Jehovah was not in the wind. And after the wind, an earthquake: Jehovah was not in the earthquake.
And after the earthquake, a fire: Jehovah was not in the fire. And after the fire, a soft gentle voice. (1Kings 19:11-12)

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Friday, July 21, 2017

When You Pass Through the Impassable

Have you ever come to the edge of an impassable situation?

When the circumstances that lie before you bring life to a frightful halt?

Somehow you must go forward, but there is no foreseeable way to get to the other side of the obstacle surging ahead.

To do so requires more strength and courage than your weak body and weary soul could muster.

Have you ever stood on the brink of rushing waters with a longing to get to the other side, but with absolutely no sensible way to cross?

It’s easier to turn around and give up, give in to the cowardice that creeps in the corners of every heart.

But, there is hope. There is a sure way. There is obedience. There is trust.

There is this way that quiets the cowardice and builds strength and brings forth courage. It is the way of obedience. It is the way of faith. It is the way one walks when the Lord your God is with you.

When you are sure of the presence of the Lord you will pass though the impassible.

When you trust in the Lord God you will walk across your Jordon River on dry ground.

After Moses died, the Lord exalted Joshua to lead His people to the Promised Land. They had to cross the Jordon River to get to their place of rest. God had promised that He would give them this land to possess and He had shown Himself faithful to them over and over.

The Lord said to Joshua:

The assurance that the Lord is with you is the strength you need to walk in obedience and the courage to pass the impassible and come to the place of rest.

I had come to an impassable place. I looked ahead and could not see a way forward. My body was frail. It had let me down. My mind was troubled. My soul was weary.

It was then that I longed to go clear across Canada to stand at the Pacific Ocean: the mighty ocean that means, “the peaceful sea”. Lying in the hospital in great turmoil, I wanted to feel the sand between my toes and breathe in the salt air and take our children across a beautiful land to show them all the mighty things God has done.

But, I couldn’t even walk to the end of a hospital bed. I could not breathe on my own and no one knew if I ever would again.

My heart had to heal from surgery. And bones had to regrow and nerves had to repair. My mind had to be restored.

I had to be strong and courageous. I had to stop the grumbling and see the good things God had done. I had to trust the Lord and know that He is with me.

He brings us to the brink of the Jordon to trust Him; to lead us to find our rest in Him.

Once the people of Israel crossed the Jordon, the Lord told Joshua to take twelve men—one man from each tribe--to take twelve stones out of the midst of the Jordon River and lay them down as a memorial. So that, in time, when their children would ask, “What do these stones mean?” they would say:
“‘Israel passed over the Jordon on dry ground. For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordon for you until you passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.’”
When we pass through the impassible, others see the mighty hand of God and we know without a doubt that it was God--and God alone--that brought us through. We are not to cower in fear at our circumstances, but we are to stand in awe of God’s majesty and acknowledge His goodness and worship Him forever.

Whatever is looming ahead, God is with you.

Whatever may seem impassible, God will make the way to pass through.

You must trust Him and obediently follow. It is a laying down of self. It’s the way of surrender. It’s the walk of faith.

That’s what I knew when I dipped my feet in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Vancouver Island on the last day of June this year--the year Canada turned 150. The icy water at Long Beach stabbed at my toes and the soles of my feet turned numb as the sea-water splashed at my shins. My family plunged into the salty cold ocean, tried to ride a few waves on their bellies and shrieked with stunned laughter as every inch of their bodies tingled from being alive.

The wind whipped sand and strings of hair into my face as I turned out toward the vast ocean and knew that God, in His mercy, had brought me to this place. I can sing along with Horatio Gates Spafford:

“When peace like a river attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control:
that Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
and has shed his own blood for my soul. 

My sin oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
my sin, not in part, but the whole,
is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more;
praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul! 

O Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
the clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
the trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend;
even so, it is well with my soul.”

By the work of Christ, He has brought us to rest in Him. We were without hope. We were without a way to pass through. But Christ has brought us back to Himself and gives us life, fills us with hope.

See what the Lord has done? He brings us to the impassible and leads us to the place of rest.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Learning From the Life of Hannah: A Woman with Serious Problems {Part 5}

{This is Part 5 in a series on the Life of Hannah.

