Unworthy

The Ninevites were the worst of the worst, an evil society that committed unspeakable crimes. I’ll be forthcoming in saying that I would have probably wanted the Ninevites to perish, too. In fact, I struggle with these emotions whenever I hear another news story about an abused child or woman.unworthy-reliance

Yet, all sin separates us from God; and Jesus died once for all who will accept His gift of salvation. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3:23-24

But passages in the Old Testament show us that there were different penalties for various sins. And in the New Testament it is pride that Jesus spoke out most strongly against. However, I am not writing to debate the degrees of sin or how God will judge. Others speak to this issue far better than I could ever hope to.

Instead, I want get to the heart of what seems to be the point. Jonah, who fled from God yet was given a second chance, was judging. The Ninevites weren’t his to judge.

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Jonah 3:10-4:4

In recent months, my eyes have been opened to how often we set ourselves up on higher ground and judge others – even amongst our brothers and sisters in Christ. Perhaps we are unaware that we are doing it. When your life is running smoothly, it is easy to become prideful and give yourself far too much credit. It is also easy to become judgmental toward those whose lives turn a bit messy. But there is no need for me to compare myself to anyone except Christ. I always fall short.

As my focus shifts away from myself and more fully onto God, I see how unworthy I am.

I am grateful for God’s amazing grace and immeasurable love. When we reach a place of total reliance on Him, we understand how truly needy we are. That is when we are most able to serve with humility and extend grace to others who are struggling.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had. Romans 15:5

Read more Jonah 3&4 devotionals at #SheReadsTruth.

Living Beyond What We Deserve

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
2 Corinthians 3:17

But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. Jonah 1:3

How could he be so bold…and so incredibly ridiculous? Jonah fled in the direction opposite to God’s calling. He was clearly rebelling against God. And he knew it.

Have you ever done that? Flee from God? Ignore His voice? Rebellion in our own life may not look as glaringly obvious as it did in Jonah’s. (It never does.) It might not result in such an unusual situation either (the belly of a large fish is certainly unusual), but we rebel and there are consequences.

This has been true in my life, especially in my youth. I have made decisions without fully considering the consequences of ignoring God’s voice. But I cannot say I didn’t hear Him. And because God loves us, He will pursue. Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. Jonah 1:4

Accepting responsibility is the first step toward repentance and restoration. “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” vs. 12 The decisions we make affect not just ourselves, but those around us as well. Like rippling water after a pebble is tossed into a still pond, we have no idea how far-reaching the impact.
imageThe men on the boat with Jonah experienced this ripple effect. Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.” Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. vs. 14-16

Thankfully, the story doesn’t end there! Our disobedience and rebellion grieves the Father, but He is always ready to forgive and guide us onward. God desires a relationship with each of us, so He waits with outstretched arms, and takes us back unconditionally the moment we turn to Him. Father knows we will fail. He allows us to experience the natural result of our failures (consequences) so that we will learn and grow, but He will not abandon us. The wrath our sin deserves was poured out on Christ; we can neither add to nor detract from what He has accomplished.

Therefore, we need not fear. Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. vs. 17

God “provided”! God didn’t want Jonah to die in the raging sea. He wanted a restored relationship with Jonah, and He gave an opportunity for that. Father wanted time alone with him, as He does with each of us!

From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry. Jonah 2:1-2

What do we desrve? No one deserves a wonderful life. We have all rebelled against God, but by the grace of God we can live beyond what we deserve!

“…To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit. When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them. But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord .’ ” And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. Jonah 2:6-10

God has richly blessed me. He has drawn me in and I have responded without fear. Although there has been heartache and loss in my life, I see God’s hand of protection, provision, and His Presence in my life throughout the years!  God is good for having brought me through the storm.

Read more devotionals on Jonah Chapters 1&2 at SheReadsTruth

North of the 45th

Life north of the 45th Parallel is not for the faint-hearted. Winter is intense and long. 45th Parallel

Early last fall I suddenly found myself facing winter on my own, and ill-prepared to do so. Since I rely largely on wood for heat, splitting and stacking was my top priority. Through God’s faithful provision this was accomplished just in time.

Anyone who heats with wood knows that moving it takes a great deal of time and energy. So moving enough for each week’s use from the outside stacks to our garage became the weekend ritual for me and my kids, and there wasn’t time for much else as the weather got colder and we began to use more. Non-essential chores were temporarily neglected.

