Bitter Death Births Sweet Beginnings

F8188EC5-9229-4C87-9802-4B63CDBB1C67“If we have put our hope in Christ in this life only, we are of all people most pitiable.  But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”  1Cor15:19

Confusion, chaos, agony, mockery and doom loomed over the crowd on that tragic hour of Christ’s death.  Was there anyone besides Jesus, who put the pieces of the puzzle together to fit the beautiful work of redemption God was about to bring to culmination?  Imagine what it must have been like for Mary, the mother of Jesus or the disciples who loved him dearly.  Could they grasp how such a terrible death could be in line with the majestic will of the King of the Jews? Indeed, it would have been the most depressing thing if Christ has died and that was the end of the story.  But it was not the end, it was merely the climax of the most magnificent love stories ever told.  Yet, this love story is not a fairy tell.  It is a true story about the truest of all loves.  A powerful crazy love that would rock the world and change its course for eternity.

The moment Jesus died the earth quaked, the rocks were split and most amazingly the graves were open! (Mt 27:51) The bodies of the dead saints were raised and appeared by human eyesight to many of the living of that day.  John MacArthur describes it as a foretaste to the future resurrection at Christ return, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And so we will be with the Lord forever.” (1Thess 4:16-17)  Even during those darkest hours of death, our gracious God gives a foretaste of Hope.

Sorrow without hope is unbearable, relentless and unceasing.  Truly, there is no lasting relief for sorrow without the Hope of Christ.  Losing my husband has been most heart-quenching.  I’ve tasted the goodness of marriage in its delightful one-flesh relationship.  Marriage is merely meant to be a foretaste of the mysterious glory of being one with Christ in heaven.  However, I think it is the most wonderful picture we get to behold this side of glory into our anticipated union with Christ.  Our Lord came to take himself a bride who was tainted and ruined by the effects of sin.  He died on the cross to wash it all away, for she was otherwise helpless.  He rose from the grave to make an end forever of sin & death, and embrace her his heavenly kingdom.  One day the dead one Christ will be raised.  It will be the beginning of an eternity in paradise.  We rejoice in the greatest miracle to ever take place—the death and resurrection of Christ, and us with him!

Uprooting Sin in the Soil of Suffering

Uprooting Sin Actual Size“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.  Relieve the troubles of my heart and free me from my anguish.  Look on my afflictions and my distress and take away all my sins.” Psalms 25:16-18

A California Spring storm, found our large back yard covered in growing greenery needing a little bit of TLC.  Remembering how soft soil is after rain, I got to work pulling weeds.  Having lived in Arizona, where it’s mostly dry dessert and grows basically nothing green, I acquired experience with this tenacious plant.  In fact, our pastor there in Kingman would often joke about how evil they are and tell humorous tales of his ongoing battle with them.  On a more serious note, he would liken them to sin.  As I pulled weeds in our back yard after the rain, I thought about this analogy.  If we want to permanently get rid of sin in our lives, we must get to the root and dig deep to get rid of it completely.  The storms in this life soften the soil of our hearts in order that we may uproot sin in our hearts.

Our hearts are the most tender in our moments of calamity.  When all is well in life, we often don’t see our desperate need to draw near to God and to break away from our sin—big or ‘small.’  If we are not crying out to God, it might be that our sin stands in the way.  Never are we so humbled than in our time of most troubling distress, dark loneliness and deepest anguish.  David in this Psalm is in great agony and he shouts out a prayer for deliverance and for relief not only from his trouble, but from his sins.  In verse 15 he realizes that His eyes must be set of the Lord.  David acknowledges that God alone can deliver him from the snare he’s caught in.  When we are in our own pit, do we turn to other things to rescue us?   We may feel like if we only we had money, supportive family, a loving husband or wife, and so on…  we would be delivered from grief.  Indeed, God can certainly use these provisions to comfort us, but it is ultimately He alone that saves.  Any aide we receive has been delivered to us via His loving and gracious hands.

