Thursday, July 13, 2017

Patience and Suffering

For examples of patience in suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy. - James 5:10-11 (NLT)

Meet my daddy, the most patient man I know.

From the photo you can see some obvious things: He is getting on in years, was a little tired this day, defers the driving to my mom.

What you don't see is the lifetime of suffering behind that crooked smile. Born in a home birth as most were in 1939, he literally suffered trauma from the day he was born - the forceps the doctor used caused cerebral palsy, a disorder of the central nervous system. The doctor didn't expect him to live through the night. He's still here almost 78 years later.

Some people with CP cannot speak, walk, or get out of a chair. My daddy is blessed that he can do all of those things. His CP has caused him a lot of pain, but it doesn't define him. He's also sharp as a tack, has a memory like you wouldn't believe (like remembering weather details of specific dates), has a corny sense of humor, and is blessedly and frustratingly stubborn.

But the reality is that he has suffered. His CP causes him to drag his right foot and makes his right arm very limited in usefulness. He is a "forced lefty" because of the limitations on his right side, and all those years of walking awkwardly have resulted in arthritis in almost every joint of his body, and severe sciatica. Most recently, a fall resulted in an elbow injury that is likely a fracture at the elbow joint (we are waiting on MRI results now). Beyond all of that, he suffered the ridicule of classmates and the limitations of a pre-ADA society. Undeterred, he graduated college, moved across the country to work two years, moved back, met my mom, married, and became my ever-patient daddy :).

Back in May, I was visiting my parents for a few days and I was hit with an insight: My daddy's patience is connected to his suffering. He simply has never been able to do anything quickly, due to his mobility issues, and so he presses on, slowly but surely, the tortoise that wins the race due to sheer persistence.

As I have reflected on it in the weeks since, I realize what a wonderful example my daddy is of the truth James is presenting in his example of Job. Patience comes as we press on in our suffering, remaining persistent and enduring, not stoically or passively, but actively, in faith, continuing to walk the walk, even if every step is painfully slow, like it is for my daddy.

Perseverance means we keep going. One of the fruits we will see from the effort is an increased patience. We will experience God's tenderness and mercy in new ways.

Keep pressing on today. It's worth it - and not without purpose.

Monday, December 19, 2016

When the angel departs too soon

Each Advent season as I read through passages pointing to the birth of Jesus, I pray for fresh eyes to see the familiar story. Most years, God leads me to see something in the words that I've overlooked before. Today was the insight for this year and it comes from Mary's interaction with the angel, when she was told that she would be the mother of Jesus despite being a virgin. Read her response with me from Luke 1:38: "Mary responded, "I am the Lord's servant. May everything you have said about me come true." And then the angel left her."
My focus has always been on Mary's words, her humble and submissive response. There is much to learn from Mary, but today my heart was drawn to the next immediate phrase: "And then the angel left her."
I don't know about Mary, but I would have been tempted to protest the angel leaving and ask him to join me in telling my family and fiance! From our earthbound perspective, It seems such a strange time to leave a young girl alone.
But the truth is, Mary now had everything she needed to move forward with this hard but beautiful task God called her to do. She had a clear word from God and promise that whatever others would say in the months to come, HE was pleased with her. She knew everything He thought important to tell her about His beloved Son. It was enough, because her focus was on Him and not herself.
Soon, at what point we don't actually know, the Holy Spirit did come upon her and she did become miraculously pregnant with Jesus, who was fully God and fully man even in her womb. While she walked outwardly alone on the hard path of telling Joseph & her family, the deeper reality is that she was literally carrying within her the life of God Himself. He came to be Immanuel, God with us, and He demonstrated that first of all as God with her, His own mother.
"Mary did you know" captures some of this in the closing lines, "The sleeping child you're holding is the great I AM." But we could equally say, "The tiny seed inside you is the great I AM." Because of that, she was never alone - even when the angel left her.
Today, many of us are facing times when we wish God would send an angel to walk us through the fire, to trumpet the truth, to intervene on our behalf. I still believe He does that. But the greater miracle is coming to realize that, like Mary, when we belong to Him, even if He doesn't, He is still Immanuel, God with us. Paul put it this way in Colossians 1:27: "Christ in you, the hope of glory."
Yes, the angel departed just when Mary might have thought she needed him the most. But God had spoken. And it was enough.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Because He Lives: Conclusion


   (Last of a series sharing my devotional thoughts from almost two decades ago. For the back story & links to other posts, see the first post in the series.)

