When God feels far away {Psalm 44}

Last year our college ministry spent the summer in the Psalms, and our staff directional team took turns writing devotionals for each Psalm that we covered. While I am on vacation this summer, I thought I’d share some of the devotionals I wrote. This one is on the fist half of Psalm44,  which you can read here.

Psalm 44 is categorized as a corporate lament – it is an expression of grief or anger, written to be expressed by a community, an assembly, a people. I feel very free to express my grief and questions to God on my own, but I see an honesty in the Lament Psalms (this one in particular) that makes me uncomfortable. Expressing this sort of honesty in public spaces, as a part of worship, feels unimaginable.

The Psalmist knows God’s history of goodness.

O God, we have heard with our ears, Our fathers have told us the work that You did in their days, In the days of old. You with Your own hand drove out the nations…For by their own sword they did not possess the land, and their own arm did not save them, but Your right hand and Your arm and the light of Your presence, for You favored them. (v.1-3)

This is the story of my people, the Psalmist cries. Those who came into blessing and victory not by might or by power, but by God’s spirit. And we – the Psalmist asserts – we will be a people who follow in those footsteps.

You are my King, O God; Command victories for Jacob. Through You we will push back our adversaries; Through Your name we will trample down those who rise up against us. For I will not trust in my bow, Nor will my sword save me. (v. 4-6)

The people of God expected victory. They expected the same outcome as their forefathers. But this is not a victory song.

Yet You have rejected us and brought us to dishonor, And do not go out with our armies. You cause us to turn back from the adversary; And those who hate us have taken spoil for themselves.

You give us as sheep to be eaten And have scattered us among the nations. You sell Your people cheaply, And have not profited by their sale. You make us a reproach to our neighbors, A scoffing and a derision to those around us. You make us a byword among the nations, A laughingstock among the peoples.

All day long my dishonor is before me and my humiliation has overwhelmed me… (v. 9-15)

We went went out in the name of our God and we have been brought low. We are God’s people and now we are a laughingstock, a reproach to the world. Why? Look at the first word in each those verses. You. You. You. You. You.

That is some real talk.

The Psalmist is accusing God of unfaithfulness, of being the source of their downfall. Is it OK to say that to a God you believe is GOOD?

I believe in God’s goodness. I hold tightly to God’s goodness. Reading Psalm 44, I want the Psalmist to turn the corner, to say that in the end of the story his people got the same outcome as their forefathers, “But your right hand and your arm and the light of Your presence saved them, for You favored them!” I want to shed some eternal perspective on this psalm.

But this is not a victory song. At this point in the Psalmist’s journey, overcoming was not his story (yet.) So he accuses and complains and laments.

And God apparently did not strike the Psalmist dead. As far as we know from Scripture, there’s no correction, no consequence for accusing God of abandoning His people. In fact, this Psalm and many like it were encased in Hebrew canon and then passed into Christian Holy Word.

As I read Psalm 44, I wonder how God felt, hearing his people sing this song.

How would He feel now if I were to be honest about my response to bad news and the current state of the world? If I publicly expressed that it feels like He has abandoned us and is allowing His people to be a laughingstock and reproach among the nations?

How did God feel, and how would He feel now?

Mad? Disappointed? Wishing we had the eternal perspective to trust Him?

Maybe.

Or maybe God understands.

In His great heart of empathy and compassion, maybe God knows how far away He feels to us sometimes, as the result of the fallen world and the Genesis 3 knowledge of good and evil. Maybe His eternal heart has room for all of our pain and honesty and accusations.

Maybe this is the reason faith is required for relationship with God – not to earn eternity or grace from Him (as if we could earn anything). Maybe He knows that the realities of this fallen world make it awfully hard to trust a God who feels very far away sometimes.

Jesus on the cross echoes another lament Psalm, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Maybe, when we’re honest, God cries with us and whispers, wait.

 

If you’re interested in reading any of the other Psalms devotionals from last summer (I was very impressed with my coworkers’ writing skills, I really enjoyed every one of these!), you can look around over here.

