Abandoned by God? Never!

An abandoned person can feel unwanted, not worth the trouble, unlovable, unsafe, frightened, anxious, distrustful and filled with pain they try to hide. They can develop an orphan heart. I believe there is an orphan spirit working hard in the world to convince us that we do not belong, especially that God will not be careful with our hearts. This may be why so many Christians (believers in Jesus, His cross and resurrection) struggle to some degree. It serves to keep us from our full identity as sons and daughters of God.

A Christian with an orphan heart says, ‘I do not know God as my Father or His mothering heart. He may prove untrustworthy and I would not be able to bear it. I am on my own. I will find a way myself to obtain what I need.’ An orphan heart may say, ‘I will embrace philosophies that build me up as a person. I will pursue a career that will give me identity, my spouse or family will be my identity and provide what I lack.’ Or an orphan will give up and deny their need for anyone. The orphan heart creates an anxious grasping way of going through life. It can create a sense of loneliness, abandonment, insecurity and alienation. Performance for acceptance, self-medicating, isolation or over compensating become a means of coping. It can push others away, look for identity in success and put un-do pressure on loved ones to provide what is lacking. It can express itself in anger, fits of rage or in speaking denigratingly about ourselves.

How do you recognize someone with an orphan heart?  It is very hard because most of us have become adept at hiding the shame in inventive ways. We have even become good at hiding it from ourselves too. Some of the most successful loving people may be living with an orphan heart. All the time we have been expending so much energy compensating for what we perceive we lack, we have had a spiritual Father who loves us enough to come live among us, lay down His life take our sin upon Himself, write a Book that tells us who He is, who we become as sons and daughters and how we are heirs of His kingdom. But we cannot believe this good news or embrace it enough to heal our hearts.

Here is the heart of a tender strong father: You can trust a true father with your heart. His highest concern is for the well-being of his child. He spends all he has and all his energy in caring for the needs of his sons and daughters. He loves the sound of their voices and leans into them to listen. He responds with wisdom because he knows his child well. He enjoys their company and laughter. He wipes the tears from their eyes as he holds them close and provides a safe hopeful environment. He never leaves them or forsakes them. He defends them. Everything that matters to his child, matters to him. He prepares and guides them through life with wisdom, knowledge and firm loving discipline. The disciple John wove his love for Jesus, and Father God, throughout all the books in the Bible attributed to him. John calls us to know Him in the same way. He says, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are!” 1 John 3:1.

The answer to an orphan heart is the Spirit of divine Adoption. The way to break off the orphan spirit and heal our hearts is to fill up with a sense of the Father’s love. We break the power of the lie of fatherlessness by receiving the fatherliness of God. Sonship and daughtership is so important to God’s plan for us that all creation cries out for the manifestation of the sons and daughters of God (Romans 8). He is a father to the fatherless and to those living with an orphan heart. He will not leave us alone. He will come to us and make Himself known. He is trustworthy.

How do we do begin?  A good place to start is by simply asking Him to show Himself as a father to us. Search the scriptures for revelation of God the Father, who Jesus came to show us. Renounce wholeheartedly the orphan spirit as a lie, take it to the cross in repentance for seeking a sense of significance, belonging and other ways first, apart from Him. Choose to believe and take Him at His word. Keep leaning into Him with unveiled hearts until our hearts open and we let our souls fill to overflowing with His love. Seek out other trustworthy people who have already found their way into the Father’s embrace.

His greatest gift to us is Jesus Christ because the Father’s heart cried out for us to know Him. Jesus said He came to show us the Father. He spent His whole life on earth in pursuit of this, until the very end when He gave all He had to give for us, so in believing we would have a perfect Father, His Father.

Beloved, He is worth knowing. Your heart can trust Him in every way. He is calling your name.

 

What’s New?

More than any other time of year, there is something about the coming of a new year that causes us to hope for something new and fresh. Resolutions abound. We raise prayers for a new thing from the Lord. We seek fresh words from the Holy Spirit to encourage us. These are all good things. Many people are willing to supply these words and it has never been more easily available on a global scale as with social media so available.

This is when it is good to be alert and watchful; to remember Adam and Eve. They had an intimate relationship with God. They knew Him like no other. He lavished His best of creation on them in love. He gave them purpose and sought them out to talk over the day and enjoy their company. Yet they were able to be deceived in such a profound way. They believed a basic lie about the character of God and the veracity of His words, setting themselves up as god-like by acting as if they knew better. The serpent made up a plausible story and then added just a little doubt about God’s character. It was very subtle. Adam and Eve believed the serpent more than God with whom they had an intimate relationship. It may have been because the serpent appealed to something hidden in the depths of their heart, something they desired more than God. This is a cautionary tale for us.

