You Observe Trouble and Grief

“But You have seen, for You observe trouble and grief, To repay it by Your hand. The helpless commits himself to You; You are the helper of the fatherless.” (Psalm 10:14, NKJV)

We have a tendency to believe that when we are happy and everything is going our way, God is with us and is happily shining his love upon us. However, conversely, we believe that when we go through trouble and grief, God has abandoned us. We think that He has looked away and we are forsaken. But that is nowhere close to the truth. The heart of God is to love us with a great love. In fact, when we are in the greatest of despair is when God seems to be even closer to us than in our times of prosperity. In fact,

“He gives power to the weak, And to those who have no might He increases strength.” (Isaiah 40:29, NKJV)

We sometimes believe that God stands against us and is waiting for a time for us to slip up and then He pounces and causes adversity. But again, He is for us, not against us.

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11, NKJV)

That brings us to Psalm 10:14. The ancient Hebrew word for “seen” (ראה) is the same root word (יראה) used to mention the provision of God in Geneses 22, Adonai Yireh (Jehovah Jireh). It literally means the God who sees and knowns your needs intimately. When David says that God has seen, he means that God intimately knows the circumstances surrounding your difficulty. Just to reiterate, he uses other strong words to illustrate just how close God is in our troubles. Observe and helper are very important. He is intimately near and sees each and every difficulty and is the helper. In fact, He is so near, He will repay. He will take care of you. He will redeem you.

But there is one very important key to all this. He helps the helpless. It is the helpless that commits himself to God. We have to recognize our inability to help ourselves in order receive the help of God. If we are constantly attempting to help God out of a situation, then we have become our own savior and will find ourselves soon back in the trouble and grief that we longed to have removed.

God is near. He wants to help. Will you recognize your need for Him and let him help you today?

Do not condemn me…

“I will say to God, ‘Do not condemn me; show me why You contend with me.'” Job 10:2 While suffering, a person may have various reasons that they begin to attribute to the cause. Perhaps I am in sin and therefore, God is punishing me. As a believer, we know that sin has been taken care of at the cross. We are no longer condemned. Then, perhaps it is because I made poor decisions and am under the discipline of God. This could be a cause for some suffering. There are consequences to sin that God allows because of our disobedience. But Job neither knows of any sin, nor has been disobedient to God in any way. Therefore, his question is the question that many suffering people ask. “Why?”

Why am I going through this? Why do I have to suffer? Why did I lose my family? Why did my wealth vanish? Why am I suffering with a serious disease? “Why?” is the question that many people ask. Thus far in the book of Job we know one reason why, although Job does not: Because God wanted to prove Job’s worth. He was a good man and would continue to be so, even through suffering. But there are greater reasons that Job will find out later. That is the key for us as well. When I was in the worse part of my cancer battle, I never asked the question, “Why?” I figured I am not Job. I am a sinner that is saved by grace and therefore, I deserve whatever God allows in my life. It was tough. Sometimes I thought, “Why doesn’t God just take me home?” But never, “Why?”.

It was later, as I started to battle metastatic cancer, I started to ask “why?” because I thought God had kept the cancer at bay in order to use me for His kingdom. The thought wasn’t, “Why do I have metastatic cancer,” but “Why did you give me the hope when you were going to take me home anyway?” One of the scriptures the Lord gave me at the time was: “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” (John 13:7, ESV)

This gave me some peace in the situation. Of course the context is Peter being stubborn about allowing Jesus to wash his feet. But the answer has eternal consequences. Hope comes from knowing that what God is doing in my life now I may not understand, but there will come a time, either in this life or the next, that I will get it. The hurt, the pain, will have an answer.

For Job, his conclusion was that the Almighty was inflicting some horrible things on him for the Sovereign’s enjoyment. Just because God wanted to see Job suffer. If that was the case, then how could one stand before such a maniacal Being? How can anyone enjoy a peace-filled life knowing that any minute, God is ready to strike you down with an illness or with great loss?

If you are suffering today, know that God loves you and has a plan for each and every tear. In fact, He puts those tears in a bottle (see Psalm 56:8). He won’t waste one ounce of pain. He will use it for your good and for His glory. The tendency for those of us suffering is to blame God for the pain. We ask questions like, “Why are You doing this to me?” They are questions Job asked thousands of years ago. We’ll see later on in the book that “Why?” is the wrong question. The correct question is “Who?”. Who are you Lord? Reveal yourself to me. Help me to see you in my pain. When that question is asked, God delights in revealing Himself and when we understand that our accusations about Him were all wrong, He restores our souls and refreshes us in His presence with peace.

