God Is At Work

Habakkuk 1:1-5; 2:4, 14, 20; 3:17-18; and Romans 8:28

Lately, we watch the news with a sense of morbid dread, waiting for another work of wickedness to destroy our comfortable complacency and erode the innate innocence of our children and grandchildren. I must admit God and I had a “come to Jesus” meeting over the past few days.

I shook my fist a little. Lashed out a bit. Questioned how he could sit by and watch events in Florida unfold without intervening. I finished my little fit and waited. Getting no immediate response, I huffed a bit more and went back to my worry and work.

It felt like an Old Testament week as I prepared for this devotional. I was in “an eye for an eye” mood. I scanned pages of scripture and read about Jeremiah complaining bitterly to God about the unfairness in the world around him. How evil men grow powerful and prosper. How righteous suffer. Jeremiah shook his fist at God.

Elijah hid in a cave. The prophet who had just won a major test of faith now cowered in a cave after being threatened by an angry and vengeful Jezebel. He complained balefully that he was the last godly man standing. That God had stepped aside, allowing him to be hounded and chased. Elijah shook his fist at God and wanted to die.

I read again about Job, God’s long-suffering servant. Plagued by calamities not of his making. Criticized by his friends. Struggling with the loss of those he held dear. Job lashed out critically to the Creator. “What does it profit us if we pray to him?” Job shook his fist at God.

I get it Jeremiah. I know where you’re coming from Elijah. I understand Job. That’s exactly how I feel.

Then, my eyes settled on Habakkuk. I didn’t intend to stop here. No one does a devotional on Habakkuk, right? But, this prophet joined me in shaking his fist at God so I kept reading.

In three short chapters, I discovered a God big enough to take my frustration and teach me about his presence and his purpose even in the middle of a perverse week.

Habakkuk spoke at a time when evil men ruled the day, punishing the righteous, inflicting violence upon them. “Why do you make me look at injustice?” lamented the prophet. “Why do you tolerate wrong? How long must I cry for help?”

My heart aches as Habakkuk’s aches. I see innocent children slaughtered again in a world run amuk. “Why, God, do we keep seeing this? Why do you put up with it? How long must we cry out for help?”

God’s answer to Habakkuk started a transformation in his outlook on life…an answer that lifted my own sagging spirit.

“Look at the nations and watch–and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” (Hab. 1:5)

All that questioning I did…this was the start of God’s rebuttal. “Look, Kirk. I didn’t cause the wickedness in the world. Human choice creates catastrophe and chaos. Your choice. Their choice. My job is to work through tragedy using people of faith to restore the broken. Redeem the lost. Rescue the troubled. I know you don’t understand. I could explain it to you, let you in on the secret, but you wouldn’t believe it.

“Know this. You are not alone. Those who are hurting most are not alone. I can carry you, carry them, through this. I will never abandon you. Despite your sorrow and struggles, I will never give up on my children. I am at work even if you can’t see it.”

Every one of us who love and trust God can look back through our lives and see the hand of God at work through the best and worst times of our lives. In those times, when we seemed to be abandoned and alone, we can now see the winding path he guided us down to emerge from the haze into a clearer understanding of his presence in our lives. I think about those times in my life and…God’s right. Had he told me how he planned to bring me through the struggle, I would not have believed it possible.

I kept reading through the book and found these declarations of eternal truth God spoke to the prophet.

“…the righteous will live by his faith…” (Hab. 2:4)

Habakkuk was blind to the work of God as he stood there and complained. God said to him, “Trust me. Have faith in my work even when you see no evidence of it.” Like an arrow, the words pierced the anxiety in my heart.

Living by faith is a hard pill to swallow when we’re sick to our stomachs over what we see happening around us. It sounds so cliché. Yet, faith is often the only answer we have…at least in the beginning. God would eventually use Habakkuk’s voice to bring about his intentional plan for redemption. When I have no answers, faith is enough. Perhaps my faith in him…my trust, my belief…can touch those troubled by tragedy.

Two other verses offered a message of hope and promise to the prophet. The strife caused by evil evaporates in the face of God’s presence. Though the bad seems to reign, its power will fade.