There is no lack of people who are willing to explain to us what God really means and what He is about to do. Each one says they have heard from the Holy Spirit about God’s plans for us, for nations and many other things during the new year. There is a declaring and decreeing approach that encourages us to declare and decree their words with divine authority as if they are the very words of God; to set ourselves up as god-like. There is a very fine line between falling into error and rightly understanding the truth. Many are willing to accept these words from people who they do not personally know and have not seen the fruit of their walk with God, as instructed in Matthew 7. It is all very seductive.

Here’s the Thing: I believe that God still speaks to our hearts by the Holy Spirit and the Bible; true encouraging words of God–words that align with all the other words of God in the Bible because He does not contradict Himself. He does not lead us with confusion. This is where it is good to remember that we are not stronger than Adam and Eve. And also to understand that we are ‘not to quench the Spirit and not treat prophecies with contempt but to test them all; hold on to what is good’ and to ‘not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God’ 1 Thess. 4:19-21 and 1 John 4:1. Also, to consider ‘no (true) prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit’ 2 Peter 1:21. In other words, let us not throw out every prophecy because some might be unwittingly false.

How are we then to know the false? We wait for it to come to pass. It is that simple. People in Bible times asked the same question. “And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him” Deut. 18:21-22.  It is so simple and how gracious of God to explain it for our benefit.

God, Himself, has already decreed His word, the Bible, imbuing it with His eternal life and power. He retains the rights to perform it in His way and His time. When we declare what He has given us in the Bible over our lives, appealing to and trusting His sovereignty, His authority and power, we release its power to perform. He moves in accordance to what He has already decreed. When we declare His words to perform to our will and timing, we move into spiritually dangerous territory. Our spiritual authority as believers must be in alignment with His will and His word. When we read or hear prophetic words, we must ask for discernment, wait for the fruit and for it to come to pass. In the meantime, we can declare the written Word of God with confidence, leaving the execution of it to Him. Jesus said “it is written” when confronted by the seductive power of Satan. The written word of God has power like none other.

As a last thought, we also need to be diligent about the words of our own mouths and what we write as ascribing to God. Yes, having said all this, I am encouraging you to seek the Lord on everything I write and wait on it for the fruit. The Lord is faithful to His word. We can rest in Him.

My prayer is that you receive everything that God in His great love has already made available to you. Hope is a powerful thing when we know the Source of our hope is trustworthy.

 

Bethlehem Sleeps

Foretold thousands of years before its fulfillment, the story of Christ’s conception and birth, came at a time when Jerusalem’s enemies had aligned with the tribe of Ephraim to come against that great city. King Ahaz, ruler of Jerusalem, was not a particularly good king in the eyes of the Lord. For the sake of Jerusalem and its people, God in His great compassion gave a message of Hope that a virgin would conceive and give birth to a son and His name would be Immanuel-Isaiah 7. The gist of it is that no matter what happened temporarily, God was promising His presence. Fast forward to the time of Matthew, who reminded everyone that the sign of the Redeemer was the virgin birth. A mystery and miracle which only God could bring about. Immanuel ‘God is With Us’ was to have other names as well. A Star out of Jacob, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace, the Son of the Highest, Messiah and Savior to name just a few. There are so many promises in the names given to Him.

The prophet Micah also had something to say — about the location of this extraordinary birth. “But you, Bethlehem (Ephratah), though you are small among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you will come to me one who will be ruler over Israel; whose origins have been from everlasting” Micah 5:2.

Jesus Christ was born into a community of people who learned the prophecies of Isaiah and Micah from an early age, along with all the other recorded and oral stories of their ancestors. Yet many did not realize the significance of this event.

Here’s the Thing: It was not an accident of birth that the Redeemer was born in a town that had its roots in the tribe of Ephraim, the very people that had aligned themselves against Jerusalem so many years before. It was no coincidence that Caesar decreed a census and all the people had to go their familial towns to register just at the time when Mary was about to give birth. It was no coincidence that there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby keeping watch over their flocks at night, that there was no guest room available to the poor humble parents or that the wise men of the East saw a star in the sky some time later. It all happened by the mighty hand of God. He kept His promise and more. He is all about keeping His promises.

