Friday, January 23, 2015

When God Moves "Suddenly"

I am honored to be part of new author Juana Mikels' Blogger Book Launch Team.
Her first book entitled Choosing Him All Over Again released on Amazon last month and in other locations January 5th. It is her personal story of romance and redemption. More than a hundred Christian bloggers and I received advanced copies to read in exchange for an honest review.


Before cracking open the book I took note of the gorgeous cover and was impressed by the endorsement from author and former missionary, Elisabeth Elliot. 

When we meet Juana she is single and looking, then she meets Terry. They fall head over heels in love with one another, get married and begin living the American dream: college sweethearts, successful careers, nice cars, building a house together...what more could they want? But when the work week ends and they wake up to the weekend, Juana usually finds herself in the house alone in tears. Something is missing. She tells Terry time after time how she feels, yet because he doesn't feel the same, he chalks it up to being her issue. Reaching the conclusion the grass might be greener on the other side, Juana walks out.

Had she married the wrong guy?
Did "Mr. Right" exist?
She couldn't wait to find out!

Before long a gentleman did come along, but not who she thought she was looking for. To her surprise, she meets Jesus. Up to that point she hadn't known there was a God who cared about the important decisions in her life, who wanted a personal relationship with her. She believed it was up to her to do everything right.

Choosing Him All Over Again is Juana's story about romance and redemption. In midst of the waiting and hoping that her husband would take her back, she immersed herself in the Word and Christian fellowship. Chapter after chapter she shares the details of her separation and the work God did to grow her through prayer, thought processes, conversations and decisions. In trying times He taught her what a life in Christ should look like:

> how to pray
> trusting God with the outcome
> what it means to have a servants heart
> the roles of husbands and wives
> recognizing her sin and repenting
> fasting and praying for her marriage
> learning to filter the voices of naysayers
> preparing for opposition
> obeying God

As a new believer, Juana soaked up everything the Lord poured into her. She faced temptations and setbacks head on, with courage. Her honest look at the past sins in her marriage challenged me to examine my own. Her emphasis through scripture to truly die to your selfish desires and serve others selflessly with love, had my attention.

Hundreds of pages are devoted to the details of Juana's experiences leading up to her reconciliation with Terry, with viable lessons learned along the way. Most importantly, Christ takes center stage in her story. Though I must admit when the moment God moved to restore her marriage came about in the story, it felt a bit anti-climactic. Not because of how it came about, but because after all the waiting and hoping, only a paragraph or so was devoted to their triumph. I had hoped to read much more about the healing work the Lord did on the backside.

Nonetheless, Juana goes on to share more lessons learned along the way (many from her mentor Elisabeth Elliot), what life looked like living married as believers, advice for those still single or separated, insightful checkpoints to refresh your marriage, and a helpful prayer guide she has used for the twenty-some years since.

As I prayerfully pondered what to include in this post, I was reminded how often we give up the fight too soon. How we get impatient with God and choose to do things our own way out of frustration or desperation instead of waiting on Him. Juana made the hard choice to wait.

Regardless of the opinions of others, she chose to believe God and wait on His timing. Those who give up too soon miss out on the "suddenly's". In God's Word He often shows up "suddenly" and acts on behalf of His children; He comes out of nowhere and does that which is least expected. If we remain patient in the waiting while trusting Him we learn to persevere, which in God's economy develops our character, and increases our hope. He's doing that in my life, and He did it in Juana's. She waited patiently for the Lord, long beyond the time most would give up, and one day He moved "suddenly". Her marriage was restored.


If you would like to read Juana's book, pick up a copy here on Amazon in print or kindle version.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Why Do We Run?

"This very night you will fall away on account of Me, for it is written: 
I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered."
Matthew 26:31b

Read Matthew 26:31-46

I stopped in my tracks upon reading verse 31. When the shepherd is struck (trouble), the sheep scatter (run). Immediately I wrote four words in the margin of my bible and began to ponder the question:

"Why do we run?"

Why are we tempted to put on our running shoes and skedaddle when trouble comes? Or at the very least, retreat from time in the Lord's presence? It's not just us. The disciples were inclined to do the same. It takes practice in trials, and experience with God's faithfulness in them, to learn to lean in instead of lean away.

