Rescued

“The Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed and afflicted them.”  Judges 2:18b

Do you remember the old saying: “You made your bed, now you have to lay down in it.”? In essence it’s saying that the hard situation I am in is the result of my own choices and I have to live with the consequences. We’ve all experienced it in some form in our lives. It’s a principle that plays out from time-outs in childhood, being grounded as a teenager, and dealing with all sorts of struggles and issues as an adult that are the direct result of our own decisions and actions. Sometimes the consequences are simple, like my son having to replace a window he broke, or me having to stay up late to finish a paper because I put it off too long. But some consequences are far more difficult and painful; just ask any prisoner. Sorrow and suffering is magnified when the offense against us is our own.

The people of Israel found themselves in just such a situation.

Judges 2 is the story of the Israelites’ rebellion and idolatry against God. As we noted in the previous post, Israel had allowed the pagan Canaanites to remain in the Promised Land, in opposition to the Lord’s command, and the Israelite men were seduced into pagan worship by the Canaanite women. The Canaanites worshiped Baal and Ashtoreth, and their worship was largely sexual and perverse. Their evil practices spread throughout Israel, and the Lord God who had delivered them out of Egypt and brought them to the Promised Land was now forgotten in their lust. They broke their covenant agreement to worship only Yahweh, and now He was angry. Judges 2:14 says “In His anger against Israel the Lord handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around.” They had danced to the devil’s tune, and now it was time to pay the piper.

The result of their sin was tragic. They were enslaved and oppressed, in constant peril from their enemies and unable to defend themselves because God had removed His protective hand from them. Their property was taken, their children were ripped from their arms and pressed into slave labor. All because of their own actions. What misery is greater than knowing your suffering has your own fingerprints all over it? I’ve been there several times, grieving the consequences that were the result of my own foolishness. I expect you have too. Perhaps you are there right now, sitting in a mud pit of your own making, wondering how you could have been so foolish and how will you ever get out of it. I used to believe that God was unwilling to help me when I got myself into a mess. Oh I knew He was faithful to help me when I was suffering for any other reason, but I figured He would make me deal with my own messes. And I made plenty of messes. “Sorry child, this is your problem, I’m stepping out on this one.” After all, don’t we learn best from our mistakes?

I am so grateful God doesn’t think like me.

Our key verse tells us that God heard His people’s cries and was moved in His great heart for them. He “raised up judges who saved them out of the hands of these raiders” (Jud 2:16). This pattern of sin, misery and rescue in the lives of the Israelites repeats itself over and over in the nation’s history. And over and over God hears, He sees and He rescues. God’s compassion is boundless. “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail, they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lam 3:22).   His mercy never fails because His love never fails. His love never fails because it is the essence of who He is. God takes no pleasure in our pain and suffering, even when we are the only ones to blame.  He will allow us to feel the sting of our sin, but He will never abandon us to our self-made misery when we cry out to Him. The Bible is a record of God’s great compassion and mercy. From the cycles of sin and rescue in Israel’s history, to His salvation through the cross of Jesus Christ, God has been actively rescuing His people from the misery of their own sin.

If you are struggling with the consequences of your own decisions and actions, know that God hears your cries. He sees your tears. His heart is moved on your behalf. He rescued His people, He rescued me, and He will rescue you.

Holy Father, Thank you for not leaving me in the pit of my own messes. Thank you for your great mercy and grace. I echo David’s words, “out of the goodness of Your love, deliver me” (Ps 109:21).  Amen

Related posts: While; The Wonderful Love of God

 

“What Not To Do”

 

But they put God to the test and rebelled against the Most High. Psalm 78:56

The nation of Israel had endured four-hundred years of slavery in Egypt, a dangerous escape, and forty years of wilderness wandering; but now, they were finally setting foot in the Promised Land, the place the Lord had promised to Abraham for his descendants so long ago. This was “a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 3:8). It was everything God had promised.

So why then, by Judges 2, do we find the Israelites caught up in the first of many cycles of sin and bondage? Why did the nation’s spiritual temperature grow cold? There are many reasons, but two stand out most vividly in the first chapter of Judges.

