Wow! Look What I Found!

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“Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.”  Romans 16:3

I’m going to look at Priscilla today.  But I’m not going to just look at Priscilla.  Because when I look at Priscilla, I have to also take in Aquila, her husband.  We first learn about Aquila in Acts 18 when Paul meets him with Priscilla.  Here are the words used, “After these things Paul departed from Athens and came to Corinth; and found a certain Jew named Aquila…”  Here’s the thing that stopped me.  It’s just a word.  It’s just a little word.  Paul found Aquila.  Was he looking for him?  Did he just happen upon him and say, “Wow, look what I found!” ?

I guess I’m thinking about this word found because of people that You have placed in my life.  And I know that I never could have found them in my own efforts.  And I know that my life is not and will never be the same again because You allowed me to “find” them.  So I looked into this word “found” from the Greek “heurisko.”  The fact is that it doesn’t mean find in the sense that we think about it.  It’s not about my effort and ability at all.  Skip Moen shares, “heurisko generally means ‘to find without seeking, to come upon as though by accident, to meet with.'”  We find it in Matthew 11:29 where Jesus says, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.”

On the other hand, heurisko can mean to find because you are diligently searching.  We see that in this verse, “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)  So what are we seeing here?  I think it’s a combination. I think when we are diligently searching for God’s will with hearts that lean toward Him, that He draws us together in ways that would never be possible on our own.  And I think that’s what happened here.  God drew Paul, Aquila, and Priscilla together because He knew their hearts and He knew they needed each other.  It was like they were His puzzle pieces and He was fitting them together for the beauty and glory of the picture He was in the process of painting.  And He’s still painting today and still fitting us together.

So here is this God story being pieced together, person by person, believer by believer.  As Jesus is allowed to change people, He links them together for the work He has purposed them to do.  And speaking of work, Paul and Aquila and Priscilla had something more in common besides their heart for the truth.  They were tent makers.  So they got really personal and lived together and worked together.  And I’m assuming, that as Paul reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, that Aquila and Priscilla were amongst those that had been persuaded of Jesus Christ.

Imagine that.  Imagine being so intimately personal with someone that You would stay in their house, eat with them, work with them, and go to synagogue with them.  You would have time to talk about these things at home and at work.  You could search things out in Scripture.  And at the same time, You could see this person’s life.  You could see if rivers of living water were flowing from him.  You could see something different about him.   And you could see Jesus more clearly because He was so close.  And all along you weren’t specifically looking for it to happen this way.  But you were looking, looking really hard to find God, and then He shows himself through this man He places in your life and entwines your lives with his.

So Paul was in the area for a while because God had many who would believe in that area.  And when Paul readied to leave and go into Syria, Priscilla and Aquila went with him.  Now notice I placed Priscilla’s name first.  That’s because Scripture does here also.  In the six times that Aquila and Priscilla are mentioned by name, three times Aquila is listed first and three time Priscilla is listed first.  I wonder if that is because one was as valued a treasure as the other in Paul’s eyes and in Your eyes, Lord?  I mean, tradition is to list the man’s name first, isn’t it?  So why not here?

Aquila and Priscilla are left in Ephesus to continue the work while Paul goes on.  While in Ephesus, this couple meets Apollos, a believer who wasn’t aware of the whole truth of Christ.  He was fervent in spirit and gifted as a teacher.  After Aquila and Priscilla hear him speak, they hear his heart and invite him into their life so that he can hear the way of God more completely.  So, just as Paul equipped them, they equipped him.  Just as they offered their full hospitality, their whole lives to Paul and his benefit, so they offered theirs to Apollos.  And God used Apollos mightily.

When writing to the church in Rome, Paul says, “Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.  Likewise greet the church that is in their house.”  Wow!  Let’s not whitewash hospitality, because this is what it really looks like in God’s eyes.  This is Christian living.  This is Christian loving.  Would I lay down my own neck for others like this?  Would others be drawn to Christ through me?  Is this what my house is like?  Is this what my life is like?  How much of myself am I willing to invest in others?  How personal am I willing to get?

In the letter to the Corinthians Paul writes, “The churches of Asia salute you.  Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.”  It doesn’t stop.  It just keeps on going.  And the love doesn’t stop in their own house or their own church.  It reaches out to others.  And they never stop loving the ones they loved already.  No one stops being a part of their life or their prayers.  Their family just keeps growing.

And when Paul writes to Timothy, he can’t help but think about them again as he says, “Salute Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus.”  Can you imagine that.  I imagine that Priscilla and Aquila were such transparent friends and brothers and sisters in Christ to Paul, that sometimes he probably just got this image of something they had said or done that just endeared them to him.  Sometimes, it was thinking about Priscilla and how she had shown her love in some special way.  And her name popped out first.  And sometimes he couldn’t help but think of Aquila and smile.  And his name popped out first.

I haven’t really said much about Priscilla and that’s ok.  Paul’s testimony of her says enough.  It wasn’t just about Priscilla.  Priscilla loved God.  She loved others.  She demonstrated that fully with her life and possessions and time.  Aquila loved God.  He loved others.  He demonstrated that fully with his life and possessions and time.  Aquila and Priscilla were husband and wife.  They were husband and wife in the sense that God created them to be.  They were being the co-heirs that God created them to be.  They were walking in love, one to another.  I think they understood that it wasn’t about heirarchy, but about mutual submission, and that they needed each other because one’s strengths would compliment the other’s weaknesses and vice versa.  I think they each knew what it was to esteem others as more valuable than yourself and I think they applied it within their family as well as outside of it.

I greatly admire Priscilla, not because of strength, but because of her love and having eyes open to see God’s hand in people’s lives.  I greatly admire Aquila, not because of strength, but because of his love and having eyes open to see God’s hand in people’s lives.  I admire Priscilla and Aquila because they got what it was to work together as a God team.  And look at the effects!  I think Priscilla knew how to be an effective left wing of the plane and Aquila knew how to be an effective right wing.  I think they knew how to work the left hand and right hand together on the same body.  And I think each wing valued and appreciated the other.  I think each hand knew the gift the other hand was.  I think this is what ezer kenegdo, the help meet for Adam, for that person who it isn’t good to be alone for, looks like in action from both angles.  I think this is what being co-heirs in Christ looks like.  And it effects everyone it touches, men and whole churches of people.  And it empowers other believers because they see and hear Christ in the picture and in the life.

