Oaks of Righteousness

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
   because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;[a]
   he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
   and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;[b]
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
   and the day of vengeance of our God;
   to comfort all who mourn;
3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
   to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
   the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
   the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.[c]::
Isaiah 61:1-3

There is good news for those who follow Christ: life, gladness, praise and righteousness.  But to so many in the Church, the only Good News that is ever received is salvation and that is where they stay.  Now don’t get me wrong. I’m so thankful for the salvation that comes through Christ!

Just don’t stop there!

To stop at salvation is to stop before our healing can be revealed, before our hearts can be liberated, before our mourning can become gladness.  All of those things are offered immediately by the Spirit of God through Christ, but if we stop at forgiveness, if we stop at that golden ticket to Heaven, we deny ourselves the fullness of Christ’s salvation.  

17 Now the Lord[d] is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,[e] are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.[f] For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:17-18

We are in the process of being transformed!  By God’s power we go from dead acorns to mighty oaks, so that we can proclaim the Good News!  How else can we bind up the broken hearted? How else can we praise God in the midst of trial and persecution?

The Spirit is with us, but it is not an instantaneous transformation.  It is learned and honed through practice and experience. Why else would we still suffer trials of many kinds?  A mighty oak doesn’t grow up in a day! It takes years and years to be made strong.

As we grow, nurtured and refined by the furnace of affliction, we testify to the power of God within us.  Our constant growth and transformation make us perfect ambassadors of God’s power and glory. Only then is God glorified.

The justice of God becomes Good News for all who know Christ.  It is the Good News of recompense for the wicked and the freedom from those consequences that we have received through Jesus.  Jesus paid the price for our wickedness as the wrath of God was poured out on Him for our sake. Justice became Good News.

Proclaim the year of God’s favor!  It is time to have our broken hearts bound up.  It is time to praise God with singing and laughter, instead of mourning our broken condition. We who were dead are no alive!

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body[a] and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.[b] 4 But[c] God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:1-10

Is this the news of Heaven alone, after years of suffering and torment in an evil world? Or is the news of freedom from sin, freedom from death, freedom from the temporal and perishable in order to walk in life and celebration!?

Will suffering still happen? Yes.  Will sorrow afflict us? Yes. Will death mock us? Yes. Will we be broken and tormented and depressed at times? Yes.  But we do not need to lose heart in these things. In fact we can rejoice in these momentary afflictions!  The rejoicing sheds light on what Jesus has made us: the oak of righteousness that is our body. And that is so God may be glorified through us.

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self[d] is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18

The unseen can be seen through us!  God’s glory will shine through His people to bring Good News to the poor!  Oh, mighty Oaks of Righteousness, glorify the Risen Lord that all may know His rich love and mercy!

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
   my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
   he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
   and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
   and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
   to sprout up before all the nations.
Isaiah 61:10-11

 

Dying to Self

24 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

It’s hard to imagine that dying to self could be a pleasant experience.  It goes against all reason and sense. Dying is bad, right? Dying hurts.  Dying is the end. But not to God.

Each day I am dying to myself.  I am letting all that I am, all that I have, and all that I want be broken down into death so that it can be resurrected by Christ for His glory.  

To God, dying brought life and light to the world.  Jesus conquered death so that it no longer had to hold me with its fear and power.  Jesus rose from the dead! Jesus rose other people from the dead! Jesus brings life from death in all of His creation!  The seed that dies and is buried springs for life. Every 24 hours, the day itself dies in a glow of majestic color and beauty only to succumb quickly to darkness, and then be reborn again the following morning.  

So I guess death isn’t quite as bad as it sounds.  Nihilists make death the end. Not Jesus. Jesus proclaims death to self for us, so that we might live:  not on our own, with our sinful brokenness and decay, but with Christ who lives within us, magnified, glorified and free.

20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Galatians 2:20

I don’t know about you, but I like the sound of freedom.  The evil in this world sickens me. It sickens most of us.  We hate it and we wonder why God would let it happen. But God has offered us a free solution if we want it.  And the solution is to let God make us alive through Jesus Christ. When we submit to Him and die to our own desires, we receive the fullness of life that God always intended.  

So, I choose to let myself be put to death so that I might find and enjoy life in Christ, because Christ Himself lives in me by His Spirit.

