Suffering

suffering w: christ

… that I may know Christ and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Phil. 3:10-11, NKJV)

I’ve loved this verse since my college days… “marching orders” for how my friends and I planned to take our campus for Christ. In the midst of studying at the library and dining at the cafeteria, we would gather for worship and all night prayer vigils. We had the fervor of the gospel burning in our hearts — literally, we saw nothing as more important than telling our friends about the life adventure that awaited them if they chose to follow Christ.

The thing is, in my fervent reading, I think I focused on the “power of his resurrection”. I don’t think I dwelt long enough on “the fellowship of his sufferings.” I mean, what does it mean to be “conformed” to the death of Jesus, anyway?

Christians just finished celebrating the Easter holiday. We reflected on the awesome mystery of redemption and atonement accomplished in the cross of Christ. We tried to imagine the despair of the first disciples as they stood by helpless, watching the Son of God undergo a friend’s betrayal, a sham trial, brutal beatings, and Roman crucifixion. And we tried to identify with their hopelessness after they laid him in the tomb and rolled the stone to seal it shut. We can’t really know what it felt like, though. Or can we?

I’ve known something if helplessness and hopelessness these past few weeks.

Benjamin’s recent battle with ulcerative colitis has worn us, wearied us, beaten us down. And even though this suffering doesn’t directly stem from sin on his part, it is a result of living in a world broken because of the fall. The effects of sin surround us. We’re all affected. Each one.

B sickSo as we wade through the mire of disease and unknowing, as we ask the Lord for healing and wait for His response, we find something in common with Jesus and His followers as they experienced His death. A kind of fellowship.

Mystery. Despair. Helpless. Hopeless… but not for long.

Sunday is coming.

“He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.” 

(Matthew 28:6 NIV)

Redbuds

My redbud tree is blooming.

Redbud 1It does every year at this time. As the days grow longer, the grass greener, the wind warmer, I see magenta-pink little buds dotting the brittle gray branches. And I’m comforted by the rhythm of seasons.

The dramatic seasonal changes in Indiana have taught me much about living and dying … and coming back to life. Spring, especially, reveals that the grave is not the end.

And bare branches blooming have taught me that no matter how bleak the winter, life stirs just below the surface.

Redbud 2 The change in seasons marches with regularity, like a predictable timepiece — not enough to set a watch by, but surely enough to develop a certain level of expectation. And somehow all the players in nature follow the plan — the robins, the grass, the buds — they all follow the score like a finely-tuned orchestra poised to strike the first note.

Somehow, I’ve also come to expect that when I make plans that seem to line up with what God is doing in and around me, they should unfold predictably — like I expect them to. Evidently, God doesn’t have the same expectation.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. (Is. 40:28)

Until recently, I assumed my plans and dreams were God’s plans and dreams for me — only that God’s were bigger and better (of course) because he has a better perspective. I didn’t think God’s plans for me would include grief and disappointment and darkness. So much winter.

Turns out, God’s plans are completely different than mine. Unsearchable, unquantifiable, unpredictable. Turns out, he’s asking me to know that he is still good even in the middle of night.

Oh redbud tree, teach me to bloom when my bark is stark and stretched from harsh winter freezes. Teach me to respond to the Son even when everything around me is fragile and dormant. And redbud tree, teach me to dance in the music of life rather than become entangled in the cords of death.

You’ve shown me life like that, redbud. You and Jesus. Yes, Jesus has shown me how to live that way, too.

Looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. (Heb. 12:2-3)

Redbud 3

Spring

I hear songbirds this morning, heralds of spring. The renewal of the earth is all around me… in budding trees, in chickadees, in green blades of grass pushing through dormant mats of brown.

 

And I’m forced to consider God’s promise to make all things new.

spring butterfly

Maybe God puts us in hard places, impossible places where the future is bleak, disease-ridden, and barren so he can show us what renewal really looks like.

One thing I know, our future depends on God being the incomparable, faithful, rejuvenating God he claims to be. Our hope is rooted in the character of God, who alone has the capacity to do something utterly new.

Lift up your eyes on high and see:

Who created these?

He who bring out their host and numbers them,

calling them all by name;

because he is great in strength,

mighty in power,

not one is missing.

Why do you say, O Jacob,

and speak, O Israel,

“My way is hidden from the Lord,

and my right is disregarded by my God”?

Have you not known, Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary;

his understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.

