I’m waiting, God. Where are you?

My church is currently revisiting the book of Psalms, with a different pastor preaching each Sunday. It is so refreshing! Isn’t that the beauty of God’s Word? It is alive and each time we read it, we gain new insight and a fresh perspective on how to apply it to our lives.

Recently, pastor Michael spoke on Psalm 13 – God in our waiting. He reminded us that we all are in a place of waiting at some point in our lives. What do we do when we don’t know where God is, we don’t know what God is doing, or our life looks nothing like we thought it would?

What then?

I remember years ago when I had been severely hurt by someone I thought was a friend. It was painful. It was confusing. And quite frankly, it was depressing.

What did I do?

First, in my tears I turned to the Psalms. The Psalms of lament comforted me somehow. Knowing there were others who had endured such pain and made it to the other side reassured me that I would, too. Seeing that God is okay with me asking WHY? was comforting.

Then, God asked me to pray for that former friend. I began to go on prayer walks every day. As I rounded the corner by her house I made sure to cover her in prayer. God had me do this for a full year. I don’t know the effect it had on her, but I can see now that this was the key to healing my broken heart.

Finally, I lifted up praise to God. Even if I didn’t know what would come of this break in our friendship, I knew God was still good and in praising Him, I allowed the Holy Spirit to take over my mind – renew my mind and change my heart. Do you know what? It’s impossible to feel sorry for yourself when you have abandoned yourself to worship. IMPOSSIBLE.

Without even knowing it, I was following the example that is laid out in Psalm 13 –

So, what should we do?

First, we LAMENT

1How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Then, we PETITION, or PRAY

3Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

Finally, we PRAISE

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

Yes. He has been good to me.

Even if.

Even though.

God is still good.

Amen.

(If you’d like to hear the sermon mentioned above, you can click here to find it.)

Lessons in Understanding

Written by Gladys Johnson

The voice of the questioner seemed to come from over my shoulder as I was kneeling in prayer asking for the will of the Lord at a troubling time in our pastoral ministry. In fact, I was kneeling behind the pulpit. 

I answered the voice, “My vision.” 

The voice said in a sticky, sweet way, “Give it up, and you can go free.”

I stood to my feet. “Of course,” I said, “that’s all I have to do.”

I was a lady minister, called to the ministry at the age of 14 years. Looking back, I don’t think anyone, including my parents, pastors, or youth leaders, took my calling too seriously.

My husband, Lloyd, and I began to date at 17 years of age. Awfully young, but these were pre-war depression days. He was a young man who had to work because of family problems, and his mother had died when he was 9 years of age, leaving him and his sister to be cared for by the father who was not equal to the task.

I came from a large, loving family, but poor. I knew I had a call from God on my life, but had no idea how to fulfill that calling. Lloyd and I were in love. But God was not through dealing with me. One Sunday morning, as we sat together in our church in Portland, Oregon, the pastor began a Missionary sermon, and told the story of a young lady who had given her life to ministry in China. Before he told the entire story, my heart told me the lady’s name would be Gladys (Gladys Aylyard). I began to cry. Lloyd and I left the service early, got into his car, and drove a few blocks away. Lloyd stopped the car and asked me why I was so upset. I told him about my calling to the ministry.

“I know all about that,” he said, “and I will never stand in the way of you fulfilling your calling.”

On the strength of that statement, we married when we were both 19. We were happy. But God did exact that promise from Lloyd in years ahead. 

When I stood to my feet after hearing the suggestion that I give up my vision, I felt a certain finality. When I began preaching, I felt no opposition to a woman in ministry, for this was the way I grew up. My pastor and his wife both preached. This was now the late 70’s. We were in the strong Jesus movement, which allowed for no women in the pulpit. I felt that opposition many times. It seemed to me now that all I had to do was give up my vision, and I could be free. It sounded so good to me, even though I knew that voice came from Satan himself. For a full week, I wrestled with the suggestion. Then, one day in my home, I began to repent for entertaining a suggestion from Satan. I thought about Jesus in the wilderness, and how He met Satan’s suggestion with the power of scripture. As I prayed, the Holy Spirit whispered to me, “And how did Jesus come out of the wilderness?”

“Full of the Holy Spirit,” I replied. And received a fresh overflow of His Spirit and determination to go on.

I had heard the voice of Satan before. Again, I was kneeling behind the pulpit in prayer, a favorite spot of mine. A voice said to me, “I’m going to empty this church just like I did the Baptists.”

We had purchased the church from a Baptist group a few years before, and they had sold because the body of the church had gotten down to 9 members, due to unfortunate circumstances. They had dealt very fairly and kindly with us.

