Posts tagged Pain

Obstacle or Opportunity??

My favorite season is autumn, and the colors and weather we have this time of year in the South are amazing!  Today was beautiful outside, so I headed off to the mountains to hike on some trails.  As is so often the case when I am outdoors, God uses nature to parallel for me what is happening in my life.  Shortly after I got on the trail today, I sensed God speaking deeper meaning to what I was seeing with my natural eyes.  So I begin to listen intently as I walked.  The messages He spoke could not have been timelier!

The trail was by far the slowest moving of any I’ve ever hiked.  I had to be extremely cautious with each step.  God used the boulders I encountered on this trail to paint a picture for me of the obstacles or hindrances we encounter on our journeys through life.  Here are a few of the thoughts He shared with me:

I was surrounded by a breathtaking view of trees with their autumn leaves, bright blue skies, mountains, bluffs, and the Tennessee River snaking through it all.  The wind was blowing, the leaves rustling, and a nearby waterfall flowing.  Yet because the trail was so rocky, I had to keep my eyes down and intently focus on each step to be sure I didn’t trip…

“Stop.  Look.  Listen.  You are so focused on how you’re going to make it past the rocks beneath your feet, or the boulder right in front of you, that you are missing the gift I’ve provided you through your surroundings.  You do this in life as well. When you focus on the obstacles directly in front of you, you miss the bigger picture – My view of your circumstances, which is one of awe and wonder at the grand picture I have painted.  Not to mention My perspective makes your boulder look more like a pebble!”

I recall seeing a natural-made staircase, formed of massive rocks. As I walked toward it, I heard Him say…

“Boulders – or challenges – in your path are really stepping stones necessary for you to move forward on your journey.  What may appear to be an obstacle slowing you down has actually been crafted by My hands as the only way in which you can proceed forward.”

I could only walk a few steps without having to slowly work my way over or around massive stones.  I’m a person who would rather be running than walking, so the slow-moving journey could have been a bit frustrating had I not been listening for the message in the parallels…

“What you see as obstacles and hindrances to your progress, I see as stepping stones, teaching you lessons like patience, perseverance, reliance on Me…and giving you the increased ability to hear my voice should you choose to ask for My guidance in navigating your obstacles.  These stepping stones are vital for you to move forward on your journey.  You see them as a nuisance slowing down your progress; I see them as a necessity growing you in the process.”

Several times there were boulders in front of me that were at least 3-4 times my height, equally as wide, and obviously immobile.  Some were rounded; others were pointed on the top.  But all shared a similar quality: they weren’t going anywhere!!  If I wanted to move forward on the trail, I had to find a way over, under, across, or around that particular rock…

“Those bigger obstacles that tempt you to panic, be overwhelmed, annoyed, worried, angered, or distracted…those are the opportunities that most excite Me because I know what lies on the other side of them.  You have no idea how much I am rooting for you, encouraging you not to quit right before you encounter the victory that is within your reach, once you get past the obstacle.”

And when I got past those massive boulders, oh my goodness…I was shocked at the beauty.  The trees parted and from my view thousands of feet in the air, I could see mountain ranges on all sides…a massive river cutting a path through…cliffs made of rock…blue skies and nature at its best, free of any interruptions from mankind…

“I told you!!  You never know what is directly on the other side of what feels to you like the biggest obstacle you have ever faced.  Even when you are momentarily gripped by fear and uncertainty as to how you can possibly make it through this circumstance, thank Me for those obstacles, because when you get past them, you will have an even deeper appreciation for what I already know is waiting for you on the other side!  And yes, what I have prepared for you will always take your breath away!”

Some places I had to stop altogether because I could not see any way to get past the boulder in my path.  I was tempted to blaze my own trail, determined to find a way.  But instead, I chose to look off into the distance, find where the trail continued, then with my eyes follow the trail back to the boulder to discover the way around it.  What was a huge obstacle moments prior didn’t seem like a big deal after all…

“If you get frustrated and choose to go your own way instead of staying on the path I orchestrated, you put yourself at great risk.  Instead, ask for wisdom.  Seek it from me first and foremost, but also ask for counsel from those I’ve placed in your path who have journeyed ahead of you.  No doubt they have faced similar obstacles.  They will show you the way past your current challenge.  Their support, encouragement, and wisdom will give you a confidence that you too can overcome this test.” 