What does a relationship centered on God look like?

Working with college students all these years, this is the number one question we get asked. Most Christian singles have been taught to seek a dating relationship (and someday marriage) that’s Christ-centered, but the church rarely defines what that actually means.

In my experience, most people define a God-centered relationship by outward activities. They they want to pray with the person they’re dating, do a Bible study together, maybe even serve together. Those things are all wonderful in their places. But I don’t think any of those things by themselves ensure a relationship centered on God.

Whatever you do or don’t do, a relationship centered on God can only happen between 2 people who are living their lives centered on God. So to have a Christ-centered dating relationship, YOU need to be focused on pursuing Christ, loving Him more and more every day, seeking Him in the Word, through prayer, through your relationships. And HE – the guy you’re dating –  needs to be focused on pursuing Christ, loving Him more and more every day, seeking Him in the Word, through prayer, through his relationships.

The only guarantee for a God-centered relationship is 2 people who separately are centering their lives on God. Continue reading

The Prayer That Never Fails

I’m pretty picky about Christian fiction (because I was an English major, and therefore a book snob), but there are a couple of Christian series that I really love.

One is the Mitford books, by Jan Karon ,  about Father Tim, an Episcopalian priest who lives in a small town in North Carolina. They are kind of old lady books, slow and sweet. But the characters are so well-drawn it feels like I’ve been to Mitford, NC and am friends with the people who live there. When characters die (from old age, usually, these aren’t really action & danger books), I cry like it was my Grandma.

The faith of the characters and their walks with the Lord are very subtle, sweetly woven into the fabric of the story. It’s kind of cheesy to say, since they’re fictional people: But I feel like their faith and hope have encouraged my own. One of the themes echoing throughout the series is “the prayer that never fails”…meaning “Your will be done” (from the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6.) Continue reading

Psalm 22: Abandoned and Rejected (is not the end of the story.)

Last year our college ministry spent the summer in the Psalms, and our staff directional team took turns writing devotionals for each Psalm that we covered. While I am on vacation this summer, I thought I’d share some of the devotionals I wrote. This one is on  Psalm 22, which you can read here.

As someone who remained single until her mid-30s while living in a college ministry world of people who often married at 22, I developed a lot of wedding pet peeves. There’s a wide world of stupid things commonly said to single people of a certain age at weddings: “When is it going to be your turn?” “Always the bridesmaid, never the bride!” and my favorite, “How come you’re not married?” I was always tempted to pretend to start crying and say, ”I guess no one wants me!” (I am not brave enough for that – I just went with the awkward smile and shrug.)

Thoughtless comments are annoying, but what was communicated in wedding ceremonies themselves sometimes (unintentionally) hurt more: Stories of answered prayer, thanksgiving for God’s faithfulness, the idea that this bride and groom were receiving God’s greatest blessing because “it is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Sitting in wedding after wedding as a single woman who had long prayed and trusted God with her singleness, and who deeply longed for marriage and motherhood, all of that “glory to God” felt like salt in a wound. It made me cry out in my heart, “WHAT ABOUT ME?”

The memory of that pain gives me a tiny glimpse into the bitter lament that opens Psalm 22, a raw cry of pain. Continue reading

Psalm 18: Face Your Fears

Last year our college ministry spent the summer in the Psalms, and our staff directional team took turns writing devotionals for each Psalm that we covered. While I am on vacation this summer, I thought I’d share some of the devotionals I wrote. This one is on the second half of Psalm 18,  which you can read here.

After becoming a Christian halfway through college, I was introduced to the concept of getting out of my comfort zone. Fear has always been a big issue for me, and as a young believer I latched onto the idea of trusting God enough to try things that scare me.