What does it mean that Jesus is alive? Human wisdom cannot grasp the depth of what Jesus’ resurrection means, but Christians recognize that it is so crucial, so vital, so significant to know that His grave is empty.
God has impressed upon me that this devotional is not complete without touching upon what it means that Jesus not only died for us, but He was also raised from the dead by God the Father. I have come to recognize these truths about the importance of Jesus’ resurrection as God has begun giving me understanding of the Scriptures. I make no claims for the following to be an exhaustive list of the significance of Jesus’ resurrection, but I do know that because He lives ...

            • I am a new creation. 2 Cor. 5:17 says, “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” All of my previous sin and shame have been forgiven, but God’s grace goes beyond that: Romans 6 explains that my old self died with Christ, and I have been raised up with Him and have been made new. Because Jesus lives, I am simply not the same person that I was before I became a Christian.
            • I have an eternal hope. 1 Cor. 15 is a key New Testament passage explaining the importance of Christ’s resurrection. Paul makes his main point in verse 19: “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” Paul explains that if Christ didn’t rise from the dead, we have no hope of a resurrection of the dead, either. If there is no resurrection of the dead, there is no eternal life. Paul goes on in verse 52 to emphasize the truth, which makes our hope a certainty: “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”
            There will be a “last trumpet” that calls the dead to life. Those who are not alive at that time will be resurrected from the dead, and we shall all be changed. This last trumpet call will summon believers in Christ to heaven for eternity. It will also summon those who did not believe in Christ on this earth to eternal judgment. Because Christ was resurrected, we have the assurance that someday we, too, will be resurrected.
            • I have an intercessor in heaven: Jesus. Hebrews 7:25 says: “...He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”
            Jesus’ purpose RIGHT NOW is to intercede for believers. 1 John 2:1 calls Jesus our “Advocate with the Father”. What assurance it is to know that Scripturally, when I sin, Jesus stands before the Father with the scars on His body from His crucifixion, interceding on my behalf.
            Please listen to these precious words: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness....if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation [acceptable sacrifice] for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” (1 John 1:9, 2:1b-2).
            Becoming a Christian doesn’t make us sinless. But because Jesus lives, His wounds bear eternal testimony that He bore our sins. Because He lives, we know the penalty for our sins has been paid in full.
  • I have an example of God’s limitless power. When Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, he shared part of his heart’s desire: “that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings,” (Phil. 3:10, emphasis mine). When God resurrected Jesus, He demonstrated His power over death. Romans 6:9 says, “knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again: death no longer is master over Him.”
Because Jesus lives, I know that God has power over anything I may face. As Paul explained to the Ephesians: “...These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come” (Eph. 1:19b-21). His resurrection is evidence of God’s power -- the “strength of His might” to which Paul referred.
Never, never, NEVER, do I have to wonder if my circumstance is hopeless or my problem too big for God. Because Jesus lives, I know that God is in control.

            My desire is that as you read this devotional, God spoke to your heart. I pray you have either accepted Christ’s offer of salvation or renewed your commitment to Jesus Christ with a more fervent love. If you are not a Christian, I pray that some of God’s truth from the scriptures in this devotional will take root in your heart, and that one day you will become my brother or sister in the Lord. If you are a Christian, I anticipate meeting you someday -- maybe on this earth, but definitely in heaven ... because He lives.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Because He Lives: God Has a Plan

   (Part of a series sharing my devotional thoughts from almost two decades ago. For the back story & links to other posts, see the first post in the series.)

