God

The Choicest of Wines

John 2: 7-10

“Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine.
He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said,

“Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine
after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

Don’t you just love how you can read a Bible story over and over, and still get something new out of it every time? I think we’ve all read John’s account of Christ’s first miracle at the wedding in Cana. But recently, I read it again, and it meant something new to me. You see, the master of the banquet was right. The guests would have been perfectly content with a cheap wine. Jesus could have brought out the Franzia or the Boon’s Farm and it would have been fine.

But Jesus doesn’t do that, does he? He doesn’t give cheap gifts—ever. He doesn’t perform half-hearted miracles—ever. He gives only the best, because that’s what God does. Every. Single. Time. He outdoes himself, and never ceases to amaze his beloved children.

And even when things aren’t going the way we planned, even when we’ve run out of wine at the wedding, we can be confident that Jesus will step in and meet our needs in a way that only he can—in a way that will amaze us and everyone around us. Our job is to ask, and to ask believing that he will respond, and trusting that he will always respond with the very choicest of wines. Selah.

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Chosen

Ephesians 1:4 (NLT)

“Even before he made the world,
God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.”

I hope you all will forgive me for digressing from my “Who I am” series for this week. But God spoke to me this week in an illustration that I want to share with you. You see, as I was walking home from dropping the kids off at school on Wednesday, I came across a random Chihuahua. He was in a yard that I didn’t recall him belonging to, and he started barking at me, and then he followed me briefly (and forgive me, the picture is a bit blurry–he wouldn’t stand still). He finally decided to stay where he was, but as often happens when I encounter a stray dog, I began to daydream. What if he followed me home? What if he refused to leave? What if he chose us to adopt him?

Now, you have to understand—and I mean no disrespect—but we are NOT Chihuahua people. We like BIG dogs: Bernese Mountain Dogs, Great Pyrenees, Newfoundlands, those sorts of dogs. But there’s something about the idea of a pet choosing you, isn’t there? About them adopting you, if you will. At least there is for me. So, I thought to myself that, if this dog indeed were to choose us, we might find ourselves inviting him into our lives and our home and becoming his forever family. We might.

There’s just something about being chosen. It’s like destiny, do you know what I mean? That’s one thing (among many) that I love SO much about God. He has chosen ME. He has chosen YOU. Psalm 11:3 says, “Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” There is such comfort in knowing this. The old hymn states, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!” But I dare say, “Blessed assurance, I am HIS!” Know this assurance today, and rest in the peace that comes from being His chosen.

Compassion for Humanity

Psalm 103: 13-14

“Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.”

I may have mentioned before how I feel like our testimonies should be living, changing, and growing. God should be moving in us each day—what He’s doing in and through us should never be stagnant, it should never be only in the past. I’m thankful that God challenges and convicts me each week, and that I have the privilege of sharing that journey with all 12 of you. Does my testimony include falls and failures? Absolutely. But just as surely, His continued work in my heart is evidence to me that I am not living surrendered to my sins. It gives me faith that God is not through with me yet. And I praise Him for it.

It is against this backdrop that I confess that this week, I lost hope in humanity. I felt disappointed, and to some extent betrayed, by the words and thoughts expressed by some within my circle of friends and family. I felt like we couldn’t find a common ground—and of course, I was in the right. My first instinct was to—well—judge. I quickly convinced myself that these people lacked compassion. To some degree, they were heartless. I mean, doesn’t the Bible say that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45)? So there I was, peering into hearts that looked to me a lot like tar pits. But then I felt the disquiet that often accompanies the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and I heard a still, small, slow voice speaking to my heart, No.

No. Okay, you’re right, it wasn’t my place to judge. I can’t see people’s hearts. But I could see their actions, and I could tell that these people (and frankly most others) were not to be counted upon. I mean, doesn’t the Bible say that GOD will supply all my needs (Philippians 4:19)? God, not people. So the best course of action was clearly just to rely solely on God for every need and to ask for nothing from others, expect nothing from others. But again, there was that still small voice, No.

How about bearing with one another (Colossians 3:13), and accepting those of weaker faith (Romans 14:1)? No. I don’t know about you, but in my flesh, I end up applying these verses from a place of pious self-righteousness, which was never the author’s intent. It wasn’t Paul’s intent, and it wasn’t God’s.

My heart finally started coming around to a right place once I started thinking about what Jesus would do, what Jesus in fact did. I know it sounds trite, but it’s so right. Jesus encountered an adulterous woman at a well, and another in the street, and He forgave both. He chose Peter, knowing full well that this guy’s fear of man and his temper would lead him to sin. Then later, He asked if Peter loved Him with a sacrificial love. Peter’s answer was essentially, “No. I mean, come on Jesus. You know I love you like a brother and you’re one of my closest friends. Isn’t that enough?” The answer was basically, “No. But that’s okay, you’ll get there.” I’m paraphrasing, of course.

