Desperately Seeking Jesus

I think we can all agree that 2020 has been one of the craziest years in our lifetime!  Political polarization.  Racial injustice.  Riots.  Murders.  Masks.  Earthquakes.  Fires.  Flooding.  Volcanic eruptions. Zoom meetings.  

In times like this, we are all looking to God for answers.  But how do we hear Him?  What do we even ask him?  And what is His response?

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
    my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
    as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Psalm 63:1

Sounds about right.

We desperately seek Him.  We want Him.  We know we need Him.  We cry out to him and yet the air is dry and thick around us.  It doesn’t feel like it’s even possible to hear from God in this mess.

But here’s what David did in Psalm 63:

So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
    beholding your power and glory.
3 Because your steadfast love is better than life,
    my lips will praise you.
4 So I will bless you as long as I live;
    in your name I will lift up my hands.
Psalm 63:2-4

If I can’t feel God now, I will look for Him where I have seen Him.  I will remind myself of who He is.  I will remember that His Love supersedes all fear, all trials, all division.  I will remember and I will give myself to Him again.  Fresh with praise, I will seek the Lord and the promise of His unfailing love.

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
    and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
6 when I remember you upon my bed,
    and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7 for you have been my help,
    and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
8 My soul clings to you;
    your right hand upholds me.
Psalm 63:5-8

And my praise turns to meditation.  It turns to the recollections of faithfulness that have been the hallmark of my relationship with Christ.  At night my mind stops wondering about the world and rests instead in the peace of God’s unending faithfulness.  

It’s so hard to feel God when we are in the midst of worldly trials.  Pain and conflict or hard to surrender to God because our flesh isn’t going to stop hurting just because we trust God’s faithfulness.  

Yet, in the agony, in the tumult of the storm, God is still with us.  

As David began to reflect on who God was instead of what God could give him, he began to feel a praise-worthy peace in his soul.  God had proven himself faithful to David.  Always faithful.  David could trust that even though his situation was dire and his weary, desperate heart was parched with raw emotion and fear, God would remain ever faithful.

We can trust that, too.  Even with the world falling down around us.

The trials will not stop in this lifetime.  Not until Jesus returns.  So we cling to Him.  We hold onto His promises.  We remember His faithfulness in our own lives.  We look back on our journey and see His provision and salvation.  We see Him.  And we know that in our current struggles he will remain faithful, just as he always has. 

The riots.  The politics.  The fear.  The desolations of this world.  They don’t matter anymore to the one who finds his peace in the shelter of the Almighty.  God’s wings are broad enough to cover all who would seek refuge there.  

But those who seek to destroy my life
    shall go down into the depths of the earth;
10 they shall be given over to the power of the sword;
    they shall be a portion for jackals.
11 But the king shall rejoice in God;
    all who swear by him shall exult,
    for the mouths of liars will be stopped.
Psalm 63:9-11

And so we can rejoice.  God will have his way.  He is speaking.  He is acting.  He is doing all that He has always done.  He is faithful and His steadfast love is better than life.  So reach out your hands to the ones who are drowning, to the ones who are desperately crying out for salvation, and bring them to the Savior.  

Because at the end of the day, most of our questions to God can be paired down to this simple request: “Will you save me?”

And God’s answer is always, “Yes.”

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble 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

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? 

Peace and Security

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers,[a] you have no need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-4

We’ve all seen the info-graphics online.  X number of people have died since the outbreak.  X number of people have recovered since the outbreak.  X disease has killed more or less than the virus. X number of unborn babies have died since the outbreak. Cancer takes x number of lives every year.  Influenza kills x number of people every year. There’s a graphic out there to compare a million facts about death lately.  

Death is on our minds and we can’t stop thinking about it. 

But people have always been dying, haven’t they?  Death is the inevitable finish to life. And right now a lot of people are shaken to their core by the contemplation of a pandemic so powerful that it has shut down the world in order to save lives.  