There are so many deeper truths running through the amazing story of this humble birth, some of which are still unfolding and yet to be. The single thought that keeps running through my heart is this: the event of God coming to be with us occurred while most of Bethlehem was unaware. Even though they had learned the scriptures from birth, they did not recognize Him when He came. Yet, it seems that a small band of people were paying attention–the humble parents ‘were hearing’, the shepherds ‘were watching’ and of wise men ‘were looking”. All of them saw it unfold, believed, sought out the promised Child and worshipped Him. Their lives were transformed.

Jesus, the child now grown, said, “the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the sick are healed, the dead live and the Good News is being preached to the poor”. This was His response to His cousin when John asked, “Are you the One we have been waiting for or should we expect another?” Matthew 11.

Each of us must come to our own conclusion about this amazing Child, whose birth filled the skies with the glory of the Lord and hosts of angels. We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and we will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts. 1 Peter 1:19.

“Behold, I bring you good news with great joy which will be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord”

Blessings in His Name.

 

What is This, Lord?

Were you, like me, taught from a young age to say the ‘magic words’ when making a request of another? ‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ are words of politeness to show respect to the person addressed. Every time I say ‘please’, I am asking for someone’s favor. Most languages have a word or phrase for ‘please’ — por favor (Spanish), s’il vous plait (French) and prego (Italian). As children we learn that the use of the simple word ‘please’ gives us access to things that we would otherwise not receive, hence the ‘magic’ in them. When I read my bible, I read about God’s favor and how the people living in Old and New Testament times esteemed it. As believers we desire God’s favor and He has promised it to us.

“The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail” Isaiah 58:11. “For You, O LORD, will bless the righteous; with favor You will surround him as with a shield” Psalm 5:12.

Here’s the Thing: To be sure, the Lord’s favor is righteousness when we confess our sin, protection when we are buffeted on every side, rain in dry times, resources in scarcity, healing when ill and all good things from His hand are the favor of the Lord. We ask, we receive. Poof!  There it is like magic. Correct? Or do we sometimes look at the answer we have received from God’s hand and wonder what He is thinking?  What do we do with this thing that He gave, which is nothing like what we wanted, even though we said “Please!”?

I just finished watching a television series about some of the northwestern islands of Scotland complete with mountains, rocks and large stones strewn everywhere. For thousands of years, many of these islands were inaccessible except by boat. In some seasons it is often brutally cold with strong winds. These islands are breathtakingly beautiful and seemingly inhospitable at the same time, yet generation after generation have called this isolated land home for thousands of years. They learned the secret of living on these remote islands. They have life knowledge that other people do not.

The hardy people of old looked around them and saw answers. They used whatever they found to improve their lives. They built homes and fences with thick walls of the plentiful stone for warmth and protection. They cooked their food and warmed their homes with peat from the earth. The natural resources of plentiful stones, rocks and dirt are an example of the Lord’s favor in this environment. Even the animals adapted.

I choose to believe the word of the Lord, that He gives His favor, as promised, when I am living rightly aligned to Him. It may not always come in the form I expect or exactly what I ask for. It may look like a hard, unyielding stone or a clod of dirt. It may feel like a cold icy wind or isolation. I quickly cry out “Where are you God? What do I do with this?!” He as quickly answers, “…this is the one to whom I will look: (s)he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” Isaiah 66:2. I am trembling, for sure, when looking at the disguised favor. But do I have a humble and contrite heart?  So here I am, on my knees again, asking for the sight to see what He intends for me to do with this favor He has sent. Metaphorically, will I be able to see it as raw material for cooperating with Him as He teaches me how to dig up and cut a stone to place on top of others to make a warm, protective, strong dwelling? Will I let Him show me how to make a special tool to cut peat from the earth, then let it dry in the cold strong wind so I can warm myself by its fire later?

Will I see Him in all these things He has favored me with in love? Will I see Him? Will I see Him? Because this is the cry of my heart; to know how close He is, to know His protection, strength, forgiveness, and compassion. He knows all the other things I need too (a home, love, companionship-a place to belong, food, money, shelter from the storms of life).

In His favor, He may give me a direct answer that requires that I do nothing except receive it because there are some things that are impossible for me and nothing is impossible for Him. Then again, because He knows exactly what I need, He may send me raw resources (spiritual or natural) and teach me how to use them because there are somethings that are possible for me to do, in Him-things I must do if I am to mature in faith. I ask for the favor of wisdom to know the difference and be thankful in all things.

It is always of Himself He gives with His favor in Christ. I want to recognize His favor today in whatever form it comes in. I want to see Him in all things.

