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I have friends that are dealing with health issues. I have friends who are walking through that dark valley of the shadow of death in grieving over a loved one. So many are struggling through finances, stress, anxiety, and depression.

Sometimes, life can seem overwhelming. It’s hard to look five years down the road when it’s all you can do to breathe in and breathe out and make it through the next five minutes.

The good news is that you can say with confidence, no matter what, “Whatever my problems and no matter how big and insurmountable they seem, my God is bigger. My God is able.”

Struggles are temporary. Even the worst of days only last 24 hours. God is eternal. His promises are true through all seasons and through every passing emotion.

Sitting in the doctor’s office facing the worst possible scenario is scary, but God’s perfect love still casts out all fear. The God who brought you this far in your journey will be faithful to get you through even the darkest and most terrifying circumstances.

Even in those moments, there is nothing that God can’t redeem and turn into something good and glorious. Not even death, for to live is Christ and to die is gain. It’s a win-win.

The Apostle Paul walked through every kind of trial and suffering both from within and without, yet was able to pen some of the most hopeful words ever written not because of a great big faith in God but because of faith in a great big God:

“I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us” (Romans 8:38-39, The Message).

 

Severe Mercies

I survived a wreck today.

Actually, that makes it sound much worse that it really was.

I was in a three-car fender-bender where the car behind me got hit from behind and ended up bumping into me.

I ended up with a dinged-up bumper and some shaky nerves.

It could have been so much worse.

I often wonder why God allows His people to go through dark valleys of suffering.

I know that the world we live in is broken and all of creation is affected by the fall and original sin. Plus, there’s that little matter of free will.

I also know that sometimes it takes a little pain to get our attention and remind us that our lives are about more than just us and our pleasure.

I believe that there are some precious truths and lessons that can be learned no other way than going through the dark night of the soul.

We find true community when we come together to share each others burdens and be strong for the ones who can’t be strong for themselves.

I still believe that there is no situation any of us will ever go through that is so dire where we cannot discover small blessings and at least something to be thankful for.

The Psalmist said that even in the deepest and darkest valley he would ever walk through, the Shepherd was with him.

There is nothing that will ever come against the child of God that Jesus has not already faced and defeated once and for all on that Cross of Calvary. Nothing.

That means that any trial is temporary and any affliction is fleeing and momentary.

You can survive just about anything if you can see beyond it to something better. Even Jesus endured the cross, knowing the joy that awaited Him on the other side.

Ultimately, I still believe that every day I wake up is grace and everything beyond that is gravy and there are a multitude of blessings and gifts to be found along the way with those who see with eyes of faith.

 

 

More Than You Can Handle

The old saying goes like this: God will never give you more than you can handle.

It sounds good. It sounds biblical. The only problem is that it’s not.

1 Corinthians 10:13 says that God will not let you be tempted beyond what you are able to bear, but will provide a way out, so that you may be able to endure.

The key difference, as Chris Brooks explained tonight in Kairos, is that we are often given more than we can handle by ourselves. Our strength lies in community and our ability to endure rests in fellowship.

If God never gave me as an individual more than I could handle, I’d more than likely slip into self-righteousness and be completely lacking in grace toward others who are struggling. I wouldn’t know the sweet communion that comes from prayers of desperation and surrender. As it is, God often allows me to go through circumstances and situations that force me to rely on God’s sustaining strength and the combined power of community.

The problem with God never giving me more than I can handle is that if I’m struggling, then the fault must lie with me. I must not have enough faith. I must be doing it wrong.

Even the apostle Paul and his companions went through situations that were beyond their ability to bear. Paul himself was given a thorn in his flesh that he begged God to remove, but God declared that His strength would be made perfect in Paul’s very weakness he felt he could not endure.

I love what Chris said. He said that yes, God will give you more than you can bear. He will give you more grace, more love, and more mercy than you can handle. Not only that, but His mercies and grace will be new every morning.

I confess that God Himself is more than I can handle sometimes. If I could completely comprehend and grasp all that is the Eternal Mystery with my finite understanding, then what I am beholding isn’t the Infinite God but a god of my own creation.

God is so much more than anything I could dream up or imagine on my own. He’s big enough for whatever is too much for me to handle and strong enough to get me through what I cannot bear and tender enough to surround me with those who will be able to bear with me through seasons of trial and temptation.

 

For When You’re Feeling Anxious

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It’s February. And unless you’re living in Hawaii with all those palm trees and beaches, it’s cold.

