Learning Through Suffering

Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered (Hebrews 5:8 NASB).pexels-photo-551590

Was it only at Gethsemane and the cross that the Son of Man suffered and therefore learned obedience? Or was He learning it all along?

How was junior high for Him? Was He rejected, accepted, or loved by His peers? As a toddler, did He get into trouble for wandering off? When did He first understand enough to respond in obedience to Mary or Joseph’s commands? As a ten-year-old, ever feel sad when He saw injustice, poverty, or illness, and knew that it wasn’t His time yet to make things right? That he had the power to heal, but didn’t because He was learning obedience to His Father? What about His temptation in the wilderness?

Was it a shock to Mary when she had a second child and found that he had a sin nature? Did Jesus’ sibs feel jealousy toward Him? Was He given preferential treatment because He was the firstborn, or because He was such a goody-goody? I suspect Jesus’ suffering began at conception—the Creator of the space of the universe confined to the space of a womb.

Why am I surprised when someone reacts positively during a trial? I expect him or her to struggle, to rage, to cry and complain. But when someone gives glory to God and rejoices in the suffering, I’m suspect. Is she for real!? Perhaps it’s because I know my own heart. . . .

Why do I/we believe that we don’t deserve sorrow and pain? Our behavior is often an attempt at pain denial or pain removal. When is pain part of God’s plan and we should embrace it and lean into it?

Past emotional pain—remove it. Present pain—lean into it.

There’s always a purpose for our suffering . . . God never wastes our pain. Jesus learned obedience. What have you learned?

Faithful till the day I Die – Lessons from Joshua

mountainThere are few major characters in the Bible whose character flaws are not mentioned. Joshua happens to be one of them. He was on Mount Sinai with Moses AND he was in the tent of meeting with him when Moses spoke to God face to face. In fact, Scripture says that when Moses left that tent, Joshua did not leave. This young man, son of Nun, quietly ministered to Moses for 40 years as his right hand man. He observed firsthand how God interacted with his 80+-year-old mentor, and he learned his lessons well in how to trust and have faith.

I wonder if Joshua ever struggled in the beginning with jealousy over Moses’ chosen leadership role? And later did he think, “No way would I want that job!” But God rewards his faithfulness and places him in that very position after Moses dies. I wonder if he knew he was being groomed for this job?

Can I be faithful in the role God has placed me, trusting that it’s all for a purpose–no matter how long it takes?

Gifts to Men

When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men. (Ephesians 4:8)

When Jesus returned to heaven, He gave gifts to men. I’m not sure exactly what gifts the Apostle Paul was referring to, but it got me to thinking. When He chooses one person to have a good voice and another to excel at math, it’s a gift. As children, we wanted equal gifts, and we wanted what our peers had. As adults, we want what our family, friends, or neighbors have. We want life to be equal and fair. I suppose everybody struggles with this on some level.

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Imagine it’s Christmas morning and Jesus is handing out gifts. Are you jealous of what your brother or sister got? Why? Perhaps theirs is the thing you wanted and didn’t get or you didn’t like what you got.

But I look down at my gift and discover it’s tailored just for me. It’s exactly what I needed. It’s perfect for what I wanted. I’m delighted with His choice—because He knows me and He knows my heart. He created me, and He knows what will give me pleasure. But even more than that, He knows that I’ll use the gift that He’s given me to minister to others in order to bring Him glory. And in this way, my brothers and sisters can benefit from it. And then they share their gifts with me, and I benefit.

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? (Matthew 7:11)

Gary Chapman has made popular The Five Love Languages, one of which is “gift-giving.” Giving is not my first love language, so I would do well to observe how the Father does it. God is an extravagant gift-giver. I cannot give Him anything in return that would equal His gifts. Therefore, it is never an exchange of gifts (like we tend to do at Christmastime). I am the child handing Him a dandelion, when He has given me a botanical flower garden. He even made the wildflower that I’m offering to Him.

But . . . just as I delighted in receiving a dandelion from my [then] two-year-old Grandson Ben, offered in love and innocence, God delights in me when I offer to Him my gifts—not just in gratitude—but out of love. I choose to give Him my heart, and His heart melts, just as mine does when Ben or Jack give me something of themselves, like a picture for my bulletin board.

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Nativity by Ben Wallace, age 5

What Is Joy?

Relax Woman looking sea on the beach

Contentment for the body = pleasure.
Contentment for the soul = happiness.
Contentment for the spirit = joy. (Pastor Allen Jackson, WOC)

I asked my daughter Katie if she would rather have peace or would she rather have joy? Both are fruits of the spirit. Katie said she would opt for joy, while I gravitate toward peace, but I think they’re related somehow.

