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

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

 

A Lesson in Gethsemane

I am reading about a scene in the garden of Gethsemane.  The disciples are sad, confused, and feeling threatened.  Nothing is going as they would choose.  When the soldiers come to arrest Jesus they don’t know how to handle things, “Lord, shall we strike with our swords?” they ask.  Peter doesn’t wait for Jesus to answer, but instead lashes out and cuts off a soldier’s ear.

Maybe you can relate to Peter.  Something is going to pieces around you and you don’t like it.  You feel threatened and anxious.  An injustice is happening and you’re used to drawing your sword.  You don’t know what else to do but cut off an ear.  Aren’t battles fought with aggressive action?  Piercing words?  If cutting off an ear isn’t the right response in these moments, what is?

We don’t have to wonder.  If we listen in on what Jesus said to Peter, we will hear what he may be telling us.  Jesus said, “Put your sword back in its place… Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?  But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”  Matthew 26:52-54 NIV

Jesus is giving Peter three truths here.  First, Peter is to put his sword back in its place.  Reacting in his usual and natural way will not work in this situation.  Secondly, no matter how things appear Jesus is in authority.  John’s gospel reports that when the Roman soldiers arrived on this scene, Jesus did not hide or hang back, but went straight to them and asked, “Who is it you want?”  When Jesus told the soldiers who he was, the entire detachment fell to the ground.  A strong indication of who was in charge of the moment.  Yes, Jesus could call on the angels.  But it wouldn’t be right.  Why?  That brings us to truth three.  Jesus came to fulfill the scriptures.  He came to prove God’s word true, to fulfill each promise and prophecy God had made through the generations.  He was here to bring salvation to people, exactly the way God said it would come.  Through the cross.

I don’t know about you, but when I feel threatened and anxious I tend to lash out.  I can see now that’s the wrong response.  It hurts others and it does not fulfill God’s plan.  I love this scene in the garden, because it gives me a blueprint for walking through things.  I want to learn to handle hard moments like Jesus did, honoring God and his word.  Next time I face a threat and cry, “Lord, shall I strike with my sword?”, I want to remember this scene, listen, and pray.  I want to hear Jesus say, “I’m in control.”  I want to put away the sword of my flesh, take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, and ask a new question.  “Lord, what scripture do you want to see fulfilled in me?”  (After all, this is why I read the Bible, to know when and how to apply what is written in it, to find myself and my answers there.)  I want to learn to kneel in that garden and like Jesus pray this prayer, “Show me Lord, how to act in a way that proves your word true, your love deep, your redemption real.  Show me how to live in a way that brings salvation.”

The character and nature of Jesus is amazing in this scene.  Jesus was going through a horrendous trial, more awful than anything we could face.  And he could have been gratified that it appeared someone was standing up for him, that they cared enough to cut off an ear.  But Jesus wasn’t at all gratified by that.  He wasn’t looking for someone to cut off an ear for him.  And he doesn’t want us looking for that either.  When we are living to make people pay, we have a problem.  We’re missing the greater sacrifice.  Jesus sacrifice.  Jesus came to get us out of the eye for eye and ear for ear system.  Jesus didn’t cut off an ear as a badge of his love for us, he suffered in his own self.  He did not strike.  He was stricken.  He did not make another person pay.  He paid.  His life’s blood is on the purchase agreement of our souls.  So let’s not be looking for ears.  Jesus alone is worthy of our constant gaze.  And highest praise.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.    Isaiah 53:4-5 NIV

 

 

Faith Training

bigstock-131917565The movie Miracle tells the story of how our 1980 US hockey team won an Olympic gold medal against all odds.  Coach Herb Brooks, knowing both his team and the opponent well, led his players into a season of difficult training.  He wearied them with long hours and demanding drills.  At one point he subjected his players to such a grueling workout that those watching questioned his methods.  Even his own players doubted his affection and were tempted to quit.  Though no one understood it at the time, Herb knew what He was doing.  He was training his players to hang tough with their opponent, preparing them for ultimate victory.  Herb’s team chose to trust and persevere.  And when it was time for the big game against an enemy that had long ruled the ice, Herb’s players beat the odds, got the gold, and gained honor for their country.

Being on God’s team is not always easy.  In fact, sometimes it’s difficult to understand the hardships we suffer.  But, it is through these very hardships that God is working to form in us what is most precious and valuable to him and his kingdom- real and tested faith.  With this faith we overcome the world.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith of greater worth than gold… may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.     1Peter 1:6-7 NIV

Sowing in Tears

Old farmer woman sowing seeds mixed with fertilizer from a bucket

“Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.”   Psalm 126:5 NIV

What breaks your heart?  And brings you to tears?  It’s a deeply personal question, but I ask it because God’s word tells us that right there, right at that point of sorrow, there’s an amazing field of opportunity.  An opportunity to sow in tears, and reap joy.

