I Changed my Mind, Let’s Talk About Suffering

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. Romans 8:14-17

I was going to talk about being joint heirs with Christ.  I was going to talk about how Jesus elevates us to an equal place with Him.  I might have even talked about how the Lord sees men and women equally, and calls us all “sons” with the same privileges that entitles us to.  But I changed my mind. 

I changed my mind when I got to verse 17 in Romans Chapter 8.  

17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. Romans 8:17

Did you catch that last bit?  The part about suffering? Ya, the hard part.  How did Christ suffer? How do we suffer with Him?  Why do we have to suffer? 

Admittedly, this is a subject I’m well acquainted with.  I’ve suffered a lot. I’ve suffered with severe depression.  I have PTSD from past trauma I have endured. I’ve had one physical ailment after another: cancer, Guillain-Barré syndrome, chronic blockages of my intestines, sepsis (more than once!), pneumonia, hospitalizations, severe arthritis. The list endures as Christ endures.  Because of Christ I endure.

Suffering is not fun.  But there is peace in the suffering when we suffer with Christ. Because I’ve suffered a lot, I know this peace well.  Retrospectively, I consider it a gift well earned. I’ve seen things. Felt things. Learned things. All from suffering.

2 Count it all joy, my brothers,[b] when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

Who ever wanted to count suffering and trials as joyful?  Joy is for celebrations, for victories, for fun times. It certainly isn’t a go to feeling for suffering.  And yet, there it is. Right there in the Bible. In the Holy book of Jesus. In the inerrant Word of God.  

But here’s what it doesn’t say: We won’t have pain, we won’t struggle, we won’t anguish over it, or feel afraid. Think back to the Garden of Gethsemane.  That’s that time before the cross where Jesus sweat drops of blood. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never sweat drops of blood. 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

For the joy set before Him, Christ endured the suffering.  He looked beyond His current circumstances, beyond the pain, beyond the fear, beyond the shame.  He focused on the outcome.  

Suffering is a tool for perfecting our faith.  It refines us and tempers us. In the suffering we see the endurance and peace only Christ can give us.  But we also receive the greatest gift in suffering, the gift of hope.

3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5

Hope is a powerful thing!  The hope of what will come from our suffering  creates such a faithful witness to the world! When we hope in Christ’s enduring love, we can accept the enduring suffering that comes from this evil world.  

We can endure, because we have hope!

Lord, help us to endure the suffering that the world brings us.  Thank you for being the perfect example of what suffering looks like, and also the ultimate example of victory that You are.  We have been promised Your victory, Jesus. We are your joint heirs. We will endure for the joy set before us, because we have your Holy Spirit.  We have Your love and your freedom to endure whatever suffering this broken world pours on us. Let us drink from your cup of suffering and receive the supernatural peace that only You can provide.  We love you, Jesus. Help us rejoice in our suffering for what it will teach us and train us for. Amen.

 

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Just Show Up

I can really get frustrated when God doesn’t tell me His plan.  Doesn’t He understand that I need to know? I’ve got things to do, people to see!  How am I supposed to do that effectively if I don’t know the details of His plan?

God has a chuckle every time I talk to him like that.

The sad thing is, I know full well I don’t need to know every detail of His plans for me.  I just don’t. How would I ever learn to trust Him if I always knew what was going to happen?  But I’m ornery. I’m stubborn. I wanna know, dangit!

God is so gentle, though, isn’t He?  He’s patient and kind. He knows how much I love Him and how much I struggle with trusting Him.  So He shows me love instead of wrath.

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands,[a] forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” Exodus 34:6-7

When I was in the hospital, God did something that I can’t stop thinking about.  (To be honest, He did a lot of things I can’t stop thinking about!) He showed up, faithful and true, while I was sedated and saying all kinds of weird stuff.  

I wasn’t really there in my mind.  I was intubated, sedated, in terrible pain, and I definitely didn’t know the plan.  But God did. And He showed up. 

