Not Without Hope

Many of you have heard the Bible verse that says we sorrow not as those who have no hope.  I would assume that almost every occasion (if not all) was in reference to someone who has passed from this life.  Sure, it is a comfort to know that we can have hope in the midst of our grief when we lose someone we love, but these past few weeks or so have once again made me look at a common verse a little differently.  I recently lost my dear uncle Dewayne Hoppert, and it has affected me in the most profound ways.  Of course the verse I mentioned keeps coming to mind, but not in just the sense of hope I have of seeing my uncle again, but more in how my uncle lived HIS life.

dewayne happyMy Uncle Dewayne (or Uncle Wayne as I called him) was the most amazing man of faith and incredible teacher of God’s word.  He gave up a very successful and lucrative career in construction to answer the call to full-time ministry.  He earned a double Bachelor’s Degree in Theology and Bible Languages, as well as Master of Bible Languages and Doctor of Bible Languages.  He was not only masterful in his study of God’s word and everything associated with it, but also in relating it to others in the most easy to understand ways.  He was an incredible Pastor and Uncle, but he was an even more amazing example of what it means to live by faith.  Uncle Wayne lived with the effects of Multiple Sclerosis for many years.  He had continual health issues, eventually ended up in a wheelchair and often needed assistance physically.  By all rights, he should have been sad, depressed, and maybe even angry at God for allowing him to suffer physically after he had dedicated his entire life to His service.  Many people would have thought, “If this is what serving God and living by faith means, then I don’t want any part of it.”  But not Dewayne.  Nope, my Uncle Wayne always had a smile on his face and encouragement for everyone else.  You could always hear him laughing from the depths of his soul or whistling as he wheeled around the church.  At his Celebration of Life service, it was one of the most talked about aspects of his life aside from his faith, and yet it was his faith that allowed him to be so joyful and hopeful.  How in the world was he able to keep that attitude no matter what stresses came into his life (physical or otherwise)?  Well, for lack of a better statement, “He sorrowed not as those who have no hope.”

Grief and loss is such a terrible sensation.  Whether we lose a loved one, our jobs, a relationship or any other thing we value, it saddens us.  It grieves us.  It breaks our hearts.  I have lost a lot of people in my life who were dear to me, and I usually go back to this verse (along with others) to comfort me that I will see them again.  Some losses have been profound, but this is the first time I have been so confounded by one.  Maybe it’s because Dewayne was my “second dad.”  Maybe it was because, for 20 years as Music Director, I had the privilege of working so closely with him as the Pastor.  Maybe it was that he was so consistently there for me as my Uncle.  Maybe it was that he was a giant of faith in my eyes.  Or maybe, just maybe it was simply because he lived every word he ever taught or preached.  Every time he said, “God is in control,” or “God’s got this,” he spoke out of the experience of living it.  He may have doubted now and then, but he never caved to that doubt.  Instead he talked about how we can live victoriously over our circumstances through our faith, hope and trust in God.  And just like him, we can do the same thing by letting our love and gratitude for God drive our mindset.

shutterstock_672165244Hope is not easy to come by in a hopeless world.  Recently our Pastor brought a message on hope, and it reminded me of what Dewayne always taught:  The word “hope” used in the verse  “…sorrow not as those who have no hope,” isn’t the kind of hope  this world has conditioned us to consider.  This is not just wishing for something.  We talk about hoping we get that promotion or raise.  We talk about hoping something goes well.  We hope our team wins the game.  We hope the weather is good.  We hope, we hope and we hope, but what we are really saying is we “wish.”  This verse, however, uses a word that does not infer wishing, but of the certainty of a positive outcome.   I’m not going to go into all the certainties of the resurrection or the certainty of our salvation as believers.  Instead, I want to talk about this idea of being certain in the positive outcome of a situation.  Romans 8:28 tells us that all things work together for our ultimate good and His glory, but when you are trudging through difficulties it’s hard to feel that way.

Having faith isn’t very hard in the good times, but when the rubber meets the road, we are so quick to complain and murmur.  We complain about our jobs, families, churches, traffic,  health, and everything else that doesn’t go the way we want.  We all have difficulties and challenges, but we don’t all go through them the same way.  The Bible is filled with verses telling us that God can be trusted and that we need to trust Him.  It tells us He operates differently and has ways that aren’t like ours because He sees the big picture.  He knows all the paths in my life and sees it as a beautiful tapestry, where all I see is the mess of threads on the other side.  He isn’t doing things to harm me, but I can only see the threads, and sometimes it feels like He must be mad at me based on my circumstances. But in Jeremiah 29:11 He declares, “For I know the plans I have for you: plans to proper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Verse after verse tells us to seek God first and He has promised He’ll take care of us in every way.  Dewayne used to say our problem with being totally committed to trusting God is that we KNOW He will take care of us, but we are afraid He won’t do it like we want Him to.  That’s so very true.  We want Him to lead us, but not if it takes us down a path that has difficulties.  We’ve twisted our perspective of God and who He is so much that it’s no wonder we struggle with our faith when things go wrong.

shutterstock_527029558I’m going to be a raw here for a moment.  I miss my Uncle Wayne more than I could possibly put into words.  At times it is an isolating sensation, even though I know others miss him too.  The sorrow over the loss of his physical presence is even more difficult than I imagined it would be.  I miss everything about having him here to see and talk with, whether it was laughing about old times, sharing music, discussing God’s word, or even just saying nothing while enjoying his company.  My heart breaks every time I realize I won’t have one more hug, smile, laugh or conversation with him.  It is a loss so profoundly difficult to process, but then in those moments it’s almost as if I hear his whistling drifting down from Heaven.  I am reminded of what he endured in this life and how he kept his faith no matter what he had to face.  I remember things he taught, but more importantly I remember what it looked like watching him actually live those very things through faith.  He wasn’t perfect, but I’ve never known anyone who was a more perfect parable of what it is like to be a sinner saved by the grace of God, living victoriously through trust and faith in Him.  I said recently that we have the perfect, sinless example of Jesus Christ on how we should live our day-to-day lives, but I was blessed beyond measure to have the most perfect example of what it looks like for an imperfect child of God to dedicate himself to learning God’s word, loving God’s word and living God’s word – even when he messed up.  I saw someone who asked for forgiveness when he sinned and understood that he didn’t have to beat himself up over it because God forgives AND forgets.  I saw “perfect imperfection” and it was incredible to witness.

My last visit with Dewayne was something I intended to keep private but now feel compelled to share with you.  I did not intend to see him in the hospital because my previous visit at church with him had been so “normal.”  I was content with it, but less than two days before he passed from this life, God tugged at my heart, and I wanted to go see him.  I couldn’t explain why, but my husband and I headed to the hospital.   He was resting and not very alert, though he would nod and react to what we were saying.  There were even a few moments of laughter and responsiveness.  Before we left, I took his hand, and told him I loved him.  He kind of mumbled that he loved me too and then said, “Hey Mike” to my husband.  On the way down to the lobby of the hospital, my husband and I were talking about being glad we came, even though it was tough.  Suddenly I realized I had left my purse up in the room.  DANG!  We had to go back.  I wasn’t thrilled, but it ended up that my forgetfulness was a total gift from God.  When I walked back in the room, he was actually quite alert.  I got my purse, but then he started talking with me.  We spoke for several minutes, mostly about God being in control.  Here he was, still proclaiming God’s goodness even in his most difficult time.  He told me three different times how proud he was of me, which felt like warm oil soothing my heart.  As we talked, he said, “God’s got this.  There may be some challenges here and there, but He’s working it out and everything is going to be ok.”  He repeated those sentiments several times throughout our conversation.  Then he said, “Study,” and I told him the great thing was that he had actually taught all of us HOW to study through the rules of interpretation.  I told him he had equipped us, and that I would absolutely study.  I said, “That’s a great gift because you can listen to someone all day long but until you study things out for yourself, you don’t own it.”  He pointed at me and said, “That’s right, you’ve got to OWN it.”  He and I had clasped hands, and he pointed at me with the hand I was holding and said, “Now you’re responsible.”  Although my cousin and I laughed and joked a little bit, in my heart (and based on his expression), I will always believe he meant we are the next generation and we need to carry on in faith.  Before I left, we told each other “I love you.”  This time there was no mumbling, but the clear beautiful words that are etched into your soul in those moments.  As I left his room I turned around and pointed at him, and he pointed right back.  Then I gave him a thumbs up, and he laughed and gave one back to me.  That was the last image I had of him.  He was laughing with me and giving me the thumbs up.

