A Friend of God

People call me a deeply spiritual person.  A prayer girl.  A friend of God.  Someone who is praying continuously.  I’ve been proud of that.  I like that about myself.  And I suck at it. 

I get angry.  I get irritated.  I get frustrated.  People are stupid and most of the time I throw my hands up in the air with aggravation rather than deal with them.  A problem comes up and I try to handle it with love and kindness.  I try to be a peacemaker.  I really, really do.  Yet, I fail at it miserably all the time.  Because people are stupid.  And so am I.

I’m not nearly as spiritual as I think I am.  I’m not near as good of a friend to God as people think I am.  I’m not continually praying, even when I think I am.  I get distracted by emotion.  I get distracted by myself and my circumstances.  I turn into a victim or a tyrant or even a peacemaker and forget to bring God into the conversation at all.  

No wonder I fail miserably so often!

12We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle,c encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not despise prophecies, 21but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22Abstain from every form of evil.

23Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-22

The other night the Lord said something to me that I can’t stop thinking about.  With all the kindness and tenderness of the sweetest southern gentleman, the Lord asked if I would invite him into the conversation.  The Lord asked me!  Wow.  The King of the Universe lovingly asked me if He could be a part of my conversations.  All of them.  

He didn’t ask me to be quiet.  He didn’t ask me to stop getting frustrated or angry or self righteous. He just asked me if He could be part of my conversations.  No judgement.  No criticism.  Just a gentle request.

I know I don’t invite Him in because deep down inside I think I’ve got it all figured out.  Either that, or I think He won’t like what I have to say, or He’ll stop me from having a voice at all.  He’s the Creator of All Things.  He doesn’t need me or want my opinion.  

What a filthy lie. 

The truth is, the God of the Universe made me in His image to be His friend.  And He loves me!  He doesn’t want a silent slave.  He wants a full fledged son with all the rights of inheritance He has given His Son.  All of it.

And He had to ask me to invite Him into the conversation.

No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
John 15:15

Jesus, I confess that I’ve not been very good at inviting you into my conversations.  I’ve tried to figure things out on my own.  I’ve lived huge parts of my life only letting You in occasionally.  And I didn’t even realize I was doing it.  So, I’m sorry, Lord.  I’m sorry for not inviting You in.  I took Your forgiveness and neglected Your wisdom.  Please forgive me.  Help me to do better.  Destroy my fear and insecurity.  Destroy my arrogance and any power I think I can manage without Your input.  It’s all Yours, God.  Every bit of who I am You designed.  It’s Your DNA that made me.  Will You show me how to invite You in and still be me?  Will You show me what freedom in sonship looks like?  Will You teach me how to be in You more fully and trust You more deeply so that You are always a part of my conversations.  Always.  I love you, Jesus.  Help me act like it.  Amen.

Socially Distant

Social distancing.  What a statement! We live in a world that is as socially distant as it’s ever been.  Phone calls, Facebook, Twitter, Marco Polo, Skype, Zoom calls, Tik Tok. It’s called social media for a reason.  It’s social communication. Aren’t all of these social conveniences supposed to be the very definition of social? But it’s social at a distance.

We are a culture of social distancing.

We’re a vast global community, celebrating our technological advances, and our interconnection.   We can see and speak and interact instantaneously to someone on the other side of the world. And yet, we’re lonelier than we’ve ever been.  We lack nothing in our ability to reach out. Yet, our social networking has brought us more social distancing than any virus ever could.

 We once lived in villages together, alone on a vast planet of villages, separated by days or weeks or months of arduous journey.  We only had our village. We took care of each other, worked together, protected one another, lived together. Our lives in our villages were intertwined.  Connected.

Now, even together, we live alone.

Last night I wrote a Facebook post saying, “I’m extremely lonely.” The responses were the clearest representation of our social truth right now.  We’re all lonely. But not for why we think.

This novel coronavirus, as it spreads across the world, has pointed out the terrible truth of what our world has become. While we were looking at our phones and meandering through grocery store corridors plucking fanciful delights into our rolling baskets, we lost our village.  We lost our community. We lost ourselves.

Our villages have turned into metropolitan mega areas with larger and larger populations.  Our technology has given us thousands of friends, thousands of neighbors, thousands of things to talk about, and stolen every last drop of our identities.  We are giant hives of drones in active nothingness.

We are alone in a whirlwind.

