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Archive for June, 2012

WATCHING THE MONSTER INFERNO FILLING THE SKY out the window of her Colorado Springs home, my friend Beth Vogt penned the word “Trust” with a steady, deliberate hand on her blog earlier this week . Take a moment to read her post.

Many Colorado Springs residents, including Beth, were forced to evacuate their homes when the fire jumped a ridge and turned its destruction toward town, obliterating the hills and skyline in giant plumes of rolling black smoke and flames reaching hundreds, maybe thousands of feet high. I’m studying the pictures in horror, praying for rains and a swift end, praying for my agent, Rachelle, and other friends, and those battling the inferno including Rachelle’s husband. The fire both lights and blackens the sky as it bears down on the city. It’s one of the most surreal things I’ve ever seen.

If we apply my favorite “tree planted by the stream” analogy (Jer 17:7-8) to my friend Beth’s situation, then she is a perfect example of a tree threatened by heat and facing a choice. She can respond by either reaching her roots deeper into God’s sustaining stream, or holding her ground with all she’s got and hoping to God the scorching storm doesn’t reach her inner core.

I’m picturing Beth cramming her car with what treasured mementos she can. “It’s stuff,” Beth says quietly of what she leaves behind. Just stuff. I can only try to imagine how that must feel. And as she inched along the jammed traffic heading away from danger, she reminded herself This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.

Beth chooses Trust. Why? How? What gives us the hope and assurance that we really can trust God in times like this?

When good things happen, some of us are quick to say, “Hallelujah, God is good!” Yes. That’s great—he deserves credit for good things. But when we’re facing the loss of our home and livelihoods, or struggling with serious illness or some horrific situation or impossible burden, do we still shout “Praise the Lord!”?

Probably not. Not only would that look just a little bit psycho, some moments are just not Hallelujah! moments.

In those moments, do you ever doubt God’s goodness? If God is good in good times, isn’t he good all the time?

I heard a saying once and presented it to a character in one of my novels:

Faith isn’t trusting God to give us good things; Faith is believing in the goodness of God in spite of tragedy.

If I’m giving God fist-bumps when things are good and going my way, yet curl into a fetal worry-ball when things are crumbling around me, then either God or I am being really inconsistent. One of us is fickle.

I’m going to take a wild guess it isn’t God.

No matter how bad things look, God’s not fickle. So that leaves me – I’m the flip-flopper. When I cave in to worry and fear over difficult circumstances, I’m forgetting God’s goodness and ultimate love for me. I’m human (shocker!), so it’s easy to focus on the flames and forget that God always, always has my ultimate good in mind. It’s a challenge to see it. In fact, sometimes it’s impossible to see what possible good could come from suffering. But if we claim God’s goodness and faithfulness in good times, we must continue to trust him in the bad.

I like to create noble heroes in my novels – in fact, I sometimes get in trouble with critique partners who think my heroes are too perfect. So I have to give them a flaw or two. But God is the ultimate Hero, the most noble of any hero ever imagined. We can always count on him to do the right thing, even when what we see seems anything but right. Not only right, but happening for some greater good, because so great is his love for us, demonstrated on the Cross.

In the midst of tragedy, God is with us, closer than we know, and doesn’t take our suffering lightly. It has meaning. If we can claim God’s goodness in good times, we must learn to trust God in the worst of circumstances. This is the very essence of biblical Christianity.

God knows, he sees, and he cares more than we can know. For whatever reason, pain happens, but we can trust that God will use it for some greater good. He never wastes our pain.

“Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18


Do you ever find yourself fickle about trusting God?

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Have you ever heard of the Three Minute Testimony? It’s a 3 minute story of your life before and after coming to Christ to share when the opportunity arises.

Only three minutes? Uh . . .

This week at church, Pastor J asked us to break into groups to work on our stories. (I love being put on the spot to say something comprehensible on command. LOVE it. LIVE for it. So much that when I first suspected what he was about to do, I sweated for 5 solid minutes trying to think of a legit excuse for slipping out before the breakout session.)

