TOO HEAVY

My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. [Isaiah 55:8-9 (NLT)]

mockingbirdAfter Jane Marczweski’s stunning performance on America’s Got Talent last June, I posted a devotion (It’s Okay) about her. Known as Nightbirde, the 30-year-old vocalist (and three-time cancer survivor) sang an original song called “It’s Okay” and received the “golden buzzer” from judge Simon Cowell. Last week, the brave young woman had to withdraw from the competition because her health has taken a turn for the worse. In an interview on CNN with Chris Cuomo, she shared that her metastatic breast cancer has now invaded both lungs and liver and her fight with cancer is demanding all of her energy and attention.

When we see a young person like Nightbirde, a beautiful person both inside and out who seems so deserving of good future, it’s easy to ask the age-old question of “Why?” Why do some of the best people, the ones with the most to offer, seem to suffer the most or have their futures cut short when many of the worst and worthless seem to breeze along without a problem? Why, when life begins to look up does God so often pull out the rug? “Life doesn’t always give breaks to those that deserve it,” said the singer while adding, “but we knew that already.” Indeed, we did; nevertheless, we don’t like it!

When Cuomo asked Nightbirde if she ever wonders, “Why?” the young woman replied, “I try not to occupy myself with questions that are too big for myself to answer. It’s a waste of time. You know, just because it’s a mystery doesn’t mean it’s the absence of meaning. Sometimes, the mystery means there is more meaning there than we can even understand and so I accept that and I let go of the question because it’s too heavy.”

Indeed, much in our lives seems inexplicable and far beyond our comprehension. But, as the young singer pointed out, incomprehensible or unknowable doesn’t mean meaningless or pointless. It’s a mystery why Nightbirde’s promising future probably will be cut short; then again, it’s a mystery why my mother died when I was fifteen, why my brother was struck with inoperable cancer at the moment his life finally took an upturn after years of trouble, and why the God-fearing believers on my prayer list have been burdened with things like mesothelioma, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, MS, schizophrenia, and chronic pain. This young woman’s words remind us all that our lack of understanding of God’s purpose doesn’t mean that what happens is without meaning.

I can’t understand quantum physics any more than I can understand the ways of God. The difference between the two is that, given enough time, effort, and tutoring, I eventually could understand quantum physics but I will never be able to fully understand God. While we can come to know and love Him, we never will be able to comprehend His mysterious ways. Indeed, some questions are so weighty that we’d never make sense of God’s answer even if He explained it to us!

This optimistic young woman says she’s planning for her future rather than her legacy and says, “I want to be the bird that sings in anticipation of the good things that I trust are coming.” As a Christian, Nightbirde doesn’t need to ask God “Why?” because she knows good things are coming, whether in this world or the next!

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice? And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back? For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen. [Romans 11:33-36 (NLT)]

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FAITHFUL AND ABLE

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through? [Numbers 23:19 (NLT)]

 I will look up for there is none above you;
I will bow down to tell you that I need you.
Jesus, Lord of all; Jesus, Lord of all!
I will look back and see that you are faithful;
I look ahead believing you are able.
Jesus, Lord of all; Jesus, Lord of All!
[I Will Look Up (Redman, Ingram, Joye, Brown, Brock)]

columbineIn our family, the car’s driver controls the music. Since my husband usually drives, that tends to be ‘50s and ‘60s rock. My thrice weekly chiropractor appointments, however, have given me the opportunity to listen to worship music rather than golden oldies. Last week, while alone in the car, I joined with Elevation Worship as they sang of laying the worries of the world, the needs of their loved ones, their hopes and dreams, and every anxious thought at God’s feet. “I will look back and see that you are faithful; I look ahead believing you are able!” Those words are so true and yet I frequently forget to look back to God’s past provision or ahead with trust that He is able to provide exactly what is needed.