“We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us.” 2 Corinthians 4:7

In the Summer of 2016, while praying the verse above, I received the following vision:

On a plain pedestal rests a cracked and pitiful clay pot.  The pot is large. It is crazed with lines and imperfections.  It isn’t made to last. It isn’t even finished. It isn’t fired.  It’s fragile. Unpainted. Unadorned. But little beams of light stream out through the cracks and chips. The light inside the pot makes ornate patterns across the shell and beautiful pictures reflect on the walls of the room.  The pot is me.

Without warning a giant sledgehammer slams down on it.  The pot is annihilated. Dust and debris remain for a moment and then dissipate in the breeze. The light within the pot also explodes, but the light has form.  The light covers everything. It cannot be extinguished. The source of the light remains bright and strong. It throbs with power. It is joy and peace and love.  It is unquenchable. The light coats everything it touches with a thickness that spreads and grows. Little splatters become throbbing pulsing lights of their own.

 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:5

My earthen vessel, my jar of clay, has been shattered by the enemy, but the Lord’s hand is upon the hammer.  The Lord made the hammer and the jar. The Lord decides what the hammer can strike and what the outcome will be. The Lord will use the destruction of my body as an instrument to spread his enduring, powerful light, his love, his joy, his peace, to thousands upon thousands of people.  Even creation itself will be affected by the light that explodes out of me, and the light will never die. I will never die. The power of God will only spread and multiply.

24 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

 

Come Let Us Reason Together

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
   they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
   they shall become like wool.
Isaiah 1:18

Going back to the Garden of Eden, we get a story of how the Lord intended things for humanity.  He created a world that man and woman could live in, enjoy, and tend to. He gave them stewardship over all that He had created.  And in that creation, He walked with them. He listened and encouraged them. He gave advice. He made suggestions. He reasoned with them.  God and man worked together in His creation.

Only when Adam and Eve were seduced into the arrogant notion of gaining the “knowledge of good and evil” for themselves, did they cut God out of the picture, and fall into the terrible temptation and condemnation of sin.  They no longer reasoned with God over what was right or wrong, they decided for themselves.

The battle between right and wrong entered into the world of man, and with it life and death.  This perversion of God’s plan started a series of events that would culminate into the Salvation and Restoration of God’s people to Himself through Christ.

With it also came the tragic perceived contradictions in scripture that often play havoc with our intellect. If we are not clear and precise in our understanding of the character and transformative power of Jesus, we will question and doubt God, or worse, only consider ourselves in regard to our interaction with the world and God’s plan for it and us.  

The knowledge of good and evil broke our dependence on God to show us right from wrong, and brought into question every future act committed by man.  Right or wrong, man got to choose, and in so doing, his perspective might or might not line up with God’s. Man had been shown in the Garden that obedience and partnership with God brought life and happiness.  Unfortunately, man also learned that life apart from God would bring death.

To man, the human existence is life, followed by death.  Comprehending the reality of what life and death mean to the human condition is best explained by the Lord himself.

“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

Death comes before life. Jesus proved this point through His own body.  He allowed himself to die, be buried, and then resurrected, to give us the ultimate picture of the obedient sacrifice and what it would bring. He gave up His own “right” to life in order to receive the fullness of His deepest most joyful desire: the salvation of the lost (Hebrews 12:2).  His was a perfect sacrifice with perfect obedience. His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, right before being arrested was this:

“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”
Luke 22:42

Too often I think our church culture suggests that we beat down who we are and what we think in regard and response to Jesus: that beating down our own thoughts is how we “die to self.”  We tell ourselves and each other that we must consider “what Jesus would do” and forget that Jesus might want to actually have a conversation with us about it. Jesus had a conversation with God in the garden of Gethsemane, not a silent robotic command.

We don’t give up our self to “live as Christ, to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).  We let ourselves shine by sharing our thoughts with God and then letting him tell us how best to proceed, knowing that His decisions will lead us on a course of life.  We die to having the “final say” on what we will do. We let Him tell us what is right for us and what is wrong.

I’d like to add, though, that as we muse and ponder and plan with the Lord, though, we should act with care and caution.  Otherwise we open ourselves up to the attack of the enemy, who prowls around at all times, looking for ways to exploit our weakness and stir our insecurities.  

8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
1 Peter 5:8

In our obedience to God, and our active intention to put to death our sinful desires, we find peace.  Peace and joy and power come from walking in the Presence of the Lord and reasoning together with Him. When we follow our own hearts without God’s input, we are submitting to the death of this world instead of receiving the life of Jesus that we are promised.

