Choosing to See

I was sitting on our couch near our Christmas tree a few days before our kids were going to arrive when I suddenly saw that one strand of the lights had gone out. 

“Oh bother!” I thought as I got up to look closer.  “How does that even happen?”

I decided to just let it go.  It was so close to Christmas and the last thing I wanted to do was remove that string of lights and try to place a new one amid all the other decorations. 

Yet every time I walked into the living room, where the tree prominently stood, this is what I saw.

I saw the missing lights.  I saw the dark space. 

This is what I wanted to see. 

But no, my eyes were inevitably drawn to the area where the lights were missing.  Every.  Time.

Things with Aaron have been a little tough lately.  Actually, a lot tough.

Aaron has shown more than his average share of anger.  He can put a whole new spin on the concept of being angry. 

Many of his seizure meds list anger and other behaviors as possible side effects.  One of those med dosages was recently increased.  So, there’s that.

Then there is his autism, with or without the interference of his medicines.  His structured life was becoming more unstructured as the holidays loomed on his horizon. 

And years of seizures have done untold damage to his brain and to his ability to function in our world.

Gary and I know all this but living with his outbursts of anger is at times more than difficult.  His shattered supper plate full of lasagna, or the hole in his wall, are just two examples that can attest to the stress we have been under.

This morning, as I am slowly finishing my study of the book of Deuteronomy, I was reading Moses’ blessing to the tribe of Joseph in chapter 33.  God promised, through Moses, to give the people of Joseph “choice things…best things.”  The Hebrew word here means things of highest quality.

Then in verse 16, God said, “…and the favor of Him who dwelt in the bush.”

Remember Moses and the burning bush in Exodus 3?  God spoke to Moses in the bush that was burning…the bush that had attracted the attention of Moses as he shepherded his father-in-law’s sheep in the desert wilderness. 

There was God, burning bright in that bush, and telling Moses that this was holy ground.  Telling Moses that He had seen the affliction of Israel, and of His plan to use Moses to rescue the people out of Egypt.

But what impressed me about all of this was the fact that Moses was in a wilderness place, a place of severe hardship, when God spoke to him out of the bright burning bush. 

Moses had been banished from all he knew in Egypt.  He was running for his life when he ended up in the desolate wilderness.  Now he was a lowly shepherd of sheep that weren’t even his.

How easy it would have been for Moses to look at all the darkness in his life…to have his eyes drawn away from God’s glory in the burning bush to focus once again on his dismal circumstances. 

But God, despite the early reluctance of Moses, promised to go with and before and all around Moses.  He urged Moses to look at His glory, the glory that shone in the burning bush, and not at his dark and scary surroundings. 

It’s tough to live with and care for a child with special needs of any kind.  To live with Aaron, a very verbal adult, when he is angry is exhausting at times.  It’s not something I like to display or talk a lot about, but this part of Aaron is a very real part of our lives. 

I think many of us have those areas of our lives that we want to keep more or less hidden.  I’m very thankful for family and friends that I can confide in…those that I know pray for us.  There are ways that I know I need to be more open.  Maybe that will give others the courage to do the same.

Life is just hard right now on so many levels for all of us.  Satan really wants to discourage and defeat us in whatever way he can. 

But I want to look at this life we live and see God’s glory, His hand, His light over every bit of it.  I don’t want to focus on that dark part. 

I want to live under the knowledge that as God’s child, I am living in “the favor of Him who dwelt in the bush.”

THAT God of Moses is also MY God.

I can focus on His promises to me, and even in the darker times I can make the choice to see His light…the light that shines brighter than my dark.

Secret Things

If there is ever a time that it’s OK to keep secrets from each other, it’s now, at Christmas.  We buy gifts and then try to find the best hiding places around the house so that little…or big…snoops don’t find them.  We rush to grab that delivered box off the porch before our husband or child grabs it first.  It’s fun and exciting and perfectly allowed.

