Shadowlands – What If…

What if things had happened differently in Eden?


Eve stood in clearing, waiting for Adam.  She was mesmerized by the two Trees in front of her.  Why had they waited so long to come here – to just look at these two majestic Trees?  She told herself again that there was no harm in looking, in enjoying the beauty.

“They ARE majestic, aren’t they?”

Eve jumped at the silky voice.  She turned to see a beautiful creature, a serpent, standing there beside her, gazing up at the Trees.  How had he come up beside her so suddenly without her hearing him?  She was distracted from the Trees for a moment by his beauty.  Variegated fur ruffled in the wind, patterns swirling across his body.

“Yes, they are,” she answered.  “What is your name?  I don’t think we’ve met, and I thought I knew all the serpents that lived in the Garden.”

“My name?” he asked.  “My name isn’t really important.  But you!  You and Adam are the crowning achievements of Creation!  And here you are, admiring these majestic fruit trees in your Garden.  Tell me,” and he put a paw on her shoulder, “how does the fruit from that Tree taste?”

“I don’t know,” she replied.

“You don’t know?  You don’t know how the fruit of one of your own trees tastes?  How can that be?” he asked.

Eve suddenly felt very foolish.  It WAS her Tree, after all…hers and Adam’s.  She looked up at it again, taking in the lush fruit that hung, ripe and ready to be plucked.

The serpent spoke again.  “Let me guess,” he said.  “Did Elyon tell you not to eat that fruit?  Did he really place you in this beautiful Garden, tell you it was a gift for you, and then tell you that couldn’t eat any fruit from any of these beautiful trees?  What a shame.”  He shook in his head at the thought.

“No, that’s not right,” Eve said, glancing at him for an instant.  But her eyes were drawn back to that fruit.  It hung so low to the ground.  She took a step towards the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, then stopped.  “No, that’s not right at all.  The Three-in-One didn’t tell us we couldn’t eat from any tree in the Garden.  He gave us all of this, but He warned us not to eat from that tree because if we did, our spirits would die.”

The serpent laughed.  “You will NOT die.  That is ridiculous!  Your Three-in-One is holding out on you.  He knows that if you eat that fruit, you will become just like Him.  And He doesn’t want that.”

Eve considered this for a moment, then responded, “I don’t think that’s true.”

“What’s not true?” Adam asked, startling her as he walked up behind her.  “And who are you?” he asked the serpent.

“Who I am doesn’t matter.  Your Three-in-One isn’t who you think he is.  He’s deceiving you,” the serpent hissed.

“Well, let’s talk to Him about that right now,” Adam said.  He looked at Eve and she nodded back at him.  Together, they called out, “Elyon!  Logos!  Ruach!  Please help us!”  In an instant, the Three-in-One were with them, standing around them.

“How can we help you?” He asked.

“This serpent…he told me you were lying to us about the Tree,” Eve said.  “But You have provided so much for us, given us such a beautiful Garden in which to live.  We don’t believe You are deceiving us.”

“What should we do?” Adam asked.  “Help us know what to do.”

“You must choose,” Logos responded for the Three-in-One.  “Do you trust Me?  Or will you listen to the serpent?”

Adam and Eve looked at one another.  The Three-in-One had always cared for them, always provided for them.  The serpent…they didn’t even know who the serpent was.”

Adam spoke for them.  “We trust You.  Always.”

“Then tell the serpent to be gone, and he must leave,” Logos replied.

Adam looked at the serpent.  “You are not wanted here,” he said.  “Be gone.”

The serpent snarled in protest, started to speak.  But Logos raised a hand, pointing at him, and in a flash of light, the serpent was gone.

Now Elyon spoke.  “He has been banished from the Garden, by your choice.  He will never return unless you invite him.  But beware – never invite him.  His true name is Accuser and Deceiver, the Father of Lies.  He crouches like a predator, seeking to steal all that you have, to kill, to destroy all that you enjoy.  However – the choice will always lie before you.” 

And then the Three-in-One looked at one another and smiled.  Then spoke.  “Come, let us take our customary walk together in the cool of the evening.”

Where Is God?

I first saw the question online last week – “where was God during Hurricane Harvey?”

I can’t take credit for the great answer I saw from someone (I don’t remember who wrote the blog, or I would give them credit) – God was present in His people, who were rescuing the stranded, bringing relief supplies to those in need, and coming in to the midst of the chaos following the hurricane to help however they could.

