Sunrise over Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

God’s rescue comes even though the waters keep rising

You’ve got to love David. If you’ve ever spent any time in the Psalms, you know what I’m talking about. David just had a gift with words. He could turn a phrase just right so that it got right down to the heart of the issue. Most of the time I think it’s because David was honest and earnest about who he was and who God is. But one of my favorite “psalms” of David’s isn’t in Psalms at all. In fact, it’s in 2 Samuel.

It’s long, like 50 verses, but I’m only going to post the first 30 this morning, mainly because those are the ones that really stuck out to me as I read them. (I should correct yesterday’s post too, since my best friend’s novel is actually based on verses 17-18 of this passage; I saw deep waters and got my verses mixed up!)

Sunrise over Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Sunrise over Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Today’s verses are 2 Samuel 3-30:

The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior;
    my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.
He is my shield, the power that saves me,
    and my place of safety.
He is my refuge, my savior,
    the one who saves me from violence.
I called on the Lord, who is worthy of praise,
    and he saved me from my enemies.

“The waves of death overwhelmed me;
    floods of destruction swept over me.
 The grave wrapped its ropes around me;
    death laid a trap in my path.
 But in my distress I cried out to the Lord;
    yes, I cried to my God for help.
He heard me from his sanctuary;
    my cry reached his ears.

“Then the earth quaked and trembled.
    The foundations of the heavens shook;
    they quaked because of his anger.
 Smoke poured from his nostrils;
    fierce flames leaped from his mouth.
    Glowing coals blazed forth from him.
 He opened the heavens and came down;
    dark storm clouds were beneath his feet.
 Mounted on a mighty angelic being, he flew,
    soaring on the wings of the wind.
 He shrouded himself in darkness,
    veiling his approach with dense rain clouds.
 A great brightness shone around him,
    and burning coals blazed forth.
 The Lord thundered from heaven;
    the voice of the Most High resounded. 
He shot arrows and scattered his enemies;
    his lightning flashed, and they were confused.
 Then at the command of the Lord,
    at the blast of his breath, the bottom of the sea could be seen,
    and the foundations of the earth were laid bare.

“He reached down from heaven and rescued me;
    he drew me out of deep waters.
 He rescued me from my powerful enemies,
    from those who hated me and were too strong for me.
 They attacked me at a moment when I was in distress,
    but the Lord supported me.
 He led me to a place of safety;
    he rescued me because he delights in me.
 The Lord rewarded me for doing right;
    he restored me because of my innocence.
 For I have kept the ways of the Lord;
    I have not turned from my God to follow evil.
 I have followed all his regulations;
    I have never abandoned his decrees.
 I am blameless before God;
    I have kept myself from sin.
 The Lord rewarded me for doing right.
    He has seen my innocence.

“To the faithful you show yourself faithful;
    to those with integrity you show integrity.
 To the pure you show yourself pure,
    but to the wicked you show yourself hostile.
 You rescue the humble,
    but your eyes watch the proud and humiliate them.
 O Lord, you are my lamp.
    The Lord lights up my darkness.
 In your strength I can crush an army;
    with my God I can scale any wall.

David sang this song after God rescued Him from his enemies, but there is a lot in this passage that applies to life as we know it today. So much that I don’t really have time to go over all of it. I could spend a month on this chapter alone. Maybe I should.

But what I love about this–one of the many aspects–is how it depicts God coming to the rescue. Part of me thinks it’s ironic to see God’s rescue being depicted in natural disasters; maybe there’s a point in that. But when God comes to the rescue like that, who could doubt Him? He charges in with thunder and lightning and earthquakes and terror and reaches down to us to pull us out of our distress and our fear. I love how this passage ends too. God is our light in the darkness, and with Him nothing is impossible.

I’m not sure if we can really wrap our heads around that concept, but we can try. So the next impossible task you face, remember this passage. Remember that when you’re in trouble, you just need to cry out for help, and God will be there. He’ll come charging in to rescue you, to draw you out of the floods that are threatening to overwhelm you.