• The people didn’t listen to and obey the Lord’s word. God had instructed Israel to drive out the evil, pagan Canaanites from the land He was giving them, but they did not completely obey. Many communities inhabited by the Canaanites were allowed to remain. From the text in Joshua 1, it appeared that some of the tribes of Israel simply gave up on claiming the land that God had given to them. A few settled in with the pagan Canaanites, and one tribe of Israel abandoned their God-given territory altogether and sought property elsewhere.

• They compromised with the sinfulness around them. Since they were unable (or unwilling?) to drive out the Canaanites, they instead “pressed [them] into forced labor, but did not drive them out completely” (Jud 1:28). God had warned, “If you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live” (Numbers 33:55). And this is exactly what happened, as men were drawn into pagan worship by the seduction of the Canaanite women. The book of Judges is a continual story of the Israelites being led into sin by a godless people who should not have remained in the Promised Land.

What is our application here? I think it is pretty obvious.

• Read and obey God’s Word. Though the Bible is the best-selling book of all time, and there are multiple Bible apps and websites available, this generation is largely Bible-illiterate. How can you obey what you do not know? How can I know it unless I read it? It’s not brain surgery, it is picking up the book and letting the Word of God teach us the ways of God, and obeying what we read. James put it very plainly: “Do not merely listen to (or read) the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says (Jas 1:22-emphasis added). Where God has said “do…” go and do. Where He has said “don’t…” stop doing it.

• Do not allow the sin of the world to invade your life. We cannot live a monastic life, tucked away on a mountain far from the evil of this world, (although, that’s looking pretty good these days), but we can chose to intentionally separate ourselves from the world’s sinful influences. What T.V. shows and movies am I watching? What websites are you viewing? What magazines and books are we reading? What trash have you grown comfortable with? Maybe it’s time for some spiritual – and literal – house-cleaning.

The Israelites left a legacy of disobedience and idolatry, but they also left us a primer on “what not to do” to live a lift that pleases God. There are many more lessons from the Book of Judges, and we will investigate them over the coming weeks in these devotional posts. Today, make the decision to be a student of God’s Word, to be obedient to Him, and to examine your life and “take out the trash. Let’s be the people who know and obey the Word of the Lord and live purposefully for Him.

Holy Father, I have a choice: to know and obey You or to become comfortable with the world’s sin. “Earth has nothing I desire besides You” (Ps 73:25). Help me Lord to walk faithfully before You. Amen.

CPR for Your Dreams

“How long will you put off entering to take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you?” Joshua 18:3

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a writer. When I was very little, I would draw crayon scribbles on paper and call them my “stories.” I wrote with real words as I grew up, and placed well in writing and poetry competitions in high school. Writing gave me an avenue to express my feelings and order my thoughts and emotions. As an adult, I wrote in journals and developed the habit of journaling my prayers. Yet I kept those writings tucked away in boxes, never letting my words go any further as life and responsibilities pushed those dreams down deeper and deeper inside.

Ten years ago, God began to lay on my heart the desire to attend seminary, to write and to teach, another of my long held passions. He reached out and started plucking the strings of my heart to stir up old songs and old dreams; but once again I let life and the needs of my family and job take over. The more I pressed those dreams down the more discouraged I became. After an extremely difficult season, believing those dreams were dead, I took all those boxes of journals and notebooks and pitched them into the fireplace and shut those dreams out for good.

But God didn’t. He knew the plans He had for my life, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Two years ago, I heard the soft, faint sounds of the song again. This time I picked up the melody and began once again to put the words in my heart on paper. God made a used laptop computer available to me and a dear friend became my “editor,” giving me counsel and guidance in my writing. A sweet friend (a high-school student, no less!) helped me create this blog-site and I took a deep breath and finally put the words God placed in my heart out there for the world to see. Last fall, I began my first classes in seminary, and the Lord has opened doors for me to teach multiple weekly Bible studies in and around my community.