At one clearing I came to, there was a massive rock sitting right on the edge of a cliff thousands of feet in the air.  I observed several people walk up to the rock and lean against it so they could safely look out at the panoramic mountain view…

“Just as that boulder was actually protecting people from falling off the cliff, so at times do the seeming obstacles in your life offer protection for you.  Perhaps they slow you down in a way that annoys you at the time, but you later realize it kept you out of trouble.  Or maybe the seeming delay caused by the obstacle provided enough extra time for you to think and choose wisely, instead of making a sudden decision. What appears to you to be an insurmountable obstacle has actually been designed by Me to keep you from making a much bigger mistake in the future. That same boulder, if placed on the trail in front of you, would have caused you concern as to how to get around it.  Yet when placed on the edge of a cliff, you saw it as a place for safety.  It’s all a matter of perspective.  The very thing you believe stands in the way of your progress may have been strategically placed by Me to prevent you from slipping over the edge.”

Only once throughout the entire hike did I encounter a place where the “obstacle” had already been removed.  This was done so that we could walk through effortlessly.  It was a massive tree that had a portion sawed out of its middle…

“On rare occasions, I will supernaturally deliver you from the obstacles you face.  But more often than not, your deliverance will come only as you proceed forward through the obstacle…you won’t be delivered from it, because My desire is that you mature and be further equipped in the process.” 

In a trail that took about 45 minutes each direction, there were only 2 brief strips that were clear enough for me to run…

“In life, there are the occasional periods where no hindrances seem to be present.  You feel like nothing can stop you; you are free and cruising along.  Then, once again, the inevitable boulder crosses your path and you are forced to slow down and choose your steps wisely in order to be able to proceed forward.  Enjoy those seasons free of challenges, but learn to be even more grateful for the rocky paths – because that’s when you are growing. When you aren’t being challenged, you likely aren’t growing.”

Perhaps your current obstacle is a result of poor choices made.  Maybe it’s an ongoing health issue, relational struggle, or some other difficult circumstance.  Whatever the case, I encourage you to adjust your perspective.  Those challenges look a lot different when you view them with gratitude, knowing they are being used to grow, prepare, and progress you on your journey of life.  They are literally your stepping stones forward.

I am so thankful for a God Who is alive and always speaking.  I pray to be one who is always listening.

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What it Means to be Held

This time of year, from Palm Sunday to Good Friday and Easter, it’s impossible for my mind not to go back to 4 years ago, when I was living in Bethlehem.  Though many days and months have passed since then, the sights and smells of the Holy Land are only a moment away from my memory.  That’s not surprising, since Israel is about the closest to “home” that we as Believers can get ’til we are in heaven.

I will forever be grateful for the incredible privilege to experience this sacred season in the very place where it all occurred.  I’ll never forget standing on top of the Mount of Olives on Palm Sunday, watching the “parade of nations” where thousands had come from all over the world to walk the same path Jesus followed 2,000 years prior, as He made His entrance into Jerusalem riding on a donkey.  The King of all Kings, on a donkey…knowing His destination less than a week later was death in the cruelest form imaginable.  What love.

This Easter season I find myself appreciative beyond words for the place God has brought me to.  A place of healing and freedom that I would have never dreamed possible just over 6 years ago.  A place of abundant life and joy, a purpose that compels me to continually share His love, and a position that enables me to daily be a conduit to others of the same hope Jesus offered me when I needed it most.  None of this new life in me would have been possible had Jesus not humbled Himself and chosen to suffer in my place.

