The Display of His Splendor

I couldn’t understand why I was in such a difficult trial. I had committed no grave sin that warranted discipline. I was being obedient to what the Lord had called me to do. And unlike so many other seasons of suffering, I hadn’t caused this one. “What is up with this God? What am I missing?” Then, as He loves to do, the Spirit took me to the Word for a word.

I was in the gospel of John. Jesus and His disciples encountered a man who had been blind from birth. The disciples, like me, looked for someone to blame. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (9:2). Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (v. 3). Then the Lord healed the man. His eyes were opened and he could see.

When you read on in this account, the man’s healing drew a lot of attention. Many questioned the validity of the healing and the religious leaders pressed him for answers. They foolishly claimed that the healer was a sinner. The man proclaimed, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know.  One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see” (v. 25).

And that’s the point. People were talking about this miracle and about Jesus. The work of God was displayed in his life. From this account, I realized that I was not being punished or disciplined. I was being set up to display the glory of Christ Jesus, my Lord and Savior. And isn’t that the point of our lives – to be “A planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor” (Is 61:3)? When I was younger my Mom always warned me about my behavior because “We don’t want people to talk.” Well, I’m sorry Mom, but you’re wrong about this one. We want people to talk. We want them to ask questions. We want His name repeated all over town because of what He has done in our lives. “Did you see what God did? She had the worst reputation in town and now she shares Jesus with other women on the streets.” Or “He was so sick, no one thought he would survive that, but look at him now – so healthy and strong and praising God.” Or my own testimony: “She was such a negative, bitter, unhappy person and now she overflows with Joy!” I don’t know your story or your particular struggles but I know the Author of it, and I know that He is writing His name all over your life. You, Beloved, are the story of God.

Consider it All Joy (part 2)

Yesterday’s devotional started a conversation about God’s purposes in our suffering. We’re going to continue today in part two. I’ll post a link to part one in the comments.

Sometimes trials are a means of discipline in our lives – I know this one well.  The psalmist declared, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your Word” (Psalm 119:67).  Hebrews adds, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).  Trials that come as a consequence of our sinful and foolish behavior are meant to teach us valuable life lessons.  Or as my mother said, “Bought lessons stay with you longer than taught lessons.”  If you can connect your trial to your actions, take that as a means of discipline and training. The writer of Hebrews also said that discipline identifies us as God’s true children. “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?” (See Hebrews 12:5-10). Discipline means that God is being a good Father to you.

Our trials reveal God to the world.  When Jesus and His disciples encountered a man who had been blind from birth, He said, “This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9:3). When the Lord healed this man everyone knew it, and he became a living testimony to the power of God.  You and I are the canvas on which God paints His own portrait for the world to see.  Just as silver and gold show up most brilliantly against a dark backdrop, the power and glory of God are on vivid display in our trials.  Our difficulties become the means by which God shows up and shows off.

Beloved, I don’t know what trial you are facing today, but I know that God has brought you to it for a good purpose.  He is at work in your life, stretching your faith, moving you into His will, preparing you to minister to someone else, teaching you discipline, and making your life a display of His glory.  Every trial is an opportunity for you and me to draw closer to our Father, to walk by faith, and to point others to Him.  Yes, we can count it all Joy when trials come, because we know God has a purpose and a plan – and we will be the richer for it.

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).

Consider it Pure Joy (part 1)

Check this out – James says that as believers we are to greet every trial as a cause for Joy.  “Consider it pure Joy, my brothers [and sisters], when you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2). Excuse me? Joy is not my default reaction when life gets hard. I don’t like trials and I’ll bet you don’t either.  But the Bible says that we can have Joy because our trials are not without purpose.  God has a reason for every trial we face.

James follows up our key verse by saying, “Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:3-4).  We know that we become physically stronger when we work our muscles, and any trainer will tell you that resistance training is the best strengthening exercise.  Our faith becomes stronger when we have opportunities to exercise it as we strain against some resistant force – like a trial.  How will you know that you can trust God if you never have to?  Trials strengthen our faith and lead us into spiritual maturity.

Trials also accomplish God’s wider purposes.  Joseph was hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape, and unjustly imprisoned.  But all of those very hard things positioned him to be in the right place at the right time – God’s place and God’s time.  Joseph was used in Egypt to save thousands of lives during the famine, most importantly the life of his own people – the Jews, through whom our Savior, Jesus, would come. Through some pretty hard trials in our life, God moved us back home positioning us for many good blessings including placing me in a great job with the opportunity to further my education – for free.  Trials often become the catalyst for a God-ordained redirection into His good plan.