We often let our dreams and passions fade in the demands of work and family and the pull of responsibility. Sometimes we find ourselves chasing the world’s desires for us instead of God’s. When we push those God-given dreams aside, we can fall into depression and hopelessness, as I did while feeding the fire with my writings. But God has always had a plan for you, and He hasn’t let that plan die. Philippians 1:6 tells us that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” God sets His purpose for your life and He works in and around you to fulfill that purpose, as David testified in Psalm 138:8- “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me.” God works out His plans for His children. He knows everything about you, because He created you. He knows the desires and dreams in your heart, because He put them there. He has a plan to bring those dreams to reality. Listen to Philippians 2:13: “God works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.”

What dream has God planted in your heart? What dreams have you buried under the responsibilities of your life? What dreams have you walked away from? My friend, if God has given you a dream or a passion, He has not given up on it – or on you. Ask Him to restore that desire and show you how He wants to fulfill His plan and purpose for your life. Listen carefully- do you hear the sounds of an old familiar song?

Holy Father, life has gotten in the way of the dreams You placed within my heart. Please stir those dreams back to life and fulfill the wonderful plans You have for me. Amen.

Paying for Wisdom with Pain

“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”  Psalm 119:71

I am somewhat hard-headed and tend to believe that my way is the best way. I don’t always think things all the way through and then I wind up scratching my head, wondering what went wrong. I tend to learn life lessons the hard way. Know anybody else like that? Could it be that you and I are classmates in the “School of Hard Knocks?” As I read the Bible, I see that we are in a pretty large class, because God has had to deal with a lot of hard-headed people, from Adam and Eve to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the entire nation of Israel, King David, Jesus’ disciple Peter, Saul…and the list goes on and on.

Often, the most effective teacher in life is consequence. When he was little, I told my son many times, “don’t touch the stove, it’s hot, it will burn you,” but it wasn’t my words that convinced him – it was his own little red and painful hand that made him understand. Needless to say, he didn’t go near that stove again. Of course we then moved on to other hard lessons like not playing in an ant hill, not leaving your bike in the driveway, not driving over the speed limit – I think you get the idea. He is still learning difficult lessons, and truthfully, so am I.

My Mom used to say “Bought lessons stay with you longer than taught lessons,” and I have paid dearly for some lessons. I learned to choose my friends more carefully by sitting in a police station on prom night. I learned the value of money when I found myself deep in debt. I learned to pay attention to my driving when I ran a red light and t-boned a car. But the most important lessons I have learned came from the Word of God as we read in our key verse, and in verse 67: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your Word.”

Lesson #1: When I disregard the Word of God I will wind up in trouble. God’s Word is chock-full of wisdom for life. It is written by our Creator, who knows best how life should work, and we are wise to read and study it and put its principles and teachings into action. Jesus told the parable of the wise and foolish builders in Matthew 7:24-27. He said the wise man built his house on the rock and the foolish man built on the sand. The wise builder illustrated a person who built his life on obedience to Jesus’ words. No storm could destroy the house built on the rock, and no storm can destroy the person who builds their life on – not just reading the Bible – but putting its teachings and principles into practice. The Psalmist said, “Oh that my way were steadfast in obeying your decrees! Then I would not be put to shame” (Psalm119:5-6a). Knowing and obeying the Bible can save us so much trouble and heartache in life.

Lesson #2: It’s not over just because I messed up.

I didn’t banish my son from the kitchen, the police didn’t lock me up for good (however, now that I think about it, my Dad did say I was grounded for the rest of my life), I paid off my bills and got my finances under control, and the DMV allowed me to drive again. How much greater is our merciful and gracious God to give us second and third and tenth changes? Look back at verse 67 and see my favorite words: “but now.” But now – after I have suffered the consequences of my actions and am a little wiser for it, God forgives me and says, “Try again child, I know you can get it right.” The mistakes we make, our failures and missteps are not the end. God doesn’t write us off, wash His hands of us or give up on us because we are hard-headed. If that were so, mankind would have never made it past Adam and Eve, much less to you and me. All through the Bible God tells us that He is patient, forgiving, compassionate, merciful and full of grace. He loves you, even when your knees are bloody because you fell. He loves me, even when I am covered in the mud of my own choosing. Jesus died so you can be forgiven; He died so I could have a second chance at life. Do you really believe that He would give up on you so quickly?