Maybe I interject too much of what I think but I think that we need to really think about these things.  I think we really need to take time, lots of time, to think about Your expectations and Your desires, Lord, and what delights You in a person.  I think we need to take time to find out what You really mean and not just what we think You mean or what our church culture or culture or traditions have taught us You mean.  I think we need to take time to stop and think about what was commendable or not commendable before You and others in the lives of these real people, people who succeeded sometimes and stumbled at other times and sometimes fell.  These are God stories written for our benefit, not for us to feel good, but for us to understand what it looks like to draw close to You and how to do it.  It’s not guidelines or examples of living either.  It’s an invitation.  It’s an all out invitation to live like them in You only I get to be the me in You that You created me to be.  It’s a time to think and to act upon those thoughts.

Lord, I am so grateful for Your invitation to know You and join with You and to be joined with You and in You.  I am also so grateful for the example of a husband and wife team in You that You have shared.  That’s my prayer, Lord, that You would do that in our life.  That as husbands and wives, we would value each other so much that we would want to and delight in working together as a God team.  I pray that we would each know when to yield to the other, since each brings in their own special and unique giftings, knowledge, and perspective.  I pray that we would esteem each other above our selves.  I pray that we would love each other and that love would flow out to those around us.  I pray we would be each others best friend and we would rejoice in Your presence and Your work together.  I pray that we would be so filled with Your love that it would just overflow to others.

So, yes, I like this story.  I like this God story a lot.  I like that we are invited to experience You and this kind of relationship for ourselves.  I like that You want us to think on these things and think about You and think about others who are thinking about You.  I can’t help thinking about it and I can’t help talking about it.  All I can say is, “Wow!  Look what I found!”

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No Matter the Circumstances

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Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  Philippians 4:11

Here’s my question today, “How long does it take to learn to be content?”  Funny question?  But it really is my question.  When do I really learn that lesson?  How long did it take Paul?  Well, I’m not really sure but I looked into his life timeline.  He was converted by the Lord on the road to Damascus and placed his trust in the Lord around 34 A.D.  And this letter to the Philippian believers was written somewhere around 61-63 A.D.  That’s about 27 years.  Not only is that 27 years but it’s 27 hard years from the start.

Before his conversion, Paul probably had everything people of his day wanted.  He had a political and religious standing of importance in the community, respect, money, power.  What did he have after his conversion, after he placed his trust in You, Lord?  I think he started out with some solitude with You in Arabia for maybe 3 years.  And at the beginning of his conversion, he was already an outcast.  People were afraid of him so it wasn’t like there were welcome arms all around.  On his return, his preaching and teaching get him drummed out of cities, persecuted, beaten, chased.  He was shipwrecked and imprisoned.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

To get the picture, I want to listen to Paul’s own words.  As a minister of Christ, Paul speaks of superabundant labours,  stripes beyond measure, superabundant prison visits, and even death many times.  To be in danger of death is one thing, but to be left for dead or even believe God revived You from the dead is a whole deeper story, and I think that’s also what Paul has experienced.  He goes on, “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.  Three times I was beaten with rods.  Once I was stoned.  Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold exposure.   And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”  Yeah.  Paul didn’t learn contentment all at once.  And to learn it, You, Lord, had to take him through some pretty rough stuff.  I suppose if I want to know supernatural contentment, I need to learn to go through supernatural circumstances.

See, You God, are Supernatural.  If I want to experience You, I have to learn how to live in the Supernatural.  If I can do it on my own, then that’s exactly what I’m doing, doing it on my own.  But I can’t do supernatural on my own.  Only You can.  And I can only do that if You do it in me.

If I want to come to the point in my life of living life supernaturally in and through You, then I have to let You bring supernatural situations into my life.  And I have to respond rightly to them.  I have to begin seeing every circumstance as Your circumstance designed for my benefit and Your glory.

I have to learn to live a life in need, not so I can call on others, but so I can learn to be dependent on You.  And so that in that dependence, I can learn to be confident and content in You.   This word for content in Greek is “autarkes.”  It means “self complacent, contented.”  Get this, it implies self-sufficient.  What?!  How can I be dependent and self-sufficient at the same time?  Isn’t something wrong here?

Well, let’s understand this idea of self-sufficiency here.  Skip Moen relates it as “the positive sense of being satisfied in mind and disposition.”  And get this, it’s not passive.  I have to make it happen.  The two words that best express this idea in Hebrew are “avah” and “Ya’al.”  Here is more of what Skip has to share about their meaning. “Both words convey the idea of choosing.  ‘Avah is about being positively inclined to respond.  Ya’al is about making a decision to act.  Neither one conveys the idea of simply waiting around for something.  To be content is to choose a certain frame of mind, a certain kind of external activity, a certain way of being in the world.  That’s why contentment has to be learned.”

Paul had learned to choose Your sufficiency.  His frame of mind in all these circumstances, good or bad, was centered on You.  His activity in the midst of the trials was centered on You.  His way of being in the midst of much or little was centered on You.  You were his Sufficiency so he was sufficient and all his needs were sufficient because You were what He needed most and he learned to keep his focus on You.  Lord, You warned us it was going to be rough.  You said that in this life there would be troubles, but You also promised us Your peace if we learned to remain in Your focus, in You.  Why did You tell me about the rough times I should expect in this world as Your follower?  “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Tribulation, “thlipsis,” is ‘back-breaking” pressure.  As Your follower, You are preparing me for the supernatural pressure that comes with living in You in a foreign territory, under an enemy who is looking to destroy and plunder everything that belongs to You.  In the world I’m guaranteed tribulation and pressure.  But in You I’m guaranteed peace.  Now the Greek word for peace is “eirene.”  And the Greek meaning has the connotation of the absence of war, of prosperity, good health, and well-being.  But That’s not what Jesus is talking about here.  It’s not what Paul has learned and is teaching us about.  See, the Hebrew notion in this Greek expression comes out of “shalom.”  “Shalom begins with right relationships because right relationships determine all the other factors in life.  Fixing my retirement plan will not improve my relationship with my wife, but improving my relationship with my wife will certainly have an effect on my retirement plan.” (Skip Moen)  So, having a right relationship with Jesus will determine all the other factors in my life.

