Celebrations Amidst Suffering: Following Jesus In All Circumstances

As Easter this year is still quite a ways off, may we begin NOW to prepare our hearts and minds for the victory celebration of Jesus conquering the grave. Death could not hold Him; it had no claim on Him (Romans 6:9). He was perfect in every way (Hebrews 7:26-28). Tempted as we each are, yet He never once gave into it (Hebrews 4:15). Thus, when He took the punishment of all humanity upon His shoulders as He was nailed to the cross—for my shame, for your shame—He endured it out of His loyal love for all (Matthew 27:33-56). As Jesus explained to Peter just hours previous in the Garden of Gethsemane as Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, brought the religious leaders and temple guards to arrest Jesus:

 

51And behold, one of those who were with Jesus reached and drew out his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. 52Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. 53“Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?54“How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?”

55At that time Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest Me as you would against a robber? Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me. 56“But all this has taken place to fulfill the Scriptures of the prophets.” Then all the disciples left Him and fled.”

Matthew 26:51-56 (NASB)

 

In a Christian culture that is beginning to find very little, if any, room for suffering in the modern age—may we look to the example of our Risen Lord Jesus. In a day and age where it is more common to look for ways to receive blessing, rather than give it away—may we look to the example of our Risen Lord Jesus. For a Christian by name means “little Christ”. May we remember the words of Jesus:

 

20“Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. 21“But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me. 22“If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23“He who hates Me hates My Father also. 24“If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well. 25“But they have done this to fulfill the word that is written in their Law, ‘THEY HATED ME WITHOUT A CAUSE.’

      26“When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, 27and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.” John 15:20-27 (NASB)

 

Christian church, may we be bold in our witness for Jesus Christ, regardless of our life circumstances. Why? Because Jesus Christ assures us confidently in John 16:33 that sufferings and troubles in this life WILL COME, but to take heart seeing as He has in fact overcome the world. Thank Jesus for His love, His grace and His direction over your life as a believer today. And if you have never actually placed your eternal salvation into the saving reality of Jesus, this is your moment.

You simply pray, LORD JESUS I am a sinner. I have screwed up in this life and have come to find that I cannot be perfect on my own. But, I believe that You are. And that You paid the price of death on a cross for me. Please forgive me of my wrong doings, my offenses and my rebellion against You. I turn away from any other way that I have been relying upon for eternal life. I’m all in, Jesus. I want to only follow You. Please come into my heart and take over my life. Thank You for Your forgiveness. Thank You for Your mercy. Thank You for Your grace. Help me to live for You each day, MY LORD JESUS CHRIST. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

 

“For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,” 2 Timothy 1:7-10 (NASB)

 

 

Blessings In The Fire

 

In a new year, we look to start over, to start fresh in many different ways. We look to fitness, healthier eater, new podcasts and getting rid of old clutter, toxic contacts and outdated clothing to help us start anew. Regardless of what last year may have looked like, a sense of hope is snuggled into the early days of January each year as the calendar turns. Yet, sometimes last year has a way of following us into the new year; and what was hoped to be a fresh start, has really only been a continuation of the same. For such situations, how does one find renewal along the journey? Where does one drink to taste refreshment amidst the toil? To answer these questions we must dive way below the surface of culture and into the Word of God.

 

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NASB)

 

The Bible assures us that if we truly want to experience a blessed life, regardless of the surrounding factors, we need to trust in the LORD. In doing so, we will gasp firm hold of success even amidst difficult or seemingly impossible circumstances due to the fact that the LORD is working on our behalf. The LORD never promised us a trouble free existence, but rather one marked with radical redemption, unabashed hope and unwavering deliverance. The methods of the LORD’s choosing for bringing about such ends within our lives may not always look the way we think they should, but we have to go back to the basics when enduring a difficult time.