Even youths will faint and be weary,

and the young will fall exhausted;

but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,

they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,

they shall walk and not faint.

Is. 40:26-31

Not the end

Stories to Live ByLazarus was sick. Maybe it was staying out late fishing in the rain that turned his cold to the worst. Maybe the infected cut on his hand from mending the nets had turned to gangrene, or a pounding ache in his head that won’t go away.  But now, his sisters Mary and Martha had exhausted their salves and home remedies.  They sent for Jesus.  They needed the Healer.

But Jesus didn’t show up.  It wasn’t for lack of love for Lazarus, but because he loved him.  He wanted Lazarus to experience God’s glory.

When Jesus finally made his way to Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days.  Mary and Martha’s grief overwhelmed them.  They both came to him with questions…

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (Luke 11:21 and 32).

Lovingly, Jesus met them in their pain. He mourned death. He wept. But Jesus knew something they didn’t know.  Jesus knew about belief so strong that it conquers death. Jesus knew about resurrection and life — real life.

At the tomb, Jesus showed them.

He told them to roll away the stone.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (Luke 11:39-40)

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Oh, how many times I have faced a brother’s tomb and come to Jesus with questions?

When a brother betrays his wife with years of a secret addiction; when a brother takes a joy-ride in his father’s sports car and kills his best friend in the accident; when a brother smiles, but in the end sees no option but to end his own life…

I ask, “Where were you, Jesus?  Couldn’t you have seen what was happening and stopped it?  Couldn’t you have stepped in?  You’ve healed others, why not my brother!”

Patiently he tells me roll away the stone of my doubts. Gently, he asks me to believe.  Quietly he whispers.

“I know it hurts. Remember Gethsemane? But I know how the story ends.  It’s for God’s glory. Trust me. The grave is not the end.”

empty_tomb_wide

“I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (Luke 11:25-26).

 

This, friends, is the beauty of Easter.

What a wonderful Savior.

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boy walking photo credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

empty tomb photo credit: icr.org

Check out Institue for Creation Research for an article on the impact of the empty tomb.  It’s a great read!

Getting Through

How strange prayer is.  Sometimes it feels like God is right in the room with me, hearing my heart, leading the way.  Sometimes I feel like God and I are just missing each other — I’m not getting through.

It reminds me of how I felt flying into Rio de Janeiro a few years ago.

RioLuggage

The flight went smoothly enough… until we landed at the airport.  My co-worker, Denise, and I sailed through customs and walked out into a crowd of greeters.  As we scanned the sea of expectant eyes, not one pair looked back at us with recognition.  Our friend, Janie, who had asked us to come to Brazil to train her new music staff, was simply not there.  So, we gathered our luggage and stood in a conspicuous place.  After a half hour of anxious waiting, we decided we needed do something.

So, we prayed.

God you know where Janie is, you know where we are.  Please help us find each other.

Our cell phones were dead, but we found a bank of pay phones.  They looked equipped to take credit cards.  I swiped, but nothing happened.  I swiped again, nothing.  A man using the phone next to me pantomimed that the phone didn’t take credit cards.  We needed to buy a prepaid phone card.  So, after more pantomiming and broken English with a security guard and the women at an airport pharmacy, I finally purchased the critical calling card.  All the while, Denise stood sentry in the airport, on the lookout for Janie.

I had three phone numbers for our friend.  Two cell numbers and a home number.  I tried the first cell number and only received the Brazilian equivalent of the Verizon operator. The second number rang and rang and rang.  No luck.  I tried each number again.  Nothing.  Reluctantly, I dialed the land line, praying for someone to answer the phone, but not wanting it to be Janie.  I knew that she lived at least an hour from the airport.  As the phone rang, I whispered, “She better not be home, she better not be home.”  To my surprise a young woman answered the phone.

“Janie?”

“No. blah, blah” – something in Portuguese.

“Do you know where Janie is?”  I formed each word slowly.

Hesitation. “I – don’t – speak English.”

“Yes, you do.  You just did!”  Finally someone to help me!  “I am Julie.  I’m at the airport.  Do you know where Janie is?”

Pause. “Janie airport.”

“We can’t find her,”  I answered, trying to hide the desperation in my voice.

Silence. “Oh, OK.  I call.  I tell her call you.  Number?”  So I gave her the phone number of the pay phone, praying that she had been taught numbers in the English classes she had obviously taken.