I started this post saying I have never had a loss that affected me so profoundly.  It is because the way he actually LIVED affected me so profoundly.  It is a multi-faceted kaleidoscope of memories and lessons that is too massive for me to be able to wrap my head around.  My last visit with him was filled with more than what I could have ever imagined.  His ability to keep his faith, trust and joy was so strong that it filled the room in which he was staying.  It really was no different than how it filled every other room he had been in over the course of his life.  He was different.  He had HOPE!  He knew it didn’t matter what he faced, even when he had every right to be angry or bitter, because in the end he knew he was going to overcome.  He never sorrowed in this life as those who have no hope.  He had hope even when MS began to make it difficult to do certain things.  He had hope when he became confined to a wheelchair.  He had hope when his health faltered or when he had to deal with other challenges associated with life or ministry.  He didn’t just have hope, he LIVED hope!  And so can we!

Matthew 5: 14-16 is something Dewayne spoke about quite often.  “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden, nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  So let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.”  He always said those verses don’t say we might be light, but that we ARE light; the question is whether or not we are going to shine or hide.  We have a reason to hope (the certainty of a positive outcome), and it is our turn to shine.  We don’t have to reserve hope simply for knowing we will see our loved ones again.  We can be certain every day and in every circumstance (no matter how difficult) of exactly what my Uncle Wayne last said to me:

“God’s got this.  There may be challenges along the way, but He’s working it out and it’s going to be ok.”

Blessings!

Paradise Lost?

shutterstock_732751837Have you ever walked through tough times in your life and come out on the other side, only to be plunged back into difficulties?  It’s one of the most discouraging things in life to think you have finally hit some smooth sailing and then your boat overturns again.  In my life, these times have rattled and shaken me to the core.  I have felt defeated, like the sun was never going to shine again, and have often felt like maybe God is mad at me for some reason to have allowed more trouble in my life.  Of course, there are all the cute quotes out there that remind us God is always good and is always working for our good.  Heck, I even believe that, but man, sometimes I don’t feel it.  I sit and wonder what God is up to and why there are times it feels like He yanks me out of a pleasant place only to drop me into a difficult, depressing or downright terrible place.  If I’m being totally honest, it makes me question His goodness and wonder why He doesn’t just put me (or others) in that pleasant place and let us stay there.  Sometimes it is life circumstances that just hit us, but sometimes God actually calls us out of the good places for a reason.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about a man named Lazarus.  Many of you may know of whom I am speaking, but let’s take a look at it for a moment. Lazarus was a dear friend of Jesus (and also the brother of Mary and Martha).  He became extremely ill, so Mary and Martha sent a message to Jesus telling Him, “Lord, the one you love is sick,” because they KNEW Jesus had the power to heal him.  It probably seemed like a no-brainer that Jesus would come and heal his friend, especially since the Bible tells us that Jesus not only loved Lazarus, but also loved Mary and Martha.  They were a dear family to Him, and you’d think He would immediately run to take care of it.  But He didn’t.  He told the messenger, “This sickness is not going to end in death.  No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”  Then He stayed where He was for two more days before telling the disciples “let’s go back.”  When they asked why, Jesus told them that Lazarus was asleep and He was going to wake him up.  The disciples crack me up because they told Jesus that if Lazarus was sleeping, then he would get better.  As usual, they missed what He was saying, so Jesus had to clear it up by saying, “Lazarus is dead and for your sake I’m glad I wasn’t there, so that you may believe.  Let’s go.”  That sounds a little harsh, but Jesus also knew his disciples needed some strengthening of their own faith.

When Jesus got to where Lazarus lived, He found that he had already been in the tomb for four days!  Martha hears that Jesus is coming so she takes off to meet him.  She gets to Him and says, “If you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died!” I always feel like Martha was irritated or even scolding when she said it, like “you took too long and now look what happened!”   So Jesus tells her that her brother will live again, but Martha misunderstood and thought He was talking about the resurrection.  After a brief conversation, Martha goes to get Mary.

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When Mary reached Jesus, she fell at His feet in anguish, crying “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.” Same words, different emotion behind it.  The Bible says it was her anguish that deeply moved and troubled Jesus.   He asked where they had buried Lazarus, and then He began to cry.  Yes, He cried openly.  As a result, some people thought, “See how He loved him,” but others started to criticize.  They said, “He opened the eyes of the blind, couldn’t He have kept him from dying?”  What happens next is best read in the verses themselves (John 11:38-44)…

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.  “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”  Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”  When He had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.  Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Most Christians use this account to share the incredible miracle of Lazarus being raised from the dead, and it IS miraculous.  We hear sermons about how God always shows up right on time, even when we think He is “four days late.”  We hear preachers and teachers talk about Jesus’ love for His friend and the emotion He showed in weeping openly over the situation.  Those are all great things to consider, but how often do we look at how Lazarus probably felt?  If I was Lazarus, I would have been ticked off!  Think about this for a moment:  Here’s a guy who had been really sick and was miserable.  He eventually succumbed to his illness and died, but in that moment, he was immediately in the presence of God.  He was in Paradise!  He has no more pain and doesn’t have to worry about anything anymore.  As a child of God, he is finally home.  I imagine him hanging out with Moses and Abraham, or maybe some of his loved ones who had already died.  What a great homecoming!  What a great time!  All the crap he had to endure on this earth was finally passed, and he could relax.  But then, from beyond the grave, a voice calls to him, “Lazarus, come forth.”  If I was Lazarus, I would be thinking, “Are you kidding me?  After everything I’ve been through, You are calling me BACK?!!  I’ve attained more than I could imagine and You are yanking me back into a world full of trouble, evil, pain and suffering.  Leave me here!”  We don’t know what actually went through Lazarus’ mind, but I think of how I would feel if it happened to me.

shutterstock_427738096There was certainly a bigger purpose for bringing Lazarus back than just relieving the grief of his family.  God used that event to show who He is and that He IS who He says He is.  He used it to show His power, but also his mercy and love.  Look, there was no denying the miraculous nature of what happened.  The Bible tells us that Lazarus was in the grave for four days already and that he stunk!  No one could deny he was dead – I mean “dead” dead!  There was no way to say what Jesus did was a parlor trick or anything else.   It was most definitely effective!  Not only that, but the disciples needed their faith strengthened, and Jesus knew that bringing Lazarus back would accomplish that.  But again, what about Lazarus?  What good did it do HIM to be brought back?  He lost all of the perfection of Heaven, AND he would have to go through an earthly death TWICE!  Is it just me, or does that seem mean to anyone else?  I’ve felt bad for him on that piece, because it really feels like he got the short end of that stick.  I think that’s why we don’t often talk about this piece of the story.  We don’t want to think that God would purposely bring us back from something amazing – or even perfect – just to drop us back into something where we are going to have to struggle.  We can say all day long that we’d be ok with it since it for His glory, but I really don’t think that’s how our hearts react when it happens.

So what was in it for Lazarus?  Think about it this way:

  • Lazarus got to see Heaven and knew exactly what it was like.
  • Knowing what was waiting in Heaven, and that death was not to be feared, would most likely have caused Lazarus to live with a boldness and courage he never had before or might not have had any other way.
  • He got to experience what the rest of us have to take on faith. He believed God, but he actually got see his faith realized with his own eyes, ears and hands.  That would definitely give you a new certainty most people don’t get.
  • He was free when he died and went to Heaven, but he was liberated when Jesus called him back to this world. One of the definitions of being liberated is “releasing someone from a state or situation that limits freedom of thought or behavior.”  By coming back after experiencing Heaven, Lazarus was liberated from fear and anxiety over death.  He was liberated from any doubt that God’s word was true.  He had seen it and it changed him.