Then we must wrap the gift when prying eyes won’t see what it is.  I used to love stacking our children’s wrapped gifts in their individual piles and having them put their own gifts under the tree.  There was lots of shaking and guessing going on while they worked.  It was so much fun!  I knew the answers to their many questions, but I kept it to myself as I watched them wonder what was in each box. 

Last year, as Gary and I sat by our tree, Aaron joined us.  It wasn’t long before he was on his knees in front of the tree, taking out boxes to see which ones were for him.  He went through that ageless process of trying to guess the content of the gifts that bore his name.  And I went through the same ageless process of telling him that he must wait for the answer.

You know, God has secrets, too.  I just read about that fact this morning.  Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God…”

There are things that God keeps to Himself, things about my life and about His doings in my life.  I don’t always understand why God orders my life in the ways that He does.  I don’t always know what’s in each box that ends up on the front porch of my life.  

And perhaps more importantly, I don’t often understand the “why” of some of the gifts that God gives.  In fact, there are things that I wouldn’t even classify as a gift in many ways.  A gift should be fun and wanted and needed, right?

I think of Aaron, of what a gift it was when after five years of marriage God allowed me to finally be pregnant.  Of the immense joy I felt as I held my little baby son 37 years ago, feeling like the most blessed woman in the history of the world.  Of watching him grow, smart as a whip and cute as a button.  Then the sudden huge seizure when he was in the first grade, the years of medicines and tests and doctors and still seizures.  The unexplained behaviors that manifested more and more as he got older, that set him apart from his siblings and his peers.  The diagnosis of autism, the challenges of his anger and his very particular way of conducting his life.  The forever care that he needs and the way that this impacts Gary and me now in our older years.  The questions about his future, and ours.

But on the hard days, in the sadness of seizures and the frustrations of autism, I have a choice to make about this gift that God has given me.  I can question it, I can resent it, I can let it make me bitter.

Or I can look beyond the gift into the heart of the Giver and know that He only has my good…and Aaron’s good…in His loving heart.  God has some secrets that only He knows about concerning Aaron and his life, and therefore mine.  I don’t need to know God’s reasons before I exercise trust in Him.  I just need to know Him.  Period.

When I grasp that concept…and so often I don’t…then I can experience some other gifts that God has given me. 

Peace.

Joy.

Contentment.

Those attitudes, those gifts, come and go with me. 

“What IS this, God?” I can imagine me asking Him as I shake the box.

“Go ahead and open it,” He responds.

“But I didn’t ask for this,” I tell Him as I see what’s inside.

“No,” he lovingly says.  “But I know that you need this very thing.”

“Why?!” I ask through my tears.

“Oh,” he answers, “that is a secret for only Me to know right now.  Someday I will let you in on the secret, but not today.”

“But…” I so often begin.

And God answers:

“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”  (James 1:17)

Like the old hymn writer said:

And we wonder why the test when we try to do our best, but we’ll understand it better by and by. 

By and by, when the morning comes,

When the saints of God are gathered home,

We’ll tell the story how we’ve overcome

For we’ll understand it better by and by.

The Other Side

 Aaron recently had a tooth pulled and an implant inserted.  He’s really done well with the whole procedure and with healing, as far as we can tell.  But as is the case in every single tiny part of Aaron’s life, autism rules. 

I mean, come on, this is the guy who won’t get up from a program until he watches the credits.  Who, if he has multiple music CD’s from the same artist, will only play them in the order of their production date.  Who will not start eating his popcorn at the theater until the movie we came to watch has actually started.   Who lays his special greeting cards on the bed at night while he reads, just like this.

Who keeps a log book of the time he goes to bed every night and the time he gets up in the morning. 

And who…get this…will only chew on one side of his mouth.  And you can probably guess which side that is.  The side which had the extraction and implant, OF COURSE!!!

This was a huge reason that my stress level was so high as I thought about his recovery.  Gary and I have coached Aaron and encouraged Aaron and demonstrated to Aaron and pled with Aaron to please…just PLEASE…chew on the OTHER side of his mouth.

