Sometimes the details cause us to miss the big picture. In Seminary I learned to ask important questions of Scripture—not just “What does this Scripture say?”, but “What is the Scripture saying about what it is saying?” That’s a mind-bender at first, but think about your favorite movie, and how you would summarize it. One of my favorite movies is, “Peanut Butter Falcon.” Without giving you a single detail, the movie tells the story of...
The truth is, the Old Testament of the Holy Scriptures contains multiple stories about death that many readers find troubling. God allowed people to die and sometimes even caused their deaths. For example, one of the stories that always troubled me is found in 2 Samuel chapter 6. God struck Uzzah dead for touching the Ark of the Covenant while transporting it. The oxen pulling the cart stumbled and Uzzah reached out to steady the Ark. What might seem like no-big-deal to the readers, affronted God on multiple levels. The Ark of the Covenant served as a temporary dwelling place for God - a very HOLY God who gave strict, hands-off warnings. Numbers 4:15 says this: "And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the
furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the sons of Kohath shall
come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die. These are the things of the tent of meeting that the sons of Kohath are to carry."
God made it clear not to touch (defile) His Holiness. God needed no one's help in protecting His dwelling place. Uzzah's faith and reverence for the Ark (aka Tent of Meeting) was lacking. Not only should he have been unwilling to touch it, he should have been horrified to do so. God did not need human assistance to keep His dwelling place safe. Uzzah knew better—and he knew that death would be the result of such a breach. As harsh as it may seem, he got exactly what he deserved—a consequence he was fully aware of. God's Holiness cannot be tampered with. Even though modern day Christians (and non-believers too) struggle to understand and/or agree with God's fiery passion for His Tent, the Israelites knew and understood.
Biblical accounts like this cause many to scratch their heads.... how could a loving God strike someone dead? The New Testament presents a Savior, Christ Jesus, who seems to be the polar opposite from the OT God. But nothing in the NT changes anything about the God of the OT. What changed was the solution to the problem of sin. In the OT, the way to fellowship with God was through the priests in the temple and unique encounters with His glory. In the NT, the way to fellowship with God is through the Spirit of Jesus. He is the mediator that allows us to live in the presence of a Holy God.
So, how do we see past the accounts of death and destruction in the OT to see the God of love? I hope and pray some fresh biblical insight will help you achieve a clear perspective—the way it has helped me. We shouldn't fear the truth of the Old Testament because at the core of that truth exists a patient, loving, merciful God who never gave up on His people and never has stopped making a way. He, from the beginning, always makes a way for forgiveness and redemption. Always.
The first episode of this loving God who always makes a way, despite our unworthiness, is right after the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. It's so subtle that it's easy to miss. We know that Adam and Eve sinned by eating the fruit of the tree that they were prohibited from eating. As a result of their disobedience, God banished them from the garden forever, and their sin destroyed the shalom (peace) they previously enjoyed. They would now experience hardship and suffering—their new reality in work and in their relationships, and ultimately they would experience death instead of life in paradise (Gen 3). But more to this story reveals a loving God. Before He banished them from the garden, it says in 3:21 ... "And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them." The significance of this suggests He didn't just "clothe them," he more specifically covered them. And God would continue to offer His covering to this very day. God did not have to cover Adam and Eve before ushering them out of Eden. He wasn't required to personally make garments for them. As upsetting as it must have been to observe His perfect creation deny the perfection He promised them—He showed them the love of a Good Father.
Another detail often overlooked involves God's sacrifice: For Adam and Eve to be covered, something died. Blood was shed. For God to make a covering of animal skins - He sacrificed an animal. We can see evidence through Scripture that God's sacrificial system for purifying and cleansing sinners of their obstruction of Shalom is always accessible. First by God Himself, then through the priests who oversaw the sin and guilt offerings throughout the history of Israel, and now through the High Priest - Jesus. (See Hebrews 4:14-16)
---> Hebrews 4: 14 "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,[a] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."
