The Promises of God

When I look at the state of the world I cannot help but wonder “What are you doing, Lord?”

With the Islamic State, the Ebola virus, the Houston subpoenas, the droughts permeating the American Southwest, and a myriad of other social, economic, geopolitical, and environmental issues facing both the United States and the planet as a whole, it’s so easy to throw up my hands and despair.

Last night, I felt close to that point. While sprawled across my bed at home, a deep anguish began to settle over me, thicker, even than the comforter on which I lay. Stephanie, my wife, entered and saw me, and knew right that I felt burdened.

I remember saying “I can’t quite put my finger on it. I just feel sad.” Her response demonstrates why I fell for her so easily and completely.

“We should have some prayer time tonight.”

I want to share with you some of what we prayed.

Psalm 46 popped into my mind, as it so often does in the midst of strife. I’d encourage you to read the whole thing, but a few verses that struck me right away were 1-3

“God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

I felt a touch better; just remembering that God is here with us. He isn’t a distant God who we hope will get here in time to save, but a “very present” God who by our sides, walking with us through even the worst suffering our broken world can throw at us. And this Psalm ends with a promise.

I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” God says in verse 10. It’s not a question of if God will be totally and unquestionably honored and worshiped, or even where He will be. It will happen. It will be throughout the world.

Then Stephanie and I read II Chronicles 7:13-14.

When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

Though I don’t know the state of locust populations in the US, we have drought, and I’d call Ebola pestilence. This verse, though technically directed to Israel, spoke volumes to me last night, and convicted me that I never pray for revival. I do try to repent, personally, when I know I need to, but I rarely if ever ask God to stir the hearts of this nation (much less this world) and bring revival. What would it look like to see large-scale repentance and a deep, abiding desire to know God more and worship him fully? I confess, I cannot even fathom what that would entail. But I know what would cause it: The Holy Spirit moving in our lives. And there, once again, is a promise of God: “I will hear… forgive… and heal.” If I really believe we need forgiveness and healing, why am I not praying for and seeking revival?

Then the Lord lead us to Revelation 21 and 22. Again, I recommend reading the whole thing when you have time. Here’s the verses that I want to focus on:

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’

“And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'”

No matter what, regardless of what happens with all the pain and sickness and persecution and disobedience, God has promised us that a day is coming when those things will end. He makes all things new. His promises are trustworthy and true. We have nothing to fear from this world because the worst of the worst that Satan can dish out is dwarfed by the goodness of God.

As Stephanie and I prayed through these promises of God, we praised Him for His goodness. We asked Him to remember what He has said He would do, and petitioned Him to do it in our time. To be quite frank, I had never really prayed for that; at least, not in a way that was genuine or full of faith. We asked Him to strengthen our faith, telling Him we do believe while asking Him to help our unbelief.

And during our time of prayer, I thought of Acts 4:27-30, where the church, faced with persecution and revulsion, asks for boldness and to see God move, not for a decrease in pain or suffering. My heart broke as I thought of how often I’ve prayed for my comfort and to avoid troubles. Another promise of God bloomed in my mind: “In this world you will have troubles. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

I want to exhort you, whoever you are reading this, to think over these promises of God. Understand that God’s promises will be fulfilled. God is sovereign and we have no need to fear the future. We do not serve a god of “oops” or “darn-it” or “uh-oh.” We serve the One, True, Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, Eternal and Benevolent God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And with the knowledge of who God is, I ask you to consider and pray over the final promise of our Lord, recorded in Revelation 22:20 -“I am coming soon” to which we ought to respond, as John did, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

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Broken and Breaking

I think there are strategies used by the enemy to wage war against the Lord of heaven and earth that are more effective than I tend to realize. One that the Lord has opened my eyes to most recently is Satan’s desire to make us think this world is a comfortable and good place. The reason it’s so dang effective? We know, deep down we can feel it, the world should be a comfortable and good place. We sense the bit of truth in the lie, and it shuts down our defences and lulls us off to sleep through the battles raging around us.

