Unpredictable

Psalm 40:4a – Blessed is that man who makes the Lord his trust….

I guess that if there is one thing that I have learned in life, especially over the last few years, it’s that I really can’t trust anybody here on Earth. As harsh and critical as that sounds, it’s true: people are simply untrustworthy. But God isn’t. When He does things in my life that I don’t want, or when He doesn’t answer my prayers the way I want Him to, He is actually working in my best interests. He has not, does not, and will not let me down in the same way people are bound to do.

God is not untrustworthy. He’s just unpredictable.

It’s like riding a horse. I can trust my mount to always act like a horse. That doesn’t mean that I can trust her to do what I think she should do, or what I’ve asked her do, or what I think is the sensible thing to do. My horse doesn’t think like a human, so she won’t act like one. Simple, right?

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Neither does God think like I do:

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55: 8-9

God will always think and act like God. Scripture tells me that God is trustworthy and always working in my best interests. I might not understand His ways – oftentimes I won’t – but I can always trust that His ways are ultimately better than mine and that even if I feel like He is letting me down, He is actually building me up.

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Because I can always trust a horse to act like a horse – which includes being unpredictable – I always have to stay alert when I’m riding. If I don’t then I’m probably going to get dumped. I wasn’t prepared; I wasn’t watching; I wasn’t listening to my horse’s cues; I wasn’t ready to respond….

My relationship with God is the same way: I can’t just go along for the ride. God is unpredictable, and He might throw something at me I’m not ready for. And then what will happen? If I’m not prepared, my faith might be shaken. I might not handle the situation to the best of my abilities. I might mistake His unpredictable nature for untrustworthiness.

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I have to be prepared; I have to be ready to ride. My relationship with God isn’t like my relationship with people, whom I tend to relate to at arm’s length so that I’m always somewhat protected if they somehow break my trust, and to protect them from my breaking theirs. My relationship with God is more like my relationship with my horse. I can’t work with my horse at arm’s length if I really want to know her well enough so that we can both grow as a team. The only way for me to understand her nature and to be prepared for her unpredictable ways is to be as close to her as possible, both physically and emotionally. To ride with close contact on the bit rather than on a loose rein. To watch her ears and not the clouds. To learn her reactions, her habits, her means of communicating. To build up our trust in one another. To create a relationship with her that nobody else has.

That’s when trust in the face of unpredictability is enacted. That’s when faith comes to life.

And that is how I want my relationship with God to be….How it should be….

The most beautiful, trusting, epically-glorious, and truly unpredictable ride of my life.

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Love Is a Wildfire

[So I can’t seem to get off of these verses. The message they carry is so powerful – so amazing –so unfathomable…. I was going through them again this morning and God definitely talked to my heart, so the following post is basically from my devotion.]

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
As a seal upon your arm;
For love is as strong as death,
Jealousy as cruel as the grave;
Its flames are flames of fire,
A most vehement flame.

Many waters cannot quench love,
Nor can the floods drown it.
If a man would give for love
All the wealth of his house,
It would be utterly despised.

Song of Solomon 8:6-7

Not a candle flame. Not a fireplace. Not a campfire. Not a flare of a match.

Love is a wildfire.

A wildfire brings destruction, pain, and terror to everything in its path. Trees. People. Animals. Sometimes horrific, maiming pain, like the burned horses we treated at the vet clinic. But sometimes killing pain – it comes so fast, swift, sudden – bringing death. Our neighbor’s sheep. The fawn skeletons another neighbor found on her property. All of our trees.

But it kills something else, too – the places that we knew before the fire. I remember going back to our old home for the first time after the Dahl Fire. I have never heard such silence – like that instant after you are absolutely terrified by something and it seems as if you can’t hear a thing. And black – it was all crumbling black or gray, some yucca roots still smoldering, giving off white-gray wisps. It was as if the world I remembered – the world I had loved, the world of our “Twenty-Acre Woods” – was a dead friend.

Today, nothing can bring it back. When I go up there now, with the charred remains of the buildings all buried and the burnt trees hewn down and hauled away by loggers, I see a changed world – a different world. A world that is dead in some ways, and yet alive in others. Dead in all the ways that I knew it. Alive in the new grass, the new flowers, the new birds, the new plans God has for it.

Death brings rebirth.

“For love is as strong as death.”

(Oh my gosh, God, I get it. I get it!)

Many times, death is not the end; it’s only the beginning.