We are the Body of Christ in this world, and…

  • Wherever there is darkness, we go to bring the light;
  • Wherever there is pain, we go to bring healing;
  • Wherever there are captives, we go to set them free;
  • Wherever there is turmoil, we go to bring peace;
  • Wherever there is hunger and thirst, we go to bring food and drink;
  • Wherever there is spiritual hunger and thirst, we go to bring the Bread of Life and the Living Water; and
  • Wherever there is boredom and lack of purpose, we go to bring salt.

When the world asks “where was God when…” the answer must always be that God is present in His people, who do His work. God is present in His people, who are salt and light; God is present in His people, who love their neighbors and their enemies; God is present in His people, whose God-given vision can bring solutions to impossible situations; God is present in His people, whose self-sacrifice and service to others is like that of Jesus, who came not be served but to serve others.

You see, when a storm hits, it’s not an “act of God.” It’s not God’s wrath being poured out on the earth. A storm is a storm. It’s a result of weather patterns in a sinful, fallen world.

Where is God in the storm?

God is present in the refreshing rain, not in the torrential flooding.

God is present in the air we breathe, but not in the tornadic winds.

God is present in the deep blue sea, but not in the chaos of the storm surge.

God’s power is displayed in the might of a weather pattern, but God is not present in the destruction that is brought by the storm.

God is present, most of all, within us, His people.

Let us live our lives as God’s representatives in these difficult times, as Paul instructed us:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:[a] The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. 2 Corinthians 5:17-20a (NIV)

Dry Times

What do you do when you don’t know what to do?  Or more difficult yet, what do you do when you don’t want to do anything but you know you need to be doing something?

That’s where I’ve lived for the past two months.

I thought that having surgery would fix everything and that I would begin to feel more energized, more like my “normal” self, more like being productive and getting things done.

But honestly, I don’t.

dry-ground18

Everyone asks me, “How are you feeling?”  And I feel like I need to report some major progress, like the expectations on me to recover and be back to normal are very high.  Even though that’s not really the case – it’s just my projection of what I think other people are thinking.

And it’s not just physical or mental.

I’ve had a hard time getting back into any kind of a routine with my spiritual life.  (I know, I know.  Bad admission for a pastor to make.) But I’ve had a hard time getting into a routine with my normal disciplines – reading, journaling, etc.  And when I am doing those things, it just feels…dry.  I kind of feel stuck.

So what do you do when you’re in a place like that?  Especially when you are a leader?

I don’t know that there are any simple answers.  I know that I’m not in a “dark night of the soul” place where I’m not seeing God work or hearing His voice.  I know that I’m grateful; I know that He is good; I know that He is with me.

I’m just tired, and tired of being tired.

So what I do is this – I just keep on keeping on.  I’ve gone back to some basics – making sure I’m spending time reading the Bible every day, especially the Psalms and the Gospels.  I’m trying to make time every day to sit in silence with God, whether I journal or not.  I look for things for which to be thankful, and I give thanks for them.  I enjoy my time with my girls, and with my friends.  I play worship music and I soak with it.  And I take a little time each evening to sit outside, get some fresh air, and look at the woods.

I’m working on getting enough sleep and exercise and on eating healthier, because I can control those things.

I keep doing my job, and I keep doing my ministry.  I keep showing up.  I keep doing what I’m supposed to do, what I’m required to do, and what I know to do.

And, I wait.  Because I know this is a season, and I know it will pass.  I know that it won’t always be this way.  I know I can’t just will myself out of this; I know I can trust my Father.  I know He is with me, and I know He will work out something good in me through this.

And, I know that somehow, this will help me to be a blessing to others in some way in the future.

So if you’re going through a dry time…keep on going.  You won’t be there forever.  Even if it feels like it at times.

“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6 (NIV) 

He will complete that good work in you.  And in me!

Wednesday Book Review – Room of Marvels

One of the truths of life that we don’t like to admit or even talk about is that life is a journey of loss.

Over the years, as we grow up and then grow older, there are many things lost – lost innocence, lost friendships, lost loved ones, lost pets, lost prized possessions, lost opportunities, lost potential, lost seasons of life, lost vehicles, and so many more people, things, and experiences.