We are lost.

My cry for help was a cry for all people right now.  

Help us, O Lord!  We are a people lost and alone and nothing can save us but You. This virus, this terrible virus that takes our breath away is the final burning anger of a world who has lost the breath of Life that is You, Jesus.  Breathe into us today with Your life giving breath. You are the great I AM. You Breathe. You Give Life. Restore your Creation, God. Restore Your people. Breathe into us again.  

Psalm 62 

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
    from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.
How long will all of you attack a man
    to batter him,
    like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
They only plan to thrust him down from his high position.
    They take pleasure in falsehood.
They bless with their mouths,
    but inwardly they curse.
Selah
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
    for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my salvation and my glory;
    my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
Trust in him at all times, O people;
    pour out your heart before him;
    God is a refuge for us.
Selah
Those of low estate are but a breath;
    those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
    they are together lighter than a breath.
10 Put no trust in extortion;
    set no vain hopes on robbery;
    if riches increase, set not your heart on them.
11 Once God has spoken;
    twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
12     and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.
For you will render to a man
    according to his work.

 

A Case of Stolen Identity

The world has gone nuts over the Covid-19 virus.  Our homes have become quarantine zones: a refuge from a suddenly terrifying hostile environment beyond our walls.  Hand-sanitizer, bleach products and toilet paper have disappeared off grocery store shelves. Everyone can tell you that you need an N95 respirator mask, but good luck finding one.

Everyone has become some sort of apocalypse prepper.

Every conversation is about this virus.  The news is all about how bad it is, or how bad it isn’t.  We’ve heard every statistic about the R naught value, fatality rates, countries infected, citizens at risk, complication rates, and on and on.   Have you seen some of those graphs!?

You have to be a mathematician to even understand it. 

What about social distancing?  It’s really just a fancy term for becoming a hermit.  Are you a loner? No? Well you better lock yourself in a closet, because you are now!  Or at least you better be if you’re listening to the preppers and the mathematicians. Stay away from people!  If you smile at a stranger you might get infected!

Solitary confinement is the new social butterfly in town.

Public gatherings are a thing of the past. Jimmy Falon is doing monologues from his living room.  My daughter’s high school graduation? Cancelled. Disney World? Cancelled. And you can forget about sports. Cancelled, cancelled, cancelled.  

Social media and Netflix here we come.

Then there’s church. Pastors are running around trying to solve this problem of not being able to congregate their congregations!  Live streaming sermons. Small groups? You guessed it! Mostly cancelled. We’ve got Zoom calls for prayer meetings. Praise and worship on Facebook live videos.  Long distance everything. We must have no human contact. What have we become?

We’ve become isolated and frightened mathematicians, with a special emphasis in the pseudo-sciences, desperately mumbling conspiracy theories and hoarding toilet paper like doomsday preppers with no N95 masks and nothing but a box of Cheerios in our cabinet.

Can I get an amen?

We are in a war with the world over our identity right now. We need to stop allowing Covid-19 and the complications there entailed, to define who we are! 

I’ll admit it, I’ve been an anxiety ridden mess.  I’ve been talking to the Lord about it and He’s been gently reminding me of who I really am.  I am a daughter of the King of Kings, yes, and I’ve never lost sight of that, but I’m also so much more.  I’m a warrior woman. A preacher. A worshiper and a prayer. I’m a mother, a grandmother, a wife, a friend.  I’m an encourager and a writer and a speaker of truth. I am alive in Christ and I don’t have to be afraid.

Has your identity been stolen from you?  

The enemy is doing his best to throw you into fear.  But fear doesn’t have to be who you are. Go ahead and let it be a feeling, that’s fine, that’s normal, but don’t let it rule you or define you.  

9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

God is with you, and He’s got this.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8

 

 

Walking Miracles

Yesterday my daughter and I were having a conversation about current events.  I did my best to answer honestly and without fear about the coronavirus, self-quarantine, and the practicality of washing our hands and avoiding contact with others.  And perhaps for obvious reasons, the topic eventually turned to my month in the hospital last June.  

You see, I don’t really remember much about my time there.  I know an ambulance came and picked me up early one morning because I had excessive hemorrhaging and was in excruciating pain. I remember one of the EMTs told my husband that hydrogen peroxide would get the blood out of the mattress and sheets, and the other EMT recognized my husband from when he had spoken at his church.