 

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him and praise His name. For Yahweh is good, and His love is eternal; His faithfulness endures through all generations.” Psalm 100:4-5 (HCSB)

 

There are times when we just want to get to the proverbial “amen” of a situation, rather than needing to pray and wait upon the LORD’s timing. When the present seems too much to endure under and we find ourselves asking if there is a way to fast forward to the “good part”, hit your knees in prayer. Ladies, as bizarre as it may sound, if we are not willing to wait patiently on the LORD’s perfect timing—meaning to endure extreme discomfort at times while being obedient to the LORD, we miss out on major blessings. How in the world could this be?

 

“I will be with you when you pass through the waters, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you. You will not be scorched when you walk through the fire, and the flame will not burn you.” Isaiah 43:2 (HCSB)

 

You see, the Bible is packed full of examples of consuming fire and colossal waters being used for deliverance. One powerful example is that of the three Hebrew young men, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah who were captured by the Babylonians. These men were prisoners of war and had their names changed by a Babylonian official in hopes of making them all forget the God they served and obeyed (Daniel 1:7). Each of these Hebrew names holds a powerful statement about the God of Israel. But, the famous account of these three men being thrown into the consuming fire is best known by their captured names, which reflected praise to the false gods the young men would not honor. In their unwillingness to bow down and worship a golden stature that the king of Babylon had created, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego were then brought before the king himself to face consequences for sheer defiance to the Babylonian decree. Yet, amidst hardship and attempted brainwashing, these young men would not bend or break, even as death was the consequence for staying true to the God they loved and served. Their powerful and sincere response to king Nebuchadnezzar is an encouragement to anyone going through a trying time where great adversaries seem to surround you on all sides.

 

“If the God we serve exists, then He can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He can rescue us from the power of you, the king. But even if He does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.” Daniel 3:17-18 (HCSB)

 

This flew all over the king, who then quickly ordered for the three young Hebrew men to be thrown into the blazing fire. After Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego had been tied up with their hats and coats still on them, due to the swiftness of the king’s wrath against them, they were taken to the furnace in haste, which had been heated seven times hotter than normal due to the king’s vengeance against the young men’s response. And although those who escorted the three young men into the furnace felt death, due to the fire’s flames, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego experienced something quiet different. After the three had fallen into the furnace, the king was astounded at what his eyes beheld next (Daniel 3:15-23)!

 

“Then King Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in alarm. He said to his advisers, “Didn’t we throw three men, bound, into the fire?”” Yes, of course, Your Majesty,” they replied to the king. He exclaimed, “Look! I see four men, not tied, walking around in the fire unharmed; and the fourth looks like a son of the gods. Nebuchadnezzar then approached the door of the furnace of blazing fire and called: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, you servants of the Most High God–come out!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out of the fire.” Daniel 3:24-26 (HCSB)

 

 

In difficult times, we must remember to go back to the basics. God is all good. God is all loving. God is all knowing. God works things out for our good and His glory, in His infinite and divine timing. We can trust Him to walk us through the heated moments and circumstances that seem as if they may kill us. If we want to truly grasp hold of blessings from God, then we must be bull-headed about where our trust lies and where our hope is found. We must not only confess with our mouths, but also anchor to our hearts the truths of God’s Word; for both blessing and deliverance are found in the same source—that only being Jesus Christ the LORD.

 

“Nebuchadnezzar responded and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him, violating the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God.” Daniel 3:28 (NASB)

 

As we have stepped into a new year, breathe deep in the reality that the LORD Jesus Christ, desires to bring about your deliverance, in just the perfect way. Ladies, if we have trusted Jesus Christ as our personal Savior and have asked for Him to take the lead in our lives, then it is up to us to find opportunities to praise Him amidst the chaos. If we believe the Bible is true, then it is our great pleasure to declare, with boldness, that there is no unrighteousness in the LORD for those who trust in His mighty name (Psalm 92:12-15). It’s a new year, Ladies. What will your response to difficulty be?

 

“The LORD is the One who will go before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not be afraid or discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8 (HCSB)

Then What?

What do you think of when you hear Cartier? Bentley? Personal staff? Private yachts? Multi-million dollar estates? What about, organic living and sustainable stewardship? Filling the pages of your passport? Dating the “hot” guy? Being the center of the social universe? Getting the job? And still, what do you think of in regards to the pursuit of positive thinking? Being a good person? How about the words, nipping, cutting, numbing or altogether altering yourself? If you answered “happiness”, “contentment” or “the life” to any of these, may you be encouraged by the Word of God this very day.

