The God of Jacob

The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Psalm 46:7

I have put all my trust in the God of Jacob.  But why the God of Jacob?  Why not “The God of Israel”.  That’s the question I can’t stop contemplating.  When you stop and think about it, something very specific is being magnified in that verse.  It’s the God of Jacob who is my fortress.

Jacob came out of the womb holding his twin brother’s heel.  His mother named him Jacob because the name meant to grab the heel of another person, or literally to supplant or trick someone out of something.  And Jacob’s name characterized him from the beginning.

Let’s look at him for a moment.  What is Jacob known for?  He tricked his brother out of his birthright.  He tricked his father-in-law out of his livestock. He was lied to and treated unfairly.  He was terrified and hid from his brother for years out of fear of retribution.  And then he wrestled with God and demanded a blessing.  

So, to recap: Jacob was a liar, a trickster, a scaredy cat, and a control freak who thought it was perfectly fine to make demands of God, steal from his family, and hide and run away from his enemies.

And it’s the God of Jacob that is our fortress.

Is it sinking in yet?  The God of Jacob is our fortress.  The God of the trickster, liar, coward, narcissist, control freak is our fortress.

I’ve had a lot of conversations with God about how unworthy I am.  I get hard on myself.  I’m overly critical.  I’m a perfectionist that fails at perfection on a daily–no, hourly–basis.  To chase a rabbit for a minute, sometimes I think that the only reason God loves me is because of Jesus.  Seems like a fair statement.  

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21

So before Jesus I wasn’t good enough for God.  Right?  Not quite.  

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

So, he died for us while we were his enemies, while we were sinners.  Before He died for us He loved us.  And we know that because of Jacob.  (And a million other people in the Old Testament who were equally awful.)  We know that God loves us before and after our salvation.  

The God of Jacob is our fortress because God made a promise to Abraham and God doesn’t break His promises.  

 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. 5 No longer shall your name be called Abram,[b] but your name shall be Abraham,[c] for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. 7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”
Genesis 17:1-8

The next time you think God isn’t with you because of what you’ve done, I want you to remember this one simple fact:  The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.  

And who are we?  We are made by God with an offer to accept the rights of God’s promise to Abraham.  God made a way for us (and we know that way to be Jesus) and in that we have salvation from our enemies, even if your enemy is yourself.  

The God of Jacob is our fortress. It’s liberating, isn’t it? 

Be Still

But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.
Psalms 1:2

I’ve had a season of introspection.  I think a lot of us have.  Isolation in uncertain times does that to a person, I guess.  My thoughts have kept me from some things and for a time I beat myself up over it, but as I talked to others and listened to their struggles I discovered that I wasn’t alone in that either.  

Being alone isn’t as lonely as it seems, I suppose.

I could have gotten lost in my work.  I could have buried myself in a never ending pile of distractifying, unfulfilling, money making.  But I didn’t.  And I kind of hated myself for it.  Being unproductive with no excuse is definitely guilt inducing.

I could have drowned my fear and anxiety in the solace of sweets and baking and endless bottomless glasses of wine.  Let’s be honest, I did that a little bit, and then I felt a guilty about that, too.

I could have plugged my ears and stomped my feet and sang songs really, really loud until everything went back to normal.  Yes, I did that, too, and felt the sorrow of denial in the days that followed.

I started thinking about all the things I had been doing to try and be normal, to try and carry on, to try and adapt and take advantage of my time in lock down.  None of it mattered.  Like the false bravado of a little yapping dog, it had no real power to protect me, or soothe me, or heal me.  

Even the things I thought I could do for God seemed to fall short in my mind.  I wasn’t writing.  I wasn’t reading the Bible enough.  I judged my prayers as selfish and unsatisfying.  I beat myself up for not helping other people better navigate this crazy pandemic.

But I just couldn’t muster up enough of anything to do much.  I just sat there.  In the stillness.  In the nothing.  I didn’t want the fear, the shame, or the guilt.  I didn’t want to be busy.  I just wanted it all to be over! 