So how do we go from heartbroken to happy harvest?  How do we plant, and grow, this rare and wonderful crop?  We start by understanding that tears alone produce nothing.  So, as much as we’d like to sit around with our tissue boxes, we can’t.  There must come a day when we get up from our bed of sorrow, walk into that field of opportunity, and take God at His word– turn our faces heavenward, and find out what God wants us to do in light of (or in spite of) what we’re going through.  Sowing in tears means just that, we can’t wait until we feel positively sunny before we start.  That’s key to farming a field of joy.  And, you can begin today.

What’s your pain?  Pour it out to the Lord.  And ask Him what to do.  Then, take His seed of instruction and sow it by acting on what He says.  Is God telling you to wait?  Then wait, don’t push.  Is God telling you to trust?  Then trust, don’t manipulate or strategize.  Is God telling you to go somewhere and do something?  Then go.  Do it.  Don’t wait for a prettier day.  Don’t wait until you are in a better mood.  Do what God says, no matter how strange, or impossible, it seems.

God’s kingdom is made up of many glorious fields planted in this way.  His mercy pours down like rain upon them.  His face shines radiantly on the people who work in them.  So take heart little farmer.  Take that step of faith.  And plow ahead.

Several years ago I quit my teaching job to write a novel.  I worked on a manuscript, took it to a writer’s conference and was told that no one would be interested in a story like mine.  I was heartbroken.  I came home and cried.  Now what, I wondered?  For days I sat around on a bed of tears.  Then I prayed and asked God what to do.  I started writing devotionals for the local paper and bible studies for a jail ministry and a Sunday school class.  I even wrote a few speeches for our church women’s events.  I did my best to sow seeds of God’s love and encouragement into the lives of the people around me.  I never dreamed I could be truly happy working in those little fields, but I was.  I gained some dear friends.  And reaped joy.  Joy I never would have known, if I hadn’t cried and sown.  Looking back now I see that God was teaching me something very important.  He was teaching me to love His story, more than my own.  And I do.

Don’t let your tears fall to the ground without a seed.  Weep if you must, but sow as you weep.  The harvest will come when the time is just right.  Don’t worry, you will reap joy.  It’s a promise.

        He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.    Psalm 126:6 NIV

“Not Yet”

Girl Reading A Book At School

I will never forget when my little niece Logan was going through her “not yet” phase.  No matter what we were doing “not yet” was a constant refrain.  One afternoon I was reading her a story and as I began to turn the page she shot her little hand down upon it.  “Not yet,” she said.  What was the problem I wondered?  I thought I had given her plenty of time to take in that part of the story and to look at the pictures.  What did she mean, “Not yet”?

It was many months later I found myself stuck.  And angry.  Not one to lose my temper I was literally clenching my fists in frustration over something I had hoped to accomplish more quickly.  I had worked and waited a long time and I was ready to cross the finish line on that thing.  I was on a walk thinking and praying when I remembered Logan and her “not yet” phase.  I thought about the day I read her that story, and about how she laid her little hand down on the page.  I was puzzling over the memory when I heard a whisper to my heart.

Slow down.  You’re rushing the story.”

What?”  I thought as I slowed my pace.  “What story?”  I asked almost out loud.

The story of your life,” came the reply.

I was bewildered.  And exasperated.  “Lord, how on earth can I possibly rush the story of my life?  I am the slowest person I know!  Don’t you see what I am trying to do?  I know this scene.  I’ve been stuck in it for months.  I am well acquainted with this page and I am more than ready to turn it.”

Gently, so gently, it was as if the Lord laid his hand down.  Laid it over my restless heart.  Laid it over the scene before me.  And with great kindness said, “Not yet.”

I felt myself calming.  And I felt God’s love for me even though I wished He had said something different.  I didn’t understand, but I wanted to trust.  I walked on.  I kept thinking.  And as I did I started getting the feeling that there was something very valuable on this particular page of my life, something… I just hadn’t seen yet.

I let go of my frustration.  And a new response began forming in me.  A response like this:

Lord, you are the author of my life.  If you say it’s not time to turn the page, it’s not time to turn the page.  I will look for what I have not yet seen.  I will find beauty in the unfolding.  I will cherish your hand upon my life.  And I will wait.  I will wait for the day when you say, “Okay.  Now.”

               I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. Psalm 130:5 NIV

 

 

A Door of Hope

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Would God ever lead you into a desert? Yes, but not without a promise. God was talking about his people Israel when he said:

“I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.
There I will give her back her vineyards,
and will make the Valley of Achor (which means “trouble”) a door of hope.
There she will sing as in the days of her youth.”  Hosea 2:14-15 NIV

Deserts are hard places. The days are extra hot and the nights extra cold. Needs are intensified. “I’m thirsty.” “Where are my friends?” “Am I on the right path?” “I feel confused.” “Is that real or is it a mirage?” If God has led you into the desert it will be tough, but according to the verse above you have four excellent promises.

First, God will speak tenderly to you. So, watch and listen for his tenderness.

Second, God will give you back something you have lost. And He will determine what it is. For Israel it was vineyards. Remember, fruit often comes from plowed up ground, a good seed, watering, and pruning. That means you need, an open heart, God’s word, daily prayer, and the willingness to let go of things that are weighing you down.