I remember that EMT holding my hand and praying with me in the ambulance, but I don’t remember getting to the hospital, or going into surgery, or even the few weeks after the surgery. I’d had complications during and after a six hour surgery.  I never went to recovery, but went straight to the ICU. The surgeon took my husband into a private room and told him to say goodbye. He told him I probably wouldn’t make it through the night. 

For the next few weeks my husband heard doctor after doctor tell him the same thing. I’d rally for a few hours or maybe a day before something else would bring death knocking on my door again.  My lungs failed, my kidneys failed, I went into septic shock. It didn’t look good, but my husband was undaunted, and God’s church rallied around me in prayer, refusing to admit defeat. Refusing to see Daisy die.

So, that takes us back to my conversation with my daughter yesterday. She had been in the ICU with me and my husband on one of those occasions where things took a dark turn. 

My arms were restrained to keep me from panicking and pulling any tubes out.  I guess I fought at the restraints quite a bit. At some point that afternoon I forcibly yanked my arm free and pulled the breathing tube out before anyone could stop me!  Yes, I extubated myself. My daughter said that Daddy screamed “NO!” and then yelled at Sophia to go get a nurse.

And yesterday, my daughter talked to me about that experience.  She said that medical staff poured into my room. She told me how five nurses turned to fifteen and then she heard the terrifying words, “We’re losing her!” 

She ran out of the room so she didn’t have to watch me die.

She told me how she paced down the hallways around the ICU waiting area.  She saw people mourning. She heard a nurse say that I was the patient in the ICU most likely to die.  She saw other families suffering while they waited and wondered what was going on with their own loved ones in critical care.  So much death. So much fear. So little hope. She ended up praying with multiple families, serving others because there was no other way for her to work it out.

Yesterday was not the first time I’d heard this story.  But it was the first time I’d heard it from her. With so many uncertainties in her life right now:  Covid-19, graduating from HS, getting her first car, getting into the college she wants, the list could go on for days.  But that’s not what she wanted to talk about. She wanted to talk about the time she almost watched her mommy die.

We talked about her fear.  We talked about her courage.  We talked about God and His power to turn the worst situations into blessings.  We prayed together and held each other. And maybe we even cried a few tears together.  We connected over our own entangled tragedy. We connected through the shared experience of overcoming death. 

We stood in awe at the power of God.  

As our conversation started to conclude, my daughter looked at me earnestly and said, “You know, Mom, you’re a walking miracle.”  

I smiled and nodded and thought to myself, “Aren’t we all.” 

 

Be Perfect

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48

That’s a lot of pressure!  Be perfect, Jesus? Or, uh, how about try to be perfect?  Trying is good, right?

I admit it. That verse has always confounded me.  I was taught as a child to be my own worst critic.  I was taught to seek nothing less than perfection. So, you better believe, I know full well just how imperfect I really am.  

I am not perfect. And neither are you.

So, does that mean we’re hosed?  Have we caught Jesus suggesting we do something that is impossible? 

For nothing will be impossible with God. Luke 1:37

There you have it, folks.  Nothing will be impossible for God.  God can do anything he wants. God gets to be perfect.  

Do you remember us talking about this the other day?  No? We did. When we talked about sharing God’s glory, we talked about the living God within us.  Remember? That’s the reason we can share His Glory. And guess what, there’s other stuff of His we get to share!

14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons[f] 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

Being perfect plays right into the truth of who we are.  We are no longer slaves to sin, but sons of the Living God, with the Spirit of God living within us.  Yes, even us girls are still sons. (Just like men get to be brides of Christ.)

We are made to be perfect.  Yes. Perfect.

There are some caveats to that perfection, though.  It seems that suffering plays a vital role in that. Paul said, “provided we suffer.”  So, God’s a sadist? Certainly not! But, boy oh boy, when we suffer for the Lord we sure do learn a lot about Him! Just like He showed us He knew a lot about us by submitting to death–even death on a cross!

This world is broken, we’re going to suffer.  But God made a way for that. God made suffering a vital part of our journey.  Not because He’s a sadist, but because God makes all things new. God brings encouragement from the worst of situations.  God takes death and restores it to life. 

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,[b] 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[c] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:1-11

I know that was a mouthful of scripture.  Maybe even a mouthful you just skimmed over because you already know what it says.  Or maybe you just got intimidated. If so, go back and read it. I’ll wait.  