“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea…The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” (Hab. 2:14,20)

Our pain in the middle of tragedy cannot be denied. I cannot imagine the grief of parents and family in the aftermath of such insanity. While we seldom claim the promise of God’s eternal victory in the middle of tragedy, grief-inspired blindness doesn’t make it any less true. God will conquer. I take heart in understanding in my core the simple truth that pain and suffering around me is temporary and transient…especially when considered on an eternal scale.

God sits on his throne. Like any good ruler he knows his kingdom and his people. His anguish over our suffering is real. When we seek an audience with him to complain bitterly of that which hurts us, he listens. He is big enough to handle our confusion, our anger, our frustration, our disbelief. When our emotion is spent he reminds us that he walks among us through life’s mud and muck.

That’s why the hue and cry to put God back into our schools sits so uneasily in my bones. God never left our schools. There are people of faith teaching and serving in every public school in America. There are prayers lifted up daily on behalf of children and families. There are children and young people who lift up prayers every day in the halls and classrooms across America. Heartfelt prayers far more meaningful than a rote or recited prayer over the intercom.

Still his presence was not enough to prevent another senseless act. Why? Not because we “took God out of our schools.” Evil gets its way because we forced God out of our lives, not out of our schools. Stop making God political. Make him personal. Then, and only then, can he make an impact in and through us.

Here’s the truth I know. God is on his throne. God is present in the lives of all who believe…in school and out. Always has been. Always will be.

Without question, the senseless school shooting in Florida tested my faith this week. I struggle for words in the moment for those most touched by such devastating loss. I struggle for answers on how we might prevent such madness from ever happening again. Right now, I have no words. No answers. While I will keep searching, I have only my faith that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28)

Make no mistake. God is at work today. I may not see it. I may not understand it, but he is at work.

The book of Habakkuk ends with the prophet’s faith renewed and restored. Despite not knowing the end game, Habakkuk rested in the strength of his faith. He accepted as I do that despite every intrusion of wickedness that creeps into our lives, whether by our own design or the horrific act of another, God will create the best plan and path through it.

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Hab. 3:17-18)



Wherever He Leads

Background Passages: Mark 8:27-36; Luke 9:18-25

Jesus slipped to the grass from the flat rock upon which he sat as he spent the last hour in prayer. The canopy of trees under which he now reclined with his back against the rock sheltered him from the late afternoon sun. Jesus glanced at his disciples gathered in a loose cluster about 40 feet further down the hill. As they finished their prayers one by one, they talked quietly among themselves, breaking out a small loaf of bread and passing it around, satisfying their hunger.

Jesus looked from his disciples down into the town of Caesarea Philippi, a bustling city 30 miles north of the region of Galilee. He watched the frenetic pace of the people as they finished the work of the day and headed home. He lifted his eyes toward the sheer cliff on the north side of the city. It rose 150 feet above the lush, green valley below. He knew the streamlet gushing from the massive grotto on the western edge of the cliff were the headwaters of the Jordan River as it flowed south to the Sea of Galilee.

The cavern was said to be the birthplace of Pan, the Greek god of nature. Worshippers still brought their offerings of fruit and grain, laying them at the altar.

His vision shifted to the gleaming temple of white marble which Philip, the region’s ruler, dedicated to Caesar Augustus, the Roman emperor whom the people considered a god. Before these temples and altars were built, Jesus knew his history well enough to know the whole area stood as a center dedicated to the worship of Baal, the ancient Canaanite god.

It was a deeply reflective moment. Jesus contemplated the scene spread across the valley below. Considered all he had done during his ministry. Felt his gut tighten when he thought about the cross to come. Had anything he said and done made a difference? Before he began his final journey to the cross Jesus needed to know. Did anyone really know who he was?

He turned to his disciples quietly talking and laughing in the ease of friendships forged by common experiences. His words cut through the comfortable conversation. “Who do the crowds say I am?”

They turned toward Jesus in a rustle of robes and shuffling feet. They were used to his probing. Knew an answer was required. “John the Baptist,” one blurted. “One of the old prophets brought back to life,” announced another. “Elijah,” another proclaimed.