But sometimes, because of His great mercy and love, God will break us of this silly notion. Pain and brokenness surround us, and recently one friend’s trial has been one of a series of events God has used to remind me that this world has been tarnished and cannot function as He intended it to. Scott Frazier and his wife recently had a beautiful baby girl; beautiful, but far from healthy. Davy’s diaphragm didn’t fully form which allowed her abdominal organs to settle in her chest cavity. This in turn hindered the development of her lungs, which has caused a host of other issues.

This news, in conjunction with the tragedies of other friends over the last few weeks, has shaken my faith more than I want to admit. How could this happen? Why would God allow it? My sadness and grief over the heartache of my friends cannot begin to match that of people going through such trials themselves. I am a third party observer of little Davy’s struggle, and I know that my soul could never cry out in anguish the way Scott and Chelsea’s do. But the truth is, even they do not grieve to the extent God does when He looks at the world. His world, mangled and marred by sin and death, causes Him more pain than we can fathom. The world ought not work this way.

And finally, I begin to understand why trials are a blessing, and it’s not because Christians are sadists and masochists. We are not called to enjoy pain, but to rejoice in it. I never seek out calamity, and I don’t find pleasure seeing others in pain, but still I praise God in times of pain because He is reminding His people that this is not our home. This world is broken by sin, but He is fixing it by grace through Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 says: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

And though this is talking specifically about mourning those who have died in Christ, I think it applies to those who are suffering in Christ by other means, too. We do weep when we feel sorrow, but it’s a weeping that comes from hope and a certain sense of homesickness at the knowledge that one day Christ will return and set things right, restoring what was lost.

When I look at my life and think “things are going well” I’m tempted to love this world, rather than the God who created it. Sometimes, I foolishly decide to settle for the best the world has to offer because I have forgotten that the world’s best is always countered by the world’s worst. For every “pay it forward” chain at a coffee shop, there is a string of killings by a twisted regime. For every beautiful sunset, there is a blood spattered patch of earth. For every sweet and loving relationship, there is a manipulative and abusive one. And, although that is a sobering and miserable thought, it points me back to Christ and the hope I have for the future outlined in Revelation 21:1-6

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem,coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

“And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.””

Scott Frazier has a blog of his own called Numbered Days which I highly recommend. His outlook on his duaghter’s situation has been a huge source of encouragement to me. Please visit his blog and be in prayer for his daughter, Davy.

Obedience

How would you react if God told you He intended to take your wife, and that you are not to grieve for her? Would you be angry? Would you be skeptical? Would you be wary, distrustful, or blatantly disobedient?

When I am faced with discomfort, sadness, or pain, I tend to react in one of those ways. I grow angry at God for His refusal to bless me. I begin to distrust Him and cling all the tighter the the illusion of control I have over my situation. And, sadly, I often choose to disobey the clear teaching of the Word with unflinching resolve. Clearly I wouldn’t make it as a prophet.

In Ezekiel 24, God explains that Zeke’s wife is to become an object lesson for the exiles in Babylon. He tells His prophet that by not publicly mourning her, he will be showing the displaced people what their response to Jerusalem’s fall should be. This is a hard fact to swallow. If God is good, loving, kind, gracious, and merciful, why is he taking the life of His servant’s lover? What’s more, why is it important that the prophet act as though the loss does not affect him? Athough it’s difficult to think on, the answer, I think, is that God cares much more about holiness (Both His holiness and our own) than he does about happiness. Perhaps He cares more about us being conformed to His image than he does about us being comforted?

And the shocking thing, at least to me, is that Ezekiel doesn’t whine, fuss, complain or disobey. He simply does all that the Lord asks of him. What would it look like in my life to obey so unquestioningly and trust God so completely? It’s easy to look at the trials God puts before us and despair. It’s common to see tragedy and think “no good can possibly come of this…” But who are we to judge God’s plans in our limited timescale? Ezekiel’s life and works are still teaching and giving insight about God to this very day. God, in His sovereignty and eternity, is not bound by what seems right in our finite minds, but is powerful, both willing and able to act in light of the span of human existence.

