The Merciful Hand of the Lord

ocean with bubbles

Photo by Johannes Rapprich on Pexels.com

The disciples, with their belly still filled with the bread and fish they had eaten among the five thousand, got into a boat. Jesus would meet them on the other side. No doubt the disciples were talking about the miracle they had just witnessed. Five loaves of bread and two fish for more than five thousand people! And they got to pass it around among the hungry! And, Oh, how it tasted… like heaven for sure!  The conversation was lively until darkness came. The waves roared and hit them so strong that their laughter was washed away.  The winds were against them and as they clung to their boat they let their peace go.

Jesus, the Incarnate Word of God, who is “mightier than the waves of the sea, and the thunder of many waters,” (1) came to them, walking on the sea. They had read the book of Job, they knew that only God can tread on the waves of the sea (2). So, when they saw him they were not only terrified, but very terrified. (3) “It is a ghost!” they cried out.

The waves had not ceased to hit them. The winds kept lifting the waves higher. And Jesus was not asleep. He was not in the boat. He was walking on water watching the scene and approaching it slowly. This time, however, He did not speak to the waves and the winds, but to His men:”Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid!”(4)  His voice had to be louder than the roaring of the winds for them to hear Him.

Peter put his hands around his mouth and yelled through the storm, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. (5)

And there he was, a man walking on the Word of God. Had anyone seen such a faith before? Such an obedience? Not a moment to hesitate. Just one word was enough for Peter. But all of a sudden his fears were more real than Jesus’s Spoken Word, and being afraid he started to sink.

But we must the stop the story here for a minute. Why, you say? Because we are -again- judging Peter too hard and too soon. (“Oh, Peter, just keep your eyes on Jesus, take him at His Word! Stop looking at the circumstances around you. You know better, Peter!”)

Put that Bible-Story narrative aside and keep reading. The big lesson is coming.

When Peter “saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.”(6)
Who among us has never been afraid? Who never looks at the winds and the waves and trembles? Who among us hasn’t taken one step of obedience (because that is what steps of faith actually are, right?) and then starts sinking just thinking about taking the next?

We know the answer, we all are like Peter that way. Imitating Peter in that is not hard, it comes pretty natural for us. We all freak out and are quick to doubt the Word of the Lord, the Word that the Almighty speaks to us in the midst of the storm.

But we must learn to imitate Peter in the next thing he does, or we will sink.
As Peter began to sink, as his faith began to fail, he didn’t get mad at God for commanding him to come to Him (Why did you ask me to come if you knew I would sink, God?). Peter didn’t start making excuses. He didn’t even try to save himself. He knew, as he was starting to drown, what he had to do. Most of his faith had sank to the bottom of the ocean. He was thinking of nothing but the storm, that was all he could see now, but in his darkness, he found enough faith in his heart to cry out, “Lord, save me!” And that was enough.

“Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”(7)

Immediately Jesus took hold of Peter. Jesus had called him to come, he would not let him drown.

When Peter cried to the Lord the first time, Jesus heard his loud voice through the storm and answered him. This time, Peter’s voice was a faint and desperate cry, but it didn’t make a difference in the ears of the Lord. He heard him again, and again answered him.

In Jesus’ reproof, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  there is comfort for us. He knows that our faith weavers, that it is small, and yet He still comes when we call on to Him. What a comfort to know that Jesus knows that our faith is small and our weaknesses are big! Because He knows our frame and is compassionate toward us, He is interceding for you and me even now.(8)

And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”(9)

Sometimes this happens. Well, actually many times this is the way things happen: The Lord will carry us to safety only after we have been close to seeing our end, thinking that we would for sure drown. Many times he calms the winds and the waves only after we stop having faith in our own faith to keep obeying.

When the only prayer we can mutter is, “Lord, save me!”  we must remember that our Savior is already there, closer than we think, ready to take us to a safe place in His arms.

The disciples saw the whole scene. And we know that in God’s story no one gets the role of spectator, so their part came and they did the right thing, “they worshiped Jesus, saying “Truly you are the Son of God.”

We might be going through something similar than what Peter went through in this story. Friends and family are watching us. But you know what? It is not our super strong faith that will draw them to fall on their knees before Jesus, no, it is the mercy and goodness of the Lord that will draw them to their knees.

It is not about trying to impress others with our radical obedience, our big faith that takes us to walk on water. It is neither about our weaknesses or our lack of faith when storms come. It is always about the faithfulness and goodness of our God who calls us to obey him and sustains us as we learn to obey Him.

Peter, who almost drowned, years later wrote:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”(10)

He learned the lesson well so that we can learn it too. May our faith, big or small, after being tested be found to result in praise and glory and honor for Jesus.

