The Trust that Gets God’s Attention

His name was Jonathan. We were in the same first grade class. One day I made him angry by winning a race in PE, dethroning him as the fastest runner in first grade. Jonathan threatened to beat me up after school. Every day as soon as the dismissal bell rang, I shot out of the classroom. Jonathan and his cohort were close behind me, shouting threats of what they would do when they caught me. After a couple weeks of arriving home breathless and quaking with fear, my mom asked me what was going on. When I told her, she became quite indignant. She spoke with Jonathan’s dad, a pastor of a local church. He was apologetic and assured my mom that I would never be bullied by his son again. I never found out what unpleasant consequences Jonathan faced, but that was the end of our adversarial relationship. By the end of the school year, we had become recess buddies.

My experience with bullying pales in comparison with King Hezekiah’s encounter with an enemy of his kingdom. Hezekiah is one of my Old Testament heroes. Although he was far from perfect, in Second Kings 18 and 19, Hezekiah’s response to devastating threats was exemplary.

In 722 B.C.E, Assyria conquered Israel. Centuries earlier Israel split into the northern and southern kingdoms. The northern kingdom was defeated and taken into captivity. The southern kingdom of Judah was spared. Twenty years later, Assyria decided to expand their conquest. Tiny Judah would be no match for their might.

At first, Hezekiah tried to appease Sennacherib, the Assyrian king, by paying tribute. Sennacherib accepted the tribute and proceeded to attack Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, anyway. Then the threats and taunting started.

What are you trusting in that makes you so confident? Do you think that mere words can substitute for military skill and strength? Who are you counting on, that you have rebelled against me?

With your tiny army, how can you think of challenging even the weakest contingent of my master’s troops, even with the help of Egypt’s chariots and charioteers? What’s more, do you think we have invaded your land without the Lord’s direction? The Lord himself told us, ‘Attack this land and destroy it!’” (2 Kings 18:21, 22, 24, 25 NLT).

Sennacherib and his army tried to strike fear into the hearts of Judah. Not only did he boast of his superior strength, but he also cast doubt on their faith. After all, “God Himself” had instructed Assyria to destroy them.

Hezekiah had done everything he could do. Still, he faced a formidable foe with impossible odds. Clearly, there was no winning this battle.

Look at Hezekiah’s response. After he received the letter from the enemy and read it, “he went up to the Lord’s Temple and spread it out before the Lord” (2 Kings 19:14). First, Hezekiah declared the greatness and power of God, as the ruler of every kingdom and the creator of the heavens and the earth. Then, he acknowledged the threatening situation for the people of Judah. Finally, he cried out for deliverance. “Now, O Lord our God, rescue us from his power; then all the kingdoms of the earth will know that you alone, O Lord, are God” (v. 19).

Hezekiah’s response was a demonstration of trust. He could have thrown up his hands in despair and surrendered to Sennacherib. He could have formulated an escape plan. Instead, he trusted the Lord and got His attention.

The prophet Isaiah encouraged Hezekiah with a remarkable message from God. The Lord had heard Hezekiah’s prayer. He promised a good future for Judah with bountiful crops. Not only that, the Lord would cause the king to “return to his own country by the same road on which he came. He [would] not enter [the] city” (v. 33). God assured Hezekiah, “For my own honor and for the sake of my servant David, I will defend this city and protect it” (v. 34).

God did exactly that.

The angel of the Lord went out to the Assyrian camp and killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. When the surviving Assyrians woke up the next morning, they found corpses everywhere. Then King Sennacherib of Assyria broke camp and returned to his own land. He went home to his capital of Nineveh and stayed there (v. 35-36).

What a miraculous victory! God promised to deliver Judah, and Hezekiah didn’t even lift a finger. God took care of Judah’s bullies and the Assyrians never returned.

How will we respond when we encounter overwhelming obstacles in our lives? Will we panic or despair because the situation is so much bigger than ourselves? Or will we go to the Lord, spread out the problem before Him, and declare our trust in Him?

Let’s choose to trust. As New Testament believers, we can have confidence in God’s care for us.

Romans 8:28 promises:

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”

We may not know how. We may not know when. But we can have one hundred percent certainty that God will work everything together for our good. Trust the Lord and get His attention.

A Lesson from Bike Riding

My husband and I love bike riding together. We aren’t experienced bicyclists, but it is fun to enjoy the great outdoors. On Memorial Day, we loaded up our bikes and rode on a path lined with orchards, blackberry vines, and wildflowers. The air was fresh with a hint of rain that waited until we were almost done.