But I’m glad I stayed. I had an interesting conversation with a sweet old lady in which we both learned some cool things—like how very different our salvation experiences were. She came from a Christian home and had loved Jesus as long as she could remember. Growing in her faith had been a steady, gradual journey.

Aaaaand . . . then there’s me. I’ll share my story shortly. For now, let’s just say finding Christ was a little more dramatic and my faith journey has not been a steady breeze. But it has been a journey of miracles, joys, and unimaginable distance traveled nonetheless.

This dear lady admitted to me that she hesitates to share her story because hers isn’t “dramatic” like some. With a smile, I said maybe her conversion experience wasn’t as radical as some, but I think whether you were a hard-core sinner or a cuddly toddler when you came to Christ, the daily sanctification or growing to be more like Jesus process is one of the most dramatic experiences we will ever know.

Dramatic, and for some of us, painfully slow. One faltering step at a time.

Perhaps you too have struggled with brokenness, pain, anger, addiction or other life-controlling issues and despaired of ever changing. Maybe, like me, you have felt like giving up. Please don’t do that. Hang on and let me tell you my story.

Before . . .

Because of numerous broken homes, broken people, and broken me, I grew up feeling abandoned, abused, and easily humiliated. Frequent moves as a kid meant I didn’t keep friends long. I became the oddball loner, the taunted outcast. I was the ugly girl with holey socks and high-water pants who just couldn’t seem to play the game like everyone else and turned to food for comfort, which ensured that I was both ugly and fat. Then because of added abuse and criticism at home, I went from sad kid to pissed-off teenager, finding the acceptance and approval I craved with the stoner crowd, skipping school, getting high and looking for trouble. Caught in the middle of a gang war at my high school, I dropped out and went to the local community college hoping to at least graduate. But though it was a new school, I gravitated to the same crowd. (It was hard to miss the perpetual cloud of pot smoke hovering over the center of the college cafeteria.)

And I still hated who I was. Changing schools hadn’t changed me. I became more deeply entrenched the college drug crowd, caught in a spiral sucking me down. I couldn’t function in class because I couldn’t say no to getting high. I couldn’t break free of the pressure, the familiar. Even though I wanted an education and a shot at a future, I was failing school at sixteen and felt powerless to change. I saw a future of partying and waking up in jail, or worse—never waking up again.

I’d heard about Jesus enough to know that he died on the cross for my sins, but didn’t see what good that did me. I wanted out of the life I hated but could not escape. Hopeless, I couldn’t see my life ever changing.

Meeting Christ . . .  

I remember getting stoned before class one day, then not being able to follow the lecture and wishing I wasn’t high to the point of silently begging God to sober me up. And oddly enough, my mind soon cleared. I began reading the Bible and discovered David talking in the Psalms about God’s presence and love and how he gave David power to succeed. I thought David was either crazy, or he really did know God. Maybe God was real. If he was as powerful and caring as David said, maybe he could help a dumb, hopeless girl like me.

One night I put God to the test by “challenging” him to take away my 5-year smoking habit. When I woke the next morning, all cigarette cravings had vanished. I was free of an addiction I’d failed repeatedly to kick. Not only was God real and capable of helping me, but he had answered me exactly as I’d asked. Not only did he want to help me, but more importantly, I understood that he wanted me to trust him. I gave my life to Jesus that day.

After . . .

In all honesty (this you expect from me, right?), mine has not been a straight shot, express train to freedom, shining success, and spiritual maturity. Which is possibly because I’m bent on learning things the Hard Way. I believe God answered me in such a powerful way that day because he knew how stubborn, fearful, selfish, stubborn (I know, but it bears repeating) broken and dysfunctional I was when I came to him. He knew what a long journey this would be—a long, bumpy road filled with tripping, falling, defeat, success, depression, rebellion, and some running away. He knew. And he has patiently, lovingly led me back, picked me up and encouraged me to hold onto him and keep going, time after time.