I can be courageous in the middle of the deepest pressure because I am under the goodness and power of my Everlasting God.  You already overcame it all!  You already conquered!  All of Your promises are true.  You will continue this glorious, supernatural work You have begun in me!  Whether I have food or no food, You remain good and You remain with me.  Will I remain in You?  Whether I am persecuted or at ease, You remain good and You remain with me.  Will I remain in You?  Whether I live or I die, will I still insist that You are good and You are with me?  Will I remain in You?  I was created to be an overcomer because my God is an overcomer.  Who will my focus be in?  How will I live?  How will I act?  How will I think?  How will I respond?

Lord, I must learn the lesson that Paul learned.  You must take me through hardship so that I will learn.  I want to be able to know exactly where Paul is coming from and be able to say with him, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through HIm who strengthens me.”  Yes, it’s not because someone, or even You MADE Paul bring himself low, or abound.  He learned through You to bring himself to be grateful and in You in those low circumstances.  And in the abundance, he learned to bring himself under You and be grateful also.  He learned the secret.  The secret was that You, Lord, are the sufficience in every situation, whether bounty or dire need.

Yes, “such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.  Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant…”  See, You love a cheerful giver, Lord, because You are a cheerful giver to the max.  “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.  As it is written, ‘He has distributed freely, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.’ He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.  You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.  For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:8-12)

Well, Lord, Your Word took me exactly where I was hoping it would take me today.  Straight to a heart of thankfulness.  Because in the midst of all these hard things and all these pressures, I need to learn to ever be thankful.  Because no matter what, You have given me and continually give me the greatest gift of all, a relationship with You, my God!  So, when the money doesn’t come, thank You, Lord, I am Yours.  And when the money comes, thank You, Lord, I am Yours.  And when things fall apart around me, thank You, Lord, You hold me together in You.  And when things are just honky-dory, thank You, Lord, because You are better than the best thing in my life.  So, Lord, teach me this contentment that Paul learned to experience in You.  And let my praise in and for You never cease to usher from my lips and heart no matter the circumstances.

Consumed in a Song

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“Sing unto the Lord, all the earth; show forth from day to day His salvation.”  1 Chronicles 16:23

Singing.  That’s the word that You, Lord, layed on my heart today.  Why sing?  What’s so important about singing?  If singing wasn’t important, then why is the word “sing” used in 102 verses in Scripture?  As a matter of fact, the very first verse that uses the word sing is Exodus 15:1.  The Israelites had just been delivered out of 200 years of pain and slavery and miraculously crossed the Red Sea and watched God defeat Pharoah’s army before their very eyes.  “Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord, and spoke saying, ‘I will sing unto the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider has He thrown into the sea… ‘”  And I’m thinking that singing is not just a suggestion but that singing is a necessity in my spiritual walk with You, Lord.

Now, I can’t help but look back and find out if the Hebrew idea of singing was just like ours or if there might have been something else to it.  And I found some things that don’t suprise me one little bit.  The Hebrew word for sing is “shiyr.”  And in most instances it has to do with worship.  Sometimes, in Hebrew, you can look at the letters and the original pictograph formed by those letters in a word, and even that pictograph tells you something about the word.  Skip Moen shares that picture, “The pictograph tells us that the word is about deeds or work that consumes the person. In other words, singing “eats” you up. It takes away what you were feeling and moves you to another experience. It is the divine transporter. This is why the Hebrew world considers singing to be praying.”  Hmm.  Let me think about that.  Singing=praying.  I need to hold that thought.  But let’s keep going.

Why did I even begin on this search this morning?  Because I wanted to see when You, Lord, thought people should sing and why we should sing.  Because what about those times when I am so filled with pain that I don’t even have words?  How can I sing then?  But what if those are the times I need most to sing?  What if that is the time I need most to worship You with someone else who has the words that I can’t find?  What if that’s the time I most need to be reminded that You triumph gloriously and I need to confirm that with my own mouth, with my heart, and with my emotions?

The Siach Safre Kodesh which is “stories of wisdom, biographies of famous rabbis, and Torah discourses”  shared this thought, “There are three ways in which a man expresses deep sorrow: the man on the lowest level cries; the man on the second level is silent; the man on the highest level knows how to turn his sorrow into song.”  And Abraham Heschel, an American rabbi and leading Jewish theologian and philosopher of the 20th century, in Between God and Man believed “true prayer is a song.”  My question is, how many times have I thought of singing in terms of sorrow and pain?  But that seems to be where the Hebrew roots of singing came from.

And I’m thinking that makes sense.  Think of all the spirituals that arose out of slavery in America.  Was it their good circumstances that birthed those songs?  Or was it something deeper?  Were those songs a prayer, a cry out to God, that lifted one another up?

If I go back to 2 Chronicles 20 I find the true story of Jehoshaphat.  And the Moabites and Ammonites and others were raising up against Israel.  And all the people of Israel came before You and cried out to You.  And You told them to not be afraid because You were going to take care of it and they would triumph in You.  And before they received the outcome, before the victory, here’s what they did.  Jehoshaphat appointed singers to the Lord!  You know what their job was?  To praise the beauty of His holiness as they went out before the army.  And as they went they would continually say, “Praise the LORD; for His mercy endures for ever.”  And God used their singing.  It was beautiful worship.  In their lack of strength, in their pain and distress, they stopped thinking about all that.  They put their minds and hearts and worship in Him.  And this is what happened.  “And when they began to sing and to praise” the Lord set ambushments against their enemies.  Notice that.  It wasn’t after they sang and praised.  It was when they began.  Maybe singing in the midst of pain is a sign of faith and worship.

I can’t help but think of Paul and Silas.  There they were sharing the Gospel and now their clothes are being torn off of them and they are being beaten and whipped.  And it wasn’t just a little.  Many stripes were laid on them and they were thrown in a nasty, smelly, dank prison and their feet fastened in stocks.  How is that for pain and sorrow and suffering and heartache?  But what did they do?  Did they remain bound by the pain and sorrow and suffering and heartache?  Or did they take that pain and sorrow and suffering and heartache and lift it to the Lord in song?  In the midst of the pain, while the wounds were raw, they prayed and sang praises unto God, unto You, Lord.  And what happened?  The prisoners heard.  And You acted just like with Jehoshaphat.  You sent a sudden earthquake and released them from their chains and were glorified before the prisoners and before the jailor.