About midway on our ride, a man came up from behind us on a scooter. His music grew louder as he approached. At the same time, I realized that we needed to stop at an intersection just ahead. I panicked and tried to simultaneously move out of the way and shift to a lower gear. It was too much for my brain to process and I crashed on the gravel.

I suffered a bloody knee and several bruises on my lower legs and on the wrist where I wear my watch. I cried, not so much because of the pain, but because my pride was wounded. My concerned husband asked if I wanted to return to the car. After examining the injuries more closely I decided to continue. I didn’t want a minor accident to cut our plans short.

As we pedaled down the path, I reminisced about learning to ride a bike. I was so afraid of falling that I didn’t attempt to ride a bicycle until I was eight years old. In the summer before I turned nine, I visited family. My cousins were around my age and none of their bikes had training wheels. If I wanted to hang out with them (and I did), I would have to muster some courage and ride a bike. I didn’t let fear hold me back.

It was delightful to balance on two wheels and keep up with my cousins. I got comfortable turning corners and going over bumps. And then, I fell. My fear had been realized. I sat in the dirt and thought of excuses for not continuing the ride. I would walk the bike back to the house and be done with it.

But my cousin cheered me on. “You’re okay. Get back up and try again.”

I stayed put. My fear of falling again kept me rooted to the ground.

My cousin persisted, reminding me of the scene in Bambi when he got injured in the forest fire. Bambi’s father, the majestic king buck commanded Bambi to get up. “Get up, Bambi. You must get up!” Bambi struggled and then complied, bounding to safety.

I finally responded to my cousin’s urging. I reluctantly got back on the bike. I fell again…a few times. Each time it became easier to get back up. I learned to ride a bike that summer. The greater lesson I learned, though, was to always get back up.

“The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again.
    But one disaster is enough to overthrow the wicked” (Proverbs 24:16 NLT).

Life is painful sometimes. We might be challenged in our relationships, employment, finances, or health. We might feel discouraged and defeated by the outcome. But we must not stay down.

What about when we make bad decisions or go against God’s Word? What if we find ourselves caught in sin?

Again, we must not throw up our hands in despair. God’s Spirit of grace is available to help us. We have His promise.

“But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (1 John 1:9).

When we confess our sins, the Lord forgives and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. We learn from our mistakes and, by God’s power, change our ways.

When life gets hard, don’t give up. Trust the Lord and get back up.

The Beauty of Diversity

For the last few weeks, I have been listening to a fabulous sermon series on diversity. It has expressed what I have experienced throughout my lifetime. Yes, diversity is important, but it is deeper than making sure that we are politically and socially correct. This goes beyond hiring different ethnicities and genders to ensure there is equal representation in the workplace. It is much more than being satisfied that your church, small group, or service club has a few people who are different skin color than the majority. As God’s dearly loved children, we are to embrace diversity, realizing that true love of others can be messy, confusing, and sometimes just plain hard work. But it is God’s will for His Church, and unity among diversity greatly pleases Him.

Photo by fauxels on pexels.com

I was born in the 1960s to a Caucasian-American mother and a Chinese-Canadian father. Being half Caucasian and half Chinese set me in a rare category back then. I felt that there was no place I belonged. The Asians rejected me because I wasn’t “pure.” Caucasian people didn’t accept me either because I was obviously “something other than White.” When my family moved to a multi-cultural neighborhood, I developed friendships with a diverse group of students—Black, Indian (from India), Pakistani, Jewish, and Caucasian. For the first time I felt whole, and my heart was full. Sadly, we moved a couple years later to a predominantly Caucasian city where a person of color would turn heads.

Because of my childhood experiences, I am compelled to speak and act in such a way that demonstrates the beauty of diversity and that every single life matters. From the moment of conception until death, all life is sacred and worthy of respect. Nothing can diminish that. Not legal status, ethnicity, skin color, worldview, sexual attraction, gender identity, political affiliation, lack of education, poverty, addiction, physical and mental health problems, or homelessness. Nothing can take away a person’s intrinsic value.

Today people often inquire about my kids’ background. One son, in particular, is frequently asked if he is Mexican (which makes sense because we live in an area that is 50 percent Hispanic). When he mentions that he is actually part Chinese, the person laughs, thinking it is a joke. Why is that so funny? Then they find out it is not a joke and things feel awkward for a bit.

My kids are grown, and I have seven amazing grandkids. Some of them are half Mexican-American. All of them are one-eighth Chinese. Each of them is delightful and has captivated my heart! I am also blessed to be unofficially adopted as “Nana” to a sixth-month-old boy of a Congolese couple. His smile is my undoing. There is beauty in diversity that delights the Lord, the One who creates such variety in the first place.