Jesus said,

10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
John 10:10

 

Omniscient Omnipresent Omnipotent

I know that you can do all things,
   and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
Job 42:2

Recently the Lord has been teaching me about His power.  In Western Christian life and culture, I think we have become too accustomed to the words omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent.  We know what they mean but the words no longer give us a clear representation of who God is in our own minds. They have become words with no real significance.  

How could we lose the weight of such powerful words when describing God? I think the answer is simple: we don’t trust words that describe God when we have never really experienced them.

I have sobbed in fear and trembling to the Lord when I was asked to do something because I feared that if I made the “wrong” decisions I would make God mad, or things wouldn’t work out the way they were meant to, or I would lead someone astray.  After all, doesn’t the Bible say that we are under extra scrutiny from the Lord if we are asked to teach and lead others?

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
James 3:1

But if we see that verse through the lense of fear what have we accomplished?  Greater faith? Deeper knowledge? No. Instead we question our right to teach. We question our calling to teach.  Our fear throws us into a chaotic blend of presumption, shame, and judgement. There’s nothing of God in those things!  

Being judged with greater strictness is to acknowledge God’s real sovereignty, and His ability to teach and correct us with authority and strength.  But because we don’t trust the words omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, we put all the emphasis on ourselves. It’s just so much easier to take the shame than to humbly believe God really is all powerful, all knowing, and everywhere at once.

It’s hard to believe those unseen realities of God.  It’s hard to trust it because we don’t let ourselves experience it.  We live in a world where we don’t have to experience it in order to have success, happiness, or confidence. We work hard, we get an education, we marry a wonderful person, we have beautiful children, and on and on and on. We’ve been taught to be independant, to think for ourselves, to make our own destiny through hard work and perseverance.  We question everything and then we don’t know how to marry that perspective with the truth of God.

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
James 4:1-3

Isn’t it possible to ponder and consider the works and wisdom of God and still think for ourselves?  Of course it is, but only if it is seeking after God’s heart and not our own. We must accept a dependence on God that we don’t naturally want to have.  It’s too contrary to our desire to be self-sufficient, to be selfish, to do what we want.

4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
James 4:4

Harsh words for a harsh truth.  Going our own way makes us enemies with God.  The good news is that God wants more for us than that.  He doesn’t want us to be His enemies. He died for us that we could be His children, not His destruction!

5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
James 4:5-7

When we submit to God’s will and teaching in our lives, and when we choose to believe and trust the truth about God’s omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresent power we can actually start to learn and trust more deeply in those bigger truths.  Just because our human nature tries to tear us away from such things, and pushes us to make our own way in the world, doesn’t mean that we have to submit to those things. We can choose instead to submit to God and walk in the joy and peace of God’s sovereignty and not our own way.

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
James 4:8-10

In other words: REPENT!  Turn to God and trust Him to lead you.  Then, when you are faced with difficult decisions and you don’t want to screw it up, you can trust in a truly all powerful, all knowing, all loving God, who longs to give you peace and joy and faith even in the midst of difficulty.

We can trust God.  And we can trust the truth of who He is.  His plans cannot be thwarted by us. When we humble ourselves and receive His leadership in our lives we know that He will use whatever we lovingly work to do for Him.

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
James 8:28-30

We have every reason to trust God and to trust His leadership and power in our own lives. God hasn’t left His glory and desires for us to be unraveled like a puzzle. He spells it out for us so that we can trust Him.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
James 8:31-34

No need to worry, no need to fear.  God’s got this figured out. All we need to do is trust and obey. We can’t screw it up if we’re doing that!

 

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.  

Loneliness

Turn to me and be gracious to me,
   for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
   bring me out of my distresses.
18 Consider my affliction and my trouble,
   and forgive all my sins.
Psalm 25:16-18

Last night I had a friend call me.  She’d had a vivid dream/vision of me and she wanted to share it with me.  I know this friend to be prophetic and full of unadulterated joy and confidence in the Spirit, so I was excited and intrigued by what she had seen.

Retelling the details of the dream isn’t as important as what the Lord said to me through it.  He didn’t want me to be lonely. He wanted me to know that if I dwell in a place of loneliness I will begin to feel desperate and trapped, but He has opened the doors wide to green pastures and He is leading me gently by the hand.

