When God Cries

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Another tragic news story made the headlines this week: a beautiful preteen girl killed by two teenage boys—a senseless, appalling murder for no other reason than a BMX bike. I look at the victim’s young face and see the face … Continue reading

When Jealousy is Good

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This week Claudine Lehman shared with us her “god-story” of her Jealous Valentine. “Jesus Lover of my soul – let me hide myself in Thee.” I’ve always loved those words from that familiar hymn. Jesus is my precious Valentine. Jesus. The … Continue reading

God Gives Fruit

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Where are you today? Are you THRIVING or are you STRIVING? Because our striving tree is not real . . . alive . . . or free, it also will never be fruitful. It looks great on the outside, but … Continue reading

Resting in God’s Presence

Today we hear from Marlys Burgett, Directer of Women’s Ministries at Lincoln Berean.  These are the thoughts she shared with us this week.

I’m taking the Jonah study this semester, along with manyof you. I love the title “navigating a life interrupted.” For those who are not in the class, it’s about learning to view life’s interruptions as divine interventions—that God truly has a purpose and plan, no matter what circumstances may come along our path.

 I’m also learning to see God in each moment and trying to appreciate those moments from His perspective. God has something important for me in these moments: a chance to grow, to learn, to trust Him and enjoy His presence.

Jonah 1:3 says

“But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.”

Notice, two times it says Jonah wanted to flee from the presence of the LORD.

To flee from, to run from, to escape the presence of . . . This reminds me of a time many years ago when my niece was about three or four. Our family was together at my mom and dad’s.

My niece loved candy. Mom would always have a candy jar for all of us filled with a variety of goodies. None of us were aware that my niece was taking candy from that jar, a few pieces at a time, and running to hide them all over the house. We all noticed her darting and running but assumed she was just playing.

Then, my mom happened to notice all the candy was missing from the jar. She put two and two together and realized all the darting and running was really taking and hiding.  She asked my niece, nicely, “Where did you put all the candy?”  Or, heaven forbid, “Did you eat it all?”

 My niece literally ran and hid behind the couch. We all saw where she was hiding. Pretty soon you would see her little fingers, then her lovely red hair, and then her big green eyes peeping over the top of the couch. She actually said, “You can’t see me.”  My niece really believed she had escaped, that no one could see her. She believed she had removed herself from our presence.

If we are honest, aren’t we all sometimes like my niece and Jonah?  I know I am, more often than I care to admit, . . . running and trying to flee from things in life:   problems, conflicts, distresses, trials, difficulties, pain, sickness, sin.

We are hoping and thinking no one will notice.  That God won’t notice.

I used to love to run. Now, I love to walk. (Age and body-part malfunctions have a way of adjusting your pace.) I love being outdoors, breathing the fresh air, feeling the warmth of the sun and the freedom of the wind. Walking is good for my body, but more so, for my mind and spirit and soul.

But often I run, trying to flee from God’s divine intervention in my life, viewing it only as a big interruption, thinking if I could only run hard and fast enough—maybe it would all disappear. Maybe He won’t notice. Maybe I can escape facing this issue just one time.

Like Jonah or my niece, I want to run from something . . . trying to hide or escape . . .  instead of turning to Jesus, facing the issue, and running into the loving presence and safety of His arms. Running . . .  instead of viewing the situation from His perspective.

Are you running today?  From God?  Trying to escape His presence?  The great news is, we can’t escape His presence!  He is with us—always.

What does His presence mean?

  •  Presence is the space immediately around a person      (He is a shield around us.)
  • The bearing of a person . . . a manner of carrying     (He carries us in his hands.)
  •  Supporting someone, to be with them     (He is with us, never leaves us.)
  •  To comprehend one’s situation     (He holds all our tears in a bottle; He knows our name.)
  •   A connection or influence on someone     (His Spirit lives within us and guides us.)
  •   Significance      (He calls us daughter.)

