Dear God: Where Are You?

Dear God: Where Are You?

Dear God,

You say that all I have to do is call to you and you will tell me things I do not know, so tell me this: Where are you?

I tried to read the news today, and I found myself in tears. There’s such hatred and such evil in the world, and so much of it done in your name. The times we live in are so dark, and I can’t help but wonder – where is your light? You say you have overcome the world, but we still have to live in it. I tell my daughter that you’re a good God, who will protect and take care of her, and in the same breath have to explain why she can’t let go of my hand in the store.

I finally took control of my life. I made time for you. I cut out the things in my life that were distracting me. I spend my mornings in devotions and my evenings serving at the church. Those things brought me such joy before and I thought it would be empowering, but I feel empty and tired. It’s like I just can’t get to you. I’m trying so hard – at home, at work, at church. For my daughter, for my friends, for my husband. I am trying so hard to shine your love, to serve with your grace, yet I still feel like I’m failing.

I can’t hear your voice anymore, and I wonder if I’ve done something wrong. Are you mad? Are we fighting?

Are you there?

My Child,

I am where I’ve always been.

The times you live in may seem dark, but remember what has been done for you. Turn off the news and open the Word. You live in a time of better promises. You live in a time of no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Your iniquities have been forgiven and your sins are remembered no more. You live in a time where you are not under law, but under grace. You live in a time after the third day.

You live in a time with the Holy Spirit, the Helper, the Counselor, the Advocate, the Intercessor, the Strengthener, who comes to your aide and bears you up in your weakness. Because you have Him, you are not comfortless, desolate, bereaved, forlorn, or helpless. I can be with you every moment of every day. And I am.

The world may tell you to take control of your life, but I’m telling you to give it up. You keep trying to do things in my name, in your own power. When you create these rituals and follow these formulas trying to get to me, you put me on a pedestal of your own making that makes me seem unobtainable. I tore the veil for you so that you could always come into my presence, so why do you keep trying to gather up the pieces?

I know that you’re tired. Stop trying so hard and rest in me. I see the way you’re pushing yourself. I see the way you’re exhausting yourself every day, but I can’t give you rest when you refuse to trust me with your burdens. You trust that I am with you in the light, but you won’t make room for me in the dark. You trust that you are saved by grace, but not that it is sufficient enough to cover your weaknesses. You trust that I sent my Son to the cross for you, yet you don’t trust that I will help you carry yours.

Where am I? I am where I’ve always been. Pursuing your heart. Waiting on you to trust me, to invite me in. You want to see my presence in your life, but you no longer seek me. Have I not said seek me first, before the works of my hands?

Seek me, and you will find me. I am here.

I am not fighting against you, and I am not fighting with you.

I am fighting for you.

A Hardened Heart

A Hardened Heart

In scripture, I always wondered why God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Exodus 4:21 says, “The LORD said to Moses, When you go back to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.” Throughout Exodus, it is repeatedly pointed out that Pharaoh hardened his heart, or that God hardened his heart. I read through the verses several times, because I couldn’t understand why God would actively keep someone from believing in Him. I assumed that to have a hardened heart was to rebel against God, and that hardened hearts belonged to unbelievers. Until God showed me my own.

I was in the middle of an argument with my husband, and I was trying to see things from his side. I understood that my words had hurt him, but then I immediately remembered that he had hurt me first. I deserve to be angry about this. As soon as I thought the words, I felt a gentle nudging in my spirit. My own thoughts were replaced. “Do not harden your heart against him.”

I was shocked – was I hardening my heart or just being emotional? I looked up several definitions of the word harden: cold, unfeeling, unyielding. Over the following weeks, I became very aware of my heart. In conversations at home, at work, at church… there were times that someone would say something that made my defenses go up. Each time, that same gentle nudge would remind me that the answer was not to turn off my emotions or put up a wall.

Finally, while reading in Mark, I was able to discern what God was trying to show me. In Mark 6, right after Jesus fed the five thousand, we see where Jesus walks on the water. He climbed into the boat with the disciples, and scripture says, “They were amazed beyond measure, and wondered. For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened.”

I easily recognized that my belief that hardened hearts belonged only to unbelievers was flawed, because clearly the disciples believed in and followed Jesus. I looked up other scriptures about hardened hearts, and found the disciples listed yet again in Mark 8:17. When they begin discussing the fact that they forgot to bring bread, Jesus says to them “Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?” Jesus had already fed the five thousand and the four thousand, and yet the disciples were worried about not having bread. In response, Jesus asks them, “Are your hearts hardened?”