Over and over again, people have been telling me how the Glory of the Lord was there with me in the ICU.  It overwhelmed people with love and peace and light.  

I didn’t need to know all the details.  I still don’t know them all. I will likely never know.  Propofol and Fentanyl did a great job in handling my pain (apparently) and giving me solid amnesia for two weeks.  Like John Snow, I knew nothing.

And God showed up. 

That was all I had to do, too.  I showed up. I showed up in delirious pain, full of drugs to keep me “comfortable”, and I demanded nothing.  I was just there.  

God is so good.  All we have to do is show up.  Really. We don’t need to know anything else.  I’m learning this slowly. But God is patient with me.  I will forever worship Him for His love is enduring and patient and kind.  

 8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. 9 And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.” Exodus 34:8-9

Stiff necked as we are, God shows up.  Why should we try do anything more?

 

I Will Declare What the Lord has Done

My doctor told me I was going to die if I didn’t have surgery. He said that the surgery was very risky and there was a high risk of complications and even death.  What I heard was: it was likely death either way. Surgery was scheduled less than a week later.  

The day before the surgery the pain in my abdomen became excruciating.  An ambulance took me to the hospital. My daughter said she could hear me screaming from the waiting room as they wheeled me upstairs after being admitted.

I woke up two weeks later still in the ICU.  There had been complications. I’d been on a ventilator for ten days. My lungs failed. My kidneys failed.  I got pneumonia. And finally sepsis. From what I understand from the story, I should have died multiple times.  But instead of dying I lived. Miraculously. Doctors were flabbergasted. 

My poor husband.  It had to be so hard to be pulled into a private room and told I likely wouldn’t survive the night multiple times.  How horrible.

Our God had different plans.  People began to rally prayer for me.  I had people praying on six different continents!  As I’ve recovered, multiple people that I didn’t even know have come to me to introduce themselves and tell me how God had laid me on their heart in a powerful way to pray.  

A friend of mine at church organized prayer in her home and enlisted people to pray everywhere she went.  There was a 24 hour prayer vigil. They put my picture on the screen at church and had a special prayer time for me every week.  Streams of concerned people came to the hospital to pray over me and my family. A doctor even asked my husband who I was that so many people kept coming to pray for me.

Who am I? I am loved by the Creator of the Universe.  I am His.  

I’m recovering well now that I’ve been home for a few weeks.  My wounds have been healing at a miraculous rate. The wound care doctor was blown away by the speed of healing.  And my strength has returned quickly. That’s God for you. Because of God’s mercy and because of the prayers of the saints, I am alive. When, at the Lord’s leading, people come together to pray, miracles happen.

I am so thankful for the Lord’s mercy and for His hand over me.  And I am humbled by all of those who prayed for me without ceasing.  Thank you. I’m alive.

I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done.
Psalms 118:17

Oh Mighty Man of Valor

And the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor.”
Judges 6:12

I’ve had a lot of people tell me I was courageous.  At times in my life I’ve felt like I was. I even have “Be strong and courageous” tattooed on my wrist.  But there are times when I just want to hide away from the world and stay “safe”, afraid and in the dark, but safe.  

But as I was praying this morning, the Lord reminded me of this verse from Judges.  Poor Gideon was hiding in a hole, afraid of getting killed, when he had a visitation and a calling from the Lord.  

Gideon felt and acted like a coward.  And that’s sometimes what I do. We all do it, right?  But that’s not what God sees. He doesn’t see our fear or failings.  He blotted out our transgressions, our fears, our cowardice, our doubt.  

Our God defined Gideon as a mighty man of valor before he’d done anything valourous at all.  But if you are familiar with the story, you know what happens with Gideon. God patiently, pleasingly, persistently guides Gideon into discovering who God made him to be.

We need to remember that.  We aren’t who we think we are.  We were made with a purpose, to be God’s ambassadors.  We were made to be strong and courageous, not by overcoming our fear and doubt, or fighting through our circumstances, but by God.  God made us strong and courageous. We walk confidently into battle because of Him.