Here in America, there’s been talk that it’s a political ploy to steal our freedom.  We have certainly lost a lot of freedom. And if you’ve invested all your hopes and dreams on the freedom of America, then of course you’re going to be shaken.

In our Western Church we’ve put a lot of emphasis on our freedom to freely worship God.  We are allowed to congregate and propagate and investigate without fear. We have incredible access to resources and teachings.  We can talk to strangers in coffee shops about our faith or share the Good News on the internet. Nothing has stopped us. Until now.

Undaunted, we push forward with our freedom of religion.  We get on Zoom calls. We have live gatherings on YouTube or Facebook.  We call people to repent and to pray and to trust and have faith. We are all about keeping up the freedom in our meetings. And maybe people who would never walk into a church building might actually get to hear what it’s all about for the first time in their lives.

What are we going to do about it?

Our president asked for prayer that the virus would pass over us on Passover.  Wouldn’t that be something? And all the world will see how blessed we are as Christians that God will protect us from this “China Virus”.  We are proud to be Americans where we have God on our side! Dang straight! God will protect us! God will protect our people. God will destroy our enemies and we will walk across safely on dry land, just like the Isrealites.  God will have the virus pass over us just like the Angel of Death passed over them in the final plague of the first born sons.

Except our first born son was slain. Our salvation from our slavery happened on the cross 2000 years ago, when our First Born Son, our One and Only Son, endured death for our sake.  The dry land we walk across it the dry land of Jesus Christ.  

Our faith is not in worldly protection anymore.  Our triumph is no longer freedom as man understands freedom.  Instead we stare with bold defiance at the face of our enemy and proclaim the victory won for us through Christ Jesus.  

12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12

We can triumphantly say our “Passover” has already happened!  Let’s not cheapen it with miracles meant to make us feel better. 

Our lives are so free that we have lost sight of the freedom we have found in Christ.  No matter what we must endure, no matter what affliction looms over us, we can claim our freedom and trust in our Savior, not our country or our healing or our protection.  

Our King, King Jesus will remain.  Nothing can steal His victory and the freedom He won back for us on the cross.  

38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

So, it’s time to stop talking about death as it relates to death.  No more infographics. No more statistics. No more comparisons. No more compromise!  We are all going to die, my friends. Stop trying to beg God to save you from this inevitability of physical death.  Ask for your life in only so much as it would please Our Master. Stop mocking the healing God gave us that day on a cross on Golgotha and that bright and beautiful morning of His resurrection, by demanding something else!    

There is an eternal death, my friends, and Covid-19 can bring it the same way cancer does, the same way war does, the same way starvation does.  And Jesus Christ has already answered that death with life. No new salvation will ever be offered. No cure, no peace, no abortion law, no food for the hungry can replace the salvation of our One True King.  

When you die–and you will die–will you die to yourself, considering your own needs worthless compared to what the Lord has called us to in order to glorify the King?  Or will you cry for peace and security and watch the world fall back into death once again?

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 16:25

A Case of Stolen Identity

The world has gone nuts over the Covid-19 virus.  Our homes have become quarantine zones: a refuge from a suddenly terrifying hostile environment beyond our walls.  Hand-sanitizer, bleach products and toilet paper have disappeared off grocery store shelves. Everyone can tell you that you need an N95 respirator mask, but good luck finding one.

Everyone has become some sort of apocalypse prepper.

Every conversation is about this virus.  The news is all about how bad it is, or how bad it isn’t.  We’ve heard every statistic about the R naught value, fatality rates, countries infected, citizens at risk, complication rates, and on and on.   Have you seen some of those graphs!?

You have to be a mathematician to even understand it. 

What about social distancing?  It’s really just a fancy term for becoming a hermit.  Are you a loner? No? Well you better lock yourself in a closet, because you are now!  Or at least you better be if you’re listening to the preppers and the mathematicians. Stay away from people!  If you smile at a stranger you might get infected!

Solitary confinement is the new social butterfly in town.

