God’s Promised Deliverance Precedes Our Difficulties

STEPHANIE HUBACH|CONTRIBUTOR “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen. 3:15) In February 2020, we had the privilege of taking our youngest son Tim—who has Down syndrome—on his first ocean cruise. At that time, there were rumblings in the news about a concerning virus that was beginning to wreak havoc in Asia, but our chosen journey was thousands of miles from there. Surely, we had plenty of time to fulfill one of Tim’s long-held dreams. (A funny thing happened during our island-hopping expedition, however. Tim informed us that, when he said he wanted to go on a cruise, he really meant “the one with the little hotdogs.” Translate: Tim wanted a ferry ride on the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, 45 minutes from our house. But I digress.) Our adventure took us to four countries in the Caribbean over the course of a week. Tim absolutely loved it! (Probably because there were much grander meals than just “little hotdogs.”) One of the highlights of the trip was the dining experience. Not only was the food abundant and well prepared but the service was exactly as advertised: intuitive. Our dedicated server quickly dis­cerned our personal preferences the first day, and from there on out, she anticipated our desires before we even expressed them. It was impressive! Now think about your own life. As extraordinary as a quality cruise line is at anticipating the wants of its customers, how much more extraordinary is it that our heavenly Father actually knows the needs of his people with full certainty? He promises—faithfully and sacrificially— to meet us in our deepest dilemmas before we are even aware of the seriousness of our situation. Today’s passage in Genesis 3 is often referred to by theologians as the protoevangelium or, in plain English, the “first gospel.” Even before the effects of our first par­ents’ fall are clearly pronounced on humanity in the remainder of the chapter (see Gen. 3:16–19), God first describes a way of salvation for humanity as he addresses the serpent. Not only does God decree a solution—his Son Jesus is the solution. And this declaration happens before his image­ bearing creatures even fully understand the predicament they have entered into...

God’s Promised Deliverance Precedes Our Difficulties2022-05-04T23:28:35+00:00

Recognizing and Resting in God’s Wisdom

SARAH IVILL|CONTRIBUTOR Have you ever asked questions like these?: Why am I suffering when I have sought to please the Lord? Does God really love me? Will God forgive me of this sin? How do I handle my child’s anger? How do I live a life of purity in a sex-crazed culture? What is the purpose of my life? Will the Lord save my parents, my in-laws, my siblings, my best friend? What do we do when such questions spring from our hearts? Perhaps the most common way is to proclaim God’s sovereignty or love. But I want to suggest that we also speak about God’s wisdom. From creation to the consummation God reveals that He is the only wise God. He is the Creator and He is the King.   God’s Wisdom in Creation In six days God spoke light, heaven, earth, seas, plants, trees, sun, moon, stars, sea creatures, birds, and beasts of the earth into existence. He also formed man out of the dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. Then He made woman from one of man’s ribs (Gen. 1-2). Significantly, God’s wisdom in creation is one of the ways God responds to Job’s interpretation of his suffering (see Job 38:4-11). When we cannot understand God’s ways in our lives, the remedy is not found in understanding what God is doing, but in knowing God. He is the all-wise Creator...       

Recognizing and Resting in God’s Wisdom2022-05-04T23:18:26+00:00

Why Me? A New Perspective

On my way to a singles’ potluck dinner, I was reveling in the new car smell of my much loved two-week-old car. Suddenly, out of my peripheral vision, I saw a car lose control and barrel down the cross street I was passing, so I sped up to avoid being hit. After all, I had already been in three accidents—none my fault—in the last two years and finally had gotten rid of the car that seemed to be an accident magnet. “Not this car!” I thought as the car behind me was hit and then propelled into mine. Why me?!! Story break: How often do I ask that? Most of the time the circumstances are not as dramatic as a car wreck. The babysitter cancels. The gas tank is low. Traffic is backed up. The printer jams. Stop for a minute and think with me of the last time “Why me?” crossed your lips, or at least, your mind. One of my last tirades was as a just-purchased iced tea turned over onto the floor of my car. Really? That made me ask, . . . Why me?!! It was all I could think as I watched my new car be towed away like its predecessor, the last time just five months before. God, why me, again? Once the family friends who had (providentially) witnessed the wreck took me home, and I called my family and singles group to tell them what had happened, then I plopped on my bed and begrudgingly grabbed my Bible to look for some sort of understanding and comfort. I thought the Book of Job would be a good place to start, since I felt I had a lot in common with the patriarch. My Bible fell open and (for real!) my gaze fell upon Job 23:10: “But He knows the way I take; When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (NASB). Though the thought of being tried by God was not in itself comforting, the words surrounding it were. “He knows.” God knew what happened. He was there. He hadn’t abandoned me to fate. And “I shall come forth as gold”! It was part of His plan for me, and so were and have been and will be those other times I cry, “Why me?” It often hurts, but He’s polishing me to be His treasure...