The suffering that Jesus endured is part of what makes Him so approachable for us.  He is a Savior Who understands deep grief, loss, abandonment, false accusation, and so much more.  He is a Friend Who walks with us on the journey, never leaving us alone.  There is a song that spoke volumes to me when I 1st heard it 6 years ago.  God was taking me through serious heart surgery – emotionally and spiritually speaking.  At times on the journey to wholeness, it felt like the tears and “bleeding” would never end.  But it was during those days that I began to understand a truth that religion failed to teach me…that truth was what it really “means to be held”, as Natalie Grant sings about.  Religion keeps the heart cold, lifeless, and striving for acceptance.  Relationship warms the heart, bringing hope and life back to the places that were dead, and establishing acceptance in areas of insecurity.  That’s really what Easter is all about.  The resurrection of Jesus, yes.  But also the reminder of the “resurrection” of sorts that I experienced when I allowed Jesus to walk with me through a season of healing, breathing life into the places of my heart that were seemingly dead from years of suppressed pain.

I am so grateful that God’s allowed me to understand this: “what it means to be held…when the sacred is torn from your heart, and you survive…what it is to be loved, and to know that the promise was when everything fell, we’d be held.”

As the song goes on to say, we all have to choose how we respond to hurts in life – whether those hurts were a consequence of our own choices, or the result of actions done to us.  One response leads to further heartache, while the other leaves room for life to break through again: “This hand is bitterness, we want to taste it and let the hatred numb our sorrows.  The wise hand opens slowly, to lilies of the valley and tomorrow…”

Whatever your loss – whether it be the loss of a relationship, the loss of a dream, the temporary loss of a loved one who is alive in heaven but currently separated from you…whatever your deepest sorrow, I pray this song brings hope to your heart, knowing that the One who conquered death, is the very same One Who carries you during life’s most difficult seasons…which is what it means to be held.

(Due to blog restrictions, you may have to click on the link twice to watch it!)


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A Miracle Waiting to Happen

Have you ever had an encounter with Jesus that transformed your life?  If you have, you know that one touch from Him truly does change everything.  I’ve been so blessed to have experienced many “touches” and “encounters” with Jesus over the past six years.  My life won’t ever be the same.

A couple nights ago I was reading in I Corinthians 13, as I frequently do because I need constant reminders of what God says “love” really is.  I had a friend on my mind and was rather frustrated and discouraged with what seems to be a lack of movement in this individual’s life.  I realize that there is likely a lot going on in the spiritual realm, but as far as my natural eyes can see, nothing positive appears to be happening – and it has been this way for years and years.  This person has been hindered for far too long because of the multiple blows and setback s life has dealt them.  They have more-or-less determined the impact of these blows to be no big deal, and have thus survived their way through life.  I very much believe God has an amazing destiny and purpose for every person on this planet.  So when I see people living below their potential, it generates a lot of emotions  – because the devil has succeeded in his plan to hinder from the abundant, fruitful, and impacting life God offers.

While reading and praying, I was contemplating what the balance is between unconditionally loving someone yet choosing not to accept that they settle for less than God’s best for their lives.  I firmly believe true love helps draw out the best in others – talents, gifts, callings, etc that the individual may not be able to see on their own…and that they may actually resist because they don’t yet see themselves as God and even others see them.  In the midst of my thoughts, I asked God if He could give me an example from Jesus’ life…of a time Jesus loved unconditionally, yet offered the choice for change and a more abundant life. God was so gracious to immediately respond with a story that I was already familiar with, yet He applied it in a most amazing and different way.  This has forever altered the manner in which I will pray for individuals who are “stuck” – for lack of a better word – in a way of life that is less than what God has for them.  I cannot think of another time in my life where a story from the Bible has impacted me on such a deep level.

The Holy Spirit directed me to the story of the man by the pool of Bethesda, in John 5.  Often when we hear that passage discussed, the focus is on the physical healing that took place, as well as the question Jesus asked the sick man: “Do you want to get well?” On this particular night, however, I was led to this story for a few other reasons.  I hope the truths I’m about to share will encourage any of you who have grown weary in watching and waiting on God to intervene in the life of someone you love who seems to be trapped and blind to the reality of their own dilemma…as well as its effect on everyone else in their life.