 Can you picture this? Can you see it? We just sang these words together:

 “He knows my Name . . . He formed My heart . . . Before even time began . . . My life was in His hands . . . ”

 “I know for sure all of my days are Held in Your hands . . . Crafted into Your perfect plan . . . You gently call me into Your presence . . . Guiding me by Your Holy Spirit . . . ”

He is always with us. We cannot run from His presence. He is always there for us. His love and protection are inescapable. All we need to do is acknowledge His presence and allow Him to guide and direct us, to let go and let Him carry us through.

God said to Moses:  “My presence shall go with you and I will give you rest.”  Ex 33:14  Are you needing a little rest today?

The Psalmist talks about God presence. I’ve personalized it: “And my own arm did not save me; but Your right hand, and Your arm, and the light of Your presence, for You favored me.” Ps 44:3

His presence is with us forever: “I will never leave you nor will I ever forsake you.” Heb 13:5

 When I go out for a run (okay, a walk), my arms flailing, unsteady, trying to run from something, and as I cry out to Him, praying and asking Him for help, He so wonderfully answers . . . adjusts my course. Then, I’m back on track, running steady and secure towards my true home . . . in the loving arms of His presence.

Join me in prayer:

Lord Jesus, thank you for your loving presence in my life. You are a shield about me.  Thank you for divine interventions in my day, to help me trust you more fully. Forgive me for the times I try to run away. I need not fear nor be afraid of situations in my life for you are ever present with me. Help me to walk moment by moment, upheld by Your right hand, knowing you’ll never let me go.

 “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory, blameless with great joy, and to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority before all time now and forever.”  (From Jude 1:24)   Amen.

But GOD . . .

It’s a delight to hear from one of our Titus Women teachers, Laurie Hovendick.  These are the thoughts she shared with us this week:

 Heb. 13:5b: For He, God, Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you, nor give you up, nor leave you without support.  I will not, I will not, I will not in any degree leave you helpless, nor forsake, nor let you down, relax My hold on you. Assuredly not!  (Amplified Bible)

 Throughout the years of my coming to Titus and studying God’s Word together with you, I have found two of my favorite words to be, “But God . . . .”  These words are powerful because they are followed by the actions of a powerful God, words that describe God’s incredible, intimate involvement with our lives. 

Whatever study you are in this semester, I am sure you’ve encountered those words. For those of us in the Jonah study, we read in Jonah 1:6b, “But Thou (God), has brought up my life from the pit, O Lord, my God.” 

For those studying the life of David, Ps. 86:15 says, “But Thou, (God) O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth.”  Ps 139 is a beautiful description of God’s intimate knowledge of us, how He carefully and lovingly made us, knit us together.  There is NOTHING that shocks God about us, nothing that surprises Him.  NOTHING about us is hidden from Him. 

As I thought about this, I was reminded of an experience I had last summer when Lincoln hosted the Special Olympics.  My husband’s firm helped with coordinating volunteers from throughout the United States for this event.  One evening, they hosted a dinner for several of the dignitaries, including Mr. Shriver and several partners from Kirk’s firm, some from as far away as New York. Also in attendance were the Ambassador Athletes and their families, and the guest speaker. 

As it turned out, I was invited to attend, partly because Kirk was helping, and partly because I knew the wife of the guest speaker, and they thought we could sit together.  Since I mostly work out of my home, I was a little unsure how to “dress up” for this occasion.  After several outfits, I decided on a skirt and called it good.  Still, on the drive downtown, I felt the need to pray Prov. 31:30, reminding myself that it wasn’t charm or beauty, but a woman who fears the Lord, who is praised.  

 When I was first married, I was very insecure, and Kirk helped me to overcome some of that insecurity by coaching me in the importance of eye contact when conversing with people. I kept that in mind as the evening progressed. The dinner conversation went well. The evening was very inspiring, and I was able to meet some very interesting people. 