Singing, “All my life is in your hands,” I wondered if we truly believe that. After laying our worries at His feet, do we ever doubt His faithfulness and ability, pick them up, and take them back again? Do we have reservations about our incredibly faithful and overwhelmingly able God because we know how fallible and incompetent we often are? My life is filled with a series of mishaps, misunderstandings, and failures and I suspect yours is, too. We misplace our phones and have to call ourselves to find them. We read the words “dry clean only” but toss the sweater into the washer. We proof-read a dozen times only to find mistakes in the finished product and write grocery lists but leave them at home. We miss appointments, arrive late, and don’t return calls. We mean to do a task but forget and often claim to know what we’re doing when we haven’t a clue. We promise but disappoint, plan but fail to carry out, and our repairs frequently make the problem worse. We say we’ll pray for someone and don’t, intend to write a letter but never get around to it, or get exasperated when we mean to be calm. That’s not even mentioning the other assorted betrayals, deceit, debacles, and transgressions of which we’re all capable. Knowing how incredibly unreliable and faithless we can be, we often doubt God. God, however, is perfect—we, most certainly, are not!

Hearing the words, “I will look back and see He is faithful,” I did just that. I looked back and saw God’s faithfulness to me in every crisis and dark valley I’ve encountered. From Genesis through Revelation, we see God’s faithfulness to His children and, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus we see His promises fulfilled. Flawed beings that we are, we’re often unfaithful to our promises or unable to fulfill them but our perfect God is both faithful to His promises and more than able to fulfill every one! Although I’ve failed the ones I love and, at times, they’ve failed me, God never has and never will!

Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands. [Deuteronomy 7:9 (NLT)]

Your eternal word, O Lord, stands firm in heaven. Your faithfulness extends to every generation, as enduring as the earth you created. [Psalm 119:89-90 (NLT)]

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SHOW US

Always celebrate, never stop praying; in everything be thankful (this is God’s will for you in the Messiah Jesus). [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NTE)]

green heronEarlier this week, I wrote about the ten Boom sisters giving thanks in their horrible circumstances. Because of the physical pain I’ve been experiencing these last several weeks, I know how easy it is to talk the talk but how hard it is to actually walk it. Indeed, when you’re hurting, giving thanks in all circumstances is far easier said than done.

1 Thessalonians 5:18, however, doesn’t say we must give thanks for everything; we are to give thanks in everything and there’s a big difference between the two. Knowing that God’s love and mercies never cease and that we are His well-loved children, even though we don’t welcome our circumstances, we can be thankful in them. Even when we can’t see His purpose in our present situation, we know that God is intimately involved in them and is working for our good through them. We can be thankful that we are not facing our affliction alone. Jesus was with Corrie and Betsie ten Boom in Ravensbrück, He’s here with me, and He’s there beside you wherever and whatever you’re going through. Knowing this enables us to give thanks in all circumstances!

While writing about Betsie and Corrie ten Boom, I remembered Betsie’s response to Corrie when she asked how they could live in the deplorable conditions of the Ravensbrück concentration camp. Rather than answering her sister, Betsie immediately started to pray, but she didn’t ask God to change their situation. Instead, she simply asked God to show them how to live in their present one; “Show us. Show us how,” she prayed.

Recalling Betsie ten Boom’s prayer of “Show us,” I realized that, along with discerning God’s purpose for my pain and giving thanks in my circumstances, I needed to ask Him to show me how to function in my new normal. If given a choice, I wouldn’t have selected back and neck pain from life’s menu but my pastor friend wouldn’t have chosen stage-4 cancer nor would my sister have selected MS. The ten Boom sisters wouldn’t have chosen a concentration camp and none of us would have selected a pandemic. As unwanted as they were, however, they were what we got. Let us graciously accept them as we ask for God’s guidance and the power to live in them. Someday, it all will make sense. Until that time, as we wonder how we can function in our difficult circumstances, we can pray Betsie’s prayer: “Show us. Show us how.” God answered me and He will answer you!

