There & Back Again: The Gift and Call of Suffering

So lately, I’ve been building my library, adding books to shelves in a quest to answer a timeless question:

Why do we suffer?

Yet, as I absorb Daniel Carrington and Philip Yancey, I’m curious if we should reconsider the inquiry as, ‘How should we suffer?’

For if suffering is a kingdom, a divine call, and the resilience guide to discovering God, then surely the way we endure merits discussion.

Perhaps you’re like me looking to mature through past and present challenges and hoping to think outward as opposed to inward. Either way, as we near the home stretch of 2022, these are the musings of yours truly…the emotional evolution of one still processing the passing of his youngest.

Sweet Jubilee…oh, how I miss you.

Granted, much has started to calibrate since my last post. The returns to certain norms are imminent. There have even been times I’ve wondered why I’m not more depressed than I am.

But at the core of it all, Lys and I feel like Merry, Pippin, Sam, and Frodo returning to the shire from Mordor. Remember what Frodo said when he returned to Bag End in ‘Return of the King‘?

How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on…when in your heart you begin to understand…there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend…some hurts that go too deep… that have taken hold.”

To me, this begs the question: What then can ‘untake’ that hold? How then should the heart resound, if not through soundless bites that in hardship can be the most beautiful expression of vulnerability?

Answers aside, the line resonates, a heart prick that has compelled me to relish the truth:

The author and perfector of my faith is the same author and perfector of my pain who from the beginning of time ordained it as a means for me to choose Him!

Like any day I’m alive, I’m taking hold of it as one made in His image. Like any hour I’m awake, I’m taking hold of it to press into His likeness. Just because my heart is healing, doesn’t mean I can’t partake in divine remedy, the sweetness of God’s Immanuel presence and the power of His strength piercing the darkness.

When I’m tempted to retreat, I remember the out I have to retreat into Jesus. And from there, I springboard into the dichotomy between the questions above…that the difference between “Why do we suffer” and “How should we suffer”, in purest form, is the asker of the latter knowing he is loved by God and is willing to trust in His purposes. That it is unfathomable love wrapped in mystery orchestrating the narrative of triumph and perspective rising from the depths.

Like Lys and I of late, you may feel like Frodo, called into adventures beyond your understanding, wishing the rings of adversity, be it disappointment or grief, hadn’t come to you. Yet, in those Moria moments, remember that’s when the Spirit finds and refreshes us as Gandalf did to Frodo:

So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Sure, the year of Jubilee may be over but as her name implies, the happy ever afters are only beginning. Accordingly, we celebrate our precious daughter Hebrews 12:1 style, knowing she’s not only part of a great cloud of witnesses but also co-inspiration stirring us to lay aside the weight of anguish clinging closely…

…her voice an echo to the Master urging us to run our race with endurance.

As for you, my friends, whatever your mission is, know to be overwhelmed is only human and often the evidence of doing something right. Why not then fuse some Hebrews 12:1-2 along with some Romans 8:28 and Galatians 6:9 into the questions you’re asking? Why not faint not…knowing God works all things, including our sufferings, for good and makes things new as words trustworthy and true (Revelation 21:5)? You don’t have to bear the weight of deciphering your circumstances. Rather, you can bear each other’s burdens delighting in the fact God has you going somewhere. Even if loss is incurred along the way, remember nothing can separate you from God’s love and the victory He has in store for you.

At the very least, take it from Jubilee. Her life was a gift but even more so her legacy. What keeps her Spirit alive is the same Spirit who in whispers:

  1. Reminds us He’s there because He’s been there and…
  2. Ignites us to see how discovering God through perseverance as the best way to journey through suffering.

In closing, I return to Yancey: “As we rely on God and trust His Spirit to mold us in His image, true hope takes shape within us, ‘a hope that does not disappoint.’ We can literally become better persons because of suffering. Pain, however meaningless it may seem at the time, can be transformed. Where is God when it hurts? He is in us—not in the things that hurt—helping to transform bad into good. We can safely say that God can bring good out of evil; we cannot say that God brings about the evil in hopes of producing good.

