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Tagged ‘Trial‘

That Sinking Feeling

A few weeks ago I shared my experience when I grounded my sailboat while navigating Lake Okeechobee. It is currently in long-term storage at a marina while I wait for God to provide the resources needed to repair the rudder. It excites me to see God at work in my life and relationship with him through this experience. I shared on social media the work God has done in my life in my understanding of stewardship versus ownership. It is truly a place of rest when I keep my focus where it should stay.

If you read only those blogs, you might think I always respond the way I should. Nothing is further from the truth. In the following days I found myself struggling to keep my focus on God and not on my circumstances. Most of the time I kept my focus on him. But there were quiet moments when I was alone, far from the spotlight of ministry, and I wrestled with my lack of faith.

One of my favorite verses is Psalm 103:14, “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” This deeply ministers to me in the moments when I feel all too human. God created me from dust, and to dust someday I will return. In the moments between, I am dusty. I am of this world. I am human. My heart does not always respond the way my head knows it should. It is okay. God knows how he made me. He remembers I am dust.

Throughout Scripture we meet many interesting characters who carried the dust of the world on their journey. Peter is one of my favorites. He is bold, outspoken, quick to action, and undeniably human.

Following the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, Jesus sent the disciples on ahead of him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus stayed behind to dismiss the crowds, and when all had departed, he found a place where he could pray in solitude. In the coolness of the evening he was alone. By this time the disciples were far from shore. A storm had risen, and they labored against the wind and the waves.

After many hours, the disciples had only managed to traverse two-thirds of the way across the lake. Darkness consumed the vessel. The tempest beat upon them. They were weary. Their arms ached from rowing. In the waning darkness, the disciples saw the figure of a man walking on the sea. Terror gripped their hearts. “It is a ghost!” they cried.

But it was Jesus! He came to them in the midst of their trial, walking on the water. “Take heart,” he shouted above the wind, “it is I. Do not be afraid.”

Here is where my brash friend Peter makes me smile. He blurted out, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Be careful what you ask!  For Jesus says to him, “Come.” And, in one of the most understated moments in Scripture, it says, “So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus” (Matthew 14:28, ESV).

Now we could stop our story right here, and Peter’s actions would impress all of us. Just as you might think more highly of me than you ought after reading the blog of my response to the grounding of the vessel. But let us continue our tale, for this is where it gets interesting.

Peter leapt from the vessel and strutted across the water. He was almost to Jesus. For a second, a flash of lighting illuminated the boiling sea. He glanced to his left and saw the frothy waves kicked up by the fierce wind. In a terrifying moment, he realized he was in the middle of the lake, and the boat was far behind. Fear pierced his heart. He was no longer walking on water. His feet sank beneath the surface, and he felt the cold water engulfing his legs. In a panic he cried, “Lord, save me!”

Jesus reached for him, lifting him above the waves, and with compassion said, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Peter and Jesus walked back to the boat and joined the other disciples. The wind and waves ceased their roiling. The trial was ended. (Read Matthew 14:22-33 for the full account of this story.)

I relate to Peter. I want to step out of the boat in the midst of the storm to walk closer to Jesus. I want to focus on him so deeply that logic dissolves, and I find the water firm beneath my feet as I step toward him. But I also know what it means to take my eyes off of Jesus and to focus instead on the wind and the waves. I know that sinking feeling. I know the sensation of cold water engulfing my feet. I know the moments of fear in the midst of trying to trust him fully. I know how the hands of Jesus feel when he reaches down to lift me up. I know his voice when he says to me, “Tim, oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Yet his voice is not condemning. In my mind, I see his eyes looking down at my dusty clothes. Then he looks back to my eyes, smiles and with a wink says, “Yep, you’re dusty. You’re still human. And I’m still God.”

My friend, we are all human. We are dusty. We do not always respond the way we know we should. Sometimes the wind and waves overwhelm us. In those moments, even though we fail to trust him fully, God understands. He still rescues. He still leads us to a place of rest. He still loves.