 

Although there is a myriad of ways to “better” ourselves or “make it” in the eyes of the world, if we are looking for fulfillment to embrace us behind any one of these—we will be sadly mistaken—each and every time. Why would this be?

 

Our society trains us to chase “big dreams” as are defined by the world. But, what does one do when such dreams are conquered? When the Cartier is now a few fashion seasons old? Or the evening is finally over and it’s time to go home? Or the passport book has indeed been filled? Or the medication begins to wear off? Then what? We have been trained to want things and passionately pursue them; yet continually come up frustrated when the sensation of pleasure fades away at the end of each conquest. At that time, many return for another hit—whatever that may mean for the individual. And if the same level of ecstasy cannot be reached as before, often times ways of supplementing the pleasure are then implemented within future pursuits. This vicious cycle of yearning for more is nothing new. In fact, King Solomon in all his splendor wrote many wise sayings regarding the human condition within the Holy Bible.

 

“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9 (HCSB)

 

When we realize that our pursuits apart from God were never meant to bring us contentment or lasting happiness, we need to return to the Lord with apologetic hearts. It is when we are willing to acknowledge our love for the things of this world over the things of the Lord, and sincerely repent of this idol worship within our own lives and hearts, that God is then able to redirect our gaze and do something truly new and exciting within our spirits. Listen to these encouraging words offered to those who place their hope in Jesus Christ.

 

“Look, I am about to do something new; even now it is coming. Do you not see it? Indeed, I will make a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19 (HCSB)

 

How faithful is the Lord to take us back each and every time—in order to fill us with the very things we most desire—love that won’t go away, peace that will last beyond the storm, and comfort that will be our companion through all things. Praise God for His mercy and grace within each of our stories!

 

You see, whether you “live big” as defined by the world (as was the case for King Solomon (1 Kings 10:14-22) or Queen Esther (Esther 1-2) or “modestly” as was the case for John the Baptist (Matthew 3:3-4) or the women with only a tiny offering to bring to the temple (Mark 12:41-44)—God can use each of our stories for His glory—right where we are! You see, it is up to each of us to separate our eyes from the world’s idea of “success” and come to grips with the reality that contentment is found in Jesus Christ alone.

 

The Bible teaches that each and every life is valued to God (John 3:16-18). Thus, whether the world would define one as rich or poor, popular or an outcast, the eternal status of each soul is the same. We all are in need of Jesus Christ’s redemptive work (Romans 3:23-26). Regardless of where we are on this spinning rock today, may we fall to our knees and ask the Lord to use our lives to bring Him glory. May we use the gifts, talents and resources allotted to each of us to share of God’s hope, God’s redemption and God’s unabashed love story for each heart from each culture around the world! Ladies, the time is now—and it is time for the Bride of Jesus Christ, the Church, to unite under His banner of grace, forgiveness and new life (Ephesians 2:8, 1 John 1:9 & Romans 6:4). May we breath deep and embrace a fresh dose of peace that does not come from the world, but from our Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:27). May we thank Him anew for placing us in this time in history and ask to be used to speak of His mercy (Isaiah 6:1-8).

 

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying: Who should I send? Who will go for Us? I said: Here I am. Send me.” Isaiah 6:8 (HCSB)

Saturated Fats of the Heart

Have you ever looked in the mirror while trying on new clothes and wondered, “Did that nasty comment make me look fat?” Or as swimsuit season is approaching, “Do these excuses make me look bloated?” Sound crazy? Allow me to explain. Excuses, grudges, nasty words and blame shifting could be described as high saturated fats of the heart. “Oh wow, can you even believe how ridiculous…” or “I wouldn’t have had to act that way, if…” or “I cannot be blamed in this because…”

 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” Hebrews 12:1 (NLT)

 

Whether we realize it or not, excuses for not obeying God’s word is much like carrying extra weight. When we are unwilling to follow God’s lead, and rather, hold onto an excuse, grudge or shift the blame to justify our own actions—we gain weight, spiritually speaking.

