Exchange it!

He crouched low and focused intently on his treasures: a Styrofoam cup and three donut holes. One yummy goodie was in the bottom of the cup, another in his hand, and the third on the floor. Balancing on his haunches, he gently secured the second hole in his cup, then he reached down and collected the last one from the floor.

I knelt beside him and pointed to the donut hole he placed on top. I asked if I could have it. He turned and looked me squarely in the eyes with a confused expression. I explained it had been on the floor and was dirty. I told him if he would give it to me, his aunt would replace it. She, too, had seen what had happened and already had another donut hole for him. 

He looked back at the hole again and quietly, sincerely said, “It’s okay. I blew it off.”

“Oh,” I said. “I understand.” His logic was efficient and sound: React quickly, get rid of problems you see, move on, enjoy. But I know where shoe bottoms travel and what they pick up and deposit in other places. So I continued, “But it’s really hard to see all the dirt and germs on the floor and now they’re on your donut hole too. Please let me have it, and you can have a new one – a clean one.”

Reluctantly he removed the soiled donut hole and placed it in my hand.  His aunt gave him a new one and he stood up, pleased to have all his treasures, and moved confidently to his next task, unaware of the horrid things that didn’t go into his mouth that day.

Heavenly Father, How often do you ask me to surrender what I’m holding and learn Your ways? Help me remember You see things I don’t and You always have my best interests in mind. Help me run to you and exchange what wounds my soul for Your ways. You don’t treat my wounds superficially. You are the only source of true peace! Help me let You do Your work in me.

Diagnosis: A Heart Problem

In Jeremiah 6:16, God’s plea to Israel is clear. It’s straight, to the point, the way you talk to someone in deep trouble. And it begs the question, How did Israel get to this desperate spot?

One clue is found in Israel’s response to God’s instructions. (Jer 6:16) They refused to listen. Previous verses indicate they were much like rebellious teenagers. They hated hearing their Heavenly Father’s voice. Their hearts were hardened. They weren’t embarrassed of their sin and rebellion.

In verse 14, God summarizes the root of the problem. They were broken and wounded, and the wound had not been treated properly. A band-aid was put on and they tried to ignoring the problem hoping it would go away. They comforted each other with “Don’t worries. Everything will be okay.” They lied to each other.

[Jeremiah 6:14 CSB] 14 They have treated my people’s brokenness superficially, claiming, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.

But how did it get so bad? Hadn’t there been someone to warn them? Of course, God sent prophets to warn them that they were headed the wrong direction. And the enemy sent his own messengers. These words were easier to hear. The enemy told them that their disregard for God wasn’t a problem. He told them not to worry about impending doom, peace would be had by all. He promise that nothing needed to change. He lied to them.

And they listened to the wrong voice. This was not the first time they had listened to the wrong voice. Each time, when they chose to put a band-aid on it and listen to the wrong voice, their hearts grew sicker and sicker, hardening so much that hearing was affected.

Even today those voices continue to speak. Decisions and choices are made. Hearts are either healed or made sicker. Peace is either gained or missed.

[Hebrews 3:7-11 CSB] 7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: Today, if you hear his voice, 8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, 9 where your fathers tested me, tried me, and saw my works 10 for forty years. Therefore I was provoked to anger with that generation and said, “They always go astray in their hearts, and they have not known my ways.” 11 So I swore in my anger, “They will not enter my rest.”

When you have a heart problem, a band-aid won't fix it. You need a heart surgeon. Consult the original designer.

Dear Heavenly Father, 

Thank You for not editing out the hard things to read in the Bible or the stern words You sometimes spoke. You always speak truth and You can always be trusted. You show us a better way. Teach me to listen to Your voice and obey Your voice. Your words may be hard to hear, but they are truth and life. The alternative is decay, disaster, destruction, and death.

Thank you for not treating my wounds superficially. You took great pains to heal them and You freely offer healing when I listen to Your voice. We all are broken and have heart problems. I am broken. My mind and heart fight daily to align with Your voice and Your words. Hope for peace only comes as I allow You to heal me. I need daily check-ups! Forgive me for listening to other voices. Help me not to flinch and flail as You do Your good work in me.

Listen!

Jeremiah 6 describes what happens when people don’t seriously consider the results of their actions. The people of Israel paid no attention to God, but even as He held back His own righteous anger and continually spoke to them. Their hearts hardened and they found God’s words offensive. Jeremiah says throughout their society honesty and truthfulness couldn’t be found. They had no feelings of embarrassment or disgrace related to their rebellion.

Verse 16 is God’s final plea to stop and make better choices. Stand still. Look around. Ask how to live better lives. Then take the steps needed to be better people, people who demonstrate their love of God with their actions. Return to truth, because truth brings peace.

[Jeremiah 6:16-17 CSB] 16 This is what the LORD says: Stand by the roadways and look. Ask about the ancient paths, “Which is the way to what is good? ” Then take it and find rest for yourselves. But they protested, “We won’t! ” 17 I appointed watchmen over you and said, “Listen for the sound of the ram’s horn.” But they protested, “We won’t listen! “

The last portion of verse 16 states their reply. “We won’t!’” We won’t stand and look. We won’t ask. We won’t listen. We won’t change. We don’t need to change. Everything is fine. We’ll keep doing things that way we are.

