“I don’t have to be afraid of anything or anyone…”

everydayprayersFrom Scotty Smith’s Everyday Prayers: 365 Days to a Gospel-Centered Faith:

Jesus, because of your great love for me in the gospel, I lack nothing that I need. I don’t get all my wants, but I do have everything I need for life and godliness . . . and a whole lot more.

I praise you that it’s green pastures and quiet waters to which you lead me—all for the restoring of my tired, weary, broken, rebellious soul. For your glory and my good, you guide me along paths of righteousness, goodness, truth, and grace. And even as that journey involves traversing places marked by decay and death, you are with me, and that’s all I really need to know. I don’t have to be afraid of anything or anyone, for you are with me.

You nourish me all the time, even when enemies are close by and threatening. Your generous anointing overflows for the blessing of others. To follow you is to be followed by the fragrance of your goodness and love. Even in the new heaven and new earth, you will be our shepherd, leading us to springs of living water (Rev. 7:17). Your greatness, Jesus, will reach to the ends of the earth, and we will always live securely, for you are our peace, now and forever. In your great and gracious name we pray. Amen.

God’s faithfulness

On January 1, 2012, I began to read through the Bible using the 3650 plan. I had no idea on that first day of that year just how full of suffering 2012 would be. (Isn’t God good not to overwhelm us with future knowledge?) I used a brand new ESV Bible, and I marked it up, sometimes jotting a date beside a Psalm. Oh, what a treasure that Bible is to me! Immersing myself in Scripture was truly a means of grace that terrible year, and now I have such reminders of God’s faithfulness jotted in margins. It’s almost like a journal.

This particular Bible is fairly compact, so while I’m using a different one in my daily reading, I take this one to church. Last Sunday as I was flipping to the Psalm we were reading, I passed Psalm 57 and saw the note:

psalm57

Psalm 57 was the one I “happened” to read on that dark day as I worked my way through the 3650 plan. And how appropriate it was! Just look at God’s encouragement to me on that saddest of days:

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
till the storms of destruction pass by.

I cry out to God Most High,
to God who fulfills his purpose for me.

He will send from heaven and save me;
he will put to shame him who tramples on me.
God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!

My soul is in the midst of lions;
I lie down amid fiery beasts–
the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows,
whose tongues are sharp swords.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!

They set a net for my steps;
my soul was bowed down.
They dug a pit in my way,
but they have fallen into it themselves.

My heart is steadfast, O God,
my heart is steadfast!
I will sing and make melody!

Awake my glory!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn!

I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.

For your steadfast love is great to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!

Oh, how good God is to us with His Word! This Psalm was true for David in the cave as he fled from Saul thousands of years ago, and it was true for a brokenhearted, grieving, and weak woman in southwest Georgia on a hot summer day in 2012. And it’s been true for countless believers in between and since.

I knew, even in the depths, that God was with me and for me, and I had to take every step in faith because I just couldn’t see how He would work out His plan for me. And, of course, I have no idea what’s coming, what other valleys He will lead me through.

That year I marked every reference to God’s steadfastness and faithfulness I came across because I clung to that aspect of His character. And He proved Himself over and over. He still does, even as He reminds me in this joyful season of life that He has been with me all the way — comforting me, strengthening me, and preparing me to meet Paul. It is good to look back and see how God fulfills His purpose for me.

I begin this Sunday full of joy and gratitude at how good my God has been to me. He was good to me in that valley, and He is good to me today. He is good all the time.

With a joyful heart,

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“Here’s my peace, my consolation, my ballast…”

everydayprayersFrom Scotty Smith’s Everyday Prayers: 365 Days to a Gospel-Centered Faith:

Like most, I have an aversion to pain and suffering. Like many, I’d love for the Christian life to be an antidote for all discomfort and distress. Like some, I get overwhelmed and overtaxed by the sufferings of others. Here’s my peace, my consolation, my ballast, Jesus: you’re not calling us to suffer for you but to suffer with you, and that makes all the difference in the world. We’re called into the fellowship of your sufferings, not into the isolation of our sufferings. You’ll never lead us into hard places where you’re not present. You’ll never leave us or forsake us, Jesus. You will lead justice to victory, and in your name all the nations will put their hope. I pray in your kind and compassionate name. Amen.