Our trials prepare us to minister to others.  Paul said, “The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). I have benefited greatly from the wise counsel and comfort of others who have “been there, done that” and survived.  Their testimony brought me hope and confidence in God and they gave good advice drawn from their own experience.  Perhaps your trial today will give you the wisdom to come alongside someone in a similar situation one day and offer them hope.

This is part one. Part two will post tomorrow.

Hebrews: Just Be Kind

I love kind people. They are some of my favorite people in the whole world. When someone is kind, I am immediately drawn to them like a kid to a candy store. I believe kindness was one of Jesus’ most attractive traits.

The writer of Hebrews was thinking about kindness when he said, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Hebrews 13:2-3). The early Christ-followers were often persecuted for their faith. At best, they were ostracized, and some suffered grievous physical abuse and even death. Many believers were driven from their homes, lost their jobs or businesses, and they certainly weren’t welcome in their former places of worship. Some were even thrown into prison.

The writer was urging Christ-like kindness in practical ways such as hospitality and compassion. Genesis 18 tells of Abraham who, following the custom of the day, offered rest, food, and refreshing for a group of travelers. Only they weren’t nomads, they were angels – and one of the trio was the Lord Himself. The wandering Christians needed a place to land when they were driven out. They needed refreshing and rest. Those who had been imprisoned for their faith needed encouragement and human contact. In all of these, the writer called for empathy – put yourself in their sandals. What would you need? Go, and do likewise.

Do we still “entertain angels?” I wouldn’t be surprised. God is certainly still at work in His world and He often sends angels to get the job done. But you and I don’t have to wait for celestial beings to be kind. When we had to move back home a few ago during a difficult season, my sister-in-love opened her home – and even gave up her bed –as we traveled back and forth trying to put our lives back together. She took me to her house when I was very ill and shuttled me to doctors and clinics. And she fed us well. That was gracious hospitality. But hospitality can be as simple as a cup of coffee and a listening ear. If you add some cheesecake, I’m your friend for life.

Maybe you don’t know anyone in prison, but you may know a shut-in or a caregiver, or a stay-at-home mom with no transportation. That can feel like a prison. My husband had major surgery several years ago and many friends texted their support, but the ones who stuck their head in the door of his room brought us some much-needed sunshine. One friend brought plates from the church’s fellowship meal to us in the hospital. Several other friends took in my son while I was tied up with the patient. A double dip of kindness!

Kindness is Christlikeness. It doesn’t cost a dime, but it is incredibly valuable. Don’t wait for angels, Beloved. Be hospitable. Be compassionate. Be generous. Be kind. Be like Jesus.

God, I Don’t Understand!

One of my favorite ways to study the Bible is digging into one book and examining it passage-by-passage, verse-by-verse, and even word-by-word. There is so much wealth in every word of Scripture – and you know how much I love word etymology. But I also want to consider the context so I pull back from the close-up of one word and see the bigger picture of the passage. Pull back a little more and I can see how the passage fits into the theme of the section and even the entire book I’m studying. If I  take this macro-vision even further I can see the bigger-bigger picture of the Old or New Testament and finally the whole Bible.

That’s also how we need to look at our lives. Right now, you may be dealing with something very difficult and all your attention is centered on this one thing in your life. It’s all you can see. You are hyper-focused on this single issue, person, or struggle. May I encourage you to pull back just a little and look for the bigger picture? This issue, person, or need is one word in one sentence of one paragraph on one page of your entire life story. But it isn’t your whole story. God has a much bigger picture in mind. The Bible tells stories of people who had a challenge—infertility, oppression, imprisonment, slavery, rejection, even lack of basic life necessities—and God moved in such a way that the resolution to their challenge became a much larger and more God-glorifying part of their story.

I keep going back to Jesus’ words in the upper room: “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (John 13:7). When I want to say, “God I don’t get this; I can’t figure out what happening.” I hear my Lord say, “You can’t grasp it now child, but you will understand when you see the bigger picture.” Beloved, there is a bigger picture. There is a higher purpose. There is so much more to your story than you can see in the moment. Give God your troubles, your struggles, your difficulties, and watch Him unfold something you never imagined. Your life is so much more than this moment. Trust the Author of your life story. He has an eternal ending in store for you.