When Peter and Jesus return to the other disciples in the boat, the seas stopped churning. The wind died down. Rest settled upon the weary. And everyone in the boat, including Peter, worshiped Jesus saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Their focus returned to Jesus. They worshiped. They understood a little more who he was. Our trials illuminate our need of Jesus. In the process we find he truly is the Son of God.

Our God is a God of grace. May we use each trial to trust him more fully. May God increase our faith. May we grow in our relationship with him. May the moments of doubt and confusion decrease, and our moments of trust increase.

Sometimes we walk on water. Sometimes we sink beneath it. May each moment draw us closer to him.

I enjoy reading your thoughts. Please write your comments below.

His name is ‘I am the Lord’

What do you do when you are following God, but nothing seems to be working out right? Sometimes we think that if we are following God and being obedient to what he has led us to do, it will all turn out well. But that is not always the case. What do you do when it doesn’t work out the way you hoped? What do you do when the relationship fails and ends in divorce? What do you do when there is not enough money left at the end of the month to pay the bills? What do you do when the home you’ve invested your heart and soul into goes into foreclosure? What do you do when a loved one dies unexpectedly? What do you do when life doesn’t seem fair? What do you do?

Gratefully, God gives us many examples in Scripture of others who have struggled with these same questions. I have recently been reading the story of Moses leading the nation of Israel out of Egypt. The account is fascinating because it is loaded with scenes in which God directs and then Moses obeys, but chaos follows.

In Exodus, Chapter 5, we find Moses deeply frustrated with God. He ends the chapter with this lament to God:

“O LORD, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all” (Exodus 5:22-23, ESV).

Can you hear the frustration in his voice? Personally, I appreciate Moses’ candor with God. I am grateful that he expresses his frustrations because sometimes I do the same. Sometimes I don’t understand what God is doing. I don’t think it disrespects God when we humbly come to him and admit our humanity. Sometimes I say to God, “God, I don’t get you. I don’t understand what you are doing. It just doesn’t make sense to me.” In those moments I am not expressing arrogance. I am expressing my humanity. I am humbly coming to God and acknowledging that I am not God. I do not think like God thinks. I think like a man thinks. But gratefully, God understands my humanity.

What follows in Chapter 6 is a fascinating word from God. It is a long passage, but bear with me as I share it with you.

God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant. Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.’” Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery. (Exodus 6:2-9, ESV)

I love the way God responds to Moses. God graciously explains to Moses the greater plan he has in mind for the Israelites. Up until this point, God had not appeared to the nation as a whole. He had appeared individually to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty. But even Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob didn’t know God in the way he was about to reveal himself. God was about to introduce himself to the entire nation in a way that was different from anything he had done before. And when he does, the name he will use is “I AM THE LORD”. They are about to experience God in a whole new way. God is about to amaze them with the display of his lordship over every aspect of their lives. But it would not come easily. In fact, it would be some of the most difficult days of their lives.

God instructs Moses to speak a direct word from God to the people. Interestingly, everything Moses is instructed to say is contained within two identical phrases. They are like bookends on each end of the comments. “I am the LORD,” he says. It is as if he is saying, “From the beginning to the end and everything in between, I am in control. I am over all. I am aware. I know your situation. I am God over all.”

Allow me to summarize the phrases God uses in this exchange with Moses. Because I believe if you can hear what God is saying, you will find a great deal to encourage you in whatever situation you may be facing today. Here is what he said:

“I am the LORD. I will bring you out. I will deliver you. I will redeem you with my arms outstretched to you and with great demonstrations of my power. I will take you to be mine. I will be your God. You will know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under your burdens. I will fulfill my promise to you. I am the LORD.”

Friend, where do you find yourself today? Are you burdened with cares? Does life seem unfair? Have you found yourself saying, “God, I just don’t get it”? If so, I believe this word is for you. God is Lord over your situation. He knows everything you are experiencing. He has heard your cries. He is at work, even when you cannot see it. He is Lord. It is as if he comes to us in the trial and says, “Let me introduce myself to you in a way you’ve never known me before. I am the Lord over every situation you may face. I was Lord before your difficulty began, I am the Lord in the midst of your problem, and I will be Lord after it is over.”