The realization that we can never return to a relationship or experience, that we will never again see a particular person, never again be able to drive that first car, and so on, can be devastating. As country artist Brad Paisley puts it, “there’s a last time for everything.”

Some losses are much more painful than others, obviously. James (Jim) Bryan Smith, an author and college professor, experienced three great personal losses in a very short period of time in his life.

First, his daughter Madeline. Before Madeline was even born, testing revealed severe birth defects and a rare chromosomal disorder. Jim and his wife were told to plan a funeral before their daughter was born. Miraculously, though, Madeline had a healthy delivery. She lived for about two and a half years, although she was constantly being medically monitored and treated. But following what was supposed to be a routine, simple surgery, Madeline coded and then died.

Six months after the loss of Madeline, Jim’s best friend, singer and songwriter Rich Mullins, was killed in an auto collision.

And then six months later, Jim’s mother, who was seventy but in excellent health, died of a sudden heart attack.

Room of Marvels is a fictional account of Jim’s struggle to reconcile what he taught and believed – that God is good, better than we understand – with the reality of the devastating losses he and his wife experienced in such a short period of time. It begins with a character who represents Jim taking a spiritual retreat at a monastery, searching for answers and feeling hopeless. He realizes that he feels like a complete hypocrite – while he writes and teaches that God is good, he no longer believes it because of his own pain and loss.

While on this retreat, Jim experiences an ongoing dream/vision in which he visits heaven and encounters a number of people. Some are friends, some are family. Some are people he knew, some are people he never met. Some were people whose lives he had impacted knowingly or unknowingly; some were people who had impacted his life, knowingly or unknowingly.

In the process of meeting these people, talking with them, discovering stories, playing checkers, remembering forgotten moments of his life, and discovering the beauty, grace, and love of heaven, Jim finds that his heart is being transformed. He discovers that he can be free to be his true self; that he no longer has to wear masks to try to impress God or others; and that God’s goodness and love for him are beyond what he ever even imagined.

2 Corinthians 4:17 (NJB) tells us that “The temporary, light burden of our hardships is earning us for ever an utterly incomparable, eternal weight of glory.” As James Bryan Smith puts it in the conclusion of this book, “heaven changes everything we suffer on this earth.”

If you have ever suffered a devastating loss, if you have ever wondered how God could be good and allow difficult things to come into our lives, if you have ever suffered and asked “why” then I highly recommend this book for you. Room of Marvels contains a message of hope and transformation that we all need to hear.

You can purchase the Kindle Edition here.

Be All You Can Be!

I remember seeing ads for the Army a long time ago that used the tag line, “Be All You Can Be.”  I looked it up on Wikipedia and found out that it was the official recruiting slogan of the U.S. Army from 1980 to 2001.  It must have worked pretty well – it stuck in my mind, and I’m sure it stuck in the minds of many others!  And I lived in Canada for 4 of those years!

“Be All You Can Be” sounds exciting; it’s motivating, it creates an image of excellence in your mind when you imagine it, and it opens your thinking up to new potential and possibilities.  And it has multiple applications!  Who wouldn’t want to be all they can be – as a spouse, as a parent, as a professional, as a friend, as a whatever-your-hobby-is.  I love to write – I want to be all I can be as a writer!  And I enjoy playing tennis – I want to be all I can be as a tennis player!  (Although realistically, there are some major physical limitations that come into play there as I get older.  And there are certainly some issues with my form and habits and style and overall ability and…wow, now I’m depressed about my lack of real tennis skills!)

“Be All You Can Be” isn’t a bad tag line when we’re thinking about spiritual formation and “being” either.  At least, it’s not bad unless it creates a “performance mentality” within us about “being.”

Because “being” isn’t about performance.  Not at all.  It’s about simply being – being with our Father.

But we live in this competitive, performance-based, action-oriented, pressure-filled world in which we are constantly challenged through advertising, social media, peer pressure, and cultural norms to be better and better.  Look better.  Feel better.  Have better hair.  Better skin.  Better muscle tone.  Better eating habits.  More hydration.  More exercise.  At work, get more done.  Be more efficient.  Be a better employee, or employer.  At church, be a better follower of Jesus.  Be more compassionate, more generous, more active, more serving, more involved.  The lists go on and on and on and they get tiring just reading and thinking about them all.

