Scripture Journal Challenge: God Sees You. You Are Not Alone.

We’ve all done it-pretended to be looking somewhere else when we pass a needy soul.

Who has time to get involved?

They might be an addict or have a contagious disease or mental illness. They might be too lazy to work, too unpredictable to trust, too likely to be here next week and need something again. It might cost more than the five dollars we’re willing to hand out.

So we walk on by and hope they don’t force the issue by standing in our way.

But God never ignores a hurting heart.

He never redirects His gaze so it doesn’t fall on the one begging for mercy.


He does not ·ignore [despise or disdain] ·those in trouble [L the suffering of the afflicted]. He doesn’t hide his face from them but listens when they ·call out to him [cry to him for help].

Psalm 22:24 EXB

How amazing that the God of the universe, the One who hung the stars in the sky and told the sea, “This far and no farther!” hears me when I cry out to Him for help!

And not only does He hear me, He longs to comfort me with His love.

He does not despise my weakness or look down His nose because I’m unable to solve my own problems or help myself.

Even when others ignore me or try to make my pain small, God is listening. He never sleeps. He’s never too busy. He’s never hoping I go away and stop bothering Him.

He knows my name.

I’m not a faceless, nameless one of thousands or millions chattering away like background noise in a crowd.

He hears MY voice.

God-my God-has a personal, specific relationship with me, His child.

He leans in, bends down and listens attentively to whatever I tell Him. Like any human father, His heart is pierced when mine is broken.

I am so, so thankful that the God I serve loves me.

He specifically, purposefully loves me with unconditional love.

Even when I’m weak.

Even when I’m running away.

Even when I question the things He allows in my life.

He will never look away or stop reaching for me.

QUESTIONS:

  • What does it mean to you that God hears you?
  • Do you always FEEL heard? Why or why not?
  • When have you felt God’s personal care and encouragement?
  • How might you help your heart hold onto the truth in this verse when it seems God isn’t listening or at least isn’t giving you the relief you seek?
  • Can you find two or three other verses that emphasize God’s attentiveness to His children?

PRAYER:

Father God,

Sometimes I am willing to give mental assent to the fact that You hear me. And yet my heart argues that my head must be mistaken because the answers I beg for are long in coming.

The silence is deafening.

But I know our ways are not My ways and Your time is not my time. Give me confident assurance that You hear me whenever I cry out to You. Thank you that in Christ I can call You “Daddy” and always rest in the truth You are for me and not against me.

Fill my heart full of Your love. Overwhelm me with Your grace-grace to ask and grace to endure no matter what the answer may be. Amen

Distant Music

I don’t know about you, but sometimes cute little memes intended to help me “look on the bright side” fly all over me.

Sure, if life gives you lemons (bad hair day, late to work, long line at the grocery store) make lemonade.

But sometimes it’s not lemons life gives you, it’s an avalanche of pain, heartache and world-shattering awful.

You can’t make lemonade from THAT.

So often life is absolutely NOT the party I had hoped for. And all the catchy psychobabble parading across my social media newsfeed doesn’t make it any easier to take.

This sweet little picture did though.

There are days when I just can’t. And that’s OK.

But when I stop to listen, even on the hardest days, there’s still sweet music in the distance. ❤️

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: My Righteous, Raging King!

They say there’s nothing more terrifying than a mama bear protecting her cubs.

If you’ve ever witnessed one come charging across a clearing, changed from a lumbering giant to a fierce killing machine you believe it.

What seems safe at a distance is oh, so terrifying up close and personal.

I think many folks picture God as the great Granddaddy in the sky, looking down benevolently at the earth and showering blessings on its inhabitants.

God IS love. Scripture says so.

But God is also a fierce Father who will protect His children.

That’s the image David brings to mind as we continue Psalm 18:

In my time of need, I called to the Eternal;
    I begged my True God for help.
He heard my voice echo up to His temple,
    and my cry came to His ears.
Because of His great anger, the earth shook and staggered;
    the roots of the mountains shifted.
Smoke poured out from His nose,
    and devouring fire burst from His mouth.
    Coals glowed from Him.
He bent the heavens and descended;
    inky darkness was beneath His feet.

Psalm 18: 6-9 VOICE

I’m so thankful that God in all His glory, majesty, strength and might is both my Savior and my Shepherd. He’s ready to defend me against the enemy of my soul and He’s made perfect provision for my eternal future. He’s also my constant Companion and guide as I journey toward Heaven.