Love as strong as death. As strong as Your death that gave me salvation. As strong as the death of the hen who burned in a fire, sacrificing herself so that the little chicks hidden under her wings might live. As strong as the death of the trees in Yellowstone whose pinecones seeded more trees than there had been before. As strong as the death of the ram that took Isaac’s place as the sacrifice on the altar. As strong as the death of our twenty acres – our home, our trees, our hide-and-seek crevices, our riding trails, our favorite haunts, our thought-to-be-forever home – that brought us new life – Spanky, Jubilee, April, restoration of family relationships, resolution of personal issues, deepening of friendships, a new home.

Death changes things. Death can completely turn lives around. Apparently so can love. Because, when I think about it, God’s love for His people is honestly what brought about a lot of those deaths I mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Love can change everything. For the best.

But it has to be love that burns like a wildfire, not one that flickers like a candle. It has to be passionate. Passion: “strong and barely controllable emotion.” Maybe it’s even stronger than that, because a wildfire isn’t controllable. It can’t be held back. It is unstoppable until God wills that it be stopped.

(I get it, God. I’ve been holding back; so often I’m afraid to love. Dear Lord, please help me to have love like a wildfire…as terrifying an idea as that is.)

And You…You love me with this wildfire love. Oh God, thank You. Thank You. Thank You.

But God, what do You want me to do with this love?

My God Is Beautiful

10 My beloved is white and ruddy,
Chief among ten thousand.
11 His head is like the finest gold;
His locks are wavy,
And black as a raven.
12 His eyes are like doves
By the rivers of waters,
Washed with milk,
And fitly set.
13 His cheeks are like a bed of spices,
Banks of scented herbs.
His lips are lilies,
Dripping liquid myrrh.

14 His hands are rods of gold
Set with beryl.
His body is carved ivory
Inlaid with sapphires.
15 His legs are pillars of marble
Set on bases of fine gold.
His countenance is like Lebanon,
Excellent as the cedars.
16 His mouth is most sweet,
Yes, he is altogether lovely.
This is my beloved,
And this is my friend,
O daughters of Jerusalem!

Song of Solomon 5:10-16

 When we are in love with somebody, we see how beautiful that person is. And all of their beautiful attributes seem even more glorious through our loving perspective.

 Do I see God as beautiful? I see Him as Masterful, Wise, a Faithful Father, Perfect, Just….and sometimes I do realize how beautiful He is. But probably not often enough. Like recently. I’ve been complaining about the snow, the mud, the soggy critter pens, the flooding river, the potential issue of not being able to get back to Dillon on Friday….all I see is the dullness of the situation. Sure, I see God’s power, but can I also see His beauty in all of this?

 The beauty of the sound of the rain, which is probably one of my favorite sounds in the world.

 The beauty of the unusual weather itself – only God could give us -20’s one week and 50’s with rain the next.

 Gray rain cloud skies. They are truly beautiful in their hue, expanse, and impermeability.

 A cup of tea. *laugh* — it’s so simple, but it truly is a beautiful thing right now!

 He makes everything beautiful in it time. So maybe it’s hard for me to grasp the beauty in all of this right now, especially when so much destruction is imminent. But I know God will bring something beautiful out of all of this. He always does.

 

Acts 27 “The Sin Ship”: Part 4 of 4

As I was typing out the previous devotional notes, another point came to my attention which I hadn’t initially noticed, but which I cannot fail to overlook now that God has brought it to my mind. I’ll admit, it’s something I don’t want to talk about because I’ve thought it before, although not in the context of Acts 27, and I honestly don’t even like thinking about it let alone writing about it. But I believe God wants me to, hence the fourth part of this series.

The sailors and the centurion deserved to face the Tempest of Sin. They deserved the suffering and terror they fared aboard the Sin Ship and in the sea. It was just; it was fair. But what about Paul? Had he sinned? Had he chosen to disobey God’s will and press forward on the sailing journey? Did he deserve to bear the suffering he too was forced to share?

No.

It’s a simple answer. Why then did he suffer as much as anybody else?

Because we can’t keep sin to ourselves; it is going to affect other people, regardless of whether we want it to or not. We think, “Oh, I’ll just keep this sin hidden in my own personal world. If nobody knows about it, then it can’t hurt them.” Lie. Go ahead, keep telling yourself that – until truth comes knocking at your door and the reality comes out. The fact that you’ve been hiding the sin only adds to the pain it causes others.

Even if you manage to keep your secret from the people in your life, God knows. How much do you think you’re hurting Him by choosing to live in your hypocritical lifestyle every single day?