And if we’re not careful, we can bring that performance-based mentality to “being.”  We can feel guilty over how poorly we think we do at it.  We can assume others judge us for how we “be” or fail to “be.”  In fact, realistically, there are probably some of you who are reading this who think that because I’m writing about it, I think I’m better at it than you are and that I’ve judged you for not being better at “being.”  (That’s not true, by the way!)

Being is just that – being.  Just being with your Father. There’s no right way, no wrong way.  Over the past several blogs, I’ve tried to share some simple tools and methods that are effective in helping us slow down and “be.”  But “being” is about you and your Father, and because of that, it’s a very personal thing.  Ultimately, you are the only one who will know how you are best able to set other things aside, slow down, be silent, and just be with your Father.  It will take time and intentional trial and error to learn that about yourself.  But it’s well worth it.

And ultimately, you are the only one who can make the choice for yourself to slow down and make space to just be with Him.  No one else can do that for you.  No one else can do that for me. 

All the blogs, articles, podcasts, and books in the world won’t change that.

So let’s start with today.  Sometime today, will you choose to just be with your Father – to just sit with Him and enjoy His presence?  Why not take a moment right now – decide when and where, and put it on your calendar.  And then show up when the time comes.

The more often you “be”, the easier it will become, until one day, you will wonder how you ever made it through a day without “being” with Him.


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  A paperback version will soon be available.

The Plumb-Line

When I was a college student, my Mom introduced to me to Kay Arthur’s Precept Bible Studies.  Precept Ministries is founded on a simple truth – that the Word of God is the plumb-line for the Christian life.

I had to learn what a plumb-line is.  It’s a construction thing – a plumb-line is a cord, weighted with lead, that is used in building to check that vertical structures are straight and true.  A plumb-line hangs free, and gravity draws it to the earth, creating a straight line that can help ensure that walls are built straight.  A plumb-line is a standard.  In the Bible, a plumb-line is mentioned in a couple of different places as God’s divine standard by which He tests, judges, and rebuilds His people.  (That’s a simplified explanation, but this is a blog, not a theology textbook!)

IMG_3493

As I have grown in my walk with the Lord over the years, I have come to realize that the Bible is indeed the plumb-line for our lives.  It also contains a number of important plumb-lines.  They include facts like this:  God is good; Jesus is the complete revelation of the Father; the Holy Spirit seals us as God’s own when we believe on Jesus; there is absolute truth, and God is the source of all truth; Jesus Himself is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; and many other plumb-line truths that help us to build lives that pleasing to the Lord and well-grounded.

Over the past several weeks, as I have processed some of the things that I and my family have been dealing with, I have been reminded of one of the most important plumb-lines in my life: the belief that no matter what I experience, no matter what my eyes tell me, no matter what anyone else may say or believe or try to convince me of, God is good.

This truth has come to inform and to form every part of my life:  my relationships, especially with God; my approach to ministry; my preaching and teaching; my writing; my leadership; my view of God, of people, of this world, of what happens to me and around me and in me and to those I know and love.

God is good.

It’s not the only plumb-line in my life, but it has become one of the most important ones to me.  And it has become one of the primary filters through which I see life.

For me, that’s huge.  There were times in my life when I couldn’t see His goodness; times when I doubted His goodness.  Times I yelled at Him and wondered what the h*** He was doing to me and to my family.  (I’m just being real, folks.)

But He is good.  He is always good.

And I learned that, in part, through those dark times.

God is good.

What are some of your plumb-lines?  Which ones mean the most to you?


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  A paperback version will soon be available.

Curse God or Bless God?

Yesterday, I came across a Facebook post from one of my friends that said this:  Why are people so scared to curse God when something tragic happens, yet praise him when something wonderful happens?”  That’s a question that a lot of people have been asking, in similar or different words, for a very long time.  In fact, I think it’s a great question, because it’s so real and raw and honest.

angry-man

For me, the answer is that I’m NOT scared to curse God.  I know He’s big enough to handle that.  I know that on the cross, Jesus took on the curses of sin, sickness, and death for me.  So I’m not scared to curse God – it’s not that I would curse Him except I’m terrified of a lightning bolt from the sky or the ground opening up to swallow me if I did curse Him.  The issue for me is that I don’t WANT to curse Him.