Because of the past, I have had a lot of catching up to do on the road to becoming a girl after God’s own heart. To be very honest, I’ve been tempted to give up more times than I can possibly count. I’ve been beyond sick of making mistakes and disappointing people. But eventually, God taught me to be more patient and accepting of Camille—by his forgiving, patient example. Not that he wants to leave me a mess, but to encourage me to keep at it, keep getting back up, keep learning to spot the obstacles and potholes before they trip me up. He forgives me, cleanses me, showers me with mercy, empowers me by his grace, and nudges me onward to be more like him. Teaches me to share with others the boundless, unconditional grace he’s shown me. Reminds me I’m his precious daughter. One day, one step at a time. Because he loves me more than I can possibly understand this side of heaven.

I’m not where I’d like to be in this becoming more like Jesus journey. Of course, it’s not like any of us will “arrive” anywhere while here on earth, because this journey takes us all the way home.  But I do find myself in awe sometimes when he invites me to stop and look back and see how far I’ve come from that sad, angry, hopeless girl.  I am not discouraged by how “long” the road has been, but rather, I am incredibly grateful for how far he’s brought me.

Yes, I still struggle with selfishness. I still fight to lay down my will and take up my cross daily. I still get easily bruised and filled with self-doubt when someone disapproves of or criticizes me, but God so faithfully pours out his love and forgiveness, and patiently keeps me focused on his promise:

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 (emphasis mine)

I love him so much.

So—have you ever prepared your 3-Minute Testimony? If you want, you can post it here, or if you have it posted on your blog or website, feel free to share the link.

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A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,

is God in his holy dwelling.

God sets the lonely in families,

he leads out the prisoners with singing

Psalm 68:5-6

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Pastor J began a Heaven series last night and he ended his message with Phil Wickham’s Heaven Song. Have you heard it?

As the song played, I looked around the sanctuary to see if I was the only one fighting tears. I wasn’t. And yet, I think people were being touched by this song in very different, very personal ways.

When Phil first sang, “I want to run on greener pastures, I want to dance on higher hills,” I thought, I don’t even dance now, why would I dance in heaven?

And then I thought, why don’t I dance now?

As the song played, tears came to my eyes as a totally new revelation stung my heart: I’ve lived nearly 50 years a prisoner of humiliation. Easily embarrassed, inhibited by insecurities, imprisoned by self-consciousness and fears. And I will probably spend the rest of my earthly life bound by these things.

But in Heaven . . .

I had never thought of heaven as a place of freedom from shame. I’ve worn shackles and chains so long I’ve learned to live with them—forgotten they’re even there. What would it be like to live without crippling fear? Emotional pain? Humiliation? Without the destructive effects of sin or shame or selfishness or any of the things that limit us here?

Will I dance in heaven?

Yeah. Thanks to the spirit of God speaking to me through a song, I can (almost) see myself dancing with abandon and joy. Without a single self-conscious thought. I’m going to dance with Jesus and we’re going to laugh!

And not at my dancing!

“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”—the things God has prepared for those who love him—these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. 1 Corinthians 2:9

Heaven will be a place of many incredible, unimaginable joys, including freedom from the shackles and chains we’ve been dragging around. Please take a moment to listen to this song. May it help spark and fan into flame whatever your heart quietly longs for.

More on Heaven:

Pastor Jeremy’s Heaven: Looking Forward To Home Series

Randy Alcorn’s Eternal Perspective’s Ministries

Alcorn’s Life Promises sample chapter

www.heaveniq.com

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Has your God-given path ever hit a detour and God was nowhere in sight?