Under His sun and by His grace,

Becky

 

(1) Psalm 93
(2) Job 9
(3) Mt. 14:26 ESV
(4) Mt. 14:28 ESV
(5) Mt. 14: 28-33 ESV
(6) ibid
(7) ibid
(8) Hebrews 4 and 11
(9) Mt. 14:32-33
(10) 1 Peter 1:3-9 ESV

 

Soften Our Hearts to Receive Forgiveness

Jim Lepage Art

The story of Joseph is one of my favorites in the Bible mainly because Joseph is clearly a powerful type of Jesus.

In Genesis 50 we read that after Israel (Jacob) died, Joseph’s heart grieved for him and he, along with his brothers, mourned and cried, and buried his father Israel. But not long after that, Joseph’s brothers came to him with great fear.

The past still haunted them. Their past sin’s shadow had not yet departed from them. They had once asked Joseph to forgive them from their sin against him, and Joseph had expressed his forgiveness with words and tears, and actions (Gen. 45). Joseph even called them and brought them near to him, to a safer place where they would lack nothing. But now that their Father was gone, now that their circumstances had changed, the questions came back and the shadows grew darker and bigger as the memories of that day rushed back like cataracts -the Dreamer, the tunic, the well, the merchants, the look on Joseph’s eyes, his cries, his pleas, the blood of the animal, the lies all had to make up, the moment they faced their father, his loud cry, and the way their lives were changed forever- all were tangible memories that made them shiver and sweat.  What if Joseph had changed his mind? What if Joseph’s forgiveness was just a show to make their father happy? What if he had not really forgiven them? So they came and again asked for his forgiveness one more time because, you see, forgiveness and restoration and all-is-forgotten-and-all-is-made-new is too good to be true, and it just can’t be that easy, right? Their nightmares were real, but more real than Joseph’s promise of forgiveness?

However, Joseph didn’t change his mind. He “wept when they spoke to him” and said to them, “Do not fear… ” and then again, “Do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” And the author tells us that with these words “he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”

If we could only see and understand how Jesus forgives us! How many times we are haunted by our past sins, by memories that out of nowhere spring up and cast a heavy shadow on our hearts. How many times we have asked God to forgive us for the same sins over and over again? We are like Joseph’s brothers, we doubt the character, the goodness, the free gift that Jesus gives us. We can’t possibly believe that God forgives the worst and calls us and brings us close to him to feed us with the best of the land, with bread and wine. “No,” we say, “that can’t be.”

But we must believe and not fear to come when God bids us to come. God’s love for us and His forgiveness are not dependent on anything we do or don’t do; His forgiveness doesn’t rest on the circumstances around us, His forgiveness comes from His immutable character and perfect love. He even leads us, in his kindness, to repentance. We ask for forgiveness because He softens our hearts to be able to do that.

Don’t fear the shadows of past sins. Repent and believe that He delights to forgive His people.

And there is one more layer to unwrap in this story. One more lesson on forgiveness.

How do we extend forgiveness to others? Like Jesus to us? Like Joseph to his brothers? Joseph knew -and never denied- that what their brothers did to him, they did full of malice and meant it for evil. However, he fully forgave them and did all that was possible for him to do to restore that relationship. Why did he do that? How was that even possible? Again, because Joseph knew God and His character. He understood one thing above all else: God is sovereign over all the events of our lives, even over those things that people do and say against us. He even told his brothers, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?” (50:19)

Let us learn to be like Joseph -and even more like Jesus. Let us welcome those who have hurt us and have meant evil against us, let us start saying more often kind words that can bring comfort, “Do not fear, come…” 

Soften our hearts, Oh Lord, to receive and extend forgiveness. 

Under His sun and by His grace,

Becky

When God Surprises Us

 

©Annie Pliego Photography

Sometimes our good Father surprises us with situations that we have been praying for: the job we asked for, the marriage we dreamed about, the children we asked for after years of waiting,  the announcement that the adoption papers were finally ready, the scholarship for college, etc. But many other times He, our good Father, surprises us with the most unexpected circumstances: the death of one of our children, a sickness, a “no” to one of our prayers, a divorce, suffering. But no matter how God “surprises us,” we must never forget that He is a good Father, and He always gives us what our soul needs the most.

D.A. Carson writes in his book Scandalous,

“This is a truth not to be passed over lightly: God often surprises us; he is not to be domesticated by reductionistic theology; he takes the common things and turns them into surprising things. That is why large swaths of the Bible are written with various kinds of twist: you think you know where the words are going, and then the text jumps in another direction. Could anyone have predicted how the story of Job would turn out? Or how Habakkuk would turn out?”