Racism is the belief that one’s own ethnicity, heritage, culture, or group is superior to others. Racism is ever-present and affects the way we look at the world. Left unchecked it leads to prejudice and discrimination. We judge others based on our own culture as the ideal standard. “My way is the right way.” Subtler forms of racism show up as comments about “those people” that elevate us. It divides people into the categories of “us” and “them.” It interferes with experiencing the beauty of diversity. As servant leaders, we must avoid racism and love all the people following our lead.

In the Book of Revelation, John had a vision of a great crowd surrounding the Lord in worship. “After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar,

‘Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne
and from the Lamb!’”
~Revelation 7:9-10

Every nation, tribe, people, and language worship the Lord! They all put their faith in their Savior. No believer was excluded, regardless of their background. Will we be people that love others and include them? Will we be leaders that speak in terms of “us” and “we”? People don’t have to look, believe, think, or live the same way as us to be included and genuinely cared about. When we appreciate the beauty of diversity, we no longer say with an air of superiority, “those people.” Instead, we humbly accept others as ones deeply loved and adored by Jesus. We take time to hear their life stories and experiences. We learn about other countries, cultures, and traditions. As we open our hearts, we will genuinely embrace them as “we.”

All the nations you made will come and bow before you, Lord; they will praise your holy name. ~Psalm 86:9

When God’s people obey, God shows up in a big way.

By Julian Jagenberg @pexels.com

Joshua led the Israelite army to march around the formidable city of Jericho. The Lord had instructed him to place seven priests and the Ark of the Covenant at the front of the line. Nobody was to make a sound for six days. On the seventh day, seven priests were to blow the trumpets. Only then could the army shout. (See Joshua 6:1-27.)

Gideon led 300 Israelite soldiers to fight the vast army of Midian. Under the Lord’s command, he sent about 32,000 men home. Gideon divided the soldiers into three companies of 100 soldiers each. Upon the signal, the men were to break their jars with torches inside and blow their trumpets, shouting “For the Lord and for Gideon.” (See Judges 7:1-25.)

Paul and Silas traveled to the city of Philippi after receiving a vision from the Lord. Several days later, they were beaten and thrown into jail because they were considered a public menace when a slave woman was delivered from the fortune-telling spirits that made her master money. At about midnight, with their feet in stocks, Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns to God loudly enough for the other prisoner to hear. (See Acts 16:6-40.)

These three distinct stories share a common theme of obedience. Joshua and Gideon were both given unusual battle plans. Both men followed the Lord’s orders. God performed mighty miracles and the Israelites won incredible victories.

Paul and Silas went to the place God had told them to go, but after only making one recorded disciple, they were falsely accused and put in jail. Instead of having a pity party and moping about their unfair circumstances, the two Jesus followers decided to praise the Lord. A divine visitation shook the jail, setting all the prisoners free. When the jailer went to check out the situation, none of the prisoners had escaped (a huge miracle by itself). As a result, the jailer and his entire household put their faith in Jesus.

God’s people obeyed, and God showed up in a huge way!

By Andrea Piacquadio @pexels.com

In the middle of obeying, it didn’t make sense. There were plenty of occasions for doubt to creep in and to quit before the plan was completed.

Joshua’s army could have stop marching before the seventh day. They might have felt silly marching silently around Jericho. But they persevered.

Gideon’s men could have decided to join all the others who had gone home. What chance did they have against the Midianites? But they didn’t give up.

Paul and Silas could have lamented about what a waste of time it had been to come to Philippi in the first place. How could the Lord have planned for them to land in jail? But they trusted Him instead.

However, in each situation, when they looked back, they could see the unmistakable intervention of God.

The walls of Jericho fell and the city was captured.

The Midianite army was soundly defeated.

The Lord visited the jail and a prominent family in Philippi was saved. (The Bible doesn’t say, but I wonder how many prisoners gave their lives to Jesus that night?)

What has God asked you to do?

What next step do you need to take to move forward in obedience?

Take courage, my friend.

It might not make sense in the middle. It might not be easy. But don’t give up.

As you obey the Lord’s leading, expect Him to show up. That’s the kind of God He is.

Special thanks to my son, Jason Babcock, for sharing a devotional that inspired me to write this.   

