Viewing God Through Circumstantial Lenses

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When Kristen was first diagnosed, I wondered why. Why, God?

Then my Why, God turned to Did you cause this, God, or did you simply allow it? Cause or Allow?

It was important to me, because it shaped who God was for me. I was swimming in a pool of disillusion. My circumstances were reshaping who I’d always thought God was. I was redefining God in terms of my new life i.e., my life as a special needs parent. A person who suddenly, undeservedly walks a very bumpy road. I was caught up in my circumstances, and I viewed God through the lenses of those circumstances.

Now, years later, I realize I wasn’t being fair. I was angry and wanted to lash out at the One who controlled things, because I felt so out of control.

I asked the wrong questions. If God had answered audibly, maybe He would’ve said, “Cause, allow…both are irrelevant.”

There is a Bible passage where God, in the form of a sword-wielding man, speaks to Joshua and tells him, pretty much, his question is irrelevant. When I read Joshua 5:13-15, along with Lysa TerKeurst’s commentary, it made me remember my own irrelevant questions:

13 Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

14 “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”

15 The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

As Joshua was looking at the fortified city of Jericho, we might be seeing his courage falter a bit. The Lord tells him, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9) Despite this, seeing reality up close is another thing.

Suddenly a man with a sword appears before him, and Joshua jumps to the defense: Declare yourself! Are you for us or against us?

It was the wrong question. The angel of the Lord was neither for him or against him. He had a different purpose altogether.

He was there to remind Joshua to focus not on the circumstances, but focus on the Holy God who controlled all things, even the Promised Land Joshua stood on.

When I was faced with challenges beyond my ability, I looked at my circumstances instead of my God. I ended up angry, disillusioned, and fearful.

Then God reminded me where I could find Him: I felt compelled to open my Bible and flip through the pages. My soul was raw. I needed hope.

I found my hope, in verses I’d not read before. Passages from Isaiah, from Luke, from Psalms. By the time I finished reading, my soul felt refreshed. I didn’t find my answers, yet I was more than satisfied.

When we look at God through the lenses of our circumstances, we won’t see Him clearly. We will ask unfair, irrelevant questions. We won’t find answers.

When we look at God with no lenses, no filters of expectations, we will see Him for who He is. He is God. Whether or not we find our Why matters less the more we know Him.

My favorite name of God: Yahweh

Yahweh.

The early Jews considered this name so holy they didn’t even say it aloud.

This name is to be highly revered. In my Bible, it’s easy to simply read past it, mistaking it for “Lord.” But it’s in all capital letters: LORD.

It’s like a call to action — Stand at attention! Or, maybe more appropriately, Get on your knees!

That’s how I feel when I read Exodus 34.  God shows Himself to Moses.

Because humans couldn’t see the face of God and remain alive, God told Moses to stand in the cleft of the rock, and He would cover Moses with His hand while He passed. God allowed Moses to see only His back, not His face. And He would proclaim to Moses His name (Exodus 34:17-23).

Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands,and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

Exodus 34:5-7 NIV

2God is declaring Himself. He is the Almighty God, Yahweh. The LORD.

Moses fell to his knees and worshiped. That’s the way it makes me feel, too.

Can you imagine it? To have Yahweh, the Almighty One, walk in front of you, speaking just to you?

Indescribable.

Yahweh says He is

compassionate

gracious

slow to anger

abounding in love and faithfulness

maintaining love to thousands

forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin

does not leave the guilty unpunished

I am awed by this passage. Every portion of it is worthy of meditation and worship.

But what stands out to me is the contrast. There’s so much mercy and love and grace, but then it’s followed by justice.

Harsh? Maybe we can shift our thinking to a time when we were cheated, and it seemed the cheater would go unpunished.  God says the guilty will be punished. Suddenly that justice gives comfort.

But you know what? We’re all the guilty ones. In some way or another, we’ve all been the cheater. But God says in these verses that He forgives wickedness, rebellion, and sin. He does this through His Son, Jesus (John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life). God is loving and merciful and just.

It seems unfathomable to have God Himself walk in front of us, describing Himself, telling us who He is. But here’s the awesome truth: we have this privilege available now. This minute. Maybe not in the way Moses experienced it. But every time we pray, every time we open the Bible, God Himself talks to us. Each time we call out to Him, He’s there. Yahweh in all His magnificence is available to us, now. Just like with Moses.

