“Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” (Psalm 42:5a).
Why, I wondered, with so much Joy in my life, am I so down? Why am I so discouraged? Why do I feel like there’s such a weight over me? I asked the Lord about it this morning and He showed me an image of a heavy, gray blanket over me and my house. “Where did this come from Lord?” From the enemy. He has covered me with a spirit of discouragement. Add to it my own battle with depression and anxiety and that blanket becomes a dead weight over me. What can I do? How can I be free?
The Psalmist that asked the question also provided the answer: “Put your hope in the Lord” (v. 5b). Oh, that sounds really spiritual, doesn’t it? But not very practical. Ah, but he’s not done. He said, “My soul is downcast within me, therefore I will remember you . . .” There’s the answer. Remember God. Remember His promises. Remember His faithfulness. Remember His Son on the Cross bearing that heavy, grey blanket of my sin. Remember the empty tomb. Remember His Spirit in me. Remember His power. Remember His mercy and grace. Remember every time He came through for me. Remember the rainbow in my backyard. Remember that He bends His ear to hear my cries. Remember and be at peace that “By day the Lord directs His love, at night His song is with me. Remember that He is “the God of my life” (v. 8).
Have you felt the same heavy weight? It’s understandable given the way this year has gone. Even if everything was peachy-keen in your life, the virus, lockdown, unrest, political turmoil, and sense of fear and hopelessness that has gripped the nation is enough to bring even Pollyanna down. But, Beloved, you have a God in heaven who loves you. So much that He gave His only Son to redeem you and give you eternal life. Remember?
Every step Jesus took on earth, every day of His life brought Him closer to the cross. To pain. To beatings. To mocking and ridicule. To misery. To death. But the pain and misery and death brought Him closer to His resurrection. And to heaven. And to His Father. “But,” we say in our pain, “He is God and He has perfect wisdom of every situation He faced. He knew the outcome was glory.”
It’s not that simple for you and me, is it? We are often blindsided by life. By trials and struggles – disease, pain, fear, loss, broken relationships, financial crisis, rejection, unrest. How can we endure these things?. The same way Jesus did. Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus, “the author and perfector of our faith” looked beyond the cross to “the Joy set before Him.” He endured the cross and its shame because He knew that on the other side of it He would be reunited with His Father.
Please understand that I’m not saying we can only expect misery in this life and the good stuff comes in the next. God is a good Father, and He loves to heal and restore and repair and surprise us with blessings. He knows that when the pressure is on, we want relief now, not in some mystical, ethereal, ever-after place. What I’m trying to say is that every heartache, every struggle, every trial and pain brings us one step closer to the glory of eternal life. We have His Word on it. “I am going to [My Father’s house] to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3).
At the end of it all, there is glory. Beloved, can you hold on just a little longer?
“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.” (2:15-16).
The heart and soul of true love is the love of God. This is perfect love (1 John 4:18). And it is nothing like the “love” this -world desires. In our culture today, “love” means “anything goes.” Love, in the modern sense, is unrestrained permissiveness. If I claim to love you, I should never stand in the way of you fulfilling your desires. But what if I know that your desires are self-destructive. Should I, in “love,” allow my granddaughter to play with the phone charger? That’s her little heart’s desire. Or should I keep her from something that can hurt her? Shouldn’t I also care about someone blindly following the whims of this sin-sick world into self-destruction?
Today, eros “love” – sensual love – has taken hold of the culture. “Love” has become anything that satisfies the flesh, no matter how perverse or damaging. And responding in “love” means we affirm and applaud this twisted version of love. But that is not love. The truest expression of real love was at the cross: “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God loves all humankind, and He knows that sin is not in our best interest, but salvation is. He acted out of perfect love to provide what we needed most.
What this culture calls “love” is often nothing more than self-indulgence. Real love is holy love. And because He is the definition of love, anything outside of God is not love. Friend, it is time for us to speak the truth in love about love.
The Lord said: “These people approach Me with their mouths to honor Me with lip-service–yet their hearts are far from Me.” Isaiah 29:13
When the Columbine massacre happened in 1999, the story was told of a young woman who died because she affirmed her faith in God. I remember a friend insisting, “I would have said ‘Yes!’ too – I would take a bullet for God!” Yet I saw her daily life, and it denied her profession. I think for so many Christians in America, we believe that “making the choice” for Christ means one day standing before a firing squad and saying, “I believe in Jesus!” then bracing ourselves for the gunfire. We don’t realize that the choice is made every day in a thousand small ways.
In choosing time with God over an extra hour of sleep. In choosing to turn off worldly programming. In choosing to speak gently in the face of insult. In choosing to have our kids in Sunday School rather than on the ballfield. In choosing to love and care for our lost neighbors rather than avoiding them. In choosing to put down the cellphone and talk to our children about our faith. In choosing to run away from pornography. In choosing to worship God rather than a politician. In choosing humility over anger. In choosing surrender and submission to Christ over national rights and privileges.
The thing is, if we’re not making these lesser choices every day, we’re fooling ourselves if we think we’re going to make them when it’s a matter of life and death. The proof of our relationship with Christ is not in a sensational act of courage, its in the quiet moment-by-moment choices we make day-after-day.
Beloved, are you choosing Christ?
Ever done something that made you feel guilty? Who hasn’t? Guilt can be such a heavy load. But some add to guilt the weight of shame. That was me. I wasn’t just guilty of my sins I was ashamed of them. And that shame wasn’t only what I’d done, added to that was shame because of what others had done to me. I didn’t just carry shame – shame was my identity.
