Even If You Don’t See Him



Life would be a lot easier for most of us if there were not so many ups and downs, sharp turns, and unexpected obstacles. You know how sweet that feeling is when you reach a great open stretch of interstate and you can set the cruise control and relax as the car speeds down the highway. It’s even sweeter when you have just passed through a construction area or several miles of backed up traffic for which there appeared to be no reason.


In our area it seems this summer has provided more than a few challenges for those behind the wheel. There has been so much road construction that sometimes my husband and I have wondered if we would at some point be unable to get to any of our closed-construction-road-305264usual destinations. Ramp closings, lane changes, construction zones, and detours have been the norm.


Life can be like that more often than we wish as well. You may feel as if you have just overcome one challenge when another pops up. There are some seasons that seem to be especially rough and it can be tempting to wonder if the Lord is paying attention to what’s going on down here.


Sometimes prayers seem to go unanswered.


Will we ever get to the other side of where we are now?


One place we can find great encouragement is to check out some of the other flawed human beings trying to journey through life that we see in the Bible.


asphalt-empty-lanes-1321807One of my favorite Old Testament characters is Joseph. His early story as his daddy’s favorite gives us plenty of reasons not to envy anyone who seems to be a parent’s favorite child. Despite the great looking brightly colored coat his daddy gave him, it couldn’t protect him from his brothers when they grew weary of his special status and dreams of great success at their expense


His story gives a whole new meaning to the despair of being in a pit. And if that weren’t bad enough, getting sold into slavery and hauled off to Egypt would make you wonder if the pit would have been better.


But things start to look up when his new owner thinks he is tops and gives him more freedom than he could ever have expected. Being apart from his family isn’t his preference, but the master of the house where he works is making it a bit more bearable.


Just about the time Joseph thinks his life is settling down into his new routine, his master’s wife tries to seduce him. And when he rebuffs her and flees, she grabs his tunic bagger-constructing-construction-2489and accuses him of assault. He had been the model servant and now on top of all he has endured, he gets pulled out of his job and thrown into prison. Things are grim for sure.


Somehow in the depths of the prison, the captain of the guard sees his leadership and puts him in charge. He’s in a dank, dark, moldy prison, but oversight of the other prisoners gives him a little better situation. He can’t help but wonder where God was and what all those grand dreams were about.


Joseph couldn’t imagine he had been so bad that he deserved this. What were his brothers thinking? Their dad was wealthy and they were all going to end up well off if the livestock herds grew and the crops were prosperous.


Prison life looks a bit more hopeful when two of Pharaoh’s servants get thrown into prison and each has a troubling dream. Joseph tells them God will reveal the meaning of the dream to him and both the cup bearer and the baker are eager to hear what he has to say.


accident-action-auto-220996Once he gives them the news, he asks them a favor. He wants them to tell Pharaoh about him when the interpretation he’s given comes true. Sounds like a glimpse of light to Joseph.


Sure enough the interpretation comes true three days later and one servant regains his position and the other gets hanged. What a relief for the cup bearer! He goes along watching every aspect of his position so he doesn’t land back in prison again, but he forgets about Joseph until Pharaoh is troubled by a dream. Then he remembers Joseph and tells Pharaoh. By now Joseph knew his request was forgotten so what a surprise when Pharaoh now sends for him.


He gets a new tunic, a good bath, and a fresh shave and off he goes to Pharaoh. That God-given gift of interpretation gets a chance to be used and suddenly Joseph is given great favor again.


You know how the story turns out. Joseph is used by God to save his entire family from destruction. More importantly, Joseph’s heart is changed and humbled so that God can entrust him with His purposes.


When our lives feel like we are in a construction zone on an interstate highway and we have nowhere to go, it might be good to remember Joseph and what his life revealed.


Felt or unfelt, seen or unseen, in sin or success, God is with us.










Are We Like the Blind Men?




As I listen to different people speak about God, I hear so many different views of Him. It causes me to wonder if we humankind are somewhat like the blind men in the famous poem by John Godfrey Saxe.


