Scripture Journal Challenge: Suffering and Safe Places

I have to admit that when I read the book of Job NOW, it’s no longer an intellectual exercise or detached theological foray into suffering and the sovereignty of God.

I was always appalled at what Job and his wife (remember her!) suffered. I was always a bit confused by God’s question to Satan, “Have you considered My servant, Job?” I was both comforted and confounded that God set boundaries but set them at the bare minimum to spare Job’s life.

Just being honest here.

Pastors and teachers love to talk about the sweeping arc of the story. They love to pull out lessons about how to comfort others in suffering, how to endure suffering ourselves and how, in the end, God restored to Job the things that had been robbed from him.

But my heart walks slowly through those pages. My soul weeps with every new blow struck against a man who, by God’s own account, was a righteous servant of the Most High.

I wonder if David knew the story of Job. It’s believed to have been one of the oldest books in the Old Testament.

If he did, I wonder if he took comfort in the knowledge that God eventually restored Job to a place of blessing, honor and safety.

David certainly knew what it was like to ride high on the wave of God’s favor and then to be dashed to bits on the rocks of adversity. He slew Goliath and then he was anointed king. He was Saul’s musician, ultimately his son-in-law and then his enemy. He knew that God declared his glorious future but he lived for years hiding in caves, eating what he could find and serving random wealthy patrons in hopes of a little peace between Saul’s attempts on his life.

So when he survived yet again, he wrote this Psalm as praise and prophecy.

He rode upon a heavenly creature,[a] flying;
    He was carried quickly on the wings of the wind.
11 He took darkness as His hiding place—
    both the dark waters of the seas and the dark clouds of the sky.
12 Out from His brilliance
    hailstones and burning coals
    broke through the clouds.
13 The Eternal thundered in the heavens;
    the Highest spoke; His voice rumbled [in the midst of hail and lightning].[b]
14 He shot forth His arrows and scattered the wicked;
    He flung forth His lightning and struck them.
15 Then the deepest channels of the seas were visible,
    and the very foundations of the world were uncovered
At Your rebuke, O Eternal One,
    at the blast of wind from Your nostrils.
16 He reached down His hand from above me; He held me.
    He lifted me from the raging waters.
17 He rescued me from my strongest enemy,
    from all those who sought my death,
    for they were too strong.
18 They came for me in the day of my destruction,
    but the Eternal was the support of my life.
19 He set me down in a safe place;
    He saved me to His delight; He took joy in me.

Psalm 18: 10-19 VOICE

Again, David paints a vivid picture of God as Mighty Warrior.

But not just any warrior, raging through battle, unaware of who may be on His left or right. God is the One who protects His anointed. He is the One who reaches down and rescues.

God set David in a safe place. When He declared, “Enough!” no enemy could come further.

David had the sure promises of God to lean on. He knew that God is in control even when things feel out of control.

In the same way, the Lord established a hedge of protection around Job. He set the limits for Satan. He had him on a chain.

Of course there’s no indication from Scripture that Job knew his suffering had any limits. And while he didn’t sin by accusing God of wrongdoing, he certainly voiced his pain, indignation and desire to end his suffering through death.

I feel like I’m living in a space between the personal, rock-solid promises God gave David through Samuel and others and the blind faith of Job where God’s hand and purpose were concealed.

I know that every promise of God in Christ is “yes” and “amen”.

I know that the end has been written and everything that has been stolen, broken or touched by death will be redeemed, restored and resurrected.

But some days I wonder how long I’ll have to wait until I see those promises fulfilled. I wonder how much more I might have to endure, give up or lay down before I reach my heavenly Home.

That’s when I call my heart back to this picture of God as a Warrior who will always rescue me-both here and in the hereafter.

God has put my foot on a solid Rock.

When sorrow threatens to drag me deeper than my heart can bear, He reaches down and pulls me up.

When fear finds me in the dark and whispers lies in my ear, He makes His Presence real and speaks comfort to my soul.

Like Job and David and millions before me, I can trust the One who promises.

