Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Where Do You See God in the Rain?

A ruby-breasted hummingbird flashed his red bib as he preened in a gentle shower, a gentle shower that soon turned into a deadly downpours. One friend in my area measured 15 inches of rainfall in four days. Another friend’s three cars and items from a shed were washed away and ruined by a flooding stream during several days of heavy rain. Nature sometimes raises its fist against us.

Hummingbirds survive and even thrive in a hostile world. I once saw a hummingbird nest on a tree limb sawed off by workmen, a tiny cup with two tiny baby birds nestled inside, beaks sticking up on opposite sides of the nest. So fragile. Yet God has given these tiny birds strong wings that carry them thousands of miles to migrate south for the winter. He’s has made them resilient to wind and weather. Would he do any less for us when it comes to surviving the winters of life?

Lessons from Nature:

From nature I learn there’s beauty and order in this world. Seasons and cycles continue without fail. Flowers bloom and birds sing, even in the rain. While God called it all good, we live in a fallen world. Read Genesis 3 to understand how Adam's sin affected the earth. In our world, the lion doesn't lie down with the lamb. Hawks attack hummingbirds. And sometimes we suffer the consequences of nature gone wild.

Questions for God:

Why would a good God allow horrific havoc? Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? Those are the age-old questions.

Hidden Blessings for Me:

I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I do know that God is good, kind and just. God is loving, faithful and compassionate. And as we take refuge in him, he offers grace. He redeems and restores bad situations.

For one thing, I draw closer to God in the hard times. And maybe getting to know God better is better than being handed an umbrella in a downpour. After all, if I truly know God, I need not worry about getting wet because I am in his care. He speaks to my heart when I don’t know where to turn. He gives me the capacity to give and forgive. As I draw closer to God, I feel his heart and he softens mine. Through tough times I learn to trust him as I discover his grace to survive.

During the havoc caused by floods and hurricanes, good people step forward to help the hurting. They offer beds and cars and food and clothing. Neighbors re-connect as they deal with power outages and closed roads and businesses. It seems the worst situations bring out the best in mankind. Maybe that’s what God is after.

Like the junk I see piled at bridges and along creek banks, tragedies wash the junk from our lives. Too often we focus on the negative--the faults, the shortcomings, the differences of opinion. But when lives are in jeopardy, when we desperately need help, none of that matters. The little things that so irritated us are washed from our lives as surely as that flotsam floating downstream.

A Prophet's Response:

Habbakkuk had the right attitude: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

Fear Knocks; Faith Answers:

Like the strong wings God gives a hummingbird to carry it south, God gives us the tenacity and spirit to carry us upward, closer to him, in hard times. Rather than lament the sights and sounds of our fallen world, let’s live by faith in a Sovereign God. Let’s trust and rejoice in a Savior who not only saves us from sin but equips us to survive and even thrive in adversity.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Book Review: Waiting on God: What to Do When God Does Nothing

This book may impact your life and strengthen your faith more than any book you’ll ever read. Focusing on the Genesis story of Joseph, author Wayne Stiles explains what God may be about as he keeps you waiting . . . and waiting . . . and waiting. Stiles writes: “He is with us, not to answer questions but to comfort us as he takes us to a place that teaches us to trust him by forcing us to do so.”

Stiles suggests that if we knew what God knows, we would choose to wait on his timing. Stiles also takes us “behind the scenes” to let us in on something he notices in the structure of the Joseph story. And Stiles' writing is easily understood.

Here’s one of Stiles’ more startling statements: “Every sin we commit represents a failure to wait on God.” Whether you agree or disagree, that sentence makes you think.

Not only does Stiles provide a convincing argument on why Christians can trust God, but he writes in an entertaining style. For example, he writes of Joseph and his brothers: “He was a pebble wedged in the sandals of their consciences.” I enjoy that kind of sparkle.

I came away from this book better realizing that God is refining me not to eliminate challenges so that I’m comfortable but to make me the person to bring light to the challenges. Stiles asks us to consider the joy that would be ours if we totally surrendered our ideas about the life we want and instead embraced the life God wants to give us.