What if I don’t sing?  Let that not even be a thought.  I must.  Because it’s not my song.  It’s Your song, Lord, and it’s the song You have placed in me and it must come forth.  As Psalm 40:3 says, You have put a new song in my mouth, even praise to You, my God: and as many hear they shall see and fear, and shall trust in You.  It matters if I sing to You and for You, or if I don’t.

There are times when all I can do is fall at Your feet without words because I hurt that much.  But You are bigger than the pain in me.  In every believer You have placed Your song and Your Holy Spirit will help me sing that song.  He will give me the words.  He will bring them back to mind.  And as I am faithful to sing what He gives me, I will experience the presence and filling of the Comfortor.  And when I can’t express it because the pain is so deep and the words won’t come and all I can do is cry or when even the tears won’t come, maybe then I need to run to others who have found the song and let that minister to me.  Maybe, as I listen to the words You gave them, I might just find myself being transported to You, and I might just find myself singing with them.  And maybe that won’t equal all the words I feel.   But walking in faith comes one step at a time, or, one song at a time.

I suppose I have to ask myself, does the pain hurt more than I miss that closeness with You?  I think we’ve all been there.  We’ve all experienced pain.  Some of us had to learn the value of singing in the Lord.  For some of us, singing just is part of who we are.  And some of us, well, we haven’t learned the value of singing yet.  But I want to learn to not wait for the good days to come.  I want to sing in expectation.  And I want to sing not because my circumstances are good but because I know the goodness of You, God, even in the midst of tragedy.  It’s not easy.  Walking in faith isn’t easy.  But it’s worth every hardship and every tragedy.  I want my focus to remain on You no matter what so I will be influenced by You and so that influence will make a difference in those around me.

Pain and loss hurt.  They hurt terribly.  And it’s a part of life that doesn’t necessarily go away.  I just have to learn how to fit it into Your picture, into Your plan.  And surrendering it to You doesn’t take the memory away, but it puts everything in perspective, and it brings healing.  Paul and Silas didn’t stop hurting when they sang.  But they rose above the pain in the midst of the pain.  They lifted themselves up to You and let You carry them in song.  I want to follow their example because there are things in this life I just can’t handle on my own.  I need You as much as they needed You.  And I don’t want to let pain defeat me, because I am more than a conqueror in You.

Skip Moen shared some more of prayer and song.  He said, “The reason prayer is transformed into song is because words fail me. My hurt runs too deep. My trauma is too strong. I can’t say what I can’t do, and what I can’t do is find a way out. So, I learn to sing praises to my King and my song “eats” up what would destroy or consume me and gives me peace…I know what it means to hurt right down to my soul.”  So, the question is, will I allow You to consume my pain?  Scripture says that You are a consuming fire.  Do You just consume sin?  Or do You consume anything that wants to keep me from You?  Lord, I want nothing more than to be consumed in and by You.

I suppose I always thought that was a reference to You burning things up, Lord.  But there is this other part of consuming that has to do with eating, with ingesting.  This word, “akal” is also used in Ezekiel 3:1 where You tell Ezekiel, “Son of man, eat what you find, eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel.”  You didn’t say take a bite.  You said eat this whole scroll.  Taste if fully.  Then go do what it says.  But let’s keep going.  What did Ezekiel do?  “So I opened my mouth, and He fed me this scroll. He said to me, ‘Son of man, feed your stomach and fill your body with this scroll which I am giving you.’ Then I ate it, and it was sweet as honey in my mouth.”  Maybe that’s what happens when I choose to sing in the midst of pain and suffering.  Maybe singing isn’t a suggestion but an imperative.  Maybe I must sing.  Maybe I must sing, Lord, so that I can taste and experience Your sweetness in my mouth.  Maybe I must sing so that You can fill my stomach and my body with Your sweetness.

Lord, no matter how deep the pain, give me a song.  And let me not hold that song in my heart.  Let me sing, even if the words squeak when they come out because I cry as I sing.  Let me sing, even if I fall to my knees and don’t know what to say.  Give me a song.  Even if it’s someone else’s song.  Just give me a song from You because You never stop singing.  Even the angels before Your throne continually sing praises to You.  Who am I to not sing?  Don’t let me lose that beautiful flavor of You.  And don’t let me neglect to share that beautiful flavor of You with those who would hear my singing.  Because maybe my song will give them words to sing, and lift them above their pain and sorrow.  Lord, just give the songs we need to sing.  And sing with us.  I can’t wait to see what You do.

I Can! Only If I’m a Child of God

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“And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.”  Hebrews 11:6

Maybe we’ve focussed on this verse before, Lord, but I can’t help wanting to focus on it again.  Maybe we’ve even written on it together before.  But I can’t help thinking that any time you take us back to something, You are taking us deeper, or maybe You are engraving it deeper in our hearts and minds.  So, I’m anxious to see what You have for me today about faith.

We are taught at an early age to never say, “I can’t.”  Look at Bob the Builder, “I can do it!”  But the truth is, I can’t do everything.  And I can’t do anything pleasing to You, Lord, without first surrendering to You.  Without first acknowledging who You are, not just in the world as a God who exists, but as a God who is in control and intimately united in my life, there is no way I can.

What does it mean to please You, Lord?  Does it mean what I think?  The Greek word is “euaresteo” and it means “to gratify, to satisfy entirely.”  It’s an action also and it’s something I do, or at least that I am supposed to do.  I’m supposed to gratify You.  That means I’m supposed to please You, to give You pleasure, to indulge You, all of You.  I’m supposed to delight You, humor You, soothe You, satisfy You.  Yep, I’m supposed to indulge You to satisfaction.  I’m actually supposed to requite You.  That means I’m supposed to “pay You back” with the good You’ve given me.  I’m supposed to reward You in kind.

Now, let me think about this pleasing You a little more.  I’m supposed to satisfy You entirely.  That means I’m supposed to gratify Your wants, wishes and desires to the full extent.  I’m supposed to supply You until no more is desired.  I’m supposed to supply fully what Your law demands.  I’m supposed to pay You until You are content, everything I owe, even if that means to appease You by my punishment.  And I could go on.  But I think I get the point.