I think of the verse that compares us to sheep. "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way..." (Isaiah 53:6) We run from troubling circumstances - sometimes in another's life, sometimes in our own - out of fear, feeling inadequate, or frustration. Troubles are temptations for Christ-followers to stop believing or trusting in the Lord. When pressures are great, or circumstances uncomfortable, we have a choice to make. We can lean in closer to the Father, or give in to the temptation to take a step away. Stepping away says, "I don't know if I really believe You are who You say You are, or You will do what You say You will do, because I don't see You working this out for me." Faith leans in and says, "You are Faithful. You are Good. You are Able. I may not understand, but I choose to wait on You, trusting You are working things out for my good and Your glory."

Reading further in this passage, we see Jesus contemplating "the cup". He looks at Peter and the two sons of Zebedee in garden of Gethsemane and says, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (Matthew 26:38) His words got me to thinking about the sin in my life and the price He was willing to pay to set me free. I reflected on the heaviness I have felt over a single sin, knowing my own grief over it. The sorrow and guilt of that one sin, times every single sin committed in my lifetime, times every single person in all the world, for all of time. That was the vile concoction in His cup. The weight of that is beyond comprehension. The only words He could find to describe it were, "overwhelmed to the point of death." They seem inadequate.

As Jesus converses with the Father in the garden over this "cup" He was sent to drink, carrying the weight of the sins of all mankind, He needs the disciples to hold Him up in prayer. But each time He returns from interceding, He finds His friends asleep! (vs. 40, 43, 45) In His greatest hour of need His closest companions failed Him. Trouble was at hand and they chose to retreat. The first time He found them snoozing He said, "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." (v. 41) Sadly, their flesh won out. Three times in a row these men of God took a nap!

Continuing with the focus on troubles, they are a trap. God calls us to be watchful and pray faithfully in the day of trouble. We must be careful not to get weary in worship or tired of interceding. If we do, we have fallen for the enemy's snare. Instead, pray "Lord. deliver me from this sleepy devil!" (M. Henry) Weariness in trials leads to laziness in worship and prayer, and opens the door for further temptation to run away in disbelief, which leads to more assault. 1 Peter 5 says, "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith..." 

God who willingly drank that "cup" on our behalf promises to never walk away. To never abandon us, especially in our time of need. Troubles and trials are meant to refine us. They are used to test our faith. The process is less painful when we cooperate. So put your running shoes back in the closet and lean in to Jesus, "the Shepherd and Overseer" of your soul. (1 Peter 2:25b)

*image courtesy of

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Stand Close

"The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things." Luke 23:47-49

Just a simple thought to share today after reading this passage about Jesus' last moments on the cross. As I honed in on the verses above this morning, God impressed this simple truth on my heart...

Many who look upon Jesus are moved for a moment by His sacrifice, then walk away. Only true converts linger in His presence, fix their eyes on the Savior, and allow their lives to be changed by Him. Those who truly know Him stand close. 

May we follow Jesus' example and commit our spirit -- our very lives -- to the Father's care. And follow the example of the women that followed Him to the cross from Galilee by standing near, eyes fixed on Him.

Friday, August 1, 2014

A Discontented Heart

"...Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the LORD." Exodus 13:8

The Israelites had a problem with grumbling. In this passage that consists of 13 verses, their grumbling is mentioned 7 times. Take a peek at the passage in my Bible. That's a lot of discontent!

grumble --verb
to mutter in discontent, complain sullenly (in gloomy silence), or to growl (uttering low, indistinctive sounds), express unhappy murmurs

Let's see what was happening...

In this scene, Moses had led the people to the Desert of Sin (which translates "the moon" and has no reference to sinfulness). It appears it was a barren land as now they are grumbling about not having food. Understandable to some extent. Food is a necessity for survival, but God wanted them to trust Him to meet even their most basic needs. They quickly began to reflect on the "pots of meat" they had in Egypt and talked about them as though they had feasted in Pharoh's palace. Their meals were not all that, but in a time of desperation, looking back they seemed better and better. So they whined and complained to Moses saying, " have brought us out into the desert to starve this entire assembly to death."

They didn't think they were grumbling directly at God, but to Moses and Aaron about their circumstance. But Moses answered directly to the Lord. If they complained to Moses, or about him, they were in essence complaining about God and the direction He had given him in leading the Israelite people. They panicked the moment things got hard and feared the worst. Matthew Henry's Commentary expounds on this saying they claim it would have been "better to have fallen in the destruction of God's enemies than to bear the fatherly discipline of his children! [Their] discontent magnifies what is past, and vilifies what is present, without regard to truth or reason." To "vilify" is to speak ill of, slander, or defame. In other words their words were of complaint, lack of gratitude, impatience and discontent. They were grumbling. In a roundabout way they were showing their lack of trust in God.

