Monthly Archives: January 2014

Ever-present, Ever-loving God

God knows.  That’s what the first six verses of Psalm 139 teach.

God is close. This is what the next six verses of the 139th Psalm tell us.

Difficulties in life have a way of making us feel as if God is closer to us or further away.  Psalm 139 teaches something entirely different.  Circumstances don’t change God nor how He close to us He is.

There is a popular current in American Christianity that teaches something along the lines of, “If you are right with God, all will be right in your world.”  This “theology” works great so long as all is well in your world.  But by embracing this brand of Christianity, many trade in true Christianity for a cheap counterfeit.  What makes this counterfeit Christianity so dangerous is that it often isn’t until life falls apart, disaster strikes or one’s feelings about their relationship with God darkens, that they realize they’re missing something.

A rock solid faith—such as the faith of Job, King David or the sinful woman who anointed Jesus’s feet with her tears and perfume and wiped them with her hair—knows the love of a God that is close to us even when we feel that His love is far removed.

The Christian faith is anchored by the unchanging love of God.  He lived with us, died, rose and now lives within us. The Psalmist teaches that God is so close to His children, that even when we feel He is far away, He is closer to us than we can fathom.

7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?

Or where shall I flee from your presence?

8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!

If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! (Psalm 139:7-8, ESV)

From the highest heaven to the bowels of hell.  These verses sound like the roller coaster of life lived with an addict.  Anyone who has experienced the hell-ride of a loved one’s addiction knows what I’m talking about.

Watered-down Christianity—based on ten steps to a better this or seven steps to being a better that—teaches that those who live right and raise kids right won’t experience the traumas of life with an addict.  Virtuous living certainly decreases the odds of experiencing the ups and downs of addiction. But odds don’t matter when addiction is ruining your life.

Many lives are ruined by someone else’s addiction.  Many others have been ruined by an addiction begun when taking pain medication for a legitimate injury.  Regardless of cause, be it begun intentionally or accidentally, during drug abuse, many lives are ruined when those who are caught in addiction push everyone, including God, away.

Now, I don’t think the Psalmist was writing about addiction specifically in these verses, but there is comfort for all in knowing that God is close when life is out of control.  We may feel out of control.  We may even be out of control.  But our ups and our downs are not out-of-bounds for God.  He is always there.   He is always love.

After the crash, when no one is left, it is good to know God is still there.  Even after we push Him away, He is still there.  Like the Prodigal’s father, He is always there for His children.

9 If I take the wings of the morning

and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

10 even there your hand shall lead me,

and your right hand shall hold me.  (Psalm 139:9-10, ESV)

Taking up wings. Traveling the high seas.  Sounds like those who serve in the Navy to me.  Faithful men and women who serve in the armed forces know how true these verses are.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code.  From Wikimedia Commons.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code. From Wikimedia Commons.

Reading stories of the survivors of the USS Indianapolis, I came to a better appreciation of these verses.  The men on that ship delivered the bomb that was later dropped on Hiroshima.  Their delivery promised a swift end to World War Two.  But only days after they delivered the weapon that brought Japan to its knees, their ship was twice torpedoed by a Japanese sub and went down into shark infested waters.

1,196 men were on the ship.  Some 900 made it into the water.  Only 317 of the crew survived days adrift at sea.  They survived with no food and little fresh water in shark infested waters.

Many men who knew the closeness of their Savior reported that He got them through their ordeal.  Others who never thought of God nor believed in Him became believers through this tragedy.  Some men even dedicated their lives to God’s service in response to His calming presence during the unimaginable suffering they endured waiting for a rescue they hoped for, but didn’t know for certain would come.

It often isn’t until confronted with difficulty or tragedy that we realize how close God is all along.  He has a way of revealing His presence through the struggles that lead many to question His existence and love.  His power is so great that He uses events with which Satan would try to take us from Him to draw us ever closer to Himself.

You don’t have to serve in the military to know this.  Tragedy isn’t a requirement to attaining such knowledge.  This is clearly taught by the Holy Spirit in these verses.

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,

and the light about me be night,”

12 even the darkness is not dark to you;

the night is bright as the day,

for darkness is as light with you. (Psalm 139:11-12, ESV)

Find yourself in a dark place?  Do you feel that God is far away or has removed Himself or His love from you?  If so, you may be right where God wants you.

He is not the author of evil.  In the perfect world He created, His creatures never suffered.  But in a post-fall, broken world, He uses human suffering to draw His children ever closer to Himself.