 I don’t know the twists that my story, or my children’s story will have. How many things that I am “sure” will happen in a certain way will turn out differently? I don’t know. But it is so incredibly comforting to know that my Father in Heaven is good, perfectly good and He has promised that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord, for those who have been called according to His purpose. 

We don’t know the words in each one of the chapters of our lives, but we sure know the ending:

“And they lived happily ever after in the arms of their Heavenly Father and sin and death were no more.”



Resting under God’s Sovereign hand,

Becky

Praying the Psalms -Psalm 23: 4- A Prayer for Moms in Pain-

 

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
Lord, my Good Shepherd,
Help me remember that all those
Terrible and fearsome shadows
That hunt us in our Christian walk,
Are only shadows.
Help me remember that
Even death is a shadow,
Death has been conquered
Through Jesus’ death and
Resurrection.
Death doesn’t have the last word.
You do.
And you have promised Life,
eternal Life and the resurrection of the death.
Father, I pray you comfort today,
With your rod and staff,
All those moms who have
Lost a dearest child,
Or are barren.
Father help your daughters
Walk in light,
And not fear the shadows of this world.
Let them be comforted in the shadows,
Let your Word strengthen their hope,
Let your Word be a lamp to their feet.
May your Spirit comfort them today.
Thank you for your promise,
The promise that He will come to
be with us and not leave us.
We believe it.
Let your light, O God,
Shine through the darkness,
Through the shadows.
Help us fix our eyes on
What is to come.
Strengthen our faith,
our knees, our heart.
That we won’t lose hope.
 Amen

 

Becky

Praying the Psalms -Psalm 13- How Long, O LORD?-

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Psalm 13

1  How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2  How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

3  Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
4  lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

5  But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6  I will sing to the LORD,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.

This weekend I have listened several times a sermon on Monergism by Dale Ralph Davis based on this Psalm. The sermon is entitled Faith: From Crying to Confidence. Friends, I cannot stress how much this sermon has blessed me; I encourage you to listen to it.

And based on this Psalm (and the sermon) I pray today…

O God, how much longer, how much longer?  Many friends of mine whom I love dearly, women who love you, who love your Word and are walking on your ways have recently lost their babies before they opened their eyes, even in their mother’s womb. LORD, we don’t understand, we just cry and at times try to hold our words back. At times we feel as if you had abandoned us. Father, O God, how long? What do you want to teach us, the body of Christ, when we see this and feel so helpless and alone?

O LORD, how much longer?   Don’t hide your face from us, don’t hide your face from my sisters’ faces who cry in the darkness. LORD, O LORD! Hear our cry! You alone can bring comfort to us. Please, Lord; please God, hear us and let your face shine upon us.

There are times when grief cannot find comfort in words, when we don’t know what to utter, what to say. There are times when the only question that springs forth from our troubled heart is, the same that David asked, “How long, O LORD?”

“How long? Ah!  how long do days appear when our soul is cast down within us!…Time flies with full-fledged wing in our summer days, but in our winters he flutters painfully.”(1)

How long? God, how long will we have sorrow in our heart all the day as we mourn the death of these babies who were to be born in Christian homes, in the Covenant? We need you to come Father, and look at us in our distress. We are in desperate need of you. We have cried many tears in the night, on our pillow, and swallowed hard… we have waited and waited, and waited and still do not understand your ways. We go to your Word and at times You seem far from us. How much longer until my friends, my sisters will find comfort in their sorrow?

How long will our enemies will see us having miscarriages while they go and put their babies to death? How long LORD? Remember that we are poor and needy, Oh LORD, take thought for us. You are our help and our deliverer; do not delay, O my God!

Do not delay, O God!

Teach us to pray when our heart feels devastated; consider and answer us O LORD our God, light up our eyes, lest we sleep the sleep of death, lest our enemy say, “I have prevailed over them,” lest our foes rejoice because we are shaken. Don’t delay, O God, my LORD!

Father, where can we go for answers? To whom shall we cry? We have nowhere else to go but to You. Remind us that “the mercy-seat is the life of hope and the death of despair.” (2) O God, I come boldly before you today, because I have trusted in your steadfast love. My sisters and I will keep coming to you, day and night we will keep on knocking and knocking at the doors of Heaven. LORD only in You, in your steadfast love, in whom You are is where we will find rest and our heart will rejoice only in your salvation.

This day we thank you because You are our Father, a Father who has promised not to forsake us but to have compassion on us. You have promised not to leave us in the pit of desperation. We have trusted in Your covenant, in your perfect love, O God, and run to hide under your wings. You have given us hope and your Word to sustain us. Thank you, O LORD!