“I don’t LIKE chewing on that other side,” he asserted over and over.

“So start early and get used to it!” we declared.

“But I can’t TASTE on that other side,” he told us over and over.

Silly parents.

Thinking we could even remotely win this battle was as crazy as…well, as expecting Aaron to chew on the other side of his mouth.

For Aaron…for anyone with autism…there is basically no other side to any matter.  There is one side…one way…to do and to see everything. 

Things came to a head last Wednesday night.  I had fixed Chicken Fajita Soup.  Aaron had eaten and enjoyed this soup in the past, but that was before he was being tormented with all this tooth business.  He was unhappy with the soup.  He was unhappy with me for fixing the soup and for insisting that he eat some soup.  Aaron’s unhappy led to my unhappy. 

That was one side of the matter.  The other side is that Aaron was looking forward to going on our Meals on Wheels route the next day and finally getting to eat out.  We were going to his favorite Mexican restaurant to see his favorite server and eat some soft enchiladas and of course to scarf down a side salad with no croutons and with TWO ranch dressings!

But instead, he had two seizures in the early morning hours.  He stayed home with Gary while I went on our route.  I felt sad for Aaron, but honestly, I needed that alone time.  The previous night had been rough.  I had not gone through Aaron’s normal bedtime routine because I was just so tired on every level.  Instead, we simply said a quick goodnight and I sat at my desk reading some Psalms and praying. 

Those are the times that I do not feel the joy of being Aaron’s mother but instead feel overwhelmed with the burden of caregiving.

I could feel my burden being lightened as I delivered the meals to my elderly clients that morning.  I pulled up to a new client’s house.  It was only my second time to take R. a meal.  She slowly came to the door with her walker.  We talked for a minute and then she began to tell me about her husband who had died a few years earlier.  She had been his caregiver for years before his death.  I was able to share with her some things about Aaron, whom she remembered from the week before.  I felt a bond with her, this new little friend who smiled when I told her that she didn’t look like she was 91 years old.   But then she talked about how lonely she was, and how she felt like she had no purpose…that she just existed.  And I told her that she did have a purpose in God’s eyes and how she had just encouraged me.

I had to run on and deliver more meals.  When I went to C’s house, he immediately asked about Aaron.  He had some things to give to Aaron.  He handed me a plastic pumpkin that was loaded with stickers and rocks that he had painted with Aaron’s name, along with several other items.  I thanked him over and over, and he told me that this was his ministry now since he couldn’t get out like he used to do. 

I told him that his words reminded me of my visit with R…of how she felt useless and with no purpose, but how we all have a purpose in God’s eyes. 

“What’s her name?” he asked.  “I’ll paint her a rock!”

I told him her name and he spelled it to be sure he had it right.  Then he said that his aunt had that first name, and how she lived a few blocks over…that she was alone and was 91 years old.

“That sounds like my new client,” I told him.

He gave me his aunt’s last name. 

And wouldn’t you know it?  His aunt is the new client that I had just talked to, who is so lonely and sad.  He said he would call her and visit with her.

This was a sweet gift to me from God, this reaching down and orchestrating the encouragement that our three hearts needed. 

For R and C were not the only ones who needed that touch from God on that morning.  I needed it, too. 

Yes, I could walk and drive and later go out to eat with Aaron.  I got to go home to a loving husband and live in the purpose that God has given me at this point in my life.

But sometimes God’s purpose for me is not easy, yet it IS all too easy to chafe under the yoke instead of remembering that God has said His yoke is easy when I wear it for Him. 

That’s the other side of God.  He teaches us so much under the stresses and burdens of the lives we live. 

He equips us for the life He has planned for us.

And He surprises us with sweet blessings when, and how, we least expect it. 

See My Hurt?

Aaron recently had a tooth that was hurting him so much that he asked me to hurry and call our dentist so he could look at it.  For Aaron to want to go to the dentist showed me that he was truly in pain.  Our dentist referred Aaron to our endodontist, who confirmed what the dentist thought…that Aaron’s tooth was probably cracked way down in the root, infected, and would need to be pulled. 