(Re)acquaint yourself with God’s grace

Resurrection Sunday is here! We put to rest the Lenten season of preparation and focus on the culmination of God’s plan to redeem humanity. The long-awaited and hoped for deliverance, the final blow in the battle against sin, they have been ushered in by the New Covenant of grace and faith in the risen Jesus.

picture by David Dibert, Pexels.com

Lent is observed during the forty days before Easter. It symbolizes the forty days Jesus spent in the desert, being tempted by the devil. Afterward, He emerged and began His public ministry. The season of Lent is dedicated to reflecting on our lives and opening our hearts to the sacred work of the Holy Spirit. We respond to God’s invitation to prayer, fasting, and giving.

I was drawn to observe Lent twelve years ago. Previously I hadn’t been aware of the church calendar. Through the influences of friends and authors, I learned about the life-giving practices of Lent that draw us closer to Jesus. Since then, I have established a rhythm of renewal each year during the Lenten season.

I’ll be honest with you. This year, Lent was difficult. It felt much more laborious than other years, like walking through the wilderness without any shade or water. I read my Lenten devotional and engaged in prayerful introspection, but fasting was brutal. Self-discipline, which is usually my faithful companion, was nowhere to be found. I related to Paul who described our battle with sin in Romans 7:15.

I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.

The harder I fought, the weaker I felt. The more restrictions I put on myself, the more I food I ate. The vicious cycle spiraled steadily downward. Discouragement took root and feelings of failure settled in. What was happening to me?

It took almost thirty days before I could hear what the Holy Spirit was speaking to my heart. (What can I say? I’m a slow learner.)

I needed to get reacquainted with God’s grace.

Sometimes we can become masters at outward, godly behavior. We do and say the right things so well that they become automatic. We know how to play the Christian leader role with excellence. We are so good on the outside that we lose sight that the one and only reason we are good is because of Jesus.

God extends His grace to save us. We need His grace to change us. We survive by His grace as He renews us from the inside out. His transforming grace empowers us to honor Him with our lives.

I say “we,” but I really should say “I.” I had allowed self-sufficiency to infect my thinking. It showed up in my failure to fast. I couldn’t pat myself on the back for maintaining a routine with reading and prayer either, because I wasn’t relying on Jesus.

I was including Jesus in my life, but I wasn’t completely relying on Him.

I decided that the remaining days of Lent would be spent embracing His grace. I realized that the end game isn’t to be perfect at reading the Bible, praying, and fasting. It took off the pressure to perform and freed me to joyfully surrender to Jesus.

God’s grace is offered to you and me for every area of our lives every single day. We are blessed when we receive it.

In which area(s) do you need to get reacquainted with God’s grace? Ask Jesus to give you a fresh start.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence (1 Peter 1:3 NLT).

Where Has All the Integrity Gone?

Photo by Olya Kobruseva from Pexels

“What is truth?” Pontius Pilate asked Jesus the question in a dismissive manner during their encounter (John 18:38, NIV). Jesus had appeared before Pilate for sentencing. During their brief conversation, Jesus declared, “The reason I was born and came into the word is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37). In Pilate’s world, truth was subjective, determined by the person considering it. Much like the society in which we live today.

The fact that Jesus mentioned “the side of truth” reveals that truth does indeed exist. Truth isn’t what we decide it will be. Truth isn’t like a chameleon changing color to blend into its environment.

In our current political environment, truth is difficult to discover. I have family members and friends who identify with a wide variety of political viewpoints. They are all good people. Some of them stand strongly on one side of the political aisle; others stand just as convinced on the other side. Political viewpoints come with particular beliefs. As a result, truth is reported by news media, social media, and other sources (on both sides) with subjectivity. It is often tricky to sort through so much information for the facts.   

As one who is passionate about the truth, my spirit is grieved by the partial truths and spin that surround us on every side. Where can we go to find out what is really going on and get the whole picture? Our country suffers from a lack of integrity, which prompts me to inquire, “Where has all the integrity gone?”

Now more than ever, we need leaders of integrity.  

Charisma can only carry leaders so far. Healing of our nation requires more than promises and new policies. Integrity is the quality that is essential to restoring trust. We need strong leaders to navigate the chaos and confusion of the times and model integrity before crowds and behind closed doors in top-secret meetings.  

Leaders of integrity tell the truth. They make sure that their words and actions match. Always. They are also genuine in every setting and have nothing to hide.

As Christian leaders, we must rely on the LORD to empower us to lead with integrity in our sphere of influence. We stand on the truth as revealed by the Word of God, and we live the truth without compromise. We may not be able to change the whole world, but we can make a difference where God has placed us.

Let’s pray for the restoration of our nation, and let’s be leaders who honor the LORD and those we lead by leading with integrity.

“May integrity and honesty protect me, for I put my hope in you” (Psalm 25:21, NLT).