jesus told them “go.”  He didn’t tell them to come over and give him praise.  He didn’t call after them, “Hey, what do you say?” or “You’re welcome!”

I wonder, if I were one of the lepers, would I be the one who went back?

What made that one different?  What entered his mind?  What stopped him in his forward rushing tracks, and sent walking back, alone?  I think he realized the gravity of the situation.  He was a leper. And he was a Samaritan.  This made him a double outsider.  Maybe the others deep down thought they deserved what they finally got.  He knew he didn’t.  Jesus had seen and helped, him.  There would be no more languishing in utter despair, no longer that life sentence of hopelessness.  The weight of that blessing swung him around and swung him hard.  Walk alone?  Who cares.  “I’m healed!  I’m free!  I’m falling at Jesus feet.  Thank you Jesus!  What can’t wait for me?”

I want to be swung around.

That one leper has me thinking about the magnitude of what Jesus has done for me.  He has made it so that when God sees me he says “Clean!  Spotless! Come in!”  He’s healed my heart so I can be a life giving part of, an encouragement to, my family and community.  I don’t want to rush head long into my blessings or dash ahead with my plans.  I want to learn to be the one, the one who stops, and returns, to give thanks.

When we were overwhelmed by sins you forgave our transgressions.  Psalm 65:3 NIV

Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed?  Where are the other nine?  Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Luke 17:17-18 NIV