The Lord had just delivered them mightily from their enemies the Egyptians whom He had drowned in the Red Sea. They celebrated with dancing and shouting and singing songs of praise. But having not yet reached their destination, they had to move on. After traveling for three days without finding water, they happened upon a watering hole in the Desert of Shur, but it was bitter. They began to grumble against Moses saying, "What are we to drink?" So he cried out to the Lord on their behalf. Hearing their murmurs, God directed Moses to throw a log into the lake and it became sweet. I love that part. It reminds me that we cannot stay on the mountain tops. There will be bitter trials along the way. But God can take what is bitter in our lives and make it sweet.

Matthew Henry says of this passage, "The greatest joys and hopes [as experienced at the Red Sea] are soon turned into the greatest griefs with those that live by senses only and not by faith." Yet we note that even in their lack of faith, the Lord heard Moses' cry and was gracious to them. Then He poses to them one of the "If, then..." statements in the Bible. If you do this, I will do that. Here it is a decree and a law meant to test their willingness to submit to His commands.

"There the LORD made a decree and a law for them, and there he tested them. He said, 'If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in His eyes, if you pay attention to His commands and keep all His decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you."' Exodus 15:26

More tests and trials were coming. They needed to be found faithful. They needed to be obedient. Period.

After complaining in the desert they were led to Elim where they drank to their hearts content from twelve springs and rested under the shade of seventy palm trees. In spite of their complaining, God had been gracious toward them. Yet how quickly they forget when they happen upon the next hard place.

Now in the Desert of Sin where food was lacking, regardless of how faithful God had been, we find the people doubting His goodness and power yet again; His ability to care for them. Once more they feel unnoticed, forgotten by God, and blame Moses for bringing them out of Egypt in the first place. In response, Jesus might have justly said, "I will rain fire and brimstone upon these murmurs, and consume them; but, quite contrary, he promises to rain bread upon them" instead. "Note, when we begin to fret and be uneasy, we ought to consider that God hears all our murmurings." (M. Henry) Even the silent murmurings of the heart. Pause. Even the silent murmurings of the heart. Your heart. My heart. And yet God showed the Israelites mercy. He rained down manna from heaven and cared for their most basic needs.

Surely their grumbling did not please the Father, but grieved Him. Yet He was gracious toward them, tending to their needs just the same, the way a parent would tend to a headstrong child. He rained down quail in the evening and bread at daybreak. The Lord told Moses to instruct the people to go out each day and gather just enough for that day. No more. No less. Unless it was the day before the Sabbath, when they were to gather double. God was testing their obedience, to see if they would heed His instruction, without complaint.

As with the Israelites, God has taken my family and I through more than one season of "daily bread". Seasons of lack where we wonder how we will get by. Yet God is always faithful to provide what we need each day. Sometimes no more, and no less, but just enough. In such seasons when I begin to fret, I sense a prompting from the Holy Spirit to ask myself, "Pamela, do you have what you need for today?" When I answer, "Yes, Sir" He replies, "Then press on!" I'm not to worry about Friday's bills on Monday. Or grumble about not having such and such. If I want to be more like Christ, I have to trust Him. Dependence upon Him builds faith. As faith increases, I resemble my Father more and more.

" it is written: 'The righteous shall live by faith.'" Romans 1:17 (ESV)

I am learning that the discontented heart grumbles. It complains "I don't have (fill in the blank)" or "I need (something more than I have)." Sometimes we have a hard time separating needs from desires. God knows what we need before we know that we need it. And He is faithful to take care of our needs. Anything more is icing on the cake! In some seasons we just get cake, no icing, because cake is all we need. Plain cake sustains us. Plain cake gets us by. And at other times God stacks the cake layer upon layer, making it rich with mousse filling, frosting it thick with decadent ganache, drizzling it with the finest chocolate, and topping it off with the sweetest fresh berries. Because He is gracious. And He can. Our God is Able!

He longs to be gracious to us, but wants to know that in the desert, when he serves us plain cake, we will be grateful, obedient and faithful. Not grumbling. It is in those places of "lack" that He tests and tries our hearts. May we be found faithful. May I be found faithful, doing what He has called me to do.

Father God, I pray the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart would be pleasing in Your sight. Help me Jesus not to grumble, even under my breath or in my heart. I want to have an attitude of gratitude that spills up out of me. Your Words on my lips to encourage those in my path. I want to be found faithful doing what You've called me to do with a happy heart. In Jesus' name I pray these things, amen.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Unlocking the Door of Confusion

"But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that He be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will." Luke 23:23-25

Here, Jesus has just been examined by Pilate who has found no truth to the claims made against Him. Passing Him off to Herod, because He was a man from his jurisdiction, he comes to the same conclusion: Jesus has done nothing to deserve death. So Herod sends him back to Pilate.