Jesus glanced again at the city below, lost in thought for a moment. Then, he turned back to his disciples. “But what about you? Who do you say I am?”

Jesus held his breath, looking into the eyes of each of his closest friends. Their answers would make all the difference. Would he see blank stares of incomprehension? Would he catch so much as a spark of understanding that meant he had at least lit a torch in their hearts. He waited. Felt his heart thump anxiously in his chest.

How his soul must have soared when Peter stood among them, looked at his friends, then to Jesus, knowing that he answered for all of them. “You are the Messiah. The Anointed One of God.”

That moment sealed the deal for Jesus. He then taught them intently about the events to come. Suffering. Rejection. Death. Resurrection. Prophecies that left them frightened and confused. Then, he challenged them with words that echo still in the ears of every believer today.

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and yet lose or forfeit his very soul?”

The call of Christ demands that we deny self. It’s not a matter of dismissing our lives as unworthy or inconsequential in the grand scheme of God’s plan. Denying ourselves means to set aside our egos. Deliberately subordinating our will to the will of God. Opening our lives to the possibility that his plan for us is greater and more meaningful than the one we planned for ourselves. It means turning from where we wish to go to follow the path he lays before us.

The call of Christ demands that we take up his cross. Not just any cross…his cross. Jesus knew the horror of what lay before him. When Jesus was a boy, a Jewish rebellion in Sepphoris, just four miles from Nazareth, ended badly for those who fought against the Roman empire. Historians tell us more than 2,000 rebels were crucified, set in lines along the roadside as a frightful reminder of the power of Rome.

To face the cross was a vicious reality burned into the back of his mind. He, as well as anyone, knew what it meant to take up the cross. It stood as the inevitable certainty he faced by declaring a kingdom of God that rocked the boats of the pious and the political.

Today, taking up the cross of Christ means to live our life with the same focused commitment to God’s purpose that Jesus did. It means preparing for rejection in a world that does not understand. Letting nothing… no thought of ridicule, persecution, or embarrassment…prevent us from doing that which we know God desires us to do. It means looking at a world that dismisses Jesus as irrelevant and proclaiming in word and deed, “I belong to Christ!”

Denying ourselves. Taking up his cross. These are steps in the right direction. If we stop there, however, we miss that which matters most. The call of Christ demands we follow. It means spending our lives, not hoarding it. It means giving of ourselves, not taking from others. It means not playing it safe, but doing the right thing at all times and in all situations. It means not getting by with as little as we can for the cause of Christ, but investing ourselves completely in his ministry.

The way of the world always seeks to gain advantage over another. The goal of the world is to amass more wealth, power and glory than the guy next door. Jesus would answer that unbridled ambition with this question. Where is the eternal profit in that way of life? Jesus said one saves his life when he loses it in service to others.

As believers in Christ we have been called to follow the lead of Christ, not always knowing where it will take us. Doors open and doors close. Following his lead is not always easy, but it is always best.

I’m reminded of the old invitational hymn, Wherever He Leads, I’ll Go, written in 1936 by Baylus Benjamin McKinney. He penned the words to his poem after meeting with the Rev. R.S. Jones, a South American missionary who had been pulled from service. Because of a serious illness, he would not be allowed to return.

“What will you do?” McKinney asked his friend.

“I don’t know, but wherever he leads, I’ll go.”

From a simple conversation between two old friends poured the words that challenge us…challenge me…today.

“Take up thy cross and follow me,”
I heard my master say;
“I gave my life to ransom thee,
Surrender your all today.”

He drew me closer to his side,
I sought his will to know,
And in that will I now abide,
Wherever he leads I’ll go.

It may be through shadows dim,
Or o’er the stormy sea,
I take my cross and follow him
Wherever he leadeth me.

My heart, my life, my all I bring,
To Christ who loves me so;
He is my master, Lord and king.
Wherever he leads I’ll go.

The chorus of the song declares, “I’ll follow my Christ who loves me so.”

Wherever he leads, let’s go.