I can rest in His unfailing love and absolute sovereignty.

He never lets go.

QUESTIONS:

  • If you are like me, sometimes we read Scripture like a story book-we already know the ending and often ignore the very real human drama people were living through. Does it help your heart hold onto hope to know that even after God rescued David from the hand of Saul, he (David) was still not in full possession of the promise that he’d be king? Why or why not?
  • Child loss is absolutely the most devastating blow I’ve suffered in my life and it was a long, long time before I was able to look up in my brokenness and look for blessings. When I did, I found that while there was no cosmic scale that could balance my loss with whatever I might still have or gain, my heart was strengthened when I noticed blessings again. Are you able to look for blessings yet? If so, does it encourage you? If not, would you be willing to try to find one little smile-inducing good thing a day for a week?
  • I love, love, love David’s words: “He reached down His hand from above me; He held me. He lifted me from the raging waters.” Our God is a personal God who does not despise us because we are weak and unable to save ourselves. He delights in reaching down and lifting us up. How do those words make you feel? When have you felt God reach down and lift you up?
  • We end our study of this Psalm with verse 19: “He set me down in a safe place; He saved me to His delight; He took joy in me. ” We are ultimately set safely in the redemption of Christ (if we have received that gift by faith). But I also believe we can live our lives in a safe space even in the midst of suffering when we choose to focus on Who God is and refuse to let circumstances blind us to His love, His goodness, His promises and His strength. What concrete steps can you take to help your heart focus on truth when your feelings threaten to drag you into falsehood?

PRAYER:

Lord,

You are the lover of my soul, my Mighty Warrior, my Savior and my Good Shepherd. Help me hold onto those truths when life threatens to undo me.

Give me the courage to face pain and suffering in the sure knowledge that You see me, You are with me and You will rescue me. I may not get a miracle or even a medical cure, but I will have the final victory in Christ.

When death and the awful darkness of grief roll over me like a flood, push it back with Your light, love and life.

Let me hear You singing joy over my soul.

Amen

***I combined today and tomorrow’s writing assignments***

Scripture Journal Challenge: When I Can’t Trace His Hand I Trust His Heart

No matter how much we love someone, we will eventually fail them somehow.

I know I recite my failure as a mother quite often-usually when I’m tired, weak, stressed and especially burdened with this grief I haul around like a bag of bricks every day.

So it’s hard for me to comprehend the unfailing, faithful, never-ending, compassionate love of God.

But it’s true whether I can wrap my mind around it or not: God’s love never fails.

That’s the message Jeremiah was tasked to deliver to Israel in the midst of some very awful circumstances.

They had really messed up. And they were going to reap the consequences of their sin.

It was going to hurt.

But God had not abandoned them. He had not forgotten them. He had not stopped loving them.

31 For no one is cast off
    by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
    so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
    or grief to anyone.

Lamentations 3:31-33 NIV

The God I serve and Israel served is a compassionate God.

He is so very compassionate (which means to suffer alongside) that He chose to send His Son to take our sins, to receive our punishment, to pay the penalty and redeem us for Himself.

Grief is part of this life.

Before Jesus lived on earth, suffered, died and was resurrected, grief was part of the ongoing penalty of sin.

So Israel was punished when she turned from her true Husband and ran after idols and foreign gods.

Now, the penalty has been paid. Yet grief remains.

Our enemy the devil works evil in the world. People’s sinful choices result in death and destruction. The whole earth groans under the general burden of sin which means genes mutate, disease runs rampant and our bodies fail.

God does not always intervene.

But He always comes alongside.

He always offers comfort and promises that grief doesn’t last forever.

He takes those evil things, the broken things, the painful things and the hard things and weaves them into a beautiful tapestry that will eventually reveal His faithfulness, goodness, love and glory.