But this seems to always be Christ’s sentiment. So even though I may occasionally struggle with my fellow humans, even though I may not be able to reconcile their perspectives with my own, I know what Jesus would do. Or rather, I know what He wouldn’t do: He wouldn’t give up on them. So if I want to be like Him, then I can’t give up either.

The Love of the Father

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God’s heart is most certainly beyond our ability to comprehend this side of heaven. But I love how He offers glimpses into Himself through our experiences. You become a parent and all of a sudden begin to understand God’s love for His only begotten son. You see a beautiful sunset in Hawaii (as we hope to soon)—or out your back door at home in Waco—and you see a faint portrait of God’s creativity and artistry. You commit the unforgivable sin and begin to see the depths of God’s mercy. You battle with a strong-willed child who is just like you, and you start to get a picture of the patience that God shows you daily. A stranger shows you ridiculous kindness, and in so doing reflects the kindness of one who is infinitely greater. You make a sacrifice that seems impossible and you finally have just an inkling of the sacrifice made by our savior.

But in spite of my experiences, the glimpses He’s given me, there is (at least) one thing I still don’t quite understand. I don’t quite get God’s love for ME. I get sacrificial love, unconditional love even. I (sort of) get God’s love for Jesus, his OWN son. But fathom as I may, a just can’t fully grasp His love for me. After all, according to Scripture, I am a daughter of God only through His willingness to adopt me into His family.

Romans 8:15-17

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.

Galatians 3:26

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 4:7-9

Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.

God, of course, chooses the gifts He gives to whom. But what a blessing and gift to be chosen as an adoptive parent—to be given the unique ability to see your precious child and yourself through God’s eyes. If that’s you, don’t take it for granted. Treasure every moment!

Vision

“When God gives a vision, God makes provision.”
Mark Batterson, The Circle Maker

This is a great saying to hold to. But there are times when it raises more questions than it answers.

First of all, what constitutes a vision? How sure do I need to be before I call a glimmer an inkling, an inkling a tugging, or a tugging a vision? Do I need to be absolutely confident, or can I have moments of ambivalence or even doubt? When I think about this, I think about my own ideas and “plans.” For instance, many of you know that I have a spare kidney that is up for grabs. The timing isn’t right at the moment for me to just give it away indiscriminately, but I have zero reservations that I want to do it someday. In the meantime, I know that I want to pursue a research agenda that will hopefully lead many others into a greater willingness to be living organ donors. There are some other ideas about which I am (sorry, Goose—WE—are) still fervently praying for guidance. Most prominently, we believe we might be called to adoption. We definitely believe that it is a GREAT thing; we just aren’t positive that it’s right for us. We aren’t convinced that it’s NOT for us—we just plain aren’t sure. So is it a vision? I have no earthly idea.

Secondly, how do we know if a vision is from God? Maybe we feel and believe VERY strongly about one thing or another, but upon further revelation, realize the vision isn’t GOD’S, but OURS. Or maybe it’s a vision that someone else has for us, but one that doesn’t represent God’s very best for our lives. In my case, what if there is something or someone other than God fueling my desire to pursue adoption? What if God knows that He can use me more mightily and effectively in some capacity other than that of an adoptive parent? He does know best, after all, and He has an eternal perspective far beyond this finite space and time that I’m living in.

So is it wrong to want clarity and assurance, to ask for enough guidance to know that I am at least on the right track? Do I step out in faith, or on the basis of an educated guess, and see if the provision follows? Who knows? But what I do know is this:

“We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.”
(Proverbs 16:9—NLT)

Let this promise bring you as much comfort and peace today as it brings me. Determine our steps, Lord.

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The Heavens Declare

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May 25, 2014…

Psalm 19:1-3

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.

Last night—amid tornado watches, severe thunderstorm warnings, and flash flood alerts—we sat on the balcony of our vacation condo, watching as the lightning in the sky flashed ever closer to us. First, it quietly lit up the sky in the distance in all directions. But soon, the bolts seemed to be right next to us and the crashing thunder shook the sky and the ground alike. A number of times, we simply uttered the word, “Wow!” The beauty and majesty were breathtaking.

It reminded me of a storm I watched from the window of my Air Force barracks in Monterey one Thanksgiving weekend many years ago. Then, in my younger years, I could afford to pull an all-nighter, sitting on my mini-fridge, just gazing out over the bay through the windows that spanned an entire wall of that room.

