Father, it is hard for me to understand Your ways –
the way You created the world
out of nothing.
It is incredible to me.
The way You provided a sacrifice for Isaac.
At just the right moment.
Out of nowhere.
And Abraham knew that you would!
The way You parted the Red Sea.
The way You allowed the Israelites to cross over the dry sea.
The way You brought the waters back down to the earth.
To protect Your people.
How merciful You are.
You allowed Joseph to undergo persecution from his own brothers –
You allowed him to be bent low in order to raise him up.
There is always something greater,
always something better,
always something someone will not understand.
It is hard for me to understand,
how You became a man –
why you would choose to dwell down here with us on this earth,
among our dirt and our grime.
It is hard for me to understand,
why You would choose to sacrifice Your life for me.
I know who I am.
I know what I am.
You know even better.
And yet you love me –
That is hard for me to understand.
And yet, how grateful I am!
How deeply thankful that You don’t ask me to understand!
Just to believe.
Just to trust.
And that is,
“Things may not be logical and fair, but when God is directing the events of our lives, they are right.” ~Chuck Swindoll~
The Apostle Paul.
What do all of these people have in common? Well, apart from all being mentioned in the Bible to one degree or another, they were all simply, unlikely characters used to serve God’s purpose.
The Apostle Paul started out as Saul the Roman soldier until one day, while making his way down a dUstinov roadway toward Damascus, God spoke to him and it changed his life as he had known it and his life was instrumental in changing the world. He went from persecuting Christians to preaching Christ as Lord and Paul is credited for authoring 13 books in the New Testament.
Queen Esther was a young Jewish woman who had lost her family and lived with her uncle until one day she was removed from her home to join hundreds of other beautiful, eligible women to appear before King Xerses as a possible replacement for “queen ship”. She is chosen and she risks her “queen ship” and her very life in order to save the Jewish people from being annihilated. Her plan worked.
Rahab was a prostitute who was instrumental in helping the Israelites capture the city of Jericho by hiding two spies in her home. Rahab and her family were saved from death because she was willing to risk her well-being in order to help the Israelites reach the Promised Land. Rahab goes on to marry and gets herself into the very lineage of Jesus Christ, by becoming the mother of Boaz and wife to Salmon .
David was a king, but also is probably known as an adulterer because of his relationship with Bath-sheba and in trying to make his mistake just ‘go away’, he arranges to put her husband at the front lines of the current battle so he will be killed. After all was said and after all was done, David put pen to paper and wrote most of the Psalms, conquered Jerusalem and brought the Ark of the Covenant there. He was also known as “the friend of God”.
Do you notice a commonality?
God took ordinary people – a soldier, a shepherd, a prostitue, a young woman known by no one – and put them in extraordinary leadership roles.
A shepherd bevokes a king.
An unknown woman bevokes a queen.
A soldier becomes an apostle.
A prostitute becomes a paragon of virtue and finds herself in the lineage of Jesus Christ.
I think about our choices for the upcoming election for president and I guess I look at these two individuals as God’s pawns. No matter who gets in, God can and will accomplish His purposes through whoever, however, and whenever He chooses. He remains in control no matter the circumstances that seems to threaten darken our doors and He will be glorified.
If we truly believe that God is sovereign, faithful to His word and the promises He has made, we need not fear what is next. The situation we are in as a country is no surprise to an all-knowing, all-loving Father. He knows what is coming. He can see around the corners that we are blinded to. All we have to do is trust Him, pray without ceasing, and keep moving forward. He will do the rest.
I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart;
I will tell of all the wonderful things You do for me.
I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High.
Because you go with me, my enemies turn back; they stumble and perish before you – You are to be feared.
You have upheld my right and my cause, sitting enthroned as the righteous judge.
You are holy and just.
You have rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked; you have blotted out their name for ever and ever.
The way of the wicked leads to death and destruction.
You, oh Lord, have already destroyed the enemy,
the memory of them and what they have done.
Why? Because you reign forever;
You have established Your throne for judgment.
You rule the world in righteousness,
in fairness, impartiality, and justness.
You, oh Lord, are a refuge –
a safe place to run to,
a place to hide
for those who are,
for those who have been,
and for those who will be
filled with sorrow,
abused. You are our hiding place in times of trouble.
Those who know your name trust in you,
for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.
