Conntecting the Dots

When God’s Love Doesn’t Look Like Love

 

A familiar Sunday school song reminds us that Jesus loves us. That’s an easy truth to believe when all is well and life brings blessing upon blessing. But what about when life takes an unexpected turn and heads a direction we did not choose?

 

Joseph’s life is a prime example. He was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, and served a prison sentence for a crime he did not commit. Psalm 105:17-19 gives a brief description of his experience behind bars: They bruised his feet with fetters and placed his neck in an iron collar. Until the time came to fulfill his dreams, the Lord tested Joseph’s character.”

 

In the midst of Joseph’s suffering, we find this nugget of encouragement: But the Lord was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love. And the Lord made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden.” (Genesis 39:21 NLT).

 

We can understand favor in the warden’s eyes as evidence of God’s love, right? But what about the fetters and bruises? Our human bent might be tempted to say, “Seriously? Letting the bad guys mistreat Joseph doesn’t look like love.” Let’s remember that God’s perspective is always, always different than ours: “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

 

Suffering refined Joseph’s character and prepared him to become an effective national leader. Joseph himself came to this realization years later, after Pharaoh appointed him as second-in-command. He said to the same brothers who’d betrayed him, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” (Genesis 50:20)

 

So How Does This Apply to Us?

We might be tempted to look at our current circumstances and say, “Seriously? Allowing a global pandemic to rock the world off its axis, confine us in lockdowns, and cause irreparable fallout doesn’t look like love.” But let’s remember that God’s perspective is different than ours.

 

Suffering can refine our characters and make us more like Jesus. Getting rid of the junk in our lives and exchanging it for qualities such as joy, peace, compassion, and selflessness—that looks like love, doesn’t it?

 

Using a global pandemic to turn people’s hearts toward Jesus for hope, comfort, and healing—that looks like love, doesn’t it?

 

Using lockdown restrictions to help us, as believers, appreciate religious freedom and teach us greater compassion for persecuted brothers and sisters worldwide—that looks like love, doesn’t it?

God’s love never guarantees an easy life. It does, however, promise that He will be with us in our hard place just as He was with Joseph, and He will be faithful.

 

What evidence of God’s love do you see in your difficult circumstances?

 

#bgbg2  #LifeHasHardPlaces  #GodIsWithUs  #GodLovesUs 

 

 

 

The Significance of an Overlooked 3-Letter Word

 

I find it’s easy to blow past little words when reading my Bible. One of those words is “all.”

Several times in the past week, it jumped off the page at me as if to say, “I’m small but significant. Pay attention to me!”

 

One encounter with this wee word was in Proverbs 3:5-6—“Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”

 

“All” shows up here not once, but twice, and it carries a message of profound importance. In the midst of these crazy, chaotic days, God calls us to trust Him with our entire heart. We’re to acknowledge Him as faithful, wise, and sovereign even when circumstances don’t make sense or suit our fancy. Leaving wiggle room for control or manipulation in hopes of achieving the outcome we deem best never works well. We’re to trust Him and His ways with all our heart, not just a part.

 

“All” also tells us to seek God’s will in everything we do. Our human bent is to seek our own will, to secure our own personal interest in everything we do. When we do so, we allow our emotions to rule our decisions and we end up saying or doing something we later regret. We avoid a lot of self-inflicted pain when we ask God to show us the direction He wants to take in a particular situation and follow His lead.  

 

“All” is only a three-letter word but it carries life-changing ramifications. May I offer a prayer to help us learn to pay attention to it and apply it to our lives?

 

“Heavenly Father, thank You for giving us wise instruction so we can flourish. Thank You for this little word “all.” Help us to pay attention to it and to live by its truth. Teach us how to trust You with every part of our heart, not leaving wiggle room for doubt or fear or manipulation. Teach us how to seek Your direction in every endeavor, not allowing our emotions to dictate what we do. We love You and are grateful for the privilege of being children of the living God—the One who is good in all His ways. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

 

#TrustGodWithAllYourHeart  #bgbg2  #GodsInstructions

How Having a Focus-Word Helps Us Grow

 

At the start of each year, I ask the Lord to give me a focus word. A couple of years ago, my word was “joy.” It reminded me to reframe the way I viewed difficulties. I learned to see them not as hindrances but as opportunities to experience God’s presence and promises in new ways.