First, the simple reminder of how long the sick man had been laying by the pool – 38 years! That’s 13,870 days – extremely hard to comprehend!!!  In all the times I’ve heard or read this story, the depth of this man’s sickness didn’t hit home until the other night.  The words “man” and “laying” and “38 years” don’t seem to go together.  Men are problem solvers and fixers by nature.  They are go-getters.  So for this man to be contentedly lying around for that many years tells me he not only had physical limitations, but he also had MAJOR emotional and spiritual issues as well.  His physical sickness may have been the least of his problems!!  Most men would have found a way to get into that pool – whether it was by screaming at the top of their lungs until someone finally threw them in, or some other means…they would’ve taken care of business and been on their way.  A normal man would not likely have spent 38 hours by the side of that pool – let alone 38 years!  That was a long time to lay around doing nothing pro-active in life…waiting on someone else to make the next move for him.  The friend I am so concerned about has also been “lying by the pool” so to speak, doing nothing to move forward…just simply surviving, and watching as life passes by.

Next is the description of those by the pool – “Hundreds of sick people—blind, crippled, paralyzed – – there is much spiritual and emotional application here.  The “sickness” that has had my friend for years has literally “blinded” (spiritually…causing them to not even see the depth of their own illness), “crippled” (emotionally…from being able to walk out the full of their God-given gender roles and responsibilities), and it has “paralyzed” (spiritually and emotionally…preventing this friend from moving at all. They are motionless, opinion-less, and directionless unless someone gets behind them and pushes them one way or another).  This is incredibly difficult and sad to watch.

John 5:6 says Jesus found the man “stretched out by the pool.” To me this sounds like the man was comfortable right where he was at.  Comfortably sick; functionally dysfunctional. Nothing was being required of him.  People expected him to do what he had done for 38 years – lay there, watching other people get healed.  My friend has stayed comfortably sick for years, while watching family members, as well as numerous others who have passed through their life, pursue and take hold of their healing.  For the sick man in John 5, as well as for my friend, the possibility of living healed was not yet as inviting as simply staying stretched out in a position of “comfort.”  Though very disabled, this man had grown accustomed to his lack because being sick was easy…he was quite good at it.  Going after that healing was too much work, too much effort.  It was so much easier to just watch others at the pool, then blame people for not being willing to toss him in the healing waters.  It is doubtful that he ever even asked.

38 years. How many people gave up on him?  Did family ever come visit him by the pool?  Did his friends consider him to be a lost cause?  Did he even have a clue that his constant presence by the pool meant that other people were robbed of all God had equipped him to share with his sphere of influence?  It is very likely that no one believed he would ever be healed.  Most probably thought he would die just as he had lived – stretched out by the pool…so close to life-changing healing, yet too far to experience its power.

UNTIL…HE ENCOUNTERED JESUS!!!! I wonder how many other people – sick and whole alike – had talked to this man in those 38yrs.  No doubt many who had experienced those healing waters approached him and told him – “Just go for it!  Life will be so different for you when you do.  At least start moving toward those healing waters.  If you’re worried that you can’t get in the pool in time, let us move you to the very edge, so all you have to do is roll off the side and into the pool when the waters start moving.” I am certain that this man, like my friend, had countless opportunities to pursue his healing long before he encountered Jesus.  I also have no doubt that MANY were frustrated with him because they saw how different his life could be – if he would just go for it!!!  But they couldn’t do it for him, just as you, I, or anyone else cannot make that move for those we love.  This story is such amazing proof that a personal encounter with Jesus – even a very brief one – can alter a person’s life forever!!!

This is what really blew my mind about the love of God and Jesus.  I am sure it grieved the heart of God that this man wasted 38 years of his life lying beside a pool that seemed to offer the solutions to his issues.  Yet God loved this man, and still had hope for him because He saw the man’s past, his present, and most importantly, the man’s future – and that future did not include another day of being immobile and ineffective. God’s answer for this man’s sickness wasn’t the same as it had been for others.  The healing waters had made many well, but for this man – who was doing absolutely nothing pro-active to change his current lot in life – God sent the greatest solution of all: Jesus!!!!