Yahweh, glorious One, thank you for being just as available to me as you were to Moses. I might not see You with my eyes, but I see You on the pages of Scripture. I see evidence of Your love in those who serve You and in Your creation. Let me draw near to You today. Amen.

Do I Speak Stress or Jesus?

 

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“You jerk!”

 

When Kristen yelled those words at her dad, he and I both gasped. Rick looked at me, wide-eyed, as if to say, Where did that come from? Heat crept up my neck. My face burned.

 

I knew exactly where that came from. Me.

 

Jerk.

 

It was my word. My way of dealing with rude drivers in our big city. It was stressful driving in all that traffic. Calling other drivers jerks under my breath was how I dealt with it. Better than raising my fist or letting off a string of cuss words. Right?

 

Maybe not.

 

My special needs daughter was having a hard time telling the difference between my calling other drivers jerks, and calling her father a jerk. Hey, honey, it’s fine for Mommy to call rude drivers jerks because they can’t read her lips — they can’t hear her — they don’t know her…but it’s totally disrespectful for you to call Daddy a jerk. You should never, ever do that.

 

The gray I was living in was turning black and white.

 

And just to drive the point home, out of nowhere, words I’d read earlier that day flooded my mind:

 

Luke 6:43-46

 (NIV)

43 “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn bushes, or grapes from briers. 45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

 

So, I get it. If I am living a Jesus kind of life, then all my words ought to reflect that. Even those in the car, in private. Even something as seemingly innocuous as “jerk.”

Apparently it’s not so innocuous. I have someone with me much of the time – someone who absolutely adores me. She watches my every move. I’m under her microscope.

 

But is that so bad? If I’m living for Jesus, shouldn’t I be open to inspection? Not perfection, just inspection. I’m not perfect by any means, but shouldn’t I aim to reflect His goodness?

 

As Christians, shouldn’t this be our goal? Yet, don’t we feel justified saying, “I’m so stressed!” It’s our blanket excuse for acting less-than. It’s acceptable. Certain words and behaviors are accepted under the heading STRESS.

 

But Jesus doesn’t go along with this. While He is compassionate for our stress and anxieties, Jesus has higher expectations for us. He doesn’t want us to settle for second-rate living. And stressful living is second-rate.

 

When Jesus says, “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of,” He is making a point: change your heart.

 

I love Jesus. My words need to reflect my heart, in good times, in bad times, in traffic, and in stress.

 

How does that happen? For me, it will be unlearning anger, impatience and fear. I have a strategy.

  1. Pray.

Everything should begin with prayer, but if I’m honest, sometimes I just start. I can’t do this without the strength of Jesus.

  1. Memorize Scripture.

No small feat, this. I’m a lousy memorizer and a great paraphraser (being a big picture thinker and all…), but I’m dedicated.

  1. Abide in the Word.

Every day I read and study the Bible. I do this along with Proverbs 31 First 5 Experience Guide (I’m reading Luke now). It works well for me because it’s short but every day I learn something valuable.

 

How about you, friend? Do you have someone watching your every move? Have you thought about what your words reflect? Believe me, I’m not pointing a finger at anyone except myself. As Believers in Christ, we’re on this journey together! The good news: Jesus wants the best for us! We can do this through Him (Philippians 4:13).

 

By the way, when I confessed to my husband where Kristen had gotten her phrase, he started laughing. “No way! I thought she heard it from me!”

 

As always, he and I are in this together, for better or worse.

 

–Teresa

 

Photo credit: Matthew Henry, Unsplash.com

 

How accessible is God?

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I read something the other day and I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

Not because it was cute or witty. But because it was a contrast to the truth.

It went like this:

 “The thing that the king asks is difficult, and no one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.” 

Daniel 2:11

I know, it’s kind of random by itself. You can read the whole story here.

Here’s what bugged me: when these people needed their gods to show up, they weren’t around. They said their gods didn’t live “with flesh” (humans).

What a desperate situation. And what a contrast to reality.

The one true God shows up when we call. He’s never far away. He’s omnipresent.

I can’t imagine life without God. I can’t imagine the loneliness of not having a supreme being to call out to, knowing I’m not in charge of this world. I am humbled to be able to cry out to the God who is in charge of the world. Even though I don’t understand how He does things or decisions He makes, I’m thankful He listens when I pray. I’m awestruck to know He loves me.  The God of the Universe wants to be near me — and you.

And I’m thankful I don’t have to respond, EVER, by saying, “I’m sorry, my God isn’t available because he doesn’t live with humans.” My God — your God — takes pleasure in the people He created. He is all around us, always. He is near.