So back to present day and all the troubles we endure in life.  I don’t have the big view that God does.  I know that His word tells me that “all things work together for good to them who love God and are the called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).  I know that God loves us and cares about everything we are going through.  When we cry, He cries (remember how He was moved by Mary’s grief).  He knows exactly where we are, all the time.  Jesus knew Lazarus was dead without anyone telling Him.  He told it to the disciples even though he had not received that message from anyone.  God knows what we’ve endured to get to those pleasant places in our lives – places HE has actually created.  So why call us back away from those places?  Because it can change us for the better if we let it.  It can liberate us if we look at things differently.

shutterstock_293580959When things are going well for me, I need to stop waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I’m sure Lazarus wasn’t worrying about things on earth after he died.  He was simply enjoying being in Heaven.  I need to do the same thing in life’s pleasant places.  I need to just sit back and marvel at how true God’s word is, and that He has taken care of me just as He promised He would.  I need to just relax in that place and not worry about what else might or might not happen.  I’ll be honest, that is NOT a natural or easy thing for me to do, but it would be so much better for me.  When we worry about what might be coming next, we drain all the joy and peace out of the pleasant places in life.  When we do that, we wring the joy and confidence in God out of our lives as well.  Then we wonder why we are so stressed or why God feels so far away.

In those times when we are called out of the pleasant places back into difficulties, it’s so easy to be frustrated and even angry with our Heavenly Father.  We may say, “it’s ok because I know He is working this for His glory and my ultimate good,” but it often becomes just words.  It hurts to be pulled back from the pleasant places.  It hurts when we have to endure challenges after we think we’ve conquered them already.  It is frustrating and so often causes us to immediately lose sight of everything God has done for us or how He has, in the past, brought us through trouble TO the pleasant places. We need to learn to think differently about the challenges.  Rather than seeing them as a punishment or reprimand, we need to recognize that God needs people in this world who have seen first-hand what He can and will do.  He needs people who have unshakable confidence in our eternity so that we can live liberated lives here.  He needs people living courageous lives, in spite of their circumstances, because that kind of life touches and changes the lives of others.  Through that kind of life, we have opportunities to share what we have seen and know to be true about our God who loves us so much.

One last thought about this story:  Notice that Jesus called Lazarus by name.  He didn’t just come back to the grave and say, “come out.”  Do you know why?  Because if He had done that, everyone who was dead would have come out.  He specifically called to Lazarus because God does not operate in generalities.  He operates specifically, personally, on a one-to-one basis.  He has specific plans for each of us, and each of us has a different journey to walk. In spite of our different callings, God wants ALL of us to have peace, confidence and joy.

shutterstock_82458775So the next time I hear, “Deanna, come forth,” I’m going to take a quick look around before I leave the  amazing place in which I’m standing, and consider all He did to deliver me from trials in the past. By doing that, I can walk back into this flawed world with complete confidence and security in the truth of His word.  Only then can I live a liberated life, free of worry and fear in my circumstances, because I have seen His glory and His fulfilled promises first hand.  THAT knowledge and experience in the pleasant places is what will change the way I live in every place else.

Blessings!

The Red Sea Or The Jordan River?

Sometimes you just don’t know what to do or when to do it.  Lately, it seems I keep finding myself in that position.  My grandpa used to say, “If you don’t know which way to turn, don’t turn.”  I know exactly what he meant.  I personally do not believe we should make decisions just for the sake of change.  I believe we need to have that pull from within and not be guided simply by emotion.  We need to listen to that still, small voice that whispers to us which way we should turn.  Waiting on direction is good, but this isn’t really about the act of waiting.  This is about the way in which we wait, and in the way God brings us through (or out of) very difficult and distressing situations.

Life is just hard sometimes.  We all go through stages where we don’t see a way out of situations that are draining us of our joy and peace.  It might be a relationship, a job, financial difficulties, our health or a host of other things.  No matter the source, we just can’t see a way out, and sometimes the “light at the end of the tunnel” really IS a train.  As a person of faith, I truly believe that God can make a way through any circumstance, no matter how dire it may appear.  After all, there is one account after another where He did exactly that for his people.  Sometimes they were grand deliverances and sometimes they were quiet, but what came to mind for me today were two specific stories of God parting the literal waters for His people to cross over.  Two miraculous times, and yet there is something very different about HOW He did it.  This is where I find myself these days: wondering if I am standing at the Red Sea or the Jordan River.

shutterstock_154498460Most of you have at least heard of the story in Exodus 14 of the people of Israel being trapped in front of the Red Sea with no way out.  There was impassible terrain on both sides, they were being pursued from behind by Pharaoh’s army, and there was a sea in front of them.  Death and destruction seemed certain, but God had actually led them there with a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night.  They didn’t end up there by accident; God purposely and unmistakably led them.   They were exactly where He wanted them to be, with no options of escape by their own power.  He did it because He wanted them to see HIS power and deliverance in a way they could not deny.  They were scared.  They were probably terrified when they looked up and saw the army charging toward them.  Moses told them to stand still and they would see the salvation of the Lord.  Then he reiterated that they just needed to be still because the Lord would fight for them. (Exodus 14:13-14)  God told Moses to stretch out his staff over the sea, and the waters would divide.  Moses did what he was told, and God divided the waters.  The people crossed over on TOTALLY DRY ground!  Amazing, right?!  There was no way out, but then a way miraculously opened up before them to be delivered from certain death.

None of us want to be faced with situations that seem like they will destroy us.  We don’t want to be in a place where we have to trust God to make a way.  We don’t want to have to wait and trust Him to deliver us in those times.  We just want out!  So we complain and grumble (just like the Israelites) about how God doesn’t see what we are forced to endure or, even worse, that He sees our struggles and doesn’t care!  I have experienced occasions where I had no way out, but God opened up a path for me that I couldn’t have opened for myself.  When it happens, it is thrilling!  It is a mind-blowing experience that restores and strengthens my faith.  It reminds me that nothing is impossible, and that God will always provide direction and make a way, even when it isn’t on my timetable.

Lately, I have been feeling pretty defeated in some areas of my life.  Sometimes I am discouraged, and sometimes I am downright overwhelmed and depressed.  Like many of us, I try to wait until I finally see the ocean part so I can walk through on dry ground to the other side.  I believe God will impress on my heart the direction(s) I am supposed to take, and I am convinced He will make a way.  So I stand and  watch.  The wind blows and the waves churn, and I watch.  I look behind me and see the enemies closing, but I hold to my faith and trust there will be a way.  I watch, but I have learned something very valuable along the way: Sometimes God doesn’t part the sea; He parts the river.  Let me explain…

shutterstock_303650477I mentioned there were TWO times where God parted literal waters to make a way for His people.  The first was the Red Sea, but the other was Jordan River.  The people of Israel were still journeying along the path God was directing them, carrying the Ark of the Covenant (Joshua chpt 3).  They arrived at the edge of the Jordan River, and there was no way for them to cross.  This was the time of year the river ran so high and swiftly that it would overrun its banks.  It was a rushing, flooding river!  God instructed Joshua that when the people come to the brink of the flowing waters of the Jordan, the priests who were carrying the Ark were to “stand still IN the Jordan.”  Joshua passed the message along, and they did as they were told.  As a result, the waters parted, and the people passed across on DRY GROUND! Sound familiar?  Wait until God tells you to do otherwise and He will make the way clear.  There is a glaring similarity in these two events: God’s direction was to “stand still” and He would provide a way.  On the other hand, there is also a glaring difference.  At the Red Sea, the people were to stand still and watch God open the path ahead. The sea parted before anyone stepped into it.    At the Jordan River, the men were told to stand still IN the Jordan first and then God would open the path. The waters didn’t part until AFTER they stepped in.