My first thought was, “Oh, those poor people. They never knew what hit them.” And I said out loud, “You’re a liar, Satan…get out.”

We had experienced a wonderful move of the Holy Spirit in the church, with many healings; body, soul, and spirit, and the Lord had knit together a body of believers who loved each other greatly.

Satan was over-confident, and bragged too much. He openly displayed his tactics. I stood on Luke 10:19

“Behold, I give you power to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you.”

(At the end of this writing from my Grandma she wrote this,

“In this book I would like to share with you some of the lessons the Lord taught me in our pastoral ministry.”

She wanted to write a book, but never finished. Now I am living out her legacy by writing a book myself with some of her stories and some of my own.)

(Baby Nikki with Sweet Grandma)

God’s Not Afraid of Your Honesty

Have you every pushed God away when you were in a dark season because you felt like you were not “good enough” to be close to Him?

I used to shy away from God during my dark and difficult times. I would retreat, as if I were actually hiding from Him. Finally I know that my authentic self is exactly who He loves and who He wants to come to Him. He’s not surprised by my insecurities, anger or frustration. He’s not surprised by an unsavory word or loss of composure. He knows all of that anyway – even if it’s just inside my head! Instead, He welcomes it. He says, just come into my presence and lay that down. Put all your cards on the table.

Margaret Becker said it well in her song Honesty:

God’s not afraid of your honesty
He can heal your heart if you speak honestly
Humble sorrow and the honest cry
He will not pass by

So many of us spend so much time
Smoothing things over, pretending we’re fine
As if life could ever be so cut and dried…. 

In this age of social media, most of us put on a good face online. Even when we are at our lowest. Most of us are afraid to be too real because we aren’t sure what others will think of us. What if we don’t live up to others’ expectations? One little glimpse into our imperfection might “lose” us a friend! Pure authenticity doesn’t feel like an option.

But it is with God. He wants us in our most authentic posture always. He wants our honesty. He can work with that!

Look who Jesus hung out with! He hung out with the real folks who admitted they were broken. He didn’t preach AT the people. He simply sat down with them. His mere presence was life-changing. It still is. He wants to sit with you, but he is a gentleman and allows us to turn to him in our own time.

What He wants is ME. In all my broken beauty. And He wants YOU too.

God’s love for us never waivers for a second. He is a God of endless chances and “do overs.” He never falters like humans do. He knows our hearts. He knows how difficult this life can be, and He is always right there working all things together for our good in the big picture we cannot see. All the while the Holy Spirit is there to show us compassion and wrap us in peace as we journey on.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. James 3:17

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:31-39

It is Finished.

We are just a week out from Easter when we joyfully celebrated the resurrection of Jesus, and I sometimes think we’ve forgotten already.

Forgotten why he came.

Forgotten why he died.

Forgotten that he rose from the dead.

It is finished.

We don’t have to carry our burdens into our daily life.

It is finished.

Jesus took our pain on himself and left it nailed to the cross.

Why do we keep taking it back from him? We needlessly carry so much extra weight, when Jesus is asking us to lay it down.

Surrender it to him.

What do you need to lay down?

On Good Friday, I took part in a remembrance of Jesus’ death on the cross. As part of that service, we were encouraged to write down whatever we were struggling to let go of and nail it to the cross.

Disappointment.

Pain.

Unmet expectations.

Need to control a situation.

All surrendered and physically nailed to the cross.

What a sound that was! With each hammer strike, we remembered just why he came. With each surrender, came a new lightness, a new joy, a new intention to let God take those burdens and heal our broken places.

What will it take for you to let him heal your broken places and take the burden from you? Are you hanging on so tightly you don’t know how to let go? If you need to, physically write them down and nail them to a cross or any piece of wood to go through the motions of surrender.

It is finished.

Jesus died so you could be free. Living in anything less than the freedom of surrender is a tragedy.

What do you need to nail to the cross? Let Jesus finish this for you.

It is finished.

Spiritual Battle

We cannot underestimate Satan. I recently experienced what it was like going into battle without armor. There was a particular time a couple of my friends had some very heavy things they were working through and I wanted to be there for them. I wanted to often my support and care and fight with them through their struggle. I didn’t want to take on the burden, but be a sounding board and someone to offer advice from an outside perspective and pray with them and for them. This is exactly what I was doing. However, after two days of fighting I felt off. I felt a heaviness upon me and I was on the verge of tears. I didn’t know what was going on with me. I knew my friends possibly may feel this way because this was their struggle, not mine, so what was going on with me? I felt as though I had been hit by a truck! I was exhausted! I don’t remember the last time I was this exhausted without physical activity involved.