Now that that’s done, let’s continue.  We need to act like Christ. When we act like Christ we are doing something very, very special.  We are walking in unity with him and with everyone else who is doing the same. When we walk in Christ, submitting to Him, listening to Him, and being in Him, we are…wait for it…

Being perfect.

I’ll let that sink in a minute.

It doesn’t matter what you think, or what you feel. You feel inadequate? You are! You feel weak? You are! You don’t know the answers? You don’t have to.

Because Jesus. Jesus is doing all the work.  He’s bringing death to life. And He’s doing it in you.

Jesus meme

You heard me.  Jesus. Only Jesus.  All Jesus all the time.  When you’re in Him, you are perfect.  When you’re not, you’re not. So, go be perfect, my loves! Go be perfect!

 

 

 

On Sharing the Gospel

 For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. 2 But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. 3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. 5 For we never came with words of flattery,[b] as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness.
1 Thessalonians 2:1-5

We often put so much pressure on ourselves when we consider sharing the Gospel.  We worry if we’ll say that right things, or get stumped by a question we can’t answer.  In our desire to represent Christ well, we freak out and get silent, shamed by our own sin.

But there’s never any shame in sharing the Gospel of Christ.  It’s not supposed to be hard. It’s not supposed to be scary. Just as we breathe by the grace of God the oxygen He provides, so too, should we share the glorious news of Christ Jesus as Savior.

When Paul and his companions brought the Gospel to Thessalonica, they knew their purpose.  Because they had joyfully received the salvation of Christ, they were driven to share it with boldness!  Not for their own honor, not for praise among men, not by any personal motivation.  

Having undergone incredible adversity and rejection, they continued to move forward with confidence, no matter what they might have been thinking. It wasn’t strategy, logic, or even fear that compelled them.  It was love. Love received by them from God through the forgiveness of sin, and desirous love for the lost bestowed on them by Christ.

 Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. 7 But we were gentle[c] among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
1 Thessalonians 2:6-8

They loved like a mother loves her infant child.  They sought to care for, endure, and speak into the people in Thessalonica because they loved them.  They shared deeply of what Christ had done and also shared deeply of themselves! They opened up and got vulnerable. They were real people who likely tripped over hard questions, said stupid things, and feared potential judgement from the people they were sharing with.

It sort of puts things into perspective doesn’t it?  I know I am so guilty at times of looking at the apostles as “super” Christians, infallible Bible scholars with infinite debate and oratory skills.  Especially with Paul and all that talk about learning under Gamaliel and being a Hebrew of Hebrews. They were all so well qualified, right?  

Me? Well, I’m just a pretty girl from Texas who got saved at five and never took a Bible class, and that’s all I need to make me qualified.  I let Jesus become the Lord of my life. At five years old, I knew very little, if anything, about the sinful nature of man, or anything about the Bible.  But what I did know was that Jesus died for me and saved me from my sin, and I wanted everyone else to learn what I had learned! I wanted to run up and down my street, knock on every door, and share with everyone about Jesus and how He had saved me.

Oh, the faith of a child!

You don’t have to be a Bible scholar!  You don’t have to be “called”! The moment you accept Christ you are meant to share it!  You’re meant to be real with the people you come in contact with, give of yourself with love and compassion, and let everyone know that you are who you are because Jesus saved you. 

That’s not supposed to be hard, my friends.  

9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
1 Thessalonians 2:9-12

They followed the example of their savior and leaned on Him.  They portrayed Christ in their own bodies by diligently and faithfully allowing Him to work through them.  Everything they did mirrored their personal recognition of who Jesus was to them, how He had saved them from their sin, and empowered them to serve others as He did.

When Christ is in you, it’s okay (and even encouraged!) to let Him do the talking! I promise you, He will say what needs to be said.  You can’t screw it up. Christ will be glorified.

13 And we also thank God constantly[d] for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men[e] but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews,[f] 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last!
1 Thessalonians 2:13-16

When we speak the Gospel of Christ, He will defend it Himself.  No hindering will stop it. And people we find Him. They will find Him and follow Him regardless of the cost because they will see the fruit of His love fulfilled and advanced through you.  

The testimony of your own life with Christ is all you will ever need to share His Gospel.  Just like when you found Him, He will work through you to find others. So, don’t let fear of failure, lack of Bible knowledge, or insecurity of calling deter you from giving your whole testimony of what the Lord has done for you with every person you can.  That will be for His glory and joy as well as your own!