“…the peace of God is not the absence of negative thoughts…”

walkingwithgodFrom Tim Keller’s Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering:

Today, when you read books or websites on overcoming anxiety and handling fear, they usually talk about removing thoughts. They say: Do not think about that; do not think those negative thoughts. Control your thoughts, expel the negative ones. But here we see the peace of God is not the absence of negative thoughts, it is the presence of God himself. “The God of peace will be with you” (Phil 4:9).

Christian peace does not start with the ousting of negative thinking. If you do that, you may simply be refusing to face how bad things are. That is one way to calm yourself–by refusing to admit the facts. But it will be a short-lived peace! Christian peace doesn’t start that way. It is not that you stop facing the facts, but you get a living power that comes into your life and enables you to face those realities, something that lifts you up over and through them.

Many believers have experienced this peace of God. It is not just positive thinking or willpower. It is a sense that no matter what happens, everything will ultimately be all right, even though it may not be at all right at the moment. In my experience, people usually break through to this kind of peace only in tragic situations, often in the valley of the shadow of death. Here is a metaphor for it. If you have ever been on a coast in a storm and seen the waves come in and hit the rocks, sometimes the waves are so large that they cover a particular rock, and you think, ‘That is the end of that rock.’ But when the waves recede, there it is still. It hasn’t budged an inch. A person who feels the ‘peace that passes understanding; is like that. No matter what is thrown at you, you know it will not make you lose your footing. Paul of course is the classic example. He is beaten; he is stoned; he is flogged; he is shipwrecked; he is betrayed; his enemies are trying to kill him. There is wave after wave, and yet–there he is still. ‘I have found a way to be completely poised under any and all circumstances,’ he said. All the waves of life could not break him. And he says it isn’t a natural talent of his–you and I can learn this.

That is the character of Christian peace. It is an inner calm and equilibrium but also a sense of God’s presence and an almost reason-transcending sense of his protection.

“…the real riddle of evil is not what we thought.”

walkingwithgodFrom Timothy Keller’s Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering:

When we stand back to consider the premise–that God owes us a good life–it is clearly unwarranted. If there really is an infinitely glorious God, why should the universe revolve around us rather than around him? If we look at the biblical God’s standards for our behavior–the Golden Rule, the Ten Commandments, and the Sermon on the Mount–and then consider humanity’s record against those norms, it may occur to us that the real riddle of evil is not what we thought. Perhaps the real puzzle is this: Why, in light of our behavior as a human race, does God allow so much happiness?

harmonics

112263I finally finished reading Stephen King’s massive (so thankful for the Kindle version!) 11/22/63. It was my first Stephen King novel, and I’m now a fan–an unlikely fan, considering that I don’t generally care for his genre. But his vividly descriptive writing drew me in and had me looking for spare moments to get back to the story. As he fought to change history, the protagonist Jake often noted the way the past harmonized with the present — those weird “coincidences” that he kept seeing. And lo, and behold, here’s one for me.

As any time traveler knows, the main danger is the butterfly effect. Who knows what one tiny little change might mean in lives decades later? That theme is all throughout 11/22/63. As I was reading Tim Keller’s Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering (an unlikely pairing with Stephen King, no?), I came across the same concept as Keller writes about reconciling the existence of evil with the existence of an all-knowing, all-powerful God. He describes the butterfly effect, illustrating with a quote from a Ray Bradbury short story, and then he writes:

If an all-powerful and all-wise God were directing all of history with its infinite number of interactive events toward good ends, it would be folly to think we could look at any particular occurrence and understand a millionth of what it will bring doubt. The history-butterfly effect means that ‘only an omniscient mind could grasp the complexities of directing a world of free creatures toward…previsioned [good] goals….Certainly many evils seem pointless and unnecessary to us–but we are simply not in a position to judge.’ [Moreland and Craig, Philosophical Foundations]


walkingwithgodI’m about a third of the way through Keller’s book, and it is EXCELLENT. I’m marking it up like crazy. There’s so much to think about, and Keller references sources that are making my books-to-read list even longer.