As I approached my last summer in college, I had one PE requirement to fulfill. Since I have been deathly afraid of heights my whole life, I decided to take a class called Venture Dynamics – a “Challenge Ropes Course” class that’s still offered at my university, and is described as “designed to increase a student’s sense of personal worth and esteem, promote personal and group interaction, and develop an increased awareness of one’s physical self.” I had no idea how far out of my comfort zone this class would take me. Continue reading

5 Ways to Thrive This Summer

Guest Posting on the Lincoln Berean Women’s Ministry EquipHer blog today!

My dream for summer is sunshine, rest, and lazy days (or at least a more relaxed schedule). I crave extra time to connect with family and friends and neighbors, to travel, to invest in the things that matter to me most.

Glory!

But too often my summer dreams fall short of reality. Faced with more free time and the idea that I have all day to get things done . . . I get nothing done. When I release myself from the schedule required in the fall, winter & spring, I also tend to release the habits and routines that help me to thrive.

2 weeks into summer, surely I am not the only one already sliding into this trap?

Maybe summer brings a drastic change in routine for you. Or perhaps you’re a stay-at-home mom with small children, and the only change summer brings is heat. Or you have a job that doesn’t change or flex when summer rolls around.

Whether or not the season changes our weekly routines, we can ask:

How can I thrive this summer?

I’m focusing on 5 things as my prescription for thriving this summer.

Read the rest on EquipHerLife.Com

Psalm 18: A Fire & Brimstone God?

Last year our college ministry spent the summer in the Psalms, and our staff directional team took turns writing devotionals for each Psalm that we covered. While I am on vacation this summer, I thought I’d share some of the devotionals I wrote. This first one is on Psalm 18,  which you can read here.

“I love You, O Lord, my strength.” 

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge;

My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, And I am saved from my enemies.

Psalm 18 opens with a beautiful summary of David’s relationship to God, then moves in for a closer look at enemies and danger he faced. The picture the Psalm paints is of surging waters, a hunter’s trap. David found himself in danger that felt like being in a dry streambed during a thunderstorm, finding a wall of water raging toward you. Or like trying to choose your steps wisely while walking through a field of traps laid by hunters.

Do you relate to David? Have you ever found yourself in a physical or emotional situation that felt like a mine field, like danger is rushing toward you and there is no escape?

David’s response to this danger was to call upon the Lord.

In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried to my God for help;

He heard my voice out of His temple, and my cry for help before Him came into His ears.

 When you cry out to the Lord, how do you picture Him responding?

To be honest, I sometimes picture God like a switch board operator, and I’m one of 8 million calls on hold. Or I see my prayer as a little wispy thing floating up to the invisible, hoping that it will be heard.

How would you expect God to respond to the danger in which David was in?

David describes God’s response to his cry for help using a poetic picture in verses 7 – 15: Then the earth shook and quaked; And the foundations of the mountains were trembling and were shaken, because He was angry. Smoke went up out of His nostrils, and fire from His mouth devoured; Coals were kindled by it…

The picture David paints is of an immediate response. And to be honest, it is a more violent response than I’d expect. Earthquake. Smoke and fire. Riding on darkness. Thunder, hailstones and coals of fire.

David – a military man, a commander and warrior before he even became king – presents a military picture of God’s response. This is literally a fire and brimstone picture of God.

Is this a comforting image for you? How does it feel to read this description of an angry God, coming on clouds of smoke and fire to lay bare the foundations of the earth?

I asked my Facebook friends what comes to people’s mind when they hear “fire and brimstone” and the responses were all negative. Judgment. Wrath. Shame. Fear. A God who is out to GET you.

I don’t like this view of God. Shame and fear have no place in a conversation about a God who went into death itself to rescue us from shame, fear, and the wrath of hell.

God is not out to get us.

So what do we do with the fire and brimstone picture of God in Psalm 18?

Look again at David’s situation. Imagine what it felt like to face such tremendous danger. What would it feel like to be so oppressed, hunted, surrounded…and then to see this God blazing toward you? To rescue you.

David isn’t painting a picture of a God who is out to get him.

His picture is of God coming TO him. God coming to rescue him.