As David said so confidently, as a kid with a slingshot against the world’s definition of a “mighty man of valor”:

“You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.”
1 Samuel 17:45

I think that one of the most important things we can learn from scripture is that we don’t have to rely on ourselves.  God is with us. And what a great relief that is. I don’t know about you, but I’m really done relying on myself. I put all my money on God’s power within me.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
Romans 8:31

Obligations

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9

Since when did God ever say to His children, “You are obligated to do such and such because I saved you…” or “You better be good or this is over!” or “You need to do this or I won’t love you anymore.” Never.

That’s not our God. The only “must do” in God’s book for us is to receive and accept His love and mercy, not work through a set of rules and obligations in order to earn or prove something to Him.  History has proven over and over that we suck at must dos anyway.

So, why on earth do we feel so obligated all the time?  We say things like: “I better not miss church, or…”, “I better give a full ten percent tithe, or…”, or “I better be this way or that way or…”  

We need to stop that.  We really do. What do we think grace means?  Do we do good or behave well because we don’t want to lose God’s love, or because we want to show God our love?

Why do we walk around with so much fear? Why don’t we trust. We don’t believe God’s promises.  We don’t trust His grace.  There’s got to be a catch, right?

Humanity is so fickle.  People stop being friends over ridiculous things.  Fathers abandon children. Mothers expect perfection.  Friends demand attention. But is that who we are, as children of God?  Is that our legacy? No wonder we can’t trust God!  We can’t always even count on our own family!

Wasn’t the whole point of God’s plan to get us out of that mess that is “obligation”, and into the peace of not having to worry about that stuff anymore?

But the ten commandments!  What about those, you say!? Those are rules.  Those are obligations!

“For it is by grace that we have been saved….”

The ten commandments.  The Golden Rule.  They aren’t contradictions, they aren’t demands.  They aren’t obligations.  They’re all just a way for God to show us how hopeless we are without Him and how beautiful life can be with Him. 

There’s no random list of rules. No list of obligations.  No “you better, or…” All any of those rules God laid out to us proved is that we can’t do it.  We’re going to make a golden calf every single time, because we’re scared and broken and full of our own great ideas, and have no trust in God.

But we can’t do anything good enough to earn God or His love. We just can’t.  He has been offering us those things since the beginning of time.  And we could either accept it or not.

Grace.  Forgiveness.  Love. Why do we want this from people, but struggle to receive it from God?  Maybe it’s fear. Maybe it’s obligation. Maybe it’s habit. It doesn’t really matter why,  

God loves us.  He doesn’t obligate us.  He loves without condition.  He loves when we hate. When we are evil.  When we are wrong. When we are broken. He loves us.

8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8

He gave us Christ so we wouldn’t be obligated.  He gave us Christ because He loves us.  Only in Christ can we recieve God’s love and forgiveness.  Only in Christ could God give us what we need, what we deserve, what we want.  Only Christ could take our deserving punishment of death and conquer it.  Only Christ could give us His love without asking anything in return.  Only Christ could reunite us with what the Creator of the Universe.

Only Christ. 

The only way we can screw that up is to not believe it.

So, please stop fighting it.  Just recieve it.

16 “For God so loved the world,[i] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
John 3:16-21

 

Working on the Sabbath

A few months ago I reopened my Clothing Resale Store on eBay after a four year break when I had to stop to take care of my ailing mother full time.  Now that I’m back at it, I find myself working very hard, often as many as 16 hours a day. That’s just the life of a reseller. And I love it. I truly do, which is why it’s not a surprise that I would throw myself into it with such exuberance.

As I’ve contemplated how to find a healthy balance of work, life, and ministry, I began to marvel at the unending attention of Our Heavenly Father.  He is always at work, even when He’s at rest. Look at Jesus: He got in so much trouble with the Pharisees for healing people on the Sabbath.

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus,[a] to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Mark 3:1-6

I think working to do good, working to heal and comfort and encourage, working to love and to smile even when things are hard, are all things we don’t need to take a break from.  Does God ever stop listening? Or stop blessing? Or stop comforting?