Are you in the midst of a painful, difficult, or confusing circumstance? Or are you perhaps struggling to understand the “why” of a hard time you are now past? If so, you are in good company.
One of the most wonderful verses in Scripture is Romans 8:28 -- “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God...”. A beautiful verse -- but one that sounds almost too good to be true, especially when we are in the midst of something bad, something from which no good could possibly come -- in our human way of thinking.You may be asking yourself right now, “Does that really mean good can come from my situation? Oh, I see what He’s trying to say there, but He surely didn’t mean this. No way.” But the precious thing is that no matter what your situation, He DID mean it. If we love Him, He WILL work everything -- even the bad, even our mistakes -- together for good. Because you see, GOD HAS A PLAN.
The Bible is filled with examples of people and circumstances which, from human perspective, looked bleak and dismal, and quite opposite of anything good. But in each case, GOD HAD A PLAN. Consider:
+ A teenage boy is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, who tell his father a wild beast killed him. Later, that same boy is wrongly imprisoned and then forgotten for two years by someone who promised to help him.

+ A young Jewish girl finds it necessary to reveal her identity to a king who has signed an order allowing people to murder Jews on one certain upcoming day.

+ A few short years after being told to be God’s witnesses to the world, the first Christians find themselves persecuted and their lives threatened to the point they are scattered, no longer having daily communion with other believers in this hostile environment.

+ In a society where childlessness is considered a sign of God’s displeasure, a Godly, righteous priest and his wife remain childless into their old age.

In each case, GOD HAD A PLAN. Wonderful things resulted from each of these seemingly hopeless scenarios:
+ Joseph was eventually named the highest ruler in Egypt except for Pharaoh, and put in charge of the storehouses of food. As a result, his family members survived a seven-year famine, preserving the nation of Israel and fulfilling God’s promise and plan. (See Genesis 45:5-8; Joseph’s story is told in Genesis 37-50.)

+ Esther’s impassioned plea to the king resulted in a new order arming the Jews to protect themselves against attackers. Esther 9:1 records the results: “...on the day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, it was turned to the contrary so that the Jews themselves gained the mastery over those who hated them.” Once again, in God’s plan, the Jewish people were preserved. This time God used a young girl who had been raised to a position of royalty “for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14)

+ When the first Christians were dispersed throughout Judea and Samaria because of persecution, they carried the message of the Gospel with them. Acts 8:4 records, “Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.” The evangelization of the world which had started in Jerusalem reached new places after the dispersion.

+ Zacharias and Elizabeth are greatly blessed when, in their old age, God gives them a son: John the Baptist, the promised forerunner to Jesus Christ. (See Luke 1)

You see, in all these humanly impossible situations, GOD HAD A PLAN. Those who faced the difficult circumstances eventually saw the good that God wanted to bring out of them. Joseph, in fact, told his brothers who had many years earlier sold him into slavery, “ meant evil against me, but God meant it for good...” (Gen. 50:20).
Never underestimate God’s methods for fulfilling His plan by focusing on what is seen by human vision. Joseph, being in a position to preserve the life of God’s chosen people, could not have foreseen that plan when he was pulled out of a pit and sold to traders. But that was the good that God had for that situation.
So whatever situation you are in right now -- or whatever past circumstance you are trying  to understand -- trust in God’s sovereignty and His goodness; do what is right despite circumstances just as Joseph did; and anticipate the end result that will be good, glorifying to God, and fulfilling of His purposes. Because GOD HAS A PLAN.
Yes, He even has a plan for you.
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good for those who love the Lord, who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Because He Lives: Do You Pass God's Vision Test?

   (Part of a series sharing my devotional thoughts from almost two decades ago. For the back story & links to other posts, see the first post in the series.)