There is a large deck spanning the length of my house on the South side which gets full sun. In a typical winter, we will get some snow on-and-off throughout November and early December, but it usually melts away, not accumulating on the deck until late December. This year was very different. The snow came and came and just kept coming. And it stayed. Sub-zero temperatures beginning in December and lasting into March, along with record snowfalls, meant the snow didn’t melt away.

As the snow began to pile up, it crossed my mind that it should be removed, but other things demanded my immediate attention. Hauling wood in order to heat my home continued to be my priority. Isn’t it interesting how focused we can be, even with good intentions, that we fail to see a growing problem? Ignoring, procrastinating, or hoping it will resolve itself often leads to a bigger mess later.

The conditions were perfect for snow, and it continued to accumulate on the deck until it was impossible to ignore any longer. I vividly remember the morning I awoke to see snow piled over three feet high against my door wall, after another 15 inches fell overnight. I finally realized – This is going to be a problem when it starts to melt. Now what do I do? My son tried to shovel it away from the house, but under the top 2 feet or so, there was solid ice about a foot thick. It was overwhelming and unmanageable.

For my iniquities have gone over my head; Like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me. My wounds are foul and festering because of my foolishness. I am troubled, I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long. For my loins are full of inflammation, and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am feeble and severely broken; I groan because of the turmoil of my heart. Lord, all my desire is before You; and my sighing is not hidden from You. My heart pants, my strength fails me; as for the light of my eyes, it also has gone from me. Psalm 38:4-10

Like an open wound, sin left unattended will fester and eventually consume pieces of you. Who hasn’t let some small sin in their life slide? Careless words, selfishness, envy, a stubborn or unforgiving spirit. Maybe it seems trivial, especially in comparison to the sin of a neighbor, friend or relative. Perhaps it’s easier to spot their bigger sin – anger, jealousy, pride, self-righteousness. But who are we to draw a line? Does my sin require less sacrifice than yours? Does yours require less than your neighbor’s? In God’s eyes, is it not all sin? Jesus died on the cross once for all, so that, in accepting His blood as a covering for our sin, fellowship with God is restored. The same Salvation is freely offered to All.

For in You, O Lord, I hope; You will hear, O Lord my God. Psalm 38:15

No matter how cold a winter, it eventually will begin to warm up, and ice will thaw. On a sunny 40 degree day, I came home to soggy carpet spanning three feet from the door wall and water creeping onto the kitchen tile. The melting ice had no place to go except into the house. We tried a shovel and then a fishing spear, but made little progress on the ice. I told my kids that it would still be there the next day and we were not missing a family group Bible study that I had connected with by phone through our church. We were new to this church and didn’t know many people yet, and I hungered for fellowship with other believers and time together in the Word.

What a blessing it was to meet the families who welcomed us in. In closing, each person including kids were asked to offer a prayer request or praise. I mentioned that my family was going through a difficult time, then tried to cover the pain by laughing about our wet mess. On the drive home, one of the ladies called me to say that the men insisted on coming out the next day after work to try to help clear the ice.

They came with pick axes and shovels, and cleared my entire deck. I was never more humbled or grateful. The next night brought an incredibly heavy rain. Thank God my deck was clear of the foot of ice which would have directed the rain straight toward the house.

Friends, let us be attentive to the little sins that sneak into our lives. Left unchecked, a little sin has the power to destroy. Examine your heart in earnest, spending time in prayer, in Scripture, and in silence as you listen for God’s speaking into your life. God wants a contrite spirit, giving way to confession and repentance, which leads to spiritual growth.

For I will declare my iniquity; I will be in anguish over my sin. Psalm 38:18

…because I follow what is good. Do not forsake me, O Lord; O my God, be not far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation! Psalm 38:20b-22

We may stumble, but He will not let us fall. God knows our heart and He understands the struggles we face on this broken earth. He offers comfort and hope from the pain and hurt wrought by sin. Our obedience to Him brings restoration, peace and blessings.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

SheReadsTruth

Don’t go near the edge

Such simple advice. One would think it shouldn’t be too difficult to follow.
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Many years ago I traveled with my family to the Badlands of South Dakota. The rugged beauty of this unforgiving landscape took my breath away. Yet I was alarmed to realize how easily a person could slip over the edge of any number of buttes (not sure what a butte is?). I firmly instructed my teenage children to stay well away from the edge, while I locked my grip on the smallest child’s hand. As I stood looking across the flat tops of the steep formations stretching for miles, I suddenly heard, “How far away should I be?”

Over the past few months I have wrestled with issues that have dragged me to my knees. I have been a bloody mess, crying out to God and grasping for the nearest hand, literally reaching for a lifeline. No one who has not experienced the devastation of divorce can fully understand the reality of the image these words paint. Yet as God’s healing continues, the moments, even hours, of hope each day increase.