I was fighting a battle unprepared. I came to realize I walked into this battle without armor on; without protection for myself. I was praying for protection for my friends, but I didn’t have anyone praying protection over me. And as I was praying for others, I stepped onto the battlefield and was exposed to the flaming arrows of Satan. This is like going snowboarding without any of the proper gear – jacket, pants, goggles, gloves, helmet, board, boots. I would never go on the mountain without any of these items, which is how I need to view each day as we battle against Satan.

I learned a valuable lesson that day, never start a day without putting on the armor of God because you never know what your day will bring and you must always be prepared. As my alarm goes off each morning, I pray and put on the armor of God before I even get out of my bed.  Pray, because prayer is a spiritual weapon against Satan. There is nothing he can do against prayer. It’s powerful and it ushers in the presence of God which he cannot defeat. Pray for others, but don’t forget to pray protection for yourself.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, 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.” Ephesians 6:10-17

JUST KIDDING!

This year Easter is on April 1st….the traditional April Fool’s Day.

Some of my friends say that is blasphemous, but our calendar puts the Christian celebration of Christ’s resurrection according to three days after the Jewish Passover.

The tradition of April Fool’s Day has endured for over 400 years. The true origins of April Fool’s Day are uncertain, but one theory is that it began in 1582 when France adopted the Gregorian calendar. Before then, New Year’s Day fell on the end of March, not January 1st. Those who continued to celebrate the old New Year (at the beginning of April) were called “fools” by their peers. In 1700, English pranksters began popularizing this annual tradition of April Fool’s Day by playing practical jokes on each other. And so it goes on still to this day.

When Christ died on that Roman cross and shed His blood to cover our sins it certainly wasn’t a joke. And, God’s plan for the covering of our sins is not a prank. God wasn’t teasing humanity with a “maybe my Son Jesus could suffer, bleed and die for the penalty of mankind’s sins against Me.” It’s not a J/K scenario that Jesus actually arose from the dead and is living with His Father in Heaven!

And, you know what?  Jesus is coming one day when His Father says “Go get my children!”  And on that day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is LORD of all…no one will be able to say “I thought you were kidding.”

Something to think about………..

The fool has said in his heart, there is no God.”  Psalm 14:1

On a happier note…have a blessed Easter Day celebration that Christ is risen!!!

WEARINESS

Today I am simply weary. I don’t even have the strength to post something positive on social media to make it appear as though all is well. All my needs are met for today. My immediate family and close friends are all safe and sound for today. But, people have worn me out, and I am fighting to stay grateful, thankful and positive. I can be nothing but honest today as I write this. Just the raw truth.

I have been reminding myself all day that the only one we can fully count on is Jesus himself. “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand….” That old hymn continues to loop in my head. I welcome it. TURN UP THE VOLUME. It’s slowly drowning out the background noise.

Disappointment comes in many forms, but the hardest for me to swallow continues to be when a person I trust betrays me. That pain just runs deep. I have had my share of betrayal in the past several weeks. Not one, but several people whom I thought I could count on have run off the rails. Today I am just on the verge of throwing my hands up and writing off human beings. I want to run away with my family and live in the wilderness, off the grid, with a canine companion.

I suppose there would not be so many references to weariness in the Bible if it were not an expected part of life. Our weakness reminds us of God’s strength. Without him, how could we press on? I know that he is all that is keeping me going today. I must press on toward my calling and my goal. I must be kind and faithful to others regardless of how they treat me. He promises to work all things together for the good of those who love Him.

My word to share with you today is simply that we are human, and we are weak. It is okay to have the days where we feel so heavy and dreary. It is okay to admit it to ourselves and to others. BUT, we must remember to focus on HIM and his faithfulness to us on the dark days. That focus will pull us through. Mediate on the Word with me:

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” Colossians 3:23

How far is too far? How close is close enough?

For over a a year now I have been witnessing to a 90-year-old woman who can’t seem to decide to be a follower of Christ.  She keeps saying “I’ll try.”

My heart is drawn to her.  She is covered in prayer by friends she has acquired at this faith-based retirement community.

This past week I asked her some pointed questions, such as: “Have you decided to accept Jesus as your personal Savior?”  The answer was “No.”  “Do you believe Jesus Christ shed His blood and died on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins?”  “Oh yes!”, was her answer.   “Do you believe Jesus arose from the dead after three days and still lives in Heaven today?”  “Oh yes!”, she said.  “Do you believe He’s coming again?”  “Well, I’m not sure about that.”, she said.

My heart was rejoicing as I told her….”Then you believe according to the Word of God in Acts 16:31.  “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved….”