And, I must always remember, He doesn’t ask us to make sacrifices and make none of His own. In Ezekiel 24:21 God Himself tells Ezekiel ” ‘Say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will profane my sanctuary.’ ” God is acknowledging His role in the destruction of the temple. God is showing His own willingness to sacrifice things dear to Him for the sake of reaching the hearts of His people. I can think of at least one other example of God using the destruction of something dear to Him to reach the hearts of His people…

John 2:18-19, 21

So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

…But he was speaking about the temple of his body.

#read7in7 day 2

The blisters on Jorrid’s feet began to burst, but still he ran. By the time the guards realized he was gone, he needed at least 70 kilometers separating them, if he could manage it. They would saddle up their mounts and release the bloodhounds to stalk him the next day as the sun rose, but that left him the rest of the evening and all night to stumble on.

The creek ahead gurgled and splashed as he scrambled into it’s water. An elder once told him that walking up stream can distort your scent trail, and help you get away. The stooped old woman had whispered about her time before the new establishment, and how foxes would use that tactic to avoid hunters. He traveled another 40 meters or so on the other side of the brook before backtracking and making his way up the hill against the flow of the steady stream. He could practically feel the rasping breath of the crone against his ear as he remembered her words.

His legs and back shrieked at him to stop. Rebellion had broken out in him, his body against his mind; the former demanding a halt, the latter knowing it could not allow rest. Flashes of the last few days popped into his conscious thoughts. The horrific scenes played in a jumbled order, but the reel was infinite and inescapable. Phantom gunshots still rang in the air around him, and the weeping of his sisters haunted him. With no family remaining, Jorrid had no one to protect, no reason to stay. Soon after the stench of their blood seeped into the dirt, his fear dissolved into rage, which settled into resolution. He did not take the time to plan an intricate escape. While the others gathered for the evening meal and nightly ceremonies, he fled into the darkening forest. Had the guards not grown so lax and comfortably lazy over the years, exit wounds would already riddle his chest. But for now he forced himself to concentrate not on his losses, but on each consecutive step. “Just one more” he told himself repeatedly. “Just one more.”

The sun peeked over the horizon, gingerly spreading it’s soft light through the trees, like gentle fingers parting the leaves to caress Jorrid’s face. He had no way of knowing how far he traveled in the gloomy night. Already his running had deteriorated into a clumsy lope. WIth a sigh he gave himself permission to lumber along at a slower pace. The onset of day stood brightest to his right, though he could not see the sun itself through the trees. Southward he continued, no destination in mind.

Suddenly, he felt the weightless sensation of freefall before landing with a sickening crack. Rivets of pain seared through his shin, and his left leg refused to bear weight. Tears clouded his vision. Waves of exhaustion and anguish swept him away.

When he awoke, Jorrid was shocked to find his leg crudely splinted with a straightish tree-branch and a few strips of his own shirt. A few meters away a feral looking woman watched him with unblinking eyes. Her clothing was tattered and barely covered her. Her hair sat tangled on her head, the color of jet, but without luster. Twigs and leaves clung to her head. Her bony arms criss-crossed her chest, as she hunkered against the wall of the earthen enclosure. Her frame was small, but did not seem even remotely delicate, with cords of lean muscle and taut sinews holding her together.

Jorrid asked for her name, but she merely glowered. His stomach tightened into a knot as the sound of barking approached the opening through which he had fallen. He could hear the shouts of guards as they followed the beasts. The dogs circled the hole and began to howl. Deftly, the wild one clambered up the wall of the cave. Her slender arms and legs reminded him of the crane flies that used to flutter around the lights of the compound. One of his pursuers peeked his head into the hole, and quickly she grasped his collar. She pulled him down, drawing a sickle shaped bone knife from some unseen place in the folds of her clothing. Before Jorrid could react, the victim of her vicious attack yanked her from the ground. He heard growls and yelps, both human and canine, followed by gunshots, and at last silence.

Eternity passed before the woman crept back down the side of the cave, head first, as easily as she had scaled it. In her teeth she had a makeshift cloth pouch. When she reached the floor, she untied her bundle and revealed a haunch of what he could only assume was hound meat. From her pocket she withdrew a flint and steel, taken from the now dead guards, and set about making a fire.