 

Last year, my word was “listen.” It encouraged me to keep an ear open for the Holy Spirit’s whispers during the course of the day. It also prompted me to listen more intentionally to other people—to hear the true heart behind the words they were speaking.

 

This year, the word “praise” jumped off the page as I read Psalm 146. The chapter begins, “Praise the LORD. Let all that I am praise the LORD.” (Psalm 146:1) It closes with, “Praise the LORD.” Here are a few thoughts that have come to mind as I’ve pondered it over the past few days.

  • Psalm 146 begins and ends with the same instruction. Just as these three words bookend the chapter, so I will bookend my days by intentionally beginning and ending them with praise.
  • The first word of this command is “praise,” meaning I’m to acknowledge God for who He is. This is different than thanking Him for what He’s done. It focuses on the characteristics that describe Him—wisdom, compassion, holiness, justice, sovereignty, and more.
  • The last word of this command is “LORD.” Beyond any doubt, it tells me who the focus of my praise ought to be—the almighty, self-existent, sovereign Creator. He is above all gods. None can compare to Him.
  • Praising the Lord involves my whole-hearted self. “Let all that I am praise the LORD” means everything about me acknowledges His kingship and authority. He rules over my spiritual life, of course. But He also sits as King over my mind, my emotions, and my body.
  • Praising the Lord ought to be my practice regardless of my circumstances. “I will sing praises to my God with my dying breath,” says Psalm 146:2. God remains God and deserves praise even if my life takes an unexpected and painful turn.

 

I’m looking forward to implementing praise even more intentionally than I already have and to seeing its effect in my life.

 

Do you ask God to give you a focus word at the start of a new year? If so, what’s your word for 2021?

 

#bgbg2  #oneword  #Powerofpraise  #Goddeservespraise

Jonah and the Pandemic

 

What will Christmas look like for you? We had plans to celebrate Christmas this weekend with our son and our youngest daughter and their families, but pandemic restrictions changed everything. We’ve canceled those plans and will be home alone until the restrictions lift.

 

I suspect that most of you are in the same situation. “Disappointment” might be an understatement. For some, this year’s layered disappointments teeter on frustration or anger.

 

Anger toward authorities whose decisions stop us from spending time with family. Anger toward rules about wearing masks. Anger toward freedoms restricted, jobs lost, and celebrations canceled. Anger toward inconsistent rules, circumstances beyond our control, and people who don’t share our perspective.

Jonah felt angry, too. Had he not done what God told him and delivered the message of doom to Ninevah? And then, of all the nerve, God stepped in and changed His plans. (Jonah 3:10-4:3) Ninevah’s population repented, and God decided not to destroy the city after all.

 

Jonah took personal offense. “Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen” (Jonah 4:3).

 

Jonah’s honesty revealed a heart focused on self. Pride about losing face overruled joy over people responding to God’s message and turning to Him.

 

God was up to something big in Ninevah, and He’d invited Jonah to play a part. Jonah’s self-focus nearly caused him to miss it.

 

God is up to something big in our world, and He’s invited us to play a part. He’s a merciful and compassionate God. He’s slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. (Jonah 4:2) What if He wants to use this pandemic to deepen our relationship with Him? What if He wants to use it to draw unbelievers into saving faith? What if He wants to use it to stir a revival in the Church worldwide? No matter what He’s doing, He wants us to shine as lights, to be beacons of hope for those who cannot see their way through the darkness.

 

When Jonah spilled his frustration, God asked him a pointed question: “Is it right for you to be angry about this?”  It must have been a pretty important question because He repeated it a second time. (Jonah 4:4)

 

It’s important for us to ask ourselves the same question. In fact, let’s be really honest, turn it around, and personalize it: “Is it right for me to be angry about this?” Let’s allow the Holy Spirit to show us whether self-focus is blinding us to what God wants to do. And then let’s choose to be God-focused instead—active and willing participants in His plan.  

 

#bgbg2  #Jonah  #Godandthepandemic 

How to Remain Hope-filled and Thankful

Numerous articles about giving thanks have appeared in my inbox this week. So have articles that speak to COVID fatigue and weariness, especially in light of increased restrictions. Illness, isolation, financial stress, increased domestic violence, and loss have taken a toll. We’re all wondering when this will end, and we’re all wishing it will end soon.

