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

Are You a Child of Promise?

When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty;[a] walk before me, and be blameless, 2 that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, 4 “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations.
Genesis 17:1-4

Have you ever thought of yourself as part of a fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham?  Not a topic of conversation at the water cooler lately? Maybe it should be. If you have faith in Jesus Christ as your Salvation, you are the living fulfillment of God’s promise.

7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify[c] the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. Galatians 3:7-9

It can get pretty easy sometimes to build a case for or against yourself to God.  You put more money in the offering plate or you don’t; you remember to pray for a missionary or you scroll through social media; you share the Gospel with your neighbor, or you close the garage door as fast you can.  You either begin to pat yourself on the back or condemn yourself to Hell.  Like God is going to judge your eternity based on those things.

That was the problem people were having back when Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians.  They were getting caught up in circumcision (among other things) because God had commanded circumcision of Abraham and his offspring as part of His promise.  

9 And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.
Genesis 17:9-11

Abraham made an agreement with God and it had been followed faithfully by the children of Abraham.  They set themselves apart through this physical act. And so the law began, and man began to learn the heart of God for humanity.

But the act of circumcision was not God’s promise.  The act of Salvation through God was God’s promise.  All humanity had to do was trust God with that promise.  It was Abraham’s faith that God called righteousness.  His faith.  Not his actions. Though his actions were an outward sign of his faith.  But if he had relied on his own actions, he would never have had any faith, and never been counted as righteous by God.

10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Galatians 3:10-11

The only physical act that could count to us as righteousness was something only God could fulfill: the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.  Jesus’s perfect act of obedience was faithful to the Law and fulfilled the Law. In this act He offered all of humanity full reconciliation with God through faith and the “circumcision of the heart” that comes from that faith.

12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit[e] through faith.

Galatians 3:12-14

Christ did what we could not.  Christ gave what we could not earn.  Only faith in Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham gives us the eternal life and inheritance that we long for and were promised.

19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. 20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.
21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

Galatians 3:19-22

The law was a type of placeholder for Jesus. The law came to give us a way to show obedience to God through faith in what God had given.  But the law couldn’t give life. It could only give death (through disobedience).  

Faith in Christ, however, brings life.

23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[g] nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Galatians 3:23-29

There you go.  If you have faith in Christ as your Savior, you are a living, breathing, heart-circumcised, testimony of God’s faithfulness to His promise. You are a child of promise.

 

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.

 

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