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

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.

 

Are You There God, it’s Me, Daisy

Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
   I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
   for how should my name be profaned?
   My glory I will not give to another.
Isaiah 48:10

The holidays are here. Pretty lights, joyful songs, bright smiles from strangers, all create an expectation of joy and anticipation of presents and family and celebration.  Candy and baked goods are passed around with enthusiasm. Decorations fly across houses and yards and streetlights and shop windows. Trees full of lights and shiny ornaments fill up living rooms, and gaily wrapped gifts pile up beneath them.

But what if you’re not feeling it?

Holidays are hard. For so many of us, Christmas and Thanksgiving become a time of sorrow.  Loneliness, depression, past memories and expectations from others take our minds and hearts to a place of affliction and trial, instead of joy.

There’s so much pressure to smile, to laugh, to celebrate. Our lives become performances of their own as we travel to shopping centers, recitals, concerts, parties and religious services.  Music and movies demand our happiness and celebration. It’s exhausting.

In times like these it’s no wonder people get cynical. As the season progresses our “bah humbugs” get louder and louder in our hearts.

It’s an affliction of false promises.

Where are you, Lord, when I feel so terrible?  When the world is singing praise and I’m full of constant sorrow, where do You go?  

Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord?
   Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!
24 Why do you hide your face?
   Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
Psalm 44:23-24

I feel so alone, Jesus!  Are you even there? Do You see my sorrow in this festival of light and joy?  Icons of trees and saints and presents and reindeer and lights, and You’re not in any of it.  It’s all a lie of faith. And Your name will not be profaned.

I see a baby in a filthy cave surrounded by animal dung and the sounds of lowing cows, snorting goats, and pecking chickens.  

In darkness and filth came the Light of the World.  

2 The people who walked in darkness
   have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
   on them has light shone.
3 You have multiplied the nation;
   you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
   as with joy at the harvest,
   as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
4 For the yoke of his burden,
   and the staff for his shoulder,
   the rod of his oppressor,
   you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
   and every garment rolled in blood
   will be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
   to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon[d] his shoulder,
   and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
   Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace
   there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
   to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
   from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Isaiah 9:2-7

You are here.  You do understand.  Help me, Father, to receive the fullness of joy that comes only from Jesus. “The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will do this.”

 

Unity

Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.
John 17:11b

How many times has a church split up due to a disagreement with leadership over some derisive issue?  I grew up watching my parents get angry at whatever church we were attending, over and over again. We would leave a congregation after a few months because my parents would get offended or hurt by some decision of leadership.  It didn’t take much for them.

As a young Christian, I didn’t dare to question my family’s lack of unity with local churches.  I didn’t even know that was what was happening! Instead I questioned the sincerity of the Christian leadership at each of the many churches my parents chose for us to attend. My parents couldn’t be wrong, so I had to find someone else to blame.

See, I didn’t have any leadership from my parents in unity.  I didn’t know how to find unity, or practice being unified, or even know enough of the Bible to understand what the Lord wanted for me and for His Church in regard to unity.  

Jesus, our High Priest and Savior, prayed that we would have unity with one another and with Him. Everything Jesus has done and will do comes from his loving desire to see us all in agreement with each other and with Him.  We can only be in agreement and be unified if we are first unified with Jesus.

I had to grow up and learn to make decisions for myself in order to really learn what the Lord wanted for His people.  My parents hadn’t taught me to put Jesus first. I had to learn it on my own. As I began to focus on the Lord, He began to reveal Himself to me and I gained confidence in His leadership.

To have unity with each other and with God, we must know the Lord’s will for us as a Church body.  If we don’t know that, we can’t possibly succeed. This is why my parents struggled. They didn’t know how to make Christ the head of their family, they didn’t know how to trust Him, so anytime their feathers got ruffled they ran away.

By knowing the Word of God, we know what the Lord wants for us.  It’s right there in black and white.

Jesus prayed, “12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
John 17:12-19

Jesus prayed that His disciples and all those that would follow after Him that through the Words of Truth He had taught, and through the actions of His own obedience to the Father, His followers would learn to be in unity with one another and with Him.  It’s the Truth that Jesus gave us that would be a way for us to understand His purposes for us as a Body.

God’s Word and Truth sanctify us.  That is, we are made more and more holy as we listen and learn and practice what Jesus has taught us.  If the Body of Christ earnestly seeks Him and His Truth, then, being led by Jesus, we will find unity through obedience to Him.

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”
John 17:20-23

The Lord’s desire for us to be unified comes from His love for all people, and His longing for all people to trust and believe in Him.  When we are unified with one another with Christ as our head, we show the world the deep miracle of God’s love and care for us. Our unity is a testimony to the fallen world in which we live.  

And sadly, our lack of unity (like my parents example to me), throws the world into question about Our Savior, because disunity is of the world.  To me, that’s the saddest reality of all.

24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Christ’s love for us is His primary hope for our unity. He plants His Spirit into all who give Him their allegiance and accept His love and forgiveness, because through that communion we can best understand, and also supernaturally be equipped, in order to show God’s love and unity to the world.

Unity is a powerful testimony to a sinful world. God’s desire for us all is that we would see the glory of the Lord revealed by His Spirit, soak up and reflect that glory together, and show a fallen world how to be filled with that same glory and joy found only in Him.  