Just as He made a cover for Adam and Eve after they sinned against Him, God provided covering through a sacrificial system, and with the advent of Christ, He continues to provide blanket coverage for the sins of all who believe in Him. His love is evident through His grace extended to all who believe. The grace of God lines every page of the Old Testament, so clearly in the stories of Abraham, Moses, Joseph, David, Esther, Ruth...and on and on. Rather than overwhelming ourselves with confusion or disagreement over the battles and deaths in the Old Testament, may we be overwhelmed by every provision God made, by His affections for the lowly, His favor for the destitute, and His patience for the wretched. God doesn't require us to like His choices, but He does desire our faith in His choices.
Isaiah 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways.”
This is the Lord’s declaration.“For as heaven is higher than earth,so my ways are higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
I've had a lot of lifetime to think about friendships. The more air I breathe, the more I'm convinced God designed us for relationship. We need and want our people. We need and want our people to remain our people. Shifts hurt. When the intricate details that hold us together begin to fray and unravel, something of the earth seems upside down. How do we fall apart? How do we stay together?
This waltz with friends, when smooth, makes everything else somehow okay. God uses friends to fill some of our empty holes, to be our guard rails and our watchmen. He makes a way for our pinky promises and secret winks to give fresh life to our giggles and add weight to our hearts. Even one friend can burst a heart wide open.
But life can change in a day. Sadness slips in under the door, evil molests the weak corners of the mind and smiles turn to trembling in the darkness. One day is my turn, the next day is yours. The ebbs and flows will ebb and flow—who knows what's up or down? When grief cries out to God, He sends along a friend to stand watch over you.
*The photo above is of my two horses, Ursie (lying down) and Jolene, standing watch. They are herd animals.... when one needs to rest, the other stands nearby to guard and protect. We stand upright on our best days, sometimes we need to rest and other times we need to watch. I'm so thankful for the friends who waltz with me.
It was one rough arff.
At 4 am in Italy this morning, the song coming through the open window of my b&b farm bedroom was of an old, tired dog. I'd been sleeping well up until that point. At first, I wasn't even sure it was the sound of a dog but soon I decided that it was, the occasional gruff arffff of one old and bored. He remarked about 10 times over a 30-minuted period and then silence lulled me back to sleep.
One hour later, singing through the same windows were the morning songs of a variety of birds. Birds in foreign places is one of my very favorite sounds because their songs are not American in any way. They are singing of a different life altogether, but occasionally I hear hints of familiarity. It's also one of my favorite things about this world as a whole. So different. So same. If only everyone understood this. One bird in particular this morning was composing such a song in my ear that it nearly made me cry. It was so beautiful because it was so different. Such a gift to me.
Yesterday for me was filled with traveling shenanigans. Planes, trains and automobiles. Wrong trains but right places. I'm driving a spunky little car with 1/2 a map - meaning - the place I'm staying is literally off the map, but the map got me to the edge, both literally and emotionally. I must have missed a sign somewhere - probably while dodging all the haphazard norm of Italian streetcar drivers. Then I couldn't stop to ask directions because there is no parking here. I swear, if they could, these locals would park on top of each other. Only a sweet miracle from Jesus was going to save me, and He indeed did ....(again).... Not only a parking place, but a sweet Italian woman about my age who helped me find my way back to the edge of the map so I could start again. I found the sign I had originally overlooked and then eventually made it to my stopping place - the home of the songs of Italian birds and dogs.
Today is so new and so fresh. The most glorious morning breakfast spread I have ever seen. I'm even braving new foods. I spent time in the fresh air on the stunning grounds this morning and looked in wonder and awe at the views of Tuscan countryside - a dream come true. I couldn't be more grateful to be here.
Yesterday was my one gruff arff.
Today is my Italian bird song.
**Thank you to my Momma who helped me finance this trip before I return back to Zim to see my other family. And to my husband who has worked extra shifts to help pay for all of our missions trips this season. I love my people. Oh and me - I worked hard too. And to those friends and family who bought jasper or donated to my mission fund (the Zim portion) thank you again and again.
Suffering belongs to us. It’s part of what we own as believers in Christ. Not that we have to suffer but that we get to as part of our forming discipline. The apostle Paul shows us the beauty of suffering in his letter to the Romans.