Sing praises to the Lord, tell others what he has done.
For the One who fights for us remembers; He does not ignore the cries
of the afflicted
of the hurting
of the oppressed
The nations have fallen into the pit they have dug; their feet are caught in the net they themselves have hidden.
The Lord is known by his acts of justice; the wicked are caught by the work of their own hands.
The destruction of sinners is of themselves.
God remains in control.
All the nations that forget God –
they will live an eternity of torment.
But our God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish.
Arise, O LORD!
Do not let mere mortals defy you!
Do not allow them to ignore and disobey any longer…
Judge the nations!
Strike them with terror, Lord; let the nations know they are but men.
I began to read in my Bible, the book of Job, chapter 42. When I came to verse 10, I decided to read the whole book of Job again. Once again, I was amazed at the insensitivity of Job’s friends.
Here is a man who is down and out and yet, his friends have nothing but bitter, condemning words to offer him in his time of need. Their so called ‘friend’. Reading through this book, it made me look into my own heart and examine my relationships, past and present, where I have felt confused and hurt by words or actions of others, and it also made me examine how I could have been a better friend in some of those relationships.
When we get hurt in a relationship, we often end up feeling that it was the other person’s fault. It often takes tears, soul-searching, and honesty on our part to realize that we had something (even if perhaps it was just a small part) to do with the break down of that relationship. It could be anything from not being sensitive enough to the others needs, to saying something out of line. It is in times like these that to do anything less than searching our hearts, would be to fall into the trap where Job found himself. Only – Job didn’t realize he was there.
In chapter 32, a new voice is heard after the reprimand Job’s friends bring to him. Job, throughout the book up to this point, always comes back to stating that he has done nothing wrong. That his life is blameless. He is convinced that his plight is due to the fact that God has left him, is angry with him, has turned away and forgotten him. He wonders what he has done to deserve his state of condition..
Elihu, this ‘new voice’ that is heard towards the end of the book, begins telling his opinion of the plight that has befallen Job.
“…My words come from an upright heart… my hand should not be heavy upon you. But (speaking to Job) you have said… ‘I am pure and without sin; I am clean and free from guilt. Yet God has found fault with me; he considers me his enemy…’
By this time I imagine Job was feeling rather picked upon. Elihu, however, brings to light a different perspective of Job’s lament.
He begins, in chapter 34, to remind Job of the words that had come out of his very mouth. In verse 5 Elihu says to those listening, “Job says, ‘I am innocent, but God denies me justice. Although I am right, I am considered a liar; although I am guiltless, his arrow inflicts an incurable wound.’ Elihu goes on to say, “what an is like Job, who drinks scorn like water? He keeps company with evildoers; he associates with wicked men. For he says, ‘It profits a man nothing when he tries to please God.’
You must remember the Lord never slumbers nor sleeps. And so, He is listening to this conversation. I wonder if finally, in verse 38, God finally says, “Okay, that’s enough. Time to get involved.” He comes ‘out of the storm’ (verse 1). If He came out of the storm to speak to Job, does that mean that all the while, He was actually in the storm with him? Was He in there, being tossed and turned with each cry of despair? Does it mean that He never did forsake Job and that there was a purpose in Job’s suffering that the human heart could not perceive?
I wondered that as God began to speak to Job. I also thought, if it was me in Job’s place, I’d be shaking in my shoes, at the very least. God begins by saying, “Brace yourself like a man.” I can just picture being blown away at that point and all areas of me were exposed for what they were. For three chapters, God reminds Job that He is speaking, and in no uncertain terms, just who He is. In chapter 40, God gets even more serious. “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer Him!” Then Job answered the Lord: “I am unworthy – how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer – twice, but I will say no more.” I can just picture Job at this point, wanting so bad to say something, then thinking better ofit. Following that reply is the Lord’s answer and again it is, “Brace yourself like a man…”
After listening to God for what probably seemed like an eternity, Job replies to the Lord. I have to admire the courage of this man. He was not afraid to be candidly honest with the Lord. He knew the Lord had heard his every word, good and bad and there was no sense in hiding from him now. There was nothing to hide. All had been exposed.
“I know that you can do all things… Surely I spoke of things that I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know…. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Confession and repentance. Job began his trial as righteous and blameless. Through his trial, his pride got the best of him and God called him to the carpet. He recognized his sin and confessed it with a repentant heart. God was pleased and restored him. However, the story didn’t end there.