Hebrews: The Joy of the Cross

I always thought my mom was super-human. She could power through any sickness and keep going and going and going. Even when she was undergoing cancer treatments. I hardly slowed her down – until the end. Either she had an uncommon strength – or she was a mom.

I always imagined Jesus facing the cross with His divine strength in full force. Surely the Son of God just shut out the pain and powered through. But the writer of Hebrews refutes that thought. He said that Jesus, “for the Joy set before Him,  endured the cross, scorning its shame . . .” (Heb 12:2) Endurance implies difficulty. Jesus endured the difficulty of the cross. It was all very real to Him. He felt the nails rip through His flesh, crush His bones, and tear His veins open. He felt the sharp points of the thorns dig deeply into His head. He felt the whip shred the skin on His back. His shoulders screamed with firey pain every time He took a breath. Jesus felt it all. He suffered.

He also suffered shame. The cross was a disgraceful way to die in the first century. But the shame that Jesus endured wasn’t personal embarrassment; the writer said that He “scored the shame” of the cross. He didn’t consider it as humiliation, though it was. He endured the cross with Joy because His suffering meant our freedom. The shame He experienced was bearing all the sins of all mankind throughout all the ages. Adam’s sin. Eve’s sin. Cain’s sin. David’s sin. Hitler’s sin. My sin. Your sin. It was the shame of the Father’s face turning away from the Son because He can not look on sin.

But I found something mind-blowing when I dug into the words used in this verse. Jesus endured it all. But He didn’t have to. The secondary meaning of the word “endure” means “to remain, to not flee.” Jesus could have ditched the cross and escaped the physical, emotional, and spiritual agony. Then I understood His words when He was arrested: “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt 26:53). Jesus could have escaped it all but He stayed. He suffered. He died. Why? To save you, Beloved.  The Joy set before Him was seeing your face in heaven. That’s how much He loves you.

All In

A hen and a pig were looking at the farmer’s breakfast plate, with toast, grits, eggs, and bacon. The hen strutted around saying, “Look at the hen’s contribution to this fine breakfast – see those eggs there on the plate!” The pig looked at the hen and said, “You hens make a contribution, but for us pigs, it’s an all-or-nothing commitment.”

“Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). Jesus has very high expectations for His followers. He doesn’t just want contributors, he wants people who will surrender it all to Him. People who will Joyfully “lose their life” for the Kingdom.

What does that really mean? When I study His Word – and look at the world – I realize that Jesus meant exactly what he said. I researched the words Matthew recorded and He said that those who deny Him are more concerned with keeping their earthly lives safe and sound and free from suffering and danger than they are with His Kingdom. (Have you noticed a “suffering” theme in my devotionals lately? That’s not my choice. I believe that God is preparing us for something.) And the life we lose – or destroy according to the Greek – is our souls. When we chose our lives over the Kingdom of God we throw away eternal life with Christ in heaven.

I’ve always heard to lose your life for Christ’s sake means letting go of everything that the world tells us life is all about. Certainly, it’s recognizing that whatever reward this temporal life offers – pleasure, fame, wealth, power, status, or intellect – cannot compare with all Christ offers. But losing our life literally means being willing to die for His Kingdom. We have the examples of the apostles and the martyrs of the faith who died with the name of Jesus on their lips. It’s not only about denying worldly attractions, but it’s being ready to face lions and swords and all manner of suffering – even death. It is trading the small sphere of this world for the much bigger eternal Kingdom of God. So I ask you, Beloved, are you making a contribution to the Kingdom of God or are you all in?

“Lord, I’m Tired”

I looked in the mirror this morning and said, “Who is that tired woman?” And in the same breath, I replied, “It’s me.” I’m not going to lie, we’ve been through some really difficult things in the past several years. I’m worn out. And I know you are too. We’ve all been struggling lately. Between COVID and inflation and our own hard stuff, it’s been a rough time for most of us. This morning a verse from Isaiah came to mind: “ ‘Comfort, comfort my people,’ says your God. ‘Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed . . .’” (Isaiah 40:1-2). “Lord,” I asked, “when will my hard service be completed?”