 

Walk with me here. If we are unwilling to “pick up our cross” (Luke 9:23) and follow Christ, we will experience the same atrophy spiritually, as we do physically from not treating our body right. Our body is called the “temple of God” (1 Corinthians 6:18-20). In the same way, the most sacred part of us would be our heart—the very essence of who we are. Thus, if we are not willing to obey God in the inner most parts of ourselves, it will show in every other part of our lives. From our spoken and written words to the friends we hang with to even include the kind of guys we are willing to date. It all comes back to obedience to the Lord.

 

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Proverbs 4:23 (NIV)

 

If we are willing to be obedient to the calling of God on our lives, even when it is inconvenient, or even down right annoying, we are honoring God—and keeping in good spiritual health (Acts 17:28)!

 

When we encounter stressful and unexpected circumstances, rather than grabbing a less than healthy snack option or calling a friend to vent, may we be women whom are willing to take our issues to the Lord and lay bare the ugliness of the circumstance before Him (Psalm 37:4-5, Psalm 62:8, Proverbs 3:5 & 1 Peter 5:7). May we be a generation of Christ followers who are willing to pray things out with the Lord on long walks or runs, even before we turn to others for advise. As we are more exposed to the world that the Lord created, we will be reminded that He works all things out in His creation for good (Job 12:10). Thus, we can be assured, simply by observing the natural world, that He will in fact do the same thing in our own stories; no matter how complicated the details may be (Romans 8:28).

 

Sometimes we all just need to hit “pause” on the world for a little while and regain our focus on what really matters. When I am stressed, I need to get alone with the Lord and hash things out. Through long drives or mountainside journaling sessions, I feel free to lay all things bare before the Lord; the good, the bad and the ugly. Sometimes I am balling in anguish. Other times I am screaming in frustration. And sometimes still, I am worshipping and laughing so loud, I think creation itself may be joining along in celebration!

 

The point is, regardless of how you do it, make time to get honest before the Lord—just the two of you. When you do, you will experience a great weight lifted off of your shoulders as you give your circumstances to the Lord through honest communication (Psalm 68:19 & Isaiah 46:4). It is in those private moments with the Lord, that we can then realign our will to His. In doing this, we can lay our excuses down and shatter the blame shifting that may be holding us back from experiencing the spiritual fitness that God has for us. By letting go of the excuses that have been used to justify our behaviors and thought patterns, we are then able to experience life in abundance (Jon 3:17).

 

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10 (NASB)

 

Jesus Christ promises us that He did not just want us to experience life—but to experience it in abundance (John 10:10)! So, when we find ourselves and others we love focusing on excuses or grumbling, let us check ourselves in love. Why? Simply put, our focus should not merely be on the physical world and outward beauty; but on keeping our whole body (e.g. body, mind and spirit) in good health (Deuteronomy 6:5). How do we do this? By keeping close to God through prayer, reading God’s Word and plugging into a Bible study where real life can be shared with other like minded followers of Jesus Christ. With Christian sisters at your side, you all can cheer one another on to memorize encouraging scriptures to recall in hard times (Psalm 23:4, Jeremiah 29:11-13, Jeremiah 33:3, Philippians 4:13, 2 Corinthians 12:9, 1 John 4:9 & Revelation 12:11), work out together, go on missions projects together that bless the hearts of others and just share life together in the name of Jesus Christ.

 

Summer is just around the corner and we all begin to look in the mirror to see if we need to shed a few pounds. In the same way, may we consider if we also need to loose a few excuses, drop a few grudges, and detox our hearts and spirits from blame shifting and nasty words. In its place, may we then pick up a little extra compassion, tenderness and responsiveness of heart! Let’s enjoy this approaching summer with a newfound spiritual fitness that is found in Jesus Christ alone (Psalm 27:14, Psalm 33:20, Psalm 62:1, Psalm 62:5 & Psalm 130:5)!

 

“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.” Ezekiel 36:26 (NLT)