God turned to Eliphaz, one of Job’s “friends” and said that he was angry with him and the other two hooligans because of what they had said about Him was not right. The way out? Job was going to have to pray for his friends. And, he did.
I wondered, how many times have I been hurt and scorned by friends and the last thing I felt like doing was to pray for them? I do remember though, at an early age, the importance of that lesson by a high school teacher. I was confiding with him how I was having a difficult time with a peer in one of my classes. He told me to start praying for her and having no reason to doubt his advice, I did. After many weeks, I am not sure that God changed her heart or that He changed mine, but we ended up becoming really good friends.
“After Job prayed for his friends, the Lord made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before.” That is the verse I started at before I went back and started again at the beginning. It was the part of how Job had prayed for the friends that had given up on him. The ones that only added to his pain and suffering. The ones that were ready to walk out on his life and give him up for dead. Instead of casting off their friendship after all was said and done, he obeyed as God commanded and prayed for his friends. It is only after that act of obedience that God blessed him. Was it because he obeyed? Was it because there was total forgiveness toward Job and his friends, brought on by Job interceding on his friends’ behalf? It is rather difficult to pray for someone whom you have a grudge against.
Friends don’t condemn and berate. They support each other and pray for one another. And when they do that, they are friends forever.
Throughout God’s word it speaks over and over again of being purified. Purification is a process that removes blemishes and stains that may be associated with whatever is being purified. God uses different processes to purge us from that which is impure, sometimes leaving us to cry out, “Enough is enough!” Sometimes we just cry. Sometimes we trust what God is up to and allow the fires to do their work, even if it hurts.
Bob Reccord, past President of the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board, once spoke about going through the fires that God allows in our life. He told of how the refiner of the fire is insistent upon making sure that the fire is hot enough to purge any impurities from the substance with which he is working. The refiner sits at the fire (he does this, it’s told, so that he can keep his eye on the metal being refined. For, left for too long, it will be destroyed). As the fire heats to an extraordinary degree of heat, he carefully looks at what appears to be to you and me, an ordinary rock. But he sees something more.
As the fire continues to heat, the refiner takes a mallet and strikes the rock to break it. He does not strike it once, not even perhaps twice, but many times, for often it takes many attempts by the hand of the refiner, to break the rock.
After it lays broken in pieces, he then takes it in his hands and places it in a crucible—a mold of what the precious metal, held within the rock substance, will become. The crucible is then placed over the hot fire. It is allowed to stay there until it boils and burns. When it is taken out, one may think the process is over, only to watch the refiner then take a black ash like substance and scatter it over the precious metal. The substance is charcoal and it is used to attack the impurities that still lie within. The mold is placed back into the fire and you once again hear what can often seem, hideous sizzling as the rest of the impurities are purged from throughout the “rock”.
A woman who was interested in finding out the process of refining silver, asked a silver smith, “How do you know when the silver is fully refined?” He smiled and answered, “Oh, that’s easy. When I see my image in it.”
That’s how it is with us. God uses the fires in our lives to purge and purify and the process can be extremely painful and take much longer than we would like. We feel like the fires are about to die down, only to be sprinkled with charcoal and put back in for more. More refining, more purging, more purifying. But all the while, our Refiner sits there, watching carefully, sometimes allowing the heat of the trial to intensify. And He sits there with His eye intently upon us so that we will not be destroyed in the process. Only He knows just how much we can endure. Only He knows how hot the fire must be and how long we need to be held there. Only He knows what beauty lies deep within, waiting to be brought to the surface.
He will not leave you in the fire without a purpose and His purpose is to make you a reflection of Him. If we have to go through the fires to become a reflection of HIm, may we allow the heat to be turned up and the purging to begin.
Chip Ingram gave a sermon once (or two or three or 4 times) that was titled, “The Best Advice I Ever Took”. It consisted of five relevant pieces of wisdom, which he considered life changing. They were (if I remember correctly!):
1. Do your own dishes
2. Write it down
3. Do it now
4. Set your alarm
5. Take out the trash
Doing your own dishes meant: clean up after yourself; leave things better than you found them; and, do not expect others to clean up after you – clean up after yourself.