Soon, the pay phone rang and on the other end I heard … Janie.  Contact!  She hadn’t forgotten us.  She wasn’t lost.  She had been waiting in another section of the airport all this time.

Ten minutes later, Janie greeted me with “Hey Julie, baby!”  She and her friend Maita were hugging us and throwing our bags in her car.

JanieMe

It was a rough landing, but finally, we had arrived.

 

See how that’s like prayer?

Sometimes it just doesn’t feel like I’m getting through.  Like I have the wrong number, or I just connect with an automated operator at the other end.  Does God read pantomime?  Do I need a translator?

But really, God sees what I don’t.  He wants me to trust him to work it out in his timing.  I’m learning to do that.  And soon I know I’ll hear, “Hey Julie, baby!  I was here all the time.”

 

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I linked this story up with Jennifer Dukes Lee at #TellHisStory.  This is good stuff!

 

Hiding

Here’s another post from a fellow Cru blogger, Stephanie Reeves.  I love the way Stephanie draws life lessons from her everyday experiences.  This lesson on waiting for God’s best especially speaks to my heart these days.
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hermit-crabMy daughter and I have two hermit crabs. One of our original pair died a few months ago, and we replaced it shortly after Christmas. Just a day or so after we got the new guy, he burrowed under the sand in his crabitat, and we haven’t seen him since. Titan, the original hermie, decided to go with him.

That was at least 6 weeks ago. With the advice of my crab-aficionado friend, Robin, we decided to see if we could gently dig them up to see what was going on. So yesterday, with trepidation, I gently dug around in the sand. Much to my delight, I found Titan, hiding in a little hidey hole all by himself, alive and well. Next, the search was on for Alex. I found him across the tank. He was alive, but not as kickin’ as Titan. I brought them both topside, cleaned and refreshed the tank, and then left them to see what they’d do.

Within the hour, both were burrowed back under the sand.

I have no idea what that means.

But upon reading in “The Story” Bible this morning, I came upon this verse: “‘Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who  brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him'” (Exodus 32:1).

Moses had been gone on the mountain to meet with God for 6 weeks. The people grew impatient. So, taking matters into his own hands, Aaron collected their gold jewelry, he threw it into the fire, melted it, and formed a golden calf, which they then proceeded to worship.

Oy vey.

The Israelites grew impatient when Moses seemed to be hiding for 6 weeks. The result? A golden calf, God’s anger, and further judgement on Israel.

Abraham and Sarah also took matters in their own hands. The result was Ishmael–and today’s Arab nation, which has been at war with Israel for thousands of years.

Nothing bad happened when my impatience and curiosity prompted a search for my secluded crabs. If they had been in the middle of a molt, I could have further stressed them and caused their death. I am thankful that didn’t happen, but it could have.

“Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary” (Isaiah 40:31).

God’s plan is always the best. Pushing our own way gets us in trouble.

 

Stephprofile

Stephanie Reeves authors the blog Compelled. She lives in Orlando with her husband of 22 years, their three kids, and her mother-in-law, which, contrary to popular opinion, does not produce a lot of fodder for her blog. She has been a writer/editor and copyeditor with Worldwide Challenge, the magazine of Cru.
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hermit crab photo credit:  Dan Pearce at Single Dad Laughing

Words

May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.  1 Thessalonians 3:5

I love these words.

direct:  engineer, orchestrate, steer, guide, usher, escort, aim, point out the way.

into:  interested in, steeped in, at home with, in tune with, enamored by.

God’s love: His affection, warmth, adoration, delight, tenderness, affinity, goodness, grace.

Christ’s perseverance:  His steadfastness, persistence, continuance, abiding-ness, patience, stamina, courage, grit, hardiness of spirit, stick-to-it-iveness.

………….

Why does this blessing speak to me today?  This is what I need.  Today.  One step closer to knowing God’s direction for our lives, one step closer to hearing and obeying.

I need to know the Lord engineering and escorting us along the way.

I need to know I’m steeped in, at home in, enamored by, and in tune with the Author of my story.

I need to know God’s warm affection and tender delight as I align myself with Him.

I need the stamina, the abiding presence and the hardiness of the spirit of Christ as I face the fears, questions, and answers that lay ahead of us — even today.

Waiting is not for the faint of heart, not for those who would look to the future and turn back in cowardice.  Waiting takes courage and humility.  Like the irresistible pull of a magnet, it takes stick-to-Jesus-iveness.

May I know that today… May you, too.