By the power of Christ’s resurrection and through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, God is nearer than we can imagine.  If He loves us enough to give us everlasting life, His love is certainly great enough to bring us through the difficulties of this life.  Our circumstances change us and how we feel, but they will never change Him or how He feels about us.  How great it is to know the strength and grace of our ever-present and ever-loving God!

This is the second of four blogs based on Psalm 139.  If you would like to be notified when a new blog is posted, please click on the follow icon on the left side of the black banner on top of the page.  Thank-you for following and thanks for sharing!!

 

Knowing the Comfort of a God Who Knows.

I’ve heard it said that God seems to get smaller when our problems get bigger. Dealing with people in all sorts of crisis situations on a regular basis, my observation tells me this is true. Even though the events in our lives don’t change God, or our relationship with Him, they have great sway in how people view their God.
When we feel overwhelmed, it is natural for fear to kick-in and take over our emotions. Fear is such a powerful emotion that it makes most feel out of control and causes many to think things about God that are determined by emotion. When this happens, it is all too easy for us to lapse into the temptation to trust in our own understanding instead of God’s wisdom.
The first six verses of Psalm 139 are a powerful antidote to the fear that is caused when we are overwhelmed. These verses assure us of the love of a God who knows. Even when we don’t know or understand what is happening, God does. So we can take comfort in knowing the God who knows. Psalm 139:1-6, ESV:
1O LORD, you have searched me and known me!
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
In verses 1-3, we are assured of God’s intimate knowledge of us. He knows us inside and out. This is particularly helpful when we don’t know what’s going on within ourselves. During times of medical testing, especially when tests are prolonged or the prognosis for ourselves or a loved one is very serious, we can be robbed of peace and sleep. Instead of quietly waiting on the Lord, we scour WebMD for clues or wear ourselves out consulting every manner of “expert” who may have some insight for us. Such activities aren’t bad and can even be helpful for some, but for many they become a faithless exercise that serves to elevate anxiety and fear. Such anxiety and fear can be alleviated by a faith that takes refuge in the God who already knows such things, even when the doctors don’t.
When something in our present threatens our future (like changes in health, the loss of a loved one or some other traumatic event such as betrayal or unexpected hardship), our questions about God become even more vociferous. But again, our doubts and questions don’t change God or His care and concern for us. Amplifying the comfort that comes from knowing the God who understands everything about us is the hope that comes from knowing that God knows even the future:
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.

The Casting Crowns song, Already There, does a great job of reminding us of this fact. Past, present, and future are all the same to God. We can’t often see it and most don’t even believe it, but time is irrelevant to God. Recognizing that time isn’t the big deal we often pretend it is can equip Christians with the faith to embrace every moment we have. We live in a world where lives are measured in years—how long someone lived. Faithful people of God should instead measure lives in love—how well we used the time we were given, regardless of how long people live. (For a look at time from a scientific and scriptural perspective, check out my blog on time).
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.

Not only is God greater than our problems, not only does He know us inside-out and love us with an eternal love, His love also surrounds us. Christians live in the assurance that because Jesus died on our behalf on the cross, we can enjoy the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. Because God’s love is an undying love that will not be vanquished, not even by death, it surrounds us.
God has told us that his love surrounds us and has given us ways to see His love. Think of your blessings as instruments in God’s hands that show you His love. To make this example much more concrete, consider how God’s love surrounds little Marcello and Manuel: They are “hemmed in” by their incubators, surrounded by doctors and nurses and greeted by the loving voices of their mother and father.  Their parents, nurses, doctors, angels and all who minister to these very young boys are all instruments in the Lord’s hands, revealing His love to His boys.
Behind them lies the difficulties of a touch-and-go pregnancy, a sudden and traumatic birth and two weeks of medical treatments for a host of life-threatening issues. Before them lies the promise of God’s love and a wonderful future here in time and in eternity with the God who created them to know His love. Now, they live in a place where there are no guarantees and many difficulties. Someday, they will enjoy a perfect life where all of their current struggles are a thing of the past. God has laid His hand upon them and blessed them by washing their sins away and claiming them as His own dear children.
Because of these great and wondrous blessings, trials that would otherwise overwhelm us result in praise toward God:
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.

The love of God is so far beyond our human comprehension that even though we could never hope to fully comprehend it, God has given His people eternity to enjoy His love, grow in His love and praise Him for it! Knowing the comfort of the God who knows, transforms this life from a life of worry and fear to a life of praise and faith.
This is the first of four blogs based on Psalm 139. If you would like to be notified when a new blog is posted, please click on the “Follow” icon on the left side of the black banner on top of the page. Thank-you for following and thanks for sharing!!

Born Premature and Patiently Waiting on the Lord.