Pleasing You is impossible to do without Your enabling me to do it.  I mean what sacrifice could I give that would meet Your expectations of a perfect sacrifice, a pure and holy sacrifice?  I’m not pure and holy, and nothing I do on my own is pure and holy in itself.  I can’t do it.  It’s impossible.  And when I realize that this pleasing You, this gratifying You and satisfying You, is not something that I can do on my own and in my own power, that I need You, and I need You desperately, then it opens the door to my having faith.

Apart from believing, apart from trusting, apart from placing all my weight, all my being, in what You have done for me through Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, it is impossible to please You.  Romans 3:23 is true, “For ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Well, this is depressing.  Are You telling me that I can’t meet the mark?  Well, naturally, on my own, I can’t, because I’m a sinner.  I start out with this problem called “hamartano” or “hatah” in Hebrew.  I miss the mark.  I can’t do it, not on my own.

But that’s where the Good News comes in.  That’s where faith comes in and rescues me.  That’s where Jesus stepped in, where He came to earth, where He lived for me, where He died on the cross for my sin, for my problem called “hamartano” or “hatah.”  This is where Jesus died and rose again three days later demonstrating that He had power over my problem and that If I’m in Him, I have His power over my problem, and it’s not my problem any more.  Yes, I was a sinner, but faith in Christ, which is continual, not a one time deal, renamed me, remade me.  I’m not a sinner any more; I’m a child of God.  I’ve been clothed in Your righteousness.  Now, I can do it!  Now, it’s not impossible!  Now, it’s more than possible.  I am an overcomer!

What I believe about Your power over sin, and Your power over sin in my life, matters.  It will make every difference in me.  My faith matters.  John was trying to tell me and every believer that when he said, “My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin.  And if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;” (1 John 2:1)  See, I’m not a sinner any more.  A sinner has to sin.  I don’t have to.  I can not sin.  All I have to do is keep pleasing You and in You, I have the power to please You.  You give me everything in word and deed and power that I need to please You, instead of sinning.  But if I make a wrong choice, and sin, I still have You as my Advocate because I’m Yours and I’m not a sinner any more.  My father is not the father of lies; my Father is the One Who is Powerful enough and more than Able to make me holy and Scripture tells me He has and is continually making me holy.

John wasn’t the only one who knew we could do it in You.  I can go back to the Old Testament and find Moses encouraging the Israelites that they could please You too.  He said that they could obey Your commandments.  Here’s what he said, “For this commandment that I command You today IS NOT TOO HARD FOR YOU…”  He also says (in Deuteronomy 30) that it’s not too far off either.  It’s as near as in my mouth and in my heart, so I CAN do it.  Because, if the Israelites or I turn to You, Lord, as our God with all our heart and with all our soul, and we place ourself in faith in You, then You make us able.  Moses did it.  John did it.  Paul did it.  Even though they still struggled with choosing it all the time, they did it, but not by their own power.  They did it in and with You.  And that’s the only way I can do it.

On my own, it is impossible.  It’s “adunatos” and I have absolutely no power to do it.  I’m impotent on my own.  But impotence never stopped You, Lord.  How many examples of impotent people just in Scripture alone have You given us that were raised to walk, or to life, or to new purpose?  But I must not forget that the only way I get to reach my ultimate possibilities, is to believe that You exist.  And that doesn’t just mean to believe that You are there.  It means that I acknowledge You as the Ever Existent One, the One who Was and Is and Always Will Be.  It means that I know You for who You are and that I place all my trust in You as You.  I can’t draw near to You if I don’t even know You.  But the more I draw near, the more truly I get to know You and see You and experience You.

So I must believe You, trust in You, place my being in You, for who You really are and not just acknowledge that You are there.  The demons acknowledge that, but they don’t draw near to You.   “Believing that God exists is the equivalent of acknowledging, honoring, and submitting to His sovereignty.”  (Skip Moen)  So, faith is just that.  It’s acknowledging, honoring, and submitting to Your sovereignty in my life.  That’s how I satisfy You.  You make me able to satisfy You in Christ.

But I also believe that You are a “rewarder” of those who seek You diligently.  And that’s not about You giving me things.  Because it’s not about me seeking things.  What is Paul saying I’m seeking here?  I’m diligently, with all my life and effort and being, seeking YOU.  What is my reward?  Am I going to get good stuff?  I wasn’t looking for stuff.  I’m not looking for anything else but YOU.  I want YOU.  No other reward will satisfy!  YOU ARE MY REWARD.  It’s only YOU and always YOU.  I’m drawing near to YOU.  I’m seeking YOU.  YOU are what I want and what I need.  When I am satisfied in You, You will be satisfied in me.  When You are what entirely satisfies me, then You will be entirely satisfied in me.  And that’s what Paul and John and Moses are telling us and me.  It can happen.  This is the way.  You are the Way, the Truth, and the Life.   It is possible with God–WITH GOD!

“Just as the wages of sin is death, so the wages of intimacy with God is life.”  (Skip Moen) Remember, that definition of “pleasing”?  We owe God.   But Paul says that the gift of God is eternal life—in Jesus.  Jesus paid the price for me.  He paid my wages.  But Jesus is generosity Himself, just like His Father, God.  And what I could not pay, He paid for me, and offers me the gift of intimacy in Him.  But there is a debt I must pay.  And that is what I do with what You have given me.  I must act in like fashion as You have to me.  What You have given me, I must now give to others.  It’s my turn to reciprocate, because I intimately know You.

Lord, I am so grateful for how You actually demonstrated faith for me.  You lived it out and died it out and rose it out for me to get it, not just intellectually, but intimately, really.  Everything You ask of me, You give me the power to do, in You.  What was too much for me, You sent Jesus to do for me.  And in Your abundant generosity You lavish me with You, with intimacy in You.  You give me Your power and Your strength to not only please You and turn away from sin, but to know You more and more every day, and to satisfy and delight You, the God of Angel Armies!  That’s a tremendously comforting thought, because some days, I just can’t seem to be a delight to anyone even when I’m doing my best.  Sometimes it’s harder to please people than it is to please You.  Maybe that’s because Your grace is amazing!  Well, all I know is that I want You and more of You every day.  And I want to be all about satisfying You entirely.  So, increase my faith and I will deliberately walk in Your ways no matter the cost.  Because You are worth everything.  Hmmm.  I’m thinking that I might want to spend even more time in Hebrews looking at Your examples.  What if Your adding to Hebrews 11 in Your heavenly version.  One day, I’d like to see my name there.  Imagine that.  By faith, Sharon….But, all I know is, I want You to be able to say that by faith, I pleased You.  Thanks for making me able.