For the last four weeks we have been examining the life of Hannah as told in 1 Samuel. As we come to the end of Hannah’s story today, we know God will be Eternally Glorified and we see that Hannah Erupts in Praise to the Supreme Ruler.

The God who Sovereignly Governs over all, Providentially Guides all circumstances, Graciously Gives all things is Eternally Glorified and “we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

I consider that the sufferings of this present time”, Paul said to the Romans, “are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Oh, He is worthy of our praise.

In Romans, Paul said: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Hannah knows the goodness of God in her life and understood that there is no one like our God who will graciously give us all things.

Hannah’s heart erupts in praise to the Lord. She takes what has happened in her life and she breaks forth in magnificent descriptions of the character and goodness of God.

Her joy is in the Giver, not the gift.

In 1 Samuel chapter two, we read Hannah’s prayer.

In her prayer, Hannah meditates on the extraordinary goodness of God to her with all of who she is, she rejoices in the strength His gives. Her heart leaps for joy at his salvation; his deliverance.

She proclaims his absolute holiness, and acknowledges there is none like Him. He is above all.

Hannah uses the metaphor of the “rock” and speaks of his majesty and might. She knows He is the safe dwelling place for his people.

She speaks of His omniscience, His sovereignty, His omnipotence and His power over life and death. Hannah declares He is Creator and Sustainer of all. That He upholds all things and directs all things.

He knows all things: He knows our heart, our thoughts, our actions.

He is the Supreme Ruler. His plans will come to pass.

She knows He is Just and merciful, gracious and faithful in His promises.

She tells of the promised Messiah.

These are the things Hannah’s heart knows. Do you know God like this? Does your heart leap for joy the way Hannah’s did?

Hannah’s tune changes from weeping over her problems with sorrow to rejoicing in the Lord with this song of praise.

The book of Samuel begins with Hannah praying for the son that God would use to lead the nation of Israel from the time of the judges to establish the Davidic monarchy. God promised a Messiah through the line of David and to establish David’s throne forever. Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, our Redeemer will reign forever.

Nothing can frustrate God’s plan.

Jesus Christ is the perfect substitutionary sacrifice and He bore the wrath of God for our sin that He might bring us to God.

The Supreme Ruler who Sovereignly Governs, Providentially Guides, and Graciously Gives, provides Hannah with three more sons and two daughters. Her future is secure.

In every way His will must prevail.

You may be women with serious problems, but we have a God who is Supreme over all. Because of His love He will graciously give you all things to conform you into the likeness of His Son to the praise of His glory.

With all your afflictions, sorrows, and anxieties find your joy in the Lord.

God Sovereignly Governs, Providentially Guides, Graciously Gives, and is Eternally Glorified.

Like Hannah, will you endure your problems, earnestly pour out your soul, entrust your Provider with all that He gives you and erupt in praise to your Saviour?

We have looked to the life of a woman with serious problems whose joy was ultimately in the Lord. We will conclude with these words Joseph Addison wrote in his hymn:

“Ten thousand thousand precious gifts
My daily thanks employ;
Nor is the least a cheerful heart
That tastes those gifts with joy.

Through every period of my life
Thy goodness I’ll pursue
And after death, in distant worlds,
The glorious theme renew.

Through all eternity to Thee
A joyful song I’ll raise;
For, oh, eternity’s too short
To utter all Thy praise!”

Monday, July 10, 2017

Learning From the Life of Hannah: A Woman with Serious Problems {Part 4}

{This is Part 4 in a series on the Life of Hannah.

For the past three weeks we have been gleaning truth about God from the life of a woman with serious problems.

Hannah is a woman with serious problems whose joy was ultimately in the Lord.

Hannah knew the Lord sovereignly governs over all and providentially guides all circumstances. She also knew God graciously gives all things and we see that Hannah entrusted her son to her Provider.

God desires our hearts to be fully devoted to Him.

Hannah has earnestly poured out her soul and promised her son. Eli, first misunderstanding her, stands corrected, and tells her “Go in peace, and let the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.”

Hannah, the woman of grace, replies, “Let your servant find favor in your eyes.”

Hannah knows God will pour out His grace. Her circumstances have not yet changed, but she went her way and ate and her face was no longer sad.