I don’t like pandemics, and injustice, and death, and unemployment.  I don’t like any of it. It’s not the Kingdom of God and I want the Kingdom of God more than I want anything, and all I can manage to do is say, “I can’t do anything about this, God!”

But there is value in the stillness.  God is unveiling it bit by bit.  “Be still and know that I am God.”  The treasure comes in surrender.

Beautiful, honest, end of myself surrender.

My meditations have become Jesus focused.  I started reciting Psalm 23 in my head over and over again every night when I went to sleep.  It’s led to better sleep.  It’s led to deeper trust.  Each time I recite it, I pray the words to the Lord.  I meditate on the truth of his love and steadfastness.  

I’m memorizing more scripture.  I just want it all in my head.  I want to breathe it in and live by it.  I know the Word.  I’ve been studying the Bible for years.  But I want more than that.  In my surrender I want to revel in the knowledge that Jesus is my everything.  

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:14

The Word made flesh became the flesh made words, and in those words I have begun to meditate day and night.  

I need my Jesus and I found Him palpably again in the flesh of His Word.  I’m losing my desire to judge my inaction or the inaction or injustice of others.  I just soak Him up in myself.  I let Him be enough.  I let Him be everything.  His Glory, His Fullness, His Might is coming alive in me in a deepness I have yet to fully know.  

It’s hard to believe that such scary times could bring such a deep closeness with the Lord, especially since I honestly kept thinking about how miserably ineffective I had been in regard to my Christian walk.  I was so caught up in judging my inaction and insecurity, and judging my sporadic moments of faith and action as not near enough to prove my love to my Savior.  And yet His answer all along has been, “Be still and know that I am God.”

I’m working on memorizing Psalm 46 right now.  I’d gotten the first part down a couple years ago and then gave up because, well, memorizing is hard.  I’m back at it now, though, with renewed trust that the meditations of my heart are now drawing me closer and closer to the Lord of Hosts.  He truly is my fortress and my strength.  I don’t need to do anything else.

10 “Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Psalm 46:10-11

I’m the Girl Who Trusted Jesus: a Glimpse into My Missionary Dating Story

Twenty-six years ago I was a Christian but had never had any discipleship.  I had no growth.  I had no spiritual maturity.  I barely knew the Bible.  I was a good person.  I knew Jesus as savior and when I met a man who seemed to love God more than anything else in the world I married him.  And then I learned that the man I married was so zealous for God he was willing to do anything to prove it to him.  I married a zealous jihadist Muslim with a lust for martyrdom.

Two years later he came to Christ.

And that’s always what people remember when they hear our testimony.  See, I got so desperate for my husband to know Jesus as his savior, that all I could do was pray.  I literally had nowhere else to turn.  I had no background in apologetics.  I had no mentorship in my walk with Jesus.  I had nothing but the Holy Spirit of God within me and a passion to see my husband saved from eternal death.  So I prayed.  And I asked everyone who made eye contact with me to pray, too.

That’s what people hold onto.  That’s the part they remember about me.  They call me a mighty prayer warrior.  And a godly saint who prayed her husband to Jesus.

Yes, I did that.  But that’s not what I want people to know about me.  That’s not my story.  It never has been.

My story is about a girl who fell in love with Jesus when she was 5 years old but never learned anything beyond that.  My story is a girl who in desperation sought the Lord and He answered her.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me
    and delivered me from all my fears.
Psalm 34:4

I had nothing else.  Nowhere to turn.  No argument.  No help.  I had nothing but desperate pleas to the only One who had any power to do anything to help me:  Jesus.

I knew I’d made a mistake when I married my husband.  And no one ever wants to hear that part.  People who hear our testimony see the beauty that came from our ashes, but they don’t want to look at the ashes.  They want to see a hero when they see me.  They don’t want to see the broken girl that had nothing more to offer God than a broken and repentant heart and a desperate cry for help.

Sadly, stories come to me all the time from women who want to date or marry Muslim men in the hope that they can be like me.  This breaks my heart.  It should not be! 