Aaron was fascinated to look at the x-ray that the endodontist showed him.  You could see all the dark areas of infection very clearly.  Dr. Turner explained to Aaron that this was why his tooth hurt so much. 

Our next appointment was with an oral surgeon, the same one who had removed Aaron’s back molar near this infected tooth.  That molar had fractured during a drop seizure when Aaron’s face had hit a cement floor.

At first Aaron was pensive and tired:

Then he became silly as we waited for the doctor (look at his watch! 😊):

Dr. Cole finally arrived and examined Aaron’s hurting tooth.  He put up the x-rays that were taken in his office a few minutes earlier.

Aaron’s eyes darted to the x-rays.  He studied them for a few seconds.

“Can you see my hurt?” he asked.

Dr. Cole was a little confused.  He said that he couldn’t exactly see the crack but that they knew it was there.

“But can you see my hurt?” Aaron asked again.

I knew what Aaron meant.  He wondered if Dr. Cole could see the dark area of infection that was visible on his other x-rays.  These looked different and Aaron was concerned that Dr. Cole couldn’t see his hurt. 

I explained to the doctor what Aaron meant and then he understood. 

But Aaron’s way of asking about his tooth…his hurt…was SO Aaron and so touching, somehow.

I’ve thought a lot about seeing hurt, not only as it relates to Aaron but to others all around us as well. 

One day last week when I picked him up at his day group, he had just had a seizure before I got there.  He was laying on a booth seat when he had the seizure and so he fell off the seat, onto the floor.  I went in and there he lay on the cement floor.  One of the very kind supervisors actually got on the floor with Aaron as we tried to wake him up.  It took awhile before Aaron was awake enough to get off the floor, but it took some doing to get out of that tight area.  Later that night, Aaron showed us a couple scuffed places on his back.  Thankfully that was the only evidence we saw of his seizure…that, and his bitten tongue.

That was a hurt I could see.  Him lying on the floor, having a difficult time communicating when he woke up, and then the areas on his back that hurt, were all visible to us.

But how many times does Aaron, or any of us, have hurts which others can’t see?

For me, I hurt when Aaron has seizures.  I hurt when he talks about wanting a girlfriend or wanting to get married. 

Or when his meds make him very sleepy, and I wish he wasn’t so drugged:

Yet those hurts are ones I don’t want Aaron to see and so I hide them as best I can from him, and even from others.

How about you?  Do you have hurts you hide from the world, or even from those closest to you?

I think we all do.  I know I do. 

Why do we hide our hurts?  Maybe we don’t want others to feel sorry for us.  Maybe we feel we must be strong in front of everyone.  Maybe we’re embarrassed.  Maybe we can’t bear to share the pain and hurt we feel so we try to bury it.

But there is One Who sees every hurt we carry…Who understands every pain we feel…Who is wanting us to turn to Him and let Him take and carry our burdens. 

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”  (Matthew 11:28)

Here is another way to say it:

“Come to Me, all who are beaten down and burdened down, and I will give you rest.”  (Matthew 11:28)

 I think of the old hymn, Tell It To Jesus:

Are you weary, are you heavy hearted?

Tell it to Jesus, tell it to Jesus.

Are you grieving over joys departed?

Tell it to Jesus alone.

Tell it to Jesus, tell it to Jesus,

He is a Friend that’s well known.

You’ve no other such a friend or brother,

Tell it to Jesus alone.

Do the tears flow down your cheeks unbidden?

Tell it to Jesus, tell it to Jesus.

Have you sins that to men’s eyes are hidden?

Tell it to Jesus alone.

Do you fear the gathering clouds of sorrow?

Tell it to Jesus, tell it to Jesus.

Are you anxious what shall be tomorrow?

Tell it to Jesus alone.

Are you troubled at the thought of dying?

Tell it to Jesus, tell it to Jesus.

For Christ’s coming kingdom are you sighing?

Tell it to Jesus alone.