 

The psalmist wrote, “I am worn out waiting for your [the Lord’s] rescue.” (Psalm 119:81 NLT) You’d almost think he wrote it for those of us living in 2020, right?

 

Another version reads, “My soul faints with longing for your salvation.” (NIV) The word “faints” carries the idea of a collapse or loss of strength. The psalmist uses it to describe the state of his soul—it’s so weak that he’s almost at the end of himself. He needs God to step in and save him. Nothing less will do.

But the writer doesn’t stop there. If he had, he might have thrown his hands up in despair and uttered, “This angst, this pain, this not-knowing-what’s-going-to-happen-next has gone on long enough. I can’t do this anymore!” Instead, he follows his first statement with these words: “but I have put my hope in your word.”

 

The psalmist turns his focus from his problems to the Problem-Solver. There he finds new strength and renewed hope. He demonstrates Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9—”We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

 

Dear friend, you might feel like the psalmist did when he wrote this verse. You might feel worn out from waiting, too. It’s okay to admit you’re weary. But please don’t stop there.

 

Let’s put our hope in God’s word. He vowed to never forsake us. He promised to be our refuge, our guide, our wisdom, and our provider. He also promised that one day He’ll return to take us home where He’ll wipe every tear from our eyes.  

 

We may be worn out waiting for the Lord’s rescue, but we will put our hope in His word. And we will be renewed. Strengthened. Hope-filled. And thankful.

 

Know you are loved!

 

#bgbg2  #thankful  #covidfatigue  #wearyinwaiting   #devotions

Does God Speak to Us Today?  

 

Several days ago, I was immersed in writing materials for a weekly Zoom Bible study I teach when I heard a little whisper. “Do your laundry now,” it said.

 

“What? But I’m in the middle of doing work that has to be finished today,” I said.

 

The whisper persisted. “Do your laundry now.”

 

I’ve enjoyed relationship with God long enough to recognize His voice when He speaks. I also know that arguing with Him is not a wise thing to do. “Okay,” I said. I left my computer and stuffed our towels into the dirty laundry bag. “If this is you speaking, God, then I suspect You have an assignment for me there,” I said as I stepped off my boat-home and began walking down the dock toward the marina laundromat.

 

I secretly hoped that the whisper was going to work for my advantage and I’d arrive  to find all three washers and dryers empty and waiting for me. But that was not the case. The dryers were in use. The washers were also full, but their loads were finished.

 

Most marina residents are okay with their wet laundry being set atop the machines if another resident needs the washers before they come to remove their completed loads, so I did that. Then I returned to my boat-home for the duration of the wash cycle, wondering why the urgency.

 

The mystery was solved when I returned to move my laundry into the dryers. Turns out that the laundry I’d set atop the washers belonged to one of my closest neighbors. She’d been delayed because she’d dropped her only car key into the river when stepping from the dock onto her boat and was trying to figure out how to either retrieve or replace it. Poor thing! She was distraught, and understandably so.

 

A prayer that Gene and I pray frequently is this: “God, make us available when our neighbors need help and give us creative ways to lend a hand.” We stand in awe at the ways He answers that prayer, and this was no exception. That day, He made me available to help my neighbor get her laundry dried, folded, and returned to her boat. This alleviated her stress as she dealt with a far more urgent matter, and I was glad to be there for her.

 

Does God speak to us today? Absolutely. Here are several principles I’ve seen prove consistent:

 

  • God’s voice speaks truth. It will never tell us to do something contrary to His Word. If the whisper we hear does not align with truth as revealed in Scripture, then we need to ignore it. (John 8:44, John 14:6, James 1:13)
  • God’s voice affirms. It instructs us in the way we should live so we can flourish. It speaks life and hope and peace. It convicts when we do wrong, yes, but it never shames. (Psalm 32:8)
  • God’s voice brings clarity. It never tells us to do something that’s confusing or chaotic. Rather, it sheds light and wisdom on our path. (1 Corinthians 14:33, James 1:5)

 

God still speaks to us today, and He does so using whatever method He chooses. Often He uses little whispers to tell us what He wants us to know or do. Our role in our relationship with Him is to tune our ear to listen so we can hear it above the din of so many other voices calling for our attention. Then we’re to respond affirmatively to Him. The more we listen and obey, the more He’ll speak and the more readily we’ll recognize His voice when He does. (Romans 8:14-16, John 10:27)

 

How does God speak to you today? What has He spoken to you recently?