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. Psalm 130:1-2

The losses, changes and uncertainty have brought sorrow, despair and fear, taking me to depths of a darkness I haven’t known before. So I have recently been surprised when a fleeting thought passed through my mind and I didn’t plummet over the edge, free falling as I certainly would have just a few weeks ago. This realization is an amazing and uplifting thing. I am awestruck and humbled by God’s Presence in my life. He has shown me how much I have to learn about really letting go, laying my burdens at Jesus’ feet – and leaving them there!

How often we bring our troubles to God, yet continue to dwell on them. Whatever it may be, we toy with it and dissect it from every possible angle. But this shouldn’t be! My feeble attempts to control or manage a situation are wasted energy that is better spent seeking God’s face.

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you. Psalm 130:3-4

God in His grace and mercy brings healing as we draw near. I understand more fully now the need to pray without ceasing, and I do. Throughout the day even simply uttering the name Jesus brings peace. He is ever faithful and filled with compassion for the wounded and weary. We need only seek and be accepting of His unfailing love.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. Psalm 130:5-6

How far away should you stand? It really depends on how steep the slope and how unstable the terrain. But what God has taught me is that when I bring to Him my burdens – even again and again – He will shelter me in His arms, protecting from the edge that so easily crumbles.

Read more devotionals on Psalm 130 at SheReadsTruth

A Fork in the Road

Several years ago I traveled with a friend to the Keweenaw Peninsula – one of the most beautiful areas in the country. At that time, I had never been to Copper Harbor, but my traveling companion had. North of Hancock, there is only one main route, US-41, that will take you there. However, if you are so inclined, when you reach Eagle River you can turn off the main road onto State Route 26 which eases slowly up the shoreline offering breathtaking views of one of the most spectacular bodies of freshwater on Earth – Lake Superior.Keweenaw Peninsula

My friend, having been to the Keweenaw previously, was quite adamant about staying on the main route because it was faster, more direct, and that was the way they always went. But I remembered hearing something interesting about Eagle Harbor, which is along the lesser route, and really felt we should go that way.

Unfortunately I discovered that as I continued to suggest this, my friend went from mildly annoyed at my naivety to increasingly frustrated at me for questioning their wisdom in the matter. In no uncertain terms I was told that the main road was THE road leading directly to Copper Harbor and to take the turn-off would not only slow us down, but offered nothing that would make the time worthwhile.

For them, the issue boiled down to this: their experience trumped my opinion. They were right – I was wrong. I learned something about my friend that day. I also learned something personally beneficial, but it didn’t click until much later.

As I think back on this and similar situations, I remember feeling defeated. It’s disheartening when you try to convey your thoughts or opinion about something, and are met with hostility by people who have to be in control. Maybe I will discover that I am wrong, but at least be willing to listen to what I have to say. Discuss it with me and help me to understand your view as you try to understand mine. Healthy communication requires at least two people be engaged in an exchange of ideas and thoughts.

It can be even more disheartening when this happens among Believers. Respect grows when Godly authority and leadership is willing to listen and ready to pray about an issue together. But there is another lesson to be learned here; one that is becoming more glaringly obvious to me lately: Just let go.

God is the final Authority. Just as God handled the situation on the Keweenaw, He will handle the important issues in life. In fact, He already has. He has plans for our life that are for our good, and no matter who comes along to tell us “It’s my way or no way”, God will work things out for our good when we seek His will.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord , “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

I have certainly been wrong before. I’ve made bad decisions. I will not hesitate to admit that I have been heading down the wrong path, stubbornly running into road block after road block before God can get my attention. As I learn to let go of the issues I cannot control anyway, it frees my spirit to say: Your will, Lord, not mine.

And if the other person needs to learn some things then God will take care of that, too…

Giving up, I closed my mouth. We took US-41. Then we came to a dead stop 8 miles in. Cars were not getting through and we were forced to turn around. We went back to the turn-off at Eagle River and meandered up the shore.

As you pass through Eagle Harbor you will come to Jacob’s Falls and a turn-off where there is a small bakery called The Jampot. This bakery is operated by monks of The Society of St. John Monastery. They mix it, make it, and bake it…and it is amazing! Trust me when I say you have not experienced anything like this.

I am still learning what God is teaching, and what I have learned lately is to let go and let God take care of me. 

Do you trust me?