Blessings,

D.V.

Oh, Remember

“Oh, remember that my life is a breath! My eye will never again see good.” (Job 7:7, NKJV)

Job has suffered a terrible loss. He lost his kids, his wealth and his health all within a short amount of time. It was wave after wave with precious little time to breath. When his friends showed up, they were kind at first, but when Job expressed the thoughts of his heart and the pain he was going through, things took an unkind turn.

Here Job is responding to Eliphaz, but not really. He is addressing his complaint to God. He is in pain and agony and needs to express his heart.

I have encountered Job’s friends. They are people who always want to correct someone’s theology rather than to hear them out, have compassion on them and point them to the love of God through Jesus Christ. When we are in the throes of pain, we are not thinking correctly. We need to express our pain, but saddly in our culture, we are told that pain is weakness and a lack of faith. Therefore, we play games when it comes to our pain. A brother might ask us how we are doing. We say, “Fine.” The brother walks away. Nothing was accomplished accept the enemy’s victory in isolating the one with pain.

We see this in the military. Guys who have had a tremendous amount of stress due to war come back to a “normal” life when their tour is over. Then they are asked, “How are you?” The answer? Again, “Fine. I am doing good. Still in the fight.” When everyone can see they are not doing fine. They need help, but won’t ask for it. It is weakness.

I would venture to say that this attitude is proliferated by the people around us. Job’s friends. If we express our pain, we immediately get pad answers: “It’l get better”, “You gotta have faith”, “Trust the Lord, man.” These are all good biblical answers. However, they work just about as much as when a Christian passes a brother that is in need and says, “be warm and full”, but doesn’t provide the means to be warm and full. You see, our theology is correct, but living that theology has become academic, cold and un-helpful.

We have to understand that a person who is in horrible pain and agony doesn’t know if they are ever going to get better. I have been there. We begin to think, “This is just how life is. I am going to be in pain every single day, then I will die and it will all be over.” There were times I longed for death because there was no hope. I told my doctor that I had given up and not to help me. His response was, “Do you believe in God?” I said, “Yes.” he said, “Good. He believes in you.” At that moment a spark of hope went back into my life and I was once again ready for the fight.

Remember that a person that is suffering doesn’t need a theology lesson. They don’t need to be told that, “The Bible says…” They need to be shown what the Bible says. They need you to be the living epistle of the love of Jesus Christ in their lives. After the pain, when hope is restored, you can then get them into a good Bible study and show them why you did what you did. Remember that faith comes by “hearing” the word of God. I would venture to say that a person in pain will hear your life a lot louder than black and white on a page. Once they do that, then you can show them the black and white and why it is so important.

Expressing our pain to God is not sinful. If that was the case, then the book of Psalms would not have been written. God is big enough to handle your pain. In the end, Job did see better days. In fact, he saw good once again. But not before God revealed Himself to Job. The best way to love and serve a person in pain is to show them the Jesus that you know and love. The best way to do that is with your life.

Blessings.

D.V.

“Truly I know it is so…”

Bildad, the Shuhite (arguably, the shortest guy in the Bible… go back and read that again… the Shoe-hight?) Anyway… Bildad, one of Jobs friends had just laid out a great argument. One that suffering people must endure a lot. The argument is this: the wicked are punished and the righteous are rewarded.

Job absolutely agrees with Bildad, because that was conventional wisdom, but that was not Job’s experience. He knew that he was a general sinner. Of course, there is none that are perfect. But was job living in unrepentant blatant sin? No. He searched his heart. He could find nothing of which he was guilty. He had already said that if there was a sin in his life that he couldn’t see, then he asked God to forgive him. (Job 7:21-22)

Even without ‘friends’ like this to point out our shortcomings, we have an enemy and a mind that constantly puts these thoughts into our heads when we are suffering. A person might come to Christ and then get diagnosed with cancer or lose their finances or get fired from their job or their child might die. Immediately the thought goes to, “What did I do? What sin did I commit?” It must have been that lustful thought I had last week, or because I listened to secular music, or because I didn’t tithe. God is now angry with me and therefore, I am now under his condemnation. I must be a horrible sinner for God to afflict me with such a terrible trial!