So back to my life (and probably some of yours).  I look around me, and most of the time I think “when and how can I get out of this?”  I am often exhausted, stressed and sometimes even afraid.  Sometimes I am angry, not only that God hasn’t delivered me from my circumstances, but that He actually LED me to a place where I can’t see any way out on my own power.  We all find ourselves in places like this where we are completely stuck.  It wears on us.  It wears on me, but then my faith kicks in, and I remember that God is always leading me.  Sometimes He leads me to wait, and sometimes He leads me to walk forward.  He IS leading.  The question is:  Am I actually following?

Many of us are “leaders” in one way or another.  We have positions in our jobs, churches and homes that require us to step up and lead.  Many people, however, do not see themselves as anything but a follower.  They have no desire to lead (in the traditional sense) or be responsible for others.  Neither of these types of people are better than the other, but for those who fall into the latter group, don’t fool yourself into thinking you don’t struggle with control issues.  The reality is that the vast majority of humanity desires (and pursues) the ability to control their own lives and their own journeys.  We may not want to lead others, but we do want to be able to direct our own paths.  Let me put it this way:  We want freedom.  We want to choose what we do and when we do it.  We don’t want to feel trapped or stuck in any area of our lives, and, too often, we view waiting as being stuck.  Waiting goes against our nature when things aren’t going well.  We are hard-wired to do something, or make something happen, and have come to view anything less as laziness.  We overestimate our intelligence (no matter how high or low your IQ may be) and set off in a direction based on a list of pros and cons.  We think through our options and make what we believe is the best decision.  In those rare occasions that we find ourselves temporarily without options, we may wait, but we do not do it gracefully.  As people of faith, we want to be delivered and for God to clear the path ahead the minute we face the ocean or the raging rivers of our lives.  We want to walk through on dry ground, but we cannot do that unless we first stand still.

shutterstock_86702158Standing still isn’t easy.  Waiting for God to open doors and paths in our lives isn’t easy, but knowing where we are supposed to stand still is an even tougher dilemma for us.  Are we (am I) standing at the edge of the sea or the raging river?  How do I know if I am waiting on God to move, or if God is waiting on me to step into the water first?   Are we at a standoff of faith?  Am I misinterpreting my role in this journey?  Questions flood our minds when we are struggling.  We question why God isn’t opening the path before us or why He doesn’t seem to be moving.  We strain our eyes for signs of where we are supposed to go or what we are supposed to do.  Do we wait or do we leap?  My friends, God is not the author of confusion! (1 Cor 14:33)  He is continually leading us in all different ways – some are obvious and some are subtle, but all are powerful if we are willing to follow.  God may drop a sign as obvious as a pillar of fire or cloud in front of you and say “follow that,” or you may have to rely simply on His words.  You may be led to a dead end and told to stand still on the banks of the ocean and wait, or you may be told to step INTO the waters first and wait for them to part.  I think most of us probably prefer waiting for the path to open before we embark upon it.  We like to see it before we walk it.  There are some, however, who actually prefer jumping into the river first and then seeing the path emerge.

I’ve been at the “Red Sea” before.  The stress of looking around and seeing no way out, while an enemy is barreling down on you to destroy you, is overwhelming.  There is an urgency and survival nature that kicks in and creates panic.  “GET ME OUT, I’M GONNA DIE!”  Standing still, feeling like a sitting duck, is terribly difficult in those moments.  We are in fight or flight mode, and being still is contrary to everything in us because time is not on our side.  That is precisely why God tells us to stand still at those moments.  We need to stop and quit freaking out over what is happening.  We need to stand still and remember God led us to this place for a reason, and if we will stand still at that point, we will see the “salvation of the Lord.”  Take a breath.  You followed unmistakable direction in good faith, and God just needs you to calm down and let Him do the heavy lifting.  Be still and let Him show you the way.

shutterstock_224938534The “Jordan River” brings a total different type of stress.  I’ve been there too.  There isn’t the same urgency of survival that happens at the “Red Sea.”  You aren’t trapped and no one is actively pursuing you to destroy you.  You are simply lacking direction.  It isn’t hard for us to stand still in these times because the status quo can be an addictive drug.  When there isn’t an urgent threat, it’s easy to just stick with what you know, but we find ourselves in situations where we are driven to fear, depression, and anxiety.  We know God has the ability to deliver us, but we can see different options or paths for that to happen.  As a result, we become paralyzed because we don’t want to give up what we have if God hasn’t shown us the path yet.  We don’t make the leap because we fear we will be worse off than we are now.  “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t,” right?  So we give up joy, peace and contentment for the sake of stability and safety.  The stress of the Jordan doesn’t come from having to calm yourself to be still in the face of a charging enemy; it comes from having to get the courage to let go of safety and stability FIRST and then wait for God to reveal the path.  Let me add one other thought here.  God told them to step into the raging flood waters and THEN to stand still.  He didn’t tell them to step in and keep walking.  Our tendency at the Jordan is to say, “I know God wants me to step into the river and He will show me the way.”  What we forget is the very next step after leaving the safety of dry land, is to stand still in the unknown.  The fear and anxiety that comes with the Jordan comes from letting go of a sure thing and seemingly risking everything.  It comes in doing making the leap and then having to calm yourself as the flood waters rush around you.  It comes in trying to stand while the force of your circumstances are trying to pull you under.  Instead of asking God “Why did you bring me here to be destroyed,” we ask ourselves, “What was I thinking?!”  We start questioning if we did the right thing, because destruction seems certain as a result of our decision.  We experience the elation of courage, only to be hit with the panic of survival.  We step in, but when the way isn’t immediately made clear, we step back out and wonder why we still don’t see a path.  That isn’t God’s fault; it’s ours.

So the question remains – Am I, or are we, at the Red Sea or the Jordan River.  To answer that question, you need to look at where you’ve been.

  • Have you been following God’s direction with a certainty in your heart that it is Him, only to find yourself in a place where it seems there is no way out? Are you frantic and worried?  If so, take a breath.  Remind God of His promises to take care of you (Deut 31:6; Matt 6:26-34).  Calm yourself and stand still and watch what God is about to do.  You will be walking on dry ground soon,  and the circumstances that were chasing you down to destroy you will be drowned in the sea behind you.
  • On the other hand, have you been following God as he leads you to where He wants you to be, only to find yourself faced with a barrier or circumstance that confuses you? Is there something in your way that is causing you to look at other options, thinking you must have misinterpreted God’s leading up to this point?  Are you stressed or anxious, but leaning instead on safety and stability, settling for less than what you know God has for you?  If so, take heart!  Remind yourself that God is not the author of confusion, and He is simply waiting for you to move forward and step into the water with confidence – even without knowing for sure the outcome at that point.  Just because it’s scary doesn’t mean it isn’t where you are supposed to be.  The waters may be pulling at you once you step in but stand still and watch what God is about to do.  (2 Cor 4:8-9 – 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed)  You, too, will soon be walking on dry ground, safely and with clear direction.

shutterstock_270894053No matter where you find yourself today, standing at the Red Sea or the Jordan, don’t panic.  God is with you, leading you forward.   He isn’t holding His will behind His back and making you play a game to try and figure it out.  If you truly want direction, and are in fellowship with your Father, then He will reveal it to you.  You may still be asking, “But how do I know?”  Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path.”   Notice the little word in the middle – “all.  That little word leaves no room for creating your own directions or forging your own path.  Are you the master of your destiny?  Yes, absolutely.  You have complete freedom of choice to live your life how you choose.  You can go it alone, bumping into walls, frustrated and always seeking direction, or you can acknowledge God in ALL your ways and He will provide the direction for which you are seeking.  If you want to know which way to go, then get humble, surrender your will to His in every area, and then listen to that still, small voice within.  He has promised He will lead us; we simply need to be willing to stand still first, and then follow where He leads.

Blessings!