True, the verse doesn’t say God will stop the floods. But it does say God will be there to help. And if we have God’s help, there’s nothing we can’t do.

Dragonfly - Galveston, TX

Just because you can’t see Him doesn’t mean He’s not working

I’ve got troubles. How about you? I have stuff in my life that blows up on occasion, and it’s really hard to recover sometimes. I want God to fix it. I want Him to intervene and make everything right again as quickly as possible so nobody gets hurt, including me. But He doesn’t always work like that. Actually, He rarely works like that. And so I have to go through even more difficult situations, where people are angry or where people make foolish choices and I have to pick up the pieces and start all over again.

If you’ve never been there, you don’t know how discouraging that is. To have invested your life in something only to have something outside your control ruin it all. And you have to start over from scratch.

When I was young, my favorite hobby was writing (not much has changed). And I would sit and write as often as I could. I had this huge book series I was working on. Back then the power grid out here in the country was unreliable at best, and we had an old computer that had never heard of “Auto Save.” You already know where I’m going. I was typing along, just minding my own business, and the power went out. And I lost four whole single-spaced pages. And they weren’t even scenes with basic description or simple dialogue. They were scenes with complicated, plot elements.

I was devastated. This probably doesn’t sound like a big deal to anyone, but if you’re a writer, you can identify with the loss. I had to start those pages all over again. And this was before I worked with an outline, so I had to recreate what I had pulled out of thin air. And all I could think about when I got to the end of those four new pages (and saved them six times) was that it wasn’t as good as the first attempt.

I don’t do this very often, but I’m posting an entire chapter. The whole chapter is just wonderful, one of my favorites. And since I’m going to put the whole chapter up, I’m putting it up in The Message (emphasis is mine), but if you want to read it in New Living Translation, it’s also very good.

Dragonfly - Galveston, TX

Dragonfly – Galveston, TX

2 Corinthians 4

 Since God has so generously let us in on what he is doing, we’re not about to throw up our hands and walk off the job just because we run into occasional hard times. We refuse to wear masks and play games. We don’t maneuver and manipulate behind the scenes. And we don’t twist God’s Word to suit ourselves. Rather, we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display, so that those who want to can see and judge for themselves in the presence of God.

 If our Message is obscure to anyone, it’s not because we’re holding back in any way. No, it’s because these other people are looking or going the wrong way and refuse to give it serious attention. All they have eyes for is the fashionable god of darkness. They think he can give them what they want, and that they won’t have to bother believing a Truth they can’t see. They’re stone-blind to the dayspring brightness of the Message that shines with Christ, who gives us the best picture of God we’ll ever get.

Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you. It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful.

If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken. What they did to Jesus, they do to us—trial and torture, mockery and murder; what Jesus did among them, he does in us—he lives! Our lives are at constant risk for Jesus’ sake, which makes Jesus’ life all the more evident in us. While we’re going through the worst, you’re getting in on the best!

 We’re not keeping this quiet, not on your life. Just like the psalmist who wrote, “I believed it, so I said it,” we say what we believe. And what we believe is that the One who raised up the Master Jesus will just as certainly raise us up with you, alive. Every detail works to your advantage and to God’s glory: more and more grace, more and more people, more and more praise!

So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.

***

God has a plan. Even when nothing makes sense to us, it’s comforting to know that He’s got it all handled. The trouble with following Christ in this world is that we can’t always see the difference God is making to people. They’re either too ashamed to admit it or too afraid or too proud. But even if they don’t say anything, even if they act out, even if they lash out in anger, you can know that it’s probably because God used something we did or said to unsettle them.

God is working, but in the areas that He’s working, we can’t see. Because He’s changing people in a way that will last forever, and that’s something that is invisible, at least at first. So we have to trust that He’s doing something, even if we can’t see it. Especially if we can’t see it. We just have to keep doing what we’re doing.