My feelings on cold weather go something like this: if it’s gonna be this cold, it might as well snow, or what’s the point?

Maybe you’re feeling more than just cold. Maybe you’re feeling anxious or stressed.

Perhaps you’re out of a job and wondering how that big stack of bills is going to get paid. Or where they money is going to come from to put gas in the car. Or food on the table.

Maybe you’re still single and wondering when (or even if) that special someone will ever come along.

Maybe you’re children don’t want to have anything to do with you anymore and you don’t know how to get through to them anymore.

Maybe it’s just a combination of a million little things all rolled up into one big case of anxiety.

Don’t you know that Jesus didn’t come to bring your peace?

He came to be your peace. He is after all the Prince of Peace.

That’s what all of us who are overwhelmed with worry and stress need to remember. Jesus may not take away all those things that cause anxiety, but He promises to walk with us through every trial, every tribulation, and every dark valley.

Jesus has already overcome whatever you’re afraid of. Nothing can touch you apart from God’s permission. And absolutely nothing can come between you and the love of your Abba Father.

Sometimes, you need medicine to make those anxieties go away. That doesn’t make you less spiritual. It just means your brain needs a little help to function normally.

I love the line from that movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: Everything will be fine in the end. If it’s not fine, it’s not the end.

Immanuel: For All Those Times

Immanuel is God with us, in the flesh, walking alongside of us, sharing our burdens and joys and sorrows, even now. The Kingdom of God isn’t just some faraway pie-in-the-sky somewhere-over-the-rainbow place for when we die, it’s the presence of God in our midst at this very moment.

For when you’re at a party and you feel alone in the crowd, unnoticed and unwanted, Jesus is there with you.

For when you’re interested in someone and just realized that they aren’t the least bit interested in you in the same way (and probably never will be), Jesus knows what you’re feeling.

For when you feel like you’re not that high up on anybody’s priority list and they’d probably rather be hanging out with their cooler, artsier friends than you, Jesus chose you because he wanted you, not because you were all that was left. He picked you.

For when you’re in a season of trial and your friends seem to be growing more distant and less friendly, Jesus is still the friend who sticks closer than a brother. You realize that they’re too busy dealing with their own pain to fully notice yours and know the same Jesus who is with you in your pain is with them in theirs.

For when you have a story to tell but no one is listening and no one seems to want to hear it at all, Jesus, the one who wrote your story and knows it by heart, is listening.

For when you’ve come to the absolute end of your rope and have completely run out of hope, Jesus is right in front of you, saying “Just take one more step toward me. Just give me the tiniest bit of what’s left of your faith, and I’ll get you through.”

For when you can’t tell the lies and fears from reality, when you know what you’re thinking isn’t true or even sane but think it anyway, Jesus is still the Life, the Truth, and the Way. He’s still your life, your ultimate truth, and the way for you to get back home.

You’ll find one day that you can be in a group and not have to have the attention all the time.

You’ll find one day that when that someone you’re interested in finds their true love, you can sincerely rejoice for them.

You’ll find one day that the place God brings you to was worth all he brought you through and you’d go through all of it again to be at this amazing new place.

You’ll find one day that you can’t hear the lies anymore and the fears disappear as you grow in God’s love and learn to hear his still small voice speaking to you.

Even then, he is still Immanuel. God with us. God with me. God with you.

Baggage Part III: Trials Turned to Gold

I’ll admit that I am addicted to comfort too much of the time. I don’t want to step outside my comfort zone too often.

But I keep thinking about the believers in Thessalonica. They only had Paul and Silas for a few short weeks. They were new converts, yet they still managed to turn their world upside down.

The big takeaway for me was how they endured persecution and ridcule, but how that endurance and trial turned into perserverance. That perserverance turned into character, which led to a hope that nothing and no one and nothing could quench.

What you’re going through will end, but your story won’t. Who better to talk to someone struggling with alcoholism than a recovering alcoholic? Who better to help someone cope with the loss of a child than someone who has walked the same road and cried the same tears? Who better to help someone deal with doubt and discouragement than you after you’ve been through a dark night of the soul when you felt hopeless and alone, but finally saw daylight at the end of your trial?

I love the quote from a movie I saw that said that only those who have lost can truly lead. Only those who have been hurt can help bring healing. Only those who know how they have messed up their lives and what Jesus save them from can truly love well and lead well.