Public gatherings are a thing of the past. Jimmy Falon is doing monologues from his living room.  My daughter’s high school graduation? Cancelled. Disney World? Cancelled. And you can forget about sports. Cancelled, cancelled, cancelled.  

Social media and Netflix here we come.

Then there’s church. Pastors are running around trying to solve this problem of not being able to congregate their congregations!  Live streaming sermons. Small groups? You guessed it! Mostly cancelled. We’ve got Zoom calls for prayer meetings. Praise and worship on Facebook live videos.  Long distance everything. We must have no human contact. What have we become?

We’ve become isolated and frightened mathematicians, with a special emphasis in the pseudo-sciences, desperately mumbling conspiracy theories and hoarding toilet paper like doomsday preppers with no N95 masks and nothing but a box of Cheerios in our cabinet.

Can I get an amen?

We are in a war with the world over our identity right now. We need to stop allowing Covid-19 and the complications there entailed, to define who we are! 

I’ll admit it, I’ve been an anxiety ridden mess.  I’ve been talking to the Lord about it and He’s been gently reminding me of who I really am.  I am a daughter of the King of Kings, yes, and I’ve never lost sight of that, but I’m also so much more.  I’m a warrior woman. A preacher. A worshiper and a prayer. I’m a mother, a grandmother, a wife, a friend.  I’m an encourager and a writer and a speaker of truth. I am alive in Christ and I don’t have to be afraid.

Has your identity been stolen from you?  

The enemy is doing his best to throw you into fear.  But fear doesn’t have to be who you are. Go ahead and let it be a feeling, that’s fine, that’s normal, but don’t let it rule you or define you.  

9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

God is with you, and He’s got this.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8

 

 

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.

Teach Me, Oh Lord

Do you ever feel like God is trying to tell you something and you think you’re hearing Him only to discover that He’s still talking and you don’t get it?  I realized last night that I wrote two consecutive blog posts about basically the same thing. Using a lot of the same verses, I wrote about the joy that comes after the suffering.  Even the titles were similar.

I didn’t notice until last night.

I wasn’t listening as clearly as I thought.  Don’t get me wrong, I want to listen and I was listening.  I desperately want to hear God’s voice. How am I supposed to function properly without the Lord’s direction and guidance along the way?  

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Psalm 119:105

Without the light, how am I supposed to see?  Without God’s voice to guide me, how can I get anywhere?  

I’m missing something and it’s something important.  Unfortunately this isn’t one of those blog posts that’s full of great information or insight.  Instead it’s a blind girl trying to find hope and direction from a voice I don’t fully hear sometimes.

It’s like talking on the phone with someone when you don’t have a good signal.  You hear a part of every other word and you might grab the jist of it, but never the whole thing.

A week and a half ago, after the main part of church was over, a guy I never met before came over to me and wanted to pray for me.  I said ok and he began to pray and suddenly started prophesying. There’s a lot to it that I won’t go into, but I went home and wrote it all down.  I wanted to remember it. I wanted to hear God’s voice in it.

Then, last Sunday I went to a church I love dearly but don’t get to regularly attend because of ministry obligations.  My teenage daughter went with me and after the service she asked a lady (a friend of mine) to come and pray for me.

Guess what happened?  She began to pray and then started prophesying almost everything that the Lord had given me the previous week from someone else at a different church service with a different congregation. 

You think God was trying to tell me something?  It’s like these two people had read my deepest thoughts, and were speaking into them in ways only the Lord could do.  There was so much love. No judgement. No condemnation. Just love.

Then there’s this whole business of the two blogs in a row talking about the same thing.  Same verses, same message, same feelings. I feel pretty dense right now. But you know what?  I’m not going to beat myself up over it. That’s not the point.  

God never uses shame to get His point across.  He’s a good father. He’s so patient. His love is so fierce and true and righteous.  My God is not a God of shame. So, I’m not going to even say I need to listen better. I’m not going to say I suck at hearing God’s voice.  Nope. I’m not going to roll that way.

Instead, I’m going to listen.  