God reminds them of the watchmen stationed on the city wall who faithfully stood guard with a single mission. They sounded the alarm when danger was approaching. These sentinels were still on the wall and the enemy was on the way. The shofar was about to sound. God pleads with Israel to heed the warning. Their response? “We won’t listen!”

And, disaster struck and devastation came.

Dear Heavenly Father, Amos wrote that You do nothing without revealing Your counsel to Your servants the prophets. (Amos 3:7). Never let me forget the power of Your words. They created stars and filled our world with wondrous things. They quiet storms and they create storms. Everything hinges on Your words and Your voice. Help me hear and recognize Your words, no matter how they come to me. When I hear your voice, help me to stop and listen.


Make Informed Decisions about Your Path

We are at a crossroad in Psalm 107. In verse 33, the writing changes from a song to descriptions of God’s blessings and His judgment, a glimpse at two different paths.

During our stay on the farm, I came back from the barn alone one day and recognized something I hadn’t noticed before. I had walked through this intersection at least eight times each day. Each time, I had made an unconscious decision about where I was headed based on what I was doing in that particular moment. Many times on our spiritual journey,  we pass through crossroads without giving them the time and energy they truly deserve and require.

In Jeremiah 6:16, Jeremiah recorded God’s words explaining how to address crossroads in an intentional manner, so we can seriously think about what we are doing and where we are headed.

There are five (5) action verbs in that part of the verse: Stand. Look. Ask. Take. Find. When we continue trudging along a familiar path without standing still and looking around, we end up repeating all the same things we have done before – good, bad, or ugly. Do this enough times and we develop a habit. When we don’t ask for His guidance, we often miss what He prepares for us – rest and peace. Only God knows where these crossroads end up and that is why we have to ask for His direction. When He answers our question, then we can make an informed decision about which path to take.

Psalm 107 describes two different kinds of path and only one leads to peace and rest for our souls. The psalm ends with a warning: Let whoever is wise pay attention to these things and consider the LORD’s acts of faithful love.

He Always Comes to Our Rescue

Have you seen this in your lifetime? Things were going exceptionally well. Everything you were successful in all that you were doing. You had all the skills needed to meet all your goals. Then, something happened and things began to fall apart and nothing you tried worked the way it should. Your own skills and abilities were ineffective, “swallowed up.” Everything seemed bent on unraveling you.

The psalmist (Psalm 107) says that these times come because God speaks. His goal is not to destroy us. His goal is to teach us quickly acknowledge our need and to call for help. Even in those storms, He is right there with us. He hears our cries.

He comes to help. He calms the storm and brings us safely into the harbor He has already prepared for us. Sometimes He intervenes in the situation itself on our behalf. Sometimes He simply calms the storm in our heart, mind, and body and we sense His presence close as we walk through the experience. Either way, He alone is the one who can and does bring peace. And along the way, He teaches us to hang onto His hand and trust His heart for us.

How should we respond when He works on our behalf? He asked that we express our gratitude to Him and tell others what He has done. There are many other people in circumstance where they don’t know what to do next. They need to hear how God works in those situations as well!

Your testimony becomes evidence of God’s grace, goodness, and mercy that others need to hear! Never once does He leave us all alone.

Lessons from a Horse (Psalm 107:17-22)

Last week, she came home with a tumbleweed wrapped up in her tail. Her pace was slow. It was easy to see this prickly ball she could not escape annoyed her. When I met her at the barn, she went straight to the water trough and I made a plan.

I’ve seen her powerful kick, so I moved beside her, spoke softly and rubbed her side. She turned to see what I was doing. I slowly reached around and grabbed the tangled tail and began to extract the tumbleweed. I quietly assured her as I slowly worked to remove it. When it was out, I gave her a pat to let her know all was fine and she moved away. I hope she was grateful she no longer had a pesky ball away nipping at her heels.

Yesterday, she and her companion stayed in the field all day. They both seemed alerted to something and a bit anxious, but nothing looked different to my eyes. Once in a while she would circle her friend but her companion never moved forward and they never came up for water as they usually do.

So Rusty and I went out to see what might be the problem. When we approached them, she turned and looked at me. I immediately saw the problem. A 4-inch section of curly cactus was stuck in her lip. It curled toward her nostril and was covered with long spines. She let me touch her forehead and pet her while we made a plan. I took off my stocking cap and folded it onto itself, but I felt the thorns through the cap when I tried to grab it and she became anxious. I let go and calmed her again. I folded it again and gave it to Rusty. He moved forward and extracted it while I calmed her. All but two spines came out and she looked relieved. Her skittish companion came close to look and allowed me to rub her and speak to her too.