 

#GodSpeaks  #HearingGodsVoice  #bgbg2  #devotions

3 Truths to Remember When You Feel Depleted

 

I’ll be honest—I’m feeling a tad depleted. A culmination of things have led me to this place, the most significant being my mother’s death and the necessary busyness during the eight weeks prior. But add to that the craziness of 2020, right?

 

You know what I mean. The pandemic has ripped away normalcy as we’ve known it. We’re left wondering how to move forward when we can barely see past today. The rules have changed, and they continue changing, and we have to change with them. What will they be tomorrow, and what will that mean for us?  It’s anyone’s guess.

 

I miss my friends. I miss my family. I miss my church family. I worshiped in my home church a couple of weeks ago for the first time since January. The sanctuary is built to hold six hundred or more, but now it holds fifty. It felt so wrong. It felt wrong.

 

And then there’s the political unrest. So many opinions. So much hostility. Trying to sort it out makes my head throb.

 

I’m developing a fresh appreciation for the psalmist’s questions: “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad?” (Psalm 42:5NLT) Taking time to think about them and write the answers has proven therapeutic. But here’s the thing I’ve discovered: I can’t linger there too long or I’ll sink deeper into discouragement. Instead, I have to resolutely follow the psalmist’s example and choose to place my focus elsewhere—on God: “I will put my hope in God!  I will praise him again–my Savior and my God!” (Psalm 42:5-6)

 

I will put my hope in God.

 

I will praise Him again.

 

I will. I will.

 

What enables me to choose this response and follow through? Knowing that God is who He says He is. Here are three declarations about His nature that help renew my strength when I’m feeling depleted:

 

God is Wise  — What is wisdom, anyway? One definition is “the power to see and the inclination to choose the best and highest goal, together with the surest means of attaining that goal.” God alone knows what He wants to accomplish through the world events of 2020, and God alone knows the best means of accomplishing that goal. I don’t know the answers but I can trust Him and the process He allows because He knows everything about everything. “Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.” (Psalm 147:5)

 

God is Powerful – Just as there is no limit to His wisdom, so there’s no end to His strength. He spoke the universe into being, split the Red Sea, healed the lepers, and raised the dead. I might view a challenging situation as impossible, but hope is restored when I remember this truth—“For nothing will be  impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37 ESV)

 

God is Good – God is good by nature, therefore everything He does is good. One definition of “good” is “beneficial.” I find renewed hope when I cling to the truth that God will never let our pain go to waste. He will always make it beneficial to us in some way when we work with Him in the process. “How great is the goodness you have stored up for those who fear you. You lavish it on those who come to you for protection, blessing them before the watching world.” (Psalm 31:19-20)

 

How about you, my friend? How are you really doing today? Which of the three characteristics of God resonates most with you in your current situation, and why?

 

#bgbg2  #GodisWise  #GodisGood  #GodisPowerful  #Hope

 

A Prayer for Election Day

The U.S. election marks a significant day in world history. I’ll be honest—I feel as though anything I write for today’s blog might sound trite. As a result, I’m going to spend my words on prayer. Would you pray this with me, please?

 

“Heavenly Father, we come to You with humble hearts acknowledging our need for You. You alone know the magnitude of today’s election, and You alone know how the outcome will serve Your purposes in the future. When our limited understanding leaves us prone to fear, remind us that You are in control.

 

If the outcome is contrary to our wishes, help us guard our tongues against speaking evil and engaging in conversations that breed divisiveness. Teach us to walk in integrity and to do what’s right in Your eyes. Give us love for those who don’t share our views. Help us, as Your sons and daughters, model respect and honor when others’ opinions don’t match ours.

 

Grant us a renewed understanding of Your sovereignty over the nations. Give us faith to believe that the man who wins does so by Your appointment. Teach us how to pray for him, his family, and those who surround him in leadership.

 

Most of all, stir a revival within our hearts. For the sake of Your honor and great name, please forgive us for spiritual complacency. Cleanse us from loving self and personal safety more than You and sacrifice. Remove inaccurate thoughts about who You are and guide us in Your truth.

 

Rise up, O God, and reveal Yourself to the nations as the one and only God.