8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
Psalm 32:8

He’s teaching me tenderly so that I may learn and then teach others.  There’s something in that I don’t want to miss. In fact, I refuse to miss it.  I will accept a little bit of gentle correction, a bit of embarrassment, and receive the truth. I’m going to admit I’m not hearing it all and ask for more wisdom, more humility, and more correction.

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.
James 1:5-6

Lord, I want to hear Your voice.  I want to trust all that You have given me and nothing else.  Sift through the static for me, God, so I can hear only You. There’s something you want me to learn.  There’s always something. And I don’t want to miss any of it. Teach me. Correct me. Discipline me.

12 Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord,
    and whom you teach out of your law,
13 to give him rest from days of trouble,
    until a pit is dug for the wicked.
14 For the Lord will not forsake his people;
    he will not abandon his heritage;
15 for justice will return to the righteous,
    and all the upright in heart will follow it.
Psalms 94:12-15

Jesus has become my righteousness.  He has made me whole and pure in the eyes of God, my Father.  I want to be taught. I want to learn. I want to overflow with the wisdom and knowledge the Lord asks me to steward, whether the knowledge is for me alone or for me to share.  I want what He wants. His way is right. My way is broken.

16 Who rises up for me against the wicked?
    Who stands up for me against evildoers?
17 If the Lord had not been my help,
    my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.
18 When I thought, “My foot slips,”
    your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.
19When the cares of my heart are many,
    your consolations cheer my soul.
Psalm 94:16-19

Only in God is there victory.  Only in God is there rescue. Only in God is there deliverance.  Only in God. Only in God. Only in God. 

Let me be in unity with You, Lord, as the Father and Son are in unity.  Let us all be in unity with You, Jesus.

Precious Lord Jesus, You say it all.  I believe You. I trust You. I want what You want and to be in You as You are in the Father.  And I know that even this is the longing of Your Spirit within me. The Spirit that cries, “Abba, Father!” I’m crying out to You, Lord.  I’m crying out to You alone.

Jesus prayed,  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. 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.”
John 17:20-26

 

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

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother

13 For You formed my inmost being;
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I will praise You,
for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Marvelous are Your works,
and I know this very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from You
when I was made in secret,
when I was woven together
in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all my days were written in Your book
and ordained for me
before one of them came to be.
Psalms 139:13-16

I think sometimes I look at myself, remembering the verses above, and marvel at what God did fifty years ago when He knit me together in my mother’s womb, and then forget to recognize that God isn’t finished with me yet.  The God of all creation made me. He designed every part of me and wrote out my days in advance.  

He has a perfect plan for me, even knowing that I would be torn from that path a million times by a world ruled by sin and death.  He accounted for every fall and scrape, every mishap, every rebellion. He accounted for it all. And He has a plan for it!

I’ve lost my way a million times.  The ordained path of my destiny has been obstructed by my ego, my selfish desires, the cruel actions of others, or other circumstances outside of my control.  The list could go on forever. Some of it was my fault. Some of it wasn’t. All of it took me off of God’s perfect path for me.  But none of it robbed me of God’s perfect plan to handle every free will challenge I faced.

19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
    the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
    and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;[b]
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”
Lamentations 3:19-24

Because of God’s great love and mercy, I have been continually led back to the path of God’s ordaining for my life. I’ve stumbled around in the dark like a drunk woman: unsteady, uneasy, and uncertain, and His perfect plans have remained in effect. His perfect plan brings me back into the light of His path.

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

Life is one trial after another.  It’s pain and sorrow, joy and laughter.  It’s accidents and mistakes amidst victories and honor.  It’s hard. It’s painful. It’s one day at a time, one moment at a time, learning and learning and occasionally maybe teaching a thing or two.  It’s gaining confidence and losing it again. 

God knew that’s how it would be for us, once we stopped trusting Him way back in the Garden.  And even still He loved us, and He had a plan for us, a plan to give us the power to choose to make our way back to Him.  We were never going to find Him on our own. Not once the world had us. But God had a plan for that. He had a plan for me.  His name is Jesus.