Isaiah was a prophet and in the context of the verse, the people’s “hard service” was the coming Babylonian captivity that would be “payment” for their sin and idolatry (v. 2). But our sin debt has been paid by Jesus on the cross. God will not charge us again for what Jesus has satisfied. Why are we – New Covenant believers – enduring hard things?

James said we “face trials of many kinds” because they develop perseverance which makes us “mature [or perfect] and complete, not lacking anything” (1:3-4). Paul agreed with James adding, “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us” (Romans 5:4-5).

Most importantly, suffering makes us more like Jesus. The writer of Hebrews said that Jesus was perfected through suffering (5:8-9). (That is the completion of His divine work of salvation.) And Paul continues the idea when he said, “In all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” which is “to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (Romans 8:28-29). All things include suffering.

So back to my question, “When will our hard service be completed?” When the work of suffering is completed and we look more like Jesus than ourselves. Beloved, I know you’re weary, but your trials are not in vain. Let suffering do its perfecting work. You may not see the difference in the mirror, but God will see it in your heart.

Hebrews: How to be a Hero in God’s Eyes

What makes a person a “hero?” That word is thrown around these days without any concept of heroism. I always think of military men and women when I think of heroes. Or teachers facing a battlefield every day. I consider missionaries as heroes and anyone who braves oppression and persecution to preach the gospel. Merriam-Webster says that a hero is a person with “heroic conduct especially as exhibited in fulfilling a high purpose or attaining a noble end” (www.merrian-webster.com). There is no higher purpose or more noble end than bringing people to Christ.

The author of Hebrews grouped together several people that are considered heroes to the people of God – “Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets” (Heb 11:32). I’m going to ask you to stop right here and read Hebrews 11:32-38. Don’t skip it.

Talk about some heroes! These are the Bible stories we tell to children – their feats are renowned and their names are synonymous with courage, valor, bravery, and victory. They faced lions and giants and flames and swords. They fought and won in the power and Name of the Lord. Well not all of them won. Some of them were tortured to death, imprisoned, beaten, impaled, beheaded, and lived destitute lives of abuse and poverty. And the author said they were just as heroic and valued as the warriors.

It’s one of the great conundrums of the Christian faith – why do faithful obedient people face abuse and struggle? Isn’t life in Christ supposed to be goodness and blessings all the time? Let’s ask Him – the one who said, Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the hungry and thirsty (Matt 5:3-6). He said their reward is comfort, filling, even earth and the kingdom of heaven.  Check out what he said about those who endure persecution and insults and character assaults: “Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven (v. 11-12).

Suffering is the norm for the Christ-follower, not an easy-peasy life. I wish I could say I have some magic ball into all the reasons for it. What I do have is faith that God will keep His promises. You can too. Beloved, it’s faith, not heroics that God is looking for. 

A Work in Progress

If there was ever an extra-biblical word of wisdom that I believe with my whole heart it is this. “Do not think, believer, that your sorrows are out of God’s plan; they are necessary parts of it.” Charles Spurgeon. Like you, I have experienced sadness, sorrow, shock, grief, despair, anguish, and brokenness in my life, and often wondered why God would allow it. What good can possibly come from such pain? But I have learned, and am still learning, that these are the tools He uses to shape me into the image of His Son.

When the great Michelangelo was asked how he could take a block of marble and bring from it his beautiful sculpture of David, he replied, “I took my chisel and removed everything that didn’t look like my vision of David.”  That is God’s purpose for our sufferings and sorrows.  God uses them like a hammer and chisel to remove everything that does not look like the vision before Him – the vision of His Son (Rom 8:29).  It is not always pleasant – in fact, it is very painful – but it is necessary because our hearts are often as hard as a block of marble. 

It reminds me of the work of the ancient craftsmen who made the priestly garments for Aaron. The Scripture says that “they hammered out thin sheets of gold and cut threads from them” to weave into the fabric  (Ex 39:3).  Can you imagine the amount of dedication and intricate work that required? Beloved, that’s nothing compared to how God is working on you And He’s not just weaving the glory of His Son into your life. He is making you into His very image.

You may not welcome it at the moment, but one day, when you stand before your Savior you will be so glad for every blow and every tear that made you into the reflection of your King.  The Bible says that Jesus was made perfect through suffering.  Do you think it will be any less for you?  Oh, Beloved, there is great purpose in your pain. As Paul said, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death . . .” (Philippians 3:10).