I appreciate the passages in Scripture that talk about God as loving Father, as Comforter, as gentle, meek and kind. Those help my heart when I feel emotionally vulnerable.

But when I’m under attack, I want a Warrior to come rescue me!

When I cry out, I’m looking for a righteous, raging King to ride in and vanquish my enemy.

This is no battle of equals. Satan doesn’t stand a chance. The end of the story is already written.

I don’t fear my Father.

I know that in Christ His wrath is perfectly satisfied. I’m a child of the King, safe and secure in my position and my inheritance. He will defend me to the end.

“No weapon formed against me shall prosper.”

That’s a promise.

QUESTIONS:

  • When you’ve cried out for deliverance do you feel the Lord has always answered? Why or why not?
  • If He answered, was His deliverance what you were expecting?
  • I’ve written before that some of us (myself included) might need to admit God has disappointed us.* If you feel like He hasn’t done what you expected/needed Him to do, are you prepared to voice that? Are you ready to breathe out the pain, the doubts, the disappointment-even anger-and make room for Him to minister grace and healing to your broken heart?
  • David’s imagery is definitely at odds with most popular depictions of God the Father as a Santa Clause type figure. Do any of the words he uses challenge your own idea of who God is? Are they comforting, frightening or something else?
  • What is your takeaway from the verses we’ve looked at so far in this Psalm? How can you make it personal?

PRAYER:

Father God,

Too often I want to stuff You in a box where I can pretend to understand You. Or I lean too heavily on verses that describe Your love and compassion and gloss over the ones that emphasize Your holiness and righteous anger. Truth is, when things are going along alright, I don’t really enjoy being challenged much.

But the “god” I design or understand is not You at all. You are more than I could ever comprehend. Your ways are not my ways. And when I’m forced to come face to face with that truth, it’s a little frightening.

Give me the courage to read and heed ALL the verses. Guide my heart to embrace the full revelation (so far as we have it) of who You are. Grant the grace to to receive Your love and Your correction.

Thank You that you are both Savior and Shepherd. Thank You for fighting for me and singing over me.

Amen

*Here are links to a couple previous posts about trust after loss and “forgiving” God:

Scripture Journal Challenge: The One I Run To

When I read the Psalms I hear human voices.

I hear real people living real lives facing real problems.

Life and death and celebration and devastation-all laid bare for the ages.

They give me courage to speak plainly to God.

They help me frame my own struggles in the context of who God is and not only what I feel.

I love You, Eternal One, source of my power.
The Eternal is my rock, my fortress, and my salvation;
    He is my True God, the stronghold in which I hide,
    my strong shield, the horn that calls forth help, and my tall-walled tower.
I call out to the Eternal, who is worthy to be praised—
    that’s how I will be rescued from my enemies.
The bonds of death encircled me;
    the currents of destruction tugged at me;
The sorrows of the grave wrap around me;
    the traps of death lay in wait for me.

Psalm 18:1-5 VOICE

David had escaped Saul’s attempt on his life. He could have given credit to his superior battle skills or ability to hide or just plain luck.

But he didn’t. He understood that God alone determined the outcome.

David knew that God was his true stronghold-not the cave or the tower where he might hide.

He is reminding his heart of truth-something I had to do the day Dominic left us.

I have never felt so desolate as the early morning when I was told my son was dead. My physical life wasn’t threatened but the life I knew was shattered.

The “bonds of death” circled my heart and I could feel them squeezing tighter and tighter.

Sorrow swallowed me whole.

There was nowhere to hide from the awful truth that death was on my doorstep.

In the hours between the knock on the door and sunrise I kept assuring myself that God was still God. I kept repeating that He had not abandoned us.

And then (because I didn’t know what else to do as I waited for family to gather) I went out to feed the animals.

Walking toward the rising sun I choked out the words to a favorite song:

The sun comes up
It’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass
And whatever lies before me
Let me be singing
When the evening comes

Bless the Lord oh my soul
Oh my soul
Worship His Holy name
Sing like never before
Oh my soul
I’ll worship Your Holy name

Bless The Lord, Oh My Soul by Matt Redman

There was no moment of divine revelation.

I didn’t feel the burden lift.