Why Me? A New Perspective2022-05-04T23:17:00+00:00

I Didn’t Sign Up For This!

Have you ever exclaimed, “I didn’t sign up for this!”? Most of us have likely heard or read it somewhere, perhaps spoken it in jest or real pain, seething anger or confused disappointment. This______ (fill in the blank) is not what you hoped for, anticipated, or expected. You prayed, asked for God’s help, waited, moved forward and: The job would that was supposed to be fulfilling and a wonderful way to spend eight hours of your day? Your boss makes life miserable for you. Your marriage isn’t the place of emotional intimacy or sexual faithfulness you expected and vowed to keep yourself. You obeyed Jesus, giving up relationships that you knew were sinful, yet were a source of love and affection. Instead of the “all things” being used for good, you’re left with loneliness and deferred hopes. You moved by faith into the costly, arduous, emotional, adoption process and now life is complicated and exhausting as scars from your child’s pre-adoption years manifest daily in overwhelmingly sad ways. You prayed for God’s help to remain sexually obedient, yet the temptations still rage. How is that fair?! Sigh. Was Anne of Green Gables right, that the life we thought we signed up for eventually becomes a “… perfect graveyard of buried hopes”?[1] Jesus chose you and ‘signed you up’ to share in his life. Friends, what did we sign up for when we became followers of Jesus? Or asking it another way, what did we understand the Christian life to entail once we believed, committed, and began to follow Jesus? Were you told that Jesus blesses his followers with abundance and ease as a reward for forsaking sin, especially the ones we most enjoy? Maybe like many of us, you just assumed that a loving, gracious God would remove troubles, because after all, he has the power to do so!..

I Didn’t Sign Up For This!2022-05-04T23:00:15+00:00

Seasons of the Soul

PATSY KUIPERS|GUEST Editor's Note: The following is an adapted excerpt from Patsy Kuiper's new book, Be Still: Quiet Moments with God in my Garden. For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted.  Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 Nature’s Seasons I once attended a presentation where the speaker began with, “Summer, fall, and winter are seasons – spring  is a miracle.” I’ve thought about her comment every spring since. Early warm spells begin to nudge plants from their slumber in January here in the South. Witchhazel, Lenten roses, and paperbush start the floral parade that continues for multiple weeks as plants take turns in the spotlight. Trees, flowers, baby birds – all embody the joyful message of rebirth, which in turn stimulates hope and rejuvenation in us. But spring gives way to summer, and tender ephemerals[1] disappear for another year as heat-loving specimens flourish.  Summer annuals and perennials bloom, then set and disperse their seeds before beginning their decline. Fall arrives. Crops are ripe for harvest, the fruit of spring planting and summer tending. Soon daylight hours decrease, as does the temperature, and autumnal leaves create a riotous display of color – one last hurrah before they let go and blanket the ground for the winter. Ah, winter. Based on my observations, I’ve concluded it is the most misunderstood, under-appreciated season, at least from a gardening standpoint. Those unfamiliar with the ways of plants scan the leafless, apparently lifeless landscape and pronounce, “everything’s dead.” I used to think that too, but my horticulture studies dissuaded me from that notion. For instance, some seeds won’t germinate without scarification,[2] and some bulbs won’t bloom without adequate chill time. Many plants depend on the decreased daylight and increased darkness that accompany winter to flower at the appropriate time. My newfound knowledge has given me a different perspective...