You see, I know that all the problems, tragedies, and terrible stuff in my life is NOT from God.  So why would I curse Him, when He isn’t the source?  He is good, and every thing comes only from Him.  He is not the source of tragedies and problems and diseases and horrific events.  He is good; He is the very definition of love.  He cannot be the source of, or give, something that He does not have.

There are actually 3 very simple sources of all the problems, tragedies, and horrific things in this world:

  1. We live in a world that has been broken by sin.  Therefore, we live in an environment that is broken.  Because of this, there will always be tragedies and horrific events and diseases until Jesus returns and “re-sets” everything by making all things new.  There will be accidents with no one at fault and there will be natural disasters and we will age and our bodies will deteriorate and we will become diseased and broken, because that is the nature of the world we live in right now.
  2. We live in a world that is populated by people who have been broken by sin.  We are all born with a sinful nature.  We all make poor choices at times, we all sin at times.  And our sins and poor choices have consequences – sometimes for us, sometimes for others, sometimes both.  Murder, rape, genocide, wars, terrorist attacks – these are not because of God, but because people have chosen to indulge their own hatred, selfishness, and evil desires.
  3. We live in a world that is experiencing an ongoing, full-out, devastating war.  We miss that fact because it is a spiritual battle.  But there is an enemy whose sole purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy.  He is a powerful spiritual enemy that we cannot see, but that makes him no less real.  He is the voice that whispers “go ahead and do it” when the behavior is destructive.  He is the one who tells us “this is God’s fault” when, in fact, God gives only good things.  He is the one who stirs nations to battle and conquest, who lies about the very nature of our world and of God, and who knows that if you are a follower of Jesus, he cannot take you to hell and so he will do everything he can right now to make your life a living hell.  He is the one who wants to get your eyes off of Jesus and onto yourself and your problems.

So…I’m not scared to curse God.  But there is no need to curse Him.  He is not the source of my problems.  He is love, and He loves me no matter what, and He loves you no matter what. 

Can I just be raw for a moment?  My family and I are in a season where we feel like the hits keep coming.  My wife hasn’t worked in a year and a half because she has had to have 2 surgeries on her neck, and the recovery process has been long and tedious and interrupted by setbacks.  My daughter has experienced having to deal with loss and moving home and starting over.  I have something very wrong with my body.  Some days, I don’t even want to get up, or feel like I can do what I have on my schedule.  I expected answers last week, and all I got were more questions.  There’s a problem in my body somewhere, but I don’t know where it is or what it is, and that’s pretty scary.  I’m stuck waiting for test results, for next steps, for future tests.  In the midst of this, my uncle, who is just a few years older than me, is on life support in Pittsburgh with a very poor prognosis.  He may never regain consciousness.  Uncertainty and waiting is our life right now.

But I’m not complaining, and I’m not angry with God.  I know people who are going through far more than me, and have been dealing with things for far longer than me.  I look at what I’m dealing with, and then I look at what I still have – God loves me, God is with me, and God is for me.  My family loves me, and we’re in this together.  I have amazing friends who love me and check on me and pray for me.  My church family is patient with me, prays for me, and loves my family and I.  So I look at all that, and I don’t have any desire to curse God.  He’s not my problem, and He’s not the source of my problems.  I will continue to bless Him, and I will continue to press in to Him.  Because I need Him more than ever.


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  A paperback version will soon be available.

The Potter and the Clay

I grew up in churches that sang hymns, with an occasional “chorus” sprinkled in.  One of the old hymns that we often sang, usually as an “invitation hymn” at the end of the service, was “Have Thine Own Way”:

Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!

Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.

Mold me and make me after Thy will,

While I am waiting, yielded and still.

It comes from a passage in Isaiah 64 – “We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

The hymn and the verse clearly carry the message that God is sovereign and that we cannot tell Him what to do or even what He should do for us.  Like the clay, we can do nothing but allow Him to shape us.

hands of potter do a clay pot

Throughout my life, that verse and the hymn have both comforted me and discomforted me.  The comfort was in the fact that God had a plan and a unique destiny for me, and that He was shaping and forming me for His purposes.  The discomfort?  While I knew that God loved me, it just sounded…cold.  Like God would have His will and His way with me, no matter what I wanted.  Like what I wanted didn’t really matter.  I knew that wasn’t true, but that was the message I received.