Something major happened when Jesus entered the Bethesda pool area.  The atmosphere changed because THE Healer had walked in.  Those “healing waters” suddenly became just a shadow in His presence.  While there were many at the pool in need of healing, we are not told that Jesus approached any of the others.  Jesus’ focus was solely on the man who was no doubt the sickest, and who had been there the longest…the one most people likely wrote off as lazy and content to remain that way ‘til he died.  Jesus saw the sick man through different lenses – the lenses of unconditional love (by the way, He views you and I through these lenses too!).  Jesus pursued that man, asked him if he wanted to be well, and then invited him to walk into his destiny – literally.  The man accepted the invitation, and his life was never the same.  His life changed IMMEDIATELY – no residual effects of the seemingly lifelong sickness.  It was gone, forever!!!  The man who had been physically, spiritually, and emotionally paralyzed from any type of movement stood up and walked into his destiny!!! But he only did it after he encountered JESUS!!!!  No other human being could convince the man to pursue and take hold of his healing – and his destiny!!  My friend – and those you are concerned for – needs an encounter with Jesus, not another human being advising them what they need to do.

What great hope this has given me!!  My faith has increased dramatically because it is no longer in the ability (or the lack thereof) of my friend to see their need for help.  Rather, my focus is on Jesus, the One Who is powerful enough to reveal and heal in a moment.

Notice something else: the man at the pool’s initial answer to Jesus’ question was an excuse“Sir, when the water is stirred, I don’t have anybody to put me in the pool. By the time I get there, somebody else is already in.” I have heard my friend offer similar excuses such as, “There’s nothing really wrong with me” and “I’ve been this way so long I can’t change.” But Jesus lovingly ignored the man’s excuse, and simply offered the solution!!  The man responded, and his life was forever changed – in an instant.

Do you feel your faith level rising, as your focus shifts to the One Who is able?!!  I hope you are encouraged.  I am choosing to stand on this story for the sake of my friend, until I see them experience a similar life-changing encounter with Jesus.  This man who had survived so many years in a debilitated state was healed in a momentwhen it was the right time, his time!!!  For those of you who are weary in your concern for a loved one, do not entertain thoughts like “well this man was at least pursuing his healing…at least he was by the pool and my loved one is not” – because that isn’t true.  This man was not pursuing anything except the same ‘ole same ‘ole in his life.  We are not told how, but somehow he got to the pool.  Then he stopped, content to remain sick, to not ask for help, and just to lay there and let life happen.  But Jesus pursued him, and when He did, this man responded.

I am praying my friend soon has an encounter with Jesus where they will be forced to answer that question: “Do you want to be well?” Even though my friend is unaware of the depth of their sickness – just like the man camped out by the pool, when Jesus asks that question, revelation will come, and I have no doubt that my friend will respond to Jesus’ invitation.  I cannot wait to celebrate this much anticipated and prayed-for moment!!

You may think that your loved one has had plenty of “invitations” to change, heal, grow, etc.  But the reality is that they’ve been invitations from humans.  Your loved one likely needs an invitation from Jesus Himself.  And when that invitation comes, it will be the right time, and they will respond.  Because Jesus is Love and trustworthy, and offers hope and solutions in a way that you and I never could.

For some of you, the wait for a spouse or child or other loved one to have a life-changing encounter with Jesus has been so long, that you would admit your faith is weak, with unbelief attempting to dominate.  This is for you…

As I was praying for my friend’s encounter with Jesus, my mind went back to that scenario by the pool.  I felt like I was seeing how many people – healed and unhealed alike – tried to ‘warn’ Jesus, “Sir, You are wasting Your time.  We have tried talking to that guy ‘til we’ve been blue in the face.  We’ve even offered to move him to the edge of the pool.  We know he needs to be healed, and we know how that can happen.  But he just isn’t listening to us.  Hope you have better luck than we’ve had, because we’ve given up on him.” Many around that man had lost faith, because their faith was in themselves, as well as in the sick man’s ability, desire, and motivation to want to be healed – which he had none of.  It’s quite likely that the sick man was fearful of what a healed life would look like, because he had known nothing but sickness for so very long.  The thought of doing something other than lying by the pool watching others be healed probably scared him to death.  UNTIL, he encountered Jesus…Whose faith was in His Father, and doing His Father’s business.  Those doubters by the pool…I like to think that at least some of them actually recognized Jesus as the Man who had been healing people…and when they realized Who He was, they likely got a small glimmer of hope that perhaps Jesus could do something for this motionless man.  He did.