Selah.

Cover photo creds: mckellen.com

Miracle in the Making: The Jubilee Journey (Part 9)

One week into August…and we’re starting to hit those milestone anniversaries. Crazy how we’re already at the one-year mark from when the Juby Journey started, at least as we know it.

For those following our page updates, Juby has been oscillating on her paralytic the past 48 hours netting in a positive direction. Honestly, given the dire position she was in a few weeks ago, I’ll take baby step progress any way we can get it. Yet, while the arrow is a mild point up at the moment, I can’t help but feel I’m riding a similar line spiritually speaking.

In a sense, I feel so hollow, so numb…it’s like I’m threading the needle between supernatural protection and self-preservation. On one hand, it’s not hard for me to routinely release Juby into God’s hands and anchor surrender in yielded trust; on the other, the depressive thoughts continue to mount, the slope ever more slippery as the need for thought captivation increases.

From the ‘God, am I somehow the hold up to Juby being fully healed’ to ‘I wish I could go back to student pastoring again…somewhere far away from here’…the thought captivity meter is basically in whack a mole’ mode. And I wish there was an off button.

Still, every hour is one at a time laced with opportunities to say ‘no’ to fear and ‘yes’ to higher alternatives. From upticking K-LOVE radio play to binge watching posthumous footage of Joy Dawson, there are many ways to punch Satan in the face these days.

But then there’s last Sunday when Lys had the opportunity to share the Word at The Gate Church in Franklin.

Listening to her speak, I couldn’t quench the goosebumps as she delivered a message similar to one I shared with LEGACYouth six years ago during an ‘Intentionality of Jesus’ series.

Past and present infused, there I was in Matthew 14:22-33, storybooked next to Jesus ahead of his second Sea of Galilee cameo.

Six chapters earlier (Matthew 8:23-27), Jesus had demonstrated His power over the water in the boat; now He was about to manifest His power, patience, and Immanuel presence on the water outside the boat. You talk about poetic symmetry in motion. Here was the Son of God who used His voice to quiet the waves, who proceeded to miraculously feed the 5,000, who had already previewed His identity to the disciples…yet hadn’t employed His move strategic maneuver. At least until v. 23 in which Jesus retreats to pray following a massive ministerial stretch and learning his cousin, John the Baptist, had been killed. Aware of the weather conditions, Jesus then calls notable audible in v. 25:

…He came to them.”

Now, for most reading this, these four words are perhaps anecdotal to the passage’s climax in v. 33 when the disciples acknowledge Jesus’ identity. But to his guy, these words hit close to home in a way I couldn’t possibly understand outside this current season.

‘Cause truth is: The disciples didn’t call out to Jesus to come to them; rather Jesus made the first move, calling out to them so they could call back and respond accordingly. Almost a complete reversal of Matthew 8, Jesus isn’t arbitrarily prayer-walking around waiting for something to happen. Conversely, He is resetting into the Father and planting himself, albeit in distance, to make His presence known. How many times have we sensed the faint fragrance of Christ and like Peter couldn’t resist the urge to confirm its realness?

Granted, we should respect Peter in this story for breaking physics through child-like faith alone. For he knew He couldn’t control the elements yet understood His calling in the moment…get out of the boat and draw near to Jesus…cyclone be darned. Through hell or high water, Peter knew what mattered most was where he was going and who he was going to; hence, why he had no problem doing what he deemed most sensible when he lost visual: He cried out to Jesus for a supernatural, warp-speed extension of the hand ever reaching into the chaos…

…met with the grasp of saving grace.

Oh, you of little faith. Why did you doubt?’ (v. 32).

Not a reprimand, mind you, but a reminder: I’m with you always and was there from the beginning. Don’t ever think my hand is too short to save.