I realized that having a hardened heart doesn’t mean that you are opposed to God, but that your thoughts are opposed to His. We see the miracles, but we don’t trust Him to continue to take care of us. We are amazed by the miracles, which means that we don’t believe God is who He says He is.

Mark 6:52 says the disciples “considered not the miracle of the loaves”.  So in the midst of the storm, rather than reminding themselves of what Jesus had already shown them, they focused on their current situation. In the midst of our storms, our hearts become softened toward what we focus on, and hardened to everything else. In an argument with my husband, if I focus on my own emotions and feelings, I become hardened against him.

Going back to Pharaoh, God hardening His heart meant that, though he saw the miracles with his own eyes, he couldn’t understand or perceive what they meant. He was unaffected by the miracles happening around him. His focus stayed on himself, and his own pride, which kept a veil up between Him and God.

“They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” – Ephesians 4:18

To harden your heart against God is to turn away from the life God wants for you. To choose the natural over the supernatural, or to choose your view over God’s view. To remain ignorant and unyielding. To let pride interfere with your relationships. To be unaffected by His words or His work.

When I view my husband as “worthy of my anger”, I am choosing to be unaffected by Christ’s work on the cross. I am choosing my own view over God’s view, and I am hardening my heart. Instead, in the middle of the storm, I have to consider Jesus. I have to remind myself of what has already been finished.

How Much Did God Love Jesus?

How Much Did God Love Jesus?

A few months after the arrival of our little girl, my husband casually mentioned a quote he had heard while listening to an online sermon. The quote itself was powerful, but the timing of the quote—as a new mom—made it heartbreaking.

“You’ll never understand how much God loves you until you understand how much God loved Jesus.”

I thought I knew love. I love my parents. I love my brothers. I love my husband. But the way that I love my daughter—the way I feel about that toothless grin and the tiny rolls on her thighs and the way she holds my finger in her wet, chubby fist when she sleeps—is the most overwhelming and terrifying feeling I have ever known. It’s the kind of love that is bone deep. I would do anything and everything in my power to keep her from ever feeling pain or sadness. When she cries, my soul cries. I love her completely and fiercely.

If I’m able to love my daughter that much, even with all of my imperfections, how much did God love Jesus? How much did the perfect Father love the perfect Son?

God was not powerless. He had the power to keep His son from ever feeling pain or sadness. Instead, His soul cried as He saw him being stripped and beaten. As He saw nails pierce his hands. As He saw them spit in his face. He saw His son hang on a cross. And then, He left him.

On the cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The penalty for sin is death – both physical and spiritual. Separation of the spirit from the body (physical) and separation of the spirit from God (spiritual). Since Jesus was taking our punishment, He had to actually experience the agony of separation from His Father for the first time. God didn’t just leave him on the cross, he left him on the cross alone—so that we would never have to be alone.

How can we possibly think that God doesn’t love us? Or, even worse, that He doesn’t love us enough? He left His son on the cross so that nothing could separate us from Him.

“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.”
– Romans 8:38-39

 

 

 

 

Great Faith

Great Faith

A few months ago, God started speaking to me about great faith and where it comes from. The message I want to share focuses on three men in scripture: Abraham, Elijah and Thomas. My mother-in-law laughed at me when I said that I wanted to talk about Thomas as a man of great faith, but he’s in the lineup all the same.

First let’s look at Abraham, or Abram at the time. In Genesis 15:7, God essentially promises Abram land and Abram responds by asking, “But how will I know for sure?” We know that Abram was a man of faith. In the very verse before this one, God told Abram that he would have a son and Abram believed the Lord because of his great faith, and it was counted as righteousness.

Similarly, when we look at 1 Kings 19, we see Elijah running in fear and hiding in the wilderness. He left his servant behind and crawled into the desert, wanting to die. In verse 4, he calls out and says, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” He is consumed by fear, but we know that Elijah, too, was a man of faith because in the chapter before this He called down the fire of the Lord because of his great faith and defeated the Prophets of Baal.

And then there’s Thomas. I have a co-worker who recently said, “I’m pretty sure Thomas has the worst PR rep in all of the New Testament.” Thomas is remembered for John 20:25, where he speaks to the disciples when they tell him that Jesus had risen. He told them, “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” I’ll admit that it probably wasn’t the best response he could have given, but what makes it so much different from the disbelief of Abram or the fear of Elijah? In fact, if you look back at John 11 when Jesus is going to see Lazarus in Judea, where the Jews were waiting to stone Him, Thomas says, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” He was willing to die with Jesus because of his great faith. And even though we remember Thomas as “Doubting Thomas”, it’s important to realize that that’s not how God looks at him.