Those two years before my husband’s salvation were the most painful and agonizing years of my life.  Dating a Muslim man or woman (or anyone who doesn’t know Jesus) is not the way to win them to Jesus.  It is arrogant and foolish.  You have no power to save anyone.  And neither did I.  It wasn’t me who saved my husband from Islam.  

Repentance and prayer.  That’s what invited my Lord into my problem.  That’s what got my Lord’s attention:  I came to the end of myself.  I gave up trying to fix the problem on my own.  I had a desperate need for His intervention.  I admitted I was wrong and I asked Him to fix it.  And He did.

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
“In repentance and rest you shall be saved;
    in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
But you were unwilling
Isaiah 30:15

I was willing to admit there was nothing I could do.  But so many people are unwilling.  The Isrealites referenced above were unwilling. Humbling yourself is hard. It means admitting you were wrong.  It means admitting you can’t do it on your own.

 But I beg you to try!  Humble yourself and recognize your helplessness.  If you can’t humble yourself, ask God to help you!  Only the Lord can save you.  Not only does He save us from our sin, He rescues us from our mistakes.  He guides us out of the pits we throw ourselves in and restores us when we put our trust and hope in Him.

That’s what I want people to know about me.  That’s how I want to be remembered.  I’m the girl who was willing.  I’m the girl who realized I could do nothing without Jesus.  I’m the girl who cried out for forgiveness and asked for help.  I’m the girl who trusted Jesus and I’m the girl who trusts Him still.  

Don’t trust me.  Trust Him.

Breath of Life

 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature
Genesis 2:7

If you follow my blog, or know me well in person, then you know that I was on a ventilator last year for almost two weeks.  (You can read all the details about it here) I don’t remember it.  Not really anyway.   All I know is that everyone but my husband knew I was going to die.  It was a grievous time.  People flocked to the hospital to give their respects.  To say goodbye.  To offer comfort.  Doctors told my husband to say goodbye to me multiple times.

People say that the ventilator kept me alive.   People are saying that a lot right now because of Covid-19.  Hospitals need ventilators to breathe for people and keep them alive.  But the source of life will never be a ventilator. 

The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
1 Samuel 2:6

When you need a ventilator they have to restrain you so you don’t do something stupid while you’re heavily sedated.  (Like I did when I self extubated and should have died…you can read more about that fun story here.)  And the Church has definitely been restrained.  Public gatherings have been shut down. 

Jesus has shown me the Church as it gasps for breath. In these wretched days, a ventilator seems like the only thing that will keep us alive, whether we’ve gotten sick or not.  Bills need to be paid.  Congregations need comfort and encouragement.  How can any of this happen while we practice social distancing?  Zoom can’t be our new normal, can it? It’s just a stop gap, right?  Until we can breathe on our own again, right?

But, wait a second.  Are we even supposed to be breathing on our own?

Jesus Christ is the breath of life.

When I self-extubated my lungs should have collapsed.  Instead I began to breathe “on my own.”  But here’s a news flash, folks:  I know full well I wasn’t breathing on my own.  Jesus breathed for me.

I pray that the beautiful body of Christ would stop looking for ventilators.  I know it seems logical.  I know it makes sense from human standards.  I know that a ventilator kept me alive last Summer.  But Jesus showed me that He alone keeps me alive.  He alone is my breath.  He alone is our breath.

“Do you think that’s air you’re breathing now?” ~ Morpheus, The Matrix (1999)

 

Maybe being extubated is exactly what we need.  We know right now that we can’t breathe on our own.  We just can’t.  All the things we keep doing are helpful, even encouraging to us.  We want to do something.  We need to do something.  It helps us feel like we are contributing to the life of the Church still somehow.  If we keep those tubes of action in place we don’t have to die.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
John 12:24

Zoom and Facebook and YouTube have been useful and beautiful.  Wanting to live has value!  And these tools have shown us what matters and what doesn’t.  My prayer is that they don’t become just another way for us to live without Jesus.

I can tell you, I shouldn’t be alive. Not by human wisdom.  But Jesus could care less about human wisdom, and so I am alive.  

