To Be Like Enoch…

My Dad loved to talk about Enoch. If you recall, Enoch was one of two men mentioned in the Bible who went to heaven without dying. This intrigued my Dad.

Genesis 5:24 says “And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.”

My Dad pursued God. Every morning and evening he would sit and read his Bible, pen in hand, leaning forward, eager to learn. He finished every day kneeling in prayer beside his bed.

He led us in family devotions every day. Often at the breakfast table, sometimes after supper. We would read verse by verse taking turns. Then we would pray together.

My Dad longed to be closer to his God. Time and time again he would talk about walking close enough to God so that he would be translated like Enoch. We just shook our heads and said…”Not likely to happen.” Still he pursued his God.

Hebrews 11:5-6 gives us a little more information about Enoch. We learn he was pleasing to God. That he had faith. His faith included believing God existed and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him. (KJV)

The Phillips translation puts it this way.

“… he pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him. The man who approaches God must have faith in two things, first that God exists and secondly that it is worth a man’s while to try to find God.”

Enoch thought it was worth his while to find God. Enoch sought God. Enoch walked with God.  God cut his earthly life short to bring him home.

When I was almost 30 my Dad was diagnosed with cancer. A brain tumor was growing quickly despite the doctor’s best efforts to treat it. He lost his ability to write. His violin had to be set aside. He quit chopping wood. He could no longer drive. Every day something new was gone. Finally, he couldn’t walk and even his voice was taken away.

I prayed for healing. This God who my Dad had taught me about would certainly heal him. But God’s ways are not my ways and in less than a year my Dad was gone. Gone home to heaven. And I was devastated.

Why would God cut his life short? Didn’t God know we needed him?  Hadn’t he pursued God? Didn’t he deserve a good long life? I mourned…but I also knew that my dad was home with his God. He walked close enough to God to walk into eternity.

Looking back now, 30 years later, I see a man who pleased God. A man who pursued God. A man who walked with God.  A man who went to heaven earlier than expected. A man like Enoch.

For further study: Job 21:14; Psalm 73:28; Proverbs 8:17

 

 

Choices for the New Year

We all make choices. Hebrews 11:4 reminds us of the first family and the very different choices the brothers made. The more complete story is found in Genesis 4:1-16.

At first glance they look similar. They both were hard workers. They both brought sacrifices to God. But God payed heed to one and not the other.

Both brothers had heard the first-hand account of living in the garden, the terrible choice their parents made and the consequences. They also must have been told of the need for a blood sacrifice, which was a picture of a Messiah (Redeemer) who would come. (Hebrews 9:22)

Abel realized his great need and brought the sacrifice God required. It was a picture of the coming Messiah. God paid heed.

Cain thought he could win God’s favor by bringing things he had carefully grown and tended. It was a “look at me” moment. “Look at what I’ve done.” …and when God paid no heed he became angry.

God tries to reason with Cain. He pointed out his sin and encourages him to master it. (repentance) God held out hope to Cain. Cain would have none of it. He goes from being very angry to bringing his brother out in the field with him where he kills him. His actions spoke louder than his sacrifice.

Titus 1:16 gives a perfect explanation. “They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed.”

Once more God approaches Cain. “Where is your brother Abel?” It was another opportunity to repent. Instead he deflects and lies. “I do not know, am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9)

God confronts Cain with the truth. He knows what he has done. Cain will be cursed. He will no longer have the ability to produce from the ground. The very thing he was so proud of is taken away. He will become a wanderer.

Cain responds by complaining, not repenting. He was sorry for his situation or punishment, but not his sin. Still, God grants him protection for his earthly life by putting a mark of protection on him. Sadly, Cain was not concerned about his eternal soul, and he “went out from the presence of the Lord.”

Abel lived and died for his faith. He was killed because he was favored by God.

Which brother are we like?

Cain, who proudly thought he was good enough to approach God on his own merits, or Abel who realized his great need and humbly brought the sacrifice that God required.

“For it is by grace that you are saved, through faith. This does not depend on anything you have achieved, it is the free gift of God; and because it is not earned no man can boast about it. “ (Ephesians 2:8-9 Phillips)

For further study: Genesis 4:1-16; Proverbs 21:27; I John 3:12; Hebrews 12:24

Faith in the Creator

I have been teaching art to some children this year. Each week 17 kids ages 5-12 make their way to my basement and create.  We are in the middle of making miniature hot-air balloons so we can imagine traveling from country to country in our journey around the world.