Back in the NICU, I continue to marvel at this little life. As one who feels small often, I can resonate to a certain extent. But strangely, I couldn’t care less…because like Peter, if Jesus confesses His proximity and in response, I ask Him to ask me to believe the impossible…heck, yes, sign me up for that as long as I have breath. No matter how long Juby lives, I don’t want to ask Jesus to save her, to save me, to save my family…if I’m not willing to walk on water amidst the neighboring halls praying without ceasing. I don’t want to ask Jesus to help me if I’m not willing to press into the Father…if I don’t make vertical reliance a priority over a given moment or assignment.

After all, the Son of God is with me…and comes to me. May our faith, like Peter, understand what’s most important and progress correspondingly…

Selah.

Cover photo creds: ImageVine

Rock Solid: A SOAP Bible Study on Psalm 18

Written: July 4, 2022

Scripture: Psalm 18 (A Psalm of David)

I’m not going to lie: I’m not in the mood to write right now. So much going on; so little time to pause and ponder. 

However, on this Fourth of July, I’m kicking chaos (and the temptation for complacency) to the curb. For the first time in [almost] forever, it’s time for a SOAP Bible study. 

As for today’s Scripture, I call Psalm 18 to the stand. For without question, the passage has been a lampstand of late casting illuminance onto present day shadows. Hopefully, for you as the reader, you find similar vibes as we explore some of the most powerful poetic imagery in the Bible. 

So without further ado, let’s dive into Psalm 18 as we probe the stabilizing presence of the Almighty…

Observations/Applications:

Right off the bat, it’s interesting to note the double rock reference in v 2

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”

Upon first glance, we may not think much of the repetition, if at all; however, as we dig (pun intended) into the metaphor, we find rich soil. Specifically, when ‘rock’ and ‘stone’ are used in Scripture, the surrounding descriptors often point to God’s sovereignty as the anchor to communal, emotional, and spiritual stability. This reference is additionally powerful when we consider God’s steadfastness. Just as the rock conveys unwavering durability, so too is our God during our trials and tribulations. For in this life, everything outside the divine has an expiration date and within the restraint, so great is our need to identify our rock be it of ages, salvation, righteousness or simply Jesus as cornerstone. To me, this is why the narrative of Psalm 18 sounds so extreme:

While the disappointments of life can seem intense, they should never be so great to minimize our view of our Creator nor crippling to the point we resist a call to Him. Again, we’re talking about God as our rock – the source of everlasting love, a stronghold against our strongholds, the refuge of all refuges, and the ultimate constant.

As we progress towards v. 6-7, we not only note a stark contrast between God as rock and the rocks upon which we tread, but also our vertical S.O.S in between.

“In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears. Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled…”

This compels an ironic dichotomy: As God, in His mercy, answers our plea for intervention, He often allows a shaking of some kind, a holy dislodge in the direction of freedom where He and hope abound. Honestly, what better way to capture the scale of our deliverance request than to consider the physical and spiritual effects of an infinite God engaging our finiteness. Even if such poetic license is taken to its most literal, the sensory saturation is sensible. While God whispers to our hearts in a still voice, this in no way mitigates the seismic repercussions of when He moves, sets a new thing in motion, and ministers to our hearts. After all, to receive from God is to yield to His power as much as it is to trust His purposes against our perceptions of prosperity and pain. Hence, why we should consider how the potential discomfort of ‘God with us’ is far greater than the false comfort of ego, tolerance, even works mentalities.

Heading into v. 8-9, the Psalmist suggests an angry God true to context, but this doesn’t represent how God tends our brokenness every time. As many a Scripture testifies (see references below), when God addresses our distress, His heart is stirred by love and is executed through justice, compassion, patience, faithfulness, grace, wrath…usually a combo platter of attributes. Yet, though the nature of God’s dealings may vary, the large-scale reality is God never stops pursuing us through them. Given the darkening days and the absolute essence of God, the Psalmist makes a riveting case: Although crises may increase, from personal to global, we have every reason to believe God will in some way, at some point, draw near and provide what we need even if we don’t immediately understand it.

As Psalm 18:31-32 triumphantly declares:

For who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God?— the God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless.”