Romans 8:16-18 “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.18For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
In Philippians chapter 3, Paul describes to the church at Philippi that his own desire is to experience a suffering for the sake of Christ so that he can also attain the resurrection from the dead. Paul seems to have digested the likeness quotient - to be like Christ and to live in Jesus, to walk in His way is to be willing to suffer as He suffered. Obviously Paul knew and we know that we cannot suffer in the very same way because we can’t process anyone’s salvation paperwork and we cannot save humanity, but, can’t we preach and defend the word? Can’t we agree that our faith is a declaration to uphold the word and to be willing to die for it? The word is Jesus and Jesus is the word. John chapter 1 tells us that the Word became flesh. To me, this means that the Word is alive and that there is no difference between God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Word. Our suffering serves a purpose; to promote the saving grace of God. Who gets to rise without first dying? What motivates a person to walk in faith and to serve the Kingdom cause if we don’t first recognize that suffering is a meaningful part of our journey?
So, when I’m reading a book (or essay) like this one and the writer promotes pain like it’s a good thing, I begin to wonder if they had a pitcher of margaritas for breakfast. If you don’t back it up I’d really rather not hear it. So, for the sake of supporting this argument, I don’t mind exposing some of my sufferings that have led to my passion for the Kingdom and my desire to help lead others to the hope that is in Christ and embrace the suffering that comes with it.
Even though my father is still alive, I have spent the majority of my life fatherless. A passion for the fatherless arose in me and led me to advocate for orphans. Over my lifetime, I’ve been abandoned by two of my best friends. The rejection and pain opened my eyes to the needs of others to live in close relationship with one another. As a result, I am a much better friend than I used to be and this translates into the strengthening of bonds. I know how to choose my community and I better know how to honor the communities that also choose me. I’ve been broken free from the chains of greed and learned how to be generous. I’ve overcome divorce with a new opinion of marriage, love and commitment. And while there are numerous other examples from my 46 years (obviously far too many to mention) I’ve also been well acquainted in my inner circles with depression, addiction, death, wayward children, abortion, deceit, and fraud. And I would walk it all again for the sake of Christ. I would live it again to attain the resurrection from death into an eternal life, and to bring along some friends, enemies and strangers.
When God chose Saul to be renamed, to be given a new identity in Christ, He had a purpose. Saul was a Jew who had vehemently denied Jesus as the Messiah and fought with determination to ruin him, but God had a different plan. God revealed himself to Saul and gave him the mission to preach the word among the gentiles even though Saul had been made famous for crucifying believers.
In Acts chapter 9 we are given the story of Saul’s conversion and his new name, Paul. In his travels preaching against the gospel, Paul encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus. His encounter would rock his world and change everything. Powerfully, Jesus would give Paul his new assignment and make him into the primary author of the New Testament. The Lord chose Paul, (Saul), the man who had fought most violently against Jesus and reshaped him into the leading voice for Jesus. And in this process, Acts 9:15-16 says the Lord proclaimed “This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
I have pondered this a bit …. “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” This may not be theologically sound - I really don’t know …. But I almost wonder, did Paul have to suffer because he had first inflicted so much suffering against the very people that he had opposed? Because he had so ferociously brought on the suffering of others that he now had to suffer equally? Or did Jesus want Paul to have a clear understanding of the ways Jesus had suffered for the gospel? And just exactly what kind of suffering?
I do believe this, that there is no such thing as wasted pain. Suffering and trials are meant to shape us to be more like Christ and ultimately to serve His kingdom purpose. Pain isn’t something that we should abhor, reject, dread or begrudge, because it is a component in our faith journey that has the potential to be the very most transformative. I’ll admit that it’s no fun. I’ll even admit that pain has the potential to derail everything. The key isn’t to avoid it, but to be open to finding gratitude and joy in the midst of the trials because Jesus is in the middle. He is right there and He is the Prince of Peace. He is constantly present in the heart of the believer. His Spirit is dwelling in our innermost depths and He is working all things out for the good of those who love Him. These are promises that He is made. He WILL heal our broken hearts. He WILL restore our joy. He WILL use our trials to mature our faith. And at the end of our final breath, He WILL bring us home.
Suffering is a form of fellowship with the Lord. It connects us to His mission. It unites us with His purpose … to bring us all out of suffering.
Heartache breeds compassion. Suffering breeds mercy.
Let us let love suffer.