QUESTIONS:

  • I’ve written before about whether or not grief and loss is a punishment from God. Yet these verses plainly state, “though He brings grief”. How do you explain them to your own heart? Have you thought through and developed a consistent theology that both acknowledges the truth that in the OT God DID bring grief (punishment) on His people for their sins and that in the NT God, through Christ, has taken all the punishment for every sin? (For more on this, read this post: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2019/01/15/is-god-punishing-me/)
  • Have you ever felt God was suffering alongside you? Do you think God suffers at all?
  • Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd. Most of His followers would have firsthand knowledge of the sacrifices a good shepherd makes for his sheep. That’s not something many of us know much about these days. Can you paint your own word picture of unfailing love?
  • Have you confronted the question of why evil exists, why pain is persistent, why death and destruction still reign? Are you afraid to go there? Why or why not?
  • I used to embroider quite a bit and really love the Corrie Ten Boom poem cited above because I understand it well. The top side of my work was lovely (most of the time!) but the underside was awful! Do you have confidence that God is weaving ALL the things in your life into a tapestry that will eventually reveal how even the dark and ugly experiences, feelings and heartache work together to make a beautiful piece of art? (See Ephesians 2:10)

PRAYER:

Father God, Thank you that I live this side of Calvary!

Thank You that although this life is filled with sorrow and pain I can rest assured that if I’ve received Your gift of forgiveness through Christ You are not punishing me for some forgotten sin. Thank You for your unfailing, faithful, compassionate love.

Help me to remember in the darkest moments, the most desolate path, the deepest pit You are there. Over and over and over You remind my heart that I am not alone. When I can’t comprehend how You might weave the next dark thread into the tapestry of my life, help me trust You anyway.

You are the Master Weaver. You are the Potter. Give me a willing heart to yield to Your work in my life.

Amen

I

Scripture Journal Challenge: Between A Rock And A Hard Place

If you’ve joined me here for very long, you know I have a particular dislike for what I call “Sunshine Christianity”.

It’s not because I’m opposed to smiling faces and feel-good Bible verses plastered across doors, hallways, t-shirts and social media.

It’s because it doesn’t tell the whole story and sets up hearts for disappointment (at best) and walking away from Jesus (at worst) when their personal experience falls short of this hap, hap, happy picture portrayed by so many.

This life is NOT all smiles and rainbows. It’s hard work, hard times and often devastating circumstances.

That’s the bad news.

But we don’t have to face them alone.

That’s the good news.

If you are struggling, I’m hoping that you are willing to wrestle. So many people seem to be seeking a bumper sticker God with whom life is clean, easy, and problem free and answers are clever, even punchy. But life is never clean. It’s far from easy. And it’s never problem free. That’s why I believe putting God into an easy-to-explain box is not only unwise but dangerous. To really know God, you have to wrestle through pain, struggle with honest doubts, and even live with unanswered questions.

So while I won’t promise you that God is your copilot or that the Bible says it and that settles it, I will promise you this: if you wrestle with him, seek him, cling to him, God will meet you in your pain.

Craig Groeschel, Hope in the Dark

From cover to cover the Bible is filled with God’s people facing problems and God’s promise to be with them when they did. Some of the problems were of their own making and some were circumstances visited on them by others.

Sometimes God miraculously intervened (the three Hebrew children in the fire) and sometimes He didn’t (every disciple but John was martyred).

Often I can’t make sense of the difference.

If I’m honest, what I want is a pain free life.

I want to walk this earth and not be subject to death, decay, disasters and doubt. But that’s not how it works this side of the Fall which ushered sin into the world and assured no one since our first parents would ever experience the pure joy of a painless existence.

Isaiah was tasked with delivering messages of judgement against rebellious Israel but he was also privileged deliver some of the most beautiful messages of hope in the Old Testament.

Today’s verses are a combination of both. The prophet doesn’t say, “if” you go through these things but “when”.

Trouble is coming. But God is still in control.

But now, God’s Message,

    the God who made you in the first place, Jacob,

    the One who got you started, Israel:

“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.

    I’ve called your name. You’re mine.

When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.

    When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.