Have you ever been completely, totally lost? I mean, you have absolutely no idea which direction you should take. I have. I remember one day driving with my husband and step-son where a hilarious sequence of events found us on back roads in the southern part of our county. As we finally came to a paved road, we had to determine which direction to take. I made a random guess -- which turned out to be wrong -- and realized I had been completely turned around. Somehow we made it back to the main highway and survived the experience with a funny story under our belts.
The answer in that situation wasn’t so apparent. But as I think about times in my life where I was spiritually directionless, I realize that God has made the answer very clear.
You see, all of us who are Christians occasionally have to take what comprises God’s vision test: Where am I looking? Hebrews 12:1-2 makes clear the correct answer: “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, FIXING OUR EYES ON JESUS, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (emphasis mine).
Whenever I have been directionless in life, without exception I eventually realize that I have failed God’s vision test -- my eyes were somewhere besides on Jesus. Maybe I was focusing on my problem; perhaps I was being self-centered; sometimes I was looking too much at what others would think or say or do or feel. In every case, I find that when I shift my eyes to Jesus, everything else comes into focus. And then I find that I am no longer directionless; I know which way to turn.
Psalm 23:3 says, “He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” You see, when my eyes are focused on Him, I can see the paths of righteousness in which He is guiding me. I can then choose to follow those paths -- all the time keeping my eyes on Him -- with the full assurance that I am on the right path because He chose it, not me.
If you are confused right now and don’t know which way to turn ... if you feel directionless ... you don’t have to take a random chance of getting on the right road. Shift your eyes upward from wherever they are looking right now. See Jesus -- resurrected, victorious over sin and death and the grave, eternally bearing the scars for our sins, seated at God’s right hand -- and keep your eyes there. Worship Him. Ask Him to guide you in paths of righteousness. Let Him teach you through His Word. Take His wisdom for your problem. And discover the wonder of a life that suddenly comes into focus as your vision is clear and your eyes are rightly fixed on Him. God will guide you and show you where to go and what to do. Then, as Hebrews 12:1 says, you will be able to run with endurance the race that is set before you.
One final note: You never have to doubt what’s at the end of the road God has you on. James 5:11 makes God’s intended result clear: “Behold, we count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.” So take out the Bible (your road map), pass the vision test (by focusing on Jesus), and trust Him as you start down the path of righteousness in which He is leading you into His mercy and compassion.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you.” Isa. 43:2

“Lift up your eyes on high
and see who has created these stars,
The One who leads forth their host by number,
He calls them all by name;
Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing.”

Isa. 40:26

Monday, August 15, 2016

Because He Lives: Experiencing Abundant Life

Have you struggled in your Christian life, waiting to experience a deeper relationship with Christ, knowing there must be more than spending a lifetime on earth longing for eternity? Do you sometimes feel like the king’s daughter you just read about -- excited to have a Dad, but not really seeing much of a difference He makes in your life on a daily basis? It doesn’t have to be that way.
You see, while we ARE to long for our heavenly home and consider ourselves citizens of heaven who are simply visiting on earth as ambassadors for Christ (Phil. 3:20, 2 Cor. 5:20), we can live a life filled with joy while we are here. In John 15:9-11, Jesus explained very specifically how to experience this joy:
“ Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”

You see, the key to having our joy “made full” is to abide in Christ ... and the secret to abiding in Christ is to keep His commandments. In other words, as we walk in obedience to Jesus, we will abide in His love -- we will dwell there. It is through this relationship of abiding in Him that we can experience full joy. Earlier in John 15, Jesus explains the importance of abiding in Him -- so that we may bear fruit to glorify God -- and tells us that bearing fruit is impossible apart from abiding in Him (see John 15:1-8).
These two ingredients added to our life -- abiding in Christ through obedience, and glorifying God with our fruit -- will work to bring joy into our lives. But when we obey God something else wonderful happens. You see, Jesus also said in John 14:15, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” Let’s plug that definition into one of the most beautiful promises in the Word of God: Romans 8:28 -- “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”  “Those who love God” are those who obey Him!
So in God’s wonderful, perfect plan, as we obey Him, we find ourselves abiding in Him, dwelling in His love -- His perfect, all-encompassing love which casts out all fear (1 John 4:18) -- and producing fruit to glorify God. Along with this we can then claim the beautiful promise that God will cause ALL THINGS to work together for good to us. What joy this should evoke in us!
Please don’t think I’m saying everything will be perfectly easy and there will never be difficulties. Thousands of Christian martyrs throughout the ages can testify otherwise. But when you put all of the ingredients together -- our obedience, the resulting benefit of dwelling in Christ’s love, the fruit we will produce, and the good God will bring out of all things in our lives -- we can have joy. Joy in knowing that our names are written in the Lamb’s book of life, that we are His. Joy in bringing glory to our Father. Joy at the promise of heaven and the treasures we are building up there. And joy because we have something nobody can ever take away: abundant life. John 10:10 records that Jesus said, “I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly.” Interestingly, the Greek word used here for “life” is not the life we live in our flesh (bios). It is instead zoe, and it means the life of the spirit or soul.
If you are hurting right now, suffering through difficult times or dealing with difficult people, please grasp this with everything you have: Nobody but you can limit the depths and riches of your abundant life of the spirit or soul with Christ. Whatever control another person may be exerting over you, he or she can’t limit your private prayers, because your relationship with God is personal -- nobody has to know what you say and do during your quiet times. You have been given the opportunity to experience an ABUNDANT life in your spirit or soul -- just like Paul and Silas did when they were singing in their prison cells, just like the early disciples did when they were persecuted for the sake of Christ, just like countless physically-imprisoned people have done despite the limitations of their fleshly (bios) bodies. You have that same ability to experience abundant life in your spirit that nothing on this earth or in your flesh can touch!
So plug these foundational truths into your circumstances. Watch God honor your obedience and your fruit by working all things together for good in your life. Rejoice over your salvation, your abundant zoe life in the soul, the answered prayers you are seeing, the glory God is receiving, your treasures in heaven. I can’t promise you a perfect life. But I can promise this: If you follow Jesus’ plan for having your joy made full, NOBODY can steal your joy or cause you to have anything but abundant life.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Because He Lives: The King's Daughter