It is even possible that God would use the trial we face itself to accomplish redemption and deliverance. Suffering and persecution help us think lowly about ourselves and highly about our call to holiness.  Our Lord by His example Himself displayed the most magnificent picture of humility when we he was mocked, suffered, bled and died on the cross for the punishment He didn’t deserve.  The big difference is that Jesus never sinned.  He suffered in our place, so that we may never have to bear the unquenchable fire of God’s wrath forever.   Our suffering in this life is an affect of sin, either indirectly as part of the cruse or directly as consequences of wrong choices made by us or others.  In an upcoming book on Josh’s writings, he further explains the biblical causes of suffering, “Many times, our human suffering is the direct result of the cruel meddling of the enemy of our souls. But God wants to use this Satanic suffering in our lives to drive us to Him.”  No matter what causes of the storm we traverse, it can be used by the Lord to strengthen our dependence on Him and get us to root out anything that has been keeping us from drawing closer to Him.  “We can ignore pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” C.S. Lewis

Overcome by a Fearless and Ferocious Love

3B947020-D05F-42FD-8B32-2C9E99499134“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.  For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” 1 John 4:18 ESV

Fear is defined as the unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.  The key work here is ‘belief.” Our fears are based on what we believe.  Then, if we take God at his word that says he loves us so much that he wouldn’t hold back his only son, we will not fear.  If we believe nothing can separate us from the love of God, we will have peace even when facing death, or whatever kind of forces rise against us.   If we are confident that God causes all things, even our heartaches and pain, to work out for good; we will not grow anxious and bitter when he takes our loved ones, our health or our livelihood away.

No matter what tragedy or sorrow assails us in this life, our eternity is secure in God’s loving hands.  Oswald Chambers said it this way, “If you learn to live in the white light of Christ here and now, judgement finally will cause you to delight in the work of God in you.” Our confidence is in His relentless and continual love for us even when we are in the marsh of sin.   He loves us to the point of death, and his love overcame sin’s legal demands and won our adoption into His heavenly adobe.  “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.  And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”  Romans 8:15

Without the genuine love of God, kindled in our hearts, the fear of death controls us.  It robs us of any lasting peace and we seek the fleeting things of his world to pacify the anticipation of death and judgement.   We might turn to medicine, food, shopping, work, ministry, relationships and a variety of other things as God substitutes.  If we trust that our Lord is all wise and good in His appointment of our days, our spouses, our health and so on, we will joyfully say with Paul that to live is Christ and to die is gain.

The introduction of the fascinating story of Katherina and Martin Luther (The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk) opens with a scene of Luther’s death bed. We are told that Luther was away and wrote his wife a letter trying to persuade her not to worry about him, rather to trust God.  “Luther urged Katharina to read the gospel of John and his own Small Catechism, and then joked, ‘For you prefer to worry about me instead of letting God worry, as if he were not almighty and could not create ten Doctor Martins, should the old one drown in the Saale, or burn in the oven, or perish…’”  Luther went on to say, “’I have a caretaker who is better than you and all the angels,’ he consoled his wife, ‘he lies in the cradle and rests on a virgin’s bosom, and yet, nevertheless, he sits at the right hand of God, the almighty Father.  Therefore, be at peace.  Amen.’”  This is advice we can all take to heart.  By worrying, we leak a lack of faith in God’s perfect love.  On the other hand, in our staradfastness, we can display God’s amazing grace and gripping love at work in our lives.

Together in the Sun or in the Storm

0746C6BB-AD15-43DA-822B-F9E8384CC992“That the members may have the same care for one another.  If one member suffers all suffer, together, if one is honored, all rejoice together.  Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” 1Cor12:25-27

During my thorn in the flesh, I have already seen the beauty of God’s work as a rose budding in spring season as God grows not only me, but the saints who have graciously chosen to walk this journey with me.  There were some in the church who had only been acquaintances that have now become closer than a brother as they have wrapped their arms around me and helped carry my burden.  Then, there are friends that the Lord gave me as an inheritance.  These were Josh’s friends whom I had previously not known well, who expressed concern and prayer, and have come to be very dear to my heart.  I count them as valuable gifts to me not only from the Lord, but in a way from Josh.  Through this trial, I have gained friendships that have ministered to me and drawn me closer to the Christ during the fiercest storm.  This is the function of the church.  It is God tangibly seen in action though His body here on earth.  “God has made us and redeemed us not only for Himself but for each other.” John MacArthur