He is always available to us.

We have a living, caring God who is not like those false gods “whose dwelling is not with flesh.” Our God loved us so much He sent His Son, Jesus, to live among us, to dwell with flesh.  Our God listens and answers our prayers. How wonderful is that!

Think about that today. God is always available to you!

—Teresa

Photo credit: Finn Hackshaw, Unsplash.com

Getting Past Our Doubts

A photo by Nitish Meena. unsplash.com/photos/RbbdzZBKRDY

How do we get past our doubts?

With me, it was a long process. I had to ask myself what I could trust — what was a certainty in this life. Even though I felt betrayed by God when my daughter was diagnosed with tuberous sclerosis, I had to admit He was the only sure footing I had in this world. Though I could reach out to family and friends, one day they would be gone. God is immortal.

I knew about God; I had put my trust in Jesus for my salvation. However, I didn’t really know God. Not like I knew my family and friends. Maybe that’s why I doubted Him.

Who was the God who let me down?

I had to find out. I researched who He was by opening my Bible to any place, letting those crispy thin pages leaf through my fingers and just flop open…My eyes wandered over the small print, listless. But then I saw something in Isaiah that made me gather my leather Bible closer, tracing unfamiliar words. They resonated deep within my soul, made me blink tears from my eyes.

He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.

Isaiah 53:3–5

This was prophecy of Jesus’ death. The emotion I saw on that page, the sorrow, the grief, were the same emotions I struggled with after my daughter’s diagnosis. Even though I knew Jesus’ death on the cross was excruciating, somehow I hadn’t gotten that He knew the depths of grief. When I read this passage, it hit me: Jesus understands my sorrow.

I’d love to tell you that I rose above petty self-centeredness to work through my doubts, but that wouldn’t be the truth. Jesus bridged the gap and met me in my self-centered little world by allowing me to say, Hey, you get me, Jesus.

The thing is, He does get us. He meets us wherever we are — self-centered, mad, beaten down, broken — and He lifts us up to see that He gave His life for us to live in freedom.

This passage gave me perspective. God wasn’t against me. He was in this with me. He knew a lot more of what suffering felt like than I did.

My thirst for who God was continued. The more I found out about God, the more I wanted to know.

I encourage you to open your Bible if you’re wondering where God is or who He is or why He’s done something. Your answer is there. You might have to look a while. But you will find what you’re looking for.

When you do, I’d love to hear your story.

–Teresa

Stormy Waters

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Decades ago, my grandma painted a haunting scene in beautiful shades of grays and blues. The drama on the canvas has always fascinated me. Against a backdrop of gauzy mountains, there are three figures in a small boat, buffeted and tossed by white-capped waves. Their desperation is palpable. They’re suspended in mid-motion, no easy resolution to their problem. The monochrome is disturbing, fascinating, and a favorite of no one but me.

 

Somewhere inside that painting is hope and the promise of peace.

 

It’s become a symbol of our world. Especially recent days. Here in Dallas, the last week has been shattering. When situations in the world were disturbing and tense, our chilling events unfolded Thursday night with the calculated killings of five police officers, and the injuries of several others.

 

More personal still, the shooter was someone from my former neighborhood. He was a person we probably saw regularly, crossed paths with, considered a nice boy.

 

As an educator, that tears me up. How many students did I think were nice boys, nice girls, who will turn into unrecognizable adults? Did I do everything I could to impact young lives when I had a chance? That was my mission.

 

But the answer is no. Because if I’d done everything I could do to impact young lives of students, I would have taken away from my impact on the three young lives entrusted to me as a mother.

 

You can’t do it all.

You do the best you can.

You have to be at peace with that.

 

Today, as my heart hurts for my city, for the officers’ families, for the wounded who missed death by inches, for the ones who protect us, for the ones who fear they’ll be targeted for skin color or uniform color, I find solace in the words of Isaiah.

 

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.
Isaiah 61:1-3

 

There is hope for our mourning, peace for our despair. Jesus is our hope in these turbulent times. He is the light and purity we desperately need to find our way home amidst the chaos. We can put our faith in him.

 

When Jesus was in a boat with his disciples, a storm came up without warning. Waves swept over the boat. Jesus slept through it but the disciples panicked. They said, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He asked them why they were so afraid. Didn’t they have faith? Then he got up and called down the winds and the waves. The disciples were amazed at the complete calm around them. “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” (Matthew 8:23-27)

 

Despite all they had seen Jesus do, the disciples still didn’t understand Jesus’ power.

