Dip Your Toes In

“How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God!  And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.  They drink their fill of the abundance of Your house; and You give them to drink of the river of Your delights.  For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light.”  Psalm 36:7-9

Isn’t that passage just absolutely wonderful?  There’s so much there.  God’s merciful love, His protection, His abundant provision, His bountiful gifts, His life-giving presence, His holiness.  It shows the Lord’s involvement in our lives, His deep care and concern for all of our needs, and His great generosity with His children.  It’s enough to make you want to just jump right in, doesn’t it?

I have had a picture in my head all week that just won’t leave.  It’s a picture of the priests at the Jordan River as the Israelites were ready to cross into the Promised Land after 40 years of wandering through the wilderness.

“You shall, moreover, command the priests who are carrying the ark of the covenant, saying, ‘When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’” Joshua 3:8

Like the Israelites, I have spent some time in the wilderness, too.  In the beginning, all I could focus on was getting through and getting out.  Many times I cried out to the Lord, begging Him to just hurry up and get the lesson over with so I could learn it and move on.  I didn’t understand then that the focus was never supposed to be on the destination, but on Who was on the journey with me.

As I attempted to navigate through that strange, unwelcomed place, I found myself reading God’s Word more and more.  I spent a lot of time in the Psalms, and grabbed onto every promise I came across.  I spent hours with Him daily, not necessarily because I wanted to at first, but because I had to – because it was the only way I could make it through the day.

During that time, I read a devotional by Amy Carmichael that spoke about the Lord turning our pain, our desert places, into something beautiful and useful.  The verse she used was for Israel, but I knew that it was for me, too, and it gave me hope.

“Indeed, the Lord will comfort Zion; He will comfort all her waste places. And her wilderness He will make like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and sound of a melody.”  Isaiah 51:3

The wilderness time was finally over.  The Israelites had learned to go when God said go, and stop when God said stop.  The hope of the promise was soon to be a reality, as the Israelites were finally ready to cross the Jordan.  The Lord required something of them first, though.  It was not enough to stand there and wait for the Lord to part the water.  They knew He could do it – He had done it before.  No, this time they were required to literally step out in faith.  As the priests stepped into the water, it parted, and like before, the Israelites walked across on dry ground.

What a picture for us!

Are you walking in the wilderness right now?  May I encourage you to let the Lord comfort your waste places, too?  He can take what is dry, broken and lifeless, and nurture it back to life.  You will live again, you will laugh again, and you will sing again.  The Lord is faithful, and He always keeps His promises.  You will be able to say with Job, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.”

Maybe you’ve already come out of the wilderness, feeling as if you’re standing on the bank of a swiftly moving river, wondering how you’ll ever get across.  If so, pray for direction, seek wise counsel, and then step out in faith.  Dip your toes in, and watch the Lord do the miraculous.

“The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst; I, the Lord, will answer them Myself, as the God of Israel I will not forsake them.  I will open rivers on the bare heights and springs in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water and the dry land fountains of water.” Psalm 41:17-18

People of Courage

“Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:14

Fear. It can steal our sleep, our health, keep us in jobs that we’re not suited for or unhappy in, make us stagnant, and it can bring discord into a family. It can keep us from enjoying the life that God has given us. As Jason Gray, one of my favorite musicians, sings, “There’s no thief like fear.” Do you know that you don’t have to live in fear? I didn’t.

Growing up, and throughout nearly all of my life, fear was a constant companion. It was all I had ever known…and because it was such a part of me, I not only didn’t see it for what it was, but I didn’t know that I could be free from it.

There was nothing traumatic in my life responsible for the fear I felt, as far as I’ve been able to determine. I wish it were that way for everyone that experiences it. It began as shyness, but it grew to eventually impact every area of my life.

Then one day, while sitting in church, the Lord showed me something. God’s Word says over and over not to fear. I read somewhere that the Bible says not to fear 365 times, once for each day of the year. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that we’re commanded to not fear. So…if it’s a command, then that means we have a choice, right? We can choose to fear, or we can choose not to fear.

“For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7

Every day we are bombarded with messages designed to strike fear in our hearts. Through social media, television, radio, the newspaper, and magazines in the check-out stand, our minds are inundated with these messages. The enemy of our souls uses fear to bring disunity to our homes, our cities, and our country. But there is a better way.

We have a Bible filled with God’s promises. What helps me is refusing to be afraid and choosing to speak those promises out loud. “Your Word says that You will never leave me nor forsake me, so I will not be afraid.” Or “Your Word says that I am clothed with the armor of God, so I will not be afraid.” You get the picture. I have noticed that the more I proclaim God’s Word aloud, the less often fear even tries to take over. I no longer walk in fear, and you don’t have to, either. The Bible says that perfect love casts out fear, and the more we spend time in the presence of God, the more we are filled with His love for others, the more fear loses its hold.