Including 11 chapters (252 pages), this would make a great Bible study or a great gift to give to someone frustrated by life events. I recommend this book for both new and mature Christians.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

You Are Loved

Dear Friend,

“You are loved with an everlasting love.” With those words, the late Elizabeth Elliott opened her daily “Gateway to Joy” radio broadcast. Those words make me feel warm and cozy. And they’re true. 

But perhaps you don’t feel that love. Perhaps you’re in a hard place. You feel you’ve disappointed God. Your family. And maybe even yourself. Well, I have news for you. You can never fall so low, fail so badly, that God will not pick you up, stand you on your feet and walk on beside you.

Let me tell you about Hosea and his wife Gomer. He is the guy told by God to marry a prostitute. Whether she was beautiful and he was in love with her or whether he was less than enthusiastic about the idea, we don’t know. But God told him to marry Gomer. And he did.

Bear with me here. In reality, this illustrated how God felt about the nation of Israel, a nation created by God but then prostituted itself by dabbling with idolatry. A nation that, instead of looking to God, looked to pagan nations for help when the going got rough.

But—and here’s the important part—this illustrates how God feels about you and me. We too have dabbled with idolatry. Oh, maybe not idols of stone or clay, but idols of power and prestige. Idols of beauty and the good life. We know what we want, and we run after it instead of after God.

At any rate, Hosea married Gomer and they had three children together. Then she left him and turned back to prostitution. Why would she do that? Hadn’t he given her a stable home and family? Hadn’t he provided most graciously for her? Yet the bright shiny things caught her eye, and off she went.

Now if you had been Hosea, you might have said good riddance. But not this man. Hosea heard God’s voice telling him to buy her back. Buy her back?!?! Somehow Gomer ended up on an auction block, but Hosea bought her for the price of a slave and once more brought her into his home.

Here again is a picture of how God tried to draw Israel under His wings and restore them to their former glory, but the nation refused his offer.

And here again, the story gets much more personal than an Old Testament character and the nation of Israel. It’s about you and me. It’s about God’s love for us. In spite of everything. In spite of anything.

God is love. But perhaps you’ve been tainted by life experiences. Perhaps you’ve made bad choices and you feel you don’t deserve better. Perhaps you’ve been called names and put down all of your life because of a physical imperfection or a challenge from birth, so you feel you’re a nobody and God doesn’t care about nobodies. I’m sure people put down Gomer too.

Perhaps you’ve done something so sinful that you feel God can never forgive. Perhaps . . . you fill in the blanks. What tempts you to turn to something else instead of to God? Or to run and hide from God?

Hosea showed his great love for Gomer by marrying her, buying her back and welcoming her back into his home and his heart. God does no less for us. Christ took the punishment we deserve for anything we might have done. He proved there is much more to life than what we see. By rising from the dead, He proved eternal life awaits. There we will find the perfection we’re looking for here.

Look in a mirror and insert your name into the first line of this post: “God loves ______ with an everlasting love.” Consider how God shows His love to you through daily blessings—sunshine and rain, birds and bees. Consider how this life is just the beginning. Heaven awaits where there will be no more tears, no more bad choices, no more name-calling.

Take a thoughtful read through Hosea. To dig deeper, buy the study guide: Hosea: Unfailing Love Changes Everything by Jennifer Rothschild. She calls us Gomer Girls and has a lot to say about all this.

Don’t play hide and seek with God. Don’t waste another minute wondering where God is. He’s waiting to bless your heart, to welcome you home.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11-13 NIV)

Have a safe and blessed 4th of July, celebrating not just our nation's independence but celebrating God's love for us.


Friends of the Heart Upcoming Events:

August 1, 11:30 a.m. – Millersburg Senior Center. “That Face in the Mirror: Who Do You See?”
August 14, 6 p.m. – Woodbury Church of the Brethren, Everett, "Tea with Mary, Martha and Their Psychologist."
August 24-26 – Camp Allegheny Women’s Retreat, “If Our Closets Could Talk.”