They rose early in the morning and worshipped before the Lord. They return to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife and the Lord remembered her: she conceived and bore a son and called his name Samuel. She said, “I have asked for Him from the LORD

She sees how God graciously provides and she trusts in His faithfulness to be able to keep her vow.

For all these years she wanted a son. He granted her petition and she would give him back to the Lord. He had given her a son; she could trust Him to secure her future.

Hannah doesn’t hold too tightly to what the Lord gives her. She enjoys the Provider more than the provision.

In the joy of the Lord, Hannah finds strength to move forward in what God had purposed for her: to give her son back to God.

Taking her focus off her problems and fixing her gaze on the Lord, Hannah trusts in the God who pours out His grace.

Do you remember these words?
“He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
To added affliction He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace. 
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father's full giving is only begun. 
His love has no limit, His grace has no measure;
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth and giveth and giveth again.”
Hannah knows God’s grace.

Hannah takes her son to minister to the Lord in a place where the priests—the two sons of Eli--were worthless men that did not know the Lord, doing evil things and their sin was very great in the sight of the Lord: they treated the offering of the Lord with contempt and they “lay with the women who were serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting”.

And this was where her boy Samuel would grow in the presence of the Lord.

Although this was the vow Hannah had made to the Lord, Elkanah went along with it telling her “to do what seems best to you.”

So after Samuel was weaned, Hannah brings him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh and presents him there along with her offering. She has come back with an apparent peace offering and she presents the offering. She, who has known the peace—the wholeness of the Lord—, partakes of the feast now with praise and thanksgiving.

Hannah, a woman with serious problems, loves the Lord, surrenders herself to Him and He pours out His grace in her life and she finds peace and joy in Him.

God continually and graciously gives us all things to demonstrate that He is good and only in Him will our hearts truly find rest.

Take time this week and consider God’s grace in your life and come back next when we will conclude looking at the life of Hannah—a woman with serious problems.

{Continue to Part 5 here.}

Monday, July 3, 2017

Learning From the Life of Hannah: A Woman with Serious Problems {Part 3}

{This is Part 3 in a series on the Life of Hannah.

We have been learning from the life of Hannah as narrated in 1 Samuel. If you haven’t read the account recently, I encourage you to do so this week. In reading the account we see Hannah was a woman with some serious problems.

Many of us, it not all of us, can relate to such a woman. We will not escape problems in this life. There are hard roads to travel as we wait longingly for our eternal dwelling. We know that God sovereignly governs over all and we can rest in Him.

Come now and know that God Providentially Guides all circumstances and see how Hannah Earnestly Pours out her soul.

In 1 Samuel, we are told the Lord closed Hannah’s womb.

Don’t think for a moment that God is blind to your problems. Don’t believe that He is not present in your suffering. The LORD of hosts is with us. Whatever problems or suffering God brings into your life, you can be confident that he has a purpose for it.

Our suffering is hard to bear, but God will use it to bring us to Him to find the solution that He had in mind.

And so after they eat and drink, while in Shiloh, Hannah rises and earnestly pours out her soul to the One who providentially guides all of life’s circumstances.

E.M. Bounds wrote: “ . . . none but the earnest man gets access to the ear of God.”

In her distress, Hannah prays to the LORD of hosts. Not only has the nation of Israel reached its depths, she personally cannot go on without surrendering to the One who rules over all.

God brought her through the suffering to bring her to the place to vow the vow we read in 1 Samuel 1:11:
“O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”
At that time, if a woman vowed a vow, on the day her husband heard of it he could oppose the vow she uttered and void it.

Eli, the priest could see Hannah as she prayed. But, she was speaking only in her heart. Her lips moved, but her voice was not heard, so her vow could not be voided.

But, Eli misunderstood her to be a drunk woman out of control rather than a devout woman completely surrendering herself to the Lord.

She has come to the Lord as a troubled woman, in great anxiety and vexation. She couldn’t save herself from her affliction, but she could surrender herself to the author of her joy.

Hannah’s barreness grievously distressed her. Hannah’s God graciously delivered her.

In her affliction, Hannah felt forgotten. In his faithfulness, God remembered Hannah.

If she had not had years of barrenness and suffering would she have so earnestly made this vow to the Lord?

Hannah pours out her soul to the Lord. The Lord grants her petition to give her a son.