But I knew if I didn’t remind my heart of truth, I’d be headed toward a darker path than the one I was already walking.

“I call out to the Eternal who is worthy to be praised-that’s how I will be rescued from my enemies.”

QUESTIONS:

  • Why do you think it’s important that even when we experience victory, we acknowledge God as the One who gives it to us?
  • Are you ever tempted not to?
  • Obviously I’m sensitive to the fact that as bereaved parents our child was not physically saved. Does that make it hard for your heart to think of God as a fortress, shelter, safe place? Why or why not?
  • Even though I have not faced my own death, I find David’s description apt for the dark feelings that threatened to undo me after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven. Do his words resonate with you?
  • David was a man on the run for years. He spent a lot of time in the rocky wilderness and describes God in ways that reflect his personal experience. If you were going to describe God as a place of safety, what words would you use that reflect yours?

PRAYER:

Lord,

You are most certainly worthy of praise simply because You are God. Sometimes I struggle to praise you because You do not always give victory in the here and now and that’s hard to take. You don’t always step in and assure physical safety and that hurts my heart.

But you always invite me to bring that pain to You. You are a stronghold for my heart.

When the enemy of my soul whispers lies in my ear and tries to convince me You don’t care, help my heart refuse to be led astray. When despair tries to drag me down, speak courage to my soul and lift me up.

You have made every provision for our ultimate victory. Death doesn’t get the last word. Life does! Thank You for that promise.

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: A Living Hope

We toss the word “hope” around a lot.

I hope it rains. I hope I get the job. I hope it’s a boy!

Most of the time we could exchange “wish” for “hope” because we have no power to make the things we hope for come true.

So when we read “hope” in this passage, it doesn’t necessarily evoke the sure promise Peter is trying to convey in his letter to suffering Christians of the first century.

It would be cold comfort to families as they were forced at sword point to walk off cliffs or thrust into the arena with lions if Peter’s hope was just a wish.

But it’s not.

Peter opens his letter with a bold declaration based on his eye-witness testimony to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

He’s alive!

And His living Presence means that THIS hope is a promise.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

I Peter 1:3-9 NIV

These are some of my favorite verses in the epistles.

Peter packs so much in so few words: I have an inheritance, I have a future and I have joy.

My inheritance in Christ is safe, secure and eternal.

There is no law of diminishing returns in Heaven. Unlike that dress I bought that seemed so wonderful a week ago, I won’t ever get tired of reciting and reviewing all Jesus purchased for me with His blood.

Do you ever fear you might lose your faith?

Peter reminds us we are shielded by God in Christ until the full glory of our salvation is revealed at the Last Day. Jesus Himself said that those the Father gives Him cannot be snatched from His hand.

Doubt is not denial.

If you have put your trust in the finished work of Jesus then you are saved.

Trials will come. But they are not the last word.

When we lean on Christ and trust Him to walk with us through them, take the heat and refuse to melt, then we are refined and His glory is purer, clearer and more easily seen in our lives.

And in the midst of trials I have joy because my hope in the living hope of our resurrected Savior sustains me.

Consider Paul’s words: ‘sorrowful, yet always rejoicing’ (2 Corinthians 6:10). In the ugliness of intensified grief, the Christian is supernaturally enabled to rejoice.

The hallelujahs of joy reverberate on broken heartstrings. My sorrow touches every part of my life, yet I sorrow not as those who have no hope.

My rejoicing is not that of happy feelings; it is triumph in trial and confidence in a supreme God. The true joy of the Lord is divine enablement, not effervescent emotions

James Means, A Tearful Celebration

Sometimes it seems like it’s hardly worth it. Our circle is small and our testimony just a whisper. But we won’t know the full story of how our struggle glorifies Him until all things are revealed.

Our hope is a Living Hope.

It’s no pie-in-the-sky fairy tale.

Your story matters.

It’s being written to be shared as a testimony to God’s goodness, His faithful love and His enabling grace.

Hang on.

You’ll be glad you did.

QUESTIONS:

  • Have you ever thought about the connection between Jesus’ resurrection and the promise that we will also be raised? How do Peter’s words about our “living hope” impact your faith?
  • Peter denied Christ and most certainly didn’t ever expect to have a second chance to make that right. Do you feel like you’ve done or said or thought something that puts you outside the love and grace of God?
  • In the midst of a trial are you aware that it’s a refining experience? Do you care?
  • Does the promise that our steadfast endurance will be revealed in the last day as a testimony to God’s glory and grace encourage you? Why or why not?
  • What practical steps do you take to hold onto hope?