Shout-out to the hailstone usage in v. 12-13 and the humility/honoring layer in v. 16-30, I can’t help but relish the anti-relative exclamation here. Though Oprah would disagree, the truth is only God can give what we need for goodness and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Only God can straighten our paths and direct us to walk on them accordingly (Proverbs 4:26; Hebrews 12:13). Only God can shepherd our hearts when we feel lost, when we’re sinking in waters we were never meant to walk on alone.

Only God. Our rock…

I know He’s able

As for you, my friends, in the spirit of v. 2,  I raise you a double portion of rock and encourage you to delight in God as He delights in and rescues you from whatever pit of despair you’re in (v. 19). For it is He, our light and life giver, who brightens our darkness to see what He sees, who not only establishes our steps but also purifies them so we discover Him afresh and anew…each and every day. Blessed be our rock and exalted be the God of my salvation (v. 46)!

Selah. 

Prayer:

Father God,

We praise you for being our rock, our refuge, our fortress, our deliverer. We exalt you as the author of our support system. And we celebrate the fact you take joy in saving us. Truly, there is no one like you! As we digest today’s Word and return to our daily routines, we ask you lock these truths into the tapestry of our understanding. In a culture full of extremes, we remember you are a God who constructed the very things that make them possible. The difference is you intended them for our good, for the best possible outcome and we acknowledge our sin, our strongholds, our self-centered tendencies have collectively interfered with your highest callings on our lives. That said, we also remember the Cross, identify with your heart to reconcile and restore, and lean into you once more as our precious rock. Yes, we ask you protect and cover us, but we also ask you anoint, bless, and cover our steps not to preserve us from darkness but to empower us to live as salt and light in an increasingly fragile and morally decaying world. We choose to live from victory, not for victory today knowing the battle has been won. Accordingly, we choose to take up the Word and put on the armor as we recall our corporate identity as vocational priests and our individual identity as beloved warriors contending for your love to be known. Be with us as we go about our days and ways. May we be catalysts in our surroundings helping others taste and see that you are good. And may you be glorified as we surrender all knowing it’s by your Spirit we can resist fear and humbly call upon you to invade our space.

In this we pray, amen!

References:

Psalm 27:1 – “The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?” 

Psalm 62:7-8 – “My honor and salvation come from God. He is my mighty rock and my protection. People, trust God all the time. Tell him all your problems, because God is our protection.”

Psalm 144:1-3 – “Of David. Praise be to the LORD my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle. He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me. LORD, what are human beings that you care for them, mere mortals that you think of them?

Deuteronomy 32:4 – “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.”

Isaiah 2:10 – “Go into the rocks, hide in the ground from the fearful presence of the LORD and the splendor of his majesty!” 

James 1:17 – “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

Cover photo creds: WallpaperBetter

Master Relater: Why Jesus Doesn’t Just Heal our Infirmities

Not long ago, my eight-month-old daughter, Jubilee, received her tracheostomy – an answer to months of prayer, waiting, and wondering.

At last, The Master Physician…not just making a way for greater health but advancing her recovery to the next level.

Yet, in recent days, as I’ve considered the Cross with Easter still in mind, I’ve been moved by the Messianic prophesy captured in Matthew 8:16-17:

“When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.'”

A popular verse among those quoted in hospitals, I want us to consider Isaiah’s verb choices.

For instance, he doesn’t say verbatim Jesus would cure our infirmities and heal our diseases. Rather, he suggested Jesus would take them up and carry them – a metaphoric preview pointing to the Cross to come. Granted, on the surface this may seem discouraging for those seeking immediate results; however, I submit these words can carry powerful resonance if we allow them.

Think of it this way: Before Jesus could heal our diseases, He first had to relate to them. As Hebrews 4:15 emphasizes, Christ identified with us in our sufferings so He could restore our brokenness, transform our perspective, and fix our eyes to His presence. Cross in mind, this is why Jesus did not purchase our eternal freedom at the cost of iniquity alone as He knew our physical reconciliation was part of the package. Hence, why we must understand…

…while Jesus died for our sins and eternal relationship, He also endured our physical limitations so we could better relate to Him in our weakness.