God is so faithful that He never lets our doubts in moments of fear define who we are to Him. I want to go back through these stories and really focus on how God responds to each of these men in their moments of doubt.

Let’s start in Genesis. God has just told Abram that he will possess the land and Abram asks Him, “But how can I be sure?” God responds by making a covenant with Abram – an unbreakable promise that requires nothing from Abram. Verse 18 says, “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your offspring I give this land’.” And what happens after that? Abraham becomes the father of all nations. Scripture says because of Abraham’s faith, God counted him as righteous.

With Elijah, the Lord was patient with him in the desert, letting him rest and regain his strength. He had angels bring him food and then led him to Mount Horeb, where God appeared to Him and told him to anoint his successor. Again, what happened after that? Elijah went on to prophesy and grow his faith and he never had to face death. God sent chariots and horses of fire and took Elijah up to Heaven in a whirlwind.

And how did God respond to Thomas? Jesus came to him and said, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” He met him at his faith level and Thomas immediately confessed his faith, saying, “My Lord and my God”. He went on to travel and preach the Gospel, baptizing and bringing many to faith.

Be encouraged, seeing that not only does God meet you at your faith level – he also doesn’t leave you there.

So many times, when I’ve had a moment of doubt, my first instinct is to try to hide it from God or pretend it’s not there. But I truly believe we serve a God who loves to use those moments of doubt to grow our faith. He will always meet us exactly where we are, whether we are standing outside looking at the stars, hiding out in the wilderness, standing among friends, or sitting in a quiet room praying for a sign. All we have to do is call out to Him and He will meet us and bring us closer to Him.

There are two verses I want to leave you with. The first is for when you ask yourself, ‘What exactly is faith?’ Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” And the second is for when you ask yourself, ‘What can faith do?’ Matthew 17:20 says, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

The video below is one of the most powerful videos I’ve seen on doubt and the role it plays in the Christian walk.

“My child, when it seems like you have all the right questions, but never enough answers, and your faith is small enough to fit in the cracks of your palms, I told you: Faith the size of mustard seeds can rearrange whole landscapes. Before you doubt me, doubt your doubts. Doubt your doubts and you will see they are just as empty as the tomb that I walked from.”

 

Break Every Chain

Break Every Chain

I am so incredibly thankful—for my family, for my friends, for my job—but I am also hurting. In this season of grief, God put three things on my heart that I hope might be helpful to others who are also hurting:

1) “Your pain matters to Me.”

Your pain is not insignificant. Your pain is not inconvenient. Your pain is not inappropriate. If your pain puts you further from the cross, it matters to God. You don’t need to prove or defend your pain to Him, because He knows your heart and He sees the things that break it.

Your pain is not from God, but it is an opportunity to depend on God and trust in His Word.

2 Corinthians 1:8-9 – We were crushed and completely overwhelmed, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we learned not to rely on ourselves, but on God who can raise the dead.

James 1:2 – Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.

2) “Your identity does not change.”

It is so easy to take on the things that other people say about you, but people are inconsistent. They might build you up one day and then lash out or tear you down the next. If you let that shape the way you see yourself, you might love yourself one day and hate yourself the next.

When God looks at you, He sees what Jesus died to give you. Shift your focus from what’s been done TO you to what’s been done FOR you. God sent His son to die for your righteousness. Claim your identity, cling to your identity, and refuse to let anything else shape it.

2 Corinthians 5:21 – For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.

Galatians 3:27 – For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

3) “Do not condemn yourself when I have not condemned you.”

Self-condemnation can be just as dangerous as self-righteousness. Your thoughts can speak so loud that they begin to seem true and real. We are so hard on ourselves, thinking we are not enough, and somehow we convince ourselves that those thoughts come from God.

In my experience, when the Holy Spirit convicts you of something, He does it with love. When the conviction is from the enemy, it makes you feel condemned and defeated. When you feel that way, it can be easy to seek out people who you know will give you praise, which can lead you back to depending on people. The truth is that we aren’t good enough, but Jesus is. Resting in His finished work is the only way to find peace in your pain.

Romans 8:1 – There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

2 Corinthians 10:5 – Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

I think one of the enemy’s greatest tricks is convincing us that God has turned His back because we aren’t good enough. Don’t let yourself believe that God doesn’t care. God is for you, He is with you, and He loves you “with an everlasting love”.