Scripture Journal Challenge: Keep Me Near

I have definitely felt besieged in this grief journey.

I imagined myself holed up in a castle turret, hoping against hope that heartache would stop battering the gates below.

For a long while I was afraid.

I was fearful that if the onslaught didn’t stop my heart would give in to despair, I’d let go of hope, I’d lay down and give up.

I don’t believe for one minute that David was never scared.

Instead, I believe that the words he used when his brothers mocked his step forward to take on Goliath were words God burned in his soul:

The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.

I Samuel 17:37 NIV

David was courageous IN SPITE of the fear because he knew the God he served. He had prior experience with God’s faithfulness. He was confident that the Lord would not allow him to fail.

So we come to today’s verses. They were penned a good while after Goliath, after being anointed king but before he gained the throne.

He was running for his life, fighting enemies on every side.

David had to remind himself of truth, just like me. He needed to sing aloud so his heart could be brave.

When the armies of the enemy surround me,
    I will not be afraid.
When death calls for me in the midst of war,
    my soul is confident and unmoved.
I am pleading with the Eternal for this one thing,
    my soul’s desire:
To live with Him all of my days—
    in the shadow of His temple,
To behold His beauty and ponder His ways
    in the company of His people.
His house is my shelter and secret retreat.
    It is there I find peace in the midst of storm and turmoil.
Safety sits with me in the hiding place of God.
    He will set me on a rock, high above the fray.
God lifts me high above those with thoughts
    of death and deceit that call for my life.
I will enter His presence, offering sacrifices and praise.
    In His house, I am overcome with joy
As I sing, yes, and play music for the Eternal alone.

Psalm 27:3-6 VOICE

His soul was confident and unmoved in the midst of danger because he threw himself on the mercy of the Lord.

His plea was not, “Keep me safe” it was “Keep me near”.

Jesus told the disciples not to fear the one who could kill the body but fear the One who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell. (Matthew 1:28)

David got it.

He knew that no matter what happened-if he lived or died-his true shelter and his true life was in the Lord.

He was focused on Who walked with him not what might happen to him.

Truth is, we don’t always experience miraculous deliverance from life’s troubles or dangers. People we love die. People we care about are cast down, carried through hard times and come out the other side battered, bruised and barely holding on.

If I can only praise a God who spares me, I have no songs to sing.

But if I can praise the God who loves me, who offers eternal security through the blood of Christ, the God who will weave ALL the threads of my life-the dark, the light, the ugly and the beautiful-into a masterpiece declaring His glory for all eternity, then I have a song as long as I have breath.

And when breath leaves this body and I am free of my earthly tent, I’ll sing a new song for ever and ever and ever.

This was David’s God.

This was the God of Moses, Isaac, Jacob. Peter and Paul.

This is MY God.

And He longs to be yours too. ❤

QUESTIONS:

  • Who do you turn to when you are afraid?
  • When have you felt God’s assurance in the midst of a fearful situation?
  • My family was very involved in worship music ministry for years. Dominic was a talented drummer, among other things. In the first days after his death, music ministered to my soul. But after the funeral I felt the music die within my heart. Have you ever felt like you didn’t have a song to sing anymore? Did God meet you there and help you find your song? Are you willing to ask Him to give you a new song, even on this broken road?
  • Eternal hope does not keep us from feeling pain in the here and now. But it can help a heart hold on. What words from this Psalm stand out to you? Are you able to praise God even as you feel pain?
  • Can you ask for God to keep you near even if He doesn’t keep you (or your loved ones) safe?
  • Praise can be as simple as repeating truth aloud or writing it in your journal. If you can’t sing, consider speaking aloud the names of God, His eternal attributes or verses that describe them. Your heart is listening. Give it courage.

PRAYER:

Father God,

So many times I come to You with a list of petitions-do this, do that, solve this, fix that, keep me and mine safe, secure and happy. I’m seeking Your hand and not Your face. And when things don’t turn out the way I want them to I feel betrayed.