How About Rest Today?

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“…for Good News has also been proclaimed to us, just as it was to them.  But the message they heard didn’t do them any good, because those who heard it did not combine it with trust.  For it is we who have trusted who enter the rest….”  (Hebrews 4: 2, 3a)

Wow!  Doesn’t that sound wonderful?  Who doesn’t want to hear Good News and who doesn’t want it to pertain to them?  And especially now, in these days, doesn’t rest seem promising in this ever-so-fast-paced world?  But this joyful hope is actually wedged between some not so joyful thoughts.  This is actually wedged in a warning.

What’s the warning?  Well, in chapter 3, Paul was reminding everyone of the attitude of the Israelites in the desert with Moses.  How they had the promise and presence of God and yet they didn’t trust Him.  They kept wanting things their own way, or the old way, and they kept complaining and grumbling against Him.  They had this kingdom planned for them, this rest that You, God, had prepared for them right around the corner, really, but because of disobedience and unbelief, they had to wander in a wilderness for 40 years!  And most of them never got to experience the rest that You, God, wanted them to enter from the start. You hadn’t wanted them to wait 40 years for it.  And it wasn’t that they didn’t know about it.  They knew everything that was required to enter that rest, but they disregarded it all.  They exempted themselves.

So Paul warns us about exempting ourselves.  Verse 4:1 starts with “Therefore, let us be terrified of the possibility that, even though the promise of entering His rest remains, any one of you might be judged to have fallen short of it.”  Ooooh!  That hurts!  Because it’s not just about having the Gospel preached in my hearing.  It’s not just about the hearing of the Truth.  Because so many Jews in the wilderness heard, but they didn’t respond rightly.  They heard, but it didn’t do them any good.  Why?  Because if we don’t hear and combine it with trust, it’s just words.  When I take Your words, Lord, and I combine them with trust, it becomes power.  Because then I become an instrument of Your power.

Think about it.  Twelve men went to spy the promised land.  Ten came back telling stories of the giants and how they would be defeated because the “power” of the people there was so great.  Two men came back and said, “God is bigger!  He can defeat giants!  This is no problem for Him!”  Ten men trusted in their own strength and the strength of other men.  Two men combined what they had already learned of You, Lord, and Your promises, with trust.  And that brings another thought to mind.

What thought is that, you might ask?  That I think that Joshua and Caleb, our two spies who trusted You, Lord, had already begun entering Your rest.  Wait a minute!  They didn’t get to enter the promised land until 40 years later!  Maybe not physically, but I think that when you see giants and you can say, “No problem.  No worries.  God is going to handle this for us,” then I think that’s a state of rest in itself.  I’d call that resting in the Lord, and it only comes with a committed trust in His every word and every part of His being.

Now here’s the other sandwich end of Paul’s words for us today.  “For it is we who have trusted who enter the rest.”  I’m stopping here for a minute because as I read that, it’s not telling me that we who have trusted will one day enter the rest.  It’s telling me that we enter it.  When I knock on a friend’s door and they open it and invite me in and I step inside, I enter their house.  I don’t wait ten minutes or ten years before I enter.  It’s something I do now.

I’m going to jump back to Matthew and share something that You, said, Jesus.  You were talking to a young man who asked how he could have eternal life.  But You refocused his thinking and ours by Your response.  Here’s what You said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good?  There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”  (Matthew 19:17  NASB)  First, You focussed on entering into life, not even looking ahead to eternal life.  And this entering is a verb form that is something that has already been started.  And another word You choose to use is this particular word for wish.

Oh, let me go into a little more detail here.  This wish is “thelo” in Greek,  It’s a desire or wish.  So is the word “boule.”  They both mean to desire and wish something and to plan.  But there is a great difference.  “Thelo” makes sure it happens; “boule” does not make sure it is accomplished.  Sounds like You are pointing this young man and us to a faith that acts upon what it knows.  Faith isn’t just wishing I would be a better wife or a better husband or wishing I would have greater faith.  Faith is applying what I know so that it is coming to pass in my life.

But that’s not all.  There’s that word “eiserchomai” for entering in.  And the young man wants to enter into eternal life one day in the future.  But Jesus is using this verb tense that’s saying that life has already been entered.  What?  You mean I’m supposed to be concerned with how I live now?  This is the life I’m to be living for You?  Is it really my desire to live and bring about life?  Really?  Well, I’m are already in it?  What am I doing with it?  Am I livingYou out in it?  Is my life a portrayal of Your words?  You are the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Is that what my life looks like?  I‘ve got all the words I need.  Am I living them out in obedience, in faith?  Because to live in You, to live in Your words, that’s what life is all about.

And so I come to the rest of verse 3.  “It is just as He said, ‘And in my anger, I swore that they would not enter my rest.’  He swore this even though His works have been in existence since the founding of the universe.”  But I can’t stop here because I need to go on to verse 6 and 7.  Listen, Heart.  “Therefore, since it still remains for some to enter it, and those who received the Good News earlier did not enter, He again fixes a certain day, ‘Today,’ saying through David, so long afterwards, in the text already given, ‘Today, if you hear God’s voice, don’t harden your hearts.'”

What does all this mean, Lord?  Maybe, that believing is living it out in life right now.  What if I was so concerned with living every moment for You that I really didn’t even have time to dwell on Heaven?  Would that really be so bad?  I mean, what if I was living out Your word in my life moment by every moment?  What if I was seeing giant after giant all around me and it wasn’t phasing me because I trusted Your words to me so much, I knew that You would defeat every one as long as I committed my ways to You and followed Your leading?  I mean, I have so many giants surrounding me right now but I’m going to choose to trust You and go on waiting for that moment when You will defeat them.  You know, I don’t have this down pat, Lord.  But I’m learning to turn from my ways and trust in You more and more every moment.

Lord, I’m not the only one who needs to live in Your rest now.  We all need it.  And we can’t wait until heaven.  And I’m so glad that You don’t intend for us to wait that long to rest in You.  You are our rest.  You established Yourself as our rest when You created the universe.  Your works and Your rest have existed for us since then.  Today I can enter into that rest.  But that today actually started so long ago.  How many days will I choose to pass up on Your rest?  I don’t want to pass up on any more.  And I pray that no matter the situation going on in my life or anyone else’s out there, that no matter how big the giant or how many, that we would live in Your rest by faith in action.  May Your word and You live through us and may we give You and Your word every opportunity through faith.  I’m so glad Your today started before mine and that I get to live in Your today forever!