I had my kids tell me that one of their friends told them that I was a terrible sinner because I was diagnosed with cancer and only sinners get diseases. Righteous people are never sick. People who are full of faith never struggle with finances. He would have made Job’s friends proud.

But this is exactly what the book of Job refutes. We know that Job was not a horrible sinner under the judgment of God. In fact, God Himself declares Job’s righteousness. (See Job 1:8; 2:3 and 42:7-8) Conventional wisdom would always say that if you are wicked you will be judged and if you are righteous you will be rewarded. But that is not always the case. At least in this world. It is a SMALL MAN that thinks the worse in others, even though they are righteous. (You see what I did there? Shoe-hight… ‘Small man’ ANYWAY)

If you are suffering today with a disease or any other pain and are a believer in Jesus Christ, know that your sin has been washed at the cross. You are not under the judgment or condemnation of God. (See Romans 8:1) There are many reasons for suffering. Some of them are self-inflicted. For instance, if you used to go out and get drunk every night you are probably going to have liver problems. If you are constantly gambling you can expect to have financial problems, and if you married and have a family, you will destroy those relationships.

However, these are not the judgments for sin, but the consequences of sin. There is a difference. Have you repented? God has cleansed you. Will there still be consequences, perhaps. But you are free from the judgment of God. Job’s problem wasn’t some blatant sin. His problem is that he could not see God in his suffering. One thing I know is that I can endure A LOT if I know that God is with me and I am walking in the will of God. If I feel forsaken or am deceived into believing that I am under the judgment of God, then my endurance and hope will cease. I think this is where Job was for a very long time during the dialog with his friends.

May the LORD richly bless you with His intimate presence, knowing that your sin is removed. May you understand how much God loves you and is with you, even in your suffering. He is not vindictive, waiting to destroy you because you have sinned. Actually, He is waiting for you to come to Him and change your mind about His greatness and His mercy. May you know Him in your suffering. May you see Him in your pain.

The LORD Has Kept You From Honor

“…the LORD has kept you back from honor.” Numbers 24:11b

At first glance, you might think that this is in response to some sin. The Lord has kept you back from honor… because you have sinned and done evil in His sight. But that wouldn’t be the case. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Balak, king of the Moabites wanted Balaam, a wayward prophet of the Lord to come and curse his enemy. The problem? The enemy was the Children of Israel. They were the chosen people, the people of God.

These are the words of Balak, “The LORD has kept you back from honor.” After asking three different times to curse the people, Balaam actually ended up blessing the people—one time without even being asked! Balak was going to pay Balaam a fortune to curse the people. But now, Balaam wouldn’t receive a penny.

When Balaam was first asked to curse the Children of Israel, he was told by the LORD not to say anything accept what He told him to say. When Balaam spoke to the messengers from Balak, he said that even if the king was to give him a house full of gold, he couldn’t say anything accept what God told him to say. Balaam told Balak again that he could only bless the people because that is what God wanted him to do and to say. Balak then said, “The LORD has kept you back from honor.”

My favorite “go-too” devotional right now is Valley of Vision. Here is a snippet that I read earlier today:

“May thy dear Son preserve me from this present
evil world,
so that its smiles never allure,
nor its frowns terrify,
nor its vices defile,
nor its errors delude me.
May I feel that I am a stranger and a pilgrim
on earth,
declaring plainly that I seek a country,
my title to it becoming daily more clear,
my meetness for it more perfect,
my foretastes of it more abundant;
and whatsoever I do may it be done
in the Saviour’s name.”

—Valley of Vision, “The Savior”

What is it that the world would want you to do that is outside of the word of God? What allurements or delights? If you follow what Christ says, will they say, “The LORD has kept you from honor?” Better to be a person of integrity than to be honored by the world. When the world tempts you with all it’s enchantments, remember your Creator. Remember what God has said and whatsoever you do, may it be done in the Savior’s name.

Blessings,
Steve Marquez

If you have lost hope in whatever you are going through, might I encourage you to visit www.stage4ministries.com where you will find encouragement for your battle? Send us an email and let us know how we can pray for you and what we can do to help.

D.V.