Beauty And The “Christian” Beast

Yes, I did it.  I went and saw Beauty and the Beast last night.  Nope, I’m not going to hell because of it.  Now that we have THAT out of the way, I felt compelled to share some things in light of all the recent controversy.  I realize my thoughts may not be echoed by “Christians” who have taken a stand against this movie and have flooded social media with their calls of boycott, but hopefully it gives most of the people who read this an opportunity to step back and think for a few minutes.

shutterstock_576743095Beauty and the Beast is an iconic Disney movie.  It’s a classic and has been loved by so many people around the world.  Like most things “Disney,” it is very family-friendly.  When information started coming out about quotes the openly gay director of the new film had made regarding Christianity/religion, and how he was thrilled to have a “delicious” exploration of a characters sexuality, the response was swift from Christians everywhere.  It wasn’t just swift, it was venomous.  Arguments broke out, there was weeping and gnashing of teeth over the downfall of such a family-friendly company who was “catering to the LGBTQ community.”  I get it.  People were upset; but they were upset at something they had yet to see with their own eyes.  Man, this happens with us “Christians” all the time anymore.  I am not advocating we, as people of faith, give up our principles that are founded in God’s word.  I’m just asking us to take a good look at the hypocrisy in which we far too often live our lives.

I admit, when I read quotes from the director of the movie, I was disappointed and even angry.  I had already bought my tickets and had really been looking forward to seeing it.  I momentarily contemplated whether or not to go and made the decision to go ahead and see it for myself.  I am not one for succumbing to “hype” nor do I believe Disney was “catering to a particular community.”  Let me just say this about that last thought: would these same people say that Disney was catering to the African-American community when they did Princess and the Frog, or that they were catering to the Asian community when they did Mulan?  Of course not.  But some would say this is different because this situation involves religion and faith.  Disney has never shied away from embracing people of faith.  As a matter of fact, the first weekend of December every year, Disneyland does a beautiful, faith-filled presentation of the Christmas story.  There is a candlelight parade of choirs singing traditional CHRISTIAN hymns of the season.  The parade ends on Main Street at the train station, where the choir assembles as a guest celebrity then begins to read the Christmas story directly from scripture.  It is not paraphrased, but read directly from the Bible.  The only pauses come here and there for the choir to perform another song that fits that part of the story.  My sister and I just happened to be in the park years ago on the day it occurred, and it is an extremely popular event that is packed with people.  Even though Disney is a family-friendly company, we were actually quite shocked by it.  It was refreshing to see a company not only embrace, but present an event for Christmas that was drenched in songs of faith and verses from scripture.  It was expressly “Christian,” and they make no apologies for it.  So when I heard the accusation that Disney is somehow catering to the LGBTQ community in this film or trying to purposely offend Christians, it doesn’t square with other things I know about them.  Disney is inclusive; they always have been.  We, as a Christian community, seem to really value and appreciate that until they are inclusive of those values with which we disagree.

I entered the theater last night wondering where the offensive behavior was going to present itself.  When was this “openly gay” character going to go parading across the screen in full regalia, wearing his banner of “delicious sexuality?”  Interestingly, it wasn’t there.  There were no overt references, no kisses, no shoving of opinions down my throat. shutterstock_148468829 What I saw was a beautifully made movie.  I will not spoil the “big, gay moment” at the end,  as some have called it, but will say it is the furthest thing from that assessment.  Is there a moment?  Yes.  It is offensive?  No.  Could it as easily have been interpreted as a funny moment rather than something else?  Yes.  Shoot, Fried Green Tomatoes had more moments that could have been interpreted one way or another but you didn’t have some outrageous boycott of that movie.  My point is, the few comments of a director who does not value our faith is what blew this up.  As usual, we are picking and choosing when to be outraged and when we don’t think twice about it.

If people want to protest, boycott or trash this movie or Disney, they certainly have the right to do so, but you better be sure to protest and boycott every other company or product that goes against your values or promotes things with which you don’t agree.  Do any of you drink Starbucks, own an Apple product, eat Barilla pasta or have eaten Frito-Lay chips while drinking a Pepsi Co. product?  Then you need to put them down right now!  Drop the Doritos and hit your knees!  (5 Companies going above and beyond for the LGBTQ community)  By the way, I hope none of you put Chevron gas in your cars either.  How many of you/us watch TV shows that portray premarital sex?  Do you watch shows that portray lying, cheating or stealing?  Do you watch or read things that portray gossiping, overeating or getting drunk?  Let’s just get real here.  Do you?  I’ll even go further.  How many of us actually engage in those behaviors ourselves?  Yeah, we don’t want to answer those questions.  We’d rather pick a “sin” we don’t engage in and blast everyone about how terrible they are for engaging in it or supporting it.  Then we turn around and lie, cheat or gossip about others.  Better yet, we refuse to forgive someone or love others as Christ loved us.  After all, loving others is a commandment directly from God (Matt 22:36-39).   No wonder people in this world look at us and say they want nothing to do with us or our God.  The truth is, we don’t reflect Him.  They can’t see Him in us because we are too busy being modern day Pharisees.  We show our righteous indignation over some things, but then not over others. We choose certain footprints of Christ in which we will walk, but refuse to walk the PATH He walked.  We are inconsistent, and believe me, the world sees it completely!

Should we stand for our beliefs and values?  Absolutely!  But I guess it’s time we look closely at those beliefs and values, because what we say we believe and what we ACTULLY act upon are usually two very different things.  We teach that God is no respecter of persons but then turn around and treat people differently based on certain criteria.  We teach that God loves everyone and so should we, but turn our noses up at those who we think don’t deserve our love or forgiveness.  We teach that lying is wrong, but we lie.  We teach that anything in excess is a sin but we overindulge in food, drink, exercise, watching TV, working, and the list goes on.  We teach obeying the laws of our land, but then exceed the speed limit.  We teach abortion is a sin but engage in premarital sex.  We teach the truth but so often refuse to LIVE it, and then wonder why churches and people of faith are appearing more and more irrelevant.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this one out!

shutterstock_481583263Here’s the bottom line:  If we are going to call ourselves “Christians,” then we need to act like Christ.  You remember Him, right?  He was the one eating with the criminals and loving the unlovable.  He was the one reaching out to the sinners engaged in all kinds of reprehensible behaviors and offering them forgiveness, love and hope.  He was the one condemning the religious people of the day who went around acting holy for the sake of being seen.  Remember Him?  He shattered religion.  He lived in perfect accordance with His word and spent more time with the “sinners” than the “saints.”  If He was walking the earth today, Christianity – the religion with Him at the center, would reject Him, shame Him, destroy Him on social media, and then do everything they could to silence Him.  We are the Pharisees and we need to realize that following Jesus means letting go of our pride and spiritual arrogance and live from a place of love and compassion.  And we need to live it consistently.  Jesus called the Pharisees a “generation of vipers.”  God help us to not reach the point where He says the same of us.  We are dangerously close to being those same snakes that stood in judgment of the sins of others instead of their own.

It’s time to take the beam out of our eyes before we go hunting for splinters.

Blessings.

Why Can’t You Let It Go?

shutterstock_251283712There is a very familiar song from a very popular movie that continually tells us to “let it go.”  Not a bad thought considering how many things in life seem to take us down in one way or another.   We are hit continually with circumstances beyond our control – jobs, family issues, health issues, even the political climate – all of it can just wear us down to the point we truly feel like we cannot get up one more time.  After all, why get up when life is just going to knock you back down again?  That seems like a very valid question, doesn’t it?  Of course it does, until you remember something all people of faith forget:  Our circumstances may be out of our our control, but they are never out of God’s.

I have written a lot about the struggle with trying to control everything in our lives, to mitigate the effects of the world around us.  We save to avoid financial collapse.  We work out and eat right to avoid illness and disease.  We go into professions that we don’t want to be in because they provide stability.  We do all kinds of things to keep from being at the mercy of the elements.  The truth is we can do everything perfectly and think we are prepared for (and protected from) almost anything, but we aren’t.  I’m not saying it doesn’t help, but saving won’t prevent a financial disaster if the conditions are right.  Eating right and exercising won’t keep you from getting sick.  There are people every day who are examples of perfect health who suddenly drop dead from a heart attack, or find out they have cancer or some other dreaded disease.  We don’t want to consider it, but it seems we really are at the mercy of the elements.  Or are we?  How do we walk through this life, bombarded with situations that shake us to our core or bring us to our knees?  How do we keep moving when things fall apart?  How do we press on, when we’ve been betrayed or let down by someone we love?  How do we lift our heads when we lose jobs, homes, or even families?  How do we actually let it go?