There is nothing—no circumstance, no trouble, no testing—that can ever touch me until, first of all, it has gone past God and past Christ right through to me. If it has come that far, it has come with a great purpose, which I may not understand at the moment. But as I refuse to become panicky, as I lift up my eyes to Him and accept it as coming from the throne of God for some great purpose of blessing to my own heart, no sorrow will ever disturb me, no circumstance will cause me to fret, for I shall rest in the joy of what my Lord is—that is the rest of victory! [Alan Redpath]

For this reason we don’t lose heart. Even if our outer humanity is decaying, our inner humanity is being renewed day by day. This slight momentary trouble of ours is working to produce a weight of glory, passing and surpassing everything, lasting for ever; for we don’t look at the things that can be seen, but at the things that can’t be seen. After all, the things you can see are here today and gone tomorrow; but the things you can’t see are everlasting. [2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NTE)]

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HIS MEGAPHONE

We know, in fact, that God works all things together for good to those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. [Romans 8:28 (NTE)]

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world. [C.S. Lewis]

columbineWhen we’re hurting, it’s not easy to reconcile how an entirely good, ever-loving, and all-powerful God can allow pain and suffering. The simplest answer is that, since He gave us free will, we can’t hold Him responsible for what mankind has done with that free will. We can’t blame God for global warming, tooth aches, concentration camps, genocide, cancer, red tide, wars, tornadoes, torn ligaments, or rising COVID cases. We alone are the ones responsible for mankind’s poor choices and the disease, death, destruction, and suffering that have accompanied us since we were evicted from Eden.

Pain tells us something is wrong and often begins with little nudges, ones that are easy to disregard. However, when the pain gets bad enough, it can’t be ignored. C.S. Lewis calls pain God’s “megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” I don’t know how well the world is listening to Him but I know that my recent issues with neck and back pain got my attention!

While discerning the physical reason for my pain was relatively easy, I suspected there was more to it than arthritis, herniated discs, bone spurs, ergonomics, posture, and too many hours at the computer. God doesn’t haphazardly distribute pain and trials. If pain is God’s way of getting our attention, we need to understand what God is telling us with it—to discern God’s purpose so that we can get on board with His plan.

A little soul searching and prayer told me that it wasn’t just my body that had gotten out of alignment—so had my priorities. Like the busy Martha, I’d lost sight of Jesus while serving Him. I’d been busy asking what God wanted me to do for Him when I should have been asking what He wanted to do with me. My pain knocked me to my knees in such a way that I had to surrender to God, abide in Him, and trade self-sufficiency for God-dependence.

Pain and adversity in our fallen world can’t be avoided. Perfect health isn’t promised any more than are perfect marriages, spouses, children, weather, or jobs. When God gets out His megaphone, we must step back to get some perspective so that, instead of focusing on what is happening to us, we can discern how God is using the circumstances for us.

“If this is the worst thing that’s happened to me, I’m way ahead of the game,” said a friend who is enduring her own share of pain. That sort of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it? One glance at the people on my prayer list tells me it could be far worse! In the meantime, may we always remember that it is God’s presence in our painful circumstances that gives them meaning.

God has no pleasure in afflicting us, but He will not keep back even the most painful chastisement if He can but thereby guide His beloved child to come home and abide in the beloved Son. [Andrew Murray]

Though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink, he will still be with you to teach you. You will see your teacher with your own eyes. Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left. [Isaiah 30:20-21 (NLT)]

In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. [1 Peter 5:10 (NLT)]

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IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (ESV)]

Writing about pesky mosquitoes yesterday reminded me of a story told by Corrie ten Boom in her book The Hiding Place. As part of the Dutch resistance during World War II, Corrie’s family harbored Jews and others hunted by the Gestapo in their home. After being betrayed by a Dutch informant, the ten Boom family was arrested and imprisoned. Corrie and her sister Betsie ended up in the Ravensbrück concentration camp. That first night, as they shared a bed in the crowded barracks, Corrie discovered their bedding was infested with fleas. Betsie reminded her sister of the Scripture passage they’d read that morning from 1 Thessalonians: “Give thanks in all circumstances.” As they began praying, Betsie listed the things for which they could give thanks, such as their remaining together and having smuggled a Bible into the barracks. But, when she mentioned the fleas, Corrie’s response was, “There’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.” Betsie explained that the verse said all circumstances and not just the pleasant ones, so Corrie reluctantly joined her in a prayer of thanksgiving that even included the fleas.

With their hidden Bible, the ten Boom sisters offered strength, comfort, and clandestine Bible studies in their barracks. Such gatherings were strictly forbidden and the women feared their meetings and secret Bible would be discovered. For some unknown reason, however, the German guards never entered the women’s sleeping room or searched their belongings and Corrie often wondered why. She later discovered that the guards kept their distance because they were terrified of getting fleas from the prisoners’ mattresses or clothing! Upon learning this, Corrie truly was thankful for the fleas in their beds!