Pilate, standing once again before and indignant crowd proclaims Jesus' innocence, but they just wouldn't have it! They raised their voices even louder and called for a substitute. They asked Pilate to release Barnabus, a known rebel and murderer, and kill Jesus in his place. Not only kill Him, crucify Him. (Bring Him to death by means of torment.) The Message version of the Bible says, "Pilate caved" under the pressure "and gave them what they wanted." He "surrendered Jesus to their will." (v. 25)

As I meditated on these verses such a clear application emerged. I noted that against his own convictions and inclinations, against what he knew in his heart to be true, Pilate handed Jesus over to the demands of the crowd. Their voices were louder and more pressing than the voice of truth he had based his initial judgement on. 

How often that becomes the case in our lives. We hear God's voice loud and clear speaking truth or direction into our lives. We know in our heart that He is right, and because of it we know what we are called to do. But then things like fear, doubt, selfish ambition, or feelings of entitlement raise their voice. The volume of their demands get louder and louder, insisting on their way. They unlock the door of confusion. Contending for the place of truth in our hearts we begin to dismiss Jesus. Lies of the enemy start to prevail. They demand their way. They shout at us from the crowd. Sometimes they are spoken through a trusted, God-fearing friend or family member. Sometimes we just plain get impatient. But whatever the case, they are ploys from the enemy meant to get us off track and doubt God. Meant to deter us from whatever it is God has clearly called us to do. But God uses them for good, to test our loyalty and the resolve of our decision; to see how firmly we believe what we say we believe.

This wavering is cause for self-examination. Questions like... Am I going to take God at His Word and believe Him? Trust Him? Or not? Am I believing Jesus, but willing to dismiss Him just the same? Willing to dismiss what He has promised, even momentarily to entertain the voices of fear, doubt, displeasure with His timing, or discouragement which lead to anything from lack of belief to acting irresponsibly to panic? Are lies from the enemy speaking louder than Jesus at that moment when I feel like giving up, giving in or turning back? Am I allowing truth or lies to prevail in my heart? Am I surrendering to Jesus, or surrendering Jesus to a lie?

2 Corinthians 10:5 says we are to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."

Father God, help me to rest in You even when my circumstances tell me to fear or doubt or panic. Help me as I strive to live surrendered to You, not from You. Help me to zero in on Your voice even when the crowd argues with insistence, demands and loud voices. I ask You not to grant their demands or turn me over to them. May Your will and Your will alone prevail in my life. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Call Me Out

"The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then he remembered the word the Lord had spoke to him: 'Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.' And he went outside and wept bitterly." Luke 22:61-62

Jesus has just been arrested and taken into the home of the high priest. Peter had been following at a distance. Now in the wee hours of the morning, he stopped outside and took a seat by the fire that had been kindled in the courtyard. 

To his surprise, over the next couple of hours three different people recognized Peter as one associated with Jesus. With Jesus now in custody, it appears that fear washed over him when questioned, and fear answered...with denial. Forgetting that Jesus was watching, and with increasing indignation, he flat out said he did not know Him. Not once, not twice, but three times in a row he disassociated himself and went into self-preservation mode, probably fearing the same fate.

After the third denial, a rooster crowed. At that moment, Jesus looked straight at Peter. Not a word was said. Jesus' look said it all. Then Peter remembered what He had said, "Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times." Peter's heart was no doubt stricken with grief, remorse and shame, so "he went outside and wept bitterly."

Peter was easily recognizable as a one who had been with Jesus. One who walks with Him should be recognized as one who walks with Him. Followers of Christ should take on His likeness. Such was the case with Peter. Such should be the case with every believer.

And just as with Peter, the Lord's eyes are ever upon us too. He knows our every thought, word and deed. He knows when we do not honor Him. And when He calls us out, when He gives us "the look", if we are truly followers of Christ we will respond as Peter did, with grief, remorse or shame that lead to a heart of repentance.