One of the main characters in the movie Courageous said, “Where are you men of courage?” But I also have to ask, where are you women of courage? Although the movie was about fathers accepting their God-given roles and responsibilities, women have vital roles to play as well. When we live in fear, and make our decisions based on fear, everything suffers, and our priorities get mixed up. Not only are our spiritual lives affected, but our families suffer and sometimes fall apart, and other things in our lives unravel in the process.

It is never too late to break the fear cycle. We can begin today, knowing that the Lord is faithful, that He came to heal the brokenhearted, that He can take all of our past mistakes and work everything together for good – He can turn ugliness into something beautiful. My favorite words in the song Courageous are, “The only way we’ll ever stand is on our knees with lifted hands.” Amen. May we come to Jesus and let go of our fear, and instead, find forgiveness, renewal, strength, restoration and peace. May He make us people of courage.

“Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

Where is the Abundant Life?

“You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.”  Psalm 16:11

I grew up believing that God made me and loved me, and that Jesus died for my sins. That was all I knew about God. I didn’t talk to Him, and figured He was too busy running the world to talk to me.

At the age of 20, on Christmas Eve, I learned that I had been deceived and betrayed by someone I loved, and was so devastated that I really didn’t want to live anymore. I didn’t want to hurt. I didn’t see a purpose for my life. I told God that I didn’t want to live, but that I wouldn’t do anything to end my life, and said that if He wanted to do something with me, that was fine, but I didn’t want to go on.

About that time, my mother began visiting a Christian bookstore. Since I loved to read, she offered to buy me a book or two if I wanted to tag along. I began reading Christian novels, and saw something within those pages that I had never imagined, much less seen. People talked to God and Jesus like they were people! Real flesh & bone people! I was stunned to think that people could actually talk to them like they were good friends.

At that time, I was living alone in an apartment. I had an old television that had been given to me, but it rarely worked. It hadn’t even turned on for quite some time. A day or two before Easter, I turned the television on, and surprisingly, it turned on immediately. I watched in horror at the scene before me. The man portraying Jesus was on the ground, being nailed to a cross. He cried out in pain, which was hard enough to watch, but then he looked at the camera, and appeared to be looking right at me. I was shaken! The next thing I knew, I found myself face down on the floor, crying, knowing that the real Jesus had died on the cross, suffering tremendous pain, for MY sins! He was there because of me! I asked Him to forgive me for the things I had done, and I gave Him my life. That was many, many years ago, and I have not been the same since.

Fast forward to about five years ago. I had recently returned to the United States from Mongolia with two of my children, where we had been living for a year on an overseas work assignment. I was in the middle of a divorce. Like before, I was devastated. For months I read the Bible, cried, prayed, cried, questioned, cried, and then I came across this verse:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  John 10:7-10

I cried out to the Lord, “Where is the abundant life? Your Word says that You came to give us abundant life! This sure doesn’t look like abundant life to me!”

That was a turning point for me. My eyes were opened to many things that I hadn’t seen before. I realized that I had put God in a box, and He didn’t fit! I began to look at God’s Word through different eyes. Instead of seeing verses through the eyes of tradition, I began seeing them as they were written. I began to understand that the written words were promises for us, that they were true, and that they could be believed because God always keeps His promises. I knew that they could change my life.

He took away my pain, confusion, and fear, and He filled me with joy, peace, and love. He is so good, so loving, and more at work in us and around us than I ever knew. He has given me abundant life, and the great news is that it’s not just for me, it’s for anyone who asks. Jesus came to give us LIFE!

During the weeks leading up to Christmas last year, I found myself coming across that verse in John daily. If I opened a book, it was there. If I went on Facebook, it was there. If I turned on the radio or television, it was there. Every single day. And every time I came across it, I thought about the abundant life that had been mine for the last few years. Real abundant life, living life to the full.

Then, about a week before Christmas, thieves broke into our home. Two of my children and I had been out to dinner with my sister and her family, who were visiting us all the way from Nigeria. Afterwards, we went to a hospital to celebrate the birth of a precious baby girl, born into a wonderful family who has been on the same spiritual journey I and my family have been on. How wonderful to have companionship on this journey!