Seasons of the Soul2022-05-04T23:01:02+00:00

Remember the Red Sea Road

When my youngest was little, we took her up the St. Louis Arch. I was excited to have my youngest join me for this notorious St. Louis excursion, and when we entered the cart that makes the slow trek up the steel structure, with excitement I said, “Are you ready?” And then she screamed. I attempted to reassure my daughter, who listened to absolutely none of my comforting words, and then resorted to lollipops and singing. But none of my tricks removed the panic…until we got to the top. With the snap of a finger, all was well again, and she couldn’t get enough of the people below who “looked like ants.”  When we visited the arch again several years later, my tween girl seemed a little nervous about the impending cart ride. So, I reminded her multiple times of the fact that she made it up fine the last time, and that she loved the experience once at the top. Remember how much you liked it? Remember? But apparently, she did not because when we entered the cart, she screamed. She was fine once at the top, and while she admired the incredible view, she said, “Mom, next time just remind me that the ride is not so bad.” Right. The Red Sea Road In the book of Exodus, the Israelites also struggled to remember how they had been brought through a great trial. In chapter 14, God’s people are pursued by Pharaoh and his army. And this was not a small group chasing them; we’re told Pharaoh had his horses, chariots, horseman, his entire army. Understandably, the Israelites were exceedingly afraid!..

Remember the Red Sea Road2022-05-04T23:10:28+00:00

Where do Your Burdens Carry You?

Our burdens carry us somewhere. Where do your burdens carry you?  2 Corinthians 12 records a burden Paul carried, a thorn in his flesh. Three times Paul pleaded with God to remove it. But to keep Paul humble, God would not remove it. Paul’s response was to see his suffering as a reason for rejoicing because it revealed Christ’s power at work. “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:10) A Present-Day Example When I think of people today who have carried burdens for long periods of times, I think of Joni Eareckson Tada. If you have read any of her books you know that Joni attempted a dive into shallow water in the Chesapeake Bay. The moment her head crunched against the sand bottom, she knew she was in trouble. She recalls feeling like her life was over when she learned she was permanently paralyzed. Joni was a Christian at the time and spent those early months praying for healing, getting anointed with oil, confessing every sin that she could recall and attending one healing service after another, until finally she whimpered, “I cannot live this way. I’m so lost. God, show me how to live.” Her burdens drove her to Christ where for over 50 years she has lived in a wheelchair, and describes her life as dying daily to self and rising with Jesus. Joni wrote this about her life: “A ‘no’ answer to my request for a miraculous physical healing has meant purged sin, a love for the lost, increased compassion, stretched hope, an appetite for grace, an increase of faith, a happy longing for heaven, a desire to serve, a delight in prayer, and a hunger for His Word. Oh, bless the stern schoolmaster that is my wheelchair!” The thorn in Joni’s side has never been removed. Her burden carried her straight to Christ’s arms...

Where do Your Burdens Carry You?2022-05-04T23:36:23+00:00

Waiting Beyond the Waiting

CHRISTINE GORDON|GUEST Much of 2020 was about waiting. Waiting to see how the virus will spread, waiting to see if the kids will go back to school, waiting to see if we’ll be able to go to church in person or if we’ll have to worship in our living rooms again. The church has just made its way through another year of advent, a time when we expect to wait. We mark it and celebrate it. But now the holidays have come and gone. And unlike new years in the past, the change in our calendars this time may feel more like a mockery than a fresh start. Instead of the new or different we had hoped for, we find ourselves waiting again, enduring. The other day I was half listening to the news on the radio as I drove when I heard this headline, “It is an historic day for a woman in Great Britain, who is the first person in the world to receive a vaccine for the Coronavirus.” I listened as the woman in her 90s expressed her surprise and delight, saying she was overwhelmed at the opportunity to be the first to be immunized. And then I started crying. Living in Hope Maybe it was her sweet British accent and the gratitude in her voice. But in my body I felt profound relief. Finally help was coming. Finally the hundreds and thousands of deaths would be slowed, the hospital admissions would go down, the children would play on playgrounds again without worrying about the distance between them. I knew none of these things would happen immediately, but suddenly there was a hope in my heart that felt like life and joy, energy and motivation. This locked down, lonely, mask-wearing, death-fearing existence might be our present reality. But it would not be our future. I do not now know the date when the world will go back to normal, whatever the new normal looks like. I do not have access to the name of the last person who will die from the Corona virus. I don’t know when my husband, who is diabetic and a heart attack survivor, will be vaccinated, therefore alleviating some of the anxiety my children and I carry every day. But because I know protection for him and all of us is coming, my outlook has begun to change. The ground beneath me seems to have shifted from a downward ramp toward the unknown and scary to an upward path of hope and possibility. I do not need to know specifics for my heart to begin to relax and believe that we might make it through. Is this not the experience of the Christian life? Even when we are fully on the other side of the pandemic, there will still be loss, grief, and tragedy....