That’s difficult for me sometimes because it’s frustrating to watch something I gave so much of myself to torn down.  But nothing happens without a reason, and as long as we keep our perspective straight and keep doing what God has called us to do, He can use it to bring about our greatest hopes, to fulfill our dreams. But starting over again is exhausting, and there’s the fear that it will be torn down again. But let’s be honest: sometimes starting over again is the best thing that can happen, even if it’s for reasons we don’t understand.

As a child, I hated those four pages that I had to rewrite. But I tell you what, I learned the importance of saving my work. And a few years later … I ended up rewriting the whole scene anyway. And it turned out ten times better than it ever could have when I was younger.

Just saying.

Sun almost set - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Never give up.

I avoid hatred. I don’t think hate solves anything. Ever. It’s one of those emotions that can move you to do terrible things, and if you get into a lifestyle of hatred, you will become a miserable person. And even Scripture tells us that we’re never supposed to hate another person. It doesn’t matter what they’ve done to us or how they’ve treated us or how they’ve treated someone you love, hate never improves the situation. It just makes you miserable.

But what about our enemy? Our real enemy. Not Osama bin Laden or any of the men and women who have done such evil things to each other. Not people. Because people are never our enemies. Satan is. And he hates us so very much. Is it okay to hate him?

And the moment I start talking about Satan many people may start rolling their eyes because we don’t like to think about him as a real person who’s truly after us. But he is. And he’s not some costumed clown in a red suit and pitchfork as our culture would like to believe. He’s not a man in a suit. He’s not a terrifying monster. He’s brilliant and he’s beautiful and he’s alluring, and he knows us better than we know ourselves.

And he tears people apart. And he takes things that are good and corrupts them. And he gets in between people who are making a difference and tempts them to hurt each other, and before you know it, they can’t even talk to each other anymore. He fills our heads with lies, and because we are broken people we listen. And the only consolation is that God is big enough to take the situations that Satan had destroyed and can still do something great with them.

Paul and Barnabas are a good example. They disagreed about a young man named John Mark. You can read it in Acts 14:36-40. But they fought about it so much that they split up because they couldn’t work together anymore. Did their ministries end? No. God still used them. And maybe some would say that it was God’s will for them to go their separate ways. But I don’t think it’s ever God’s will for us to be in conflict with another believer. Not like that. Not the kind of conflict that splits you apart and leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

God still used Paul and Barnabas separately. They still did remarkable things around the world. But as far as we know, they never reconciled. Now they’re together in heaven. I wonder how that went when they spoke to each other again for the first time in so long.

Sun almost set - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sun almost set – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Micah 7:7-8.

As for me, I look to the Lord for help.
    I wait confidently for God to save me,
    and my God will certainly hear me.
Do not gloat over me, my enemies!
    For though I fall, I will rise again.
Though I sit in darkness,
    the Lord will be my light.

Satan is going to throw everything he has at us. I don’t think any of us really understand how much he hates us. What we have to do is to realize what is happening.

Satan hates us and wants us to fall. He wants us to go to pieces. He wants us to focus the sum of our disappointment and our fears and our loneliness on each other. If he can’t separate us from God (and he can’t, by the way), he will manipulate us and use us to hurt each other, to drive each other away. And we’re so good at rationalizing that we are always in danger of listening to his temptation and supporting it with our own reasoning … so it makes sense to us. And we think we’re doing something good, but we’re really just playing into his hands.

But if whatever path you’re choosing to act on contradicts Scripture in any way, don’t do it.

So what if you’re in the position of watching people give in to Satan’s taunts and threats?

Pray.

And if you know them well enough, confront.

And if that doesn’t change anything … let them go. God will take care of it.