To me, this blows my mind knowing…

…Jesus, even in His final moments, was not only proactive to consider our need to walk in fullness by His grace but cared just as much about our physical restoration as our spiritual freedom.

As for how this can encourage us in the short-term? Again, consider the Cross within Matthew 8:16-17. Before Jesus could instantly heal, there had to be a way to Him and for Him to call us to receive His healing. By establishing this pathway, He also made clear a critical order: Healing, in its rightful place, is not a catalyst but an overflow – a means to relationship with God. Accordingly, since Jesus is the answer (John 14:6), we must be careful not to assume His divine intervention is even close to the solution He is.

Yes, the NICU life, like many settings and situations, is a struggle stirred by our desire to know the ‘why’ of God’s plan, but this shouldn’t deter us from pressing into Jesus. As Matthew 8:1-17 reminds us, healing is a holy prompt to discover God as He connects to our circumstances. While miracles are often perceived as the mic drops of God’s power, dare to see the waiting for them as opportunities to know His love, nearness, and faithful sovereignty in a fresh way.

After all, it’s God’s heart our burdens aren’t the only things growing amidst our perseverance.

Bottom line: While healing is a culmination of God’s power, the anticipation of it should excite our hearts knowing He never stops pursuing us in the midst of chaos and crisis. Even though many of us reading this have felt the letdown at one point or another, take heart: The next time you sense God knocking, open the door, cast your anxieties, and let Him minister to you in ways only He can.

Selah.

Cover photo creds: Shutterstock

Master Messiah: The Final Lessons of Jesus

When we reflect on the Easter story, we often dwell on the Cross and its aftermath. We consider Jesus’ final moments, the empty tomb, and the ascension sealing the end of Jesus’ first coming. 

However, while Jesus’ death and resurrection is the greatest climax the world has ever known, one must not forget the lead-up to Jesus’ conviction and crucifixion. True, He took the nails for our transgressions, paid our ransom in blood, and secured our freedom with the keys from hell. But He also offered some crucial reminders on how we’re to press into the Father during life’s greatest trials…when we feel betrayed, abandoned, even abused. 

Accordingly, as we prepare for the ultimate remembrance, may we heed and receive these final lessons of Jesus…our Master Messiah.

  1. How to Overcome Verbal Abuse

For those familiar with the Gospel culmination, we know Jesus was accused, mocked, and beaten before dying a criminal’s death ahead of His vindication. Yet, what’s sometimes lost in translation is the verbal nature of Christ’s abuse. While Jesus was accustomed to being misunderstood from ministry origins to His triumphal entry, the assault taken as He carried the cross is worth noting.

First, imagine bleeding to death, muscles exposed, your beard ripped out, a scarlet robe dangling from reclotting wounds, all the while carrying a 100-lb wooden crossbeam two miles to your execution site. Then, ponder the compounding pain of venomous falsehoods cracking your spirits simultaneously. I don’t know about you, but words and modern-day recreations can only go so far though this scene is a valiant effort…

Although Jesus had cultivated a lifelong habit of not taking offense, who knows what thoughts and temptations crossed His mind at this juncture. After all, it’s one thing to be mistaken as you’re praised; it’s another to be scorned as you’re dying. Still, even with the weight of the Cross on His shoulders, the Cross was still before Him. Despite the brutal slew of ridicule, Jesus, with fading strength, knew these people not only represented the very thing He came to die for but also what future generations would continue to do. 

Think about it: What we do in secret and subdued fashion tacks on to this moment. In times of misjudgments, we react out of confusion and anger, subconsciously doubting Jesus is who He says He is. From there, we take matters into our own hands and curse our troubles as if the victory on Calvary never happened. Granted, I know an insult to fallenness before us is different than a personal attack; however, I suppose the relatability from present to past is what grips me – the idea we, though millenniums apart, played a part in Jesus’ death, the future weight of our sins notwithstanding.