If you recall the poem, you know the blind men go to see an elephant to observe what he is like. Each of them approaches the elephant from a different position. As each is trying to touch him and describe him, each comes up with a very different view of what an elephant is.


I think we are so often blind to the truth of who God is. Our view of Him is skewed by the adorable-adult-child-1040767influence of so many people and things we experience in life (many of them during our formative years in childhood). I have read more than a few books and articles that describe those different perspectives into categories.


One research study by Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion in 2006 settled on four categories for our perception of God. These are: “Authoritarian God, Critical God, Distant God, and Benevolent God”.


The labels give you a clear indication of the perspectives. Let’s look at the definitions of the four adjectives for the sake of clarity:


Authoritarian – “favoring or enforcing strict obedience to authority”

Critical – “expressing adverse or disapproving comments or     judgments.”

Distant  –  “far away in space or time”

Benevolent  – “well meaning and kindly”


affection-baby-black-and-white-41188Studies of child development point to how often our relationship with our parents and especially our fathers influence how we view God. Throw in our first exposure to clergy and a pretty strong impression starts to develop in a formative mind.


The consequence is that our values and how we choose to act and react begin to form from those early views and perceptions. How much we want to draw close to God or anything associated with spirituality flows out of these consequences and perceptions.


For some there is a disconnect when they see Jesus in the New Testament as compared to God in the Old Testament. Jesus seems so consistently benevolent and many fail to see any evidences of grace in the God they see, hear, or read about in the Old Testament. Page by page throughout the Old Testament we see God blessing people, showing His kindness, care, and forgiveness despite rebellion, stubbornness and deceit.


No matter what our earthly fathers may have been and no matter what clergy may have been like in our life, God wants us to know the whole of who He is and not be like the blind blurred-background-cars-child-1301498men who each saw only a part and believed the whole was the same as a part.


If our images of Him are skewed from wounds and hurts, He offers healing.


We have difficulty in our humanity to balance seemingly opposite characteristics without dissonance when we look at God. He is gentle as a shepherd, but He is also strong like a lion. He is tender and full of love, but also just and promises judgment.


His Word reminds us of the truth that no one is like Him.


Here are just two examples:


“There is no one like You among the gods, O Lord, Nor are there any works like Yours.”  Psalm 86:8 (ESV)


“There is none like You, O LORD; You are great, and great is Your name in might.”  Jeremiah 10:6 (ESV)


adventure-baby-beautiful-286625If you are one who has struggled with seeing God as authoritarian, critical, or distant, consider this: God loved you so much that He didn’t want you to miss out on a relationship with Him even if you misunderstood who He was, stayed away from Him, or ignored Him. He came in human form as Jesus to help you see Him as He is.


He loved you that much.


He still does.









What Do We Do With Disappointment?


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The dictionary definition reads, “the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations.”


 One of the challenges we face in life is the reality of how disappointment haunts us.


Though we may try to control or limit our exposure to it, it is not truly preventable and it goes beyond feelings. Our feelings are connected with the neurotransmitters (neurochemicals) in our brains so disappointment is also physiological. Many of us know the neurotransmitters often mentioned in news or health reports: serotonin and dopamine. These and many others not only influence how we feel, they react to what we are experiencing and try to determine what we will need and want.


IMG_2709When we experience something  we love, something that gives us pleasure, our brains (with the help of the neurochemicals) start to anticipate and predict it will (or we hope it will) happen again in the future. We start to have expectations based on that and as a result the dopamine levels in our brains start to go up.


Jonathan Merritt notes in his latest book (Learning to Speak God from Scratch) that we actually get a “double shot of dopamine.”


Jonathan goes on to add:


“Here’s the rub. Life doesn’t always give us what we expect. People fail us. People hurt us. People lay us on the altars of their own selfishness. When you don’t get the desired result – you experience what researchers call a ‘reward-prediction error’ – not only do your dopamine levels fall, they plummet from the heightened level generated by your expectations.


Now, instead of receiving a double shot of dopamine, you receive none. You crash doubly hard.”


Looking at that scientific research helps explain why it takes us so long to recover from some disappointments, especially major ones.


