Great Joy

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. – James 1:2‭-‬6 NLT

The Lord is my shepherd; 

I have all that I need. 

He lets me rest in green meadows; 

he leads me beside peaceful streams. 

He renews my strength

He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. 

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. 

Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. 

You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. 

You honor me by anointing my head with oil. 

My cup overflows with blessings. 

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.

Psalms 23:1‭-‬6 NLT

Are we fully trusting in the Lord to be faithful and true? Are we fully trusting that even this trial is meant for our good and for His glory? Yes, these questions,  this examining our hearts to see if faith and belief really lives there — it either brings us to the garden to rest humbly and trusting in His arms — or is has us far from Him and grumbling about not getting our own way right now. 
Surrender, and return to the garden, and be still and know that He is God. He is mighty.  Trust in Him. Follow Him. He went through hardships. He was wrongly accused and hated by those he pleaded for on their behalf. He faced opposition repeatedly from the enemy that wanted to hinder his work going forth and seeing many bright into freedom and belief and life abundant no longer bound by sin and death. Don’t think that you should escape the trials, but realize that the trials are the refining fires that purify your heart and that service as your living testimony that He lives in you.

Silence

Silence.

Jesus’ friends and family awoke this morning to silence. Their friend, their teacher was not there with them.

The last words they had heard him say were, “It is finished.”

Can we imagine the feeling of loss,  the desperation, the sadness, the disappointment, the confusion that they went through a they mourned His horrible death?

Can we imagine them wanting answers now more than ever – after seeing Him mocked and beaten – after even His closest disciples had hidden and denied Him – and realizing there was only silence?

To everything there  is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born, And a time to die;
A time to plant, And a time to pluck what  is planted;
A time to kill, And a time to heal;
A time to break down, And a time to build up;
A time to weep, And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, And a time to dance;
Ecclesiastes 3:1-4 NKJV
http://bible.com/114/ecc.3.1-4.NKJV

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
Romans 12:15 ESV
http://bible.com/59/rom.12.15.ESV

Sometimes in our lives, we can face times of darkness where we find ourselves not hearing or knowing the clear direction and guidance that we want to hear from the Lord.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
Proverbs 3:5 ESV
http://bible.com/59/pro.3.5.ESV

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
2 Corinthians 5:6-8 ESV
http://bible.com/59/2co.5.6-8.ESV

I’m sick, praise the Lord!

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!
2 Corinthians 4:17 NLT
http://bible.com/116/2co.4.17.NLT

Things lately have been extremely hectic. At work, it seems like so many things are a challenge. In my relationships with others, some are strained and stressed out over the hustle and bustle of the holidays. And yesterday,  I started realizing that I was  coming down with a cold. I woke up this morning with full blown, can’t drink water workout it hurting my throat, can’t move my head without it hurting, eyes crusted closed, nose stopped up completely, and lips so chapped they feel like a gravel driveway. And this too is worthy of praising God.

The past couple of years,  my health has kept me out of work for various problems,  be it eye surgery,  kidney stones, sickness,  etc. And I’ve used all of my PTO days so I inevitably end up having to take time off without pay for periods of time, which has an effect on our cash flow and our monthly budget.

And you see,  we are on a very strict budget as we are doing the Dave Ramsey thing and getting ourselves or of debt, so there is so little wiggle room in our budget that a loss of any amount of money truly affects us. And while digging out,  we’ve started a weekly ministry out of our home providing meals and Bible Study and even providing Bibles to those in the jail that I visit each week. And food for a group and buying Bibles doesn’t come cheap.

But in all of this seeming chaos, as my body is weak and fights against me in sickness, and as my finances aren’t going exactly to plan – I get to see some amazing things happen in my life.

As I suffered multiple times with kidney stones,  wracking my body with pain, I was reminded of Jesus Christ who suffered for me. As I am humbled at times and made to wait patiently for the things that I have planned,  I’m reminded that it is His timing and His purpose and that perspective helps protect me from pride. Even as I go through trials and experience pain and struggle, I’m reminded that my life here is like a breath compared to eternity. And I realize there is not quite as strong or undeniable testimony for others than someone facing hardship and circumstances that they don’t allow to steal their peace or joy.

You see,  my challenges are an opportunity for God to demonstrate His power. And I’m not talking about miraculous healings, even though I will joyfully take that – as much as I am talking about my backing up my words about faith through my actions – even in the midst of challenging circumstances.