We tend to hold on to things; it is in our nature.  We even hold onto things that are harmful for/to us.  How many people remain in terrible relationships because they can’t let go?  How many jobs do we stay in because we can’t let go?  How many places do we live in because we can’t let go? We like the familiar, even when it’s bad.  We like to be in control, or have the illusion of control.  Sometimes the illusion of control is more powerful than actually being in control.  We mix up those two things often – actual control vs the illusion of control.  We rationalize our hoarding of things or relationships and then wonder why we feel so bogged down, stressed out or depressed.  shutterstock_218214685God never meant for us to hoard things in this world.  He never wanted us to put down roots here when our forever home is actually with Him.  “Yeah, yeah, but that’s just a nebulous concept when I’m living in the NOW.”  We really struggle with letting go of anything!  The things we consider “good” in life (money, secure jobs, good relationships, homes and possessions, etc.) are hard to let go of because we think if we “let it go” that means we lose it.  The things we consider “bad” (money, secure jobs, bad relationships, possessions we’ve acquired, etc.) are hard to let go of because they are familiar and serve a purpose for us – even if that purpose is less than desirable.  What we have is what we know, and we don’t like to consider the unknown.  We don’t want to consider that letting go means everything might change.  Letting go of the “good” means we lose and letting go of the “bad” means everything will be unfamiliar.  After all, either way, what if we let it go and then don’t make it?  What if we don’t survive? What if, what if, what if?

What if?  Therein lies the problem.  We don’t know the “what ifs,” but as children of God we know that HE does.  He knows what is around the corner and tells us over and over to trust Him even though His ways are not our ways.  As people of faith, we talk a good talk but our “what ifs” paralyze us and keep us from letting go.  We can’t let it go because we don’t trust the One in whom we claim to place our trust.  The truth is that it is impossible to let go without having trust in something higher than ourselves.  That is true not just for people of faith, but for everyone.  We tend to make our decisions from a place of emotion rather than a place of reason, but God wants us to look at what He has said/promised to us and then trust Him to keep His word.  Trust is not an emotion; it is a decision.  We can trust and let things go, even if we are fearful or apprehensive.  We can have faith even though our knees are shaking.  We can decide to let go and trust, even when we may feel like it’s crazy to do so.  Trust (or faith) and fear are not mutually exclusive.  We can let go and be afraid.  We can let go and be sad.  We can let go and feel all kinds of things, but we cannot let go without trust.  No one can – people of faith or not.

shutterstock_299434214Life is difficult.  We were never promised it would be easy, but it can be rich and fulfilling if we can learn to let things go.  When we learn to let go, we also learn to embrace.  Hurts that we have endured through various means or people can cripple us forever if we let them.  People who have let us down, angered us, treated us poorly or unfairly, or rejected us completely don’t have to diminish us.  Situations that have (or are) less than perfect don’t have to destroy us.  We don’t have to hold onto our grudges or hurts.  We don’t even have to hold on to our expectations that have gone unfulfilled.  We probably need to readjust those expectations anyway.  We, especially as people of faith, have a problem.  We hold ourselves in such high regard that we feel like we have a right to hold onto our anger and hurt.  We think so highly of ourselves that we feel entitled to NOT let things go.  We think it is our right to make sure everything is eventually evened out in our world and that we are treated fairly, and we spend a lot of our time, energy and resources to ensure it happens.  I have news for you: making things “fair” is not your responsibility.  Do you know what IS your responsibility?  Loving God, loving each other and letting things go.

The key to being able to let go is in rationally, reasonably and logically taking God at His word, in spite of our emotions or our desire for control.  It isn’t an easy thing to do, and I struggle with it continually, but it doesn’t change the truth of it.  Emotions are powerful things that can drive us into all kinds of states.  They are volatile and yet they are a very real part of who we are and how God created us to be.  Every emotion we experience, God himself has experienced.  Every betrayal and hurt, every anger and fear, He has experienced them all.  Yes, in the fleshly manifestation as Jesus Christ, He had to deal with every emotion we have dealt with – or ever will.  He was betrayed by those He trusted, his closest friends.  He wept with sadness and grief over losses during His earthly life.  He was terrified in the garden of Gethsemane as He looked at what He was going to have to endure.  But you know what?  He let it go.  He let all of it go and died for us anyway, in spite of how He was treated or how we would dismiss Him today.  He loved us even though He knew we would often reject, disobey and even hate Him.  How was He able to endure such emotion and still press on?  Because He knew the truth and rested in it.  He knew He had a higher purpose and the end result was worth it all, regardless of how he felt emotionally.  When we are able to live from a place of knowing the truth and being willing to walk in it, regardless of how we feel, THAT is when we are able to finally trust and let go.

So I guess I will leave you with what I desire for myself as well as all of you.  I pray we all can step back and realize just what we give up when we are afraid to lose what we already have.   BlessingStop trying to cling to the familiar or to your desire to see that others get what you think they deserve.  Quit holding onto your wounds as badges of honor and be willing to let the wounds in your heart heal.   Let it go.  Open your heart and let go of the pain from those who didn’t love you and embrace the One who does.  And when the circumstances in your life start overwhelming you, or you feel that need for revenge start to rise within you, let it go.  It isn’t worth it.  We were never meant to carry around the weight of the world with us.  We can do exactly what God’s word says in 1 Peter 5:7 – “Cast your cares on Him because He cares for you.”  When we do that, we can still see the sun, no matter how the storms may rage around us.  We can say, with great assurance, “Here I stand in the light of day.  Let the storm rage on, the cold never bothered me anyway.”

Blessings!

Liquid Courage

shutterstock_101290495For years, California has been in a historic drought.  This week we have been hit with torrential rains which have caused all kinds of issues, including flash floods in many areas.  Weather events can bring all kinds of challenges and even destruction, but that’s not the point of this particular post.  Instead, I want to talk about an idea I call “spiritual irrigation.”

There is a great difference between something being watered by irrigation or by rain.  Deuteronomy 11:10-11 makes a contrast between the Promised Land as being one that “drinks water of the rain of Heaven,” whereas the land of Egypt being a land that is “watered with your foot.”  In other words, Egypt required irrigation, and the irrigation was achieved by fetching water and dispersing it, and partly by digging trenches with the foot.  Mechanisms were also used that were powered by men sitting on the side of the machine using their feet to create the power.  It was a predecessor to our modern (and amazing) irrigation processes today.

So why does it matter, and where in the heck am I going with this?  Humankind has, from the beginning of time, searched for ways to rely more on themselves than on God.  That is a reality none of us want to consider, but it is true nonetheless.  We, as human beings, do not like the idea of having to trust God for our needs because we think He may not supply them on our timetable – and often He doesn’t.  We like security, safety and predictability.  Boy how we like predictability.  We want to have enough money in the bank so that we can take care of ourselves in the way WE want to be taken care of.   We won’t admit it openly but we, as people of faith, are afraid God is going to let us down.  Maybe it comes from the fact that we have been let down by others in life.  It’s hard to find someone who is true to their word, always and in every circumstance.  It is hard to trust someone implicitly and yet we are told over and over that God will “never leave us nor forsake us.”  We are told in His word that He will supply all our needs.  So why do we spend so much of our time trying to take care of ourselves?  Because we don’t like the rain, we like irrigation.

shutterstock_93784720Irrigation allows us to be more in control of our destiny.  We can plant crops where they wouldn’t normally thrive because we have found ways to transport water from one location to another in ways it wouldn’t occur naturally.  Irrigation certainly requires less reliance on God to provide the rain we need – or think we need.  We have gotten so used to doing things our way that we forget the source of our blessings.  We start thinking we are truly in control of something as basic as water itself.   Oh sure, we pray for God to bless us with rain but if we get too much, we start to complain.  After all, we’ve been watering our crops and now that it’s raining, there’s too much water!  We wring our hands and wonder what we are going to do.   We’ve all seen buildings (or cities) built in areas where there is little doubt they will be flooded or even washed away if there is a lot of rain.  We actually criticize people in these areas and say, “well what did they expect?  They built in the middle of a flood zone.”  But why?  Because the rains don’t always come and after a while, no one actually believes they will.