   (Part of a series sharing my devotional thoughts from almost two decades ago. For the back story & links to other posts, see the first post in the series.)

Once upon a time, there was a wealthy king. He was so rich, in fact, that he owned everything that anybody could look around and see. All the land was his. All the storehouses held his food. He owned so many cattle he didn’t know where they all grazed. And the homes the people lived in -- you guessed it, they belonged to him as well.
This king loved nothing more than to enjoy the company of special people. One day he chose a young girl, a pauper whose parents had barely been able to scrape together a living before their deaths, to become his adopted daughter. This girl was so excited -- she would again have someone to call Father! She eagerly accepted his invitation, and the king joyously anticipated her company.
However, as the weeks and months and years passed, nothing substantial changed in this young pauper girl’s life. Oh, she called herself the king’s daughter. Yet she went around in rags, ate yesterday’s leftovers from wastebaskets, and slept on rocky ground exposed to the weather. And the loving king -- why, he could barely remember the last time his daughter had come and talked to him. It hurt him so much to know that everything he owned was hers, simply because he had chosen her -- yet she chose instead to live out in the cold, damp weather. Nobody would ever think she belonged to the king. She lived life as full of misery as the next person.
What a sad story! Yet that is how many Christians live today. Our Father is God, who owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Ps. 50:10)! We are joint-heirs with Jesus -- that means we share in everything that is His (Rom. 8:17)! We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in heaven, and in fact are seated with Christ in the heavenlies (Eph. 2:6). Yet we don’t reach out and take what belongs to us. We sometimes act as if we are just as miserable and hopeless as those who don’t know Him.
The Bible says in Lamentations 3:21-26: “This I recall to my mind. Therefore I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Thy faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I have hope in Him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of the Lord.” Did you read that? God’s compassion  -- His mercy -- is new EVERY MORNING. Whatever you are going to face today, tomorrow, every day for the rest of your life -- He has already provided what you need to get through it. He is your portion -- your sufficiency, your provision. He knows exactly how much strength, mercy, grace, compassion, love, etc., you will need to make it. And He knows when you can’t do it in your own power, so He provided that we can call on Him and through the Holy Spirit, face everything in HIS power.
Furthermore, according to Ephesians 1, we have been adopted as His children, have obtained an inheritance, and been given the Holy Spirit as a pledge of that inheritance. Romans 8 says His Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and therefore heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus. We can even call God by the very personal name of “Abba”, or “Daddy.”
If you have confessed with your mouth Jesus as Lord (meaning that you have given Him control of your life) and believed in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you are saved (Romans 10:9). You are a child of the King, and you  are NOT destined to live life in the same way as those without the knowledge of God. Our Father is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords -- and He chose us to be His adopted children. Whatever you need has already been provided. All we have to do is reach out to the One who holds the key to the storehouses. Our heavenly Father, who sits eagerly waiting for us to sit and talk with Him, to learn what it means to be His children, makes His mercies new every morning.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” Ephesians 1:3
“...I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly.” John 10:10 [Jesus’ words]
“Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow.”

James 1:17