When There Are No Answers

  • images-1Where was God this week when the family went missing from the floods in Texas?
  • If He is all-powerful, why didn’t He save them all?
  • Why does He allow for such tragedies?

These are our questions. Variations of these same questions have been asked throughout time. Yet God’s sovereignty, goodness, presence and power can’t ever be completely comprehended this side of heaven.

I wish this wasn’t how it is. I wish we had the foreknowledge to see well into the future – to know things were going to be okay. To see how God would use bad for good. To help us to trust Him better. But this isn’t how it is and that is what makes faith, faith.

So we are left to wrestle with our faith, our questions, our doubts and our anger.  And, yes, we can be angry at and question God. He knows what is in your mind anyway and if you look at the Psalms you will see people praying their pain.

“O Lord, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you. Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry! For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength, like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand. You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep…” Psalm 88:1-6

This is how honest we can be before Him. And for those who are grieving and mourning the loss of loved ones, you do not have to sugar-coat the real feelings you feel. You don’t have to put a Christian-spin on your pain and pretend your faith is so great you don’t question.

One of my husband’s seminary professors used to say, “I pray for people when they are suffering that God would protect them from other Christians.” Christians who mean well but actually add more hurt by throwing out spiritual platitudes to try to help. 

So though we don’t know the whys, we have a God who knows what it is like to lose a Son and Savior who knows what it’s like to suffer.  A Savior who left his heavenly throne to enter in to the brokenness of this world so He could identify with us as Friend.

He did not come just to suffer for us, but He came to suffer with us. So now we have a resource to turn to with all of our questions, all of our hurts, all of our pain and all of our suffering. 

By God’s grace may we know this One who is a Friend to the broken-hearted and may we feel His presence near.

imagesDon’t want to miss a post? Interested in receiving my future monthly newsletter? Enter your email to sign up in the top right-hand box! For an additional post on the God’s sovereignty, see: When Disaster Strikes.

Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile

Do you remember that song from the the musical Annie? 

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At one time I was obsessed with all Annie songs, but hadn’t thought of it in a long time until seeing the phrase posted by a friend on Facebook.  When I read it, I immediately tapped “like”.  A good reminder that you can be the most impeccably dressed, well put together person, but without a smile appear stand-offish and distant instead of drawing others in.

But, what about those days when you don’t have a smile to put on?

That was me a few days later.  I had to go to my retail job where I am around people all day long and need to smile.  As I was dressing the phrase popped in to my head again and I thought I can put on these nice clothes, but the last thing in the world right now that I want to wear is a smile!

And thoughout the day as guests came in to the store and we exchanged the typical “How are you?” greetings, I felt conflicted about speaking a lie everytime I answered “fine” or “I’m well, thank you”.  Really though, what stranger wanted to hear otherwise? For that matter, not just strangers, but friend? Mmmm.  This got me thinking…

How can we not close ourselves off from others when we don’t wear a smile? Can we find a smile by sharing the pain?  Why do we not really say how we are? Why do we put on the masks and pretend life is great? 

I think the answer is two-fold.

First, we are afraid. Afraid to confide. Afraid to be honest. Afraid to be judged. Afraid to look bad. Afraid to be known. Afraid others can’t handle our “mess”.

On the flip side, there is a lot of truth as to why we would be afraid.   Others do judge. Others don’t have time. Others don’t really want to know or get involved. So others don’t really ask to hear the truth.

If we are honest we fall on to both sides at different times.  But this is not how God wants us to live. We are called to invest in one another’s lives.  To be the hands and feet of Christ. To reflect His image to one another.  And how can we do this without being known and knowing the needs of another?

Obviously this doesn’t mean we must share everything with every person. But do you share with some person? Do you have safe relationships or do you keep it all hidden?  Do you seek others out and try to invest in their lives or are you too self-focused in your own routine?

For those days when it is hard to wear a smile or even impossible to put one on, you need to know God is with you. You need to know He draws near to the broken-hearted. You need to know that He came and suffered and understands all that you are going through. You need to know that His love for His children is fierce and cannot be changed, even when circumstances seem to say otherwise. Even so and especially then, you need to know His face still shines upon you and you have His smile.

Apart from His Word, how can you know and be comforted by these truths?

Only by the investment of a friend. A friend who can pour out His love to you and speak joy when you have no smile.  

And when you do, seek out those who need a listening ear and the smile of a friend.

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The 100 Mark!

If you have young school-age kids, they may have celebrated the 100th day of school by dressing up as a 100 year-old or bringing 100 items of something. So recently when I noticed that I was on my 97th blog entry, I decided I should celebrate my 100th. 