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They have created Giraffes,

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Hippos (and a few seals)

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and Kente cloth from Africa,

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big red barns from Wisconsin.

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Pumpkins and turkeys will give a nod to our Thanksgiving holiday.

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We plan on “visiting” England, Australia, France and Mexico in the coming weeks.

As I get to know each student I am learning to recognize their artwork. They each have their own  individual  style. I am amazed at what they can do with the raw materials I give them.

If you would look in my basement you would see their creations hanging up or laying out to dry.  Some things are tucked away in their portfolios.  There hasn’t been an explosion in my basement that caused these things to appear. You would recognize that someone has been at work.

Hebrews 11:3 says “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.” (NASB)

We are asked to believe that God made the world. It was a purposeful act.

None of us were there. There is no way for us to prove it. We have to take Him at His word. Either He is telling the truth or He is a liar. God gives us the account in Genesis 1-2. If we are to walk by faith we must believe it.  I will let God’s words convince you, not mine.

“Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these stars, The one who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power not one of them is missing.” Isaiah 40:26 (NASB)

“All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” John 1:3 (NASB)

“…since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so they are without excuse…” Romans 1:19-21 (NASB)

“…even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.” Romans 4:17 (NASB)

Spend some time looking around today. Does what you see look like an accident or an explosion?

Next,  go back and read Genesis 1-2. That God created the world is the only credible explanation. If we are to live by faith, believing in creation is the foundation.

Take comfort that His creation is all around us to remind us of who He is and what He is capable of. He has not left us here alone. He has a purpose and a plan. Believe it. Don’t let this world’s trouble tear your eyes from your only hope.

“I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.”        Psalm 27:13-14 (NASB)

Faith Crisis

Lake_2952When I was little our family would pile into the car every summer, drive to Minnesota and spend a week at the lake. This was before the day of the internet. We didn’t make reservations, we just drove until we found something that looked interesting.

We never doubted that we would spend a week at the lake. The minute my sisters and I got into the car with our suitcases we were already there.

It was as good as done. We weren’t sure about the journey, but the destination was guaranteed.

We understood that we might have to stop two or three times before we had success, but we had faith in our Dad’s ability to find what he had promised.

After driving two or three hours our Dad would stop at a small resort and walk to the office while the rest of us held our breath.

Sometimes the resort was full.

Sometimes it was too much money.

Sometimes our Dad didn’t care for the look of the place once he was closer.

We could tell by how he was walking whether he had success or not. If his head was down and he was walking with a determined gait we knew it was a no. If he was grinning, almost running back to the car we knew he had found the spot.

A couple weeks ago I was reading in Hebrews 11, the faith chapter. I turned there specifically because I was struggling. Struggling with weariness, questions, confusion; struggling to believe God had a good plan that He was working out; struggling ____________( You can fill in your own blank).

I know God is faithful, but I needed to be reminded just how faithful.

The first verse got me headed in the right direction.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1 NASB)

William MacDonald has this to say about that verse.

“…it is a definition of what faith does for us. It makes things hoped for as real as if we already had them, and it provides unshakable evidence that the unseen, spiritual blessings of Christianity are absolutely certain and real…Faith is confidence in the trustworthiness of God. It is the conviction that what God says is true and that what He promises will come to pass.”

I would encourage you to read the rest of Hebrews 11. Think long and hard about the men and women listed there. Their faith was not in their ability to overcome obstacles, but in God’s ability to walk them through extreme difficulties. Sometimes the results were glorious, other times the immediate results were trouble and even death. Both are examples of faith in a good God.

As a child I had utter faith in my Dad. I never doubted that he would bring about what he promised.

As a child of God I need to have utter faith in the one who made me for His good purpose. He has been faithful in the past. He will be faithful in the future. Although the journey isn’t always easy, I can trust that my destination is sure.

For further study:

“While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen, for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” II Corinthians 4:18 (NASB)

“…it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast…” Hebrews 6:18-19 (NASB)

“In this confidence let us hold on to the hope that we profess without the slightest hesitation – for he is utterly dependable.” Hebrews 10:23 (Phillips)

“Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance, and my God.” Psalm 41:11 (NASB)

Praying the Hard Prayers

I struggle to pray “correctly.” Over the years I have heard many sermons and read many books on how to pray. But when it comes right down to it, praying isn’t a formula to be followed. It is a God to interact with. “Come now, let us reason together,” it says in Isaiah 1:18. That doesn’t sound like a God who wants me to follow a formula. That sounds like a God who wants a back and forth conversation with me.