On Being Thankful

11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?”19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
Luke 17:11-19

I complain a lot to God.  I know that sounds bad, but I don’t think it is.  I complain about my circumstances. I ask for provision.  I ask for healing. I ask for salvation for my loved ones.  I ask for hope. I ask for courage. I ask for help in a million different ways, and if I look at my requests with a critical eye, I can see the complaint in every single one.  On the surface, my prayers seem dependant on the Lord. They are filled with the helplessness that we should always assume about ourselves. It’s the notion that, “there but for the grace of God, go I.” And that’s very, very true.  But I know it’s more often my doubt and my fear that plunge me into these prayers. I doubt provision. I doubt healing. I doubt hope and courage and strength. If my life and my salvation truly are by the grace of God alone, shouldn’t I be more confident in the lesser things?  

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
Matthew 16:26

My salvation should be enough for me.  The whole world and the things of the world are nothing in comparison to the profound gift of eternal life that Jesus has provided.  James put it forward in an interesting light:

You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
James 4:3

I say all of this to examine honestly my motives.  Do I ask for my passion? Do I ask for my fear? Do I ask for my safety?  Or do I ask for the Lord? And am I thankful for it?

33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33

Is the overcoming of the world not enough for me?  Really? Do I praise God for my life and salvation or do I wallow in fear and anguish over the things of this world?  And that brings me back to the lepers. They want Jesus to have pity on them. They want healing. They want to be restored.  They want to return to their lives. But only one acknowledged the author of his salvation. Only one came back to say thank you and to praise God.  That one leper knew that the Lord had saved him from more than his disease. He had given him life, and being thankful for that became his primary goal.  He didn’t just take the blessing and run along with his life. He praised the author of his salvation. He praised the King of Kings for his sovereignty, his authority over life, and his mercy.  

Lord Jesus, I want to trust You in all things.  I want to have confidence in your sovereignty in all aspects of my life.  When I come to You, Lord, I want to come in confidence, not fear. I want to come in the knowledge of Your divine grace and mercy.  You saved me!

9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
Matthew 7:9-11

I want to trust You more, Jesus.  I want to trust in Your provision, Your life, Your deliverance, because you know what I need and are delighted to give the good gifts we ask for.  You love me. Help me trust in Your love so that I can truly worship and praise You with thanksgiving instead of fear.

 

Dancing for the Lord

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
   you have loosed my sackcloth
   and clothed me with gladness,
12 that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
   O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!
Psalms 30:11-12

I admit it, I never really understood what the point of dancing was when it came to worshipping God.  I know that sounds kind of dumb coming from me, but it’s true. To make matters worse, I’ve been prophesied over by many people who have said I am the Lord’s ballerina, or that I dance befor joy for the Lord.  I have always loved this idea, but at the same time, I’ve questioned it. Not that I questioned the validity of the prophecies, because in my spirit they have always felt very true, but I just didn’t get it. What does dancing have to do with anything?  Why dancing? I just kept imagining my goofy 80’s self dancing awkwardly to Duran Duran’s Rio. Ya. Exactly.

But the Lord has not been content to leave me in this place.  I have found myself asking and asking for Him to make it clear to me what he wanted me to know about dancing, and, more importantly, what my dancing for Him looked like.  I’m not talking about pirouettes or hip gyrations or the Nay Nay. I’m talking about dance as worship. And how does dancing for the Lord not seem weird and awkward, but instead something of great beauty and joy for the Lord.

That’s when I came to the famous “David dancing scene”.

12 And it was told King David, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing. 13 And when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six steps, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened animal.14 And David danced before the Lord with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod. 15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn.
2 Samuel 6:12-15

“David danced before the Lord with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod. David, leading as a priest king, wearing a linen ephod, lead the people in celebration and proclamation of God’s victory and salvation. With every part of himself, he worshipped the Lord as a an act of extreme celebration.  He celebrated the arc and the presence of the Lord, and the blessing that the Presence would bring to God’s people.  He danced without fear of judgement. He danced for the Lord in celebration of God’s victory, power, and protection.

This got me thinking about when the first time dancing is mentioned in the Bible and what the circumstances of that instance might reveal to me.  Sure enough, the dancing came as a celebration of God’s victory for His people.

20 Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. 21 And Miriam sang to them:

“Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.”
Exodus 15:20-21

After the Lord rescues the Israelites from Egypt, the whole group sings a victory song about how great God is and how trustworthy He is to save them.  And then all the ladies, led by Miriam the prophetess, dance before the Lord.  Miriam led the entire congregation in the celebration of God’s victory, by dancing before the Lord.

So, here’s what the Lord has been teaching me through all of this: dancing is a celebratory proclamation of God’s victory over my enemies. It is an expression of gratitude, worship, and celebration for deliverance.  If I have learned anything about God in my 49 years, it is that God is my deliverer. He has saved me from sin and death, and He has rescued me time and time again from the evil of this world. Whether inflicted on me by others, or inflicted on me by my own folly, God has faithfully rescued me.  I think that’s worth celebrating, don’t you?

Lord, thank you for rescuing me from my sins and from this world’s pain.  You have made me your daughter. You have given me authority in accordance to the will of Lord Jesus, to have victory by His name.  I love you, Jesus! Dancing before You is to celebrate what you have done and to proclaim it with unabashed delight. You have given me victory!  You have given me joy. You have given me peace. I didn’t deserve any of it and yet You faithfully have given it to me! Indeed, Your promises are true and I will trust You and delight in You forever.  Amen.