17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 18 because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. 19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy.
1 Thessalonians 2:17-20

 

For the Joy

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

God’s been talking to me a lot about these verses.  They keep coming up as I pray and listen to the Lord.  Jesus endured so much pain and suffering for us. And I know that it is the sin in us and the love in Him that sent him to that place of suffering on our behalf.

Yet I feel the burden of guilt and shame all the time.  He breaks me free from it and then before I realize it, I’ve picked it up again.  I grow weary and tired with all that I start carrying on account of sin.

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30

He wants to give me rest.  He wants to relieve my burdens.  He wants me to be free and carry the light load of His yoke. The only way that happens for me is if I continue to look at Him and learn from His example.

I think about Gethsemane.  I think about His suffering that night, all alone, full of the weight of what He had come to do. His friends fell asleep.  His Father listened and gave strength, but didn’t take the cup away.  

I want to do that.  I want to be like that.  I want to see the joy set before me.  I want to despise my shame and endure as Jesus endured.  

Sometimes I just get afraid that God will say no.  I decide that somehow God wants me to suffer. But did He want Jesus to suffer?  Did He really? NO! He didn’t. It was our sin that sent Christ to the cross, not the Father.  It’s the Father’s love that made it even possible. And it is for that love Christ endured.

That same love is in me.  That same power. That same God.  He is in me and working in me. And He alone is able to despise the shame, instill the courage, and win the victory through me. 

11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus[d] from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
Romans 8:11

That’s a lot of pressure off my shoulders.  That great cloud of witnesses is watching and cheering the Lord Jesus Christ revealed in me.  There is never shame or fear in carrying that! I can run with confidence. I can run for the joy set before me.  

28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
    and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
    and young men shall fall exhausted;
31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:28-31

 

Complete Joy

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Matthew 11:28

Sometimes I just get tired and defeated and I want to give up.  It hurts. I have war wounds that never seem to heal. I get delivered from one thing only to be devoured again by something else.  What’s the point of fighting? 

I say these things to remind myself that it’s okay to fall short.  It’s okay to be broken and sad about it. Really. It’s okay. This isn’t actually about you.  At least not in the ways you might think. The suffering of the Christ follower always has purpose.

10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10

I stumble and fall, but I get back up again, even when I don’t want to.  I get up because I am weak and broken and yet I am triumphant. Yes, you heard me right.  It’s about triumph. It’s about trust in that triumph. Pain and failure are always an opportunity to need God desperately and find that He is utterly faithful, utterly strong, and utterly victorious.  Always.

39 The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;
    he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.
40 The Lord helps them and delivers them;
    he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
    because they take refuge in him.
Psalm 37:39-40

Jesus looked really, really defeated on that Roman cross.  I think Satan thought he’d actually done it: defeated the King of Kings.  But we all know what happened next. After suffering horrifically, after scourging and mocking and humiliation, after slowly bleeding out and getting weaker and weaker, after agonizing asphyxiation, Jesus allowed himself to die. 

And that looked like the opposite of deliverance. Especially when we recall Psalms 37  “…he delivers them from the wicked and saves them…” 

Jesus couldn’t have victory over death until he’d experienced it.  

21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
1 Peter 2:21-24

Death wasn’t the end for Jesus, and it’s not the end for us.  

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5 And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”
Luke 24:1-7

That pretty much says it all, right?  

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:29-31

So when the time has come to suffer again, and I’m feeling weary from the pain, I will look to the cross of Christ and find my strength.  I will remember the suffering that leads to victory, and my joy will be as Christ’s.  Death isn’t the end.  

john-1511

Mabel

24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. 25 And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
Genesis 1:24-25

My dog died yesterday.  At my request, she was given a fatal dose of medicine that stopped her heart. I held her close to me as she took her last breaths, whispering “good girl” into her ear with all the courage I could muster, and gently knuckled the side of her face the way she always loved me to do. 

So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Genesis 1:27-28

I had dominion over my dog, Mabel, for most of her life.  She lived to be 17. I wasn’t expecting to adopt a dog the day I adopted Mabel.  I’d had an argument with my husband and I went to the human society to love on some dogs to make myself feel better.  While all the other dogs barked at me, Mabel stood in her kennel quiet, dejected, resigned to her fate.  

