Count It All Joy

This passage from James has never been one of my favorites.

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the Word of Truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.” – JAMES 1:2‭-‬3‭, ‬12‭-‬15‭, ‬17‭-‬18 NASB

I don’t want to hear that I can’t blame my sin on someone – or some thing – other than myself! Yet James said it clearly: “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.I can’t say “the devil made me do it”? I mean, he introduced sin into the world, right? He’s the reason Eve, and Adam, sinned! No, that is flawed. The devil – Satan, the Evil One – did bring in the idea of sin, but we are the ones who choose it over what we know is right. Here’s the thing. Even though we have free will and it is our choice to sin, the LORD in His wisdom gives us a way to circumvent our lack of judgement. Not our free will, but our lack of judgement, our lack of wisdom. The LORD never takes away our free will!

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” – JAMES 1:5 NASB

I almost think that James should have written it this way: “But as we all lack wisdom, let us all ask of God ….”

LORD, I ask for Your wisdom, because I know first-hand how flawed my own thinking is, having experienced the consequences of it. I ask for the faith to not doubt You and to wholly submit myself to Your desires over mine. Amen.

(https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Thinker-sculpture-by-Rodin)

Leading to the Cross

On the Tuesday before Easter Sunday, “Good” Friday looms and our focus is on the suffering of Jesus and the Cross. He has just entered into Jerusalem in triumph; the people welcoming Him with jubilation and celebration, thinking that He is going to take over the government of Judea and become their new king on earth. Such excitement runs among them! What thoughts must have been running through Jesus’ mind? I hope He was able to soak up the adoration and love, in preparation of the ordeal He knew He was facing. He knew His central purpose was to die as the sacrifice for our sins. He didn’t deserve to die – unlike the rest of humankind, Jesus never once in His life on earth committed any sin. Never once; not one. His death on the cross is, without doubt, the worst injustice ever done or to be done in all of earth’s history. This passage describes Jesus’ life beautifully.

“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of GOD, for it is written, “vengeance is mine , I will repay,” says the LORD.” – ROMANS 12:17‭-‬19 NASB

Jesus could have easily retaliated against the soldiers who beat and mocked Him, and He could have punished the Jewish leaders for their unjust treatment of Him. Legions of angels – His Angel Army – were just waiting on a single word from Him to swoop in and rescue Him! Jesus knows His Father, and He trusted in GOD for ultimate justice and revenge. Peter reminds us of our calling as followers of Christ Jesus in this passage he wrote to followers living a far distance from Rome as they were being mocked and harassed for their faith (much as we are today).

“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, Who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth ; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.” – 1 PETER 2:21‭-‬25 NASB

By His woundsall of His suffering was inflicted on the Son of GOD, endured by the only perfect, sinless man for the sin and the sickness of our souls. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of GOD in Him.” – 2 CORINTHIANS 5:21 NASB Jesus is our Guardian, our Overseer; He is watching over us constantly from heaven, and He left us with His Holy Spirit so that we are never alone.

Do I resemble Christ when I am mistreated? Have you accepted what Jesus did for you – and me – on the cross?

“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” – 2 CORINTHIANS 5:20‭ NASB

“My fear doesn’t stand a chance when I’m standing in Your Love!” Thank you, Bethel Music, for this fabulous song, and K-LOVE Radio for playing it!!

A New Heart

“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart [Hebrew a heart of flesh] And I will put My Spirit in you so that you will follow My Decrees and be careful to obey My Regulations.” – Ezekiel 36:26 NLT

GOD promised the Israelites a new heart and a new spirit, and that the Spirit would be in them to help them follow His decrees and regulations. Sound familiar? He promised this to His people, the people closest the His heart, hundreds of years before He sent His Son to earth to save all people.

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” And again He says: “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.” – John 3:3‭, ‬5‭-‬8 NLT

GOD showed Himself to the Israelites many times over the centuries. He started by walking with Adam and Eve in the Garden, and He appeared through signs and miracles such as the burning bush, and pillars of fire and cloud that led the Israelites through the wilderness. He was in His Tabernacle in His Shechinah Glory [literally, His Presence], but the people still wandered away from Him and moved to idols and other gods…..

