Whom God Loves

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One of the most convicting statements I’ve ever heard came from the lips of former President George W. Bush at the memorial service in Dallas for the five fallen police officers: “Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions.”

I don’t want to be like that.

While so many are fighting over whose lives matter, I’m reminded of Paul’s words in Philippians: “…in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (2:3b).

We are so quick to judge:

He’s so arrogant… She’s so proud… He’s an idiot… She’s just stupid… 

These are people for whom Christ died. These are people He loves.

One more thing: He’s not finished with them yet.

Yet we still judge.

There are so many moments in my life I wish I could go back and change–the overreaction… the angry words… the whining… the many, many times I blew it! Oh, how I wish I could redo those moments!

But I can’t. I can’t change anything about my past. I just hope that people will not judge me based on those moments… because God is not finished with me yet!

Why can’t I do the same? Why can’t I esteem others better than myself?

The truth is, if I’m honest, I don’t “esteem” them better because I don’t think they’re better. But that is missing the point of the verse. It is not saying that we should honor and respect those who are deserving, and treat everyone else like dirt. We should esteem others better than ourselves. Treat them as though they are precious to God.

Because they are.

Warts and all.

And He’s not finished with them yet.

In Hinds’ Feet on High Places, Much-Afraid was struck by how the Shepherd viewed her not as she was, but as how He knew she could be: “Then she looked up into his face and for a little time could say no more, but at last she added, ‘My Lord, I cannot tell You how greatly I want to regard others in the same way.'”

Jesus tells us to love the unlovely, even our enemies (Matthew 5:44). He died for them too!

“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying,  that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:29-32).

Reference: Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois

 

Casting Out Fear

I’m too cheap to buy quality bookcases, so it doesn’t take much to make mine wobble. When that happens, books may fall. It’s not a common occurrence, but it certainly isn’t newsworthy… most of the time. On this particular occasion, I was pulling an album off the shelf when a small paperback tumbled into my hands.

It was a copy of Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard, sent to me anonymously when I was fifteen (and hospitalized following a car wreck). While I was intrigued by the anonymous gift, postmarked Chicago, I never read it. As I stood at my bookcase holding that book I had owned for decades, I knew nothing of its contents.

Two days earlier I had poured my heart and soul into an assignment for a Bible study at church. The question was simple: where would you like to be spiritually ten years from now? My answer came instantly: I longed to be free of the fear that was choking me, the fear that had gripped my life since childhood.

As a child, I was afraid of everything. Even the sight of dead fish at the fish market scared me!

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In college, I worried about my family crashing on their way to see me.

Motherhood brought a whole new set of fears.

I hated it.

A Bible verse I memorized as a teenager continued to convict me: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love” (I John 4:18).

Perfect love casteth out fear…

How could I love God and remain so fearful? Clearly, I wasn’t putting my complete trust in Him.

When my oldest child was three days old, she choked on some medicine and nearly died. A dear friend later gave me a card with a note: “Don’t worry about Alicia. God will keep her safe for His purpose.” While I appreciated the note, I feared what that purpose might be. What if it involved pain?

I begged God to remove my fear. That assignment became the prayer of my heart: “Dear Lord, cast out my fear!”

Two days later I was holding a book that had literally dropped into my hands, a book I had owned for decades but had never read. Absentmindedly, I opened it… and read: “This is the story of how Much-Afraid escaped from her Fearing relatives and went with the Shepherd to the High Places where ‘perfect love casteth out fear.’”

Wow.

I finally read that book.

That was sixteen years ago. I have shared that story several times over the years. I truly believe that God was responsible for getting that book to me initially in 1977 and for getting me to finally read it in 2000. Still, I must confess, my fear did not go away. It remained.

Then one day something happened. The thing I feared the most… happened. (Job 3:25)

I wish I could find words to express what the Lord has done in my heart since the thing happened that I most feared. But I can’t.

I’m reminded of Much-Afraid, the girl in the book. There were no shortcuts in her journey to the High Places, where “perfect love casteth out fear.” As painful as it was, she had to follow the path the Shepherd laid out for her with all its twists and turns, and months and months of desert. She often saw what seemed like excellent shortcuts, but the Shepherd said “no.” The path He laid out was perfect. It was exactly the preparation she needed to one day leap with hinds’ feet in the High Places.