What you want is for me to trust Your heart even when I can’t trace Your hand. You have promised never to leave me nor forsake me. Help me, like David to ask you to keep me near, not just to keep me safe.

Your name is a strong tower, the righteous run to it and are saved-not saved from earthly destruction or trouble but from eternal damnation.

When I lose my song, give me a new one. When I forget that You are with me, make Your Presence undeniably real. When I lose hope, speak courage to my heart. And when I doubt that I can make it one more minute, much less one more day, strengthen me with Your might.

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: My Good Shepherd

I have been a shepherd for twenty years.

The longer I care for my sheep and goats, the more I understand why God put His leaders through this school of discipleship.

Many days it’s a thankless job-my charges often do foolish things that place them in peril, they work hard to tear down the fences I’ve erected for their safety and they wander away forcing me to chase after them and bring them home.

But I never give up on them.

A shepherd’s heart is revealed in how she (or he) takes care of the weakest animals.

I cannot lay my head down at night without taking mental inventory to make sure they are safe, secure and well cared for through the darkness until morning dawns afresh.

David spent years and years in “shepherd school”.

It prepared him to fight Goliath.

It molded his heart to lead God’s people.

The Eternal is my shepherd, He cares for me always.
He provides me rest in rich, green fields
    beside streams of refreshing water.
    He soothes my fears;
He makes me whole again,
    steering me off worn, hard paths
    to roads where truth and righteousness echo His name.
Even in the unending shadows of death’s darkness,
    I am not overcome by fear.
Because You are with me in those dark moments,
    near with Your protection and guidance,
    I am comforted.

Psalm 23: 1-4 VOICE

I could write for days on what these verses mean to my own heart. I could tease out dozens of lessons from the picture David paints of tender care, abundant mercy, amazing love.

But the one thing I’ll share now is this: I never, ever, ever abandon my flock.

If all I had was a stick and my voice, I’d fight off every enemy.

I am never too busy nor too distracted to tend to their needs. I never forget to feed them, water them, check on them and call them home in the evening.

They know my voice.

They follow me because I am trustworthy. They allow me to tend their wounds because I am gentle. They come running to me when they are afraid because they know I am a fierce defender.

If I-a mere, fallible, fragile mortal-am this concerned about my little flock, imagine how our Good Shepherd cares for us!

Don’t rush over these verses because they are familiar.

Go back, read them again.

Know that the Lord God loves you.

He LOVES you.

He loves YOU.

QUESTIONS:

  • Do you remember the first time you encountered this Psalm? Does it hold a special memory?
  • How has the Lord given you rest in the midst of weariness?
  • How has God provided necessities for you?
  • What does it mean to you that Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd? Read that passage in John 10 and notice how He defines what a good shepherd looks like. How might that encourage your heart when walking in this Valley of the Shadow of Death?
  • I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to find an old, lame or nearly blind goat or sheep that wandered off and got lost. I do what it takes to bring them home. No matter how far you wander, Jesus is coming to get you. Can you relate a time when Jesus reached out in a special way and helped you make it back home?
  • What do you need from your Shepherd today? Ask Him for it.

PRAYER:

Lord,

You ARE the Good Shepherd. You love me. You care for me. You lead me to places of rest when I am overcome with weariness. You walk beside me and offer refuge when I am afraid.

This grief journey is hard. Sometimes I wonder if You are really here or if You have abandoned me. Help me hear Your voice. Help me run to You for safety.

Teach me to follow You always, even when You lead me in dark places and I’m fearful. Thank You for leaving us with a beautiful picture through David’s words of Your heart.

Lead on, O Precious Shepherd. Lead on!

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: When Peace Is Only A Whisper

My heart is so broken over the recent mass shootings in Gilroy, Dayton, El Paso and Chicago.

Senseless violence spurred by hate.

I’m equally broken over Syria, the opioid epidemic and human trafficking.

It seems the world is spiraling downward into chaotic violence and unbridled hatred.

Peace feels like a distant hope, a faint whisper, a ridiculous aspiration of those who aren’t willing to see things as they are.