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Technically this is #101 since I decided to write my Lent thoughts :), but nevertheless I want to take a look back over what I have written over these past 15 months since starting this blog.  Some posts, like one based off Les Miserables, continue to be clicked on and viewed frequently. While there are others that were more or less missed.  Therefore to commemorate hitting 100, I have decided to simply re-share ten posts that I personally want to bring back to life.

Each of the ten transcend time in the sense that they are always relevant even if they were tied to a specific event that led to me writing it. I hope as you have time you will click on some of these links and find food for thought.

Parenting…

Christian Living/Life/Idols/Suffering/Trials…

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Be Still My Soul

Today I was searching my computer for a particular Bible study lesson I had done in the past when another old document simply titled Psalm 46 caught my eye. 

Psalm 46:10 says “Be still, and know that I am God…”

This verse, along with Exodus 14:14, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” have been on the forefront of my suffering friend’s mind. But until I clicked on my document I had forgotten that this very same verse another friend clung to a couple years ago as she endured cancer. Because of its significance to her, I used the verse as the basis for a devotional time with a group of our friends who had traveled to run the Las Vegas marathon after she completed chemo.

In re-reading it today I found the message to be just what I needed. How thankful I am for God’s timeless, living Word! Through the Word, Jesus enters in and is the source and only true healer for our soul. I know many others out there are suffering now, too, so I hope you find Him to be your refuge as you take the time to read Psalm 46 and reflect on excepts from my original devotional…

Psalm 46, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in troubleTherefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of Godthe holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Come, behold the works of the Lord,how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

The word REFUGE here is like a storm shelter, and VERY PRESENT translated from the Greek means concrete or solid. For those of us living in Oklahoma we know what the safety of a tornado shelter is like in the midst of a tornado. In some storms, it truly serves as the only hope of survival.

TROUBLE in this verse is the kind of trouble where your insides are bleeding out; you are about to die. So translating this first verse to layman’s terms it could be read as:

God is our tornado shelter, a concrete help in the very worst times you can imagine.

The passage’s next image is that of a cosmic flood… a world-wide tidal wave or tsunami flooding the earth. Even the mountains, typically a symbolic picture of strength, are being swallowed up.

This is de-creation – it’s threatening to undo all of creation. Sin, too, is a picture of decreation; it’s power holds this same strength. None of this is how it was in the garden; it is not how it’s supposed to be.  But, this is the world we live in…a world of chaos, de-creation and sin.

In the passage the chaos continues…kingdoms and nations at war. From all angles there is stress and unrest… from the sin within us and the turmoil, sin and decreation outside of us. We don’t live in the “garden”!

But in this passage, “garden” imagery is used in contrast to the chaos. We are told that believers, the church, is the CITY OF GOD. And in this city, or garden if you will, is where God dwells, where His presence is.  And the RIVER being a metaphor of blessing and restoration.

We are surrounded by a world in chaos, yet we have safety in His presence.  An oasis, a garden setting, in the midst of the brokenness, suffering and pain. A place where His grace and mercy flows freely.

If you are tracking with what Psalm 46 is saying is that though we are surrounded by danger and trials of cosmic proportions, He is with us.

Therefore, Do Not Fear. Stop trying to change, manage and secure your own situations, circustances, reputation, relationships, health, safety.

Be still and know that I am God.

To BE STILL is to rest, to relax, to be at ease. It’s dropping your hands by your side and resting. Unloading your burdens. 

Sounds great, right? Like “Don’t worry, be happy”? But how do you do that with all that is going on in our lives and all around us? 

It is hard to not fear and to rest when we are constantly striving to control! We may say that Christ is ruler of our hearts and lives, but every time a new insecurity, a new fear, an anxious situation, a stressful relationship or circumstance pops up, we tend to kick God off his throne and try to again take control.

But we find no peace. We try harder, often sinking further in to fear, stress and depression. This continues to happen when anything other than the grace of God takes center stage. If we are controlled and ruled by fear, or controlled and ruled by our performance, insecurities, idols or situations; whatever it is other than God’s grace in our lives will keep us from being able to be still and rest.

God is surrounding the unbearable surrounding us.  

Jesus faced the ultimate insecurity and judgement when God rejected His own son at the cross, so you wouldn’t be.  God turned his back on His Son for you so you COULD have security, so you CAN stand in his grace.  So you would have no condemnation or ever face His abandonment. It was His work, not yours that earns you grace.  Understanding this is the only way you won’t fear and that you can Be Still.

As believers, we have the ultimate REFUGE and FORTRESS… so on those days when you are ruled by whatever it is, big or small, that is consuming your mind, or you are in a trial that leaves you paralyzed by fear, the only way you can BE STILL and NOT FEAR is to know there is a God who speaks peace in to chaos and that He is bigger than the biggest tsunami.

The Lord of Host, the ultimate Warrior, is with us. The God of Jacob, who has been faithful to His people throughout all generations is our FORTRESS.