I turned to go to the barn and my curious and wreckless friend walked right at my shoulder. She ate a full meal – freedom does that to us. When we have made foolish decisions or tried to fill our needs with things that ended up becoming our prisons, our souls become famished. It is only in the presence of The One who rescues us, leads us out and provides nourishment for our souls that our deepest desires are fulfilled our desires and our brokenness and pain healed. He doesn’t mind if we eat until we are fully satisfied at His “Table of Plenty.”

We prayed the final two spines would come out on their own and they did. She ate breakfast and is back out in the field today.

I have been thinking about Psalm 107:17-22 and wondering how to share the beauty of God’s way of caring for us. As I thought about yesterday’s adventure with her, I was reminded that I am often the one who has been (and often continue to be) a bit too curious, a bit too eager to meet my needs without taking a better look at what I’m getting into. When things go wrong, He provides. God sent His Son for sins I cannot go back and change, for sins I will make in the future, for sins that have created pain and locked closed parts of my heart and made me a prisoner. And, His Son heals me. This is not just a Christmas thing. It is something I need to remember every day. My Heavenly Father sends help every time I cry out to Him and when allow Him to see me in all my brokenness, pain, and shame and when I let Him to make things right between us so that I am able to follow Him better. He guides me back to the place He has prepared for me. He is ever so gentle and kind. My task? Stay right beside Him. He knows best.

Dear Heavenly Father, I’m so grateful for a living lesson from a horse that demonstrates how You love me. Let me love others the same way.

He Does What We Can’t Do Ourselves

Sometimes our distress and trouble is simply part of life. We wander in the wilderness because we don’t know any better. But there are times when our own decisions create distress, sorrow and misery. Psalms 107: 10-16 describes how this happens and the potential results.

Sometimes we find ourselves in dark, hidden, destructive places full of misery and calamity. We become depressed, gloomy, and lack strength and/or will to get out. We are stuck, bound, and tied up – mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and sometimes physically (especially if we have attempted to remedy the loneliness and relationships with substances). We can’t escape. In fact, the more we try to escape, the deeper and deeper we sink.

How did we get there? Verse 11 explains that we are imprisoned because we scorned God’s word. He spoke and we turned our heads and put our hands over our ears. We went our own way. He continued talking to us, calling us, but we intentionally ignored and defied Him.

The All-Knowing God knows our rebellion leads to even more hardship and problems. He won’t overstep our free will, so He continually watches and calls as we move into places where no one else is able to protect or help us. These end-of-our-rope or “the bottom” places are accompanied with humiliation and shame. But God never humiliates us. His desire is simply that we become humble and honest enough to recognize our state and call to Him.

When we call with an honest, humble heart, He comes to where we are, bursts through our prison doors and rips our restraints out of the walls, bolts and all. Our job is to listen and follow His directions as He moves on our behalf. This is His gift of grace to us. He then leads us from the darkness to freedom. All He asks is that we accept His loving compassion, listen to His voice and follow Him out.

Heavenly Father, Almighty God, thank You for coming to save us when we are unable to save ourselves. Thank You for coming to the places where darkness and chains hold us. Give us eyes to see where decisions will take us and give us ears to hear Your voice and Your word to us.

He Rescues Us from Trouble

No one is exempt from experiencing times when we wander mentally or emotionally. When we stray, it’s easy to end up in places where we expected safety and comfort and find none. Sometimes we’re unaware of the small compromises we make. Sometimes we’re gently coaxed or intentionally deceived into moving a dangerous direction. Other times, we go knowingly.

What we find in the desolate places only temporarily drives away the loneliness, the fear and the terror. Those things might patch, but they don’t heal a broken heart. What started out as pleasurable or tolerable, now stings. And there comes a point when we realize we’re in a place where nothing satisfies, a desolate place where we feel utterly alone and isolated. We begin searching for a place of peace, a place where we don’t have to constantly search for safety and love.

Our strength fails because our souls are not fed and the driving desire to truly love and be loved is never quenched. If we wander deeper and deeper into the unforgiving wastelands, we will surely die a slow, hard death.

In these tight spots of grief, need, distress, anguish, or guilt, there is hope. In Psalm 107:6. In their trouble, they cried to the Lord and He rescued them from their distress. Sometimes our cries are audible and sometimes they aren’t. God hears both kinds when our heart is in the “yada” posture.  The childlike posture of open hands and extended arms reflects a desire to be in God’s presence, a cry to be picked up, a surrender.

Here’s His promise: He always hears this cry. He delivers, rescues, saves. He grabs us and pulls us out. He wraps His arms around us. He tells us He loves us and He’s got a better plan for us. He wipes us off and puts our feet in a different place. He invites us to a heart-to-heart conversation he has been longing to have with us, where He brings peace to our hearts and minds.

Dear Heavenly Father, I am so sorry that I have wandered and that You see me in this forsaken place. I can’t get out of this on my own. Please rescue me. Please heal me. Please show me what I need to do. Thank You for hearing my heart’s cry and picking me up and putting me in a better place. Father, help me quickly recognize the things that lead me into the desolate places where I don’t feel Your peace or Your joy and remind me to simply surrender to You. Your way is always better! I want Your way.