Suddenly, the fire and thunder and immediacy of God’s response is a comfort. A reason for thanks and praise and celebration. Our God is a rescuer, and this psalm is a beautiful picture of His response to the injustice and evil that oppress.

Think about the danger and oppression – physical and spiritual – that you most dread. Picture your deepest shames, your greatest fears, the enemies of your soul surrounding you and closing in. Then read Psalm 18: 7-15 again:

Then the earth shook and quaked; And the foundations of the mountains were trembling And were shaken, because He was angry.

Smoke went up out of His nostrils, And fire from His mouth devoured; Coals were kindled by it.

He bowed the heavens also, and came down With thick darkness under His feet.

He rode upon a cherub and flew; And He sped upon the wings of the wind.

He made darkness His hiding place, His canopy around Him, Darkness of waters, thick clouds of the skies.

From the brightness before Him passed His thick clouds, Hailstones and coals of fire.

The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered His voice, Hailstones and coals of fire.

He sent out His arrows, and scattered them, and lightning flashes in abundance, and routed them.

Then the channels of water appeared, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at Your rebuke, O Lord, At the blast of the breath of Your nostrils.

When you call out to God, is this how you picture Him responding to you, for you?

Can you see Him as a God who blazes to your rescue?

Do we believe that THIS is God’s heart toward those who are outcasts, endangered by the power structures in our empires? This is God’s heart for the oppressed. This is His promise:

He sent from on high, He took me; He drew me out of many waters.

He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.

They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my stay.

He brought me forth also into a broad place; He rescued me, because He delighted in me.

If you’re interested in reading any of the other Psalms devotionals from last summer (I was very impressed with my coworkers’ writing skills, I really enjoyed every one of these!), you can look around over here.

Saturdays are for Reading

Falling Free by Shannan MartinAs usual I am in the middle of multiple books. First up is Falling Free by Shannan Martin. I was in the middle of another book, but realized 4 days before it was due that someone else had requested this one, so I have to give it back (and the Lincoln Library only has one copy…)

I’m about halfway through, and I am LOVING it. This book has been hovering at the edges of my TBR for months, I wish I’d picked it up before now.

And I’m thinking I might have to buy a copy to keep. But the Kindle version has been on sale at least once in the last month, so I’m going to try to wait and see if it goes on sale again. But this is a book that is begging to be highlighted and written in.

A beautifully written spiritual memoir, Shannan’s story is gentle and encouraging while also packing quite a punch:

We so often say we believe that there is no safer place than the center of God’s will, but we refuse to believe He would ever lead us to places o brokenness or danger.

Afflicted with relentless humanity, we view the world with person-eyes, then project what we see onto the flawless creator of the universe, assuming he operates as we do. We trick ourselves into thinking God is just a holier version of us – our brain, our worldview, none of the sinfulness. We forget that while we bear his image and harbor all his love, we can’t comprehend the scope of eternal reality from our anthill vantage point. We say we trust God’s will but feel so much better if we run ahead of him with our dustpan and broom, doing what we can to eliminate pain and minimize risk. (Shannan Martin, Falling Free)

 

Once I’m done with Falling Free, I’ll go back to Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines that Shape the Church for Mission. I’m reading this one for work/ministry and so far, it’s the best book I’ve read about living on mission (and I’ve read a lot): It focuses less on the mission and more on the presence of God. Because God’s mission is to spread awareness of His presence here on earth, and it’s about Him, not us. So good.

When Breath Becomes Air has been on my TBR for nearly a year, and I finally picked it up. I have so many questions: How is a neurosurgeon such a breathtakingly good writer?? Why are we so heavily invested in avoiding the truth that physical death is inevitable, how we all will end? And how can a book about death (you know at the outset that the author is already gone) be so hopeful and life-affirming?

When I finish these, have a whole stack lined up for summer reading.

Since I enjoyed Deidra Rigg’s ONE: Unity in a Divided World so much, I want to read her first book, Every Little Thing (which is sitting and waiting on my shelf.)