PRAYER:

Lord, sometimes I feel hopeless. I forget that the resurrection proves You have conquered death and the grave. I forget I have a Living Hope and that hope is the person of Jesus Christ.

Trials come and the heat is so intense. I want to shrink away, to hide, to find some safe corner where pain and sorrow won’t find me. But that’s not the world we live in. Whether I’m persecuted for my faith or just the target of someone else’s sinful actions or words, it hurts!

Give me the strength to endure regardless of how intense the struggle.

I want to finish strong. I want to be a testimony for Your glory and to Your grace. Thank You for providing every needful thing.

Speak courage to my spirit, breathe life into my faith.

Thank You that I can rest assured that the hope I place in You is not just a fanciful wish but a sure thing.

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: Worn Out and Weary? Jesus Understands.

I don’t know about you but I’m tired.

Not just physically tired-although there are plenty of days when chores done in the Alabama sun beat my body down.

I’m soul weary.

My heart cries out, “No more! I can’t carry a single other burden! I’m buckling under the load!”

Jesus understands.

He knows that this world is a harsh place for tender hearts. He recognizes that other people heap heavy weights on already laboring souls. He understands that work and worry and even well-doing wear us to a nub.

And He offers a way of escape.

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden andoverburdened, and I will cause you to rest. [I will [a]ease and relieve and [b]refresh [c]your souls.]


29 Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest ([d]relief and ease and refreshment and [e]recreation and blessed quiet) for your souls.


30 For My yoke is wholesome (useful, [f]good—not harsh, hard, sharp, or pressing, but comfortable, gracious, and pleasant), and My burden is light and easy to be borne. ~Jesus

Matthew 11: 28-30 AMPC

The Pharisees and Sadducees (religious leaders at the time Jesus walked the earth) had overloaded people with rules, rules, rules and obscured the truth of Who God is and what He really wanted from them. They focused solely on outward compliance with man-made additions to God’s law and blinded themselves to the inward attitudes that should be a hallmark of God’s people.

Like us, they wanted boxes to check off.

They wanted lists to maintain.

Above all, they wanted to measure themselves against a standard that made them look good, often at the expense of others.

More importantly, their holier-than-thou lifestyle made regular folks feel like they fell so far short and were so far from the heart of God they didn’t dare ask Him for help.

Jesus said, “Enough!”

He said, “I don’t despise your weakness. I don’t dismiss your pain. Let Me help you take that off and give you a perfectly fitted burden. Yoke your life to Mine and we’ll carry it together.”

The most caring teamster carved the wooden yoke that joined his two oxen precisely to fit their unique shape. He checked it often to see if it was causing pain and he made adjustments when necessary. He yoked well-suited animals one to the other so that the burden was distributed evenly.

Any ill-fitting addition to a creature being asked to do a job makes that job oh, so much more difficult. It wears sore spots and tender places. It guarantees that you won’t get full cooperation nor highest performance.

We have many burdens to bear in this life. Some are of our own making, some are thrust upon us by others. Some are just a function of the fact we live in a world tainted by sin.

Jesus promises that the burden He asks us to bear He will make bearable when we bring it to Him.

Are you weak and heavy laden?

Are you struggling under a load that threatens to undo you?

Have you yoked your life to Christ and asked Him to help you?

Come.

He’s waiting for you.

QUESTIONS:

  • There are all kinds of burdens in this life. What feels heavy to you right now?
  • Have you offered it to Jesus? Have you asked Him to help you bear it?
  • Is it hard for you to lean on Jesus? Why or why not?
  • Do you ever try to hide your weakness or weariness from others?
  • The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were focused more on rules and less on relationship. What’s your faith heritage? Have you been in churches where there was a strong focus on rules? How did that impact your understanding of God?

PRAYER:

Father God, I can be like the Pharisees and make up lists of rules I think I need to follow to gain Your approval or at least to make myself look good in the eyes of others.

That’s not helpful for me or anyone else. Give me courage to tear those up.

Teach me Your gentle ways, Jesus. Help me lean into Your love and to yoke my heart to yours.

Amen