"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'"
August 17, 2016
I had this week's devotional written, but as I was praying this morning, I felt led to go a different direction. Perhaps there is someone who will read this newsletter, who needs what the Holy Spirit is speaking to my heart. I've written on this subject in the past, but I know that it's something that I need to be reminded of from time to time.
There are times when life is tough, when life stinks, and when life doesn't make sense. That's the honest truth! None of us have, or are promised, a perfect, problem-free, hassle-free, stress-free existence, while on earth. That doesn't mean that every day is filled with problems or difficulties; but we will all face tough situations, that generally are unexpected and take us by surprise. Often, life doesn't seem or feel fair!
The first real-life experience that I had with this was when Mama was diagnosed with colon cancer. It didn't feel fair that Mama had to be sick, in and out of the hospital, and suffer pain. It certainly didn't feel fair when she wasn't healed and died when I was 15. For many years afterwards, I battled with having faith when praying for the healing of others. When I heard testimonies of miracles and answered prayers, I felt as if I perhaps had not had enough faith or had done something wrong, causing God to not hear or answer my prayer for Mama. I didn't necessarily struggled with my salvation or knowing that I was saved; but I had a hard time asking God for anything else, afraid that He would let me down (again) and not answer my prayer. Over time, I matured in my faith and trust in God. As I grew older, I became more aware of the battles that so many others go through, and came to the realization that life just isn't fair at times. That doesn't mean that God has abandoned or forgotten the one who is going through a distressing situation; but it's part of the journey we all go through while on earth.
There are so many situations that I can't even begin to explain and fail to comprehend the "whys". Truthfully, it's not my job to understand and explain; but it is my responsibility to trust God and hold fast to my faith in Him.
I don't understand why one of my sisters and three of my nieces miscarried or had their babies die in their womb. It makes no sense to me why some women who desperately want to get pregnant and have her own baby can't do so; while other women who have no sense of responsibility and don't even want their babies and get them taken away from them, seem to have one baby after another.
I don't understand why some are miraculously spared in car accidents, while others lose their lives. It's the same with other catastrophes that occur.
I don't know why some marriages are on the brink of divorce and God intervenes and miraculously brings the couple back together and their home is preserved; while thousands of other homes suffer the heartbreak of divorce.
I've heard testimonies from men and women in the Teen Challenge program whose lives were in a huge downward spiral and they were on the verge of being sent to prison with a long sentence, but God miraculously intervened and they were spared from having to go. Others had their offenses suspended and their records erased. Wow, that's awesome! But then there are many other people who did similar acts, it brought them to a place of repentance and change and they surrendered their heart to God; yet, they had to serve their prison or jail sentence, and have it ongoing on their record. God didn't miraculously spare them and expunge their record.
There have been stories of individuals who were on the verge of suicide, but something happened or they heard God speak to them, and their lives were spared and it was life-changing. Then there are others who, in a moment of hopelessness and despair, take their life.
Several years ago, I had a lady, who was battling cancer, tell me that her church had just finished wonderful revival services, where many miracles had occurred and lives were changed. There was another lady in attendance who had miraculously been healed from cancer, yet this particular woman wasn't . She said, "I don't understand why I wasn't healed, too! I feel like I had faith and believed that God was able to heal me." A few months later, she passed away.
I'm not writing this to make you feel hopeless or depressed! I'm writing this to hopefully help you understand that when you go through difficulties, it isn't always going to be easy to understand. There's not always going to be a black and white answer that makes perfect sense. God may not always explain Himself to you. But, know that you are not alone! Your situation is not without hope. You are not the only person who has faced battles and felt overwhelmed. We may not always talk about it, but we've all faced hard times.
Not every mom and dad have perfect children who always make wise choices. There are some parents who suffer (sometimes silently) with the heartbreak of the choices or acts of disobedience or rebellion that their son or daughter has made. Sadly, the same could be said about parents. Not all parents are responsible and make wise decisions; and it can tear a family apart and cause turmoil and pain.
Making unwise choices, with consequences, is nothing new. We've all sinned and disobeyed God from time to time. We've all done things, without thinking about the possible repercussions. Sometimes, the difficulties we're going through is because of our own stupidity and unwise choices.