Write it down: Lists, calendars, journaling – they all have a purpose. To keep you on track, focused, and mentally healthier.
Do it now: Don’t procrastinate. If something needs doing, there’s no better time than the present. Don’t allow things to pile up – materially or emotionally. Take care of things when they come up and don’t put it off.
Set your alarm: Start the by putting God first. Begin by setting your alarm five minutes early and meet with God. Second week – ten minutes. Work your way up to thirty minutes of quiet time with the Lord. Be on time.
Take out the trash: You are a temple of God. We are to glorify God in our bodies. If there are things that dishonor him (the thoughts we think, the words we use, the bitterness we harbor, the things we view, the things we listen to – whatever grieves His spirit, whatever trash exists in our life – take it out. Get rid of it.
These are five pieces of advice and wisdom that were life changing to him and if you know anything about Chip Ingram, you know he is a man after God’s heart and has been a vessel used by the Lord through which He has changed thousands of lives.
I was thinking about these five points the other day (I’ve personally listened to this message countless times to refresh my memory, for if taken seriously, they are life-changing for everyone), and wondered what five pieces of advice I would take from my life experiences that would be notable enough to share with someone else. The following is what evolved…
1. Dance with your children. When my first son was born, I was getting ready to leave the hospital and the pediatrician came in for a final check on his newest patient. He sat on the edge of the bed and said, “There will be a lot of folks who will have a lot of advice to give to you on how to raise this boy. Some of it you will be able to use and some of it you will listen politely and need to let it go in one ear and out the other. The best advice I can give you is to dance with your children.”
I took that literally. I danced with my oldest son, my daughter and my youngest son. We have giggled, and laughed, and on my son’s wedding day, I cried. I have danced my kids to sleep and soothed them when they were sick. Those have been some of the best memories of not only my life, but also my kids’ lives.
2. Bloom where you are planted. I have been in situations that were tough. I have moved to places where I didn’t necessarily want to be. However, if I truly believe in a sovereign God, then I will believe that wherever I am, whatever I am going through – God has me there for a reason.
Sometimes we are in a place we don’t want to be whether emotionally or physically. We can complain, fight it, or we can bloom. A plant does not bloom until it has been planted, taken root, grown a sturdy, strong stem and branched out. We will not grow either unless we ground ourselves in the soil of God’s word, take root in its truth, grow strong in faith and branch out – reach out – to others. That is when we bloom. When we do bloom, we are beautiful because of the grace of God and leave a fragrance that others are drawn to… the fragrance of God.
Steven Curtis Chapman wrote a song entitled, Bring It On. Bring it on is a ‘male’ version of saying, bloom where you are planted. The chorus states:
Bring it on!
Let the lightning flash,
let the thunder roll,
let the storm winds blow,
let the trouble come,
let the hard rain fall,
let it make me strong . . .
Bring it on.
Nothing happens to us that is not approved by God. Therefore, there should be nothing to fear, nothing to dread. That is so much easier said than done, however it is true. Yet, we do fear, and we do dread, and we do worry and get anxious because we are human. However, God is there to go through it with us, to make us stronger, to make us purer, to perfect us.
The soil we are standing in may feel like quicksand, it may feel like clay or rock, but I have seen many flowers come up through the toughest terrains and surrounded by gravel, rocks and the scorching heat of the sun, they were absolutely beautiful. So, wherever you find yourself… bloom there, where God has planted.
3. Don’t look back. We can easily be caught up with regret. We wish we had done this or wish we had not done that. We wish we had gone here or had not gone there. We wish we hadn’t said that or wish we could take that back. Regrets, one after another. The past is a tricky thing. It can be full of wonderful memories. It can also be full of memories that haunt us for a lifetime. What can we do?
Don’t look back. Paul says in Philippians that all of us who are mature in Christ (and isn’t that what we, as Christians should desire?), to press on in our lives – forget what is in the past and strain toward what is ahead of us.
We spend so much time looking back. It does not do us any good in our Christian walk to live in the past. Christ is waiting ahead of us, not when we look back. He is coming for us in the future, not in what has been. Turn off the tapes that hold you back. The tapes of regret that go around and around in our minds and play repeatedly. Record some new ones that tell you it is time to move on. It is time to lift your head, look heavenward with joy, and… press on.