Our generation is not the first to feel this way.

The disciples were definitely not feeling peaceful as Jesus revealed that He was going away. They were afraid and confused. They could not imagine how the life they had come to know with the Rabbi they had come to love could continue without Him.

Jesus didn’t dismiss their fears. Instead He spoke words of comfort:

“I have told you these things while I am still with you. 26 But the [a]Helper (Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor—Counselor, Strengthener, Standby), the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name [in My place, to represent Me and act on My behalf], He will teach you all things. And He will help you remember everything that I have told you.27 Peace I leave with you; My [perfect] peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid. [Let My perfect peace calm you in every circumstance and give you courage and strength for every challenge.] ~ Jesus, to His disciples

John 14: 25-27 AMP

There’s all kinds of good news in this passage!

Jesus promised that although He wouldn’t be with them, He wasn’t leaving them alone.

The Holy Spirit was coming to comfort, counsel, strengthen and help them.

I love this rendering of these verses precisely because it teases out the various roles of the third Person of the Godhead. (If you want to be encouraged, look up all these words used to describe Him.)

Jesus assured them (and us) that they didn’t have understand everything right now. The Spirit was going to be there to remind them.

And then He promises peace.

But not just any peace-the perfect peace of God that passes all understanding.

The peace that transcends circumstances because it is based on the settled assurance that God is in control, that every promise He made is sure and that I am neither forgotten nor forsaken.

Fear reigns in the hearts of many-even those who believe in Jesus.

And if I trust in the government, or the police, or myself to keep me safe, I have every reason to be fearful.

But when I rest completely in Jehovah-Shalom, the LORD Who is Himself my Peace, I can be assured that I am safe.

Not safe from all harm, but safe in His love and care.

QUESTIONS:

  • What do you think about the Holy Spirit? Have you ever considered the many ways He ministers to believers? Why or why not?
  • Just a little while after Jesus spoke the words we’re considering today, He said ,”Nevertheless, I am telling you the truth. It is for your benefit that I go away, because if I don’t go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send Him to you. ” (John 16:7) Does this shock you? Why or why not?
  • Sometimes people complain that it’s hard to understand Scripture. I usually reply with two suggestions: (1) get an easy to understand translation (not paraphrase) and; (2) ask the Holy Spirit to guide your heart and mind into truth. How do you approach Scripture study? Will today’s exploration change your approach?
  • Write your own definition of peace. Do you think peace is possible in the world or only possible in Heaven?
  • When have you felt a supernatural peace calm your soul?
  • How can we share the peace of Christ with others?

PRAYER:

Lord, You are Three in One. Too often I think about and am grateful for the Father and Son but neglect the Holy Spirit. And yet He is the One Who helps me in my weakness, Who prays for me when groans are all I can muster and Who leads me into all truth.

Thank You for not leaving me alone. Thank You for sending the Comforter.

Help me listen better to what He has to say to me. Help me lean into the truth He leads me into. Let that truth guide my heart to Your peace.

Amen

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.

Scripture Journal Challenge: Life Everlasting

Today’s verses are ones often read at funerals and memorial services to remind those left behind that for believers in Christ, death does not have the last word.

What a comfort!

But it’s also a reminder that the world as it is right now, is NOT the world God intended. He made everything perfect and perfectly alive.

Sin brought death.

Death brought heartache.

And for those of us who have too soon been separated from the child of our heart, we know how very much a heart can ache.

I absolutely rest on God’s promise that there will be a Day when everything is redeemed and restored. Christ’s resurrection is proof that His sacrifice is sufficient.

But even Jesus does not yet (in time) possess the full reward for that sacrifice.

So it’s no wonder we often struggle walking in the here and now while waiting patiently for the perfect hereafter.

We are not the first to wonder just how long we might have to wait! Paul was writing to comfort the church at Corinth. He reminded them of truth. He encouraged them to take hold of it and hide it in their hearts as ammunition against the lies of the enemy of our souls.