The God of truth and righteousness.

The God of mercy and grace.

The God who became man and walked among us.

The God who promises to draw near to those who draw near to You.

The God who fulfills all His promises.

 

You are the God in whom we place our hope today and always. You are the One in whom we find peace and joy. You are the One in whom we trust because You alone are trustworthy and good all the time.

 

Please hear our prayer and answer our cries. In Jesus’ name, amen.”  

 

#electiondayprayer

 

A Key to Working Through Grief

 

Two weeks ago, I blogged about sitting at my mother’s bedside. The doctor suspected that her remaining time on earth would soon end, and he was right. Mom took her last breath on earth and then moved to heaven on Friday, October 9th. I had the privilege of praying for her and worshiping Jesus in those sacred moments—an experience for which I am beyond grateful.

 

My head hasn’t yet wrapped itself around the fact that Mom’s no longer with us. My heart feels like it has a gaping hole. Grief has run over me like a steam roller, and tears flow at the most unexpected times. But God is good and gives me snippets of encouragement when I need it most.

 

This morning, I participated in my weekly Zoom Bible study with a group of women who are dear friends and sisters in Christ. In the end, the leader reminded us that Jesus was no stranger to heartache. She quoted Isaiah 53:3 – “He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”

 

As I’ve pondered this verse today, I’ve found encouragement in knowing that Jesus was acquainted with—not controlled by—grief. He experienced it more deeply than we can ever know, but He did not let it commandeer His emotions, cause Him to deviate from His divine mission, or lessen His love for others or for God who ordained the hardships He encountered while in human form.

 

Grieving is a natural and necessary process when we face disappointment and loss. We can walk this journey in a healthy way, or we can stumble through it, hoping to survive the ride. If the latter, we might say or do things we later regret. We might lash out at a family member with whom we already have a tense relationship. We might fall into believing that God doesn’t really love us after all and turn from Him. We might think no one really understands what we’re feeling, so we withdraw and try to handle our heartache in silence and solitude. We might even dive into binge eating. There’s a reason we call certain edibles “comfort” food, right?

 

We’ll all experience grief in some form or other at some time or other. In fact, the year 2020 has given pretty much everyone on the planet a taste of it. Each person’s journey looks different from others, but one truth remains the same: We can walk this path well by looking at Jesus’s example. A man acquainted with grief, He neither fell into despair nor did He use sorrow as an excuse for sin. We can trust Him to help us do the same.

 

 

#bgbg2  #grief  #grievingwell  #WhatDidJesusDo

There’s Light at the End of the Tunnel

 

We’ve all heard the term “the light at the end of the tunnel.” We say it when going through a dark time in life. Circumstances may be extremely difficult but we see rays of hope ahead, and that hope keeps us going.

 

Jesus’s followers in the first century wouldn’t have used this term in their day, but they lived in its reality. They were persecuted and abused for their faith, but they persevered because they kept their eyes on God’s special plans awaiting them.  

 

Peter wrote a letter to these believers. He said, “Now we live with a wonderful expectation because Jesus Christ rose again from the dead. For God has reserved a priceless inheritance for his children. It is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay… So, be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead even though it is necessary for you to endure many trials for a while.” (1 Peter 1:3-4, 1 Peter 1:6)

 

As I write this, I’m sitting at my mother’s bedside. The doctor suspects her remaining time on earth will soon end. I’m in a tunnel right now, in a dark emotional place. But I see light at the end of it.

 

My mother placed her faith in Christ for salvation decades ago. Because He rose from the grave and overcame death once for all, Mom will move from this earth to heaven where she will spend eternity in His glorious presence. She’ll finally receive the priceless inheritance God has promised and kept in heaven for His children. There’s wonderful joy ahead for her even though it’s necessary for her to endure the trial of illness and death.

 

There’s wonderful joy ahead for Mom’s family and friends, too. We will miss her like crazy, but we know where she’s going. We grieve our loss but we celebrate her gain. And we see light at the end of the tunnel of sorrow knowing we’ll someday celebrate a great, grand reunion.

 

Are you in a tunnel, too? If so, read 1 Peter 1:3,4,6 again and thank God for the hope He’s given through Jesus Christ—the light of the world who sheds light in our darkness.

 

 

#bgbg2  #heavenwaits  #purejoy