When I gave this talk we were physically running (far), but running to his REST is the only place we will ever find real strength.  I ended that day reminding the girls that though our friend who battled the cancer is a strong fighter, the reason she found peace in the midst of it was not of her own accord, it was because she found protection and rest in the only One who can give it.

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Psalm 77: In the Day of Trouble I Seek The Lord

I am suffering today. Suffering alongside a friend. This has been a common and reoccurring theme in our lives over the past couple years. It seems everyone I get close to has been led in to the Valley of the Shadow of Death. And therefore, I am called there too.

I weep as I type this, as I cry out for the Lord’s deliverance. I know He is good, I know He is in control, I know He will never leave us or forsake us. But emotionally I feel as the Psalmist did when he wrote Psalm 77:

“Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”

Basically the Psalmist is asking God if He has stopped being a Rescuer and a Comforter?

He knows He hasn’t but it feels like it. As the psalm continues the writer remembers how God worked wonders among his people and redeemed them to himself. Even the waters and the sky trembled at His power though His footprints were unseen. But it was He who “led his people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.”

How does this comfort the Psalmist? How does this comfort me? How does it comfort the one suffering? How does God reach the heart that is wailing?

From the words of my brother-in-law in his sermon on this passage… God reaches us in our terrifying agony and doubts by wrapping His grace in the mystery of relationship. There are no 7-steps to get through suffering; it only comes in knowing the One who is our Redeemer. We will begin to feel Him move when we remember the truths of who He is.

Our God is the same yesterday, today and forever. What He did for the Israelites, He promises to all HIs children. I don’t understand, I hate the process and I want His will to be mine. But, even in these moments of tremendous suffering, when it is hard to trust, by His grace He enters in. Lord, thank you that even when we feel forsaken, you are still there. That your covenant promises are secured for your children in your Son.

For more on suffering see my previous posts: Responding to Suffering, Walking in the Valley of the Shadow of Death

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Walking Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death…with a Friend

Living in a sinful, broken world means there will be suffering. And at some point, though we fight hard to control our lives as if we can keep tragedy, sickness, suffering and loss away, everyone will experience it to some degree.  And if it’s not you directly right now, there is no doubt someone in your life who is suffering.
Therefore, if we say we love God then we should be seeking ways to love others. To step outside of our own worlds and invest in someone else. And what better way to embody the love of Christ then to help ease the burden of someone who is suffering, feeling very much out-of-control and likely at the end of their rope?
So what does it look like to enter in? To be a friend to someone in the midst of a trial, hurt and pain and to walk though the Valley of the Shadow of Death with them?
I had my ideas, but thought hearing first-hand from a few friends who have experienced that deepest darkness personally would be far better.
Here is what they had to say…

“Everyone is different, but I felt most loved when people did things to help without asking first. When someone says ‘What can I do?’ it puts the onus on you to figure something out so they feel good about helping. If you just see a need and meet it, it’s one less thing they have to think about, which frees them up to concentrate on pressing matters. Plant flowers, make kids’ lunches, have something fixed that is broken. I didn’t want to read or do anything that required extra energy so I really appreciated those who did things to lift it off, not added more to me!”

“Prayer was huge… and showing empathy by crying but also laughing with me.  The night a few friends went running with me and then ate ice cream dessert in the park fed my soul. It just helps knowing you aren’t walking alone. Someone is there when you need it, someone who will speak truth to you and remind you God is near. When you are in the midst, it is not always easy to see God, but I saw Him through those friends walking alongside me.”

“Just another person’s presence is a blessing. Some days that gave me the breath to go to the next moment. Flexibility also, because everything is so moment to moment. God sent people at just the right times. If God puts someone on your heart or mind, act on it. Find out what they need in that moment, many times its just prayer for courage and strength.”

“When I went through cancer the very best thing was having my close friends sit with me through chemo. Just being around their normal energy and regular conversation was nice to listen to and uplifting to me. Also the little unexpected unasked for things; like magazines being anonymously dropped off on my front porch, cupcakes brought to my kids or activities planned for them. If my kids were taken care of I was more at ease. But if they were sad or bored or needy then it didn’t matter how bad I felt I wanted to take care of them. So, I really appreciated people who pro-actively thought of ways to help take care of my family without me having to ask.”

Of course, different people will have different needs and desires, but what rings loud and clear is – enter in!
Too often, I think because we don’t know what to do or say we find ourselves not doing anything at all. Or maybe just sending a quick text. Not wrong to do, but a grieving, hurting friend needs more. Whether a listening ear, a physical body to just sit silently or something more tangible. Because of the love Christ has bestowed on you, may it spur you on to show that love to those suffering in your midst.

Missed my last post on suffering, check it out here.   Don’t want to miss a post? Enter your email on the upper right-hand column after “Follow blog via email”.