A Win-Win Kind of Work

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Photo credit to Stephen Ryan Cunningham and Liam.

“The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.   These things are excellent and profitable for people. “  Titus 3:8

Devoted to good works.  That’s a description of a believer.  So what makes a believer any different than any “good” person out there.  There are lots of people in the world doing good things.  Look at all the organizations that help others like the Red Cross, the United Way, and so many local organizations.  Aren’t they trying to do good?  But is there a difference?

There is a world of a difference.  And it all has to do with what Paul’s trustworthy saying was.   I needed to go back and read through all of Titus to see what Paul was saying.  And he was busy telling Titus how believers ought to act, what we ought to look like in our actual lives.  It’s pretty “anti-normal” or at least it goes against human nature.  But here’s the reason why.  Here’s what it all boils down to and what makes the difference between the good works of a believer and the “good” works of someone on the outside doing their own good things their own good way.

It all boils down to this.  One day, the the goodness and lovingkindness of God our Savior appeared.  Now this is where all true goodness and all true lovingkindness must stem from and originate from.  Why?  Because this is the epitome of true goodness and true lovingkindness.  Jesus came and saved us.  And it wasn’t because of any wonderful works we had done, not one of us.  Not one of us had done something that would make us worthy of being called right like Him in His eyes.  He came and saved us out of His own goodness, out of His own mercy, out of His own lovingkindness.

So what did His work of dying on the cross and rising again do for me and for you?  His mercy and lovingkindness offers us the ability to be regenerated.  That’s the word “paliggenesia” and it figuratively means to regenerate, but it also literally means to be born again.  And think about being born.  Being born isn’t something I do.  It’s something that is done to me.  My mom has a part in it; a very important part.  And my dad has a part in it too.  But the point is, someone else is bringing me to life or bringing me into existence.  I can’t do it on my own.  I couldn’t create myself in my mother’s womb and I couldn’t birth myself outside of my mom and dad.  So it is with my believing and living in that belief.  I must be born of God.  He must re-generate me, re-create me, re-birth me as His own.

But I must also be renewed in the Holy Ghost.  It’s a two part process.  I am saved by Christ, by You, Lord, unto You and into You at that time when I place my trust in You, when I place my all in You, and You re-generate me.  You change my “parenthood” and my way of thinking and seeing.  You do a real work inside of me by the placement and work of Your Holy Spirit in me.  You do it once, forever.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Then I am continually renewed in the Holy Spirit.  It’s the word “anakainosis” and it means that You are continually making me new and different, changing me constantly into something You prefer, something more like You.  Romans 12:2 tells me ‘Be ye transformed according to the renewing of your mind’ and 2 Corinthians 4:16, “Our inward man is being renewed day by day.” Colossians 3:10 talks about that renewed me, that  “new man” as “the one being renewed unto thorough knowledge according to the image of the one having created him.'”  The more I dig into Your word and allow You to work it out in me and I obey, the more I am renewed day by day.

And Paul continues to let us know that this gift was lavished on and over us because You, God, shed this love and work on us abundantly through Jesus, our Savior.  Because of Your work, and not our own, we are justified by Your grace and made heirs with You in internal life.  And that life starts the minute I enter into Your trust!  See, eternal is always, not after death, it’s already started because it always was.  Now isn’t that a faithful saying that I can count on?  Look at all that You have done for me and I can live in You right now in my everyday life?  And I can let the work that You have done in me and are doing shine forth like the noonday sun!  Your goodness has been imparted to me!  Your goodness lives inside of me!  Now, I can be good because now I have the power to be good.  Because only God is good and You, the Good One, live in me!

See, before You lived in me, before I placed myself in trust in You, I was like everyone else, “foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.” (Titus 3:3)  I might have done some good things by worldly standards, but they weren’t God things because Your motivation was missing.  I was doing good things for me, not because they flowed from You.  My life was all about me.

I was defiled and unbelieving.  It’s not even necessarily that I wanted to be that way.  But I was.  It’s human nature and it’s the way the world teaches us to be.  We do it all our own way or the world’s way and our minds don’t even think like You.  What we call pure is really totally defiled and rotten.  Why?  Because it’s not given according to Your measure of love and righteousness and mercy.  Your measure is different than man’s measure, and You proved that on the cross.  You paid a price for me that You didn’t deserve.  You loved me while I was entrenched in my odious sin.  You loved me first when I had nothing to offer.  I owe You everything.   

So what kind of works, good deeds, is Paul calling me to?  Well, it’s not what I do that matters as much as why I do it and where it comes from.  See, Paul says there are some that say they know You, but when You see what comes forth from their lives, it’s apparant that they are denying You.  They are actually doing things that are abominable to You, disgusting to You.  They are actually disobeying You, and You reject what they are doing.  But Paul is telling me to live my life in such a way that I live what I believe about You.  My good works must agree with my doctrine, what I’ve learned of You.  The Word and the Work must go hand in hand.  Because the Word isn’t just letters and words on a page.  You are the Living Word working through me and in me.  Is that apparent?  Is that what I am doing?  Am I letting You do Your work through me?  Am I Your instrument, or am I my own instrument?  If I’m Your instrument I am pure.  If I am my own instrument I am abominable.

I’m not called to do good works aside of You working in me.  I am called to shed Your goodness abroad.  First, Your goodness must dwell in me.  Then You show me and empower me to do that which You call me to.  You give me the power to deny that which isn’t of You and that which is solely of the world.  You give me the power to live for You in the middle of this ungodly world.  I’m always looking to You, always listening to You, always obeying You.  Well, at least that ought to be my lifestyle.  I’m always waiting on You, hoping in You, running to You.  You are making my works and my deeds good.  Only You.  You, Who gave Yourself for me, that You might redeem me from all sin, and purify unto Yourself a peculiar people, zealous of good works, of God works.  Nope, it’s not by me or anything good in me.  It’s all according to the powerful mercy You saved me with.  It’s all about Your lavish love shed abroad abundantly.  And it’s all about surrendering and committing into Your grace, Your person, Your mastery of my life.  Yes, this is good and this is profitable.  This is a win-win situation.  This is a faithful saying.  I believe and I will let You work in me.  And I will take the greatest joy in my work.