Quite “by accident” this morning, when I logged into Biblegateway.com to get the verse, it was set on The Message as the translation. I use the Message sometimes because I like to get the feel of a whole passage. This is the whole context of the verses for today:

But me, I’m not giving up.
   I’m sticking around to see what God will do.
I’m waiting for God to make things right.
   I’m counting on God to listen to me.
Don’t, enemy, crow over me.
   I’m down, but I’m not out.
I’m sitting in the dark right now,
   but God is my light.
I can take God’s punishing rage.
   I deserve it—I sinned.
But it’s not forever. He’s on my side
   and is going to get me out of this.
He’ll turn on the lights and show me his ways.
   I’ll see the whole picture and how right he is.
And my enemy will see it, too,
   and be discredited—yes, disgraced!
This enemy who kept taunting,
   “So where is this God of yours?”
I’m going to see it with these, my own eyes—
   my enemy disgraced, trash in the gutter.

We have an enemy, and he hates us. And he’s going to do everything he can to break us down and tear us apart, and there are going to be days when he succeeds. But God is bigger. And God is stronger. And God is going to make everything right again. And Satan is going to see that. Actually, Satan already knows that.

It’s up to us not to give up. It’s up to us to keep doing the right thing. To keep living lives that please God, living according to the Scripture, living according to the Spirit. And God will work everything out.

Elephant at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Eating elephants

Everyone I know is busy. Some are in school. Many are planning weddings. Others are having babies. And the rest of us are overwhelmed with work and ministry and general family stuff. But “busy” seems to be the standard answer to the “How are you doing?” question we always greet each other with.

Doesn’t it feel like too much sometimes though? Do you ever feel like you have so much to do that you can’t ever accomplish anything? I constantly feel like I’m spinning my wheels. Or like my life is a treadmill and no matter how hard I run I never actually make any real progress. That’s not true, of course. If I were honest with myself I accomplish a lot in a full day, but when I compare it to the rest of the things I need to do (and the unrealistic expectations I put on myself), it never makes much difference.

When I look at the pile of things I need to accomplish in a day, I feel like I’m trying to eat an elephant. And it’s far too much for me. And when I start focusing on how there’s no way I can ever do all that I need to do, I start getting discouraged.

Elephant at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Elephant at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita, KS

Today’s verse(s) are Hebrews 6:11-12.

Our great desire is that you will keep on loving others as long as life lasts, in order to make certain that what you hope for will come true. Then you will not become spiritually dull and indifferent. Instead, you will follow the example of those who are going to inherit God’s promises because of their faith and endurance.

This verse is really referring to salvation and how to grow in your faith, but it struck me this morning that it applies to the rest of life too. That’s what I love so much about the Bible. Even when one verse is talking about one thing, oftentimes it’s also talking about something else completely in the subtext.

So much of following Christ on a daily basis is faith. But faith isn’t just some abstract, ethereal feeling you experience on a good day when you hear a beautiful song or watch the sun rise. Faith is a concrete, heart-wrenching choice that you make in the nitty-gritty moments of life. It’s the choice you have to keep making every day, sometimes every hour, to let go of what you’re worrying about and trust God with it. It’s a choice you have to keep making. Over and over and over.

Yes, you choose to follow Christ once. You choose to give Him your heart. You choose to trust Him for salvation. Once and forever. And you’re good to go as far as your eternal soul. But when it comes to living for Him from day-to-day? That’s a little more difficult. That’s a choice you have to make continually. Every morning when you wake up, you have to make the conscious decision that your day is going to be about Him. Not you. And you’ll have to remind yourself of that choice multiple times throughout the course of the next 24 hours.

Faith is one thing. Enduring faith — patient faith — is something else. I’m not good at waiting. I don’t like it. I’m all about action and doing and fixing; waiting and waiting makes me feel lazy. And I think that’s why God makes me do it so often because I learn a lot about Him and about who I am in Him throughout the process of waiting.

Great faith takes strong perseverance. That’s something many Christians won’t tell you, but it’s true. Faith can definitely be about those big miraculous moments; but more often than not, it’s about waiting. And waiting takes patience and perseverance and consistency.

So how does that help us accomplish everything we need to do? How does that get us where we need to be? How is waiting a comfort in situations where we’re so overwhelmed we don’t know what step to take next?