When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, I honestly don't think that they had any idea how far-reaching that one act of disobedience would be. God told them, don't eat the fruit from that one particular tree. Satan tempted them, they gave into that temptation and disobeyed God, and it affected all mankind from that moment on. They were used to God coming and walking in the garden with them in the cool of the evenings. Perhaps they thought that they would take one bite of the fruit, then ask forgiveness that evening when God showed up. Perhaps they didn't look any further than that moment and just enjoyed the taste of the fruit. They didn't stop and take the time to analyze the consequences for their disobedience. They didn't consider that they'd be banned from Eden and never be able to return. They didn't know the consequences that would affect every other man and women who lived thereafter. They didn't stop and think about the fact that partaking of the forbidden fruit would bring separation between them and God. In that one moment, they were tempted and made the wrong choice.
Haven't we all done similar? We know what's right and wrong, but make the wrong choice. In that moment, we often don't stop to analyze the consequences of our action. We are tempted and let our emotions overrule our conscience. Then we are faced with the repercussion of our choice. That can cause a lot of heartache and hurt, after the fact; not only to ourself, but to others, too. We then find ourselves in the middle of a tough situation that we never intended to be in. Even though we repent and ask God to forgive us, we often have to deal with the consequences of our sin.
It's easy for us to blame Adam and Eve for all of our problems. If ONLY they hadn't eaten the forbidden fruit, our life would be absolutely problem-free and perfect! But can we honestly say that we wouldn't have done the same, had we been in their shoes? If we had been there in that perfect place, walking and talking with God daily, being the first ones to witness all that God had created; yet there was just that one little thing that we knew we weren't supposed to do; would we have been able to resist temptation? Daily walking by that tree and seeing the beauty of it.... tasting all the deliciousness of everything else within the garden.... wondering what the fruit from that one tree would taste like.... not having ever been witness to or experiencing sin, so having no concept of what the consequences would be or how it would feel to be separated from God. We all make ungodly, sinful choices; even when we know it's wrong. So what would have stopped us from behaving as Adam and Eve did?
It's easy to cast blame, not only on Adam and Eve, but in our difficulties. We can't figure out or comprehend why something bad has happened or why we're going through what we are, so we start analyzing and trying to find a reason. We may blame ourself. "If only, I'd done something different...." "If I'd only not argued or spoken in anger...." If I'd been more patient and shown more love...." "If only I'd taken better care of myself..." We can't zero in on a specific reason why something has happened or why we're dealing with adversity or why the heartbreaking situation has occurred, so we start blaming ourself, looking for something tangible to explain it away. If that doesn't work, then we often start looking for someone else to blame. I heard a minister speak about this recently. I can't remember his words verbatim, but basically he said that blame is not from God. He never intended us to cast blame on ourself (or others). All blame does is heap guilt upon ourselves, and makes a bad situation even worse.
Regardless of whether it was self-inflicted or life-inflicted, there are going to be times when the situation we find ourselves in will be tough. We may feel ill-prepared for what we're faced with. We may cry and pray and question, and not ever truly understand why God isn't delivering us or providing a miracle. More times than not, we have to go through the difficult times; God doesn't provide a route of escape around them.
When I've faced overwhelming or heartbreaking or difficult situations, this is the scripture that often comes to mind: "'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)
This is a concept that became ingrained in Job's heart and something that he finally "got", towards the end of his time of testing. Job was having a conversation with God and said, "I know that You can do anything and no one can stop You. You asked, 'Who is this that questions My wisdom with such ignorance?' It is I -- and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things too wonderful for me." (Job 42:2-3 NLT)
God spoke the heavens and earth into existence, as well as created man, within the space of 7 days. (Genesis chapter 1) He parted the Red Sea and held back the waters so that the Israelites could cross over on dry ground, in order to escape from the Egyptians. (Exodus 14:21-22) When the Israelites were fighting the Amorites, Joshua prayed, and God caused the sun to stand still and the moon stayed in place until the nation of Israel had defeated its enemies. The sun stayed in the middle of the sky, and it did not set as on a normal day. (Joshua 10:13) God caused the walls of Jericho to fall, after the Israelites marched around them seven times. (Joshua chapter 6) God caused a big fish to be by the side of the ship when Jonah was thrown overboard. Jonah was in the belly of that big fish for 3 days and survived. (Book of Jonah) When Daniel was thrown into a den of lions, God shut the mouths of the lions and kept Daniel safe throughout the night. The next morning, not even a scratch was found on him. (Daniel 6:13-23) When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo were thrown into the blazing furnace (which was so hot that it killed the soldiers who threw them in), God was seen inside the furnace with them; all of them unbound, walking around, unharmed. When they walked out, their hair wasn't singed, their clothing wasn't scorched, and they didn't even smell of smoke. (Daniel 3:19-30) There are many other examples, found in the Bible, of God's ways exceeding man's thoughts or expectations.