And what is a cold,  or even kidney stones, or even the loss of a loved one compared to the struggles and trials that many face in this life? Don’t I know those living on the street with so little? Don’t I know those battling addiction and all kinds of serious and terminal health problems? Don’t I know those who have made poor decisions that have landed them in prison where their time will click away a day at a time until they might ever be free again? Don’t I know that there are those who are locked up in a spiritual prison,  far from God and facing the eternal flames because they are lost?

So yes, I’m sick,  and it’s very much worthy of praising Him. Because I know His plans for me are greater than the distractions and trials of this life. You see, I used to allow my circumstances to dictate my attitude (and yes, I still fall short at times in that area) – but now I have  a hope eternal. And it provides a freedom and a peace that is being what I could have understood previously. So I’m going to praise His name today,  even for this cold – especially for this cold.

In battle, do we lift up our eyes, or just charge blindly?

When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord . Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my Lord say to his servant?”
Joshua 5:13-14 ESV
http://bible.com/59/jos.5.13-14.ESV

How often do we see the world as men and women of flesh and blood who are either for us or against us?  But the Bible tells us about our real enemies –

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 ESV
http://bible.com/59/eph.6.12.ESV

Joshua “lifted up his eyes and looked” and gained something very valuable for His battle. He didn’t charge blindly into battle because the enemy was nearby – he “lifted up his eyes and looked”.

This commander of heaven’s armies demonstrates to Joshua clearly that his loyalty is to God, not to a nation of people  – when Joshua asks a question expecting an A or B answer and instead gets a whole new answer outside his original frame of reference.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come? 
My help comes from the Lord ,
who made heaven and earth.
Psalm 121:1-2 ESV
http://bible.com/59/psa.121.1-2.ESV

You see,  sometimes our frame of reference reverts to this physical world and the ways that it operates and we don’t have the spiritual vision or awareness to understand what it means from that higher perspective. If this battle was just about one people against another, then men receive glory from each other for the victory. But Joshua was not called to receive glory for himself or even for Israel. He wasn’t called to be loyal to men but to God. The glory of the battle was meant to be for God.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
Colossians 3:1-2 ESV
http://bible.com/59/col.3.1-2.ESV

When we lift our thoughts out of the distractions of this world and remember that we are not at battle against men of flesh and blood, but that we do battle against principalities and evil forces that work through those around us who are still in chains of bondage – we begin to realize that it’s about the Lord being glorified in our choices, our decisions,  our reactions.

Each moment of opposition felt from another person is actually an opportunity to show them love, mercy,  forgiveness, gentleness,  kindness, and self control in return. It is an opportunity to demonstrate that Christ has won yet another battle in our lives and that we are not simply walking in the flesh,  reacting the way that the world expects.

But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Matthew 9:12-13 ESV
http://bible.com/59/mat.9.12-13.ESV

When struck in the face by another, when accused unjustly, when shamed and spit upon by the world, the world reacts in kind – but Christ calls us out to be set apart as a peculiar people. He tells us to turn the other cheek. He tells us to give and love even to those who would steal from us. He tells us that lost souls in need of love are more valuable to win over as friends of Christ than to let die as enemies.

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?  And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’  Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
Luke 15:4-7 ESV
http://bible.com/59/luk.15.4-7.ESV

Yes, He tells us to pick up our cross and bear it for one another. Not to bear it for those we think are deserving of His love and forgiveness,  because none of us, are deserving. Not me. Not you.

But we love because He first loved us.

Our battle is not against one another.

And our loyalty is not to self.

He is Lord, He is Savior, He is Redeemer, and He has won the victory!

To God be the Glory in our lives today.

The Pain is Real

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Pain.

Whether physical pain or emotional pain,  it is real and it can weild a heavy hammer upon our lives. It can distract us from the mindset that we want to have or the things that we want to do – and it can lead us down dark paths.

Sometimes we know clearly what caused our pain. While other times,  we might cry out to God,  thinking,  “Why me,  Lord?”

Continue reading “The Pain is Real”

Teach us to Love

http://bible.com/116/1co.13.1-7.nlt If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
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Is it just me? This reminds me of how little I look like Christ. In fact this whole book reminds me of how little I look like Christ.

Continue reading “Teach us to Love”