As I look back over the past three years since the thing I feared came upon me, I see God like I’ve never seen Him before.

He has shown me that He is greater than my greatest fear.

He has reminded me that there is no substitute for time spent in His presence. There is no substitute for time spent in His Word and in prayer.

He makes all things beautiful in His time. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

His is perfect love. HE is perfect love… and He has cast out all my fear.

God’s Got This!

Stephanie WebberThe disciples tried to turn her away.

Small wonder. She ruined their plans for a nice, quiet evening (Mark 7:24-25). It didn’t help that she was a foreigner… and a woman.

Still, the woman persisted. She didn’t care that everyone was annoyed with her. She wasn’t bothered by the criticism directed at her. She wasn’t even deterred by the disciples’ blatant insistence that Jesus kick her out of the house (Matthew 15:23).

Why? That Canaanite woman was a mother.

And her child was suffering.

So she was suffering.

“Have mercy on me!” she cried out to Jesus.

Jesus didn’t answer. He seemed to ignore her. That’s when the disciples piped in: “Send her away! Her wailing is driving us crazy!”

Jesus clearly had to do something. His response to the woman seemed cold: “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24).

I love the woman’s response to that and the exchange that followed:

“Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour” (Matthew 15:25-28).

One thing I love about the Bible is that it doesn’t simply list the miracles Jesus performed. It gives the “back story.” It records the conversation.

Much could be said about the woman’s great faith and refusal to believe that Jesus was unkind, despite His harsh words. Much has been said about her incredible response to His dog analogy.

What I love is Jesus’ choice of words. After commending the woman for her great faith, He granted her request with these words: “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.”

The person Jesus healed was not the woman but her daughter. Still, He said, “Be it unto thee…” Jesus healed the daughter in response to the mother’s prayer and faith. According to His own words, the answer was for the mother. He gave it to her. He understood the mother’s love for her daughter. To bless her child was to bless her.

We can trust God with our children. The Bible is full of promises to parents. It is also full of commands to trust and fear not! God is trustworthy! He knows we love our children more than we love ourselves. When we commit them to Him, He can take even messes and turn them into something useful… for their good and His glory. Even when outward circumstances are awful, He can give “peace that passeth all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). The peace of God is not a delusion. It’s real… and it passes all understanding.

Nothing drives a mother to her knees quite like concern for her child.

But that’s good. There’s no better place to be.

Note: I would like to thank Stephanie S. Webber, my friend and former student, for the “featured image” of her son. I fell in love with it when she posted it on Facebook awhile ago, and it became the inspiration for this post.

Some through the Flood

some through the flood coverWith all the flooding that has occurred in recent days, it may seem strange that my mind is stuck on a flood that took place over forty years ago, but it is. Until now, my interest in the South Dakota flood of 1972 started and ended with the fact that it killed my cousin and her cat. (We were stationed in Italy at the time, so all news got to us late. I remember standing around the kitchen table with my brother and sisters as my parents read us the news about Sheila. After a moment of silence, one of us asked the question we were all thinking: “Did the cat die too?” Yes. Sheila loved her cat.)

The other day I went online to learn more about the flood that claimed 238 lives in and around Rapid City, South Dakota. As I read articles and watched interviews, hoping to learn more about my cousin, the story of one family stood out so much that my focus shifted. I devoured anything and everything I could read or watch concerning that family. I went to bed that night thinking about them. I woke up with them still on my mind.

I was planning to write a different blog post today, but I can’t get my mind off that story.

So I’m taking a detour.

Perhaps God wants someone else to hear it.

In 1972, Ronald Masters was the pastor of a church in Rapid City. On June 9 he was on the mound pitching during a church baseball game when the rain started.

Fast forward a few hours. The Masters family lived next to Rapid Creek. The local news was reporting that their area was at high risk for flooding. Water had, in fact, entered their house by the time a concerned church member called and offered refuge in his own home. A short time later, Ron Masters, his wife LaVonne, and their five children, already in pajamas, left their home, piled into their International Scout, and started to cross the bridge over Rapid Creek. Unbeknownst to them, the Canyon Lake Dam had just failed. They were still on the bridge when a wall of water hit, forcing the Scout off the bridge and into the creek, which was now twelve feet above its normal level.