Happy reading to you!

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“Forgiveness is not like planting tulip bulbs…”

quietplaceFrom The Quiet Place: Daily Devotional Readings by Nancy Leigh DeMoss:

Whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. ~ 1 John 3:20

Many people who sincerely want to find themselves on the other side of forgiveness have bought into myths and misconceptions that have defeated their best attempts at following through. For the next few days, I’d like to help dismantle four common barriers that can easily keep us frustrated on our journey to relational freedom.

First is the assumption that forgiveness and good feelings should always go hand in hand. You may have genuinely trusted God to help you forgive your offender. But then the phone rings. Their birthday rolls around. A situation flares up where they handle a similar circumstance in the same insensitive way, and you feel your emotions start to heat up again.

That’s when you might conclude, “I guess I haven’t really forgiven because if I had, I wouldn’t still feel this way.” But forgiveness cannot be proven by our feelings, any more than it can be motivated or empowered by them. Forgiveness is a choice. And feelings often aren’t. So it’s quite possible to forgive someone the right way — God’s way — and still have thoughts flash across your mind that seem to contradict the decision you made.

Forgiveness is not like planting tulip bulbs, where you never have to think about tit again, and everything just naturally comes up nice and pretty in the spring. No, life goes on. Sometimes old feelings turn up when you’re not expecting them, needing to be handled and replanted. But that doesn’t negate what you’ve done. It simply gives you a new opportunity to let the Lord reign over your emotions. When you don’t feel forgiving, that’s when you just keep forgiving — by faith.

Oh, how I needed to read this!

“You’ll know that He had a deliberate purpose for everything. “

quietplaceFrom The Quiet Place: Daily Devotional Readings by Nancy Leigh DeMoss:

“Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” ~ John 11:40

Martha heard Jesus’ promise; she wanted to believe. But her brother had been dead for four days. How could God’s glory possibly be seen in the midst of such huge, irreversible loss?

Sometimes the ways of God in our lives seem inconsistent with what we read in His Word. We hear that obedience to Him will cause us to “abound in prosperity” (Deut. 28:11). We hear He can turn a desert into “pools of water” (Ps. 107:35). We hear He makes a barren woman “the joyous mother of children” (Ps. 113:9). Yet the story doesn’t always seem to go that way.

That’s because we can’t see the whole story–and, we think the story is all about us. We know what we want it to sound like and look like in our home, in our lives. But this is God’s story He is writing and unfolding–His grand epic of redemption–and He is calling us to play a bit part, to participate in spreading His glory throughout the whole earth.

This doesn’t mean pretending to be unaffected by grief, or denying the reality of unfulfilled longings. But it does mean we can press through with faith, because we know our good, wise loving God has created the plot, and we know our role in His story is contributing to the overarching purpose of revealing His glory.

Are you willing to play the part He has written for you in His script? Are you willing to be delayed, upset, or inconvenienced for it? Because when the story has all been told, you will be able to sit back in your heavenly theater seat and see exactly how your one “simple” story line make perfect sense and contributed to the overall plot. You’ll know that He had a deliberate purpose for everything. And you’ll understand that God’s will is exactly what we would choose if we knew what He knows.

What circumstance are you facing that you would want to change if you were “writing the script” for your life? By faith, thank God that His script is perfect, and that in His way and His time you will see His glory revealed.

anxiety

anxietyFrom Anxiety: Anatomy and Cure by Robert W. Kellemen

Anxiety is vigilance that is out of control. You continually scan your environment, worried about the what-ifs of life. Anxiety is toxic scanning.

Anxiety is also vigilance that is trying to maintain control in a self-protective and self-sufficient way. Anxiety is vigilance minus faith in God.