I’ve also requested a stack of fiction from the library. I’m DYING to read The Hate U Give, but I’ve been inching up the hold list for months. I am a little irritated that the Lincoln Library only has a few copies of such a buzzed about YA novel.

I just got a notice that Lady Cop Makes Trouble  is waiting for me. Isn’t that a great title? It’s the sequel to Girl Waits with Gun, which was the first book I read this year and which I quite enjoyed. These  fictional stories are based on what is known about the first female police detective in the US, I think the titles might both be from actual newspaper headlines in the early 1900s.

I’m waiting on a couple of other YA novels that look like great poolside reads:

One of Us is Lying, which is labeled as “Pretty Little Liars meets The Breakfast Club.” This mystery might end up being too intense for me, but they had me at Breakfast Club.

And my first pick from Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Summer Reading Guide:  When Dimple Met Rishi is a frothy looking YA romance about Indian-American teenagers who are set up to be in an arranged marriage – only one of them knows about the arrangement, and the other does not. It sounds delightful, but I’ve got quite a bit of teen romance going on right in my own house, so we’ll see if I can take it in my fiction too.

What are you reading right now? And what are you looking forward to reading this summer?

What I'm Reading Right Now

What’s working for me (June 2017)

Do you make New Year’s Resolutions?

They get a bad rap, but I love resolutions. New Year’s Eve is often the hardest day of the year for me, but I LOVE New Year’s Day. I love the idea of a fresh start, a new beginning. I like goals, I like lists, I like personal growth.

Over the years of making resolutions I’ve learned a few things about myself:

  • I like the process of making goals a LOT more than I like the daily process of making decisions in order to meet my goals. It helps me to think in terms of habits rather than resolutions.
  • I like giant elaborate plans, and I don’t tend to do anything unless I can do it big. But change happens when you make small deposits over a long period of time. So rather than falling in love with my big plans, I need to think about the small daily habits I want to commit to.

Because of this, I’ve changed the way I think about goals and resolutions. I used to work through an elaborate goal setting activity (which I still love, but it’s just not where I am anymore.) This year I thought through my goals and habits along the framework of what is working for me and what is not working for me.

Since we’re halfway through the year today, it’s a good time to take stock and ask myself again:

What’s working for me?

Continue reading

Better than Jesus? (Pentecost & the coming of the Holy Spirit)

 

We want a Jesus we can feel and see and touch, we want to know that He is with us. Over my years with college girls, I’ve lost count of how many have said to me, “I know God loves me, but I want something more. I want a love I can feel, arms around me, a hand to hold.” I have felt that myself.

And over the centuries, the words of Jesus echo

I am with you, always.

On Sunday the Christian church around the world will celebrate Pentecost, remembering the day the resurrected Christ fulfilled His promise to send a Helper, a means through which God’s people could live always with His presence.

 

The disciples had Jesus. The presence of God right in front of them. They could see, hear, touch God.

But Jesus said there was something better. Better than Jesus? Better than God right in front of them, God they could see with their eyes, touch with their hands, hear with their ears?

“I didn’t tell you this earlier because I was with you every day. But now I am on my way to the One who sent me. Not one of you has asked, ‘Where are you going?’ Instead, the longer I’ve talked, the sadder you’ve become. So let me say it again, this truth: It’s better for you that I leave. If I don’t leave, the Friend won’t come. But if I go, I’ll send him to you. (John 16:4-7, The Message)

Do we believe this? I see the promise right there in my Bible. But it doesn’t seem possible that what we have  is better than what the disciples had. Could it be possible that Jesus has kept His promise to be with us, always?

As we long for something more, something better, is it possible that we already have what we need?

Pentecost is not a holiday I have ever celebrated, never mentioned in my church tradition. And I wonder, why not? At Christmas, we celebrate God with Us. Through Lent and Easter, we meditate on what Jesus did on the cross. But Jesus Himself says something better is coming. Continue reading