So today it struck me, this thought of spiritual irrigation.  As people of faith, we often build our lives on what we think is best.  We make our plans and if they don’t really fit with where God may be leading us, then we find ways to make it work.  We “irrigate.”  I’ve heard my own uncle speak of his call to the ministry and how he really didn’t want to be a pastor.  So instead of doing what God was leading him to do, he tried other ways to get the conviction to stop.  He taught Sunday School classes.  He led the choir.  He got involved, but in his heart, he could not escape his calling.   Most of us do the same thing.  We know what God wants us to do but we would rather do it OUR way than His.  It’s funny to think the Bible tells us “His ways are not our ways,” and yet we still can’t seem to get it!  God is rain and we keep trying to live by irrigation.  We not only want to create the path ahead, we want to control the flow of the water.  We live this way and then when God does exactly what He has promised to do, we often complain that it “isn’t the right time” or “it’s too much,” so we wring our hands and start looking for ways to minimize the effects.  We feel God leading us to something else and we find all kinds of reasons not to go.  Or we feel God calling us to stay right where we are and we find all kinds of reasons to still leave because staying isn’t what WE want.  Believe me, God is not only capable of bringing the rains, but taking care of the drainage when it’s necessary as well.  He knows how to control the flow!

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Waiting on the rain isn’t easy.  It is often terrifying.  To be honest, faith itself is terrifying!  Waiting for God to bring what we need, WHEN we need it takes a strength I sadly admit I do not often possess.  It’s hard not to start irrigating when the rains don’t come.  The more we rely on ourselves and our plans/abilities to make things work, the greater the chance we may build where we shouldn’t.  The more we irrigate spiritually, the less we appreciate the rain.  Just like the farmer who relies solely on irrigation, rain becomes a nuisance.  We want it to rain (or snow) somewhere else so that we can store up the water and then use it as we see fit.  Yes, we want the rain, but not necessarily directly.  Yes, we want God to work in our lives, but not directly.  We want Him to provide our needs in ways that allow us to control the flow.  Whatever happened to the truth of the Doxology?  “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

shutterstock_73938031I am tired of being a “spiritual irrigator,” and my definition of a drought is probably much different than God’s.  I want to live with a faith that follows God’s leading and trusts Him to provide the rain.  When we shed our need for control and put on that cloak of trust, we get to experience the most amazing moments.  We get to dance in the rain because we know from where it came.  We start seeing God’s providence instead of looking at Him as if His ways are interrupting our great plans.  From our perspective, it is better to plan and execute rather than follow and trust.  But from God’s perspective, it is far better to simply trust Him for everything we need and then dance in the rain when it falls.

Blessings!

When a Storm Rolls In

This is a bit of an unusual (and lengthy) blog post, but one I must share.  I write a lot about faith and the fact it is never easy because it goes against the grain of our human reasoning and emotions.  I’ve also said many times that although it is challenging to walk by faith, it is also liberating because it frees us from having to always know the “whys” of circumstances in our lives.  All of these characteristics of faith are true but when a storm rolls in, our faith can be shaken now and then by the raging winds.  It is also when a storm rolls in that we see amazing examples of faith displayed.  When WE exemplify true faith, we don’t always notice it because we are in the process of walking through something.  But when others exemplify it, that’s something different.  It is something glaring and, dare I say, glowing.  It not only encourages us; it strengthens us.

Some of you have been aware of the journey of my dear friend Sandy and her fight with cancer since 2012.  She is the epitome of what it means to be a fighter.  She’s endured continual treatments and also several surgeries where they’ve taken organs (and pieces of other organs) in an attempt to remove all the tumors.  They’ve gotten close a couple of times, but still it returns.  As of this writing, things are not looking good for her, and the doctors are running out of treatment options.  Is this a terrifying thing to consider?  In our humanity, the answer is “yes,” but in our faith, we embrace life and every moment we have – whether it is only for a short while or years to come.  God knows what He is doing, even when we don’t understand.  He knows the “storm,” and He is the Master of the wind.

So back to Sandy and her family.  Through all of this ordeal, no matter how dire or frightening the circumstances have been at different times, they’ve exemplified a faith that lives!  To read the many CaringBridge posts is to read something that sounds like the great heroes of faith that are mentioned in the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews chapter 11.  She and her husband Scott do not write what they think they are supposed to say or feel about things; they write exactly what they believe about things.  It has been, and still is, amazing to me.  Walking this journey with them as friends, singing partners (we used to sing in a quartet) and brothers/sisters in Christ, has been a strength, comfort and encouragement to me and many others.  It has deepened my own faith and been a continual perspective changer as I, and others, go through our own lives.  What amazes me is that in Scott’s post last night, he apologized for continually asking others to help bear their burdens when he/they have been “oblivious” to everyone else’s respective struggles.  What?!  He mentioned that God tells us to “bear each other’s burdens,” and that he/they have fallen short in doing so.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  What Scott failed to realize last night is that through the sharing of their journey (good, bad or ugly), they have continually helped the rest of us through our own struggles.  They have born our burdens even without knowing the circumstances.  That is the beauty of walking by faith.  It allows others to see God at work in the lives of His children – IN SPITE OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES!

Today is a stormy kind of day, and this is a stormy period for Sandy, Scott, their four girls, and the rest of us that love them.  They are in need of your prayers and positive thoughts today as Sandy is set to endure yet another risky procedure.  We pray for God’s will in this and everything else she is facing, though we hope His will coincides with our own “wants.”  I simply ask you to take a moment and pray with us, and to continue doing so whenever this family comes to mind.  God IS faithful!  He is faithful even we aren’t.  He has promised to “never leave us nor forsake us,” no matter how dark it may look when a storm rolls in.

Blessings!

P.S. Though it is lengthy, I am pasting Scott’s post from last night below, but if you want to read an amazing story of real faith, go follow Sandy’s journey on CaringBridge.

https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/sandylbrooks

“By Scott Brooks – 12 hours ago

Well, it has been an interesting (and exhausting) few days. But first, let me update you on the last week and a half. Sandy was released from UCSF Parnassus Hospital (late) on Tuesday evening, 4/26. Shortly after we arrived home, the supplies for her home I.V. infusion of antibiotics arrived. We had been trained while still at the hospital, how to connect and disconnect the I.V. lines to the port she has had since 2012. A nurse comes to the house once a week to remove the needle and reinsert a new one, but we can handle the changing of the medications.

So for the last week and a half, twice a day on 12 hour intervals, Sandy has been going through the routine. It takes about 2 1/2 hours in the morning because there are two medications, and about 1 1/2 hours in the evening when there is only one. She is feeling generally “better,” but is still having an occasional low-grade fever. Her nausea has subsided, but we’re really not sure if that was a side effect of the oral chemotherapy she was on last month, or a product of the infection affecting her system. We finally have a name for the condition her doctors have been attacking for the last few weeks: Empyema with Thoracic Fistula. But it’s basically an abscess that is trying to make its way to the surface of her skin . . . which, unfortunately, it is now very close to doing. And that’s bad, it seems.

We had a follow-up appointment yesterday with the infectious disease doctor who saw Sandy while she was in the hospital a couple of weeks ago. Of course, she asked about the progress of the condition. My assessment was that the coloring was less “angry” than when she was in the hospital, and less widespread, but that the actual protrusion of the swelling was, in fact, worse. When the doctor examined Sandy, she looked at me with this stunned expression and said, “Wow, I would agree with your assessment 100%.” Score one for the layman. She was obviously concerned by what she observed and took a photo on her camera, to share with the other doctors, particularly the surgical staff, who are on the team treating Sandy. She expressed the opinion that while the I.V. antibiotics are a good thing, and the right thing to do right now, they would never be a “cure” for Sandy’s infection. As a consequence, she wanted to consult with the others to determine a course for Sandy’s immediate treatment.