May you also receive His favor in the Spirit given and cooperate with Him.  Blessings.

 

 

When Seasons Change

Where I live the leaves are changing into beautiful autumn colors of red, gold, yellow. Some of us start talking about it in anticipation at the end August–into September and October. Are the days warm enough and the nights cold enough to produce the brilliant reds? Will the frost cut this season short? We consult state leaf report maps to see when the areas closest to us are anticipated to be ‘at peak’. When we can, we take special rides into heavily forested areas to view this amazing display. When we see trees in full color, we exclaim over their beauty. There is even a name for it-leaf peeping.

The thing about our autumn leaf peeping is that it is fully a sensory experience. We like to seek out trees in groups, splashing all their complementary beauty over hills and mountains. Then we spy a magnificent tree standing alone and it is breathtaking. We love to take hikes and smell the unique essence of fallen leaves as they crunch and whisper beneath our feet. We begin to smell snow in the air and prepare for winter. In several months, we will be looking eagerly for the bright green leaves that indicate spring is coming and for the first shoots of summer pushing out of the ground. All this beauty is our indication of the transition of seasons.

Here’s the Thing: Change begins as soon as we are born. This is good and as it should be. It is a sign of life and growth. I can get comfortable with certain seasons of my life and when I sense that something is changing, I can become a little anxious (or joyful, fearful, resigned, etc.) as I anticipate what it will mean. Often the future is not as clear as it is when the earth changes seasons. But it is a spiritual sensory experience. I am not as familiar with what the change will bring but I have a sense that it will require something different of me. Often it takes me awhile to come into agreement with what is coming. I may become contemplative, asking the Lord what all the signs of change mean. As I get an inkling of what is coming, I may dig in my heels to brake the advance. It will take time to let the Holy Spirit do His holy work to prepare me. Each season has a different preparation period and approach. The only constant in all this is the Holy Spirit who lives within me and leads me through it all.

I have been in a prolonged season of transition and still do not yet see exactly where it is all leading. My emotions and will have been all over the map. My activity levels seem to fluctuate as well while I am coming to terms with the inevitable new thing that is coming. I may isolate myself while I contemplate. I may dash around doing things I think are helpful in moving things along or just to not think about it at all.

But through it all I have learned to rely on the promises from the Promise Maker who is also my promise keeper (2 Peter 1:4). The Bible is full of promises from a loving Father as He moves within me to grow me into maturity in His truths. I have a favorite Bible verse that is like an anchor for my soul. It is found in Isaiah 33:6 “He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure.”. While my little life boat is feeling tossed around, this verse holds me and I know I am secure.

Perhaps there is one verse you like better than all the others, that speaks to you in all seasons and settles you down. Maybe your verses change with each season as you walk through life with Him. We can ask Him for one that will give us exactly what we need at every moment, that can be declared with confidence in its truth. While we cannot stop the inevitable life-giving changes, we can lean into Him with assurance that He never leaves us.

A friend pointed me to Psalm 139 today in The Passion Translation which I am speaking over my life today. “You know every step I will take before my journey even begins. You have gone into my future to prepare the way, and in kindness you follow behind me to spare me the harm of my past. With your hand of love upon my life, you impart a blessing to me.”  With this powerful declaration and God’s affirmation, I can breathe deeply in anticipation of new things to come.

I hope you are declaring His promises over your beautiful life today.

Blessings in His Name, Shirley.

Living In Hope

“The greatest disease in the West today is…being unwanted, unloved and uncared for…the only cure for loneliness, despair and hopelessness is love…it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.” ― Mother Teresa, “A Simple Path’”. The woman who wrote these profound words, which describe a lack of hope, had decided to meet these needs ‘one person at a time.’ And she did.

Here’s the Thing: Mother Theresa did more than infuse hope; she did whatever she could for the people she lived among. I have read she did this from a place of great personal spiritual struggle. A place of pain and doubt. She wrote: “I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing.” Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the “Saint of Calcutta”. Yet day after day, she chose to follow the Light she did not feel. She chose to live a life of generosity of spirit by the power of the Holy Spirit within her. Mother Teresa did all this mostly from a place of obscurity. Not many people followed her into the slums of Calcutta to exclaim over her sacrifice and cheer her on.

This is why I write so much about hope; the kind of hope we can only have in Christ Jesus. I remember a time when I was not filled with hope of a lasting nature. While it is true it was largely by my own choosing, it was still a painful place. Nobody gets to go through life unscathed by hardship and challenges. It is not some unusual place we find ourselves in. But we think it is. When we think we can go through life with no suffering of any kind, we deceive ourselves. It can lead us to embrace anger and hopelessness. ‘It is not fair’ we cry and we focus on our lack, comparing our situations to others outward appearances.