“For we live by believing and not by seeing.” – 2 Corinthians 5:7 NLT

We will see Christ, the Living LORD, when our physical bodies die, but the Israelites had Him there; His physical presence in the Tabernacle, and still couldn’t see Him. Blinded by the enemy, just as so many of us are today.

“For God made Christ, Who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

LORD, grant me a new heart and a new spirit today. Grant me a tender, responsive heart and fill me with Your Spirit in order to follow Your Desires and Your Will. Amen.

WHY Is This Happening? Why Me?

Have you ever found yourself looking at someone who has had something bad happen to them, and thinking that it’s their fault; it’s because of their actions? I have, I’m guilty …. I have judged more than once, and I’m certain to do it again – and if you try to say you have never had that thought, I will call you out as a liar. Bad things happen to bad people, right? If we are “good,” somehow we will be spared? Try telling that to the elderly woman who was battered and raped and robbed. Tell it to the child who lost their family in a fire. Tell that to the hundreds of thousands who have been through devastating storms and fires and earthquakes; volcano eruptions and floods and tsunamis; tell it to people who have lost every material thing they own, along with family members who are killed. Sure, there are bad people among them, but many of those people were what we would consider ‘good.’

Do we, as the human race, deserve all the bad that happens to us and around us? Oh, friend, we absolutely deserve all of the bad! Are we the ‘better person(s)’ because we were spared? Not at all. JESUS answers the question of whether people who are ‘bad,’ the sinners and the offenders, are the only ones who suffer. We need to take heed of His Words:

“At that very time there were some present who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” ” – Luke 13:1‭-‬5 MRS

In fact, Satan (GOD’s nemesis, the enemy of mankind and all of the angelic beings) delights in tormenting the innocent and the defenseless; especially those who are at the mercy of others. He delights in torment, no matter how good or kind the person might be, and he especially takes pleasure in causing pain to all of GOD’s creation, maiming and disfiguring and hurting.

Because Adam and Eve chose to follow the guiles of the enemy, turning their backs on the ALMIGHTY GOD, simply to sample the forbidden fruit in the Garden…. the ONE tree they were to leave untouched out of all the bounty and beauty of the Garden. It lies in our perversity, our determination to do things our way rather than GOD’s way, that opens the door to let the enemy ceate havoc in our lives and in our world. Why does GOD allow it? I confess to not really understanding the ‘why’s’ and ‘wherefores,’ but I do know this:

Paul writes: “For many live as enemies of the Cross of CHRIST; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a SAVIOR, the LORD JESUS CHRIST. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of His Glory, by the Power that also enables Him to make all things subject to Himself.” – Philippians 3:18‭-‬21 NRSV

Paul’s words were true when he wrote them, and they are true 10x or 100x or 1000x today! Regardless of the damage that may be done to my body, or the loss of all my earthly goods, man – indeed, Satan himself, cannot destroy my soul. Jesus assures me of this:

“Who will separate us from the Love of CHRIST? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the LOVE of GOD in CHRIST JESUS our LORD.” – Romans 8:35‭, ‬38‭-‬39 NRSV

Man may hurt and kill my physical body, but I am not afraid. For I know that no one, nothing, can kill my soul. My LORD has my heart in His very capable Hands!

Image: “Heart or Hand” by Shamieka Dean http://www.shamiekadean.com/hand-or-heart/

‘Perfect’ Christians

Perfect Christians don’t exist, nor do perfect churches, and anyone who tries to say differently is a liar and possibly a fool.

But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to His [JESUS’] disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” JESUS answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” – Luke 5:30‭-‬32 NIV

Do you find a sense of relief in this passage? I do! Knowing that JESUS came for me, the bruised and the broken, full of faults and cracks, it’s amazing, …. and unbelievable??? Why would the King of Heaven, Who created this amazing universe, care about an insignificant being like me? I say inappropriate things, I want to be the center of attention, I keep getting involved with men who just want to use me. I’m selfish and self centered. All these faults, and JESUS Loves me??? I used to be one of those people who thought that I had to be perfect for GOD to Love me. You know, wear the ‘right’ clothes, act the ‘right’ ways, don’t smoke or drink or curse or dance. Be in church for Sunday school and training union (Sunday evening classes) and services, and Wednesday prayer meetings. I was pretty self-righteous and judgemental, and it can still creep up on me at times – I have to be on guard against it.