I know I need to put more joy into my life. I’m way too serious. (Scott says his job in life is to keep life interesting for me). But what is joy exactly? Elation? Exuberance? People try to differentiate between joy and happiness saying happiness is dependent on circumstances while joy is not. That joy is not an emotion. Yet I experience a lot of emotion when I feel joy.

Joy is running, skipping, dancing, doing cartwheels in wild abandonment. Joy is swinging from a vine and feeling your stomach drop. Sadness and sorrow are on a lower, earthly plane. Joy is above the earth, on a supernatural plane that sees heaven, an absence of pain, a future and at hope. It’s flying above the clouds. It’s mental; it’s emotional; it’s physical. And it’s spiritual when it includes God. He invites me to enjoy Him!

I have told you these things [about abiding in Him] that my joy and delight may be in you, and that your joy and gladness may be full measure and complete and overflowing (John 15:11).

I see Joy as a little girl laughing and dancing in the wind just before the onset of a storm, leaves swirling at her feet, the air heavy with  impending rain. As I watch, the scene decelerates to slow motion, and Joy is alone in the universe. The surroundings fade away and she hears singing; she’s suspended in midair, caught in light by a force that is greater than herself, cocooned, as it were, in softness and delight, comfort and safety, rocked gently back and forth as a baby on a bed of angel wings. Total calm; perfect peace. Joy.

Joy is defined as “Someone is glad to be with me.”
Joy is high energy; shalom is quiet and low-energy.
Joy is relational; shalom is a cozy sense that everything is right.
(Joy Starts Here, by Jim Wilder, et. al.)

Joy to the World, the Lord Is Come.

On Sabbath Rest

Tell the Israelites, ‘Surely you must keep my Sabbaths, for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you’ (Exodus 31:13).

When I was a child, my parents had strict rules about what we were permitted to do on Sunday: No work, no traveling, no board games, no knitting, no lawn-mowing, no shopping, etc. etc. We were told that we were keeping the Sabbath day holy or “set apart” as a day of worship. But when I discovered that the fourth commandment actually referred to Friday sundown to Saturday sundown, I became quite confused.

And then I read this verse in Exodus that says the Sabbaths (plural) were intended for a sign between God and the Jews. Does this mean that, as a Gentile, I need to keep the Ten Commandments, minus one?

To confuse the matter even more, we’re told in Colossians 2:16 (NIV): Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.

In 1989 when we moved into our house on 8th Street in Holland, Michigan, I noticed a drain in the center of the attached garage. One benefit of garage drains, we were told, was for Dutchmen to be able to wash their cars on Sunday without being seen by their neighbors. Apparently judgment was alive and well!

One day as I was pondering this subject, I came across this quote: “Rest is not something one does; it is Someone one knows” (Yashanet.com). Jesus is my Sabbath rest! That means that I can be in a perpetual state of rest. I don’t have to wait for Day #7 for a forced time of inactivity or cessation from work. My soul can be at rest 24-7 if I live by faith, obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit, place my cares in God’s hands, and stay connected to Him. This removes the guilt of trying to figure out what is or what isn’t classified as work.

Is there a physical law of nature that says we benefit from a day of rest? Yes, of course. My body belongs to God, and I’m to take care of it in a healthy way, not abuse it or overwork it perpetually by choice or by drive or by emotion. Working for the kingdom can be stressful but peaceful. Resting can be hard work too. A forced rest due to a broken leg or a hospital stay can be less than peaceful. It’s the heart attitude that determines how well we rest.church-in-the-middle-of-the-field_1088-86

Jesus, I am resting, resting,
In the joy of what Thou art.
I am finding out the greatness of thy loving heart.

 

The Responsibility Backpack

Responsibility (n): a moral obligation to behave correctly toward or in respect of; a thing that one is required to do as part of a job, role, or legal obligation

Responsibility is a backpack. It’s light if nothing is in it. But if another person inserts a nature-climbing-backpack-mountain-cloud_1320-154load of rocks, it feels like there’s nothing I can do, except carry it. I may release resentment, but I’m still carrying the load because the person is unable to do so right now. Tired. Tiring. Willing—because I have no choice, but hard nonetheless.

Oh, I could take the backpack off and lay it down, but that’s not really an option. Remember: “He’s not heavy; he’s my brother.” But that thought doesn’t help. The rocks are still heavy on my back. “Let Jesus carry it” doesn’t cut it either. I believe He’s the One who put them there in the first place! It’s my responsibility.