As they ate, she continued ignoring his attempts to converse. Eventually he concluded she must be deaf or mute, or both. The fat of the meat drizzled down his chin; he savored his first meal in over 24 hours. Neither of them made eye contact opting instead to quietly consume their food in isolation. Upon finishing, she crawled off to a dark corner of the hole where he could no longer see her at all. Still confined by his bum leg, Jorrid drug himself over to the wall, propped himself up against it, and slept.

Lethargically, the fugitive’s eyes opened, but would not focus in the weak morning light that managed to enter the hole. In the night, chalk had grown on Jorrid’s tongue, or so it felt. He wondered where the savage had gone off to, and if he could find out how to communicate his thirst. He stretched his arms. Slowly, he pushed himself up, grabbing at roots and vines that protruded from the earth. His leg still ached, and he couldn’t put enough weight on it to even limp. Even so, it felt wonderful to be standing, and he could feel circulation returning to his lower extremities. Turning carefully about, he realized that the dark corner his protector had retired to was actually a tunnel that led away from this pit. The woman rounded the corner of her tunnel, and with her was a similarly uncivilized looking group of men and women, seemingly older than her.

They each carried long wooden poles with sinister steel blades fastened to the top. The two men pointed the dangerous ends at Jorrid, whilst the women ascended back to the surface. He could hear them rummaging around, but for what he didn’t know. After a few minutes, they returned with the ammo from the guards’ firearms, and proceeded to break them apart and pour the gunpowder into small leather pouches they had brought. then they strung the shell casings on a piece of string, and slung them over their shoulders. The bullets themselves were given to the men, who examined them breifly, and then cast them aside. Turning to him, they spoke a few words in a language he didn’t recognize. He shook his head in despair as they repeated the words again and again. They began to speak furiously and quietly with each other, gesturing to Jorrid and making other noises, whistles and clicks. At last one of them threw his arms over his head, and walked away, clearly frustrated by the outcome. The other turned to Jorrid, said something to him in a mournful tone, and thrust his spear into Jorrid’s chest.

Confusion flooded Jorrid’s brain. He grimaced with pain and coughed up blood. He could feel his life draining away and his limbs grew cold. Slowly, his vision faded to black. Then, unspeakable joy.

“Welcome to the real adventure!” His sister said, motioning for him to follow her into the beautiful gates.

#read7in7 day 1

The chill of morning leeches some of my body’s natural heat. A medium flavored black tea blend that tastes like London restores some warmth. I feel it trickle down my throat as I sip it. I should be getting started with the rest of my day. Like the steady drip of a leaking faucet I can hear my day wasting away as I sit here and wonder. Though I enjoy writing by hand, a creeping cramp makes me clumsy. I hate the look of my personal font when my wrist has gone sore. I push my journal away after re-reading the last thoughts I wrote out for God: “I don’t just want to rest in your presence, I want to revel in it.”

Another sip of tea reveals I must have been sitting here longer than I thought. The temperature is supposed to drop today, the thought pops into my head unsolicited. Perhaps my subconscious is connecting unseen dots from a cold beverage to a cold front… to a cold heart. I love God, so shouldn’t this be easy? I imagine other people spending hours with the Lord, their souls reviving like a dry sponge submerged. Swelling up, it inhales water, sucking it into its pores until it literally oozes. I want an oozy sponge-heart.

I’m late for work and I haven’t left my apartment. A rumbling AC unit blows air around me. Seriously? Why does it come on when it’s already cool? I get up to grab a hoodie. It is a hoodie day for sure. Returning to my seat, I curse my brain for distracting me from the task at hand. I want to sit in God’s presence till I don’t feel squirmy anymore. When I go to shoot a text to my supervisor, I remember I turned my phone off for this. So I hold the power button till the familiar *bzzt* warns me I woke it, but will have to wait for it to boot. An eternity passes and my patience wanes. I guess I ought to cut my losses and move on. When my cell finishes all its initialization sequences, a text with tragic news greets me. I feel especially bad for not really knowing how to feel. Death is tragic, but the death of a stranger doesn’t sting they way I think it should. I hate that I cannot change my emotions.

I retreive my notebook and scribble out one last sentence: “Forgive me for not spending more time with you today, and for not feeling overjoyed.” With that, I stand and head for the door.