But today, I actually read the verse.  It turns out that there is more to the verse than the potter and clay scenario.  Here’s what the verse actually says:  “Yet you, LORD, are our Father.  We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

Wow!  What a difference a few words make.  “Yet you, Lord, are our Father.”  What a compelling image that is.  How different a picture it presents – as opposed to a (perhaps) cold and calculating potter, one whose only aim is to shape the clay to his will; instead, a loving Father, gently and compassionately molding each one of us into the person He created us to be.  As opposed to a craftsman trying to get the best out of the material which he has at hand, instead, a loving Father who shapes us into the image of His Son, but who loves us completely despite any imperfections that we have.

It’s all about how we view God.  In times of testing and trials, problems and pain, separation and silence, if we see Him as distant and aloof, it’s easy to take offense at Him.  It’s easy to let offense grow into anger, which can become bitterness and can motivate us to cut ourselves off from the One who is our Strength and our Hope.

But if we view God as our Abba – our Father – our Daddy – then in times of testing and trials, problems and pain, separation and silence, we will choose to trust Him for what we cannot understand.  We will choose to lean into Him rather than run away from Him.

If we view the Potter as the Father Potter, then we understand that He doesn’t cause the evil that enters our lives, but instead, He takes what was intended for evil and works it out for our good.

Each of us are facing different challenges today – different problems; different struggles; different disappointments; different pain.  That’s part of life, and we cannot change it. 

One thing we can change, however, is how we view God as we go through difficulties.  And how we view Him will determine whether we trust Him.

So…how do you see God today?  Is He the Potter?  Or is He the Father and Potter?


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  A paperback version will soon be available.

God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?

Whenever we feel like God has abandoned us, it is good to remember that while on the cross, Jesus Himself cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34, NIV)

Jesus was actually quoting from the writings of David, and we’re going to delve into that a little more deeply this week.  But today, let’s just sit with Jesus’ cry in its context in Mark:

At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.  And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).  When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”  Someone ran,  filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.  With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.  The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  (Mark 15:33-38, NIV)

645f02e21436576902249eba08d1c47a

So what’s obvious with a simple, cursory reading of this passage is that Jesus, the Son of God, is crying out from the cross to his Father in heaven, asking why His Father has abandoned him.

Go back and re-read that last sentence.  Go ahead, do it now.  I’ll wait here for you.

Have you ever felt forgotten by God?  Abandoned by Him?  Wondered where He was?

You’re not the only one.

I know this is difficult to understand, but…God knows exactly how you feel.

On that first Good Friday, the Son turned His head towards the heavens and cried out to His Father, asking why His Father had forsaken Him.

That’s why the author of Hebrews could write, This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.”  (Hebrews 4:15, NLT)

Jesus has faced the same issues you have faced and are facing.

He knows what it is to be tempted.  He knows what it is to be falsely accused.  He knows what it is to suffer.  He knows what it is to experience pain.  He knows what it is to experience unfulfilled longing.  He knows what it is to ask for deliverance and yet not be set free.  (Remember Him asking, “My father, if it is possible, let this cup be taken from me…”)  He knows what it is face the consequences of someone else’s choices, to be abused, to be beaten, to be mocked and taunted, to be treated unjustly, to be tempted, to be tested, to be wounded.

He knows what it is to cry out to God and to feel God’s silence in return.

And through all of that, He did not sin.  He did not take offense at His Father.  He did not rebel.

He guarded His heart, as we talked about a few weeks ago.

So as this week begins, if you are in a place of pain, discouragement, loneliness, even feeling abandoned by God or unheard by God…if you are wondering where God, why He hasn’t delivered you, or how much more you can take – remember:  Jesus understands.

Am I saying Jesus feels sorry for you?  Or that if you are struggling, you should just suck it up and deal with it because you’re not the only one?  Or that, hey, just keep telling yourself that it’s ok because Jesus understands?

NO!

I am saying this – Jesus understand exactly how you feel.  He went through the same, and much worse, on the cross for you because He loves you.  And He cares deeply for you.  He loves you.  He is with you in your pain, and He will never leave you.

If you feel alone, abandoned, forgotten by God – it’s a lie.

He will NEVER leave you.  He is WITH you.  Right now.  In the midst of everything.