 

Because all of us are waiting for something.

 

What’s your itinerary?

Damascus, Antioch, Lystra, Derbe, Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, Tyre, Caesarea, Jerusalem, Rome…

Paul’s missionary travels.  Doctor Luke records every pit stop along the way.

Festus, Felix, Jews, Lysia, King Agrippa, centurions, commanders, high priests, Gentiles, sailors, Julius his guard, Publius on Malta, Caesar…

Paul’s audiences.  Interviews recorded.  What impact did Paul have on each of these lives?  Surely, a greater impact than is recorded.  But, why these details and not others?

For at least two years in Rome, renting his own house, waiting to stand before Caesar, Luke records that Paul proclaimed the kingdom of God, teaching about Jesus “with all boldness and without hindrance.” (Acts 28:31)

What did that really look like?  How did he proclaim?  What did he teach?  What were the ripple effects? Some believed and some didn’t.  The church began…

What do I see here?  God orchestrates our stories.  Obviously to Luke, certain details are important… but not necessarily the details I would include.  I want to know about teachings and friendships and meals shared; Luke tells us about prisons and ports and plots. Regardless, the message is clear:  God has His ways and His plans,  mysterious and good.

What would an observer like Luke record about my story?  What would those after me be able to discern about my life and priorities if all they had was my itinerary?

Born in Whittier; schooled in La Habra, Malibu and London; trained in Arrowhead Springs; served in Del Mar, Indianapolis, now in Orlando — where she and her husband waited on the Lord to tell them where to go next.

While I’m waiting, I want it said that I am welcoming, studying, teaching, praying, and encouraging the believers.

Hmmm. When I look at this way, I feel a kinship with Paul.  He only knew what the Lord had put before him to do that day.  He didn’t know the future.   He trusted God to reveal what he needed to know when he needed to know it.

Today at least, I feel a peace that the Lord will do the same for us.  I don’t doubt his plan.  Having us in Orlando this year was a good move.  It’s a good place.  His timing in revealing the next steps is good as well.  I’m willing to wait.

Waiting isn’t an option.  How I wait is.

Why wait?

 

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately.  I must stay in your house today.”  Luke 19:5

I remember waiting for the bus to take me to ballet class.  Mom taught piano lessons after school, and I wanted to dance.  So, even though I was 13 or 14, I took the bus.

Shiny cars zoomed by as I sat on the bench alongside Whittier Blvd.  Every one moved with direction and purpose, the traffic thick with exhaust fumes and rattling mufflers.  I seemed to be the only one waiting.

Of course, if I wanted to catch the bus, I had to get there before it arrived.  The bus driver wouldn’t wait for me.  He didn’t know I would be there.  He would just pass by the spot if the bench was empty.

Waiting for him was the only way to be sure that I’d be there when he got to the bus stop.

So, with bag of toe shoes and leg warmers in hand, eager not to miss him, I’d wait.  And even though everyone else around me hurried by, I knew that to get where I wanted to go, I’d wait.  Waiting wasn’t fun, but dancing was.  The hope of dancing was worth the wait.

How like Zaccheaus.

Zaccheaus knew what he wanted.  He wanted to see who Jesus was.  He was curious. He wanted a glimpse.

But, his height, or lack of it, hindered him.  So he ran ahead to a tree along the road, scrambled up and waited.  He waited for who he knew was coming.  He got way more than he expected.

First, he did get to see Jesus. From his tree branch, he had a clear view over the heads of the crowd. That was all he wanted — curiosity satisfied.  But, then he also got Jesus’ attention.  At that spot, Jesus looked at him and called him by name and invited himself to dinner.

From then on, Zaccheaus needed more than just his curiosity satisfied.  He needed his soul satisfied.  Jesus would turn Zach’s world upside down, inside out, forever changed.

All from waiting alongside the road Jesus was taking.

I want to wait like that… expectant.

Instead impatient because it seems answers are taking too long.  Instead of anxious because I wonder if God remembers us.  Instead of fearful because what Jesus asks of us might be hard.

I want to wait knowing that whatever God has planned for us will be way better than what we’re hoping for, way more than what we expected.

There’s a spot.  A place where Jesus will look at me and call me by name and invite me to feast.  And if I’m not willing to wait, I might miss him when he passes by.

So maybe waiting is less about biding my time and more about positioning myself to see Jesus.

Thanks, Zaccheaus.  I’ll take that.