As the storm raged and water filled the vehicle, in the black of night Ron Masters heard the voice of his twelve-year-old son Stephen: “Dad, this is all in God’s hands.” Those were the last words he ever heard from his son.

When the Scout became lodged in some cottonwood trees, Ron was able to get a small opening in a window. He managed to squeeze out and then reach back in for his family. Unable to see anything, he felt around until he grabbed someone. It was his wife. As soon as she was out and clinging to a tree, he reached back in and found his fourteen-year-old daughter Karen, who was holding her two-year-old brother Timothy. As Karen came through the opening, the raging current ripped Timothy from her arms. (His was the last body found, days later, lodged in a tree.)

Suddenly, another wall of water hit, and the family vehicle was gone, along with the other three children.

Ron and LaVonne Masters and their daughter Karen survived the stormy night clinging to tree branches, struggling to hold on as tons of debris, some of it burning, floated past, often striking them. Sometimes a body would float by. Throughout the night they could hear the pitiful cries of a young girl, also trapped in a tree. Even with their own plight, their hearts ached for her.

Songs in the night…

In the midst of the horrors of that night, somehow God gave Ron and LaVonne Masters a song–several songs, in fact–songs in the night. Throughout the night they sang hymns, including “God Leads Us Along,” by George A. Young:

Some through the waters, some through the flood,
Some through the fire, but all through the blood;
Some through great sorrow, but God gives a song,
In the night season and all the day long.

Finally, dawn began to break, and the water began to subside, revealing the family vehicle under their feet. It had remained all night caught in the tree, completely submerged.

Suddenly, from inside the vehicle, a voice…

It was JoAnn, their ten-year-old daughter.

She had spent the night alongside her brothers, submerged in the Scout.

For a while, all three children had been able to breathe and talk due to a small air pocket in the back of the Scout. Soon, however, the older brother had stopped talking, and then the younger, leaving JoAnn alone.

She spent the night like that… underwater… between two dead brothers. She didn’t know if anyone in her family had survived. She didn’t know if she would survive.

All night.

I can’t imagine.

On the morning of June 10, 1972, when JoAnn saw her daddy’s face and realized she wasn’t alone in the world, she said these words: “Daddy, God wants me to be a missionary.”

“Honey, He surely must,” her daddy replied. “He surely must.”

As I read this story and listened to an interview with Ron and LaVonne Masters, I was reminded once again that God can be trusted. He can take the worst of circumstances and use them for our good and His glory.

There is so much more to this story.

There is more to my story.

There is more to my family’s story.

I want to keep writing, but blog posts are supposed to be short.

So I’ll stop.

For now.

God’s still working.

We can trust Him.

More to follow…

Note: You can read the whole story in Ron and LaVonne Masters’ book Some through the Flood, available on Amazon.com. The interview can be seen on the Rapid City Public Library’s web site.

 

 

 

Letting It Go

“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

My mind was racing… spinning… out of control. That was my problem–I had no control. No control over anything. Not anymore. (As if I ever did!)

Seriously, I should have seen this coming. My entire life has been a series of divinely appointed detours. In fact, decades ago I discovered a verse that has come to mind many times since:

“Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked?” (Ecclesiastes 7:13)

Still, as I walked that crooked path, I could see God’s hand in it. I could sense His presence and rejoice in what He was accomplishing.

But now…

Wow.

I see problems that I desperately want to fix. So, of course, I try to fix them! That’s when they get worse. I make them worse.

But that’s okay… God doesn’t want me to fix everything. He wants me to trust Him.

A few weeks ago I was sitting on the couch, pouring my heart out to God, when a familiar verse popped into my head:

“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

That verse had been a comfort to me many times over the years, but on this particular occasion, I found myself curious about something.

What did He mean by “be still”? Did He simply mean to be silent? I walked over to my bookshelf, pulled out my trusty Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible, and looked it up. Right smack in the middle of several Hebrew and Greek words that are all translated as still was the little Hebrew word raphah. It is translated still in only one verse: Psalm 46:10.

Raphah:  To cause to fall, let go

Wow!

Let it go!

LET. IT. GO.

I have never been so struck by the meaning of a word.

What could I do? I dropped it. I caused it to fall. I let it go.

So what’s next?

“Be still….. and know that I am God.

It’s time to let go… and let God work.