If we can’t share our hurt and burden with anyone else, we can still share it with Jesus.  But sharing our hurts with those we trust, those who will pray for and with us, is also a huge help in relieving our pain. 

There is way too much hurt today in this crazy world…way too many beaten and burdened down people.  I pray that I will look at everyone around me and wonder if they are saying, “Do you see my hurt?”

And even if I can’t see it, that I will be kind and loving to everyone, knowing that they may be carrying a huge hurt that I know nothing about.

May I see and love through the eyes of Jesus. 

And may I let that same Jesus carry my unseen hurts. 

Humbled and Hungry

Recently, Aaron and Gary had both been feeling puny.  In fact, they had each been tested for COVID.  Thankfully, both were negative. 

When a family member is sick, I slip into full-on caregiver mode – which means I usually hit the kitchen and start cooking.  I did this last Monday, making a huge pot of potato soup.  It was way more than the three of us needed but that’s the way I roll.

We sat down to eat that evening, where Aaron declared that he didn’t like potato soup and that he would not eat. 

“That’s fine,” I said.  “Suit yourself.”

Gary and I proceeded to eat.  Finally, realizing that I was not offering another option to him, Aaron begrudgingly agreed to try a small amount.  Three bowls later, he left our table full and happy.

“I liked the potato soup, Mom,” he told me later.  I just smiled and thanked him, not telling him that I knew he would because he had eaten it before and loved it.

Sometimes Aaron needs to see that I am not going to give in to what he wants.  I will allow him to get hungry in order for him to learn that the food I have made is good and that he needs to eat what is offered. 

How amazing it was that the passage I read in Deuteronomy 8 happened right after this object lesson!

Moses was reminding the Israelites about the reasons God had told them to obey Him and to remember all the ways He had led them. 

And then in verse three:

            “He humbled you, and let you be hungry…”

God let them be hungry.

Why?

So that He could feed them with the manna that He provided.  There was nothing they could do in the desert to feed themselves.  He gave them what they needed, and in their hunger…a hunger he allowed…He showed them a great truth.

“…that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.” 

I didn’t enjoy seeing Aaron hungry.  It would have been easy for me to rush in and offer him something I knew he liked just so he would eat.  But if I did, then he would have missed an important lesson:  You eat what Mom has provided.

I can look at my life and see that there are many times when I don’t understand the way that God has led or the events that He has allowed. 

I ask why.  At the time, a decision seemed to be wise and right, but it led to situations that were hard.  Sometimes those ongoing situations are the very ones that roll around in my brain in the dark night hours.

But I have learned to push those circumstances aside and to look at God Who loves me without fail.  And I know…I KNOW…that the hard times – the times I am humbled and hungry…are by His design and His allowance.

God isn’t being mean when He allows me to experience hunger.  He knows that in my hunger I will be more aware of His provision, and I will learn that I do indeed live and eat and prosper only through His food that He provides.

His words to me are manna and life and strength.

And I will come to Him one day, hopefully, full of His Words that I have eaten, and I will thank Him for the hunger that brought me to the place of being satisfied with His goodness.

“How sweet are Your words to my taste!  Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”  (Psalm 119:103)

My Times, Your Hand

One evening last week, I looked outside and saw a beautiful red glow on the horizon.  However, my view was hindered by trees.  Knowing there was more to this scene than I could see from my vantage point, I quietly snuck out of the house…so I could drive alone without Aaron…and headed west to see what I would find. 

It was hard to keep my eyes on the road as I drove past trees and power poles.  The sky was so beautiful that I wanted to only gaze on it.  Finally, a few miles away, I found the spot I sought.  Flat…open…unimpeded by trees or poles – there it was.  The perfect view.

Oh my!!  What a stunning sunset it was!

I’ve looked at this picture a lot and done some thinking about the path of life upon which God has placed me.  How much do I trust God’s decisions about me and my life?

I don’t know about you, but I tend to feel more trust in God during the harder and often unexpected situations of life…those times when I’m suddenly the recipient of bad news and I’m thrown into God’s arms. 