So I encourage you again, keep your eyes on Jesus and off of your loved one’s actions or the lack thereof.  Ask Jesus to pursue them, and invite them to be healed.  Choose to believe that they will stand up and respond to the answer Jesus gives them.  Like me, you may have needed a story/Scripture to stand on as you wait for God to move.  Now you have one.  I pray you are as encouraged as I have been!

The long wait can be very wearisome.  The greatest cause for us being discouraged or tempted towards unbelief in difficult circumstances is that our focus is on “man.”  The verse that keeps repeating in my mind is: “With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). My friend’s situation is literally impossible from my limited perspective.  Yet I am more hopeful than ever that my friend’s healing and opportunity to move into their destiny is going to be supernatural, orchestrated by Jesus Himself – because Jesus sees what I can’t see, and knows what I don’t yet know.

Do not leave one tiny open door for doubt, or negative thoughts.  Let this be your heart’s theme until you see your miracle happen: “With man, this is impossible.  But with God, all things are possible…  All things are possible to him who believes.” (Matthew 19:26, Mark 9:23)

One touch from the Healer changes everything.

Takes a couple minutes to listen to this song about Jesus, the “Gentle Healer”

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“I will love you for you” — God

Who will love me for me?
Not for what I have done or what I will become
Who will love me for me?
Cause nobody has shown me what love
What love really means

Is that a question you have ever asked yourself?  Who will love me for me? The above lyrics to JJ Heller’s song, “What Love Really Means,” have struck such a deep chord within me the past few days.  One of the saddest things I encounter are people who have not yet grasped the incredible truth that God loves them for who they are…not for anything they have done, or ever will do.  And while people rarely voice that sentiment, its presence is evidenced by their constant striving towards the pursuit of worth via success and accomplishments, or the attainment of greater possessions or more fulfilling relationships.

What about you?  Are you relying on false identities to help you feel loved and accepted?  For those of you who are weary of trying to cover up that longing of your heart to be known and loved on the deepest level, and for those whose busy lifestyle doesn’t stop the nagging thought – “Who will love me for me?”…I encourage you to listen to JJ Heller’s song below.  As you do so, try to embrace the reality that the God of the universe sees you, and is saying the following to you:

“Now that you’ll listen, I’ll tell you that I…I will love you for you…
Not for what you have done or what you will become.
I will love you for you.  I will give you the love…
The love that you never knew”

May you be comforted in knowing you are loved deeply and without condition by your Creator, Who formed you with a specific and mighty purpose in mind.  He says to you:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew [and] approved of you [as My chosen instrument], and before you were born I separated and set you apart”
(Jeremiah 1:5, AMP)

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Christmas Snow: A Reminder of Christ’s Purity

I woke up this morning to a beautiful blanket of snow several inches deep covering the grass and trees.  It’s been many years since we’ve had snow on Christmas morning, so this “White Christmas” is a pretty big deal!  I’ve spent much of the morning going back and forth from window to window in my apartment, watching the snow continue to fall.  What a beautiful gift from above.

I’ll admit that I have struggled this morning with anger and sadness – not exactly ideal emotions on Christmas…especially because they are so self-centered on a day that’s not about me.  But even in my sometimes unsuccessful effort to walk in the spirit as opposed to reacting in my flesh, God is so good to speak and teach me much.  These conflicting emotions stem from wondering why my presence seems to continue to elicit reactions of jealousy, rejection, and offense from others.  I don’t at all expect that people will have these reactions; yet I see it happening more often than my heart would like.  Although I am well aware of my imperfections, my spirit realizes it is not really me that is offensive; rather, it is the One Who is my constant companion…it is His love that I carry and attempt to live out, and His message of Truth that I stand for at all times.  His presence in me is attractive to some, but unfortunately generates seeds of division and offense from others.