We can rest in doing what comes natural to us. God asked us to keep the Sabbath and keep it holy so that we would stop and remember all that God has made and done, just like He did “in the beginning”. And He called it good.

I’m working through a lot of hard stuff lately. For me, it has become season in my life primarily of seclusion and introspection.  In a lot of ways, I’ve seen it as a season of Sabbath rest. I know that may sound like an oxymoron. I’m working to think on things.  

Now, stay with me here, I’m working to see that all that God has made and done is good. I’ve stopped trying to be good and started recognizing God’s good in me.  Like with my eBay store. He gave it back to me so that I could have something in my life again that was mine. That may sound strange, but as a mother and wife most of my life, my world has mostly been about other people.  Even my ministry is about others: encouraging, prophesying, hugging, loving the unlovable.

My store has given me a chance to stop and think about me.  It’s a time of solitude and work, but also a time of reflection and peace in what God has given me and made for me.  It’s an opportunity for me to experience joy during a time when my heart is heavy with sorrow and difficult emotions.

God is working.  That’s something my therapist keeps reminding me of.  God is working. He’s healing me, even on the Sabbath.  Even when He’s resting and smiling at me and what He has made in me.  He is working on me. He is loving me and teaching me.

Work can be love.  It can be healing. It can be rest.  And maybe that stuff isn’t “work” after all.  Maybe that was Jesus’ point. Love shouldn’t stop on the Sabbath because it might take work.  Like His own nature, Love is Eternal and Infinite. It never stops. It never takes a break. And it is always good.

In My Own Strength

27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
John 14:27

I’ve been told my whole life how strong I am.  How courageous I am. I’m a fighter. People say I’m tough as nails, that I have true grit, that I’m so brave. I even have Joshua 1:9 tattooed on my wrist.  To the world, I am so strong.

But I’m not strong at all.  I’m weak and fearful and tired.  And every time I try to fall back on my strength and grit my teeth to work through something, I fail.  That’s right. All my strength, all my courage, all my grit is nothing.

Without Jesus it is nothing.  I am nothing. My strength, my courage, my lionheart…they all come from Jesus.  He is my strength. He’s the one who made me this way. He’s the one who brought me through trials over and over again.  When I rely on Him to see me through my circumstances I somehow manage to make it through. He has made me strong.

I think for too long I’ve thought that God’s strength at work in me was actually me.  So when I tried to fight through things I struggled, I bruised my knees, I cried, I failed.  Ya. It sucks to fail. And it’s hard to admit that I can’t do anything in my own power. Even the air I breathe is dependant on God’s grace.

But when I look back on all the triumph, and all the times I made it through to the other side of whatever I was fighting, I see that the one thing they all had in common was Jesus.  When something was hard and I succeeded in pushing through it, I realize that the power came from asking Jesus to help me.

When you’re in the midst of trial it is so hard to rely on God’s strength because everything is hard when you are suffering.  It was hard for Jesus to carry that cross to Golgotha.

What I’m learning is that I don’t have to feel, see, or even trust that God is giving me His strength.  I know that sounds crazy, but because I love God and because He has a 100% track record with me, I don’t have to get it.  I don’t have to understand. It is a fact that is not dependent on my understanding, or even my faith. It just is.

Releasing my feelings, and releasing my worry, and just remembering that God always sees me through is enough.  God brings His strength and peace because He promised He would. And that is enough.

So, Lord, help me get passed myself and my feelings and my arguments.  Give me the strength that you have promised me and see me through this trial and the next by Your power.  I don’t have to understand. I don’t have to worry. I can trust You. Help me to trust You, Jesus. Help me to trust Your perfect record with me. Give me faith. Help me stay in Your arms no matter what battle rages around me.  Help me to know that You are God. I love You, Jesus. Thank You for Your strength.

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
   I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
   he makes my feet like the deer’s;
   he makes me tread on my high places.
Habakkuk 3:18-19