He is Lord when you lose your job. He is Lord when your divorce is final. He is Lord when your loved one dies. He is Lord when your family is in chaos. He is Lord when you are physically sick. He is Lord when the car dies. In all and through all, He is Lord. Period. End of sentence.

On a final note, one of the most interesting aspects to the lengthy passage I quoted earlier is the final thought at the end of the paragraph. It says, “Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery” (Exodus 6:9, ESV). My heart felt heavy when I read that phrase. I felt for those people who had endured so many trials. They were so completely broken in spirit that the encouraging words of Moses couldn’t reach their hearts. They just couldn’t bear any more, and they couldn’t even hear the encouragement God was speaking to them. But God was Lord, even in their inability to hear him speaking to them. He understood their weakness. He felt the burden they had been carrying. His promise to deliver them would be fulfilled not because they trusted him, but because he cared for them.

Some of you today are broken in spirit. You may not even be able to hear the words of encouragement God is offering to you today. It is okay. God understands. His love for you is not dependent upon your ability to respond to his love. His promises remain. He will be faithful. He knows the times our knees falter. He knows when weakness overtakes us. He is the Lord, even in that.

He is our God, and his name is I AM THE LORD.

This article was originally published in the March 2014 Newsletter.

When God Tests Your Love

The young man ran up to Christ and fell at his feet, the crowd around him pulling back at the sight. His heart was pounding and he was out of breath as he looked up into the face of Jesus. The men gathered around looked at the man with shock, for he was a ruler. To see him humble himself in this act of desperation was unthinkable. But his heart was heavy, and he cared not what anyone else thought. He had one question that must be answered, and he believed with all of his mind that this Rabbi could answer it for him.

“Teacher,” he cried, “what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”

Jesus looked at him and felt compassion for him. “Why do you ask me about what is good?” he replied, kindness falling from his lips. “There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”

“Which ones?” the young man replied, desperate for the truth.

Jesus answered, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

As Christ spoke, the young man listened intently and in that moment evaluated his own life. A sense of relief began to sweep over him as he knelt there before the Lord and for a moment his anxiety ceased. “All these I have kept,” he said to him. “What do I still lack?”

Christ looked at him and spoke gently to him. “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

The words slammed upon his spirit, and he reeled under the weight of them, for he had great wealth. Stunned, he slowly rose to his feet, his gaze falling away from the master. Silence hung thickly in the air. The gathered crowd nervously shuffled their feet, glancing away, for the truth had struck them as well. The young man’s heart beat anxiously in his chest, the ramifications of this request growing with each passing moment.

Finally he turned and walked away, the crowd nervously parting as he passed. As he did, a torrent of sorrow swept over him. He had gotten the answer to his question, but it was more costly than he could possibly imagine.

(Adapted from Matthew 19:16-22, ESV).

This story, repeated in three of the four gospels, is a jarring reminder that God is interested in where our hearts are in relationship with him. God wants me to love him, but he is not content for me to share my love with anything else. The first and greatest command is that I love the Lord with all of my heart, all of my soul, and all of my mind. According to Christ, this command is more important than all the others. In fact, Christ said that loving God with utter abandon and loving others as myself were so important that all the rest of the law depended on those two commands. That is a pretty amazing statement.

What is so interesting about this dialog between Christ and the rich young ruler is the point where Christ lists the commands. He leaves off the one command that he says is the most important command of all, to love the Lord my God with all my heart. Instead, Christ asks the man to do something, knowing that the man’s response would reveal whether or not he was obedient to the unspoken command. God is testing him to reveal the true condition of his heart.

Did you know that God tests our hearts? Even Moses speaks of it as he is explaining the law to the Israelites. This is what he said:

“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 12:1-3, ESV, emphasis added).