I had the privilege of serving at a leadership conference at our church where 3,500 men from all over the world.  There were about 800 of us volunteers from our church body serving side-by-side.  It was beautiful to see the love of Christ united in service using our various gifts together for one gospel purpose.  I was personally touched by friends, from all over the globe, including France, Italy and London, expressing to their love by their continued prayers, as I was there to pray and serve them! It was immensely uplifting to see saints in tears when I shared the different ways the God has answered prayer.  It’s been almost one year since my husband went heaven, yet the body of Christ is still sharing in my suffering as well as my rejoicing.  It has genuinely been one of the riches blessings I’ve ever received!  “It’s strange to say, but it truly is a wonderful thing to be in pain and hardship and to truly smile with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ—to rejoice and to weep at the same time.  That’s true faith.” (Adam Holland, Anchored in the Storm)

Sweet friends have taken my burdens as well as my joys and made them their own.  Many have helped lift the weight off my  shoulders when I was worn, and have been a listening ear to share my gladness of heart when I’ve had nobody by my side to share with.  The church body has made all the difference during times of my own pain, betrayal, and loneliness.  Sadly, I’ve discovered fair-weathered friends of which a sister likened to a shadow that is right there besides us when the sun is out, but as soon as it gets dark, disappear.  I pray we would not be a mere shadow to our fellow members of Christ.  May we be there to lift one another up, rain or shine.

Heavenly Father we praise you for your wonderful redemption story and for choosing us to be your holy bride.  Thank you for Christ who is our head and holds us together.  May we be tightly knitted together in love and truth toward the upward call you have bestowed on us.  Lord, give us hearts to weep with the heartbroken and rejoice with those whose dreams come true, even if ours seem to silently wither away.  We bask in the promise that you will never leave nor forsake us because of Christ.  In His name.

Tossed-about Till Totally Transformed

08A9F47E-C47C-49C5-A1DD-A10DCBFC7F33“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 1 Cor 12:10 ESV

Driven by our hearts deepest desired destination, we may be willing to withstand any storm.  Yet, when life tosses us with unexpected twists and turns in directions we don’t like, we can easily become bitter and despise our circumstances or our even our captain.  We must then realize Christ’s power is best displayed only through the perfecting work of trials when we are most vulnerable.  It may not take the pain away; but we can become anchored by that purpose—to glorify Him.

Losing my husband was not something I could have ever imagined prior to sitting in a doctor’s office and seeing the terrified and puzzled look on the doctor’s face one ordinary fall day of 2016.  I wanted to yell at this young lady and tell her she was wrong.  We hoped the test were somehow a mistake.  Yet, our faith in Christ and His loving example on the cross, kept us going strong and even made us graciously able to witness lovingly to the lost around us.  On our own, we make so many blunders.  However, God never makes mistakes in what he allows into our lives.  Moreover, he still uses our mistakes to teach us invaluable lessons in life. When we are out of resources, this draws us to the one who possesses all, knows is all and hold us all in His omnipotent strong arms.   In his commentary, MacArthur puts it frankly, “It is when believers are out of answers, confidence, and strength, with no where else to turn but to God that they are in a position to be most effective.”

Therefore, let us not jump ship or become embittered because of hardships, but embrace them as instruments to showcase God’s redemptive story.  This requires laying our wills down and submitting to His plan for our lives while being in the dark as to what that may entail.  We may never know the plans or reasons why God has allowed our trials.  Even so, we are to be confident in the loving and kind character of God and His promise to produce good from them.  (Romans 8:28) “Focusing all one’s efforts on removing difficulties is not the answer.  Believers need to embrace the trials God allows them to undergo, knowing that those trials reveal their character, humble them, draw them closer to God, and allow Him to display His grace and power in their lives.” MacArthur

Heavenly Father, thou are the only good in us… our strength comes from our weaknesses and your power working  within them.  On our own we are so frail and broken.  Thank you that you mend these shattered pieces and make us whole in Christ.  You are all sufficient and ever present in suffering and trials.  Please forgive us when we seek to remove them, more than we seek your face; or when we start to rely on our own efforts.  Please give us genuine humility and fervent love so that when we are weary we may still steadily run the race with our eyes set on you alone as our prize.  In Jesus’ name.