The Kindness of Suffering

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Blood moon photo credit to http://www.space.com (because there was a blood moon this morning!)

“…which is why I suffer as I do.  But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.”  2 Timothy 1:12

Paul is actually quite an encourager, but he’s an honest encourager.  He doesn’t just tell us the words we want to hear.  Everything isn’t going to turn out in a “honky dory,” escape all the tough stuff way.  At least not by our normal standards.  But Paul is encouraging by higher standards.  And just as Paul is sharing in the suffering of Christ for Christ, so will Timothy, and so will I, if I’m living out my belief unashamedly.

I mean, there are all kinds of suffering.  Sin brings the suffering of judgment.  Suffering can follow disobedience or be related to “evil warfare in spiritual places”, but that’s not what Paul is talking about here.  He’s talking about being called to share in the suffering of You, Lord.  It’s the Greek word “paschos” which is where we get the words “pathos” and passion from.  And according to You, it’s a mark of worthiness in a believer.  “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29)  Look at that.  It’s granted to me as a favor, A FAVOR, in KINDNESS, as my RESCUE, to suffer for Jesus.  When was the last time I thought that?  When was the last time I believed that?  Well, it’s what I want to engrave deep in my heart and mind and soul today.

How could suffering be all these things and make me worthy?  How can this be a gift?  Can you imagine a person who would choose to voluntarily follow a path of suffering?  Jesus, You did.  And I’m Your follower, right?  Therefore, what does that imply?  I ought to voluntarily follow the same path You followed if I am Your follower.  I ought to voluntarily surrender to and in Your way.  I mean, everyone goes through suffering.  But who am I really suffering for?

How do I know who I’m suffering for, who I’m passionately willing to follow no matter the cost?  And why would I follow You, Jesus, no matter the cost?  Paul tells me that He follows Your will because of the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus.  He tells Timothy that grace, mercy, and peace from God and Jesus come with the following.  It gives us a pure conscience and a sincere closeness, a prayerful closeness, with our fellow sufferers.  It brings us joy in one another.  It shows the measure of our faith, its sincerity.  It shows the power of God, that even in the midst of suffering, that God’s gifts are stirred up in us and evidenced through a spirit of power, and love, and a sound mind.  It demonstrates that we are partaking of Christ by receiving what Christ receives with His own.  It shows that I have accepted Your calling, that I’m doing Your works and not my own, for Your purposes and grace, and not my own, because why would anyone normally choose this road of suffering?

But You are not like others.  Your ways are above man’s ways.  Your way is the way of suffering.  Because You can’t defeat suffering unless You overcome it.  Suffering is not a part of God.  It’s everything You are not.  You alone can overcome and totally defeat suffering, because suffering came with sin.  And if I want to rise above suffering, I have to rise with You.  Which means first, I have to place my trust in You, my life in You, my being in You by letting go of me and dying to self and voluntarily choosing to live in You.  I must die with You, which is the beginning of my suffering.  It’s the beginning of my passion for You.  Because only then can I partner with You and live with You and in You.  And I will know like Paul, and Timothy, that You will guard all of me in Your trust until that Day that I am fully with You and there is no more suffering.  See, it’s all because of You, Jesus, who suffered first and abolished death, ushering in with You life and immortality through Your Gospel.  For this Gospel, for the truth of it, Your follower, those who believe You, are called to join in Your suffering for this end, this goal, Your goal, You.  So we hold fast to You and to Your words, in faith and love for You, as You hold fast to us by Your faith and love.  Because it’s only by Your faith in love that we are filled with and demonstrate the same.

You are the Good Thing that was committed to each of us who believe.  And the Holy Ghost that dwells in us is able to keep us always mindful of all that You have committed within us for every situation.  I shouldn’t be afraid of chains.  I shouldn’t be ashamed of suffering for the right reason, for You.  It shouldn’t matter what anyone else thinks.  What matters is what You think.  Would I seek You out no matter what?  What if my brothers and sisters in Christ where suffering, would I avoid their suffering?  God forbid.  Let me come along side and understand and be an encouragement in You.  Let me seek them out and find them so that they know You are there, You care, You see, and You provide.

I suppose suffering is the place designed by You to learn what ministering is really about.  It takes away all the fanfare and the glory.  It tests the depths of my heart and my serving.  In the midst of suffering, what is in it for me?  What do I gain from suffering?  Maybe suffering with Christ brings me to the point of wanting to give and not get.  Of wanting to give and not receive.  It takes me to a place where I can experience Your compassion and not empathy.  Hmm.  Compassion.  Doesn’t “com” mean “with” or “alongside”?  And haven’t I been looking into the word “passion”?  Isn’t that suffering, and in this case for Christ?  So, isn’t compassion, drawing alongside someone else who is suffering?  Can you really encourage from the outside?  Or do you have to be part of the experience to be a true encourager?

When others were ashamed of Paul’s imprisonment, Onesiphorus was not.  When he was in Rome, he sought Paul out.  He sought him out diligently.  And he found Paul.  He wasn’t ashamed to go be with him even in his chains.  And Paul says that Onesiphorus’s actions and presence refreshed him.  Lord, may I so seek out and find those undergoing suffering for Your sake and may You allow me to be refreshing to their spirits.

Jesus, You came to earth, not for the fanfare, but for the sake of experiencing my suffering.  You came to suffer for me so that I would never have to experience the true depth of suffering the wrath of God.  Of all suffering, no suffering would equal that experienced under the wrath of God.  But You came to be part of that experience for me, for each of us.  Therefore, You alone have the right to be my True Encourager.  You are the One who first showed true compassion.  You came alongside us and suffered not only with us, but for us.  Lord, I want to be like You.  Actually, I want it to go deeper than that.  I want to be in You and You in me.  I want to be capable of suffering and especially suffering alongside my brothers and sisters in Christ.  And I don’t want to do it for my glory.  I want to do it because it’s the least I can give back to You, and sometimes, it’s the most I have to give, because I don’t really have much else.  But I can give me.  And I want to give all of me.  Guide me where You will, Lord.  I am not ashamed.  I know Whom I have believed.