God doesn't do things in the "normal" way. When we look at the examples found in His Word, we find that seldom does God prevent people from enduring hardships or facing difficulties; but they have to go through the midst of them. One thing that we can always see in these examples, though, is that God is always there when people are going through difficult situations. He never leaves or forsakes His children. He doesn't throw us "under the bus", so to speak, to see how strong or tough or independent we are. Yes, we all will face life situations that are tough and often don't make sense, but God will be faithful to always walk through those times with us.
God could have protected Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego so that they didn't have to be thrown into the fiery furnace; but He chose instead to walk through the fire with them. Many of His disciples were imprisoned for preaching the gospel, and God could have protected them from being arrested; but He allowed those men to face persecution and prison. He sent an angel to deliver Peter from prison one time, and caused an earthquake to cause the jail doors to open when Paul and Silas were bound by chains; yet other times, they weren't miraculously delivered.
This doesn't mean that God is wishy-washy or fickle. It doesn't mean that sometimes they "deserved" deliverance, and other times they didn't. It didn't mean that sometimes God was listening to their prayers and chose to deliver them, and other times He had turned His ear away from their cries. It had nothing to do with how good they were, how hard they were working, or how many people they were helping. It all boils down to one thing: God is sovereign; meaning that He is in absolute control. There is absolutely nothing that happens that is outside of God's influence and authority.
Does life always seem fair? No. Does it sometimes hurt and feel heartbreaking? Yes. Are we always going to understand the why of everything that happens in our life? Absolutely not! But regardless, God loves us, He knows what He's doing, and He has a plan. It may not make sense to our finite minds, but God never told us that we have to figure it out or understand. Our responsibility is to love Him; no matter what is happening in our life. We can trust God and place our faith in Him, and be assured that whatever happens is His plan and in His hands. That's all we really need to understand!
Matthew 9:1-8 tells one of many stories of Jesus healing someone. In this case, some friends took a paralyzed man to Jesus to be healed. Jesus told him, "Have courage, son! Your sins are forgiven." They hadn't said anything about sins. But Jesus told the man to be courageous, and forgave his sins without needing to be asked. Jesus also used this as a way to teach a lesson to the teachers of the Law. "Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven' or to say, 'Stand up and walk'?" Then He healed the paralyzed man.
The point is that our healing doesn't depend on being sinless. It doesn't even depend on our sins having been forgiven before we ask for healing.
I don't honestly know what it depends on, except that it is God's plan, not mine.
2 cans Crescent Rolls
16 whole Frozen Peach Slices
1-1/2 stick (3/4 cup) Butter
1-1/4 cup Sugar
2 teaspoons Vanilla
1 can Sprite, 7-Up, or Mountain Dew
Whipped Cream or Ice Cream, for serving
Butter a 9x13 inch pan. Roll each peach slice in a crescent roll. Place in pan.
Melt butter, then add sugar and barely stir. Add vanilla, stir once or twice, then pour the entire mixture over the rolls/peaches in the pan. Pour 3/4 of the can of Sprite, 7-Up, or Mountain Dew around the edges and in the middle of the pan. Sprinkle with cinnamon and bake at 350 for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes before serving. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream. Spoon some of the sweet sauce from the baking pan over the top.
Pray for our kids and teachers as they begin another school year!! Also, pray for all other school workers: janitors, bus drivers, cooks, office workers, etc....
Start thinking bigger, praying bigger, expecting bigger.
God wants to take you where you've never been before. - unknown
We love you!
Loretta & Jon