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

 

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.

 

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.

Hiding in the Right Place

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
   will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
   my God, in whom I trust.”
Psalm 91:1-2

I’ve discovered something recently.  I don’t dwell in the shelter of the Most High enough.  I let fear rule me and I make hiding places like two of the three little pigs.  

Mostly, I think I do it out of laziness, if I’m being honest. I know how to hide in Jesus, but I get comfortable doing things my way.  I want to hide in my work, or a delicious piece of chocolate cake, or a big shopping spree. Instant gratification. Physical reward.

Hiding in Jesus looks like nothing in the physical.  It looks foolish. It looks vulnerable. It looks very poorly planned to the outside world.  But I was reading in 2 Kings this morning and I got embarrassed.

15 When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” 16 He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
2 Kings 6:15-17

I was embarrassed because this is a story you learn in Sunday School.  This is the type of story we teach in Vacation Bible School and backyard Bible Club.  This is a familiar story to me. Very familiar. And, like Elisha’s servant, I revert to looking only at the physical, instead of seeing and knowing from experience that my God has power in the unseen as well as the seen.

This can sound like I’m beating myself up a bit, but I’m not!  I’m rejoicing that the Lord kept me from taking this truth for granted.  He reminded me again that He is my shelter and that there are things in the unseen that carry power in the world that we can’t perceive with our eyes. Power for good and power for evil.  And I need to make my shelter in the strong fortress of God if I want to be protected!

27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 1:27-31

See, this isn’t about me.  It’s about God.

if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
2 Timothy 2:13

God is faithful when I am not.  I’m a fool. I lack wisdom. I see the world instead of looking with the eyes of the Spirit God gave me.  But He is faithful. He is happy to show me the angels camped around me with their stony eyed glares and their fiery chariots.  That’s our God. That’s my God.

Lord, help me take shelter in You, the unseen fortress of strength and courage that protects me amidst the flying arrows of the enemy.  Give me spiritual vision and deeper faith to trust You even when it’s hard. Let Your name be glorified in me, Jesus. Let Your name be my shelter. Amen.