It’s all about loving well. It’s not how religious you can talk or how well you keep the rules. It’s not about how convincingly you can point a finger at people and expose their faults. It’s about how you can be a vessel of God’s love and love people right where they are for who they are.

I’m not really good at loving well, but I’m getting better. Those rare moments when I did love well were moments when I forgot about me and let Jesus take over.

My prayer is that you learn to embrace your story, even the painful parts, and help others to find the good in their stories, too.

Above all, may we all learn to love well.

The Ticket

Sometimes you are reading along in a good book and something jumps out of the text and you have to stop and re-read it at least two or three more times. That’s the way it was for me reading The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom.

She was talking about being fearful of persecution or death. Her father described it like a child with a train ticket.

The father doesn’t give the child the ticket months and months ahead, because the child might misplace it or accidentally tear it up. The father waits until they are ready to board the train until he gives the ticket to the child.

In the same way, we find that we are given grace to handle adversity not way before, but just as we are about to face it.

Jesus told His disciples not to worry about what they would say when facing hostile persecution. He promised that at just the right time, the Holy Spirit would give them the words to speak. Time after time, the disciples were able to speak out with a boldness that could only come from the indwelling power of the resurrected Christ.

Are you worried about the passing of a loved one? Are you fearful of your own death? Are you anxious about how you would handle persecution and if you would deny Christ and live rather than die professing His name?

Just trust Him for today and let tomorrow take care of itself. Pray for strength for the day and whenever death or trouble or trials come, you will find that God gives you what you need to stand up in it.

You find that your world didn’t end like you thought it would and you will hear words coming out of your mouth that only Jesus could put there. You will find strength in the exact moment you need it, usually not a moment before.

I love this quote from The Hiding Place about how each of us will face Jesus when we die:

“Dear Jesus, thank You that we must come with empty hands. I thank You that You have done all . . .on the cross, and that all we need in life or death is be sure of this.”

 

And when I am afraid . . .

We talked  about Elijah tonight at Kairos Roots. Here is a man who was just like any of us. He prayed and it did not rain for 3 1/2 years. He prayed again and it rained. He went up against all the prophets of Baal and prayed down the fire of God not only on his sacrifice, but theirs as well. Yet when a woman named Jezebel threatened him, he ran for his life.

“Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:3-4).

It’s funny what will make us afraid. Even after an awesome spiritual conquest like Elijah experienced over the prophets of Baal, he let one person rule his life with fear. When I have seen God show up and move mightily, why is it that I am so very prone to fear a day or two later? Why am I so forgetful of all He’s done when a little thing comes up that I don’t think He can handle?

God asks a very important question to Elijah, “What are you doing here?” The question is not for God to gain information, but for Elijah to admit to God what God already knows. Elijah never directly answers the question. He says to the effect, “I am the only one left. There is no one on my side, no one who understands.” That is one of the great lies, that we are alone in what we face and that no one else will understand. God always has a remnant He has kept for Himself.

God provides Elijah three things: 1) something to eat, 2) something to drink, and 3) a friend. He sent someone who could speak into Elijah’s fear with understanding and compassion. When we are facing our fears, God will always send friends to walk with us through our trial.

Then Elijah waits in the cave for God to speak. God speaks not in the great strong wind, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but in the sound of a low whisper, or “The Sound of Silence”, to borrow an old Simon and Garfunkel song title. It reminds me of when Tracy Chapman sang, “Don’t you know talkin’ bout a revolution sounds like a whisper?” We should not expect God to speak to us like He has in the past, because God almost never speaks to a person the same way twice. In a culture that prizes noise and speed, we have to be silent and still. Where the motto of the majority is to “live loud and live fast”, we have to slow down, to stop even, and to be quiet and listen.

In the Old Testament, God often reminded His people of their slavery in Egypt. Not to shame them, but to remind them of this. In the midst of your bondage, God showed up and instead of miraculously delivering you instantly from it, walked with You through it so you would never have to fear it again. God gives us the ability to endure in tough times, which leads us to character growth, which leads to hope. And hope does not disappoint.

I have two questions from God for you. The first is, “If I has been faithful to you and blessed you all these years, what makes you think I will stop now?” That leads to the second question from God: “Will you trust Me for the next 24 hours?” Not a year or a month or even a week. 24 hours. God will not fail to keep His promises toward you. And remember, the purpose of everything that happens to you is to conform you into the image of Christ. Not your happiness or contentment, but joy and holiness.

As always, I believe. Help my unbelief.