There’s a song from Hilary Scott (of the group Lady Antebellum) called “Thy Will” that seems so appropriate for me – and probably many others – right now. Here’s the first verse:

I’m so confused
I know I heard you loud and clear
So, I followed through
Somehow I ended up here
I don’t wanna think
I may never understand
That my broken heart is a part of your plan
When I try to pray
All I’ve got is hurt and these four words

Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Thy will be done

Sound like anything you’ve been through, like feelings you’ve felt, thoughts you’ve had? Then I follow it with this beautiful song by Lauren Dagle, who sings from her heart:

I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I’m not enough
Every single lie that tells me I will never measure up
Am I more than just the sum of every high and every low?
Remind me once again just who I am, because I need to know

Taking all I have and now I’m laying it at Your feet
You have every failure God, and You’ll have every victory,

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
You say I am held when I am falling short
When I don’t belong, oh You say that I am Yours
And I believe, oh I believe
What You say of me
I believe

I think that sometimes we think, we believe we are following GOD’s Will, but maybe it becomes more what we want more than what He wills for us, and maybe, sometimes, it is His Will that we go through the hard time so that we remember that He is GOD, not me or you. I don’t like being told I’m wrong, or that what I’ve done wasn’t correct, and I’ve never liked being called out or disciplined. It makes me bristle and want to argue, to show that I was right, dadgummit, even when it’s the LORD GOD Who is doing the discipling! Really, do I honestly think the CREATOR is wrong? Yeah, oops. I think it’s pretty obvious that I am far, far from perfect! But, perfection – and perfectionism – aside, the GLORIOUS Truth is that our GOD, our LORD and KING of Heaven, LOVES me, Loves us, anyway! He Loves us through our imperfections and our brokenness, He Loves us regardless of our silliness and stubbornness – HALLELUJAH! Remember what JESUS said: “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

I thank my GOD every day for the gift of His Salvation, even when I’m felling down because of the situation! Can you say the same? Oh, I pray that you can! All the brokenness, all the junk and bad times probably won’t meticulously change for the better, although our LORD can do anything, especially the things that we see as impossible.

This is what God says to us, and whispers in our ear:

TRUST and OBEY

TRUST and OBEY. Difficult words. Trust defined: “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.” Trust is faith, and faith, well, faith is tough when you have had (or have) pain and betrayal in your life. Then there’s ‘Obey’. The word leaves a bad taste in your mouth when you have no trust, no faith, in the person or persons you are supposed to obey. Parents, siblings, classmates, friends, bosses, the list of people who might require us to obey them is long and varied. I have been betrayed countless times, and I know I have betrayed trust that was placed in me. Betrayal doesn’t have to be deliberate, but the hurt runs deep, making it difficult to trust again. We become guarded in offering our trust and faith, and that impacts every aspect of our lives. Every person who has ever lived or will ever live on this earth – from the first man, Adam, to the newest baby born – will experience betrayal. Even GOD the FATHER, our CREATOR, and JESUS CHRIST, our LORD, have experienced it!

How do we get past it? I submit that there is only one way to escape the unending treadmill of no trust, and that is to look at the perfect record of our LORD. Throughout the recorded history of the thousands of years of earth’s and man’s existence, GOD has never betrayed us. Even in the worst betrayals of man against Him, the FATHER stood with those who chose Him (remember, He gave man Free Will when He created him). He stood beside us even when we persecuted and tortured and murdered His Son, and He allowed it as the Sacrifice to end all sacrifice. He has used the Blood of JESUS to cover and cleanse our sins… past, present, and future, of those who make that choice to Trust in the LORD.