We also sometimes fail to realize how our hopes turn into expectations and assumptions. Those occur not only about things and people, but God as well. When our knowledge of IMG_2717the Word is spotty or skewed by looking only at selective verses, we ignore the greater context or the whole counsel of scripture.


Sometimes we are also impacted by our earliest religious experiences that may not have been wholly accurate at best.  They may be very biased based on our age, how mature we were in our faith, and who exposed us to them and their significance to us.


We can be tempted to create a picture or sense of who we believe or hope God is. Then we may find verses to support that and soon you have strong convictions this is who God is and how He should respond or act. As long as He is operating within that framework, we are okay. But what happens when we are disappointed? We can begin to not only be disappointed in God, but distrust Him and feel as if our world is falling apart.


C.S. Lewis wrote a great deal and some of his profound works included the pain of loss in A Grief Observed and the issue of suffering in The Problem of Pain.  What he says about pain is not an easy truth to hear:


“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”


 Disappointment brings with it the possibility of doubt.


The enemy knows well that doubt has worked well as a device ever since the Garden of Eden when Eve tells him she will die if she or Adam eats of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The enemy creates doubt with these few words, “You will not surely die.”  I wonder if in that moment Eve considered all she knew about God and his love and agreed that certainly they would not die given God’s love for them. So she yields and the rest is history for the human race.


Doubt can be deadly.


What do we do with disappointment and doubt?


The Lord desires us to have a conversation about it rather than behaving as a child who goes to his or her room and slams the door shut on dialogue.


Jonathan Merritt gives clarity to what truth we need to grapple with:


“…in times of difficulty, God offers us presence, not a parachute.


What we experience as disappointment is an invitation to give up holding tight to what we hope is true. To stop trying to cast God in our image. To let God be who God is, not who we wish God would be.”

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Provision Comes When It’s Needed


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I so often wish I could have God’s view.


He sees in the moment and He also sees the long game ahead.


But I am sure He knows that it is better I don’t see in that way because it’s in the not knowing that I learn to know Him better and trust Him more. And that’s what He desires for me…to know Him more deeply and intimately.


I was recently recounting a story about my dad to one of my grandsons who had never met nor known my dad because he died before this grandson was born.


My dad was a humble quiet man with a dry sense of humor and a lifelong love of learning. His family needed him to leave school before high school to run the farm with the help of his uncles. His father had died when he was only 5 and his older brother had fallen from the barn roof when my dad was 13. Those deaths left him as the only male with his mother and four older sisters.


IMG_3422My dad had loved learning and for the whole of his lifetime until he died at 84, he felt “less than” for not having a better formal education. It also made him determined that any child of his would have a college education.


As I was approaching the end of high school and college was just ahead, my dad looked at the dollars needed for that four-year education and could not sort out how to make his dream for me become a reality. He had only earned modest salaries despite working hard for the whole of his life. So he went to talk with a local banker he knew who had been an advisor and mentor of sorts for his thoughts about how he could possibly send me to college. He was sure the numbers didn’t add up.


The wise man at the bank listened to my dad’s words and also to his heart and said, “Roy, don’t look at the whole four years and what that total is. Just look at one quarter at a time and take that as it comes.” My dad took his counsel and each quarter the Lord provided the money to handle tuition, room and board, and books.


God saw the moment and the long game and grew my dad’s faith in the process.


Twelve years later when I was actually going to need the teaching certificates I earned in college I needed to take several additional courses to update those certificates. I was already married and we had two children. When my dad learned I would need to do extra coursework, he called and asked me the cost. Then he said he was going to pay for it because he had committed to pay for my education.


It can be so easy for any of us to want to walk by sight instead of by faith, but that is not the Lord’s design or plan for us as his children. He gives us what we need in the moment.


Yes, we are to be good stewards, but our times and seasons are in His hands. He knows what we will need when we need it whether that is money, courage, hope, healing, or something else.


I think it is why the story Corrie Ten Boom’s tells lingers in my memory. She told it to her sister Betsy when they were facing the horrors of Auschwitz after her family was discovered to be helping Jews escape the persecution of the Nazis.