4. Eat dessert first. I like this one because it frees your spirit. It is a grace inducer and it allows you to realize that life was not meant to be a list of rules. Sure, there are rules and laws – commandments even – that we should obey for the good and protection of humankind, but God loves through grace and not a thick book of rules and regulations.
A few years ago, my husband and I were driving to Canada for his aunt’s funeral. We had driven all day and had not stopped for anything to eat so we would not be too late in arriving at the hotel. When we did arrive, I was really hungry. We walked over to the restaurant next to the hotel and sat down. The waitress came for our order and I asked how long it would be before dinner would come since the place was extremely busy. When she said about twenty minutes, I asked if I could order dessert and get that first.
Now, I could have waited for dinner without starving to death. We, as Americans, tend to exaggerate our hunger anyhow and most of us do not truly even understand what it means to starve or be ‘hungry’. However, I was… hungry. However, that was not the only reason I ordered dessert first. I had never done that before. I was 45 and finally rid of guilt over certain things and was finally testing my wings.
How many times did your mother tell you not to eat something because you would spoil your dinner? We have learned and perfected how to take those tidbits of instruction and turn them into lifetime laws that strangle our joy and riddle us with guilt when we havedisobeyed them. That is not how God intends for us to live. Yes, He laid down the first laws – the Ten Commandments – but He did it for our protection. He told us not to lie, steal, and covet for our own good, not because He didn’t want us to have fun. He knew the consequences of what could and would happen if we committed adultery. The commandments were given for our protection. To love Him with all our heart and soul and mind would keep us from straying from Him and falling to temptation and regretting our choices.
The pie and ice cream… eating dessert first. It was grace. Defying guilt and manmade laws. It’s a wonderful thing.
5. Love your neighbor as yourself. I have to confess that I did not really grasp this until a few years ago, but when I did, it was life-changing for me. Christ was (and still is) pretty wise. Continue reading →
One of my favorite places is the rose garden at the company of Harry and David. They used to own Jackson and Perkins until they sold it several years ago. Jackson and Perkins specialized in roses. Harry and David’s rose garden was the ‘test’ garden. Every color, species, and size of rose you can imagine, hang out at Harry and David’s garden.
I’ve made several trips to the garden this year, while living in Oregon. I’ve taken guests there – my granddaughter, my neighbor and more. Most of them have had a similar reaction to mine… breathless. Speechless. In awe.
The colors are magnificent and stunning, surprising in some instances as the flower buds in a deep red, color open up to orange and fades to a yellow. Some have one large stem that dons eight or more blooms – a bouquet in itself.
When I go alone I take my time and enjoy every step. I could spend the day there. There are asters, lilies, peonies and butterfly bushes. Ornamental grasses, fruit trees, lavender and well – I could go on and on – it’s there. The saddest thing to me is that, usually, no one else is ever there. It’s always void of someone to walk it’s path, linger over the fragrances as my little granddaughter loved to do.
In each row, with each step, I find a reason to praise God. With each water drop that twinkles in the sun’s rays, I find a reason to smile. With each honeybee that buzzes from one petal to the next, I almost laugh. I find I can disconnect from the despair I sometimes feel. The tough moments. The trying times. The mundane. I can walk on the thick, lush grass and find one more bloom, one more color, one more surprise to be thankful for.
Eventually it’s time to go home. I have filled up the camera card with pictures of bees, blooms and bunnies. I download the photos onto my computer and relive those moments again. I see God in every picture. I see His beauty, His creativity, His peace, His provision. I see how He cares for me.
I hadn’t been to the rose garden for a while and as I walked the paths today, God refreshed my spirit. Sometimes we get caught up in the day to day despair of life. In the tough stuff that we must deal with. In the tedious, the mundane, monotonous day to day of life. We wonder if there’s anything greater than washing dishes, folding clothes, or taking the garbage out.
And then, we spontaneously take a trip back to a place where once we were met by God and find Him there once again. And once again, so faithful as in the times before, He strengthens and refreshes our spirit. Sometimes going back is a good thing. Sometimes it’s the only way to go forward.
I encourage you today, if you’re tired, weary, worn out and feel defeated, think of that place where you have met God and been renewed. If at all possible – go there and bask in the love and grace of His presence. If it’s not possible to go there, find a quiet place where you can close your eyes and remember the time (or times) you did, dwell on it and He will come to you, right where you are.