At the End of the Road

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?

How’s Your Vision?

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“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”  Hebrews 12:2

I’ve worn glasses since I was in the fifth grade.  I remember vividly the difference in my vision from the day before to the day after I got them.  The teacher’s handwriting on the board improved overnight! The power of vision – the ability to see clearly – was driven home to me recently when I got new glasses after 8 years.  The difference in my old prescription and the new one was so great I had a headache for a week trying to adjust.  It’s hard to see clearly when you’re looking through a weak lens.

Likewise our spiritual vision – how we see God – affects the way we see ourselves, our challenges, and our successes or failures.  Consider the Israelite spies in Numbers 13.  Upon returning from their mission, ten of the twelve spies advised against attempting to take the land the Lord had promised them.  They compared themselves to the Canaanites and saw themselves as “grasshoppers in our own eyes” (vv. 32-33).  They talked themselves out of the Promised Land because they were convinced that they were outmatched and too small.  Only Caleb and Joshua had a different vision, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. Do not be afraid of the people of the land . . . the Lord is with us” (Numbers 14:7-9).  They saw the same giants and the same challenges, but they saw them with faith.  They focused on the power and the promise of the Lord and knew that the giants were no match for their mighty God.

In contrast to the ten Israelite spies, consider how little David defeated the giant Goliath.  You know this story well – David heard Goliath’s disgraceful taunting of the Israelite army, and armed with a sling and a few stones he confronted the giant.  But his confidence wasn’t in his sling or the stones or his own ability—his confidence was in God.  He stood before Goliath and declared, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty . . . it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves:  for the battle is the Lord’s and He will give all of you into our hands” (1Samuel 17:45, 47).  He knew God was mighty and He knew God was for Israel.  How could he lose?

We see the same confident thinking in Paul’s letter to the Romans: “If God is for us, who can be against us? For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31, 38-39, emphasis added).  Where did Paul’s confidence come from?  The great vision he had of God through Jesus Christ.  He was so certain of God’s love because he had seen that love displayed on the cross.  Though his physical eyes were weak and failing, he had perfect 20-20 spiritual vision.

You and I need good vision to navigate life.  We need to view everything through the spiritual lens of truth.  Instead of focusing on the size of our challenges we need to “fix our eyes on Jesus.”  Rather than seeing ourselves as grasshoppers among giants, we need to see the bigness of our God, towering over everything that threatens us.  Beloved, how long have you struggled with weak spiritual eyes?  Is it time for some new lenses?  Maybe it’s time to have your eyes examined by the Holy Spirit so He can prescribe some divine glasses.  Oh Father, give us holy vision to see you like we’ve never seen you before!

Look at This!

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“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” Hebrews 12:2).

Yesterday my husband and I went to the store and walking through the parking lot he saw several people looking up at the sky and taking pictures. (I was on a mission with list in hand so I didn’t notice.) He stopped and said, “So that’s what everyone’s looking at!” I turned around and there was a beautiful rainbow in full arch. I grabbed my camera and took a picture and others stopped to see what we were looking at and started taking their own pictures. It’s as if, by our actions, we were saying, “Hey, look, all eyes here!”

That’s our job as believers in Jesus Christ – to draw attention to our Lord, saying “All eyes here!” Anything we do, anything we say, everywhere we go, everything we are should point others to our Savior. In the roll of our daily lives, we should remember that our greatest responsibility is to help others see Jesus. How do we do that? By looking at Him ourselves. What drew our attention to the rainbow was other people looking at it. When we “fix our eyes on Jesus,” people will want to know what has us so mesmerized. They’ll want to see what we see.

Friend, are you looking around at the world and your troubles or are you drawing all eyes to Jesus?

Where Do I Find Joy?

“I have told you this that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”  John 15:11

It is a running joke between me and my best friend, that I am not an outwardly, exuberantly joyful person; therefore she has made it her mission in life to help me find joy – as she says “whether you like it or not!”  She gives me coffee mugs, ornaments, towels and anything else she can find with “JOY” written on it.  She often sends me pictures and sayings about joy.  I love her for it, and just by her friendship, she has infused my life with much joy.

She has also taught me a valuable lesson: Joy is wherever you look for it.

Our society has convinced us that joy is only found in the trappings of stuff, or the successes of life, or in comfort and ease.  Joy is sold at the mall.  Joy is tucked away in a corner office.  Joy is having perfect children and an adoring spouse, all while surrounded by the best things money can buy.  I had the opportunity to be part of a team that traveled to Haiti to minister to the Haitians with home repairs, building desks for schools, and painting rooms to a new addition at an orphanage.  The people we met, worked beside, ate with and worshipped with had little to nothing – except joy.  They were joyful, maybe because they didn’t have all the trappings of living in a culture of excess.  They were grateful for their meager possessions, but it wasn’t their stuff that made them joyful – nor did the lack of possessions diminish their joy.  They were joyful because they were alive.  Especially in a place that had seen so much devastation caused by a massive earthquake and powerful hurricane in the recent past, they were joyful for each day they were given.  I never heard shouts of anger, never saw any selfishness – in fact they shared their little with us, and did so – you guessed it – joyfully.

I have met people who “had it all” who were miserable, and I have met people who had nothing and were filled with a grateful, joyful heart. (Which, by the way, will be the focus of tomorrow’s Advent devotional.) Joy is yours when you are intentional about finding it.