Can we trust Him in this?  Can we look to the Breath of Life for our resuscitation?  Can we trust Him?  Will we trust Him?  

Lord, thank you for Zoom and Facebook.  Thank you for exhorters and encouragers who say hard things.  Thank you for teachers and pastors who tenderly show us the Word of Life and offer us comfort.  Thank you for servants who weep for our needs in prayer and give beyond their means financially to support the Church.  Thank you, Father, that each member is a part of one body, Your Body.  Thank you that each of us brings something unique and beautiful to this mess that is the Church.  Help us to love one another and consider others higher than ourselves.  Let us love without judgment.  Let us trust that You are working even when we can’t seem to work together or have opposing points of view.  You are on Your Throne and that is something that we can all agree with.  Bring us unity.  Restore Your Church, Heavenly Father.  Bring Jesus back.  Set things right once and for all. Breathe for us, Daddy. 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.

 

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.” 

 

Fear, Fear, and More Fear

Fear, fear, and more fear.  That’s all I hear from everyone.  Fear of getting sick.  Fear of getting quarantined.  Fear of falling apart in fear.  Fear of being fearful.

For me, I’ve been afraid of my husband getting stuck over seas.  Ya.  He’s due to travel over seas next week and he still feels like he is supposed to go.  He isn’t afraid.  He isn’t worried.  He’s just trying to obey what the Lord has been calling him to do.

And yes, I don’t want him to go.  And yes, it’s because I don’t want him to get stuck there, or end up sick, or end up carrying the illness home, or any number of other things.  I just want him home.  And guess what?  I’ve been afraid of “not being willing to obey God.”

No.  I’m not afraid of getting “the virus”.  I don’t think that’s really the issue for most people.  Really, I think people are just afraid of the unknown.  The chaos.  The unanswered questions.  The “who can I trust and who can’t I trust” resources.  The fear of fake news.

Haven’t we all got a list of “fears” around this stuff?  Whether it’s some kind of conspiracy, or infectious warfare, or an act of God, or the Apocalypse, we all just want to be okay.  We’re afraid of what we don’t know.  Will we be okay? Only God knows.

The answer will always be the same.  The only way to know you are going to be okay is to trust that whatever happens, God’s got it.  No virus, no chaos, no fear, no conspiracy can overcome the God of all things.  And that’s hard to hold onto sometimes.

We want to trust God in all things, but anyone who’s walked with Him for awhile, knows how hard it is.  It’s easy to trust when things are going great.  It’s a lot harder to trust God when things are not okay.  But, God has gotten me through a whole lot of chaos and uncertainty, and He’s likely done the same for you. He loves to prove to us He’s trustworthy.

This pandemic is no different.  It’s just another scary, chaotic, uncertainty that we must face, whether we want to or not.  Are people going to freak out?  Yes.  Are people going to do foolish things?  Yes.  Are you going to freak out?  Maybe.  Are you going to do foolish things?  Maybe.

Trust God.  Trust Him in the chaos.  Trust Him that He can use the chaos for our good and the good of others.  Trust the God of Peace to bring peace to your own heart in this tumultuous time.  Trust God and don’t look back.  God is trustworthy.

Psalm 23

The Lord Is My Shepherd

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.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,[c]
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
6 Surely[d] goodness and mercy[e] shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell[f] in the house of the Lord
    forever.[g]

I shared a prayer I had regarding this whole issue on my Facebook page.  I want to be comforted and I want other’s to be comforted.  Here is that prayer:

Jesus, we lift up the fearful as well as the fearless to You, Our King. Bring Your peace and wisdom. Settle hearts to receive You. Help us to keep from fighting fear with fear of fear. Lord, speak kindly to Your Church. Give us discernment to act when we should act and be still when we should be still. People are panicking. Protect them from the harm or actions they might take that would bring harm to themselves or others. Lord, we will not be ruled by fear, but we will also not be ruled by a stubborn desire to prove we are not afraid. We want to act on Your guidance alone. Help us not to waver from the path You have laid out for us. We trust You in all things. Amen.

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.