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

 

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Are You a Child of Promise?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Galatians 3:10-11

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

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

Galatians 3:12-14

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

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

Galatians 3:19-22

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

Faith in Christ, however, brings life.

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

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

 

Because I Said So

My husband and I are raising our second teenager.  She’s seventeen, brilliant, funny, stubborn, and loves Jesus.  I lose my patience with her more often than I’d like, but I try hard to set good boundaries, give her opportunities to accept consequences, and also encourage her to try hard things.  But sometimes, because I really am sounding more and more like my mother, she will ask why she can’t do something and my answer is the dreaded, “because I said so.” It’s the bane of teenagers everywhere.

And I’m guilty.

How many times has Jesus patiently, lovingly, simply responded to me with those very words?  And how many times have those words been exactly what needed? When I say to my child, “because I said so” it’s usually because I don’t have a good reason, or I don’t want to explain all the details.  I just want my daughter to accept that I know best.

But I don’t know best. 

Only God knows truly what is best.  Only God can say, “because I said so,” and mean it with full love and honesty.  He knows what’s best for me. I just don’t always want to hear it. I want what I want.  I hear what I want to hear. I do what I think is best in my own eyes. And somewhere along the way, I’m no different than the people in Judges who, over time, began to do what seemed right in their own eyes.

“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Judges 17:6

And sadly, that’s not the only time the Bible says something like that. I’ve read it so many times and thought to myself, “those silly people. Why don’t they listen to God? Why are they so dense and so selfish?”  And then I do what is right in my own eyes and never even consult God, let alone ask for His opinion.

Even though I’ve been chosen by God, and been sealed with His Spirit, I rationalize with human longings that should be giving to God.

Do I hear God? Yes, of course.  Plenty of times I hear the voice of God in my heart.  I hear His pleasure or His sorrow. I hear His hopes and plans for me.  And still I can get so conveniently deaf to Him when I want to.

I’m so thankful that God is patient.  I’m so thankful that God bears with me.

“For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” Hebrews 12:6

Hear me, though, when I say this: God loves to explain things to us!  He loves to tell us why. The problem is always with us. We don’t want to listen.  We don’t want to ask. We don’t want to obey. And so, because He says He loves us, and He says He disciplines us out of that love, He lovingly follows through with His promises.  And, though we may not believe it, it is for our good.

I wish my daughter would accept my “because I said so”.  But mostly, I just want to learn to accept God’s words. If He wants to tell me, “because I said so,” I want to listen.  I want to receive it. I want to trust God and I want to trust His Word.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.John 1:1-5

Kinda puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?

 

I Will Declare What the Lord has Done

My doctor told me I was going to die if I didn’t have surgery. He said that the surgery was very risky and there was a high risk of complications and even death.  What I heard was: it was likely death either way. Surgery was scheduled less than a week later.  

The day before the surgery the pain in my abdomen became excruciating.  An ambulance took me to the hospital. My daughter said she could hear me screaming from the waiting room as they wheeled me upstairs after being admitted.

I woke up two weeks later still in the ICU.  There had been complications. I’d been on a ventilator for ten days. My lungs failed. My kidneys failed.  I got pneumonia. And finally sepsis. From what I understand from the story, I should have died multiple times.  But instead of dying I lived. Miraculously. Doctors were flabbergasted. 

My poor husband.  It had to be so hard to be pulled into a private room and told I likely wouldn’t survive the night multiple times.  How horrible.

Our God had different plans.  People began to rally prayer for me.  I had people praying on six different continents!  As I’ve recovered, multiple people that I didn’t even know have come to me to introduce themselves and tell me how God had laid me on their heart in a powerful way to pray.  

A friend of mine at church organized prayer in her home and enlisted people to pray everywhere she went.  There was a 24 hour prayer vigil. They put my picture on the screen at church and had a special prayer time for me every week.  Streams of concerned people came to the hospital to pray over me and my family. A doctor even asked my husband who I was that so many people kept coming to pray for me.

Who am I? I am loved by the Creator of the Universe.  I am His.  

I’m recovering well now that I’ve been home for a few weeks.  My wounds have been healing at a miraculous rate. The wound care doctor was blown away by the speed of healing.  And my strength has returned quickly. That’s God for you. Because of God’s mercy and because of the prayers of the saints, I am alive. When, at the Lord’s leading, people come together to pray, miracles happen.

I am so thankful for the Lord’s mercy and for His hand over me.  And I am humbled by all of those who prayed for me without ceasing.  Thank you. I’m alive.

I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done.
Psalms 118:17

Revere the Lord

“When you come to appear before me,
   who has required of you
   this trampling of my courts?
13 Bring no more vain offerings;
   incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
   I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts
   my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me;
   I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands,
   I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
   I will not listen;
   your hands are full of blood.
Isaiah 1:12-15

The Lord has been hitting me hard lately regarding my relationship with Him.  I fight hard against His love. I don’t want to believe it. I hear others say they don’t want to believe it.  Preachers cajole us from the pulpit to understand and accept God’s love for us. And how He loves us!

But something terrible has happened.  I think I’ve worked so hard to get myself to believe that God loves me, that I forgotten to revere Him the way I should.  It’s just so easy to see Jesus as my buddy if I’m going to accept that He does, in fact, love me no matter what. I know, I know, Jesus IS my buddy, my best friend.

But He’s also my King.  He’s King over everything.  Just as it is in His power to create me, it is in His power to destroy me.  Harsh, I know. But let’s just keep it real for a minute. Think about it. When we fall deep into God’s grace, we can neglect the very heart of why that grace was given in the first place: we didn’t earn it and we can’t earn it.  

Bear with me here, because I’m not at all saying that God’s grace is by any means a bad thing.  Our response to grace, however, can become a twisted cesspool of unrepentant sin and hidden idolatry.  We all know that Paul said that grace wasn’t an excuse to sin, but we do it anyway. Maybe not in obvious ways, but we still do it.  God wants all of us. Not just the parts other people see.

I think He especially wants the part of us that no one sees.  He wants us to revere Him and follow Him and serve Him because He is God.  He is from everlasting to everlasting, Creator of the universe, and Savior of the world.  We don’t want to defile that with idol chatter and gossip, or vain pursuits, or harlotry of the heart.  

We need to revere God.  He made us. He died for us.  And He has all sufficient grace for us.  He is worthy of our praise and obedience.  When we are in His Presence we need to worship Him first.  We need to honor Him fully with our hearts, our minds, and our bodies.  

“Come now, let us reason[c] 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.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
   you shall eat the good of the land;
20 but if you refuse and rebel,
   you shall be eaten by the sword;
   for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Isaiah 1: 18-20

God wants us to speak frankly with Him, and God wants to cleanse us, but for rebellion He has no tolerance.  Let us be willing and obedient children to the Lord.

Lord, help me to be a better listener to Your instructions.  Help me to revere You instead of take you for granted. Make me a channel of blessing because I have learned from You how to be obedient.  Make my joy complete by my willing service to You. Let me be your willing and devoted servant because You are God and I am not. In You is all power of judgement.  I accept that Your judgement was poured out on the cross of Christ. Help me to respect Your righteous judgement and not take it for granted. Amen.

“For my name’s sake I defer my anger;
   for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,
   that I may not cut you off.
10 Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
   I have tried[a] you in the furnace of affliction.
11 For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
   for how should my name[b] be profaned?
   My glory I will not give to another.
Isaiah 48:9-11

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

 

Are You There God, it’s Me, Daisy

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

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

But what if you’re not feeling it?

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

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

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

It’s an affliction of false promises.

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

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

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

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

In darkness and filth came the Light of the World.  

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

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