Have you made a mistake somewhere along the way? Have you run in the wrong direction, played with the wrong people, touched something that left you in pain? Take heart friend, God has not given up on you. Take this affliction, this difficulty and place it before your loving Heavenly Father. Put your blistered hand in the nail-scarred hands of Jesus and start walking, a little wiser, in the right direction.

Holy Father, God of second chances, I have made some mistakes and the consequences are painful. Please take this mess I have made and teach me to walk in the wisdom of Your ways. Amen.

Deeper Roots

“The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time, when trouble or persecution come because of the word, he quickly falls away.” Matthew 13:20-21
My mom always had the most beautiful flower beds in the neighborhood. Early mornings and evenings would find her tending her buds and blossoms and pulling up weeds. I don’t remember her ever purchasing flowers to plant in her beds, she always grew hers from seeds and bulbs. She knew just where to plant and how to water and tend the seeds until those tiny green shoots began to push their way through the soil. Mom had gladiolas, four-o-clocks, daylilies, zinnias, cosmos, daisies, marigolds, and more. I admired her talent so much, so when I moved into my own home, I decided to plant a flower garden. Let’s just say, I did not inherit my mom’s green thumb. My seeds barely sprouted, and what came up was thin and scraggly and quickly withered and died. When she came to my house, she took one look at my garden and said “You didn’t give them room to put down roots.” I had tried to make a flower garden in gravely, sandy soil. The plants sprouted where they could in the coarse soil, but didn’t have a strong root system to anchor them and draw nourishment from the ground. What came up wasn’t healthy and didn’t last long because there were no roots.
The same principle applies to our Christian faith, which is what Jesus is describing in the parable of the soils in Matthew 13:1-23. A farmer in those days would walk through his garden spot and broadcast seed by hand. Jesus describes seed that falls on the path that has been packed hard by many feet as those who do not receive the message of the gospel because their hearts are hard and Satan takes that seed away. Other seed find the soil, but are choked out by weeds, meaning the message of Christ is lost amid the cares and materialism of this world.
The seed that falls on the rocky soil are those who receive the message, but like my flower seeds cannot put down good roots. These are people who give up on their faith and the church at the first sign of any discomfort or struggle. They do not sink their roots in the rich soil of God’s Word, they don’t establish the habit of prayer and are often too distracted by the world to regularly attend church. They do not have strong roots. The seed that is planted into the good, healthy soil is the one who receives the gospel with an open and humble heart, who believes the message of Christ and sinks his roots down deeply into God’s Word, who seeks Him every day in prayer and who spreads his roots outward in fellowship with other believers.
Trees are a perfect example. I live in Florida, a state very prone to tropical weather systems. Walking the neighborhood after a hurricane is a real-life illustration of the importance of one’s roots. Trees with deep roots, such as oaks and nut trees are usually able to withstand the storm’s high winds, but shallow rooted trees such as maples, poplars, cottonwoods and willows will frequently be toppled by the strong winds, thrown aside with their shallow roots exposed. Trees with shallow roots draw from surface moisture, but trees that seek out water deep underground have deep, strong roots that anchor them firmly into the ground.
In case you haven’t noticed, storms happen in life. You and I will face strong, howling winds and pounding rain in the form of health problems, financial struggles, job loss, difficult relationships, depression, and on and on. If I have a shallow relationship with God, if I am being nurtured by the world, I will not be able to endure these storms. But if you have invested time in Bible study, prayer and fellowship, searching for the deeper things of God, your roots have grown deep and strong, and though you may sway and bend in the wind, when the storm passes- and the storm always passes – you will still be standing.
When God called me to write this devotional blog, He gave me the title: “Deeper Roots,” and that is the heart is my ministry, to help others develop roots that are secured deep in the rich soil of God’s Word and nourished by His truth and His character. What threatens your life? What storm rages around you? Are you anchored deep in the Word? Are you securely rooted in prayer? Are you being nurtured in the Christian fellowship of the church? Will your roots hold? If you are grounded firmly in God, in His Word and in His love, you are standing strong.
Holy Father, this life sends storms that threaten to knock us down. Help us, Lord, to put our trust in You and let out roots grow strong in Your Word and Your love. Give us deeper roots God. Amen.