Third, God will turn your trouble into a door of hope. Doors lead somewhere, and I love the thought of a hopeful threshold to cross, don’t you? Watch for it.

Lastly, you are promised that you will sing like a child. Children don’t sing about cheap thrills or love gone bad, they sing about hopes fulfilled and dreams coming true. What have you been singing about? Do you need to change your tune?

God never leads his people into the desert to die. He leads them there to carry them through, to a promised place.

This Little Light of Mine

Single Candle With Back Lit. Tranquil Scene

It had been a stormy week and I was praying. My heart was full of fears, dark thoughts and doubt. My faith felt rattled. I talked to God a long time and finally ran out of things to say. I couldn’t find the answers I was looking for. I ended my prayer with a question. “Lord, is there anything you want me to know?” I tried to listen. I was desperate for something. I waited… nothing.

Then… as if on a breath, this verse came to mind. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” (Matthew 12:20 NIV) The verse surprised me. My thoughts gathered around it. I thought about how you handle a candle whose wick is sputtering, about how you don’t grab it and shake it, but instead quietly approach, and gently blow.

A quiet approach. A gentle blowing. That is what I felt in response to the storm raging against my soul. In a moment I knew for certain that God was near and guarding my flickering faith. There was no, “what’s the matter with you” shaking. No harshness or rebuke. Just this impression, “I am here and I will keep your faith light burning. Don’t worry so.”

As I calmed down my thoughts drifted back over my week. I remembered some things that happened, and saw other ways God had been there cupping his hands around the light of my soul, shielding it from the snuffer. All that day I marveled over a God who would offer such undeserved kindness to such a weak and sputtering person, me. I still marvel. That’s who he is.

Who am I that you are mindful of me?  Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my family that you have brought me this far? Although I am less than the least of all God’s people: this grace was given me, to preach… the unsearchable riches of Christ. 

                                             Psalm 8:4, 1 Chronicles 17:16 NIV, Ephesians 3:8 NIV

You, O LORD, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.

                                                                                    Psalm 18:28 NIV

The “Streams in the Desert” Sisterhood

 

Arms That Are Strong

“Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard…”
          Malachi 3:16 NIV

Recently I was asked to think back on a hard season of my life and recall a good or funny memory from it. I thought about when I quit my teaching job some years back, about the loneliness and confusion I felt as I set out to become a writer. Soon I began to smile and even laugh in my heart as I remembered three friends God gave me during that time. Two of them were going through some very hard and heartbreaking things; the other was our upbeat and wise cheerleader.

Our foursome kicked off when one of the heartbroken friends began raving to the rest of us about a devotional book she was reading. She would get so excited saying that it always had the perfect word for her discouraged heart. She even quoted to us from it. The book was “Streams in the Desert” and it wasn’t long before we all had a copy.

So began what I call “The Streams in the Desert Club.” Oh it wasn’t an official club. In fact it was very unofficial. But a meeting came to order anytime one might see another and say, “Did you read ‘Streams’ today?” (Our upbeat friend called it “Storms” since she thought the topics were always about something so stormy.)

In our club of four I knew I could count on four things: confidentiality, sympathy, prayers, and laughter. It was a sweet sisterhood. And though it’s been years since that time, I still smile when I think about us.

Here is a truth: In every trial there will be a blessing. In sorrow or hardship, you will find something sweet. Watch for it. Count on it. It is God’s way.

I’ll leave you with this passage from “Streams” today.

“The burden of suffering seems a tombstone hung about our necks, while in reality it is only the weight which is necessary to keep down the diver while he is hunting for pearls.”
-Richter

Prepare for Your Big Day

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As God’s people approached the Promised Land 12 spies were sent out to survey it.  Upon returning 10 spies said, “It’s true. The land does flow with milk and honey and the fruit is enormously good!  BUT, our worst enemies live there and we are as small as grasshoppers compared to them.  We cannot enter, we’ll be devoured.”  The other 2 spies said, “Yes, the land is gloriously good, and the enemy is daunting.  BUT, the Lord is with us.  Don’t be scared!”  Of the 12 spies, only those 2 lived to enter the Promised Land.

I have wondered what made those 2 spies different.  I mean, everyone had been on the same trail through the very same wilderness.  Everyone ate the same food and had the same water to drink.  So what gives?

I think those 2 spies were just different all along.  I think that when manna fell from heaven for the umpteenth time and others were saying, “Not again” or “Same old same old” those 2 said instead, “Thank you.”  I think when the people were really thirsty and Moses struck that rock and everyone cried out, “Finally!  We were dying of thirst!” those 2 said instead, “Wow.  Awesome.”  I think when those wilderness wanderers encountered yet another hardship and the general population complained, “Let’s turn back!” or “Why did we ever come out here?” those 2 said instead, “Lord, help us.”  I think that day by day those 2 spies had responded in faith (gratitude, awe, and prayer) to all the smaller things, so that when it came time for the big thing, they were ready. 

We really do prepare for our big moments and big days, in small moments today.     

Whoever is faithful in small matters, will be faithful in large ones.   Luke 16:10 GNT