When you’re between a rock and a hard place,

    it won’t be a dead end—

Because I am God, your personal God,

    The Holy of Israel, your Savior.

I paid a huge price for you:

    all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in!

That’s how much you mean to me!

    That’s how much I love you!

I’d sell off the whole world to get you back,

    trade the creation just for you.

Isaiah 43:1-4 The Message

It can be hard to read these verses and both believe and doubt at the same time. God promised Israel that when they passed through the waters or were in the midst of the flames (more traditional rendering) they would not be overcome. Yet we know from history that many in the nation WERE overcome. In relatively recent memory, millions were rounded up and exterminated by anti-Semitic, power-hungry German nationalists and those who sympathized with them.

Where was God then?

One of the difficult tasks I’ve had in grief is arriving at a place where I can hold pain and promise in the same heart.

I’ve had to learn to live in that mysterious space where I trust that God HAS an answer even if He chooses not to share it with me this side of eternity.

Like Israel, I have been redeemed. I am bought with a price. Christ gave His life for my sins and therefore I have hope.

But also like Israel, that doesn’t mean my mortal flesh is spared. It doesn’t mean my family is exempt from death-even the death of my twenty-three-year-old son.

What it DOES mean is that God is with me.

And while I may be overwhelmed and undone for a season-perhaps for this entire earthly life-it won’t always be so. One day God will redeem, restore and resurrect everything the enemy has stolen.

In the meantime, I rest in His arms, on His promise and depend on His strength.

QUESTIONS:

  • How do you interpret these verses? What does it mean “to be spared”?
  • Is is difficult for your heart to accept that pain is part of our experience as believers? Why or why not?
  • Can you give a defense of the gospel and of verses like these to those who don’t yet know Jesus? What explanation can account for the fact of evil and pain in the world when God is sovereign yet doesn’t seem to intervene (in many instances)?
  • Do you wrestle with God or do you try to stuff your questions? If you do wrestle, when has God met you at your private Peniel (Genesis 32:30). If you don’t, do you think it impacts your faith in a negative way or not at all?
  • What pressing, uncomfortable, heartbreaking and/or faith shattering circumstances are you currently facing? Consider writing your own lament and pouring your feelings out on paper.

PRAYER:

Lord, I so often demand answers, long for understanding and feel disappointed when I get neither. I’m not disappointed in Who You are, but I AM disappointed that I have to live my days wondering. I want You to explain Yourself. Yet I know I’m owed no explanation.

In my most faith-filled moments I can find a way to accept this. But not always.

Like Job, I’m jotting down the questions I’m going to lob at you when I finally DO see you.

And like Job, when my heart is tender and I’m looking full into Your Word and Your face, I cover my mouth. I have nothing to say.

Your majesty, grace, goodness, holiness, love and mercy overwhelm me more than my questions ever do. You ARE the God of the Universe, my Shepherd King, my Bread, my Living Water, my very Breath.

Help me to trust You in every circumstance. Help me to feel Your Presence every moment. Help me walk by faith and not demand you give me supernatural understanding of how you work in this world.

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: Safe In My Daddy’s Arms

When I was a little girl my family made a yearly pilgrimage to the white sand and clear water beaches in Florida.

We were allowed to wade out on our own as high as our waist while the adults talked and sunbathed on shore. If we wanted to go deeper, even for those of us who were good swimmers, we had to wait for the grown ups to join us.

I have a vivid memory of one sunny day when the waves were rolling in and my six-foot-tall dad was standing neck deep in the Gulf. I was a little closer to shore and decided to join him.

My young mind didn’t do the math between my short self and his taller one and stepped off an underwater ledge into water way over my head. I panicked when I realized there was no way for me to save myself.

In a flash, Papa’s strong arms scooped me up and held me close.

As quickly as fear set in, it vanished because I knew he wouldn’t let me go until I could safely set my own feet down in shallower water.

My daddy wasn’t about to let anything happen to me.

I think about that summer moment nearly every time I read today’s verses.

But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend.

Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away.

10 Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.