It’s a choice. Making the choice is simple, and it can be difficult for many of us, but it’s still a choice! Whether we like it or not, the truth is that we have to choose between the one who currently rules world or the ONE Who CREATED of the world. The enemy makes the way of world look all glam and glittery and enticing and easy, but it’s all window dressing. Once he gets you and you begin to see how truly ugly it is, it’s really hard to escape from his grasp.

Here’s the GOOD NEWS! It’s never to late to escape! All we have to do is look up, away from the enemy, to see JESUS and realize He has been right there all along, just waiting for you to ask Him for help.

“The Lord is my Strength and my Shield; my heart trusts in Him,and He helps me. My heart leaps for Joy, and with my song I praise Him.” – Psalm 28:7 NIV

Have you looked at JESUS and chosen to trust HIM over the enemy? Listen to the words of the old hymn Trust and Obey, and the way Big Daddy Weave sings it. Verse 2 says:
But we never can prove
The delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay
For the favor He shows
For the joy He bestows
Are for them who will trust and obey

Taste and See

“I will praise the LORD at all times. I will constantly speak His praises. I will boast only in the LORD; let all who are helpless take heart. Come, let us tell of the LORD’s Greatness; let us exalt His Name together. I prayed to the LORD, and He answered me. He freed me from all my fears. Those who look to Him for help will be radiant with Joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces. In my desperation I prayed, and the LORD listened; He saved me from all my troubles. For the angel of the LORD is a guard; He surrounds and defends all who fear him. Taste and see that the LORD is Good. Oh, the Joys of those who take refuge in Him! Fear the LORD, you His godly people, for those who fear Him will have all they need.” – Psalms 34:1‭-‬9 NLT

JESUS CHRIST, my Living LORD! LORD of ALL; CHRIST Alone, Cornerstone.

“This I declare about the LORD: He alone is my Refuge, my Place of Safety; He is my GOD, and I trust Him.” – Psalms 91:2 NLT

I BELIEVE, LORD, help my unbelief! Just like the man in Mark 9:24, I do believe, yet I struggle to believe that the LORD GOD of the Universe has time to deal with my situation. A true oxymoron! I believe, yet I doubt. “Oh, the Joys of those who take refuge in Him!” Why do we doubt that the Almighty, the One Who created us, the Universe, from nothing (not space dust, not primeval sludge…. out of nothing but His Words as He spoke the Universe into being!) – how do we doubt that He, the LORD GOD Who knows how many hairs are on my head, can take care of my petty (in the bigger picture) issues? It’s just so hard to let go!! (No control issues here …. as the people who know me are rolling on the floor laughing!!)

It is hard to trust, especially when a life has been full of broken promises, heartaches, and fractured dreams. GOD knows this. Isn’t HIS life full of them, too? First, His most beautiful creation, the angel He called Lucifer, rebelled against Him: “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!” – Isaiah 14:12 KJV. Then, man, Adam, whom the LORD created to be His companion, who was created in GOD’s Own Image : “So GOD created man in His Own Image, in the Image of GOD created He him; male and female created He them.” – Genesis 1:27 KJV – this man and woman, who were given the world, literally given the world, decided they could do better than the LORD in making their decisions. Over and over, man has disappointed, rebelled against, and cursed GOD. What heartaches we have caused our Creator! We break our promises, we bargain with Him – LORD, I promise I’ll go to church every Sunday / start praying / quit drinking (you get the picture!) if You’ll just do this thing for me…. and I’m as guilty as anyone to try to bargain with Him!

We thiink that He doesn’t answer our prayers when we don’t immediately get the answer we’re looking for, but that’s not true. He always answers every prayer that is prayed, it just isn’t always the answer we want. He might say ‘yes’, He might give an audible ‘no’, or He might say ‘wait’. That’s the answer I seem to get a lot, and I know there is a purpose …. but it doesn’t make the wait any easier! What do we do when He says ‘wait’? Get frustrated, irritable, angry? Truthfully, I’ve been all those things. No, it’s much better to do as the psalmist wrote: “Wait on the LORD, be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.” – Psalms 27:14 KJV

And so I set myself to wait, to pray and to speak His Name; to boast on the LORD, and to taste and see that He is GOOD. Amen!