(Honestly, how much do I hurt Him?)

Sin is contagious, contaminating everything and everybody it touches. My mom made an analogy once that has stuck with me ever since. We raise livestock, which means we have to haul in loads of hay to feed them over the winter. Unfortunately, not all of that hay is good feed; if it has mold it cannot be fed to our animals because the mold will sicken – if not kill – the animals. When there is a tiny mold spot in a flake of hay, the spot spreads and spreads until the whole bale is worthless garbage…and then the mold spreads to the surrounding bales in the stack. Even if those bales were the cream the crop when first hayed, they too are damaged by the first moldy bale.

That’s what our sin does. When it rules us, it spreads into the lives of others. It damages them, hurting them, wounding them, cutting them, contaminating them. Something which we thought we could keep to ourselves is suddenly hurting those we love, and it’s hurting them far more than it is us. That truth – the knowledge that what we have done has absolutely broken those whom we would never wish to break in any way – brings an agony to our hearts.

Sin, like mold, can’t be contained to one moldy spot or flake. If it isn’t entirely taken out of the bale, then it will escalate until it wrecks far more havoc then we ever could ever imagine.

David’s sin with Bathsheba cost Uriah his life and Bathsheba her husband. Judas’ greed cost Jesus His life. A drunken driver wrecks the other car coming home from the basketball game, killing the mother and maiming the child. Selfish, materialistic ambitions cause the deaths of hundreds of neglected animals whom people insist on raising but cannot – or will not – feed.

Rather simple, ordinary sins, aren’t they? Lust. Greed. Drunkenness. Selfishness. Materialism. And the results are so extreme. So dire. So….

Deadly.

Maybe our sins won’t cause a physical death for somebody else. But they will cause an emotional death. And it seems to me as if the emotional wound is usually far more painful and takes a longer time to heal than the physical wound.

I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum – the wounder and the wounded. I ashamedly guarantee, the former is the worse position to be in. It’s far easier to forgive someone who has hurt you, then to forgive yourself for hurting another. It’s far easier to forgive a person than it is to watch them suffer day after day, to see the hurt in their eyes every time they look at you, to know they want to cry every time they see a picture of you.

Sin is destructive. Deadly. Contagious. We have to leave it behind – to jump ship. Yes, it’s going to be a painful, probably agonizing process. Yes, it’s going to wound others. But the longer you wait, the greater the sin becomes, and the more powerful an impact it has on those it touches.

The mold spreads from one bale to two…to three…to five…to ten…to twenty….

Did you know that if a haystack starts molding, the heat produced by the molding process can actually start a fire? That’s what happens if we just cling to the sin in our lives. Eventually, it will erupt in flames.

Hell here on Earth.

I do not want that in my life.

(Oh my goodness, I have so much to think about right now…so much to act on. I know that there are moldy flakes in my life that I need to get rid of, tackle and foodstuffs that I need to throw overboard. Before they grow into an entire Sin Ship. Before they consume me. And in so doing, consume those around me.)

But there is hope. Oh my goodness, there is HOPE!

Do you see the joy is in this serious discussion? In the story in Acts 27? It is the fact that “all” were saved! Look at it – just look at it in verse 44. They all abandoned ship – they jumped into that frightening Sea of Consequence and struggled to the land. Humanly, they were alone, every man for himself. But God was with them all the while – watching them, guiding them, holding them up. He brought them to dry land. He rescued them from sin. He gave hope when all hope was lost.

And He will do the same for each of us, if we are willing to finally jump ship once and for all.

Letting go of sin isn’t an impossible endeavor. On the contrary, throwing myself into the arms of a faithful, merciful God is the most possible thing imaginable.

So let go. Abandon ship. Face the tempest. Leave the unsteady rolling of the ship behind and set your feet once more on solid ground.

Good-bye, Sin Ship. Hello, Hope.

Acts 27 “The Sin Ship”: Part 3 of 4

Acts 27: 39-44

So this is what happens when we hit the end of our ropes, when we’ve ridden the ship of sin as long as we can and suddenly we can go no further. When it’s time to let go for good. There’s no easy landing, no easy dismount. We have to be humbled. We have to be shipwrecked. Sin isn’t something we can just sneak out of, no matter how hard we try. On the contrary – we must face the consequences of our sin.

Sometimes we wonder if we will ever survive that shipwreck. The sin that we have lived in for so long is being battered to pieces, being exposed for the frailty it is. The strongest sin is no match for God’s power. And as our sins are basically being torn out from under our feet, we too are being exposed – mere flesh and blood, helpless, weak. No more crutches, no more facades.