At the end of the dinner, I was standing up front by the stage and podium, speaking to the husband of the partner in charge of this event. I was really trying to concentrate, keeping in mind the importance of eye contact when all of a sudden, in the middle of this conversation, my legs felt cold.  I know my eyes had to have been huge and my face pale as I panicked, thinking, “I think my skirt just fell off!” 

Thoughts raced through my mind: “Does anyone know?”  “What am I exposing?”  “What will this man think?”  “This is out of my control!”  “I’m so humiliated!”

Meanwhile, I  tried to keep track of the conversation and maintain eye contact.  Those seconds felt like an eternity.  Here I was, up front, talking to this important person, and I was exposed!  Finally, I had to break eye contact, just for a second, to glance down to see if, indeed, my skirt was at my ankles. 

Well, it wasn’t my skirt, but my slip that had fallen off and was pooled around my feet.  So, regaining eye contact, nodding my head in what I hoped were all the right places, I stepped out of my slip, now puddled on the floor at my feet, bent down, wadded it up and jammed it in my purse.  Later that night, I confessed to Kirk what had happened (fortunately we both laughed at that point), and then I held up my slip.   Since I don’t wear dresses and skirts that often, I hadn’t paid attention to how old my slip was.  The elastic was so old that it no longer had any flexibility.  It just stayed stretched out.

 A few days later, I was reading in a book Shereen had shared with me, The Sacred Romance, by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge.  Toward the end of the book, they were discussing meeting God in heaven and what it will be like.  I instantly thought back to those few seconds of fear and panic when I thought I was exposed, that everyone saw me naked, that I was standing before someone important and he saw my shame, my embarrassment, my humiliation.

 I could relate to this section of the book, how “every hidden thing shall be made known, every word spoken in secret shall be uttered.”  My soul shrank back: how will this not be an utter horror?

Oh, how our thoughts of judgment and standing before God are so twisted.  To continue from the book, “the popular idea [is] that at some point shortly upon our arrival in heaven, the lights will dim and God will give the signal for the videotape of our entire life to be played before the watching universe: every shameful act, every wicked thought exposed.”  It is so easy to picture that.

Then I remember those powerful words, BUT GOD . . .

But God . . .

Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

Eph. 2:4-10: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ, (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works that no one should boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” 

The truth: When we come before God, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  We won’t be stripped bare, naked for the universe to gawk at us.  God, Himself, will clothe us in white garments.  We are His beloved. Our shame, our guilt, our embarrassment, our sin will be fully covered by His righteousness, His forgiveness, His grace, His joy, His peace, His hope.

1 John 1:9 tells us “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”   Not only does He cover us with His righteousness but He cleanses us from ALL our unrighteousness!   Powerful words.  What a friend we have in Jesus, our wonderful, merciful Savior.  One who will not, who will not, who will not forsake us. 

  When for us, it seems impossible, remember, the powerful words and the greater power behind them—BUT GOD . . . .

His Shocking Love

We’ve seen many messages from the world this Valentine season about love.

The world says “I Love You” in many ways—with chocolates and cards, maybe even flowers and a candle- lit dinner; not to mention, lingerie and sex.

How does that compare to the way God says, “I Love You”?

I’ve noticed that the love of God looks very little like the cards & chocolate the world gives out once a year. His love is much more involved.  Sometimes, even shocking.

Hosea, a small book in the OT, portrays how shocking God’s love can be.  In it, we find the story of a man who God told to take a prostitute for his wife. After their marriage, the wife returned to her earlier trade, yet her husband continued to love and pursue her, even though she was unfaithful to him.  That example of unselfish, undeterred love gives a glimpse of how radically God loves His people.

In Hosea, God accuses the Israelites of chasing after lesser lovers by loving the things of the world rather than loving Him. And, in the middle of that story, we learn something about how God says, “I love you.” 

 “And now, here’s what I’m going to do:

I’m going to start all over again.

I’m taking her back out into the wilderness

where we had our first date, and I’ll court her.

I’ll give her bouquets of roses.

I’ll turn Heartbreak Valley into Acres of Hope.

She’ll respond like she did as a young girl,

those days when she was fresh out of Egypt.