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

It’s the same way you climb a mountain like Mt. Everest. You get as far as you can in one day and you rest. Then you wake up and do it again. And again. And again. And again.  Don’t deviate. Don’t change course. Don’t give up. Just keep going. And eventually you’ll get to the top. (And then, of course, you have to come back down, but that’s another point for another Monday.)

When we’re facing a challenge that’s too big for us, just do the best you can and trust God for the rest. And when it feels like you’re just running on a treadmill, take a moment to look back and see all that you’ve accomplished. Don’t let yourself forget the things you’ve done and the successes you’ve had. And always look at where God has brought you.

God is always working in our lives. He’s always leading us forward, even if it is just one step a day. But one step is better than standing still, and add up all the steps you’ve taken in your life, and you’ll see how far you’ve come.

Be consistent. Be patient. Just keep doing what you’re doing. And something will change.

Keep on keeping on

Perseverance. Dictionary.com identifies it as “steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.”

I’d like to think that I’m good at persevering. I think a lot of people would like to believe that about themselves. Perseverance is one of those character qualities that everyone knows is good to have. Unfortunately, it’s one that’s a real struggle to keep hold of.

By its very definition, having perseverance means you’re going to run into trouble. I mean, sure, you can persevere without trouble, but if can you really say someone is persevering if they don’t encounter trouble or danger or discouragement? Can you persevere through good times? Sure. But it doesn’t feel like persevering.

I thought of this word when I read the verse this morning, Romans 12:12.

12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.

 It’s a very simple verse. Nothing fancy. No frills. But when you get right down to it, it makes no sense at all. Talk about a non sequitur! It goes from rejoicing in the hope we have to exhorting us to be patient in trouble. That doesn’t really flow. If I had been writing, I would have said to rejoice in our hope and then I’d go on to talk about something happy. But I didn’t write this. God did. And He knows what He’s talking about.

Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.

I kind of talked about this yesterday, but have you ever not gotten something you asked God for? Have you spent your entire life serving God and you feel like all He ever seems to give you are trials and tribulations and tests? I know people like that. I know people who have encountered ridiculous things in their lives for no reason I can see. They don’t deserve it. They’ve never done anything to deserve it. Yet God seems intent on allowing every possible bad thing on Earth to happen to them. But some of these folks never give up. They are able to look past the awful circumstances in their lives and see that God is still working and that He has a plan. And on days where I would be crushed underneath a weight of gloom and doom, they’re rejoicing. That is true perseverance.

I was curious this morning about the phrase “confident hope.” I have blogged on it before, but I’ve never searched for it. So I did a Biblegateway.com search and the exact phrase “confident hope” appears five times in the New Living Translation of the Bible. Three of those times is in Romans.

Just glancing through these verses, the confident hope Paul (through God) is talking about is our salvation. And not just our faith in Christ, but our lives down here as well (part of our salvation is living out our life on Earth). Because of what Jesus did for us, because of His sacrifice on the cross, we have hope. And not just hope but confident hope that God knows what He’s doing, that He never makes mistakes, and that He always keeps His promises. And because we have that confident hope, we can rejoice in it and in what God is doing in our lives.

By rejoicing in that confident hope, it’s a lot easier to have patience when trouble comes my way. I’m know if I’m focused on what God has done in my life and what He is currently doing, it’s a lot more natural for me to keep rejoicing when everything crumbles around me. And if I’m still in that frame of mind to rejoice even when the world is falling apart around me, prayer becomes an instantaneous response as well when I don’t know what to do — or even if I do know what to do.

I have to mention that the verse does say “keep on praying” which indicates to me that it’s something I have to repeat. Paul here is assuming that I’m already praying and that I need to continue, persistently. I need to persevere, which means I need to continue in spite of the discouragements, the disappointments, the sadness or the trouble that weighs me down.

It’s not easy. But if it were easy, it wouldn’t be perseverance. It it were easy, it wouldn’t be worth it.