Of course this has great value for me, especially since my husband travels internationally regularly to share the Gospel.  But I also can’t help but see that the Lord wants us all to know the freedom of His leadership and companionship.

I’m often guilty of putting my hope for fellowship in the presence of my husband and friends.  And when I do that I am satisfied for the moment, but sorely lacking when those people are not accessible.  Not so with God. He is always there. He adores me and longs to spend time with me. He wants to lead me beside still waters and restore my soul.

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

He wants to restore me, comfort me, and BE WITH ME.  And yet my heart strays away, in search of worldly comforts, and worldly desires, even though those comforts and desires only lead to death.

Now, in the midst of loneliness, praying for my husband as he brings the Gospel to dangerous places and I go to bed alone, I am reminded that God is longing for me.  His graciousness and enduring love are infinite and yet they are fully personal to me. When my heart is heavy with the affliction of loneliness and fear, God hears me and hungers for me to draw closer to Him.

When my friend called me last night, she encouraged me to reach out to my friends so that I could receive the gifts of blessing the Lord has for me through them.  But as I meditated on the words she had given me, all I could think of is the longing the Lord has for me, and I’ve pushed away the idea of fellowship with Believers.

I want to put my focus on communion with Him, first and foremost, but I seem to do it at the expense of community with my brothers and sisters.  Only in Him are my troubles settled and my sins forgiven. My sin of dependency of other things besides God. My sin of fear. My sin of doubt. My sin of defeat.  All of them keep me from trusting in the Lord with all my heart.

I am victorious in the Lord!  I have been promised abundant life.  I have been given victory over my enemies.  

Even though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death,

   I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
   your rod and your staff,
   they comfort me.
Psalm 23:4

I have been promised comfort in the midst of my trial.  I have been promised courage and not fear. Jesus brings comfort when I let Him lead me.  So often I don’t let Him!

I have everything I need when I am in the Presence of the Living God.  

But seeking out friends for fellowship and encouragement also has so much value.  Too often the Lord reminds of the truth of peace in His Presence and so I proclaim it over myself and don’t see results.  Now I know why. God doesn’t want us to be lonely. He made us to dwell in unity.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
Psalm 133:1

Sure, I need my alone time with the Lord, but I also need my fellowship with the Body of Christ, so that my family and I can share our gifts from God with one another, so that we can be encouraged, healed, inspired, and exhorted, just to name a few. There is a happy balance between the enduring and constant fellowship the Lord wants to have with us, and also in the fellowship that we should have together.

Jesus even prayed for us to be in unity with our brothers and sisters in Him:

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.

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.

Therefore my prayer is this:

Lord lead me beside still waters, restore my soul, turn to me and be gracious to me.  And help me to be in unity with You AND with the body of Christ here on Earth. As you so aptly said, “It is not good that man should be alone.” (Genesis 2:18)

When I’m lonely I will seek Your Presence as well as the fellowship of believers.  Both are important, and I’m sorry that in the past I have forsaken the body of Christ when I am lonely. Help me in my loneliness, Jesus.  Help me in my fear.

Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me!
   Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
21 May integrity and uprightness preserve me,
   for I wait for you.
Psalm 25:20-21

Amen

 

Suffering Sucks

Suffering sucks God.

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

It sucks, God.  I hate it, even though I know that You will use it.  I know what Your word says about suffering. I know Jesus suffered.  I know David suffered. I know the Apostles suffered. Paul suffered.  And God, I am suffering.

I’m tired from fighting.  It takes so much energy to cope with physical pain.  And, Lord, I feel like I’ve dealt with crisis after crisis for most of my life. I know that lots of people suffer, God, and I am no better or worse than anyone else.  But right now this is about me and You. And I hurt, God.

It’s not even just the physical pain, Lord.  Sometimes, I really think I can live with that stuff.  But the emotional pain is equally hard.  It’s exhausting. Therapy has brought so many horrible things to the surface.

It’s stuff I buried.  Stuff I didn’t want to see again.  Even though it’s festered and rotted inside of me.  Even though it has slowly been killing me, I still feel like it’s too hard to get it out sometimes.  

You showed me a vision of Your steady hand carefully cutting out the dead flesh within me.  Precision isn’t even a good enough word for what You showed me You were doing in my heart. But it hurts, God!  It hurts so bad.