                                                                Hosea 2:14-15 MSG

 I notice a few shocking things about God’s love message:

  • He calls for a do-over.  When we’ve made a mess of things, God gets to call a do-over.  He doesn’t punish for the sake of justice, but . . .  
  • He does involve the wilderness.  I’ve always thought of the wilderness experience as punishment.  It’s not.  It’s the most extravagant show of God’s affection—to take us out of the distractions of the world—to get us alone—to BE WITH HIM.
  • God is jealous in His love toward us.  He doesn’t want to share our love. He woos and wins us.
  • We know He’s won our hearts when we find ourselves living in Acres of Hope rather than in Heartbreak Valley.

 I came across these verses in Hosea a number of years ago, at a time when Heartbreak Valley was very real. 

We were recovering from the tornado of 2004. 

 There was a farm in our area that was rundown and unkempt.  It had been a grand farmstead years ago, but when a lazy son inherited it, he let it fall apart. The joke in the community was that you couldn’t tell it had been damaged by the tornado because it was nearly as bad BEFORE.  That summer, the owners asked if we might like to purchase it; they were not interested in fixing it up and starting over. They wanted out. 

We bought the property and began to clean it up, hoping to farm it the next year.  We burned the house and buried the debris.  I remember walking back and forth across that property, picking up garbage from someone else’s broken-down life and wondering . . . why am I cleaning up their mess?!

Reading those verses from Hosea 2 at that time, I wondered. Could God turn that rundown farm into Acres of Hope?  I’m certain it was God alone who gave me hopeful thoughts about that property.  We planted the homestead in grass and planned to sell it as an acreage to try to recoup our cost.  But no one else seemed to catch my Acres of Hope vision, and it went unsold.

So we waited.

The farm land itself was depleted of nutrients and hadn’t been maintained. My husband (Shawn) planted and waited, trying to improve the farmland the best he could.  Mediocre seasons passed, until Shawn, when looking at an aerial map of the property, noticed there was just enough room for a center- pivot irrigation system.

He decided to dig a well.  Research into the geography of the area showed that water was not likely, and a nearby neighbor was especially skeptical. He had tried to find water three times without success.  But Shawn was willing to take the risk.  He was also willing to commit to prayer throughout the process.

As God would have it, right in the middle of Heartbreak Valley, was a great source of underground water.  Today, the well we dug there, not only waters that property, but another field across the road. It’s a very good well.

 The neighbor who couldn’t get water stopped by one day while Shawn was in the field.  Bracing for the man’s criticism and crankiness, Shawn entered into a conversation.  Sure enough, the man asked, “So how is it that I can dig three wells across the fence and get nothing, and you come along and find water?” 

After a deep breath of courage, Shawn said, “Well . . .  I prayed.”  And they had a very good talk about prayer and faith.

“I’ll turn Heartbreak Valley into Acres of Hope,” says our loving God.

I wonder, as you look across the landscape of your life on the day after Valentine’s Day 2011 . . . is it a heartbreak valley you see or acres of hope?

 I hope you understand today that God pulls you away from the world you’re used to, out into the wilderness with Him, because He wants ALL your attention.  That kind of love can be shocking . . . it’s so unlike the cards and chocolate the world offers.

A God who is so shocking in His love for us is worth our trust.  He knows what’s under the surface . . . the rest of the story.  He knows just when the time is right to water your life so you thrive and flourish in acres of hope.

I invite you to listen to the song “How He Loves” by the David Crowder Band (linked below). It speaks of God’s jealousy and passion for our hearts.  There’s one line at the end that says,

“I don’t have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way He loves.”

Living in Heartbreak Valley can leave us with lots of regrets.  I’ve lived most of my life with far too many regrets, but God has been calling me out of there.  I don’t want to waste time maintaining my regrets when I can be focusing on all the ways Jesus loves me.

If you have regrets today, maybe you’d like to offer those back to Him, then join me in remembering all the ways Jesus loves you.