Waiting Beyond the Waiting2022-05-04T23:40:14+00:00

When Loss Comes, Hold on to Jesus: Wisdom from the Sermon I Quote Most

I just have to give credit where credit’s due! Tim Keller’s sermon, The Vinedresser on John 15:1-2  is one that many have heard me quote. Keller’s sermon addresses the ministry God our Father has as the Master Gardener and how his “pruning” of us is essential for growth. Our Father examines us— the branches— looking for a few things. Are we abiding in Christ the true vine, drawing love and life from him, or from something else? Are we bearing supernatural fruit that gives testimony that we are vitally connected to Christ and his fragrant, fruitful life? Two verses into this beautiful chapter of Scripture, Jesus (the one speaking in John 15), says something startling: the Father wounds, cuts, prunes fruitful, abiding branches! To punish? Shame? Sideline from the good life? NO! The Father cuts things away from our lives so that we may bear more fruit, not less! Pain: When Loss Equals Gain Keller says that the Father never cuts/prunes something out of life unless there is a loving purpose behind it. “The skillful eye knows that there are no random strokes of the [Father’s] pruning shears; nothing is cut off that wasn’t a gain to lose because it would be a loss to keep.”[1] Let those words soak in. The Lord will take his pruning shears and cut things out of our lives, even leafy branches that are next to us, and clusters of tasty grapes we’ve grown fond of. God may take good things, remove not so great things, or outright cut off influences that are leading us to sin. The purpose in every situation is that we become more like Jesus through bearing more fruit as his life surges unhindered through us. It is often the good things that distract us from what is best, wouldn’t you agree? A relationship, job, ministry opportunity, bank account, house, and so much more can be good gifts. Good gifts, however, can become more important to us than the Giver. Ever so subtly our focus shifts from Christ to this person, this thing, this feeling and before we know it, we are attempting to abide (or draw life from, find our meaning in) that gift. Our Father loves us so much that he will tenderly draw near with his pruning shears to remove it for a time or maybe permanently. He may rearrange our life so that this gift returns to its right place “under the feet” of Jesus (see Ephesians 1:22-23). When his purposes are mysterious to us, we can find refuge in who he is: a loving, purposeful Father...

When Loss Comes, Hold on to Jesus: Wisdom from the Sermon I Quote Most2022-05-05T00:08:51+00:00

Call Me Bitter: From Recovery to Restoration

Editor's Note: The following is adapted from Elizabeth’s devotional, From Recovery to Restoration: 60 Meditations for Finding Peace & Hope in Crisis: Crisis and Recovery Rain pounds the windows and roof as I type. Tropical Storm Marco is making its way through the Gulf coast, so far wreaking only a minimum of havoc. Tropical Storm Laura follows fast, also threatening to flood homes and businesses along the Gulf Coast. Meanwhile, in California, the Lightning Siege wildfire rages, having torched some 1.5 million acres already. So much destruction, even as hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost to the coronavirus pandemic. While these current crises rage, many of us are facing personal crises, radically life-altering events: a bad diagnosis, a daughter’s divorce, a lifetime of injustice, a major surgery. The crises and recoveries we face can plunge us into a state of chaos and confusion, disorder and depression. Shalom has been shattered, equilibrium lost. Despair threatens hope. Strife assaults peace. What we yearn for is a return to normal, a way to regain what was lost in the crisis. A recovery. From Recovery to Restoration Although we may find our way to a new normal after a crisis, we may never fully regain what we lost in the shattering. And yet, there may be hope. In literature, crisis refers to a turning point in the story. What if our crisis presents a turning point in our story? What if our season in recovery leads us to unearth treasure even richer than what we lost?  Scripture suggests that God has something more for us in crisis and recovery. What if we could discover the genuine hope of final restoration in our recovery? What if we could discover… Restored trust in the God who allowed this suffering? Recognition of our profound need for a Savior who has rescued us from sin? Renewal of our hearts, souls, bodies, and minds, so that we may live and love like Jesus?...

Call Me Bitter: From Recovery to Restoration2022-05-05T00:10:32+00:00
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