Jesus understood this, as we read in Hebrews 12:2: “Jesus…for the joy set before Him endured the cross…”(emphasis added).  Jesus, from before His birth, was a man condemned to die a cruel death, and this verse tells us that he endured His suffering with JOY.  What was the reason for His joy? You and me.  The “joy set before Him” was the knowledge that His suffering and death would give us freedom and life.  As He agonized on that cross, He looked down through history and saw your face and my face and the faces of every person who would believe in Him and receive eternal life.  That was the joy that allowed Him to endure, not only physical pain and death, but the ultimate pain of separation from His Father because of our sins.  Jesus knew that joy is wherever you look for it, and He looked for it in the eyes and hearts of all who would trust in Him and be saved.

Where are you looking for joy this Christmas?  In the brightly wrapped packages under the tree, or stockings hanging on the mantel?  In your successes and leisure?  In pulling off “the perfect Christmas” It’s not there my friend.  Joy is found in Jesus Christ alone, and nothing else will fill your empty heart but Him.

Father, give me eyes to see the joy of knowing and trusting in Jesus Christ; for He is the beginning of every joyful heart.  Amen

I Press On…

“One thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on…”  Philippians 3:13b-14a

One day, when my son was younger, we got in the car to run a few errands together.  My husband had driven the car the day before, and, as usual, had adjusted the mirrors.  So I reached up to give the rear-view mirror a tweak before putting the car in reverse.  My son asked me “What’s that for Mommy?”  I replied that it was to allow me to see what was behind me as we drove.  In his sweet, simple thinking he said, “You don’t need to know what’s behind you, just what’s in front.”   Isn’t it amazing when God gives little children such profound wisdom?  My son was echoing Paul’s words in our key verse.

Granted, on the road, we need to know what may be approaching from behind us, but on the journey of life, we often spend more time looking in the rear-view mirror that we do looking out ahead.  I have been guilty of that myself, but I am determined to apply Paul’s words to my life and look ahead rather than behind.

Paul’s emphasis in Philippians 3 is the futility of relying on past successes.  Paul had quite an impressive ancestral history, and had much room to boast about his personal success as a zealous and devout Jew.  In our culture the “self-made man” is highly regarded and even from childhood we are driven to succeed in education, sports, and relationships. As adults we are pulled into the relentless pursuit of success in our careers so we can have the biggest, the newest, the shiniest and the best.  For Paul, as for so many today, the mirror is filled with trophies, accolades, honors and wealth.

But you may be more like me, and the rear-view mirror is filled with dark clouds of pain, heartache, betrayal, grief, mistakes, and sin.  Life is full of struggles – I don’t believe anyone escapes difficulties these days.  Sometimes the pain is self-inflicted, sometimes the heartache comes at the hands of others.    A job loss, financial pressures, health problems, strained relationships, disappointments – just to name a few – can make life hard.  Perhaps your mirror is filled with a hard good-bye: the loss of a loved one, or the end of a marriage.  Maybe you’ve made some choices you regret and you are living with the consequences.  You may find yourself broken by a season of sinfulness.  Maybe not your own.

What do we do with all this?  We take the advice of my son and Paul.  We look ahead, not behind.  We look ahead and “fix our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2).  We set our focus on our Great High Priest and move forward.  We move ahead trusting that God will turn our sufferings into perseverance and character and finally hope (Romans 5:3-5). We leave the past in the hands of “Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will” (Ephesians 1:11) – “His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). We trust Him with it all, believing that what was intended to harm us, God intended for good, to accomplish His purposes (Genesis 50:20).

The Living Bible paraphrases the first part of our verse by saying “I am bringing all by energies to bear on this one thing.”  That is an excellent perspective, because living with past regrets weighs us down and drains our energy.   Here is one of the most important pieces of advice I’ve ever received.  “It’s done. You can’t change what has been, but you can affect what will be.”   You need to preserve your energy for the next phrase in our key verse: “straining toward what is ahead…” Paul is using a racing image here, picturing a runner stretching forward, pushing and accelerating through the finish line.   God intends for you to finish the race, and not only to finish but to win!   1 Corinthians 9:24 is Paul’s exhortation to “run in such a way as to get the prize.”   And what is the prize? “a crown that will last forever” (v. 25). A crown that we will cast before the throne of God, declaring him “worthy to receive glory and honor and power” (Revelation 4:10-11).

Do not allow your past – either success or failures or heartaches – to bog you down.  God has your life in His mighty and able hands.  He will not let one hard moment go to waste in the fulfillment of His plan for you – if you will entrust Him with it.   I keep coming back to one of my favorite verses, Psalm 13:8 which says “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me.”  The New King James reads “The Lord will perfect that which concerns me.”   God was not caught off-guard when you were hit with the hard things of this life.  He was not wringing His hands wondering how to bring about His purpose in light of my mistakes and sin.  God is still working in your life and mine, still moving toward His intended plan for you, still loving you with an unfailing and lavish love.  He is not finished with you.  He has such wonderful things in store for those who love and trust Him.   Listen to the Psalmist who sings: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.  He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with Him: (Psalm 126:6)

Put the past in your rear-view mirror and look straight ahead at the harvest that God will bring from your life.

Holy Father, I surrender my past to You, all my sin, all my heartache, all my sorrows and regrets – and all my successes too. I claim by faith Your promise that “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). Amen.