Guest blogging today…

I am so pleased and blessed to be a guest blogger today on Beverly Varnado’s site, One Ringing Bell. Bev is a novelist, screenwriter and blogger, her books, Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees and Home to Currahee are available on Amazon.

I invite you to read my devotional on Bev’s site: If You’re Having Trouble Seeing the Master Plan.

Thank you Beverly for this wonderful opportunity!

 

 

Why Are You Here?

“If I just touch His clothes, I will be healed.”  Mark 5:28

This beautiful story of the woman healed by touching Jesus’ garment has been one of my favorites.  Each time I read it I see something I had not seen before.  The Word of God is like that, because it is a Living Word.  The Word of God does not change, but my understanding matures, and God reveals new and deeper insights that perfectly address my changing life’s circumstance or need.   I’d love to share with you something new God has shown me in this familiar, yet fresh Bible story. Please take a few minutes to read the account in Mark 5:24-34.  I’ll wait for you.

Now, look back at verse 24 – “A large crowd followed and pressed around him.” Jesus had crossed the lake and quickly a crowd gathered around Him. So many people were there that day; Jesus was a very popular figure at the time.  Multitudes followed Him wherever He went, all pressing around Him, reaching out to touch Him.  Why was this woman different from all the rest? The crowd was jostling, bumping and touching Jesus.  What was different about her touch?

Both questions can be answered by one word in verse 34: “faith.”  She came to Jesus with faith.

This woman had suffered for 12 years from a bleeding disorder that has left her not only impoverished, but also ostracized from everyone.  The Levitical law stated that a woman experiencing a discharge of blood was unclean, and anything she touched was unclean.  Any one she touched would also be unclean. (Lev. 15:19-30) Including her husband and children, her neighbors and friends, people in the marketplace, at the well; and heaven forbid if she thought she could join in the festivals and celebrations of her Jewish faith. Leviticus 15:31 gives us some understanding of her helpless and hopeless situation: “You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness.”  For 12 long years she was shut out of every place where people might gather, so she would not contaminate anyone else.  She had spent all she had on doctors who could not cure her.  Look back at the Leviticus verse – even her death would be tainted, she would “die in [her] uncleanness.”

She came with nothing more than a gaping need and the faith to believe that Jesus could meet that need. Look at Mark 5:28, “she thought ‘If I just touch His clothes, I will be healed.’” She did not say, “I might be healed,” she said “I will be healed.”  And her faith proved true.  She touched his clothing, and “immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering” (Mark 5:29).   Her faith had led her to Jesus and to healing.  This is faith that pleases Him. Faith that reaches out knowing that He is the answer to every need.

Of all the people touching and bumping and jostling Jesus, He knew somebody’s touch was different.  Somebody’s touch had activated His divine power.  He asked who that somebody was.  Mind you, Jesus knew who had touched Him, and He knew why.  But He wanted this woman to know that her touch had touched His heart.  And I believe he wanted the crowd to know that this woman’s humble faith had ignited His healing power.   I love Bill Bright’s comment: “God does not require you to have great faith.  You simply are to have faith in a great God.”

Now here is the something new I’ve been pondering – who am I in this scene?  Am I one of the many who have come to rub up against this “magic man” and hope that something rubs off on me?  Am I one of the crowd who came to “see the show?”  I wonder, am I following Jesus because He is the popular one of the day?  Am I in the crowd because I think someone will see my empty cup and put something in it?  Why do you come to Jesus?  Because He has some wise words or teaching?  Because you admire His compassion and humanitarian work?  Maybe you follow Jesus because you want to be part of the crowd, after all it’s a good place to make connections.  Are you here to preserve your image as a “good Christian”?

In John’s Gospel, after Jesus had feed five thousand people, the crowds again gathered around Him.  Jesus made a bold statement: “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill: (John 6:26).  Everyone has a reason to come to Jesus.  Some come to fill their bellies, some come to fill their minds, but some come to Jesus to fill their hearts.