Until the day that God gave me a vision of sorts. Of Jesus, bleeding and staggering on His way to His crucifixion. As He walked, he reached out into the mass of people that lined the road and picked up their sins and draped them across His shoulders. I was in the crowd and when He came to me, He didn’t pick up my sin. He picked up me and draped me over His shoulder. I stayed there through those agonizing hours. I felt Him struggle to breath. I heard Him cry out to the Father. I felt His body grow still. I had to turn my head when they stabbed the spear into His side. Somehow, I remained on His shoulders as they took His body down and wrapped Him in burial cloths. I lay with Him on the cold stone slab in the tomb. And I rose with Him three days later. The remarkable things was, I rose with no shame. None. It was gone.
Beloved I want you to envision this with me. When Jesus went to the cross, He took all your sin and all your shame with Him. When He was placed in the tomb, be still bore all your sin and all your shame. The He rose to life. And when He walked out of that tomb of death, He left your sin and shame behind. Buried. Done. Forever. If you struggle like I did with shame, you need to know that Jesus left it all in the grave. Hear this loud and clear: you are free of guilt and free of shame. You are a new, beautiful creature in Christ. Now lift your head and walk in it.
Twice this week, I’ve been stuck outside in the rain. Sunday morning was my turn to pray during the worship service. Not wanting to be disruptive, I exited the building and walked around to the door nearest the prayer room only to find it locked. I knew the sanctuary doors were also locked. I had no way in. I tried to knock on the door to alert my prayer partner, but she couldn’t hear me. Then the sky let loose a torrent of rain. Thankfully, the awning kept me out of the deluge. When the rain slowed a bit, I walked around and happened upon one of the deacons who – glory be – had keys. I slid in for the last few minutes of prayer.
Yesterday, during a heavy storm at my office, our building took a lightning hit that set off the fire alarm. Which is VERY loud. I quickly called the maintenance supervisor and stepped out onto the patio entrance. There was just enough roof overhang to give me shelter from the downpour until the alarm could be silenced.
Jesus told a parable about five wise virgins and five foolish virgins who were all waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom. The wise virgins had filled their lamps and prepared extra oil. The foolish virgins had only what was in their lamps. As they waited all the virgins fell asleep, with all their lamps burning. When the bridegroom finally arrived, the wise virgins refilled their lamps and headed out to the celebration. The foolish virgins had to leave in search of more oil. By the time they arrived at the wedding site, the doors were locked, and they were denied entrance. (Matthew 25:1-13) I had a better understanding of that parable this week.
Jesus is coming back to gather His people – those who are ready through faith in Him as their Savior – and bring them to His wedding feast in heaven. For those who do not know Him there will be no last second scramble for salvation. Nor will they be able to “borrow” from the redeemed. If you do not have a personal, saving relationship with Jesus Christ, you will be shut out. But you don’t have to be. The Gospel is this: Jesus is the Son of God. He came to earth, lived a perfect life, died an undeserved death to pay for your sins and mine. He was buried and after three days, was restored to life. He now sits in heaven, awaiting His Father’s command to return and gather every person who believed on Him for eternal life.
Beloved, I pray that includes you.
I asked God to teach me how to love people as Jesus did. He brought people into my life who were hard to love. I asked Him to help me trust Him and He took away everything else I trusted in. I asked Him for peace and He set me in a storm – then sat with me as it raged. I asked for greater faith and He put mountains in my path. I asked Him for wisdom and He set challenges before me. I asked Him to give me a kind and gentle heart, and he allowed me to face heartbreak and disappointment. I asked Him for joy and – well – He sent Joy!
I thought He would just make my heart grow three sizes, and make trust and faith shoot up like a well-watered plant. I thought He would just infuse me with peace, and give me a shot of wisdom. I thought he would just change my nature from grumpy to kind and gentle. I thought it would be easy.
Maybe it’s been different for you, but God and I have always had to do things the hard way. I don’t think I’ve learned a single life-lesson without some blood, sweat, and tears along the way. Even the Joy in my life came with a struggle.
We love to quote Romans 8:28 in times of trial and trouble: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” But what is His purpose? Read on. “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (v. 29). Everything in your life is designed to make you more like Jesus. The writer of Hebrews said that God made Jesus “perfect through suffering” (Heb. 2:10). Why, Beloved, do you think becoming like Him would be any different?
There is a lot of hero-worship in the church. There are “rock-star” pastors with thousands of followers and Bible teachers who sell out auditoriums around the country. Jesus had quite a crowd that followed Him and hung on His every word. Take the fellow in Luke 9: “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you where you go.’” (v. 57). He wanted to be part of Jesus’ entourage. But Jesus didn’t encourage this would-be fan. His response: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head” (v. 58). I believe Jesus was saying, “This is not going to be the high-life you’re expecting. I don’t have a multi-million dollar mansion to put you up in. I walk hot, dusty roads and sleep where I can.”
What did you expect from Jesus when you chose to follow Him? A solution to all your problems? A good reputation in the community? A full life with heaven thrown in after it’s all over?
Just a few verses before this scene, He told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (v. 23) Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem and the cross. He might have also told the man, “Don’t hook your wagon to me unless you’re prepared to die.” There is a war going on between good and evil, between light and darkness. Evil and darkness have the upper hand at the moment. God’s people are the enemy of the present ruling authorities who are bent on destruction. If you choose Jesus, you need to know that you are also choosing self-denial, persecution, rejection, and suffering. That is what Jesus endured. Why should we expect any less?
But then, I look at the modern church, so comfortable in our air-conditioned sanctuaries. Where is the suffering? Where is the persecution? Where are self-denial and the cross? Maybe the enemy’s strategy against the church today is not a full-on battle, but just to make us relaxed and contented. Just before he hits us with an all-out assault.
Here’s a thought: If Christianity is comfortable, maybe we’re in more danger than we know.