We returned to find that our home had been broken into. We lost jewelry, electronics, and even some of the Christmas presents that were wrapped under the tree. In the midst of it, though, I was not afraid. I didn’t feel violated, as many people do after a break-in. I wasn’t even really angry.  Disappointed, sure, for the gifts that I was not able to replace, and for the hearts and minds of the kids that broke into our home. But looking back, I believe the Lord was not only warning me, but preparing me by reminding me of the abundant life that He has given me. Yes, the thief does come to steal, kill, and destroy, but we have something that can never be stolen, never be taken away from us. We have the promise of living forever with God, our creator and the lover of our souls, both here and when our time on earth is done, because Jesus made it possible.

Are you experiencing abundant life? If not, do you want to? If so, ask Him for it. Jesus came to give you life, and give it to you abundantly, and He promises that if you seek Him, you’ll find Him.

“You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”  Jeremiah 29:13

A Sacrifice

“The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love.”  Psalm 147:11

There are many great, deep theological truths packed into the story of the Lord asking Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac – about how Isaac was offered up as a sacrifice as a preview of what was to come when God’s Son, Jesus, would be offered up as the final sacrifice for all mankind. About how the ram was caught in the thicket, a substitute for Isaac, just as Jesus became our substitute when He died on the cross as payment for our sins. About how Abraham remembered and believed God’s promise to him – that he would have a son and that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky, even if it required the Lord raising Isaac from the dead. About how the ram’s horns were caught in a thicket, and sinless, compassionate Jesus wore a thorny crown about His head as He became the sacrificial Lamb of God. There are many more, the depths of which humanity can only try to fully comprehend. What is on my mind most right now, though, is Abraham as a father.

Abraham was told many years before Isaac was born that he would have a son, and although he believed God, 25 years had passed between the promise and the fulfillment. Abraham finally had the son he had longed for, the son of the Promise. Now he was being asked to give him up? His only son?

For the last few days, I’ve come across this particular verse several times:  He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. Genesis 22:13

Is there something you’re holding onto with all your might?  You’re afraid to let go, afraid it will slip out of your grasp, and out of your life?  May I encourage you to hold it up as an offering, palms up, no holding back?  I can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to keep this thing, this person, whatever it is, but I can tell you that there is freedom in giving it up.

Sometimes the Lord will let you keep it. When I separated from my husband, our youngest child was seven. At that time, it wasn’t clear whether he would stay with his father or with me. It was already a very difficult time, and the thought of being away from my son, too, was almost more than I could bear. Finally, it came to the point where I had to just put the situation in the Lord’s hands and give my son to God – palms up, no holding back. I had to trust that God would do whatever was best for him, even if the best wasn’t me. The Lord was gracious, and allowed him to live with me for five years.

Sometimes the Lord will not let you keep it. Recently, I had to do that again. It was a little easier this time, because my relationship with the Lord is stronger than it was then, but it was still difficult, and I still cried a lot – not because I didn’t trust the Lord, but because I knew I would miss him so much. Sometimes I still cry, but the Lord is gracious now, too, even though my son is living in another country with his father. He is learning things that he would not have learned here with me, and experiencing the joy of being with his dad.

Whatever His answer, God is good, and He is faithful, and He comforts us and provides for us. He is our exceedingly great reward. He heals our hearts, and fills our lives with good things. He honors our sacrifices and fills the empty spaces. His ways are not our ways, but His ways are good.

Abraham called the name of that place The LORD Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the LORD it will be provided.” Genesis 22:14

Going Beyond

“Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He will do it.” Psalm 37:5

Do you ever see a theme that keeps repeating itself, over and over? My theme for this week seems to be Going Beyond. It started last Friday, and it has continued every day since then. It started by reading a post on Facebook, which then turned into reading a whole series about going beyond. Then it was a devotional reading, then a free book offer, then a blog, then a blog by a different writer…something new every day. So…going beyond. Going beyond our current understanding, going beyond our current experience, going beyond our current dreams.

In a book excerpt by Myles Munroe, Understanding Your Potential, I read about going beyond with regards to our potential. It said that potential is dormant ability, unreserved power, untapped strength, unused success, hidden talents, capped capability. All you can be but have not yet become. All you can do but have not yet done. How far you can reach but have not yet reached. What you can accomplish but have not yet accomplished. He said you must never be satisfied with your last accomplishment, because there are many accomplishments yet to be perfected. Sounds like going beyond.

The Lord says that we have potential – the potential He put in us when He created us.

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

So going beyond is His idea, His way of stretching us to reach beyond what we think we can do to what He created us to do. What is your dream? If you don’t have a dream anymore, ask Him to give you one. He may surprise you by breathing life on a dream that you long ago tucked away and forgot about. Maybe you thought that season was over, and there was no room in the new season for the old dream. Maybe you lived out your dream, and now you long for another one. Go for it. Go beyond. Adventure is waiting.

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generation forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21