 Stay close because I am going to tell you a mystery—something you may have trouble understanding: we will not all fall asleep in death, but we will all be transformed. 52 It will all happen so fast, in a blink, a mere flutter of the eye. The last trumpet will call, and the dead will be raised from their graves with a body that does not, cannot decay. All of us will be changed! 53 We’ll step out of our mortal clothes and slide into immortal bodies, replacing everything that is subject to death with eternal life. 54 And, when we are all redressed with bodies that do not, cannot decay, when we put immortality over our mortal frames, then it will be as Scripture says:

Life everlasting has victoriously swallowed death.[a]

55 Hey, Death! What happened to your big win?

 Hey, Death! What happened to your sting?[b

56 Sin came into this world, and death’s sting followed. Then sin took aim at the law and gained power over those who follow the law. 57 Thank God, then, for our Lord Jesus, the Anointed, the Liberating King, who brought us victory over the grave

I Corinthians 15: 51-59 VOICE

Look at that first verse, “I’m going to tell you a mystery…”

Paul reminds the Corinthians (and us!) that what he’s about to say doesn’t necessarily “make sense” in the way a math equation does. In order to lean into the truth to follow, I have to become comfortable with the space between what I can see, taste, touch and feel and what may very well be true but not accessible by my limited physical senses.

That can be hard and uncomfortable.

So often I want tangible proof.

But that’s not how God works.

He asks me to step out in faith and trust His heart even when I can’t trace His hand.

The good news is that the world is not being tossed about in a battle between equals.

There’s no doubt that the final victory belongs to Jesus, the Author and Perfector of my faith.

So how can I arm my spirit against the wiles of the evil one? By studying the Word, hiding it in my heart and choosing-as an act of willful obedience-to believe.

Questions to ponder:

  • Do you believe that Death is defeated? Why or why not?
  • Obviously people still experience physical death. How does that fact impact your understanding of how God works in the world today?
  • What about the mystery Paul reveals is hardest for you to accept or understand?
  • How does the promise that these bodies we inhabit aren’t the last word encourage your heart?
  • What does it look like to live confidently in the hope of redemption, restoration and resurrection?

Prayer:

It’s not always easy to choose life, Lord

Because then we have to struggle with who we are

and why we are, and who you are,

And what to do with who we are,

and why we are, and who you are. 

We have to let you make us new,

and being made anything always hurts.

Father,

Let the morning come in our hearts,

So morning can come in our lives,

And the world that needs a word of hope can hear

‘Death has lost, and life has won.’

Verdell Davis, Riches Stored in Secret Places

Please join the conversation as we encourage one another, discuss Scripture and ask questions.

Just remember that THE BLOG site is PUBLIC. My own Facebook page post is set to PUBLIC. So any comments you post there will be visible to ANYONE.

All of the closed groups for bereaved parents are PRIVATE.

Only members can see your comments there.

I don’t want anyone to accidentally post something publicly they would rather remain private. ❤

Heaven’s Song

A precious waiting mama isn’t waiting anymore.

Eight years after her son ran ahead to Heaven, she’s joined him.

And I have to think that the step from earth to Home wasn’t a huge one for her.

I have never known a kinder or gentler soul in my life. She was always encouraging other hearts, always pointing others to the hope we have in Jesus.

She never preached, she simply extended grace and love that made it absolutely impossible for anyone to ignore the difference between her and most other folks.

I only met this sweet mama once face-to-face when she and a couple other waiting mamas came all the way to my house for lunch and an afternoon of sharing and encouragement. But our friendship continued long distance through Facebook and private messages.

Our mutual love of Jesus, children and children’s books wove our hearts together in so many ways.

I am convinced that the distance between her heart and Heaven is so short because she was already singing Heaven’s Song here on earth-calling grace, mercy, strength and hope to every heart she met.

I thank God for the privilege of knowing her and am looking forward even more to that Day when everything is redeemed, restored and renewed.

Rest well, faithful servant. Dance in the joy of your Savior. Hug your son. Revel in faith made sight.

We’ll be there soon. ❤

Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders.

Deuteronomy 33:12