Then there’s all the physical junk.  My knees hurt.  I can barely walk.  And I feel like I’m a breath away from being stuck in my wheelchair again. Why did You allow the doctor to take away my pain meds and my arthritis meds?  I know the medical reasons, God. I even know the spiritual reasons. It draws me closer to You. It helps me have compassion and empathy for others.  It teaches me patience. It shows me a deeper level of Your faithfulness and compassion.

But the process sucks.

I keep thinking about Jesus in the Garden.  He had a serious “it sucks” conversation with You that night.  What He was facing was beyond horrific. I can’t even imagine. You know, though, God.  You know my hurt, my frustration and my fear.  But like Jesus said, “Not my will, but Yours, Father.”  Help me with that, would ya?

I’m afraid.  I’m afraid of what’s next.  I’m afraid of what pain I may have in my future.  I’m afraid of what harder suffering may lie ahead.  I know a lot of people are thinking right now that You didn’t give me a spirit of fear, and believe me, I know it!  But I want to keep things real, God. Only when I acknowledge my fear can I give it to You to turn to courage.

You make strength from my weakness, God, and I am so weak. Take my weakness.  Take my fear. Take my pain and my suffering and my grief and my tears. Take them and use them for Your glory God.  Your glory and Your Kingdom are the only things that keep me going.

Father, my suffering is bringing more and more death to myself and my wickedness.  My suffering has brought me perseverance in You. My pain has taught me endurance. It’s built my character.  It’s done all the things that You said it would.

You are faithful God. My suffering builds my hope in You.  And hope doesn’t suck at all.

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
1 Peter 4:12-13

For my take on depression, see my post: Having A Broken Spirit Sucks

The Just and the Unjust

14 And the Lord raised up an adversary against Solomon, Hadad the Edomite. He was of the royal house in Edom…19 And Hadad found great favor in the sight of Pharaoh, so that he gave him in marriage the sister of his own wife, the sister of Tahpenes the queen.
1 Kings 11:14,19

It makes me so mad when evil people win.  It doesn’t seem fair. Rapists go free. Cheaters make millions.  The arrogant thrive. The strong lord over the weak.

Why do good people suffer and bad people get blessed?  

I work so hard trying to do the right things in life.  I try to follow God’s statutes. I read the Word. I pray and fast and meditate on the greatness of the Lord.  I help the poor. I weep with the broken. What else do I have to do?

I look around and everywhere I turn good people are suffering.  They get cancer and die. They lose their jobs. They go hungry.  They get killed in car wrecks. And Jesus got betrayed by one of his closest friends, and then got murdered.  

Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
John 15:20

Ok, so Jesus answers the question of why bad things happen to good people.  The Enemy hates us, just like he hates Jesus. He’s running around doing his best to hurt God’s children.  And so bad things happen to good people. But God will be in it. God will always work it for good for those who love him and follow him.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28

I think every Christian calls on that verse when bad things happen to them.  We hope and we pray and we trust that God will use this horrible incident for our good.  

But that still doesn’t answer the flip side of the issue.  What about the bad people? What about the evil who thrive and succeed?  It doesn’t seem fair.

When I look at Solomon, I see a son of David, a man who asked for wisdom and recieved great blessing from the Lord.  And I see Solomon fall away from the Lord because of his overconfidence, because of his disobedience. And yet it was Solomon who was credited with saying:

Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.
Proverbs 19:20-21

No matter what our plans are, it is God’s purposes that will stand.  And that seems to be the answer to why good things happen to bad people.  God’s purposes will stand.

God raised up Hadad the Edomite.  God raised him up. God blessed him.  God. He did it to discipline Solomon.  God raised up adversaries against Solomon as discipline, while still preserving a remnant of David’s line out of love for David.  

God’s purposes will prevail.  

God took a bad situation (Solomon’s disobedience) and used it to show His faithfulness. God remained faithful to David, who had shown such devotion to Him even through his sinfulness.  The kings that followed Solomon grew worse and worse and worse. Their hearts strayed far from God. Yet God used it all to show His faithfulness.

The kings of Israel were a messy bunch.  But God uses messy things to show His love and faithfulness.  How else can the Light of the World shine in the darkness, except by the mercy and power of a faithful God who blesses the just and the unjust for His purposes to be revealed?