Do you remember the scene from Disney’s Aladdin? Aladdin, standing on his flying carpet, reaches his hand out to Jasmine and says, “Do you trust me?”.

God wants us to have loving homes rooted in His Word where relationships are built on trust. We begin to learn about trust long before we can talk or walk. A baby cries and, in a loving home, is picked up. A child’s first steps, holding a hand to cross a street, learning to ride a bike…require trust…build trust. Dad is loving, strong, and protective. Mom is loving and gentle. Siblings you fight with at home have your back at school. Healthy families provide safety and shelter from the world, and without even realizing it, kids learn what trust is.

Trust. It’s a common word, overused and taken for granted most of the time. But it is one of the most powerful words in our language, established through a process that we don’t give much thought to. A process filled with events and conversations that, done right, establish trust as a natural outcome over time. You’re not even aware that it’s happening, but you suddenly realize that you can be yourself with this person, you can be honest – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and it’s okay. That’s trust.

On he other hand, it takes very little to break trust. And once trust is broken, it is difficult to rebuild. Sometimes trust is destroyed, and only through God can it be restored.

I am so glad that God never changes, no matter what the circumstances of life may bring. In Him I can always trust and depend. God is always faithful, patient, full of love and grace. And this I know without a shadow of doubt – His Spirit dwells within me and strengthens and comforts me. God is my protector in times of trouble. He weaves a safety net around my life.

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise— in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? Psalm 56:3-4

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He will drive out your enemies before you, saying, ‘Destroy them!’ Deuteronomy 33:27

Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous. They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord. Psalm 112: 4, 7

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

Jesus stands before me with an outstretched hand and asks, “Do you trust me?” And I will place my hand in His with a childlike trust each day.

 In whom have you placed your trust?

Humility

“You act like you are the 1st person to go through a divorce”.

This was the chastisement I recently received from a fellow Believer, and like a knife driven in deep it cut to the quick. This friend has, by their own account, never experienced any major grief events in their life. This is a first for me.

I’ve discussed Encouragement from the Body of Christ in a previous post, and it is clear that God instructs us to carry the weak and be patient and longsuffering with one another. The “one another” are our brothers and sisters in Christ. As a Believer, my Hope rests in God’s faithfulness. I trust Him to provide for my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs. There is no doubt in my mind of my salvation through Christ Jesus, or of God’s ability and desire to supply all my needs. My Father wants the best for me, not just the best from me.

This hope, trust, and faith is what ties us together as Believers. The fact that we are truly brothers and sisters in Christ, “God’s kids”, gives us a connection that cannot be broken, cannot be matched, and should be revered.

At this point you may be wondering where all this is leading since I began with “Humility“.

Here is the thing: no one has walked in my shoes. I am doing the best I can each day, hour by hour. I know I have been unlovable at times, and I know I have been angry and spoken harshly; and this genuinely grieves me and adds to my sorrow. When this has happened I was truly at a place of such despair – filled with fear and loss of hope – that I could not move past it. Often times, in the midst of this darkness, I have felt the physical presence of Holy Spirit bring peace, relief and comfort that instantly washed over me.

But God works through people, too, and there have been times when whatever issue had brought on this panic needed to be resolved in my mind. This might be as simple as clarification of a miscommunication, because the enemy attacks us where we are most vulnerable. Once the resolution took place, so that my mind could process the facts and the facts led back to a “safe place”, my entire perspective was changed.

I’m not in any way excusing myself from owning my offenses. I am deeply remorseful and have sought forgiveness from God and from the offended. But I cannot emphasize this enough: the valley of grief is not a familiar road, nor is it filled with predictable circumstances; therefore, “normal” behavior and response to situations get temporarily redefined. Just Google “Stages of Grief” to see what I am talking about.

In this most fragile state, every bump in the road is amplified and devastating. When too many bumps come in rapid succession, the resulting panic may not be understandable to the ones not on that road. As I became more aware of the waves of grief that would overtake me, this too raised my anxiety because I feared it happening again. I have spent more time on my knees in prayer and in Scripture. I have and will continue to take these things to the Lord.

For me there is new-found wisdom in this. I have learned that this is the nature of grief, yet God loves me through it. For those who have not walked this road of sorrow, I am truly glad – I don’t wish this for anyone. But please be mindful of the very real pain that those who are on that road must endure. Empathize, encourage and support them in every way. Do not deal harshly with them and be ready to forgive. Remember that this is a lesson best learned by observation rather than through experience.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12

I am still learning what God is teaching, and what I have learned lately is that God wants us to be gentle with those whose spirits are crushed.