I encouraged her with Scripture and the account of Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples who did not believe Jesus was alive, who, after touching the nail scars in Jesus’ hands, and the wound in His side, cried out “My Lord and My God.”  John 20:28

Also in the scriptures; the account of a father asking Jesus to heal his son, if He could. (Mark 9:24) When Jesus said “If you can?  Everything is possible for him who believes.”  Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Isn’t it God’s great compassion and grace to give us proof in His Word that He knows our heart?  He knows our frail humanity!

Even though my elderly friend has not prayed the “sinners prayer”, or “gone forward to the altar” at church, she must be on her way to a full realization of who Jesus Christ is, and who He is to her. Even the thief on one of the crosses next to Jesus cried out to Him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  Jesus answered him, “I tell you THE TRUTH, TODAY YOU WILL BE WITH ME IN PARADISE.”  That man believed in his heart at that moment and didn’t have time to pray a sinners prayer, or go forward to an altar , or even be baptized in water….Jesus accepted him just as he was!

My point is…it is not for me to judge how far away her soul is from salvation, or how close is close enough.   God knows every individual heart and motive.  “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.”  Philippians 2:12

My part in her salvation is to pray for her, encourage her and disciple her in the Word so that she fully understands that salvation cannot be earned, it is a free gift, accepted by childlike faith; no need to try harder!

As she comes to the last years of her life on this earth, I pray peace over her; that she will know, without a doubt, that she belongs to Jesus Christ, her Savior for eternity.

I claim this scripture for her that my Mom prayed over me…”Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 1:6

If the Door is Open, Walk Through It

I am drawn to doors.

I notice them when I look at a home.

I photograph them when I am on vacation.

I envision in my mind the most lovely doors whenever there is a reference to them in someone’s speech. Sometimes they are polished and perfect.

Other times they are a bit rough, but beautiful in their own way.

The Bible uses DOORs as a reference, too. I counted 235 this morning. Of course, most of those are referring to a physical door. Building the temple. You can’t come in, the door is shut. etc.

But many are talking about doorways into our soul or opportunities.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.   (Revelation 3:20 NKJV)

If you are like me, this is the image that came to mind when you read that verse –

Yes, doors are everywhere in scripture. Where are the doors in your life? Are you facing doors of opportunity? Do you see many doors to choose from and have to make a decision?

I’ve always thought this was such a difficult process – then just the other day I heard one of my favorite Bible teachers, Havilah Cunnington, say this:

I think we spend too much time in doorways and we never walk through the door.” 

I was agreeing, yes, YES!

She went on to say that God is really good at shutting doors to places where we are not supposed to go. If the door is just too hard to open, pass it up. (And I would add, DO NOT, as the old song goes, “look for a window.” No! That room is off limits.)

But if a door is open to you and you are standing in the doorway, pondering, crying, wondering, whether you should walk through it. The answer is YES. Remember, God is really good at shutting doors to things you are not supposed to be involved with. Ask Him to show you.

Your opportunity is on the other side of that open door. Take that step of faith and believe that God will direct your next steps.

Photo by Arno Smit on Unsplash

JUST DEAL WITH IT!

This sounds like something dismissive or rude that someone might say! BUT, this is the favorite “tag line” of a very special 94 year old woman! She insists that this is the best advice she can leave for her family and friends. At her age, we can be sure she has experienced all the ups and downs life can bring, and with that she is rooted in deep wisdom!

Job 12:12 says,  “Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?”

She says, “Life will always bring unexpected challenges. There will be many things that are completely out of your control. What you can control is how you DEAL WITH IT!”

I am one of those people who love a good surprise when I’m on a trip, or casually hanging out with friends. However, I am still learning to gracefully deal with life’s everyday surprises that knock my plans off track. I admittedly am not consistent when dealing with such surprises! I like a plan, and I like it to stick. With age, I am becoming more flexible (albeit perhaps at a slower rate than my family and friends would like – ha).

Everyday glitches in life are just a part of it. The real challenge is properly handling the big life course altering things that happen. The unexpected things. The death of a close loved one. The end of a relationship you expected to last forever. A car accident. A devastating diagnosis. So many situations can waltz right in to our lives. In a moment, life can completely change course.

It is in these challenging times that we are faced with a choice to cower and let life defeat us, or rise up and DEAL WITH IT. Of course, on our own we may not have the strength. BUT, with God’s help and the ones we love, we can push through the greatest challenges life can throw at us.

Whatever it is that you are facing today, be sure, this too shall pass. You CAN deal with it with God’s help. He promises never to forsake us. He is with us through it all.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Psalm 34:17-18 The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

2 Cor. 12:9-10 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”