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
John 3:16-17

So, while I’m walking through this world I’m in.  While I’m falling down and crying my eyes out, or singing His praises at the top of my lungs, He is with me.  He’s leading and guiding and teaching. Each adversity is a chance to trust Him more. Each trial is a lesson in humility, endurance, and strength.

There’s a great song from the 70’s that goes like this:

“The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows where
But I’m strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” 

And I like to think that song is about Jesus and us. Jesus looks and sees our burdens and he says to the world, “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother (sister).”

I will let Him carry me.  And I will work hard to obey His voice, and follow the path He has ordained for me.  As I go I will be transformed. I will learn to hear Him and discern His path for me.  I will present each and every moment of my whole being to Him as an act of worship and be transformed.

 I appeal to you therefore, brothers,[a] by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.[b] 2 Do not be conformed to this world,[c] but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. [d]
Romans 12:1-2

Song lyrcs from He Aint Heavy, He’s my Brother by Bob Russell and Bobby Scott 1969

 

I Changed my Mind, Let’s Talk About Suffering

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. Romans 8:14-17

I was going to talk about being joint heirs with Christ.  I was going to talk about how Jesus elevates us to an equal place with Him.  I might have even talked about how the Lord sees men and women equally, and calls us all “sons” with the same privileges that entitles us to.  But I changed my mind. 

I changed my mind when I got to verse 17 in Romans Chapter 8.  

17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. Romans 8:17

Did you catch that last bit?  The part about suffering? Ya, the hard part.  How did Christ suffer? How do we suffer with Him?  Why do we have to suffer? 

Admittedly, this is a subject I’m well acquainted with.  I’ve suffered a lot. I’ve suffered with severe depression.  I have PTSD from past trauma I have endured. I’ve had one physical ailment after another: cancer, Guillain-Barré syndrome, chronic blockages of my intestines, sepsis (more than once!), pneumonia, hospitalizations, severe arthritis. The list endures as Christ endures.  Because of Christ I endure.

Suffering is not fun.  But there is peace in the suffering when we suffer with Christ. Because I’ve suffered a lot, I know this peace well.  Retrospectively, I consider it a gift well earned. I’ve seen things. Felt things. Learned things. All from suffering.

2 Count it all joy, my brothers,[b] when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

Who ever wanted to count suffering and trials as joyful?  Joy is for celebrations, for victories, for fun times. It certainly isn’t a go to feeling for suffering.  And yet, there it is. Right there in the Bible. In the Holy book of Jesus. In the inerrant Word of God.  

But here’s what it doesn’t say: We won’t have pain, we won’t struggle, we won’t anguish over it, or feel afraid. Think back to the Garden of Gethsemane.  That’s that time before the cross where Jesus sweat drops of blood. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never sweat drops of blood. 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

For the joy set before Him, Christ endured the suffering.  He looked beyond His current circumstances, beyond the pain, beyond the fear, beyond the shame.  He focused on the outcome.  

Suffering is a tool for perfecting our faith.  It refines us and tempers us. In the suffering we see the endurance and peace only Christ can give us.  But we also receive the greatest gift in suffering, the gift of hope.

3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5

Hope is a powerful thing!  The hope of what will come from our suffering  creates such a faithful witness to the world! When we hope in Christ’s enduring love, we can accept the enduring suffering that comes from this evil world.  

We can endure, because we have hope!

Lord, help us to endure the suffering that the world brings us.  Thank you for being the perfect example of what suffering looks like, and also the ultimate example of victory that You are.  We have been promised Your victory, Jesus. We are your joint heirs. We will endure for the joy set before us, because we have your Holy Spirit.  We have Your love and your freedom to endure whatever suffering this broken world pours on us. Let us drink from your cup of suffering and receive the supernatural peace that only You can provide.  We love you, Jesus. Help us rejoice in our suffering for what it will teach us and train us for. Amen.