I’ve prayed “Thy will be done” many times, but sometimes I think it is the easy way out. It is easier to pray that than risk praying something that God says no to. It is hard work to seek God’s will and then pray accordingly. And frankly, after seeking God’s will we still aren’t always completely sure that we’ve gotten it right. That’s where the “reasoning together” comes in.

Almost 30 years ago my Dad was diagnosed with cancer. I prayed passionately for his healing.  In contrast, many around me prayed for God’s will to be done. It offended me that they weren’t willing to go “all in” with their request. I was crying out to my heavenly Father for something I desperately wanted. I was praying in faith believing He would answer. Night after night, week after week I wrestled with God. Asking Him to do what was impossible from a human standpoint.

A few months later my Dad died. I was heart-broken. I had risked everything by praying for his healing. God whispered, “…no.” He had healed him, but not in the way I wanted. I wanted him here with me. God wanted him there with Himself. God’s will won out. I wept and slowly accepted it.

Do I wish I had prayed “…if Thy will be done”?  No, I faced this with my God. Night after night I had reasoned with Him. I had poured out my heart to Him. He did not despise me for being honest. He walked me through the grief and slowly I learned that even when He says no, I can still trust Him.

He grieved that I grieved. Yet, His purposes remained out of my reach and understanding. He whispered, “Someday I’ll explain it to you. Someday you will understand.” That had to be enough.

He continues to walk day by day, moment by moment with me. He doesn’t desert me when the road gets unbearable. He doesn’t mock me when I pray foolish things. Each of those face to face encounters teach me more of who He is. Those times of reasoning together, even wrestling…if you will, bring me closer to the God who loves me more than I can imagine.

So I continue to pray incorrectly. I continue to risk praying the hard prayers. Because that is where I learn more about God and His ways.

“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16 (NKJV)

This post was first published at  Biblical Counseling for Women

When Miracles Don’t Happen

It has been a difficult decade. There have been many sleepless nights. There have been many tears. I have prayed believing. I have prayed even though I didn’t believe. I have prayed when i didn’t feel like praying. My prayers have been whispered, spoken and shouted. They have been written down on my laptop, leather journals and scraps of paper. Often my prayers have been wordless. Having said all I could think of to say I left the words to the Holy Spirit who promises to “intercede for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)

We are instructed to pray, and yet what is our response when we don’t see an answer? We want to hear about the miracles and the happy endings. We don’t want to hear about the financial struggles, the sexual abuse, people dying of cancer, prodigal children or broken families. The church speaks loudly in its silence. Like Job’s silent friends who sat and watched. (Job 2:11-15) When they finally did speak it was to blame Job for the trouble he was in. (Job 4 etc.)

We delight to look at Hebrews 11, the faith chapter. It is full of miracles. God doing great things through ordinary people because of their faith. The words “by faith” are used 19 times in that chapter. But there are others mentioned in verses 35-38 that we tend to ignore. They were tortured, stoned, sawn in two, put to death etc. They were not living the miracle life. Their situation was more of a nightmare variety, but in verse 39 it says “all these, having gained approval through their faith…”

I was startled when I read Genesis 15 the other day. It records a conversation Abraham had with God. God was again repeating his covenant promises to Abraham. Then comes verse 13. God wanted Abraham to know something…to know for certain…

Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years.”

That doesn’t seem like the kind of thing anyone would want to know for certain. Yet, I believe that we need to know for certain that life will be hard. Things won’t always go as we planned. Sin will continue to corrupt this world and our lives. We need to prepare for the ugly in our life so we don’t loose our hope. Someday it will be different. Someday the trouble we have gone through will be over. The trouble is not an indication of our lack of faith. The trouble is not an indication that God is mad at us.

The good news is we have a God who promises to always be with us in the midst of that trouble (Matthew 28:20; John 16:33) As we learn to cling to Him we understand His worth. He is a God that walks through the darkest of nights with us. I believe that those dark nights reveal more to us about who He is than the perfect ordered life, we long for, ever could.

So the next time you hear people talking about the miracles in their life remember that God often does the most amazing miracles in the dark. Some of us will have to wait until we get to heaven to see the miracles revealed, that we so longed for on earth.

(Originally posted January 5, 2015 at Lytroo Retreat.)