As difficult as it is to thank God for the nuisances of life like mosquitoes and fleas, it is even harder to be thankful in the midst of the injury, pain, discomfort, loss, and trials that comes with our fallen world. From our viewpoint, we see our challenges as afflictions that must be borne. Perhaps we should consider looking at them through God’s eyes and seeing them simply as well-disguised blessings given out of love. Unlike Corrie, while we’re on this side of the grass, we may never discover the blessing in the fleas and other afflictions but, someday, we will meet the Lord face to face and finally understand.

Happiness isn’t something that depends on our surroundings. It’s something we make inside ourselves. [Corrie ten Boom]

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV)]

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MOSQUITOES AND GILA MONSTERS

Gila monsterGod saw all that he had made, and it was very good. [Genesis 1:31a (NIV)]

Although mosquitoes serve as food for birds, bats and fish, most scientists agree that the world would be no worse off if they disappeared; in fact, many think our planet might be a far healthier place if they did! As I dab cortisone on my swelling bites, I can’t help but wonder whether our perfect God made a big mistake when He made the mosquito.

Then again, if you’ve been bitten by a Gila monster or a venomous snake or spider, you might be questioning God’s wisdom in creating them. Yet, while Gila monster venom can be fatal, it is used to treat all sorts of medical conditions. Exenatide, used in treating diabetes, is a synthetic form of a chemical found in Gila monster saliva. Chemicals in their venom can also stop the growth of certain cancer cells. Although there are around 50,000 fatalities from poisonous snake bites each year, the venom from some of those snakes is saving lives. Drugs that treat high blood pressure, angina, and other heart conditions have been developed from the venom of the Brazilian pit viper, pigmy rattlesnake, and saw-scaled viper. I don’t much care for spiders but a substance found in scorpion venom helps identify cancerous cells in the brain and a drug developed from the Chilean rose tarantula’s venom is now used to treat Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Those suffering from chronic pain may be surprised to learn that any of seven different compounds in the venom of some 80 spider species might be giving them relief by blocking nerve activity. Apparently, God knew exactly what He was doing when he created these venomous creatures. It’s just taken mankind a little time to figure out how to create something good out of them.

After unsuccessfully searching for something good to say about mosquitoes, I have to agree with scientist Norbert Becker’s words: “Mosquitoes are the most dangerous animals confronting mankind.” I may be annoyed by some swelling and itching but, every year, more than a million people die and hundreds of thousands are incapacitated by mosquito-borne diseases like malaria, West Nile virus, encephalitis, dengue fever, yellow fever, and the Zika virus. Sadly, every two minutes, another child dies of malaria.

Mosquitoes truly seem to be the bane of our existence and I don’t understand why they came to exist. If we think back to Eden, however, it was perfect; all was good and mosquitoes wouldn’t have bothered Adam and Eve. It was through our first parents’ disobedience that disease and death came into the world. Maybe, every mosquito bite is just God’s way of reminding us to obey Him. Perhaps, hidden inside the mosquito is a positive purpose and God just is waiting for us to discover it as we have with venomous lizards, snakes, and spiders. Then again, perhaps God is challenging us to find a way of preventing those mosquito-borne diseases by supporting research, funding clinics and education, or making donations to organizations that provide insecticide-treated bed nets to third-world nations. I don’t know.

As much as I hate mosquitoes, I will not make Job’s mistake and question God’s wisdom or plan. I will trust that He has a purpose for everything and accept that we are supposed to thank and praise Him in all things, not just the ones we like or understand.

Thank you, Heavenly Father for all of your creation—not just the butterflies, song birds, and wildflowers but also the spiders, venomous lizards and snakes, poison ivy, ragweed, fire ants, sand flies, and mosquitoes. We don’t always appreciate your idea of blessings but will trust that you, in your infinite and loving wisdom, know what you are doing!

The Lord said to Job: “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!” Then Job replied to the Lord: … Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. [Job 40:1-2,42:1,3 (NIV)]

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