God brought suffering into her life to bring her to a place of surrender so she would be prepared to give him back her son.

God knows what it will take to bring us to the place of surrender and He will by His providence guide us right to that place. He directs all things to accomplish exactly what he has, in advance, purposed to unfold.

William Cowper, a poet in the 1700’s, who suffered from grievous problems and sank into deep despair in his life, wrote these words:

“God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sov’reign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.”

We are to be a people who earnestly pray. Prayer and God’s providence go hand in hand. The one who trusts that the Lord providentially guides stands on a firm foundation.

Hannah had a problem, but she turned to the Lord and trusted in His plan.

Whatever problem you may be facing in your life right now, will you earnestly pour out your soul to the Lord?

Come back next week as we learn from Hannah that God graciously gives us all things.

{Continue to Part 4 here.}

Friday, June 23, 2017

Learning From the Life of Hannah: A Woman with Serious Problems {Part 2}

{This is Part 2 in a series on the Life of Hannah.

Last week we set the stage to learn from the life of Hannah as recorded in the book of 1 Samuel.

Before we jump back in to the narrative, we first must understand that God sovereignly governs as we roll back the curtain and see a woman enduring Problems that fill her with Sorrow.

Hannah is a woman who loves the Lord. As women who love the Lord, we are not going to escape problems in this life.

God is God. All things are under His rule and control. He has the right to do all things according to His own good pleasure. That is essentially what sovereign means.

Charles Spurgeon said:

“There is no attribute more comforting to His children than that of God's sovereignty.”

Hannah’s husband is Elkanah. In the first chapter of 1 Samuel, we read that he takes his wives up to Shiloh to present a sacrifice. They make a feast of the sacrifice, which would indicate that they present a peace offering; an offering of praise and thanksgiving.

Peninnah, Elkanah’s other wife, has a quiver-full to give thanks for, but Hannah remains empty handed. Peninnah provokes Hannah and uses this opportunity to drag Hannah through the wringer year after year.

The obvious love triangle is a heart-wrenching tragedy: Hannah wants what Peninnah has, and Peninnah is jealous of Hannah and wants what Peninnah has.

One has the love of the man and one has the children of the man. Jealousy for the husband’s love drives Peninnah to provoke the one who desires his offspring.

Elkanah loves Hannah even though the Lord has closed her womb and Peninnah grievously provokes Hannah because the Lord has closed her womb.

Hannah is oozing like an open wound that won’t heal, subjected to the tender care from her husband as well as the cruel taunting from his other wife.

Hannah means ‘grace’. Her rival, Peninnah, is understood to mean ‘pearl’, but as you consider the situation, you see that she is a lot more like the grit in the oyster before it becomes a pearl.

As much as Hannah is full of grace, Peninnah is like the grit that irritates and provokes her in her painful problem.

When we are suffering, God uses the aggravating grit around us and pours out his abundant grace on us and a radiant pearl is formed.

Hannah is so heartsick she could not eat of the worthy portion Elkanah gives her. Elkanah attempts to console her, but fails to understand the depths of her grief. In his confusion, he questions (in 1 Samuel 1:8): “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad?”

Well, I think he should have stopped at that, but no, he continues, and he says: “Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

Oh, Elkanah!

I don’ think he quite gets it. The heartache a woman endures when she longs for a child or losses a child is intense. Other women wrestle when they are overwhelmed with an unexpected pregnancy. Ultimately, we realize we really don’t have a whole lot of control over our own wombs.

For years Hannah has lived in a family without the joy of her own children. Month after month, her womb remains empty, while her husband received children from another woman.

Elkanah didn’t understand her loss, her grief, or her suffering. But, perhaps this is the last straw, and she had come to the end of herself.

And this is where God would have us to be: to give up everything. His purpose is to bring us back to himself, to conform us into the image of His Son for His glory and for our good.

We will endure problems that will cause intense sorrow. God will bring us to these places where we are able to rest in the truth that God sovereignly governs over all of life.

{Continue to Part 3 here.}

Friday, June 16, 2017

Learning From the Life of Hannah: A Woman with A Serious Problem {Part 1}

Are you a woman with a problem?