Isn’t that interesting? Moses warns the people to be very careful. According to the law, the way they would know if a prophet were legitimate was whether his prophesies came to pass. In this situation, Moses said that when it comes to following a legitimate prophet, be careful because the Lord may be testing them to see if they actually love him with all their hearts. God was concerned about where their hearts were in relationship with him, and he might test them along the way to reveal the answer. “Do you love me with all your heart?” This is the question God asked the Israelites thousands of years ago. It is the question he asked the rich young ruler, and it is the question he asks us today.

My concern is that we appear to be failing the test.

I want to be very, very clear. I do not believe this passage is teaching that you need to stop reading this article, get up, go sell everything you have, and give it all to the poor. I am not teaching a poverty gospel. What I am asking is this: if God were to ask you to sell everything you have, to cash out your retirement account and to give it all away to the poor, would it matter to you? If God were to ask you to sell your home, your boat, your bike, or your car and to give the money away, would it matter to you? I believe the answer to that question will reveal whether you are loving God with all your heart or not.

Again, may I remind you, the command it not to love God. The command is to love him with all your heart, emphasis on the word “all.” I’m confident if I were to ask the congregation of the average church in North America if they love God I would get a resounding “yes.” But if I were to ask those same people whether they would be willing to put it all on the line for the cause of Christ if asked to do so, I think the numbers would drop dramatically.

I personally believe this is the great sin of the church in North America. We do not love God with all of our hearts. We love him, but we also love our comfort. We love our security. We love our houses. We love our cars. We love our credit cards. We love our retirement plans. We love a lot of stuff.

Over the past two years, I believe God has been testing me again and again with one simple question: Do you love me with all of your heart? Do you love me more than your retirement account? Okay, then give it away. Do you love me more than your house? Do you love me more than your car? Do you love me more than your bank account? Do you love me more than your dreams and plans? Do you love me more than a regular salary? Over and over he has said to me, “Okay, then give it away, give it up, give it to me.” To the best of my knowledge, I’ve followed him in each and every test. It has been difficult; it has not been easy. But looking back, the past two years have been some of the best times of my life because God has freed me from a divided heart. I write this knowing that God may test me more, that he may bring even more difficulties into my life, if he so pleases, to test me again. I’m okay with that. He has carried me through each and every trial. I have climbed up into his lap over and over saying “God, please just hold me,” and he has done that. His faithfulness to me is staggering. He gives me his presence to comfort and encourage me as I walk along the path he has called me to follow. At each test along the way, I have learned to love him a little bit more. If the result of my obedience to God in this way means that I eventually end up living in a cardboard box under a bridge somewhere, I am okay with that, because the presence of God Almighty would be with me in that box and that is all that matters to me.

Again, I want to be very clear, I am not teaching a poverty gospel. I am not teaching that we need to sell everything we have in order to be a follower of Christ. I’m simply asking if it would bother you if God asked you to do that, because I believe the answer to that question reveals where our hearts really are.

I firmly believe that God does not care how much money you have in the bank, whether it be pennies or millions. Even in Christ’s teaching during the sermon on the mount, when he said, “Do not store up treasure on earth,” he didn’t say “Do not store up money.” Instead he uses the word “treasure.” The idea of treasure is my heart attitude toward what I have. If I treasure something here on earth, then my heart is not where God wants it to be. It is always an issue of the heart. God wants me to love him with all my heart, and he knows that where my treasure is, there my heart is also. I don’t believe God cares what kind of house you live in, whether it be a mansion or the smallest of shacks. I do believe God cares where your heart lives. That is the issue that matters to God.

My friend, do you love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength? Is there anything in your life today that, as you are reading this, the Holy Spirit is asking you, “Do you love me more than this?” Please do not take this lightly. Do business with God. Be willing to put it all on the line for the cause of Christ, whether he asks you to or not. It is the most freeing thing you could possibly experience, to be set free from a divided heart.

Allow me to share one final thought regarding the story about the rich young ruler and his dialog with Jesus. In the end, the young man was deeply moved by his conversation. Those words from Jesus convicted him deeply. The Scripture says that he went away sorrowful, but there is no record in Scripture that he ever passed the test. It seems he was moved by the message, but was not willing to do business with God. How sad!

Please, I beg you, let us not be guilty of doing the same.