Corrie reminded Betsy that God would give them what they needed. To illustrate that she reminded her sister about how they would ride the train with their father in Holland. branch-conifer-dawn-6039She asked Betsy when their father would give them their tickets and Betsy said they didn’t get them until it was time to get on the train. He knew they might not hold onto them or forget them when they were needed if given in advance.


When Moses was leading his people out of Egypt to the Promised Land, they all feared starvation as they walked into the wilderness. They walked in that wilderness for 40 years and every day He provided manna until the day they entered the Promised Land. Oh, yes, there was grumbling about the manna, but He sustained them and their clothes did not wear out either.


“The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Psalm 18:2 (ESV)


When He gives us what we need in the moment, it isn’t always what we may want but He sees the moment and the long game.


Pat Springle wrote a powerful book about trust some years ago entitled Trusting: The Issue At the Heart of Every Relationship. One of the things that echoes in my mind that he said early in the book was this:


“…only God remains 100 percent trustworthy, as well as totally outside of their (our) control.”


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Who Defines Me?




Before any of us answers that question, I think a long pause is probably best. At first glance most of us may give the answer we think is best or the one we have used for the longest time or even hope is true, but is it the most honest and representative of who we are?


If we are still dealing with brokenness or unhealed wounds, too often they will be what define us. We may wish that were not true, but often it is. That person, ministry, business, or organization that was the cause still overshadows much of who we are. We tend to struggle with relationships, trust, an accurate self-assessment, and more. We have lost track of how to “let go” of what happened and “hang on” to the hope and healing the Lord offers us even if we believe in Him.


If we are in the midst of loss and grief, our sense of how we fit in the world and our relationships is muddy at best. We look through most things in our lives through the veil of the loss. We are not ourselves or at least not the self we were most accustomed to.


agriculture-apple-blur-257840If we look to others for our sense of self, belonging, acceptance, etc., we will spend too many minutes exhausting ourselves trying to turn ourselves into a pretzel that may or may not be appreciated by others or reflect what is in our heart. And who are they to be given that much power? Why do we give them that power?


If we have just received a promotion or accomplished something we have worked hard for, we tend to define ourselves now as … you fill in the blank.


Make no mistake. Whatever we choose to define us has power over us.


It’s easy to get disoriented in our self-definition because never before have definitions been so freely and commonly used about us and toward us. Sadly the definitions are commonly one word. They become labels.


How can anyone be summed up in one word?


That one word quickly becomes a label and whether it is positive or negative, it still proves a snare because it doesn’t look at the whole of who we are and it is highly unlikely it looks at our hearts.


To know another person’s heart or even our own requires a considerable length of time listening and observing. Absent that, we too often assign what we hope or believe is true, even if it isn’t.


The truth is that it is still too easy to look at the surface, at the appearance. More and more we look at Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook moments, or the headlines shouting at us from every device. Sometimes we make an instant decision about someone or something without even recognizing that we are doing so. Yet those decisions not only define that person or thing, but begin to define us as well.


When we do so, we do it at our own peril.cold-dark-eerie-414144


We see that clearly repeatedly throughout scripture when God chooses the least likely, the most ordinary, the flawed, the youngest, or the oldest to work out his purposes and plans.


Then in 1 Samuel 16:7 (NLT) we see the issue identified clearly when Samuel is looking for whom he should anoint as king:


But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”


Do we recognize that our choices and decisions grow from what is in our heart?


We may believe we are not so obvious, but those things give us away every time.


As I was reading Jennifer Dukes Lee’s newest book, It’s All Under Control, I was reminded of the solid truth that points to who defines me:


“If our relationship to Jesus is our defining one, then every decision – big or little – passes through that filter. So instead of saying yes to prove our love and devotion to people or to Jesus, we are allowed to experience the freedom of saying no, based on the fact that we have nothing to prove. We already are beloved.


Our actions in life will always follow our choices. Our first decision is choosing our primary identity. Our calendar is not our primary identity. Our caregiving is not our primary identity. Our productivity is not our primary identity. Being ‘awesome’ is not our primary identity. As daughters (or sons) of God, our primary identity is Jesus. His power, then, extends over us, our work, our priorities, our everything.”