World Giraffe and Kidney Cancer Day

For those of you who know me, you know my story. I am a stage four cancer survivor/battler who endured four surgeries, three of them major, where my left kidney was removed, the cancer later metastasized and then was removed from my nerves, muscles and spine. I have a cage where my L2 and L3 vertebrae were, and metal rods and screws from T10 to my pelvic. The cancer has metastasized again, and is currently in my lungs, last we looked. After 5 immunotherapy treatments this year, the metastatic cancer reduced in the lungs by 50%, which is awesome!

It is interesting that World Giraffe Day and Kidney Cancer Awareness Day are on the same day. During my last surgery, where my vertebrae were removed and hardware placed, surgeons had to deflate one of my lungs, then keep me under close observation, making sure my lung was properly inflating. Nurses did this by waking me every morning at 4am in my ICU recovery room, bringing in a portable X-Ray machine and placing a stiff film board behind my back. Obviously, this was very painful.

The X-Ray machine was a box with a neck that had the x-ray dish (I am guessing) on it where they pointed at me and took the x-rays while laying in my bed. The machine must have been from the children’s area because it had spots all over the box—like a giraffe. After getting these twice, on the third morning I woke up a bit early and saw the nurse in the room. I asked her if they were going to bring the giraffe in this morning. She gave me a puzzled look and asked, “What giraffe?” My wife, who was sitting in the room, said, “Oh, he’s talking about the x-ray machine.” Then the nurse laughed!

My wife went to the gift store and bought me a plush giraffe. It is a reminder of all I went through and that I survived. I told people I hated giraffes because of the x-ray machine. But, in truth, I love giraffes! I am alive today not because I am a good person or because I am strong. I am a weak person. I am alive today because I trust in a strong God. I trusted Him when I found out He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to save me from my sins, and I trust Him for what the future holds. I don’t know the day of my death. I know that it must come. But I do know what will happen after death. I have hope. That hope gives me hope in this world as well. I will continue to fight. I will continue to tell of the faithfulness of God even though I have been unfaithful and unworthy of His love.

Someone who was going through a life threatening situation once asked me why God would keep people like her and I around. My response was that God loves us. Not because we were better than anyone else, not because we were so cute, not because we were good people. He loves us just because He loves us. That is all.

On this, World Giraffe Day and Kidney Cancer Awareness Day, may I offer you hope. I thought that if I would just stick my neck out, you might spot the hope I have and make it your own. Message me if I can be of any assistance.

Giraffe photos shot by me at The Living Desert zoo in Palm Desert, California.To keep up with my images, follow me @stmarqphotography on Instagram or Facebook. If you know of anyone who needs hope and would like to be encouraged, follow @stage4ministries on Instagram or Facebook.

Anniversaries…..

On this, the 4 year anniversary of the day Steve received his official stage 3 kidney cancer diagnosis, I wanted to share some prayerful thoughts.

April 21st – 2014 Dr. Tompkins – Confirmed Kidney Cancer, 7cm tumor in kidney by way of CT scan. April 22nd, first meeting with oncologist Dr. Arzoumanian, and another CT scan, this time with contrast. April 23rd, Dr. Arzoumanian confirmed 7cm tumor that had spread to renal vein. Stage 3.

I can’t speak for anyone of the millions of brave cancer survivors and their story, but I can for Steve’s journey.

His journey has been created by our loving God for His purpose, for His kingdom, that He may be glorified in it all, and many given this hope through Steve’s testimony. You see, from the time Steve received his diagnosis of stage 3 renal cell carcinoma; unknown specification, on April , 2014, to his nephrectomy July 2014; it was just a few short months to October and a stage 4 diagnosis. Very rapid. Very aggressive cancer according to pathology.

Instead of surgery, treatment, then cancer free for a long period of time; which has been more of the norm in cancer care past, where one can heal over a period of time and gain physical strength back and live life a little more normal. Steve has been in treatment for cancer ever since October 2014. 3 1/2 years. He’s never been able to have his physical strength back or a time feeling well again. He’s lived in pain through a lot of this time, weak, fatigued and feeling ill often, due to either the treatments or the cancer itself.

Yet God provided the miracle of his being able to walk, which defies medical science. The Lord has enabled him, by His Spirit to get back to pastoring for a couple more years, until he was physically unable to any longer. The Lord gives him the physical strength to be able to teach periodically.

There are literal whole days he has to spend in bed due to extreme fatigue. Some days, just hours. Some days he has enough energy to be up, out and about. Whether he’s in bed with fatigue or a day with enough energy to serve the Lord or enjoy life moments, it’s all in the Lord’s hands.