Our appointment was at 9:30. During the appointment, she said she would email Sandy’s Surgical Oncologist. We went downstairs to submit some lab work, and then walked about 3 blocks away to grab a bite at a little hole in the wall called the Wooly Pig Cafe. (Great Shanghai BBQ Pork Sandwich!) We had no more than ordered and sat down until my phone rang. I walked outside onto the sidewalk to take it so as not to disturb the other diners. It was the Surgical Oncologist’s office. They wanted to see Sandy today in her surgeon’s office at 1:00. I asked if we couldn’t just work it in yesterday since we were already in San Francisco, rather than having to make another trip, but the Office Coordinator said the surgeon was out of town at a conference, so it would not be possible until today. The time was 11:17 a.m.

I want you to take that in for a moment. In a process which probably took less than an hour, Sandy’s Infectious Disease doctor communicated with her surgeon (who is such a “big deal” at UCSF that he only holds clinic on Wednesday, and Sandy only saw him, personally, twice in the 10 days of her most recent hospitalization), who was out of town at a conference, who took the time out of what he was doing to look over her message, contacted his office, and fit Sandy in to his first-day-back schedule the next day, and his Office Coordinator then contacted us to set up the appointment. That’s impressive! It’s also sobering.

Meanwhile, back at the appointment with the Infectious Disease doctor . . . Sandy’s most recent blood work showed her, again, to be anemic. It was encouraging that her white counts were still good, but the reds just were not where they needed to be. She suggested that Sandy have a discussion with her local oncologist in Pleasanton, about the possibility of getting another transfusion. So while Sandy was downstairs doing the lab work I mentioned earlier, I was calling her oncologist to leave a message that we needed to have that discussion. 

I had no more than walked back into the Wooly Pig and sat down until my phone rang again. This time it was Sandy’s oncologist’s office in Pleasanton. Her scheduler met my “Hello?” with, “This is ________ from __________ __________ ____________ ________________. You guys need to get over to the hospital as quick as you can because they’ll need to get Sandy’s blood for a ‘type and cross,’ and her transfusion is set up for 2:00.” After I gathered my thoughts for a second, I realized what had happened. With no discussion at all, based on the earlier lab reports, Sandy’s oncologist had ordered the transfusion and her scheduler had set up everything with the hospital . . . in Pleasanton. We were in San Francisco. I told her the situation and that there was no way we could be there by then. She said that if we missed this window, they would not be able to fit Sandy in for days. I assured her that we would do the best we could, but that it would be at least 1:00 to 1:30 before we could get back to Pleasanton. She told me to just do the best we could and hope they could still get Sandy in when we got there.

We quickly finished our lunch and after an administrative snafu with the UCSF Campus Parking Police that cost us fully 45 minutes (and shall not be further discussed here), we were on our way back to Pleasanton. Traffic was not horrible, but not great, so we arrived at the hospital in Pleasanton a little before 2:00. When we arrived at the Outpatient Lab Admitting office, where we had gone the last time Sandy had a transfusion, they looked a little confused. But when we mentioned a few of the details, they sort of snapped to attention and shredded all the red tape. Sandy was in the Pre-Op ward in a bed by 2:07.

Then began the long and tedious process of waiting. Wait for the lab work to be done. Wait for the blood to come. And then the big wait: the transfusion itself. They gave Sandy two units just as the last time. The Pre-Op ward closed down at 7:30, so they had to move Sandy to the Post-Op ward to finish up. It was about 9:30 p.m. when we left there and we were home before 10:00. We had left our house at 7:00 yesterday morning. We had to be back to San Francisco today for a 1:00 appointment with the surgeon, but Chloe was coming in to Oakland International for a surprise (to Sandy) Mother’s day visit at 8:45 a.m., so we left the house again this morning at 7:30.

The speed and ease with which her appointment with the surgeon had been scheduled, led me to suspect the possibility that she could be admitted today after he examined her. I didn’t have much idea what might be his course of action, but the speed and ease with which those cogs turned, told me that Sandy had his attention. And when you’re talking about a surgeon, that never speaks well of the patient’s condition. Accordingly, we came prepared for a hospital stay. 

After the usual array of interrogatives from first, a medical student, then a collaborating doctor, and then finally her surgeon, we had a course of action a little after 2:00 this afternoon. We were to go downstairs where Sandy would be receiving a CT Scan, after which we would return to the 5th floor where Sandy would be admitted in anticipation of draining the abscess. If you think this sounds somewhat like a rerun of a few weeks ago, you’re not alone. There are, however, some very significant differences this time.

Sandy’s immune system has significantly recovered, allowing for the procedure without the great concern for catastrophe that surrounded the doctors’ deliberations a few weeks ago. The abscess itself has now progressed — largely because Sandy’s immune system has recovered — to the point that something now must be done in order to avoid a very nasty skin rupture and the complications which could go with that. There is still the risk of “seeding” the cancer elsewhere in her body, but the reality is that the present infection just takes a higher priority than that risk.

So now, to the procedure itself . . . Tomorrow morning, they will install a drain to relieve the pressure in the pocket of infection that has formed. This will be done by an Interventional Radiologist, so it will be under local anesthesia rather than general. It is a pretty minor procedure, really, so there is very little cause for concern as to the procedure itself. They will want to keep Sandy for at least 24 hours to observe her to be sure that all the potential complications are ruled out. Because of the location of the abscess, there are a variety of serious complications that could already exist and would be revealed by relieving the pressure in the abscess. These are not “likely,” but “possible.” It is possible that the abscess has eroded into her stomach, so that draining the abscess would open up a channel into her stomach — obviously, not a good thing. It is possible that the abscess could have perforated her diaphragm so that opening it up might result in a collapsed lung — also not a good thing. These are the sort of things that need to be discovered in a controlled environment, so they’ll keep her until they’re satisfied that none of the potential crises are likely to present themselves. But again, as of right now, that looks like sometime Sunday. We’ll certainly keep you informed of her progress.

For the moment, Sandy is as comfortable as she can be. She is not in any more pain than usual. She has better energy today than she did yesterday, presumably because of the transfusion last night. And her spirits are good. She is a fighter and is up for whatever her doctors feel is appropriate.

I would be remiss, however, if I did not tell you candidly that some of the best doctors in the country are still scratching their heads about what to do once the infection has resolved. Her surgeon does feel that the infection is a result of cancerous activity, so that will still remain after the infection is gone. In his words, “It’s in a challenging area,” involving a lot of internal organs as well as the chest wall itself. It’s complicated. And when a top-notch surgeon says it’s complicated, it’s a sobering thing.

I would be even more remiss if I did not remind you of what so many of us already know and believe. None of us are going to survive this life. Sandy knows that. I know that. And you all know that. It may be cancer, or infection, or a car wreck, or a volcanic eruption, or a massive coronary that takes our life, but one day we all will die unless Jesus returns for us first. For a child of God, this is a conflicting truth because we have an innate instinct to cling to life, but a confident hope that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. 

For the moment, it may appear that the cancer is winning and that Sandy and her physicians are losing. But we know the Great Physician, who is able if He so chooses to heal Sandy and restore her to full health. That same Physician has the power and ability to superintend the thoughts and actions of her earthly physicians to her best advantage, and we are convinced that He has positioned us where we are because it is where Sandy may receive exactly what she needs. In any case, Sandy has a future . . . an eternal future. And until her more immediate future becomes clear, we will strive to be as Job and adopt the attitude, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.”

I have often asked you all to pray for us and I know that you have done so, as many of you have testified. But now I want you to know that I pray for you, that your faith might stand, and that the strength of the Lord might sustain you in the uncertainties of not only our circumstances, but in those of your own — of which we have been so selfishly oblivious. Please forgive us. We have so often unburdened ourselves at your expense, asking you to bear our load, but never taking yours upon us as the Bible instructs us to bear one another’s burdens. Jesus has used you to strengthen and encourage us. We pray that, in His wisdom, He has supplied your need as well, in spite of our failure to be for you what you have been for us. He is a great God, and a loving Father.
We will update you as soon as there is more to know. In the meantime, trust that we are in God’s hands, that He is good, and that He is intensely invested in the good of His children. There is . . .

More to come,

Scott”