Hope is used in the bible 129 times with the meaning of confident expectation, patience and trust in God. This is why I write about Joseph, Sarah, Hagar, Abraham and all the others in Hebrews Hall of Fame chapter 11. It is because they were able to choose to follow the Light when they could not see or feel it and it encourages me to do the same. “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised…” v.13. It goes on to say that God was not ashamed to be represented by them on earth. Then we have the example of Christ who is able to understand our weakness because He lived in a human body like we do. He lives now to plead before the Father for us to be strengthened to endure. How can this not give us hope?

I learned recently that there is a place in the brain that lights up when we are hopeful. That place is right behind our eyes. It struck me that God intentionally created this place where hope is recognized, and then goes on to tell us what we hope for cannot be seen with our physical eyes-Heb 11:1. Hope based on external things we can see is not hope. Hope based on the promises of God which we cannot see is life giving and infuses us with strength. We are able to live fruitful lives in the middle of hardship and challenges because we have a Savior who in every way was tempted as we are. There is no place and no one on earth who can give us this type of encouragement except for Jesus. This is a very precious Treasure we have been given.

Then we will have the power to freely choose to live joyfully; steadfastly holding on to a living faith. We can look on the ones around us who are struggling and offer them hope with a generous spirit. We can ask God to give us eyes to see their pain and ears to hear their loneliness and fear. It may not be what we think it is. We can offer them what we can in whatever way He leads us, because He is our Hope.

So today, I pray for myself and for you that we will daily turn to the One who can give us a confident expectation and patience. He provides His company along the way as we offer, in kindness and generosity, this living Hope to others.

Blessings in His Name.

When Hope Trumps Despair

Consider Hagar, Sarah’s slave, introduced to us in Genesis 16. Hagar was in an impossible position. Sarah, in desperation, gave Hagar to Abraham to produce an heir (a common practice in that culture) and she conceived. Then she made the mistake of acting superior to Sarah. Sarah, resentful by this time, made life so unbearable for Hagar she fled into the desert. In this unlikely place, the seeds of hope were planted in Hagar which gave her the strength to go on. When she was alone and desperate God met her in the desert by a spring. He told her she would bear a son called Ishmael, which means “God will hear”, because He had heard her misery. She called the Lord who met her in her distress “You are the One who sees me”. The well she was resting by was even given a new name “The well of the Living One who sees me”. A new thing was started that day when despair was defeated by hope.

Have you ever noticed how many stories in the Bible tell of new beginnings? Earth is formed, human beings are created and new dynasties begin. People are sent into new places. A Child is given– the Son of God is born to bring peace between God and man. Men, women and children are given new hearts and renewed minds to follow God where ever He leads them. We await a new heaven and a new earth where the Son of God will rule in peace. It is all being made new. The Lord is always doing something new in our lives. Even His mercies are new every morning! Each new day offers a new hope in Him. Even those unhappy places we find ourselves waking up to have the potential for seeds of hope to be planted in them when we trust our lives to God in Christ Jesus.

I love the story of Hagar for its hope and restoration. I can look back on my life and remember the places where the Lord met me and renewed my trust in Him. He gave me hope to continue in difficult situations. He spoke Isaiah 42:9 to me “See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you”. I like that He did not gloss over that I had a past without considering Him. He made me look back briefly but not to dwell on it. Then He showed me a better way to live my life with His love and direction leading me forward. He loved me enough to tell me good things were coming even though I could not yet see them. He accepted me into a place of belonging and gave me hope.

Here’s the Thing: Sometimes ‘the new’ is thrust upon us and sometimes it is a gradual dawning that the Lord is doing something new. Every time I find myself in new circumstances or moving in a different direction, I struggle with where to begin. How do I do this thing I know little or nothing about? I have so many choices to make, all of them valid approaches. Because of Hagar’s story, I know ‘He will hear’ when I ask Him where to start and which path to take when there are choices. I ask God ‘who sees me’ to walk with me because He has already been to my future and knows the way. I rely heavily on the fact that He prepared in advance for me (Eph. 2:10). I trust that He will show me the things I do not know (Jer. 33:3) as I walk into unfamiliar places. He will provide the courage for He is with me wherever He leads (Joshua 1:9).

But before all this, I simply say ‘Yes, Lord’. This is the moment new hope puts down roots.