Responding To Suffering

The heart-breaking news received by my friend this week has turned her world upside down. And though she is devastated, hanging on by a thread, she still has hope.
The mere fact she could muster any “hope” in the midst of her trying circumstances has led me to this question and post:
Where does such Hope come from?
Without realizing it what we believe about God and the gospel colors everything – all our thoughts, perspectives and emotions. In the book of Galatians the apostle Paul is addressing false gospel. A “different” gospel as he calls it, “not that there is one” because it is no gospel at all.
This different or other gospel is a performance-based gospel. Meaning something other than Christ alone.  Jesus + something else….
  • our good works,
  • our moral standing,
  • our righteous living…
  • the Something else or the substitute Savior that we are actually trusting instead of Christ.
So in light of suffering, if this “different” gospel is what we are believing here is how it might play out:
Tragedy strikes, we are struggling and spinning out of control trying to make sense out of what is going on. In doing so we may be angry, thinking it is so unfair and not what we deserve!  WHY???
  • Because of all we do for God…or,
  • because we are such a good person…or,
  • because we do all the right things.
Basically a mentality of God owes me “blessing” because I am good.
On the other hand, we may find ourselves consumed with all we’ve done wrong; our lack of obedience and love for God and others. Now we think God may be punishing us because of it, so we are left to beat ourselves up feeling deeply alone and abandoned.
Either way, our behavior (good or bad) has become the Jesus + Something else we believe. This is NOT the gospel!
It is false gospel that will lead me to either be mad at God for getting something I don’t deserve or mad at myself for getting what I do deserve.
Real gospel doesn’t depend on me living a good or bad life, but only on the work and worth of Jesus for me. It is His righteousness credited to me though I did nothing to earn it. It is by His grace alone.
Now when suffering hits I can rest knowing that God is not out to get me. And even though I don’t understand why or have any answers, I find peace knowing that He loves me still and seeks my good even in and through it.
Only the true gospel… believing that God delights in YOU and gave up his son for you not because of anything you did, but because of his great love… can give hope in the middle of suffering.  Only the true gospel can give rest in a time of tremendous pain and injustice. Only the true gospel can speak truth and grace in to your soul because of who He is, even when you don’t understand His ways.
Do not mistake Christian-light or false gospel for the freedom and grace of the true gospel. It matters deeply on how you will see life and respond to suffering and sin. Only the true gospel can shine light in to darkness and bring joy even in the midst of trials.
Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness… AND nothing more!
For more on dealing with suffering click on: Walking Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death..With a Friend
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Was Joy Possible for a Slave?

I want to revisit the Gullah storyteller I briefly introduced in my previous post. Her manner and dialect in painting the picture of slavery on the old plantation we visited was captivating. So continuing to process the little bit we heard has led me to this question:
How did slaves ever find rest and peace, even joy, in their conditions?

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Originally on the Southern plantations the Gullah predominately practiced their native traditional West African religion.  But under their masters’ authority and effort to “eradicate heathen customs”, slaves were forced to attend church services.
As the Gullah people began to hear the Word about Christ many were converted and settled in to the denominations of their owners. In turning to the Lord as their Savior, the hope they found led to preaching and praying on the plantations. Then Spirituals and praise houses developed as worshipping the Lord through songs became a way to release the hardships and struggles and find joy in the midst of it.
This is quite ironic. On the one hand, you have the slaves who have now found new life in Jesus despite their suffering; while on the other hand, you have “Christian” slave owners and their families who did not see their sinful, prideful attitudes and behavior.
It seems their “faith” was more a social activity and not the means to a transformational relationship with the Father. I would gather because they did not see their need. After all, they lived on beautiful plantations with all the wealth and benefits that come with privilege. In their eyes, there really was no need to depend on anyone outside of themselves.
But not so for the slaves. They knew their daily need of the Father. A need for… Grace. Endurance. Help. Comfort. Rest. Peace. Deliverance.

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Because of this great need, they bowed the knee. They cried out to the only One big enough to provide. And they found Him to be faithful even though their circumstances did not change. They found their life wrapped up in Him realizing their true, ultimate and ever-lasting home was not in slavery on the plantation. Their true home was in Him.
With this mindset of an ultimate hope in Jesus, they could be OK when others mistreated them. They could suffer at the hand of evil because what can man do to me when my “home” is not here. They knew He loved them, even if others did not. The slaves understood then how the gospel’s application filters in to all of life. Do we?
Can we be OK when we experience hard circumstances? Suffering? Mistreatment? Sickness? Unemployment? Gossip? Being left out? Not getting what we want?
Jesus says in Mark 8:

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it…”

In giving up our own self-sufficiency and seeing our need, we too can rest and find joy because only in Christ is life, and death gain!

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