Today, I got to spend most of my morning with some dear friends, whose premature baby boy Marcello underwent his second surgery in less than two weeks.  Marcello (born at 23 weeks, 2 days and weighing only 1 lb. 6 oz.) and his little brother Manuel (birth weight 1 lb. 3 oz.) have already become an inspiration to many.  These little boys are a great blessing and are among the best teachers of the faith I have ever had.  Watching them, being with them, praying with their parents and walking with them through this time has been challenging in many ways.  But my pastoral experience has taught me that our greatest challenges often become our greatest blessings—both in this life and the next.

<If you would like to follow their story, you can read their blog by clicking here.  I can’t do justice in writing about their situation, but Mom and Dad have done a great job in relating much of what they have been through.  If you check out their blog, I recommend reading from the bottom to the top, so that you can read their lives’ story as it has transpired.>

I will not even try to recap what all these beloved sons of God have been through, but I would like to share with you some of the thoughts that were going through my mind as Marcello had his surgery.  While the surgeons worked, we prayed and read through this ancient passage:

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;

his mercies never come to an end;

23 they are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.

24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,

“therefore I will hope in him.”

25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,

to the soul who seeks him.

26 It is good that one should wait quietly

for the salvation of the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:22-26, ESV)

The first verse was particularly fitting to our situation because it is a reminder that every day we wake, we awake with the assurance that the Lord’s love never ceases.  His mercies are new every morning.  The redeemed get to go through this life never knowing what each day has in store for them, but confident that the Lord’s mercy will bring us through each day. 

Marcello and Manuel’s complex condition doesn’t allow the luxury of long-term planning.  They weren’t expected to survive delivery. Nor were they supposed to make it through their first weekend.  Even now, new challenges arise each day that threaten their survival.  They are holding their own and we are optimistic for their future, but we aren’t out of the woods yet.

Their extreme prematurity has brought those around them a new thankfulness and spirit that is keenly aware that every day is a gift to be cherished.  When was the last time you thanked God for today?  I’m afraid that often when everything in my life seems to be going well, I am unfortunately to preoccupied to thank God for each day.  They’ve humbled me.

Being with the boys, seeing their tubes and watching their monitors makes one uncomfortably aware of their weakness.  Gazing upon the fragility of their existence and being powerless to change their condition also brings to my mind my own weakness.   Even as adults, were it not for the faithfulness of the Lord, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy any day.  But because of the love of God, He gives us every day. It is easy for us to thank Jesus for eternal life, but what would happen if God’s people lived each day of this life cognisant that Christ’s death on the cross makes every day of this life possible?  I think our lives may be turned upside-down and the whole world turned upside-down, which is exactly what happened in the moment of Christ’s greatest “weakness.”

What appeared to be Jesus’ greatest moment of weakness proved to be the moment of His greatest strength.  Because of His ultimate “weakness,” we have solace in our times of great weakness.  Our weaknesses bring us back to the cross, the place where God has died that we may live.  The resurrection teaches that His mercies have no end because His life, power and very existence have no end. 

Experiencing weakness with the promise of God’s grace teaches us that there is great value in weakness.  We are also shown that God gives His people more than strength when they are weak. We are given a deeper awareness of God’s greatest gift when we are weak.

“’The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul,

‘therefore I will hope in him.’” (Lamentations 3:24, ESV)

There is deep meaning in the statement, “The Lord is my portion.”  The gifts we receive from God take on new meaning during the Christmas season because in Jesus, God gives us more than strength, more than eternal life, more than the forgiveness of sins, more than hope, joy and peace.  In Jesus, God gives us Himself.

God is ours because He gives Himself to us.  It doesn’t make sense that we, the creatures, have been given the right to claim our Creator as our portion or “inheritance.”  We can call God our God because He has first called us His people.  God can give us nothing more than Himself.  Because He has given Himself to us, He withholds no good thing from us.

These boys have received the love and mercy of God because He has created them for this purpose.  He is theirs and they are His.  Only a person with faith in Jesus Christ, who has themselves been weak, can understand what peace comes with the knowledge of God’s love.

God’s peace gives us patience to wait on the Lord.  We are always waiting on the Lord, but sitting in the NICU with a couple of the tiniest (and cutest, I might add) little babies you ever did see gives one a new kind of patience.  It gives one patience to accept God’s plan for these little boys because He knows best and has already met every need they will ever have.  It gives one patience because we know that God will not fail these little boys because He can’t fail these little boys.  It gives one patience to wait and see what the Lord has in store.  What a way to live!

Please continue to pray with me by thanking the Lord for Marcello and Manuel and asking that He continues to care for them as only He can, using their family, doctors, nurses, and His holy angels to show them His love every day!