Jesus, help me to see Your divine purpose in all things.  When it hurts and I’m frustrated and struggling with pain and defeat, remind me of Your victory.  Show me Your faithfulness. Shine Your light through me in this dark world that Your purposes may be revealed in the darkness. Help me love those who I don’t think deserve it because You loved them enough to die for them.  Use me as a tool of blessing and service to Your purposes, Lord. Even if it hurts.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 5:43-48

 

Disobedience and the Temptation to Sin

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, 2 from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love.
1 Kings 11:1-2

Admittedly, I can’t relate to loving many foreign women and taking them as brides, but I can definitely get on board the disobedience bus. My heart can be so quickly drawn away from the things the Lord has warned me against.  I justify and explain it away every day in order to have the things I want.

For Solomon, disobedience and temptation came from having a blessed and rich life.  God had granted Solomon wisdom, vast fortune, and long life. Enjoying worldly comfort gave Solomon a false sense of security.  He began to look at his success and blessings as gods instead of God Himself.

We all do it.  We say things like, “I can teach the Bible great.  I went to seminary!” or, “I worked really hard to get that promotion!” or, “I set my mind to it and I got it done.”  We are so arrogant. We forget that every breath we take is a gift of God. Every celebration, every penny, every good thing in our lives comes from God.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
James 1:17

Nowhere in that verse does it say we can give good gifts to ourselves.  The lie of the arrogant heart is self sufficiency. Without God we would not even have our life.  So, why does the comfort in provision take us down the road of disobedience?

If the Lord had blessed Solomon with wealth, and wisdom, and good health, why shouldn’t He also provide beautiful, exotic women to enjoy it all with?  Sure, those women were idol worshippers and devoted to destruction by the Lord for their denial of His sovereignty, but he could change their minds, right?  He could show them the beauty and glory of God because of how richly God had blessed him.

Hear what I’m saying?  In my ministry I am constantly trying to talk young women out of  “missionary dating”. People hear my testimony about praying for my Muslim husband to come to Christ and they think that’s a great way to win thier beloved to Christ.  But it’s not.

I am not special.  I was a fool to marry someone who didn’t know Jesus.  It caused great sorrow and pain in my life to be married to a man utterly opposed to my religious point of view.  My husband didn’t come to Christ until I had repented of my foolishness and pleaded with Jesus to help me.

I think Solomon felt untouchable.  I think he had enjoyed so much blessing that nothing would keep him from continuing to receive it.  He might have looked back at his father’s life and thought himself no different. David loved beautiful women, too, so what’s wrong with that?

For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. 5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. 6 So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done.
1 Kings 11:4-6

David repented for his folly time and time again.  His default with God was to be a humble servant. Every failure he met with repentance.  Every blessing he received with humility. David’s heart was for God’s promise of salvation.

Solomon had fair warning, but chose to disobey anyway.

And the Lord said to him, “I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you have made before me. I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time. 4 And as for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules, 5 then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’ 6 But if you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, 7 then I will cut off Israel from the land that I have given them, and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight, and Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples. 8 And this house will become a heap of ruins. Everyone passing by it will be astonished and will hiss, and they will say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land and to this house?’ 9 Then they will say, ‘Because they abandoned the Lord their God who brought their fathers out of the land of Egypt and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore the Lord has brought all this disaster on them.’”
1 Kings 9:3-9

I think that seems pretty clear.  The Lord is surely quick to bless and to forgive, but He wants us to trust Him in obedience and humility.  God asked Solomon to simply trust God’s way over his own: to obey and be blessed. And in his old age, Solomon decided not to.

So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. 7 Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. 8 And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods.
1 Kings 11:6-8

Solomon turned away from the provider of all his blessings and honored his wives above his God.  

I don’t think it was intentional.  I truly think it was arrogance. How often do I become over confident in my own success?  How often do I attribute my accomplishments to hard work and diligence instead of to God. God lovingly partners with me, and He wants to give me good gifts.  Shouldn’t I enjoy that beautiful privilege and walk with Him?

God’s grace is never ending.  His mercy is not dependant on my behavior.  The day I accepted His promise of salvation, He sealed me with His Spirit so that I would maintain a confidence in Him that I couldn’t have known before.  My sincere love for Jesus is undeniable to Him, just as David’s was.

It’s not about our disobedience so much as our trust.  Do we trust God or do we trust ourselves? Do we obey God because we trust His good gifts for us, or do we obey ourselves because we don’t want to put our trust in someone else?  Or do we just get complacent enjoying the good gifts we have been given, and forget about the One who gave them?