But it’s the daily disappointments…that drip, drip, drip of stress…that can really bog me down.  The dailiness of life’s burdens can hinder my view of God’s path and His purposes for me much as the trees hampered by full view of this gorgeous sunset.

Saturday morning, for instance, Aaron stood by Gary’s desk chair. 

“Dad?” he said, “my mouth is broken.”

I smiled from the other room at Aaron’s phrasing – and I know that Gary was secretly doing the same.

Aaron thought he had burned his mouth, but in looking at it we both knew that these were not burns.  He had a rash.  The next day, Mother’s Day, I took Aaron to Med Express to have it checked.  It was quite painful, and he was having trouble eating.

Gary offered to take Aaron, bless him, but I wanted to do it since I always take Aaron to his doctor visits.  So, here I was, on Mother’s Day…at the doctor with Aaron.  It was a bit of a downer, honestly…not the way that I envisioned my Mother’s Day. 

See what I mean?  A small example of a small thing that can play upon my heart to bring discouragement, self-pity, and then lead to multiple other thoughts of how this and this and this did not turn out the way I wanted…

And my path’s view of God’s goodness is lost in the jumble of negative thoughts and emotions.

God gave me what I needed this morning, as He always does!

In Luke 13:31, the Pharisees reminded Jesus that Herod wanted to kill Him.  Jesus responded to them that He would continue the journey that God had for Him, and that when the time was right then He would perish. 

In other words, Jesus was declaring the truth of Psalm 31:15.  My times are in Your hand!  Jesus was standing in the unfailing sovereignty of God.

When David in Psalm 31 speaks of times, “…he doesn’t mean merely his life-span but all the kaleidoscope of circumstances that meet him left and right.”  (Dale Davis)

Oh, those multi-colored burdens that pile on day after day!  The unresolved issues and concerns that grow larger on a special day like Mother’s Day can cloud my view of God’s path for me. 

Last night, very uncharacteristically, Aaron suddenly said, “Mom, I’m glad you cared for me and took me to the doctor.”

I was pretty much stopped in my tracks by that!  And so overwhelmed with thankfulness that our “downer” doctor visit prompted in Aaron such a response.

Oh God, may I too look at You and be thankful for your care of me in the rough spots of life.  May I look fully at the path you have me upon and see the beauty amid the stresses.  May I not miss the opportunity to give You thanks for being for me all that I need, and not just giving me all that I want.

For it is in my need that I most fully see Your beauty on the road of life.

Just Being Here

I was having my quiet time this morning, and it was just that…nice and quiet.

I stepped out of the room for a few minutes and when I came back, this is what I saw.

“Aaron,” I asked, “what are you doing on the bed?”

“I’m just being right here,” he flatly answered.

I had to smile.  He certainly was just being right there.  He didn’t care one bit that he was messing up the bed that I try to keep all tidy and neat and unwrinkled.  He didn’t care one bit that he was interrupting my quiet time. 

Aaron is right here in our lives every day.  He is right here because God has placed him here. 

No matter where we go, with or without Aaron, he is right here in our lives and in our thoughts…in our planning…in our EVERYTHING.

Yesterday he was right here, in the Wal-Mart aisle as I turned the corner, happily oblivious to any thought that he was most unusual as he knelt on the floor to retrieve his favorite candy.

He was right here recently after a night of seizures, waiting for me to pray before he ate his fried eggs, and we watched an episode of The Waltons.

And more often than I enjoy, Aaron is also right here in his autistic frustrations that interrupt our life and often dictate our routines. 

Just like that crumpled bedding that once was smooth, Aaron can most definitely cause lots of wrinkles in what was at one point a smooth and happy day.

How I handle my emotions during those many moments is up to me, which is why I was SO excited to find this picture recently that I instantly knew MUST go above my quiet time desk.

Today I choose joy!

Not because I have some super perfect power to do so.

But because I know the One Who does have the power to give me joy.