I asked if I could take her outside for a little walk.  It seemed like a kind gesture since all of the smaller dogs were confined to tiny kennels.  She loved it. She trotted alongside me, sniffing the wind, wagging her tail, and then sniffing some more.

When I brought her back to the building, the volunteer told me she was due to be “put down” the next day, and I heard myself say promptly, “I’ll take her.” 

Regular people didn’t have cell phones back then, which means I didn’t have a cell phone.  And so I adopted a dog without talking to my husband, without considering the consequences, without thinking about anything but saving that dog’s life.  

That was my contribution to God’s gift of dominion over the animals.  Her life was in my hands and I made the decision to let her live.

My husband never said a word.

19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed[f] every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.
Genesis 2:19

I named her Mabel.  And for the fifteen years that we were together, she devoted her life to me: to my protection, my comfort, my friendship, my life.  I saved her life and she would never stop thanking me for it.

Yesterday I ended her life.  

Jesus, thank you for Mabel.  Thank you for the years of loyal friendship and companionship.  Thank you for letting me steward that wonderful life. I am and will be forever grateful for the time we had together.  Thank you, God. Thank you for Mabel.  

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Sound asleep by my side.

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother

13 For You formed my inmost being;
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I will praise You,
for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Marvelous are Your works,
and I know this very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from You
when I was made in secret,
when I was woven together
in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all my days were written in Your book
and ordained for me
before one of them came to be.
Psalms 139:13-16

I think sometimes I look at myself, remembering the verses above, and marvel at what God did fifty years ago when He knit me together in my mother’s womb, and then forget to recognize that God isn’t finished with me yet.  The God of all creation made me. He designed every part of me and wrote out my days in advance.  

He has a perfect plan for me, even knowing that I would be torn from that path a million times by a world ruled by sin and death.  He accounted for every fall and scrape, every mishap, every rebellion. He accounted for it all. And He has a plan for it!

I’ve lost my way a million times.  The ordained path of my destiny has been obstructed by my ego, my selfish desires, the cruel actions of others, or other circumstances outside of my control.  The list could go on forever. Some of it was my fault. Some of it wasn’t. All of it took me off of God’s perfect path for me.  But none of it robbed me of God’s perfect plan to handle every free will challenge I faced.

19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
    the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
    and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;[b]
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”
Lamentations 3:19-24

Because of God’s great love and mercy, I have been continually led back to the path of God’s ordaining for my life. I’ve stumbled around in the dark like a drunk woman: unsteady, uneasy, and uncertain, and His perfect plans have remained in effect. His perfect plan brings me back into the light of His path.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2     He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.[a]
3     He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness[b]
    for his name’s sake.
Psalms 23:1-3

Life is one trial after another.  It’s pain and sorrow, joy and laughter.  It’s accidents and mistakes amidst victories and honor.  It’s hard. It’s painful. It’s one day at a time, one moment at a time, learning and learning and occasionally maybe teaching a thing or two.  It’s gaining confidence and losing it again. 

God knew that’s how it would be for us, once we stopped trusting Him way back in the Garden.  And even still He loved us, and He had a plan for us, a plan to give us the power to choose to make our way back to Him.  We were never going to find Him on our own. Not once the world had us. But God had a plan for that. He had a plan for me.  His name is Jesus.

16 “For God so loved the world, 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.
John 3:16-17

So, while I’m walking through this world I’m in.  While I’m falling down and crying my eyes out, or singing His praises at the top of my lungs, He is with me.  He’s leading and guiding and teaching. Each adversity is a chance to trust Him more. Each trial is a lesson in humility, endurance, and strength.

There’s a great song from the 70’s that goes like this:

“The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows where
But I’m strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” 

And I like to think that song is about Jesus and us. Jesus looks and sees our burdens and he says to the world, “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother (sister).”

I will let Him carry me.  And I will work hard to obey His voice, and follow the path He has ordained for me.  As I go I will be transformed. I will learn to hear Him and discern His path for me.  I will present each and every moment of my whole being to Him as an act of worship and be transformed.

 I appeal to you therefore, brothers,[a] by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.[b] 2 Do not be conformed to this world,[c] but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. [d]
Romans 12:1-2

Song lyrcs from He Aint Heavy, He’s my Brother by Bob Russell and Bobby Scott 1969