Why do I feel like I need to bow my soul in sympathy when a hurting person bares her heart to me? When a natural disaster occurs? When someone is dying or sick or depressed? I don’t want to be blasé about it, but I also can’t carry the weight and the pain for another person.

But it’s when I feel something that I spring into action. If I don’t feel, does that mean I don’t care? If I don’t care, will I spring into action? Is it a trigger or a prompting of the Holy Spirit?

What am I believing? That I need to curb my emotions and inner joy when I’m working with depressed and wounded people? It would be like joking at a funeral parlor—disrespectful of the mourners. But in the process, I weigh down my own soul.

The Scriptures say, Carry each other’s burdens (Gal. 6:2) AND Each one should carry their own load (Gal. 6:5). So which is it: carry my own or carry another’s? When I’m praying with someone, I’ve agreed to take their load for a bit, but it can get heavy after a while.

So . . . when a person I’m ministering to hands me her burden, it’s okay if it’s only a backpack or a lunch basket. But when she hands me a boulder that I’m unable to lift, I can’t just walk away and say, “Sorry, that’s your problem.” Instead, I can stop, ask the person what she wants to do with her boulder, and then pray for God to lift it for her.

Or . . . if a person hands me her backpack, after a while I can hand it back to her and say, “I can’t carry it for you anymore. You carry it, because when it’s in your hands, you can then make the choice to hand it to Jesus instead.”

As soon as I come to the end of the trail, I can put this backpack down. But then I must pick up another and start down another trail. There’s no break; no rest in between. And not many rest stops along the trail.

Jesus says, “I can carry you as well as your backpack.”

And so, dear Lord, I ask today that You carry me. I am weary, tired, worn out, weak. I need a blessing today, a miracle, some cool clear water to refresh me.

Jesus says, “I am your Sabbath rest.” And that is enough.

(From my 2007 Journal)

On Journaling

Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth;
Keep watch over the door of my lips (Psalm 141:3 NASB).

Beautiful young woman covering her mouth with hand. Isolated.

Who will read these pages when I’m dead and gone? Who will care? My family? A friend or two? Who will have access to them? Anyone? I know of one fellow journaler who lost her life’s words in a house fire. How would I feel about that?

Radio Pastor Donald Cole says that, unless you are a Billy Graham, your sphere of influence will only be toward a handful of people. That’s true, but the ripple effect and exponential possibilities make it imperative for us to be faithful in our spheres of influence.

Should I destroy some of my journals? Blot out any offensive thoughts? If I cannot be honest in my writing, I cannot be honest with myself.

Lord, I can only pray that my words will not harm anyone. Please help me keep a watch over the door of my lips.

God’s Gifting

See, I have called by name Bezalel . . . “I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship, to make artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze, and in the cutting of for settings, and in the carving of wood, that he may work in all kinds of craftsmanship. Ex. 31:2-5 (NASB)

I think when my big sister was birthed into this world, she sucked out all the creative genes from my mother’s womb and left me with nothing but stick figures for drawing ability. It seems rather unfair to me! Why should she get all the talent?

God called Bezalel by name, filled him with His spirit, and gave him amazing artistic knowledge. And only a few were chosen out of all the tribes of Israel to do this specific work for the wilderness tabernacle. The rest were chosen for other tasks. God is the one who gives the artist his/her ability. It is God who chooses who gets what. We are not to be jealous of each other’s gifts and talents. Neither are we to call God unfair in His treatment of man. I belong to God. He may gift me and use me as He wishes.

In truth, I’m immensely proud of my big sister’s accomplishments. I am delighted to be associated with a master craftswoman. Want to see some of her work? Go to Gourdsbygrace.com

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Pursuing Peace

Deep in an upstairs closet hides a large plastic tote crammed with journals I have kept since 1966. My father started this journey when he gave me a small, green diary in which I nightly recorded all the trivial events of my day. Later I discovered the power of keeping track of my inner thought life, my spiritual growth, my struggles with handling the daily life of raising three girls, teaching school, and figuring out who I was meant to be (that happened when my life turned upside down on July 3, 2001).

It seemed such a shame to bury all that experiential wisdom I’d gained, and I wanted a way to share it with my girls, but I knew they’d never have time in the busyness of their own lives to plow through all the years I’ve recorded. So here you go, girls, distilled into bite-size chunks for your edification and encouragement. And if anyone else wants to come along with us in this journey, you’re welcome to join in.

For starters, here are my two life verses. Everything I do and everything that’s meaningful to me is anchored in my pursuit of relationship with God. Be still inside, stay focused on Him, trust Him in all things, and you’ll be at peace.

Be still, and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10a).

Thou wilt keep him [her] in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he [she] trusteth in thee (Isaiah 26:3).

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