Lord of all creation, only You know. Some of us already understand this facet of faith but many do not. I pray for them, Lord, that you would powerfully move to stir their hearts and minds to know that you are real and to believe that you are the provider of peace in the midst of our trials. Give them that peace, Lord, so that their knowing will run deep and their hearts will never turn from you. Use our suffering to Your glory. Help us to know that our pain is never wasted. In Jesus, Amen.
LET LOVE SUFFER
My guess is that you didn’t see this blog heading and squeal in excitement. The notion of suffering divides the saints and it is downright offensive to the skeptics. Suffering and the reality of it is precisely what makes large numbers of seekers keep their feet on the ground because it is hard to fathom what benefit could exist in a realm where one would leap into an agreement to suffer. Yet, it’s biblical.
This feels like a great opportunity for me to remind you that I didn’t go to seminary and I lack any credible degree in this arena, but I also maintain an authority by the Holy Spirit to share here because suffering is what led me straight to Jesus. Well, that’s likely true for many of us, but specifically, my heart was opened to Jesus upon hearing the verses about suffering in the book of James. He got my attention through these very verses and they are what led me to leap….and never look back.
James chapter 5 displays the connection between suffering and faith and attributes the need for suffering in our lives so that we can experience God’s compassion and mercy. This helped me so much as I was transitioning from a non-believer to a believer, that I couldn’t have known His compassion and mercy (and all out redeeming love) if I hadn’t walked through periods of suffering in my own life.
James chapter 1 describes the outcome of our faith being tested through various trials and suffering, that it will lead us to a mature relationship with God through Jesus whereby we cannot lack anything. Similarly, this helps me to know that nothing I ever walk through, not any amount of suffering can strip me from all that I have in Christ. In Him I cannot be robbed, nor can I lose, nor will I miss out on anything. Suffering through trials and trouble is what gets me to that level.
Ask yourself this question, “who do you cheer for”? A couple of years ago I attended the bridge ceremony at our Elementary School because my 5th grader was becoming a 6th grader and would transition to middle-school at the end of summer. It’s a rite of passage and is ceremoniously acknowledged with a bridge crossing. I managed to hold myself together well without tears, not even the threat of tears. But when sweet Ryan crossed the bridge into 6th grade, I lost it. Ryan isn’t mine. He’s an awesome little boy with Down syndrome. (Thank God I have one of these angels of my own already.) Ryan has several challenges including speech and sensory sensitivities. When he was very young he required ankle braces to help him walk and he requires an aid to be with him at all times during the school day. It was Ryan’s turn to walk the stage from one end to the other, to bridge over to his new status. Ryan isn’t quite the attention hog that my own angel with Ds is. My kiddo, when it becomes his time to rock the bridge, honestly, he will hard-core rock it like no other and I anticipate roars of laughter because it’s what he demands. But not Ryan. Ryan slowly ascended the stairs and took slow, small steps toward the center of the stage where he became distracted by the balloon decorations and remaining unaware of the audience. The applause and shouts began at a typical rate and steadily increased in both noise and tempo. As the noise increased, Ryan became more aware of his surroundings and glanced to notice that there was an audience. The more that his precious mind absorbed the reality that he was center-stage, Ryan began to smile an expression of humble delight. He waved cheerfully to everyone and then continued in his slow and steady pace to the opposite side of the stage where he was greeted by the new principal and then he descended the stairs. The cheers nearly brought the roof down. The applause was like thunder. Ryan was celebrated so vigorously because he undoubtedly endured a complicated journey to get there. He had to walk real hard. Ryan, his dedicated team of educators and his family endured hardship, heartache and a long-list of unnamed periods of suffering to be able to get him to the bridge in the first place - and everyone knew it.
Guess who wasn’t celebrated with that level of thunderous shouts and applause? The kid that exited the womb reciting the times tables. Oh, don’t get me wrong, we celebrated those who impressed the socks off of everyone - but it wasn’t with thunder and roars. Ryan received our kindness and compassion and the mercies of all of his team because he had endured so much struggle. It wouldn’t have been as glorious if it had been easy. And neither will our lives. Our suffering will bridge us over to glory. It’s part of the deal, thunder and all. According to Scripture, our sufferings are reason to celebrate because they are the bridge that leads to an unwavering faith.
(to be continued tomorrow)