We have read Streams in the Desert as one of our daily devotions for years. It’s one of our favorites. I had written notes of those 3 days in 2014. (See pic) The verses for these days couldn’t be anymore apropos. The Lord knows what we need.

2 Corinthians is Steve’s Book from the Bible where the Lord has guided him, comforted him, sustained him. I invite you to read it. Sit down with your coffee or tea and meet with the Lord there. He’ll show up, you won’t be disappointed.

I Can Do All Things Through Christ, Who Strengthens Me

A guest post by dear friend, Stephanie Pearson:

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me“ And He does because I ask Him to and allow Him to daily, sometimes hourly, sometimes with my every breath. For most of my life I knew that verse and thought I understood that verse. It wasn’t until my first child that I really JUST started to understand it’s depth.  I have to start by telling you about my beautiful blue eyed boy that God gifted to me. His Father and I laugh about it when we think back to how unprepared we were to be parents! We thought we were ready and had an idea of what we were doing. HaHa! Little did we know that our first gift was only preparation for what was to come. My first born was showing signs of developmental delays around six months old. By the time he was four he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome which is now known as Autistic Spectrum disorder. Being a parent can be challenging. Being a parent to a boy has it’s own unique set of challenges. Being a parent to a boy with Autism presents a uniquely complicated challenge that to be honest can make you ask God what His return policy is for gifts!  Please don’t get me wrong I love my son to pieces! He has taught his father and I more than we  thought we were capable of learning. He has taught us what it truly means to have the patience of Job and how to love unconditionally. Most importantly he taught us to rely on God….”Trust in the Lord with all thine heart;and lean not unto thine own understanding.”

Like I said, my son was preparation for what was to come. I knew before my second child was born that I wanted her name to be Grace. I knew that I didn’t want it to be her first name. I also didn’t want people to call her Gracie. So my husband and I named our beautiful baby girl Sydnie Grace. At four months old Sydnie Grace had her first Grand-mal seizure. It lasted to the point that she stopped breathing and her heart stopped. I remember being shoved out of the room by a nurse as a crash cart was being brought in and the room was filling up with people in white coats. I remember begging God for His Mercy and His strength to wash over my daughter’s tiny blue body so that she could survive the seizure that was trying to take her life.

Sydnie Grace will be seventeen years old this year. She was diagnosed at the age of two with Mitochondrial Encephalopathy. At ten years old she was given a primary diagnosis of Dravet Syndrome. She has intractable epilepsy and is severely developmentally delayed. Sydnie will need someone to care for her for the rest of her life. Being her Mom and Caregiver on a daily basis can be overwhelming if I let it.  I am told fairly regularly “I don’t know how you do it?” meaning, how do you take care of someone who can not take care of themselves every day? My answer is always simply, it is not me. I am human, I am not superhuman. If I did not ask and truly allow Christ to strengthen me, I could not do it! There are plenty of days that I am so weary from lack of sleep after a long night of seizures, that I can barely put one foot in front of the other, but I do.  Every day I ask for God to give me Grace to accept whatever challenge may come and the strength to handle it. There is not a day that goes by that does not present some kind of challenge. Some days it is seizures. Some days it is poop!  Yes, poop! Due to the seizures she has Sydnie is incontinent. She learned to use the toilet at about two years old. She knows how to get to the bathroom and what she needs to do but there are some days that her body will not cooperate with her.  So Sydnie has to wear pull-ups daily. A case of the roto virus aka stomach bug becomes a seriously challenging day in my house! Those are known as AKA ‘trick poop days’. That means that somehow everything coming out of my child completely misses the pull-up.  On those days God sends me strength and grace through my daughter. When I discover that she needed to go to the bathroom and didn’t quite make it in time Sydnie will look at me and say “Saawwry”. She says she is sorry not because she thinks she has done something wrong or thinks she is in trouble. She says sorry because she knows it is not something she wanted to happen and she is going to need help. I tell her that I know it was an accident and it is okay!  So precious is that one word ‘sorry’and all that it means coming from her, in that moment my heart is full, my strength renewed and poo is conquered!

She is my heart. She is God’s most perfect gift. She is the reason I learned HOW to allow Christ to strengthen me. As a Mom, as a Caregiver to Special Needs children, I have learned to listen for God in the quiet, as well as the chaos. I also learned that if you focus on listening for Him, you might just hear Him speak through those He entrust you to care for. 😊