And not only is He with you, He understands what you are going through, He has felt what you feel, and He WILL redeem this.  He will use what was intended to harm you to bring you good.

The separation that you are feeling?  The loneliness?  The pain?  The distance?

He can – and will – use it to bring you closer to Him than you’ve ever been before.

Just keep trusting Him.  Keep pressing in to Him.

He hasn’t left you.  He’s right with you.

And He understands.


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  A paperback version will soon be available.

Pushing Through, or Pushing Away

As I work through what I want to write about these issues of pain and feelings of abandonment and distance from God and feeling forgotten by God, I am also trying to work through some of my own “stuff” on this.  And the more time I spend thinking about it, reading about it, and praying about it, the more I am seeing that this is more about what is happening in me than what is happening to me.

Last night, we began a Soul Care class with part of our church leadership.  In one of the sessions, Dr. Martin Sanders talked about the fact that many people miss out on intimacy with God because once they begin the journey, they encounter obstacles.  Instead of pressing in to God and pressing through the obstacles, instead, they back away, or even push God away.

That thought resonated with me.  When we encounter obstacles, or in the areas that we are considering, pain and suffering and hard questions, we face a choice.  We can push on towards God and push through the pain, suffering, and questions towards deeper intimacy with God.  Or, we can become frustrated and angry with God, end up bitter, and push Him away.

Young-attractive-businesswoman-breaking-wall-e1458682178639

Pushing on towards God and pushing through means we press in to Him no matter what.  It means that we keep pursuing Him, keep doing what is right, keep doing what we know, even when it seems there’s no answer.  It means we keep worshiping, keep giving thanks, keep waiting expectantly, keep trusting, keep reading His Word, keep praying, keep listening, keep making space for silence and solitude, keep journaling, keep investing in community, keep being vulnerable, keep serving others, and keep trusting God, even when it looks like He isn’t responding to our trust.

I have a friend in our church body who is doing that.  She has suffered with pain and unanswered questions and multiple diagnoses and surgeries and she has kept on trusting, kept on pursuing God, kept on walking in integrity in her faith while we have tried to help and support her on this journey.  Recently, God showed her something new, and she began taking communion every day with her husband.  She is running towards God in her pain, determined to grow closer to Him rather than further from Him.

But I’ve also known people who have pushed God away in their pain.  They’ve searched for answers and prayed and received prayer, but then given up.  They’ve allowed offense to come between them and God, and rather than pressing in to Him, have turned away from Him.  When He has gently tried to help them, they have rejected that help because it wasn’t the answer they wanted, and they have pushed Him away.  Sadly, in doing so, they’ve run straight into anger and bitterness.

I went through a season like that when we lived in Roswell, Georgia.  I became very angry at God because, from my perspective, He had made promises He hadn’t kept, had let us down, and had abandoned us.  Instead of pressing in, I ran from Him, and when He spoke to me, I pushed Him away.  Oh, I didn’t rebel outwardly, didn’t even visibly walk away from Him.  But in my heart?  I ran away, for awhile.  Until He gently, patiently pulled me back.  That’s a story for another time.

I am determined that in this season of my life, that whatever this looks like, I am going to keep pushing towards Him and keep pushing through the uncertainty and the anxiety.  I am better equipped this time – I have a family that loves me and is walking this journey with me; I have couple of close friends who are encouraging me and also asking me probing questions about what this journey is surfacing in my spirit; and I have a congregation and an amazing church leadership team that loves me and my family and are praying for us and supporting us.  I don’t know what this will look like – it could be nothing much, it could be a simple fix, it could be a much longer struggle, it could even mean some kind of surgery or more than that.  But whatever it is, I am going to keep pushing towards Him and keep pushing through whatever comes.

For today?  I don’t know where you are, or what pain you might be dealing with.  But I do know this – if you are in pain, you are facing a choice.  You can push on towards our Father, or you can take offense and push Him away.  Most often, neither provides an immediate solution, or immediate deliverance from your problem.  However, pushing towards Him will position you to grow closer in intimacy with Him, to experience all the good that He can bring from difficult situations and from suffering, and to find peace and rest in the middle of whatever storm you are enduring.  Pushing Him away results in fear, frustration, bitterness, and lost opportunities to see and experience the good He can bring from your pain.

So…in which direction are you pushing?


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  Paperback copies will soon be available for purchase.