 

Even though it’s easy to look down on the disciples for their lack of faith, I wonder at my own. I despaired Thursday night, each time the newscaster announced one more officer had died. All I could think was, God, no! Don’t let this happen!

 

But after so many years of watching God work in my life, I should know–this is a God who tames the wind and the waves. Nothing is too hard for Him. I might not understand when He allows things and when He chooses to intervene, but I know He can overcome anything. Even devastations past, present, or future. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”John 16:33(NIV)

 

We can trust Jesus with our stormy waters.

 

More than lunch

Yesterday, I had one of those lunches that make you want more.

 

It wasn’t the food. It was the company, and the conversation, and our common calling.

 

Most of the women seated around the table were strangers to me, at least in person. I knew them online to a small extent, because we all write in common, intersecting communities. After sitting with my new friends for a couple hours, I walked away inspired. It wasn’t just a networking opportunity at Gloria’s that day. It was an opportunity to share in God’s redemption story in each of our lives, over and over and over again.

 

Don’t get me wrong — to the casual observer, we looked like a bunch of women having a good time, nothing special. Laughing, talking, listening, eating. The usual. Nobody stood up and made a big holy proclamation or anything.

 

What inspired me was just that — sitting beside normal women who were living normal lives, called to write for Jesus, trying to figure out what it looks like, trying to work it into busy schedules, and sharing how Jesus had taken their broken lives and made them whole against all odds.

 

So refreshing.

 

Lately I’ve been allowing discouragement to seep into my thoughts, my speech, and my actions. This writers lunch reminded me how important it is to be with people who tell about their Jesus stories. Fellowship is not just a good thing. It’s essential.

 

We can’t live without it.

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23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:23-25, NIV

 

 

 

God knows we’re not able to do life alone. Words of encouragement are not just sweet phrases scrawled in curlicue writing. God knew we would fight discouragement, temptation, sin, opposition, doubt and persecution. He told us to consider how we might spur each other on. In other words, think of all the different ways you might encourage those around you who are living for Jesus — and do it.

 

That’s why it’s important to meet with others who are living out God’s Truth. When words take us down, His Word fills us up. And yesterday, my heart was overflowing.

 

–Teresa

 

Unity

 

1

In my quiet time, I’m following the First 5 study on Acts. The early church’s unity, devotion, and the way they sold off their possessions to support each other is foreign to us.

But it’s refreshing, too. When was the last time we showed that level of devotion? Those new believers were unified by Christ’s love, His instruction to tell His message, and even through persecution.

Do we, as believers, have that kind of bond today?

If not, should we?

Culturally, we look different from that group two thousand years ago. But shouldn’t we strive to share the same spirit of unity in Christ, the fervor of running together towards a common goal, the same big picture thinking those new believers had?

Let’s remember, love, unity, fervor and big picture thinking doesn’t equal sameness.

Those people had disagreements (Acts 6:1-5; 15:36-41), just like we do. Even though somebody loves the Lord with all his heart and soul, he might still sharply disagree with another believer.

Hence the abundance of denominations, all claiming that Jesus is Lord, but differing in the way they interpret Scripture. Which one is right?

God.

In other words, we should do our best to interpret His Word, then get over ourselves. We’ll get it wrong somewhere, somehow, because we’re human. He’ll set the details and gray areas right in the end.

One thing He’s been abundantly clear about: Jesus is His Son.

God wanted us to find peace with Him through Jesus. If He didn’t want a relationship with you, with me, with all of us, He would have done nothing. He certainly would not have sent His Son to live on earth and die a horrible death. But God did — does — want a relationship with us, so someone had to die in our place. Someone without sin. Jesus.

To date, Jesus is the only person who has given His life for me on a personal level. I’ve never had anyone else die in my place. No one has willingly taken a bullet meant for me, no one has taken my place at the guillotine, no one has pushed me out of the path of a speeding car. If someone had, I’d live forever in their honor, filled with renewed purpose. I’ve always loved A Tale of Two Cities because that kind of self-sacrificing love amazes and humbles me.

In recognition of the One who DID give His life for me, for you, for all of us, shall we live with renewed purpose, in Jesus honor, and in unity, as those first believers did? Isn’t it the least we can do for the One who gave it all?

46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Acts 2:46-47New International Version (NIV)