Why, with so many people around Him, did only one woman experience Jesus in a powerful, life-changing, transforming way? I believe it is because she came with a humble heart, believing that Jesus was truly God and He alone had the power to change her life.  She had no other agenda but to experience His power.

Perhaps it’s time to ask the question: Why do we come to Jesus?   Because He is a good teacher and is kind to the downtrodden? Or because it’s what we’ve always done?  Do we come to Him for what we think we can gain from Him?  Or do we dare come to Him because He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life? Do we come to Him because He is the source of light and hope and peace?  Will we come to Him because He is God?

Oh that we would come just because He is.  Love. Mercy. Hope. Grace. Peace. Joy. Redemption. Eternity. God.

Lord Jesus, I confess that often I have come to You with my own selfish motives in mind, wanting to have my fill.  Please give me a pure and humble heart that seeks You because of who You are, not just for what you can do for me.  Amen.

Will You Deny Christ?

“Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword.” Hebrews 11:36-37

Would you be willing to die for what you believe? Would you surrender to the executioner rather than surrender your convictions?

In the New Testament we read the accounts of Stephen (Acts 7:54-60) and James (Acts 12:2), the first to follow Christ in death for their faith. History tells us of the deaths of many of Jesus’ disciples – like Peter and Paul – who not only died for their faith, but endured great agony and suffering before the relief of death. I’ve been studying Church history, and the men (and women) who were martyred for their belief in Jesus. I was especially moved by the story of Perpetua, a young woman who, despite the pleas of her beloved father and the knowledge that she would leave behind a very young child, refused to recount her faith, but went courageously and gloriously into the Roman arena, counting herself blessed to suffer for her Savior, Jesus Christ. Her friend, Felicity was in the same arena, just days after giving birth, giving up her life for her uncompromising faith. Still today, Christians in around the world face the sentence of death for refusing to deny Christ. The recent news told the story of another mother in a Muslim country who faced a death sentence for her faith, and would not recant her Christian testimony. Even in the United States, some who said “Yes,” when questioned about their faith paid with their lives.

I want a faith like that. I want a faith that stands the ultimate test. I want to face every opposition with the bold proclamation: “Yes, I am a Christian – a follower of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”, even if it meant my death. I am blessed to live a country that offers “freedom of religion,” though that is being tested and pressed and is shaping into a “freedom from religion.” Still, I am not likely to face government executions for being a Christian – at least not in the present.

But is that the only time my faith needs to stand? Is the threat of death the only time I might stand at the crossroads of holding onto my Christian conviction or denying Jesus? I have become convinced that we stand at that same point of decision every day; for every day we make choices that either confirm or deny that we are surrendered to Christ. Will I deny my Savior in the things I watch and listen to? Would your internet history prove or deny your faith in Jesus? What does my bank account say about my faith? Do my conversations and my language say I am a Christian? Or the way I act toward others? Will I chose to act in love, will I chose to forgive, to bless like my Savior, or will I deny Jesus with hate, grudges and cursing? Will you be obedient when the Spirit says give, or dismiss the one in need and miss the chance to be a witness for the Gospel? When we chose to follow the world, follow our flesh, or ignore the voice of God, we are denying that Jesus is Lord of our lives, and the consequences may not be death, but rather the slow death of our faith. If we deny Jesus in these lesser, daily decisions, how will we ever stand in the face of true persecution? In the face of death?

In the accounts of the Christian martyrs, many people came to faith in Christ by witnessing the strong convictions of these believers in the face of death. We have the same opportunity to be a witness today when we choose the things that honor and please God. The world will take notice. Yes, they will jeer and criticize – but they will see people who will not compromise their faith in Jesus, in matters great or small. They will see men and women, young and old, of every race who so firmly believe in the truth of the Gospel that they cannot be forced to deny that Jesus Christ is Lord, no matter the cost. The world desperately needs to see people who stand for the One who died for them.

I want a faith like that, because I have a Savior like that.

Holy Father, the greatest witness we can offer to the world is to live every day with an uncompromising faith. Give us that kind of faith Lord. Give us faith that stands up to every test, no matter the challenge or the consequence. Amen.