Oh, trust me, I lose my temper and I get very frustrated and all the other “stuff” that comes with being human.

But Jesus is right beside me with His forgiveness and with His nudging toward joy.

How about you?  What is right here in your life that is hard?  Make a conscious effort to choose joy and just see what God will do for you.

“And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

(Nehemiah 8:10)

Where Is Your Faith?

Jesus and His disciples had gotten into a boat on the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus told them to go over to the other side of the lake.  As they were sailing along, Jesus fell asleep.  Soon a huge wind arose, and their boat was in real danger of capsizing.  The disciples awakened Jesus and with terror told Him they were perishing.   But Jesus rebuked the winds and the surging waves, and soon there was calmness.

Jesus looked at His disciples and said, “Where is your faith?”

Jesus is still asking us that question today in our storms.

Aaron collapsed with a drop seizure last month after going for two years without one of those dangerous seizures.  Where was my faith?

Our daughter called us from Texas two weeks ago.  She was in the ER with a pulmonary embolism.  Where was my faith?

Old hurts and unresolved issues about a situation from years ago started spilling out as I talked to a sweet friend the other night.  Where is my faith?

A friend with a daughter going into drug rehab.  A friend recently diagnosed with cancer.  Another whose daughter is fighting a recurrence of her cancer.  A job lay-off of one’s husband shortly before he could have retired.  A friend whose son is having sudden and very serious seizures that are escalating.  A friend betrayed and now divorced.  Some are grieving prodigal children.

Where is their faith?

Jesus hung on the cross.  “It is finished,” He cried.  His battered body was lowered, and He was buried.  His disciples were crushed, full of terror far worse than the terror on that boat.  Where was their faith?

Satan was jubilant, thinking he had won.  Jesus was dead!

“Now where is your faith?” he probably hissed to all who followed Jesus.

Not so fast, Satan! 

This happened!!

The tomb was empty on that Sunday morning.  Jesus lives today!  We serve a risen Savior! 

Where is my faith?

My faith, in every circumstance and storm and trial, is in a Savior Who has defeated death!

Jesus is with me in my boat today, very much alive and in control of every wave…every toss…every fear…every hurt.

We serve a RISEN Savior!

Hallelujah!  

What’s Ahead?

Here in Kansas over the past ten days we have had some extreme winter weather, as have many of you around the nation.  We knew it was coming thanks to modern weather forecasting.  We were able to prepare as best we could for sub-zero temperatures and even worse wind chills and snow.  What a blessing it is to be able to look ahead and to be ready when the storm hits! 

Some of you know that I have been reading and studying through the book of Numbers.  This book isn’t exactly known for super passages full of encouragement, but I have discovered, with the help of Raymond Brown’s book The Message of Numbers, that there are indeed many blessings and promises in this often-neglected book.

I finished Numbers yesterday.  The last verse was amazing, and I wanted to share it with you today.

“These are the commandments and the ordinances which the Lord commanded to the sons of Israel through Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan opposite Jericho.”  (Numbers 36:13)

I believe I know what you’re thinking.  Nothing in that verse reaches out and grabs you, does it? 

But don’t be so quick to assume that this is just another dry verse from a rather dry book.

All throughout the book of Numbers, God had given His people commands to obey in order to survive the trip through the desert – but more importantly, in order to live victorious lives.  Their lives would only be successful if they obeyed God.  It was a lesson they learned over and over as they left Egypt and entered the desert. 

Obedience brought victory and blessing.

Disobedience brought defeat and curses.

Now at the end of this book, after taking care of matters concerning land distribution and inheritances, there stood the nation of Israel on the east side of Canaan. 

They stood in the plains of Moab, and what was ahead?

God had confirmed his commandments “…by the Jordan opposite Jericho.”

God had given them so many victories over their desert wanderings…so many lessons learned…so many providences. 

Then He confirmed all His final commands to His people whom he loved when there, just ahead, were two HUGE difficulties. 

The Jordan River, in flood stage and impassable.