Perhaps a serious, heart-wrenching problem that fills your life with grief. You know what it is like to drag yourself out of bed, go through the motions of the daily mundane, push food around on your plate, toss and turn in the night and feed on your tears when sleep won’t come? You know how it feels when it hurts to breath and your heart races and flutters when you just can’t reach out and touch that which is your heart’s greatest longing.

Perhaps you are walking along side a friend who has a serious problem and you wonder how you can keep on encouraging her.

Over the coming weeks, we are going to become a little more acquainted with a woman with a serious problem and how her heart leapt for joy in the Sovereign Lord.

We will encourage our hearts with a narrative from the Old Testament that powerfully reveals the goodness of God in our day-to-day lives and his perfect redemptive plan for all eternity.

We will see how God:

Sovereignly Governs 
Providentially Guides 
Graciously Gives and is 
Eternally Glorified 

I am sure some of you are familiar with this woman and that your heart has gone out to her and at times you relate to her quite well.

We are first introduced to her as a wife, a woman of grace, and for those with astute observation skills, we see a woman who has a serious problem. And her problem led to intense suffering that filled her with profound sorrow and great anxiety.

She lived in Israel in the hill country of Ephraim, during the time of the Judges. She was married to a godly man who loved her dearly. However, her affliction overshadowed his love for her. She was so deeply distressed and that she could hardly eat.

We get to know this woman in the first chapter of 1 Samuel. As we observe her life and how she responded to her problem, we can’t help but to examine our own heart.

We are turning back the pages of history to look at Hannah: the woman with a serious problem.

Her problem was she had no children. This was a major problem in ancient Near East. Without a son her future was not secure.

The problem was intensified for her because not only did she have no children her husband had another wife. And the other wife had given her husband children.

Remember when Sarai offered her maidservant, Hagar, to her Abraham to obtain children by her. Once Hagar conceived she looked at Sarai with contempt and Sarai dealt harshly with Hagar.

Then there was great rivalry between Rachel and Leah as the Lord opened and closed their wombs.

So it wasn’t a unique problem only to her, but Hannah handles it with grace.

Her husband had more than one wife—which was a direct violation of God’s command—and he subjects his family to painful consequences that were difficult to bear.

During this time in Israel’s history, when the nation had reached its depths and everyone did what was right in their own eyes, we meet a few godly individuals. The Lord was setting the stage for his plans to unfold.

God required his people to go up to the house of the Lord three times a year. And so we meet Elkanah, faithfully going up to Shiloh, year by year, to worship and sacrifice to the Lord of Hosts. We see this nation was continuously unfaithful, the priesthood was corrupt, yet God Sovereignly governs over all. 

In 1 Samuel 1:3, we read the first occurrence in the Bible of the name: The Lord of Hosts, which means he is the LORD who rules over all.

The nation was weak, the time of the judges was drawing to a close and God is the Supreme Ruler over all—over the stars, the angels, the nation of Israel, all believers. It is a military term that implies God will fight for his people and will win the victory.

When you get to the end of yourself you will turn to the Lord of hosts, the name also translated: Lord Sabaoth.

In his hymn “A Mighty Fortress in Our God”, Martin Luther penned these words:

“Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right Man on our side,
the Man of God's own choosing.
You ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth his name,
from age to age the same;
and he must win the battle.”
In the Old Testament we read over and over, as the Lord warned the nation of Israel of their unfaithfulness and His coming wrath, how the prophets repeatedly called on the Lord of hosts.

When Paul, in Romans 9, speaks of the Gentiles that have attained a righteousness that is by faith, he quotes Isaiah: “And as Isaiah predicted, ‘If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah.’”

For those who “by grace . . . have been saved through faith” we call on the Lord of hosts: Christ Jesus who has won the battle and reigns victoriously.

Hannah prayed to the Lord of Hosts. She did have a serious problem, but she turned to the Lord and sought His help.

Over time, Hannah’s circumstances changed, but the Lord does not change. Hannah’s joy did not come because her circumstances changed, but because she recognized God’s grace in her life. Yes, Hannah was a woman with a serious problem, but her joy was ultimately in the Lord God.

Come back next week as we will examine exactly what Hannah’s problem was and how God sovereignly governs over all. In the meantime, whatever trouble you are walking through right now, look to the Lord of Hosts and, know that He is the same God today and “know that in all things [He] works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

{Continue to Part 2 here.}
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