Refining and Sifting

“But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold.”

Job: 23:10

 

It seems that lately I write from the struggles of my own life, from the vat where grapes are crushed for juice, from the desert wilderness, and like Job from the smelting pot of the goldsmith. It’s a hard season with pressures coming at me from many different angles. I can understand Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 1:8: “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.” I look to the heavens as ask, “God what is this all about? What are You trying to do – break me?”

His answer? “Yes. But not to leave you broken. To make you whole. To purify your faith.” You see, God does not just pull us out of the pit of sin and death to go our own merry way in life. He saves us to transform us, to make us more like His own Son. And it is a life-long process that often requires pain and suffering.

Peter, Jesus’ friend and disciple, is a perfect example. If you know anything about him, you know Peter was impetuous, brash and often spoke before thinking. More than once, Peter’s mouth got him trouble. He could say profound and powerful things, like his great confession: “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29), and a few minutes later, Jesus rebuked Peter for scolding the Son of God because He was teaching them about His coming death (Mark 8:31-33)! Jesus saw things in Peter that would both advance and hinder the Gospel.

At the Passover feast, which we now know at the Last Supper, while the disciples were arguing over their own status in His kingdom, Jesus made a terrifying statement. “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31). The statement is given in the plural “you,” meaning Satan had asked to sift the entire company of disciples. And they would all be sifted, to a degree, when they see their Rabbi and Friend being arrested. Yet Jesus’ next statement was very pointed and personal. “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail” (v. 32). In those words Jesus told Simon that he would carry the brunt of the devil’s evil deed, for the “you” here is singular – “I have prayed for you Simon.”

Why would Jesus give His friend and follower over to be sifted by the devil? Because there were things in Peter that needed to be removed. Pride, arrogance, stubbornness. Just like the things that need to be sifted out of me. What was left after Peter’s sifting? Two things: The prayers of Jesus and humble man ready to be used for His glory. Did you catch Jesus’ promise in verse 32 – “I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.” Jesus prayed for Peter, that his disciple’s faith would not fail. And we know that whatever Jesus asks of His Father is granted, because He always asks according to the will of the Father. Peter could not fail, because Jesus has guaranteed it by His petition. When I am in the sifter, as I am now, my Savior is before the Father on my behalf – “Father, do not let her faith fail.”

The other part of Jesus’ promise in that verse is seen in one little word: when. “And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (v. 32b) (emphasis added). Jesus could assure Peter that he would turn back, because of His own prayers for Peter. Peter would survive the sifting and come through it with a refined faith. Jesus allowed Satan just enough heat and pressure to burn off the dross that lived in Peter, that would fight against the mighty work to which he was called.

The story is told of a woman who, having read in the Bible that God refines His people like silver and gold, visited a silversmith and asked about the process of refining the precious element. The smithy said he put the silver in a kettle and exposed it to extremely high heat that caused the dross, or waste to rise to the surface where he could scoop it out. This process took intense heat and so she asked, “how do you keep from burning it?” The man replied, “I lean in very closely to the kettle and watch it carefully, using only as much heat as necessary until it is just as I want it.” She asked “How do you know when it is ready to be removed from the heat?” The smithy answered, “When I can see my reflection in the surface.” We are called to be the reflection of Jesus Christ to the world and that image must be pure.

Jesus allowed friend to be sifted, to go through the crucible of intense suffering to remove what was marring His image in Peter. He became a mighty Apostle and preached the first Gospel message after Jesus’ resurrection. The Lord used a humble Peter mightily in the birth and growth of His church.

I did not welcome the suffering and pain of this season in my life, but I know that God is purifying my faith and refining me to be His witness to the world. I trust that He is leaning in closely and watching over me, allowing just enough heat to accomplish His purpose – to see His Son reflected in me. I know that my Savior is praying for me, and when the process is complete, like Job, “I will come forth as gold.”

Jesus, my Savior – as You were in the fire with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, come and stand with me now; carry me through this season of suffering on the wings of Your prayers. Let me come through as a reflection of You in the world. Amen.