This article was originally published in the October 2013 Newsletter.

When God Chooses Not to Heal

This article was originally published in the May 2013 Newsletter.

In the big scheme of things, it is a relatively small thing. It is not terminal. And while important to address, in the end there are many things of greater consequence. It is high blood pressure, and about a quarter of the population struggles with it. But right now that statistic is of little comfort to me. I am frustrated that my blood pressure is high even though I have been exercising and eating well for the past 30 days. In fact, at times the pressure has gone up in spite of my diet and daily bike rides. I’ve even prayed that God would heal me in this area, believing that he could heal me if he chooses to. He answered that prayer by revealing underlying stress that I didn’t even know I had. And, as he has shown an area that needed to be addressed, I have surrendered it to him. I feel at peace and restful, confident in his control. I am content in his love and kindness. But I still have high blood pressure. At this time, he has chosen not to heal. I also know that sometimes God heals through the use of medicine and medical care, but it is a path I would rather not go down. I would rather God would just choose to heal me.

What do we do when God chooses not to heal? What do we do when the scan shows the cancer has spread? What do we do when the wayward child refuses to come home? What do we do when the search for a job goes unnoticed or the divorce becomes final? What do we do when the answer to our prayer is “no” or “not yet”?

Thankfully we have an example in Scripture of someone who prayed earnestly for God to heal and yet never received the healing he had hoped for. His name is Paul. He is one of the key figures in church history. He planted churches across the Mediterranean region, and his letters to those churches make up the bulk of the New Testament Scriptures we have today. But in spite of all of that, he still received a “no” when he prayed for physical healing in his own life. He had some issue in his life for which he prayed multiple times for healing. But instead of healing him, God said to him, “My grace is enough, it is sufficient for you. I know you want to be healed. But I want you to find that I am more than enough for you, even when I choose not to heal.”

When God chooses not to heal, I can either focus on what I lack, or I can focus on what I have. And what I have is the presence of God living within me, filling me, overwhelming me with kindness, love, and faithfulness. When I focus on that, it is certainly enough. In fact, it is more than enough. I am humbled by his kindness. I am awed by his faithfulness. I barely have words to describe the love he has poured into my life. It is these things I chose to focus on, to rest upon when other parts of my life do not make sense.

This morning I rose early, long before the sun crested the hills, and found myself contemplating the kindness of God. He has blessed my life so abundantly. I shake my head in wonder when I consider all that he has done for me. I don’t deserve such kindness and yet he pours it into my life over and over again. It is this kindness that I chose to focus on, even as I sit here with my blood pressure much higher than it should be. It is not that I am unaware of the issues affecting my life. I just chose to embrace the love and kindness of God instead of worrying about the things I cannot change.

Consider these verses:

“ ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9, ESV).

“Be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’ ” (Hebrews 13:5, ESV).

“Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5, ESV).

Once again, how we deal with the challenges of life comes down to where we are in our relationship with God. Is he enough? Is his love and grace sufficient? Can you say with Paul, that even if he chooses not to heal, his grace is enough? Is he really enough?

So often we want Jesus and a nice house, or Jesus and a nice car, or Jesus and a healthy body, or Jesus and a stable family. But God wants me to learn to be content with just Jesus. If all of those things were stripped away – the house, the car, health, and home – would I be content with just Jesus? I pray that I would.

Friend, do you know the ache of unanswered prayer? Have you cried out to God only to sense that he is saying “not yet” or “not now”? Where are you in relationship with him? Can you trust him even when you cannot feel him near? Is your relationship with Jesus enough, even when he chooses not to heal?

As you are reading these words, you may be dealing with issues in life far more severe than just high blood pressure. I genuinely hurt for you. I am not trying to be trite or to minimize the pain and agony you may be feeling at this moment. I am not suggesting that you are supposed to disregard the reality of your circumstances. I am, however, asking that you bring Christ into the midst of your circumstance. He longs to cover you like a tent spread out over you. He covers us with his grace to comfort and protect. And in that moment, in spite of our trials, we find that he is, in fact, enough.

Even when he chooses not to heal.