Like those who cast their slights on the first Good Friday, we, too, must confess the times we’ve a) failed to identify our Lord as Savior amidst our struggles and b) undermined His authority by not taking captive what He took captive 2,000 years ago. 

Of course, given we’ve been forgiveness and restored, why not learn from Jesus by turning the other cheek when we’re derided and declaring His sovereignty during suffering?

For when the world interrogates our faith wondering if we truly believe Jesus is the Son of God who died for our deliverance, our life should speak with or without the words.

Even though we can’t control what others say, we can love by an unwavering stand to deflect offense Luke 23:34-style while stilling ourselves to pray…

Bottom line: Jesus was cursed but not crushed in the face of verbal abuse. While we, like Peter, may occasionally renounce Jesus in word or in thought, this doesn’t mean we can’t stand firm amidst verbal onslaughts. As long as we know what we wrestle with is not a matter of flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12), we can invite God into the calibration of our emotions.

2. How to Pray Amidst Anxiety

Between The Last Supper and Jesus’ arrest, we note Jesus goes to Gethsemane for one last communion with the Father, a time during which He asks God not once, but twice for the cup of His wrath be removed. Anxious to the point of hematohidrosis, He cries out in desperation longing for God’s nearness and an assurance of His will. If there was any possibility of an audible, now was the time to reveal it. 

Yet, even in anguish, a lamb among wolves, Jesus stood firm modeling one last lesson to the disciples before His betrayal. We see this in Matthew 26:36 when Jesus asks His followers to sit and watch as opposed to incorporating them in group prayer. No question, Jesus needed the vertical one-on-one under the circumstances, but this didn’t mean He was cavalier concerning what the 12 would witness. Hence, why Jesus’ charge matures from ‘sit and watch’ (v. 38) to ‘watch and pray’ (v. 41) in a final effort to encourage them. Specifically…

Just because I’m not physically with you doesn’t mean you can’t participate with me. The spirit is willing, the flesh is weak…but fear and faint not. For I long to take comfort with you as the Comforter preps His homecoming. Until then, join in, stay with me, and keep watch though my enemies are lurking, though evil abounds. Taste and see one last time:

You don’t have to be overcome because I have overcome the world (John 16:33). 

Bottom line: Although Jesus was in great despair, He used this emotion to steer Him into the Father, showcasing the epitome of reliance in the process.

3. How To Let God Go Before

Following Jesus’ death and descent into hell, we note an almost anticlimactic return to start Matthew 28. Rereading v. 3, one would think the description of the angels would have been assigned to Jesus as part of a grander entrance; however, just like His triumphal entry, we find Jesus applying the symmetry in v. 7. As the angels tell the Mary’s…

 “…go quickly and tell His disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, He is going before you

Now, I know this may seem like a random pivot point but just let that bold phrase sink in a little. During the final days of Jesus, His life message to His followers, in part, was a progression of hope:

For a short time, I was with you, then I went before you to seal the greatest act of love the world has ever seen. And now, I am back going before you one last time before taking my place on the right side of the Father so like Him, like my Spirit, I can be among you. 

So, it’s interesting as much play we give to Christ’s sacrifice and redemption, the education never stopped. Until the end of His human tenure, Jesus was steadfast to reinforce our corporate calling:

  1. To love one another as a people covered in grace, secured in freedom, and strengthened by faith.
  2. To inspire our unity and resolve to know He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world. 

To the Mary’s, the disciples, and future generations to come…this is why He came back. To make sure we, scattered as we might be, could understand the truth – that as we go tell it on the mountain, the streets, at work, even the most hostile environments, as Christ is in us, God is with us, as in heaven…so on earth.

Bottom line: While Christ’s death allowed Him to take the keys to the Kingdom, it also served as a reminder to generations of believers to come: Since I have overcome the world, I can be with you and among you simultaneously. That is why I, as your forerunner (Hebrews 6:20), will never stop going before you as you learn to teach my ways to the ends of earth…to the ends of time. 

Selah. 

Cover photo creds: Pinterest