Now, a decade and a half and two kids later, we were forced inside by the need to check on sleeping children. And I was forced to look away from the bedroom window and close my eyes for fear of losing too much precious sleep. Nonetheless, I drifted off with a smile on my face as I contemplated the awe and wonder and power that God graciously chooses to display through the declarations of the heavens—not just for His glory, but also for our enjoyment. Oh, how He longs to bless us at every turn and in every circumstance.

Not for Naught

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If you know me very well, you know that I blame a lot of things on “the fall,” as in the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden. That’s because, quite frankly, the fall has had a LOT of consequences for our lives, our society, and our world. And sometimes we face things that just plain don’t have any other explanation. Pain and suffering often seem to fall into that category. I’m not sure that it’s pain and suffering themselves that we dread so much. Instead, I think that one of our biggest fears is that our pain will somehow be wasted. The apostle Paul knew that better than anyone. In his second letter to the Corinthians, he wrote:

“Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)

Like Paul, I think that we long to identify a reason for the suffering we experience. We want to see it produce a testimony in our lives that others can see. We want it to display God’s glory. Some painful experiences seem to lend themselves better to these ends than others. But among those that don’t are chronic pain and illness. Incidentally, I learned just yesterday that September is Chronic Pain Awareness month. I’ll bet you didn’t know that either. It isn’t something that gets a lot of press. Why? Maybe it’s because many people who suffer from chronic pain and illness do so in relative silence and obscurity. Maybe it’s because these conditions often aren’t visible to the naked eye, and as such are in many ways forgettable.

Over the years, this has prompted me to wonder how God could possibly be glorified in this, how it could produce a testimony. Then I naturally conclude that my pain is pointless. But during a recent bout of self-pity, God interrupted me. Over several days, he brought to mind a number of friends and family members who are afflicted by chronic pain and illness. And I realized that, because of my own pain, I am in a unique (if unenviable) position to NOT forget those who might otherwise feel forgotten. Perhaps not the most exciting testimony, but likely a quite fulfilling ministry. After all, some 100,000 Americans experience chronic pain at any given time. It’s a fact of life in a fallen world. I’ve personally found that there is a good deal of peace in knowing that some good could come from my suffering, that it won’t be for naught. I hope that you will also find peace in that today. Whatever you may be going through, God has no intention of wasting your pain any more than he does mine.

So Much Fight

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Laredo HATES bedtime. She will say or do just about anything to avoid going to bed. Sure, she’s sucking her thumb, clinging to her lovie, and laying prostrate on the floor. No matter. She’s not tired, she says. So the other night, we left her sitting on the floor outside our room, where she sat wanting to cry, but too exhausted to remove her thumb from her mouth. Twenty minutes later, we looked over to find her fast asleep on the floor.

“So much fight,” is all her daddy could say, as he gathered her up in his arms and carried her off to bed. His comment made me wonder what must lie ahead for her. After all, what if this fighting spirit—placed inside of her as God knit her together, contemplated long before she came to be—was His way of preparing her for some future and very significant fight? I can’t help but believe the answer is yes. I don’t know what that fight will look like. Will it be spiritual, physical, emotional, financial, political? I don’t know. But I know the verses I will share with her when that day comes:

Deuteronomy 31:6: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified…for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

1 Chronicles 28:20: “Then David said to his son Solomon, “Be strong and courageous, and act; do not fear nor be dismayed, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you until all the work for the service of the house of the LORD is finished.”

Psalm 27:1: “The LORD is my light and my salvation– whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life– of whom shall I be afraid?”

Psalm 27:14: “Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.”

Psalm 28:7: “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.”

Psalm 46:1b: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

Psalm 56:3-4: “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, In God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What can mere man do to me?”

Psalm 112:7: “They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the LORD.”

Psalm 118:14: “The LORD is my strength and my song; he has given me victory.”

Isaiah 41:10: “‘Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’”

2 Corinthians 4:8-9: “…we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…”

Ephesians 3:16: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being…”

Ephesians 6:10: “…be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.”

Philippians 4:13: “I have strength for all things in the One strengthening me.”

2 Timothy 1:7: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”

These words of encouragement are not just for one little girl. They are not only for some future fight. I’ve recorded them here for YOU as well, for the fight that you are facing even today. I don’t know if you were born strong, if you’ve since achieved strength, or if you’ve simply had strength thrust upon you. Regardless, God desires to strengthen and sustain you. And He who goes before you will fight for you—if you’ll let Him. And that is my prayer for you today. After all, perhaps God has placed you right where you are, and for just such a time as this.