If we want to live, we have no choice but to abandon ship. Otherwise, we will be destroyed with the vessel. But in order to abandon ship, we must “jump overboard.”

Can you imagine how terrifying that must have been for the sailors and prisoners, especially those who couldn’t swim, to leap out of the safety of what they had known – however rickety and wrong it was – into the storm of God’s wrath and the just consequences for sinful decisions?

In the story in Acts, it sounds as if the ordeal was an every-man-for-himself situation. Similarly, when we own up to our sin, we often feel as though we are entirely alone and the whole world has turned against us. Those can be some of the most agonizing moments, days, months, or years we will ever face. When in that sea of consequence, we wonder if we will survive the tempest, if we will ever reach land again. Or will we just be destroyed by the agony that consumes us?

But there is a promise of hope.

The last sentence of this passage says, “And so it was that they all escaped safely to land.” Notice the “all.” Not some, but “all.” Because they were obedient and because they had the courage to leap overboard, God carried them through the storm. Yes, they had to suffer in the sea for a while, but God brought them through it. Just like He will you or I or anyone else who takes the plunge of faith and willingly faces the consequences of one’s sin and then leaves the wreckage of that sin behind.

It’s not going to be easy – those were probably the worst, loneliest, most painful months I have ever endured. Sometimes those sea waves still bombard me. Nevertheless, God has carried me through.

He has set my feet on dry ground once again. He set the ship’s passengers’ feet on dry ground again. He will do the same for anyone else who has the humbled, repentant heart to abandon the Sin Ship.

 

 

Acts 27 “The Sin Ship”: Part 2 of 4

Acts 27:13-38

Do you see the point God is making here? When we heed the world’s advice rather than God’s, we head off on our own like the ship and its crew. At first things seem all right, with just a gentle wind to blow us along. But then we find ourselves trapped in the Tempest of Sin, doomed for destruction. And we passionately wish we had listened to God rather than to the men of the world.

I notice how much the passengers had to lighten the ship. Three times they throw items overboard. We aren’t told exactly what the first items are – I’m guessing they were sundries that were not necessary for the voyage, very possibly the merchandise to be sold at the journey’s end. Secondly, the crew pitched out the tackle – the means of making the ship travel. Lastly, the food – human sustenance – was thrown into the sea.

From one perspective, the point being made here is that the only way to get back with God – to become right with Him – is to get rid of everything in our lives which is ensnaring us in sin.

  1. The merchandise – the material things which are distracting me. They’ve got to go. The crew members were distracted from obeying God because they were more concerned about the material wealth and satisfaction they could gain by selling this merchandise than they were about attaining heavenly  joy and satisfaction through obedience to Christ. Do I have any material idols which are distracting me from serving God? Then overboard they must go.
  2. The tackle – whatever aids my journey of sin. If there is something that is supporting my sinful lifestyle, and that is basically enabling my sin, I have to get rid of it. How can I become untangled from my sin if I have numerous crutches which make it easy for me to remain in wickedness?
  3. Food – human strength. Food’s not bad, and even Paul mentions that we need it. But food only supplies human strength, which is not sufficient for freeing me from sin. I desperately need God’s strength, not human resources and human power. If I want to be completely cleansed of my sin, I must turn to God and rely on His strength rather than on mine, because only He can rescue me from this storm.

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 “And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, when they had let down the skiff under pretense of putting out anchors from the prow, Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, ‘Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.’ Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the skiff and let if fall off.” vs. 30-32

When we have strayed from God’s will in order to accomplish our own, we can’t try to sneak back into the Way of Life. That’s what the sailors tried to do – they didn’t want to be shipwrecked with the rest of their companions to face the consequences of their mistakes. So they pretended to be doing the right thing – stopping the ship – while they were secretly plotting to abandon ship.

Deceit will not work…at least not for long. Truth always – always – comes to the light. God has a knack for gifting godly people with the ability to see right through ungodly deceptions. Lies and cover-ups are exposed, and the deceiver’s chance of escape is cut off.

Once we’ve taken the wrong path, we can’t abandon ship and sneak back into the presence of God. Instead, we have to ride out the storm. Not that it will be easy – on the contrary, riding out the storm can be the most painful, terrifying, and humbling thing that we have ever done. But if we want to get right with God, we must ride out the tempest. That painful, humbling, terrifying process is what purifies us and helps us to become right with God once again.