Isaiah 41: 8-10 KJV

God assures Israel (the nation) that He chose them. He cherishes them. He has called them and He will never forget nor forsake them.

It’s a beautiful thing to know that just like Israel, those of us who have been grafted in by the blood of Christ are also heirs together of these promises. (Ephesians 3:6; Romans 11:17)

If you have received the gift of eternal life through Jesus, you can be absolutely assured that God is your Father . He chose you in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). He will always take care of you.

Fear is a reasonable response to a situation outside our control.

It wasn’t silly for me to be afraid when my head went underwater and I despaired of saving myself.

When God tells me in His Word to “fear not!” it isn’t a rebuke. It’s encouragement.

God is my Father, He loves me so He says, “Don’t be afraid, don’t be dismayed”.

Why? Because He is with me.

As soon as my dad’s arms reached around me, fear fled. I was safe.

And if my earthly father’s strength and love was enough to allay my fears, how much more should my fears flee in the face of the strength, love and power of my Heavenly Father?

There are so many times I am afraid in this life.

So many times when things are out of control and beyond my comprehension. So many ways life goes wrong and I feel like they will never be made right.

But when I stop and point my heart in the direction of these promises, I can hold onto hope in spite of my fear.

Because my daddy has his arms around me.

HOLY WEEK 2019: Resurrection, Reality and Reassurance

“The worst conceivable thing has happened, and it has been mended…All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” ~Julian of Norwich

I’m not sure when I first read this quote, but it came to my mind that awful morning.   And I played it over and over in my head, reassuring my broken heart that indeed, the worst had already happened, and been mended.

Death had died.

Christ was risen-the firstfruits of many brethren.

Read the rest here:  Resurrection: Reality and Reassurance

HOLY WEEK 2019: Why Good Friday Matters as Much as Resurrection Sunday

“On the one hand Death is the triumph of Satan, the punishment of the Fall, and the last enemy. Christ shed tears at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane: the Life of Lives that was in Him detested this penal obscenity not less than we do, but more.
On the other hand, only he who loses his life will save it. We are baptized into the death of Christ, and it is the remedy for the Fall. Death is, in fact, what some modern people call “ambivalent.” It is Satan’s great weapon and also God’s great weapon: it is holy and unholy; our supreme disgrace and our only hope; the thing Christ came to conquer and the means by which He conquered.”

~C.S. Lewis,  Miracles

Bury a child and suddenly the death of Christ becomes oh, so personal. The image of Mary at the foot of the cross is too hard to bear.

Read the rest here:  Remember: Why Good Friday Matters as Much as Resurrection Sunday

How Can I See Love?

Fairy tales and favorite movies aside, what does love really look like?

How can I see this feeling that has driven some to distraction, some to destruction and even more to dedication to another in spite of whatever obstacles life has placed in the path?

It’s not often writ large.

In fact, it’s usually tiny stitches in the tapestry of life.

love is not what you say it is what you do pooh

A choice to fix her breakfast before his. * Bending down to plant a kiss on that frowning face. * Lending a tool or a few dollars knowing full well you’ll never see it again. *Refusing to leave when that friend pushes away.Bearing witness to sorrow and joy and pain and celebration. * Holding a hand when a heart is barely able to hold on. *Showing up, without being asked, because presence makes a difference. * Consistency in the face of chaos. * Doing the things that need to be done even when they go unnoticed and the one you do them for is ungrateful. * Letting go when it’s time.  * Turning up the heat for him and taking off your sweater. * Cooking a favorite meal or dessert or stew. * Carefully preserving a legacy. * Folding the towels the way she likes. * Phone calls across continents. * Refusing to give up, ever, no matter how hard it gets. 

winnie the pooh feel love

If I want to see love, all I have to do is look around.  

Love is so much more than flowers or candy on a single day of the year. 

It’s a life lived in service to another. 

It’s a pouring out. 

Real love is costly-in time, in effort, in energy.

And it’s always, always brave. 

ann voskamp love will always cost you grief