Jericho, a well-fortified city that far outweighed any hope of defeat by a nation that had no real army.

God had given Israel the land upon which they now stood, but up ahead were seemingly impossible situations.

What was the key to victory? 

Obedience.  God’s presence was with them and His power was theirs if they but simply obeyed Him. 

The Jordan River parted.  Jericho fell.  The stories are so fascinating in the book of Joshua.  But the key, always, was for Israel to obey God.

“How could anybody possibly convey this huge contingent of nomadic people across that fast-flowing river, and how could an untrained army capture a well-fortified city like Jericho?  The secret was in total obedience.  Neither barrier was to be overcome by intellectual skills, geographical proficiency, crowd manipulation, army intelligence or military strategy.  Two doctrinal factors prompted their obedience:  God’s presence and God’s power.”  (Raymond Brown)

What is ahead of you today? 

Have you been walking in life, doing the best you can to obey God and live right?

But are you now looking ahead to a forecast that is anything but encouraging?

What huge thing in your life is looming ahead, causing you to lose sleep and to feel fear? 

Whether our issues are national in scope, or personal in nature, each of us has plenty to keep us anxiously glancing at what is ahead on our horizons.

Please know that God’s presence and His power are fully yours if you know Him, and if you are obeying Him step by step, day by day.

God has not brought you to an impassable river to watch you drown.

And He has not brought you to a strongly walled city to watch you die.

You may be standing near…or in…some very tough situations.  But like Israel as they stared at Jordan and Jericho, listen to what God says to you:

“Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous!  Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  (Joshua 1:9) 

Look in God’s eyes as you listen to Him, not over His shoulder at your Jordan and Jericho that are looming large. 

Be strong in God’s strength and rest in His presence. 

Let God do the fighting and trust Him for the finish!   

Is God Gone?

The heaviness in my soul these past few weeks has been palpable.  As a Christian it’s been very difficult to see Biblical principles pushed aside in our country while rank sin is legislated with the stroke of a powerful pen.  Then if we don’t jump on board with this agenda, we are haters and racists and out of touch.  The changes just in two weeks are almost too much to comprehend. 

As I continue reading through the book of Numbers, I came to chapter 20.  Moses, Aaron, and Eleazar climbed Mount Hor while the children of Israel, full of foreboding, waited down below.  On the mountain, Aaron’s priestly garments were removed and given to his son, Eleazar.  Then Aaron died there on the mountain. 

The people’s priest was gone.  Yet God had provided His man, Eleazar, to continue His work.  God’s pledge to stay with His people and to accomplish His plan was being perpetuated. 

God did not forget His promise.  His sovereign purpose for His people would be carried out, even though Aaron had now died.

This simple phrase written by Raymond Brown jumped off the page to me in the early morning as I read this story in Numbers: 

“ONLY AARON HAD LEFT THEM, NOT GOD.”

What an amazingly simple yet profound comfort this truth has been to me during these sad and hard days.  We feel bereft and abandoned, scared of what the future holds for us as believers in this culture, and angry at the sin that we see being promoted by our leaders. 

There were many true followers of Christ in the past administration.  Open Bibles were commonly seen on their desks.  Prayer, hymn singing, and Bible studies were routine in the White House.  Now that is all gone, and our spirits are stirred within us at the open endorsement of sin that we are witnessing every day…some of which we will be paying for with our tax dollars.  Open sin instead of open Bibles.

BUT…God is NOT gone.  God is still accomplishing His perfect plan.  He is with His people, each of us, as we wake up each day and seek to live godly lives in a most ungodly culture. 

Let’s take each day and each moment with that thought in our minds and hearts.  God is not gone!  He is here with His people just like always, in our homes and our work and with His Church. 

God is not gone!  He is with us in our disappointments and our pain, our sickness and our fear, our good news and our bad news.

God continues His work, no matter our circumstances. 

So let’s be encouraged to be about His work…to be strong and courageous…to be voices of love and conviction…to share the gospel…and to be bright lights in this dark world.