In the night dark of the soul, I thank you because even though we don’t always see clearly, we are not blind. You have made your light shine on us and You have given us your Word and the Holy Spirit to comfort us and help us in our weaknesses. Thank you, LORD because we are not placing our faith on vain things but on who You are; and You are God, a merciful and faithful God who remembers His own, who is Sovereign and Omniscient. You are our Father and your promises are Yes and Amen. Father just as a shipwrecked mariner clings to the mast (3), so we do now, we cling to our faith, we cling to You in whom our soul has believed.

God, my Lord, put a song in our mouth, clear our throats from this crying so that we may be able to sing your praises. O Father, our Father thank you because you have dealt bountifully with us.

Our Hope is in You and we look forward for the coming of our Lord Jesus, for the day in which all our tears will be wiped away.

AMEN!

Becky

(1), (2), (3) The Treasury of David by C.H. Spurgeon

Praying the Psalms 

Awaiting a Savior – A Christian Response to Poverty-

A Cruciform Press book

I am Mexican. My country is a country of contrasts, a country in which you can find the richest man on earth, as well as people living in extreme poverty not so far from the richest neighborhoods in the most important cities.

I drive to my parents’ home once a week to have lunch with them, and every week, in the same corner, I see a poor family selling candy or some times just reaching their hand to beg for some money. The mom is always holding a baby in her “rebozo”, while the “big kids” (around seven years old) are most of the time selling gum to the car drivers when the stop light is on. But my eyes always look for the little one, a toddler. He is always in a corner playing happily with empty milk cartons, or old toys. Every week, my heart aches. Many times we have brought food for them, or clothes, but there are always these questions in my heart, how can we really help those in need when you see them every where? Is there a real solution to all this poverty around me? Whom do we help? The family on the street, the friends that are going through hard (real hard) times, the children in a far away land with no drinking water? What is the Christian response to poverty?

Aaron Armstrong has written a book, Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, The New Creation and The End of Poverty,  that has spoken directly to my heart. He has in few pages, answered many of these questions.

Armstrong says,

“Resources and awareness and policies are important, but poverty is not fundamentally about any of these things. The root of poverty is sin.” (p.9)

The author understands the gospel’s message well. He knows that the bad news always precede the good, so he keeps on saying,

“¨[O]ur good faith efforts to address legitimate questions of poverty and injustice must never lose sight of the fact that poverty will persist as long as the heart of man is ruled by sin.”. (p.10)

This book is one that reminds us of the hope that should keep us pursuing biblical solutions to poverty. Armstrong says,  

“our only hope for an ultimate solution to poverty is in the return of Christ, when he will put an end once and for all to sin, suffering and death, and bring out the New Creation.” (p.11)

And that is when I take a deep breath and keep on reading. Armstrong takes us back to Genesis, the Paradise, the Fall, and the curse that came as a result of it.

“Whereas the curse upon Eve is primarily about interpersonal relationships, Adam’s curse spreads outward to all economic life… Prosperity will always be challenging and elusive. The very materials and processes we work with to try to create prosperity will resist us. And it will continue like this until the day we die.” (p.18)

But physical poverty, as terrible as it is,  is not the ultimate poverty. Armstrong says,

“A fallen world inhabited exclusively by sinners; that is the essence of poverty. Sin, and the effects of sin throughout creation, is the Poverty from which all other poverty flows” (p.23)

This is the heart of the book, this is what makes this book so important;  Awaiting a Savior goes to the root of the problem of poverty that surrounds us.

This is a book that I greatly recommend as a tool to train the young people who want to come and do missions to poor countries. In Latin America, sadly to say, we receive many missionaries, many youth groups that come every summer to help build churches, and paint walls, and sing children’s songs in poor areas; but we need to go deeper, we need to go to the root of poverty: sin in the heart man.

Armstrong deals, then, with the root of poverty, but also with the root of our inability to respond in a God-glorifying way towards poverty.

“Sin thus not only causes poverty but also poisons our attitude toward those suffering within it.”

We try to help, but very often we loose sight of our real aim:

“Ultimately, poverty can only be addressed at the heart level, one person at a time, s salvation through the shed blood of Christ pushes back against the fall of man.  The ultimate answer to poverty is circumcised hearts that know the God who forms and keeps covenant with poor and undeserving sinners.” (p.47)

Chapter Five, was probably my favorite. Armstrong reminds us of the Sermon of the Mountain and how “The gifts of love always precede the demands of love”. Oh yes, Grace, amazing Grace that reaches to the poor effectively.

“That is what is so devastating about the Sermon on the Mount. It starts with grace…”

And as the paragraph continued, it brought me to my knees in prayer, conviction and thanksgiving. Grace is the starting point; it was there where Jesus found me. It is there where we should start if we want to effectively help the poor among us until the day we see Jesus.

Come, Lord Jesus!

Becky

*I was provided with a complimentary copy of this book by the author for the purpose of this review. I was asked to write an honest review.