Saturday, March 29, 2014

In the Storm

My heart was pounding in my chest, my stomach was in knots, my breath was short and shallow. I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep. My energy was zapped. I just wanted peace, but it wasn't coming. I was beside myself with the business ahead of me. I don't like conflict. Why do I need to do all these hard things, Lord?

I had listed the circumstances of great concern to me on a couple of whiteboards so I would be praying about them. But, really that was a silly strategy, because that's all I was doing all day long is crying out to God about these things!

Too consumed to focus on my job, and too emotional to keep it together at work, I took some PTO and headed home. I listened to our Sunday church service since I had been with my kids at their church on the weekend. Pastor Troy had just returned from the Holy Land and was sharing his own photos of the sea of Galilee as he told the story of Jesus walking on water in Matthew 14. Not knowing what was coming toward them, the disciples were terrified, crying out in fear. (That pretty well described me, too.) "Take courage," Jesus said, "It is I. Don't be afraid."

Then, Peter was actually able to walk on the water to Jesus... until he started noticing the wind and the waves, instead of keeping His eyes on Jesus. He lost his focus and that's when he started to sink. (Yes, I realized, that's exactly what had happened to me!)

How many times have I learned that when I abide, He provides?? Though I was saying the prayers and the words, my heart was still anguishing at the potential unknowns ahead of me. I was focusing on all the wrong things!

I pondered this timely message over the last few days, letting it sink in deeper. It was no accident I heard that story at that particular time!

This morning, I erased all the circumstances I had written on my whiteboards. I certainly don't need to be reminded of them -- and Jesus doesn't either! Instead I wrote all the things that encourage me -- His truths, His words, song lyrics that remind me where my focus should be.

Even now, I am still "in the storm" (the circumstances are still there, along with several unknowns), but I finally have more peace.

I can praise Him even in the storm, because I know that through the storm, He is Lord, Lord of all.

Gracious Lord, thank you for the peace we can have when we are under your wing, abiding in you. I know, somehow, you have a deeper meaning and purpose in these hard things. If you bring us to them, you will bring us through them. Most of all, I know you are with me and would never leave me. I will keep my eyes on you, where they belong.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Who Will Be Blessed for My Obedience?

Digging in for a Bible study, I am again drawn to a deeper appreciation of the very familiar story of Abraham heading to the mountain to sacrifice Isaac.

Ted and I had explored this story, in depth, on several occasions. We've had the pleasure of dissecting it with a dozen friends gathered in our living room for a Genesis study. Most of us have heard this story many, many times since childhood. Yet new observances keep opening the way for me to grasp more and more of God's grace each time.

God tests (but does not tempt), and He gave Abraham the supreme test. Was he willing to sacrifice his only son, whom he dearly loved? (Gen. 22) His prior experiences had brought him to a level of faith where he did not waiver, but did exactly as he was told -- until the angel of the Lord urgently called out to stop him! He then caught a ram in the thicket and offered it in place of his son -- a burnt offering -- a symbol of surrender.

Because Abraham did not withhold anything from God, even his long-awaited, beloved son, God knew he was "all in." Because of Abraham's obedience, not only was he blessed, but all nations on earth would be blessed!

This story foreshadows the Greatest Sacrifice, and we know that God did not withhold His only beloved Son either. The ram in the thicket foreshadows the Lamb of God taking our place on the cross, offering full and complete forgiveness and the awesome gift of eternal life with our Creator.

This is the most beautiful story on so many levels. It takes years and years, and multiple readings of this story for it to sift into my brain to a more full comprehension.

In the ancient times, people would sit around with their families and extended families and tell these miraculous stories and relive the blessings, time after time. Today, we have that same privilege -- if we choose to do it -- to sit around with family and friends -- in living rooms, church gatherings or around campfires -- and chew on these stories, sift these words, ponder these truths together to reap the blessings for obedience in our own lives.

If Abraham would not withhold his only son from God... and if God would not withhold his only Son from us... can I surrender in trust the lives and the futures of my own beloved children and grandchildren into God's very capable hands?

In full confidence, Abraham told his servants (v. 5) "we will come back to you." The same way, I can know with complete confidence that the Lord is guiding and providing for each of them through the complicated and sometimes treacherous paths of our lives.

If, because of Abraham's obedience, his whole family and all nations on earth were blessed, who will be blessed because of MY obedience? Or, said another way, who will not be blessed if I don't fully obey?

Lord, I want the kind of faith that pleases you. I want to fully obey so that you can fully bless. I want to live the life of full surrender and obedience that gives you all the glory.

Who will likely share in the blessings for YOUR obedience?