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From Why? to What?

Lessons from Cherith

He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Luke 24:38

During the time in my own land of Cherith, a place where I was separated from my home, my regular way of life and exposed to great sadness, I so needed to rely on the vast promises of God.  Yet each day I battled the “why” of it all.  Why didn’t the cancer doctors see and recognize the increased cancer markers in my beloved mother-in-law’s blood tests?  Why did each visit to the emergency room end without answers?  But more importantly, why would this woman, a shining light for God, an inspiring gift to everyone around her, a woman, as her pastor reflected at her funeral with a beautiful aura surrounding her, be stricken with cancer and taken so soon? Why God, oh why?

How often have we lamented that why question in our lives?  Why are we suffering financially?  Why is my child rebelling?  Why is my marriage on the rocks?  Why did I suffer that abuse?  It seems as Christians we are expected to answer those questions.  I believe many of us avoid speaking the Gospel to our friends, family and neighbors out of fear of being asked those why’s of life.  In fact, as a young college student who was approached one day on my campus by two religious folks, I too asked the big why – why is there suffering?  You see I believed in God but didn’t really know anything about Him.  Unfortunately, neither did these two young proselytizers.

I recently heard the statement: “If we view the world as a Christian, it all makes sense.”  On the surface that’s a real head scratcher since this world seems so upside down especially now.  Broken families, broken lives, so much pain and death abound.  But take a step back, way back to Genesis 3.

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. Genesis 3:17-18

And that’s just a taste of what man’s rebellion wrought.  Creation is currently at odds with God.  And just as cells divide and life moves without our intervention, our world around us is no longer under our full dominion.  So yes, there’s floods and fire and famine and cancer.  And it has absolutely nothing to do with whether we are a good person or not.  In addition to this result of The Fall, we became separated from God, always seemingly looking for ways to buck His system.  And we face the consequences for our actions, both individually and collectively.

Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness.’” Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.”  Exodus 5:1-2

And we know how well that went for Pharoah.  But what was Moses’ first reaction after Pharoah knuckled down and made the Israelites work harder?  “Why?”  He asked God why did He have to make things worse and why did Moses have to be the brunt of everything?  From a Christian point of view, we should say, “There’s consequences in this world when anyone chooses to not submit – whether you choose to believe in God or not.”  This is not “Karma,” it’s simply a cause and effect of acting outside God’s desires for us.  

And while we may cry out, “why?!” in the moment whether in situations of our own making or of those in which we have no power, we need to remember the “what.”  What is God doing in me or even in the world?  What is God expecting of me as a believer? What is the promise I can hold on to?  The early Israelites had a decent excuse.  They didn’t know God as well as we do now.  They didn’t have all the stories of how He has rescued and protected His people.  They didn’t have Jesus’ brother James telling them there will be trials and in them they need to seek the lessons of God.  They didn’t have Jesus come to earth and die for their sins.  They didn’t have the Book of Revelation.  But we do.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

So, each day as I sat beside Bev’s bed as her body succumbed not to cancer but to an infection, I battled the “why” demon. I wanted someone punished.  I wanted someone to suffer like I was now suffering.  Then I heard a whisper, “She gets to come home to me.  And you need to see what I am teaching you.”

You see even in her suffering, on her death bed, this Christian called Bev was a conduit for Jesus.  A teacher and a comforter.  I finally realized it didn’t matter the “why.”  For one, there really were no answers that fully satisfied.  At times like that we just need to submit to God’s sovereignty and say, “I don’t know but He does.”  The only real answers that I continued to come back to were the “what.”

What did I truly believe about God?  And what was He trying to teach me?

Christian Friend, if you earnestly believe the Bible, believe that God is the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth and all it’s inhabitants, if you believe He is sovereign and He sent His Son to die for our sins, if you believe that there is a place greater than Eden awaiting us then you could understand why Bev wasn’t worried.  Why she could make us all laugh at her darkest hour.  Why, in the middle of a conversation she looked over my shoulder, waved and with a child-like voice exclaimed in joy, “Hi Jesus!”

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? John 14:2

You see I didn’t need to know the answers to my worldly questions and I definitely didn’t need retribution.  I needed to remember that Jesus hates death because it’s a sign of our broken world.  And He is right now preparing a room more beautiful than I can imagine for even me.  When He comes back we will all be raised up to live forever in a beautiful place that has no suffering, no death, no pain, no war, no hate, no fear.  And that is just what I needed to learn.

Are you asking “why” in your difficult time when you should be asking “what?”

What is the Lord teaching or asking you right now?  

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Beauty

Three sons and a daughter were born to Absalom. His daughter’s name was Tamar, and she became a beautiful woman. 2 Samuel 14:27

While I was visiting my daughter’s family about a week ago, we took a stroll through the Missouri Botanical Gardens in St. Louis.  As far as botanical gardens go late fall isn’t the ideal time to visit.  However, this large tribute to God’s botanical world has a number of year-round gems.  Their tropical greenhouse exhibits seemingly endless unusual flowers bursting forth in yellows, purples, oranges, reds, and greens in all shapes and sizes.  Around each corner is yet another example of God’s gift to us of beauty.  And if that wasn’t enough a walk through the Japanese garden section sees an explosion of fall colors with fiery red Japanese maples and an array of colorful mums.