Jesus, help me not to take you for granted.  Help me to believe and trust Your will for me.  Lord, when You give me good gifts, help me to appreciate them as gifts and never take them for granted.  Protect me from my own arrogance. My sinful self is incapable of obedience, but You are my obedience, Lord.  You are my righteousness. Let me fall back into Your perfection. Let me serve You with a humble and repentant heart.

For the Lord takes pleasure in His people;
He adorns the humble with salvation.
Psalms 149:4

 

A Worker Approved

15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15

For a very long time, and sometimes still, I have felt that the work I’ve done for the Lord was insignificant.  I longed to be known for my good works. I longed to be recognized for my “accomplishments” for the Kingdom of God.  Embarrassing, right?

I’ve come so far over the years, though, and that is something only God could do.  Is my ministry more famous or more recognized now? Nope. Is my work for God more relevant now? Nope.  My work is generally the same. It’s only me that’s changed.

So, Paul’s advice to Timothy was to be unashamed, approved, and to rightly handle the word of truth.  Hmm. So working for God means being the perfect pastor, right? Or maybe the perfect evangelist? We know a lot of their names.  The ones on tv must be pretty good. They are surely unashamed and approved or God wouldn’t let them be on TV, right?

Wrong.

Obedient submission to God is what grants us the ability to be unashamed.  To have the faith to accept that God’s answer for my salvation is from Him and not from me. The righteousness of God, given as a free gift, unearned, undeserved, that’s what lets us approach the throne of grace with confidence.  Having Jesus as our high priest, Jesus as our righteousness, Jesus as our savior, Jesus as our King. That’s what gives us the right to be unashamed.

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
2 Corinthians 4:7-11

So how do we know we are approved?  “We are afflicted and not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed, always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”

And look at what Paul says in Romans:

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
Romans 4:1-3

Approval doesn’t come from anything we’ve done or are doing!  It comes from faith. Abraham believed God. That’s approval. When I believe God and what He says, that’s approval.  That’s it. Nothing more. Faith brings God’s approval.

So, when I act according to God’s will for me.  When I trust that He is going to use me as He sees fit, that He will give me opportunities to trust Him and serve Him, and revere and worship Him, that’s when I’m working for God.  He’s given me gifts and tasks to use for His glory and not my own.

Did He ask you to hug that lady at the grocery store, and you obeyed?  That’s God’s work. Did He ask you to give up your career and serve refugees in the Middle East and you said, “ok”?  That’s God’s work. Buy someone’s groceries because you felt stirred? God’s work. Preach a sermon because the Lord has burned it in your heart to share what He has taught with His people? Yep, God’s work.

But here’s what’s not God’s work: quitting your job to become a missionary because that sounds like a great adventure.  Or, going on a mission trip to Nicaragua every year because the church body will know how holy you are. Or, teaching a Bible Study because you want people to think your smart.  Or being the front man of the church band so that you can maybe get a record deal or you love the attention. The list can go on forever.

So many things in this world sound good to us.  King David thought building a temple for God was a great idea, but did God ask him to build it?  Nope. Did God let David’s son Solomon build the temple? Yes.

God will partner with us even when we’re wrong.  He’ll partner with us in folly just to teach us how to hear His voice better.  Was building the temple folly? Of course not. But did it last? Nope. God will let us “work” for Him in a million different ways, just to teach us, just to show us that it all comes down to Him in the end.  Nothing else.

Have faith in Him, the One who made you, the One who calls you. To work for God is to submit to His rule.  You must stop obeying your own heart and the picture the world has offered you of what ministry is supposed to look like.  You’re never going to find it that way. And you’re not going to accomplish much for the Kingdom, either.

Instead, keep your eyes on Jesus.  Trust Him. That’s it. Only trust Him and do what He says.  That’s how I’ve changed the most over the years. I’m much quicker now to want to glorify Jesus, instead of myself.  If God asks nothing more of me than to point my silent smiling face to the King of Kings, then that’s what I’ll do. That is being a workman approved.  

Jesus, give me the faith to trust You.  Help me to stop looking at myself. Help me to hear Your voice and obey Your commands.  Thank you for how far You’ve brought me. Teach me and help me to go further for You and for You alone.  

7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
John 10:7-18