In Braveheart, a ragtag Scottish army prepared to fight the British and take back their land. In one scene, Wallace’s men were outnumbered. Though they fought hard, they were losing ground. Just when they needed help most, the noblemen who promised to help rode away, abandoning them. Their only edge disappeared, and at the worst possible moment. Without hope, the Scots continued to fight, but outmatched and disheartened by betrayal, they faced certain defeat. Their chance of survival—much less winning the battle—had gone from slim to none. Assured of victory now, the British army moved in to finish the kill. But suddenly, the mounted nobles reappeared and surrounded the exposed enemy in a surprise flank attack, turning the battle and bringing victory for the Scots that day.

It’s tough to keep hope alive when the situation appears bleak and is only getting worse. Even Jesus’ disciples gave in to hopelessness when the plan they counted on fell apart. When Jesus was arrested, his disciples fled. Getting on the Romans’ bad side was not part of the plan. They had expected Jesus to end Roman tyranny and redeem Israel. All their hopes were in him. But when Jesus was arrested and taken away, the disciples crumbled in fear and scattered. Then, if his arrest wasn’t alarming enough, Jesus was killed. That definitely wasn’t part of the plan.

Following the crucifixion, the grieving disciples were bewildered and discouraged. Everything they hoped for was gone. The dream God birthed in their hearts had collapsed. How could this happen? How could God’s plan to redeem his people go so terribly wrong?

Who wouldn’t feel abandoned in a time like that?

Later, as a couple men walked to Emmaus, Jesus joined them. Not recognizing him, they shared their confusion and despair. It took a while to realize who he was, and that God had been walking beside them the whole time.

If only they’d had more faith, right? How could they not know God had a plan and everything was under control? How could they doubt the goodness of God’s intentions?

Years ago, as our two young sons grew, I asked God for a daughter, and eventually, my prayers were answered with a pregnancy. But with it came symptoms of pending miscarriage. For days, we prayed for intervention. Surely God would save this child. Surely this was the girl I had longed for. But after days of praying and no change in symptoms, God quietly challenged my heart:

Let her go.

What? How could letting go of the child you gave me in answer to prayer be part of the plan?

Give her to Me.

Not logical, God! Why would You give her to me and then take her back?

I wondered how Abraham reacted when God asked him to sacrifice Isaac, his only son, the son God had promised him. The son given to fulfill a God-sized dream of fathering a nation, a dream that God had placed in him. Talk about illogical . . .

After crying and arguing with God, I said, “Do you even know what you’re asking me to give up?”

I knew his answer before it came.

Yes, I do.

Abraham also did something illogical: he chose obedience to God over love for his only son, his one shot at the dream. In spite of how backwards and heartbreaking things appeared. Abraham’s future clearly lay on that altar, and yet he placed his future, his dream, his ultimate hope, in God’s hands.

I didn’t understand why God gave me my heart’s desire only to take it away, but I knew I needed to trust him whatever his reason, regardless the outcome. I agreed to “give ” my daughter to the Lord, whether that meant he took her now or later. It shredded my heart.

But in the midst of that heart-rending surrender, God’s peace fell, soothed my heart and filled me. God had his reasons and a plan for good that I didn’t see. I would trust him no matter what.

After Abraham agreed to surrender his promised son, God provided a ram as a substitute. The son Abraham was prepared to give to the Lord was given back. The same day I let go and gave my unborn child back to the Lord, the threat of miscarriage vanished. She had been returned to us, but we knew from then on that she was only ours on loan. God had a purpose for her and she belonged to him.

I don’t tell this story to say every heart’s desire we surrender to the Lord will be given back. But rather, it reminds me that God has a plan we don’t always see, a plan for our ultimate good, no matter how illogical it seems. Like the disciples, we can miss Jesus walking beside us in our pain and confusion and disappointment.

If only we could trust God enough to remember there is a bigger picture and better plan than what we see with our limited vision. We may be surprised and dismayed by a downturn of events, but God is not surprised. He’s also not worried.

Maybe I needed to surrender something I clung too tightly to. Maybe that surrender was for my heart, or maybe it was so our daughter would know she is a special gift in order to give her confidence in God’s plan for her life. Or maybe both.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Have you ever had a God-given plan or dream that God seems to have abandoned?

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