Missouri Botanical Gardens

While many lessons in the Bible warn us of making beauty an idol, that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate the beauty of God’s world.  Beautiful women mustn’t rely on that beauty but instead have an inwardly beautiful heart.  And the riches of the world – shiny gold, silver and diamonds — cannot be the treasure we most desire.

But one read through the description of the new Eden in Revelation reveals God’s desire for us to live amongst His gift of beauty.

The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. Revelation 21:19

God didn’t have to make such a colorful, beautiful world.  Everything could be black and white.  So, on your next walk around your neighborhood give thanks to a God who loves to place color and beauty in our lives.  From the tiny pink flower nestled in the sidewalk crack to the glorious red and orange evening sunset and the beautiful bluebird to the spectrum of colors that make up our human hair, God’s gift of beauty is one that has little reason yet brings so much joy.

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Home

The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth ruby, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth turquoise, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst.  Revelation 21:19-20

A few weeks ago, I was so blessed to be able to spend two weeks visiting my daughter and their new baby.  But about a week and a half in I told her, “I love being here but I really miss being home.”  There’s something about home that feels comfortable.  Maybe it’s your own bed and pillows, your comfy chair that’s worn just right, the perfect cutting knife in your drawer, or just the knowledge of where everything is located.  

Whether your house is a home, an apartment, on wheels, or even a Bedouin tent, God instilled in us the idea of “being home.”  Maybe it’s because in this world we who have recognized Jesus as our Lord and Savior know this isn’t our final home.  We long for the day  we can go home to Him.  

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Jeremiah 29:4-14

In his letter to the Israelites living in exile, Jeremiah passes along God’s directives that apply to all of us today.  Settle down, plant roots, make a place for ourselves while being God’s example of holy people.  And I thank God today for not only the home He has helped my husband and I build together but for the longing for our final home in beautiful Eden.

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A Promised Return

The desert and the parched land 
will be glad;the wilderness will 
rejoice and blossom. 
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
the splendor of our God.
Isaiah 35:1-2

It was only just recently that I heard the concept of a “return to the Garden.”  I mean I’m quite familiar with the promise of eternity but I just never made the full circle of an opening of the guarded Eden gates.

These past few weeks as myself, Todd and Madison have been reminded of the many promises of God, I keep hearing the word I have heard for more than a year – “obey.”  With each promise there is a covenant agreement.  God is sure and trustworthy about His side of the covenant.  But we “mule-like” humans struggle to hold on to God tightly and sign at the bottom line.  I wonder if it really just boils down to that little bit inside of us that doesn’t fully believe.

On March 26, 1997, San Diego Sheriff’s deputies discovered the bodies of 39 members of the group, Heaven’s Gate.  The home where the bodies were found is just a stone’s throw from my own home.  If you don’t recall their beliefs, I’ll give you a brief summary.  The leaders, using the Bible and science fiction works by Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke convinced their followers that extraterrestrial beings were clearly mentioned in the Book of Revelation.  And the comet Hale-Bopp, was the sign for them to give up their early bodies and hitch a ride to the heavens.  They twisted a lot of theology to meet their beliefs.

Sometimes when I’m talking about the concept of Jesus, salvation and eternity I think about those Heaven’s Gate souls and wonder if I sound just as crazy to non-believers.  I shy away from talking about God and loosen my grip on Him. Of course, one of the large differences is that God never asks us to speed up the date and time of the end of our days here on Earth.  And we have been constantly assured that we cannot know the hour of Jesus’ return.

But that return is definitely promised.  And if we believe that God is the creator, the sovereign LORD overall, then we must also believe in our return to the Garden. 

The prophecy from Isaiah in 35:1-2 was written as a message of hope for the people of Jerusalem.  It’s likely the Assyrians had ravaged all the nearby cities and had made the roads too dangerous on which to travel.  The people, as Warren Wiersbe says in his commentary, “Were cooped up in Jerusalem, wondering what would happen next.”  Sound familiar?

He goes on to write that the faithful were praying continuously to God for hope and relief.  And God answered their prayers.  As He had done so many times before and since. 

“The time has come,” he said. 
“The kingdom of God has come near. 
Repent and believe the good news!”
Mark 1:15

How many jokes have we seen and heard related to this verse?  And yet it is surely true.  Jesus himself makes this statement.  I heard an evangelist pastor say once, “I don’t know when Jesus is returning and we will see the Garden again, but the time is certainly nearer than it was yesterday!”

It’s said that the new Garden will be even more magnificent than the first.  And although that sounds wonderful, I’ll be joy-filled just to be able to have my name written on the list to enter any type of garden God has for me.  

Each day I am here on this Earth is another day to hold on tightly to God’s promises and obey and believe.  Each day we are here is another gift God gives us to step out of our comfort zones, out of our cooped up lives and work on putting just one more name on that list. 

I hope you have enjoyed these 25 Promises of God through the Book of Isaiah.  Please join me for our next series titled, “Pray It Till You Make It!”  It’s a focus on praying to be the people we know God wants us to be and watching the transformation work He does in us!