Father God, I am thankful that walking with You makes me look more like You as I apply Your truths to my life. I love that I have that family resemblance! Looking like You means my thoughts, words and deeds should reflect Your character. God, I ask that You call me out when they don't. I admit that as of late as I've been praying expecatantly, I've gotten weary in the waiting for the answer. Though undergirded with resolve and faith, my weariness has led to a bit of a funk at times, my words and thoughts sprinkled with questions and moments of worry. In so doing it means I am doubting Your character and that is sin. It doesn't please You, it pleases the enemy. Please forgive me, Jesus. I believe, please help my unbelief! I ask You to quickly convict my heart when I stray so that I can make right my standing with You. I want my words, thoughts and actions to bring You praise, honor and glory. May they reflect the faith I stand upon. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

In the Middle of Nowhere

"When Pharoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, 'If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.' So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea." Exodus 13:17-18a

Archimedes once said, "The shortest distance between two points is a straight line." But is the shortest route always the best route? That is the question this passage in Exodus leads me to answer today. 

In God's estimation, the shortest route or the path of least resistance is not always best. Such was the case for the Israelites, and often is the case for us today. When Pharoh finally let the people go out of Egypt, one would have thought the Lord would lead them to the land of Canaan by the quickest route, the shortest way. But God took them the long way around past the desert, through the wilderness toward the Red Sea. Not because He wanted to make their lives more miserable, but because His ways are higher and better and serve a very specific purpose. 

I am reminded of Proverbs 16:9 which says, "In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps." Matthew Henry says of this, "Man proposes, but God disposes, and in his disposal we must acquiesce, and set ourselves to follow providence." To "acquiesce" means to comply with God's will. That indicates a voluntary action, or an act of our will. No matter how hard we try, or how good we think our strategy is, God ultimately determines how things will go. We are masters at dreaming up all kinds of solutions to our problems, making suggestions to God to "help Him out" as if He needed our help. But we toil our minds for nothing because it is God that determines our course according to His providential plan, to serve His purposes, to bring Himself glory. More often than not, God's plan looks very different from anything we could conjure up. And 100% of the time His way is better.

So why does God often take us the long way around to get to our desired destination? To get to the answer we are seeking, or the one He has promised? Why doesn't God just quickly hand it over on a silver platter? 

Here's my take. Quick answers can lead to situations we are not yet ready to handle. Quick answers can lead to pride and distorted thinking, taking credit for good things thinking we brought them about when all credit is due the Lord. A better question might be, "Why does God lead us to new things before we are ready to take them on?" I believe the answer is, to give us the motivation and desire to press on through the preparation process it will take to get there. If we are truly submitting our lives to Christ, really wanting to be more like Him, then we must be willing to submit to His plan for bringing that about.

It takes time to make our rough edges smooth.
It takes time to prepare us to handle battles and blessings yet to come.
It takes time to get our hearts and minds thinking right.

Even though God is leading us to something or some place that we feel certain is His will for us, we might not be immediately ready for the answer; for it all to come to fruition. Most often God makes us ready as we walk toward it, letting Him light the way. Verse 21 says, "By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so they could travel by day or by night." No matter what time of day we are taking steps toward the new thing, God is there to lead us. He is our guide.

God led the Israelites away from the direct path which in modern times might be represented by a well lit, well marked highway. A travel route that represents safety. The straight road that gets you from Point A to Point B. Instead, He led them through the wilderness and off the beaten path. They may have felt like they were traveling through the middle of nowhere. Today that might look like woods and back roads. A way not marked. It might represent danger, uncertainty, difficulty, possible starvation. It is certainly the unpopular route. A way that would seem nonsensical to most. But a life of faith doesn't make much sense to the common world. 

An unmarked route requires a compass for direction. In that place, deep in the middle of nowhere, Christ is our compass. Travelers who want to reach their destination must be fully dependent upon Him to guide them.

Just because we are not quite "ready" for the next stop in life doesn't mean we should stop in our tracks or give up and return to Point A. No, we should put one foot in front of the other and by faith, walk in the direction God has told us to go, believing the path will be made clear, the answers and the provision will come, and the destination will be reached in due time when He deems us approved and ready. There is much to learn off the beaten path. Greater faith develops along the way.

Scripture says the Israelites were not yet ready for the war they were going to face. The Lord needed to prepare them and chose to do so in the place less travelled. Little did they know during this preparation that in their future they would lead the charge and God would drown the Egyptians in the Red Sea. In the wilderness God was proving their loyalty and making them humble. He was essentially preparing them for battle, something impossible to do on the path of least resistance. The last half of verse 18 indicates that they came out of the wilderness ready. "The Israelites went up out of Egypt armed for battle." 

What might God be preparing you for? Are you submitting to His will in the wilderness? Is He truly your compass and guide?

Father God, as I put one foot in front of the other and walk toward the things You have called me to, I pray that You would make me ready for the answer. Make me ready for the destination Lord, that I might serve you well and bring you the most glory. Be my compass and my guide when I feel I'm going nowhere fast. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.