I am reminded again of Jesus…the One Whose birthday we celebrate and honor today.  Jesus’ entire life – from conception to death to resurrection to ascension, elicited offense, jealousy, anger, accusations and a host of other reactions from people who chose not to understand His purpose for being on this earth.  Jesus’ scandalous conception generated offense and shunning for his teenage mother.  Before Jesus had even taken His first breath, the mere thought of His birth caused Joseph and Mary to have to flee – for their lives and His.  King Herod was so threatened by this Infant King, that he had all the male children two years and younger murdered, in an attempt to end Jesus’ life as quickly as it had begun.

As Jesus grew older, His actions were at times even offensive to His parents.  He disappeared from them for days while preaching in the temple.  His response when they found Him: “Didn’t you know I’d be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49, KJ21).  Even as a pre-teenage boy, Jesus’ focus was singular – intent on daily, moment-by-moment, fulfilling the will and plan of His heavenly Father.  Years later, Jesus’ words would again offend family members: “ ‘Who is My mother and who are My brothers?  …For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother!’ “ (Mathew 12:48, 50).

The Pharisees and Sadducees, religious leaders of Jesus’ day, were highly offended at His message and jealous of the authority and power Jesus operated in.  They were forever trying to trap Him with questions.  Perhaps Jesus’ greatest offense towards the religious leaders was that He was the fulfillment of the law they prided themselves in knowing and following.  Jesus was the very One their souls hungered for, yet offense, jealousy, and pride caused them to miss out on what He came to offer them.

The examples are endless.  Ultimately, this Man Who was guilty of nothing but loving people and speaking Truth was so offensive to the masses – the same ones who had welcomed Him into the city with praise just days prior, that they had Him nailed to a cross while choosing to let Barabbas, a vicious criminal, go free.  To this day, the name “Jesus” is offensive to many…from those who believe in other gods, to those who would seek to be “politically correct.”  Jesus, though no longer here in body, continues to cause quite a stir.

So the question remains…if I am a follower of Jesus, and my desire is to become more and more conformed to His image, then why am I surprised when my pursuit of Christ-likeness is a stumbling-block to others?  Why am I shocked, and why do I allow sadness and anger to rule when those who have had opportunities to know my heart and motives still choose to believe falsely about me?  Should I not consider it an honor to suffer (in a very small way) as Jesus did?

God speaks to me so much through nature, and this morning has been no exception.  As I watched the freshly fallen snow, I could not help but think of purity.  That beautiful white blanket, spotless and yet untouched by dirt, car pollution, or footprints.  One of my many thoughts as I watched the snow fall came in the form of a couple questions: “Jesus, how did You manage to stay spotless – like that fresh snow – without sin or blemish, when people were so ugly to you?  How did you keep from having one sinful, fleshly thought, when those You literally poured Your life out for – those You loved to the point of death, treated You so cruelly…choosing to falsely judge Your character, lying about You, and eventually…crucifying You?” Apart from my choice to believe by faith, it truly is incomprehensible to me that a man could endure all Jesus did, yet remain sinless.  Not one angry thought towards those who wronged Him.  Wow.

Even though Jesus was Immanuel – God in the flesh, He was still fully man.  It’s not like He had one up on us.  There was no unfair Divine advantage in His ability to respond to judgments, criticisms, and rejection.  Rather, this morning I have realized again the stark difference between Jesus and me: He was fully submitted to walking in the spirit at all times. That means He was also submitted to responding in the spirit.  So regardless of what people said or thought about Jesus, He had purposed beforehand to choose to forgive immediately and to love unconditionally.  That didn’t mean people weren’t still highly offended by Jesus’ message and jealous of His power and authority.  Nor did it mean Jesus didn’t have some solid boundaries in place.  Scripture makes it clear that Jesus did not come to bring peace; rather, He came to bring a sword (Matthew 10:34).  But what I recognize about Jesus is that He was a Man Who was so focused on His mission in life, no response by men or women around Him had the power to distract Him from His purpose. Not their praise, not their rejection, offense, or jealousy.  Because He was fully man, Jesus no doubt experienced deep emotions just as we do.  But His spirit-led emotions sent Him right back to His Father, asking for grace and strength to accomplish His will.

So today, Christmas 2010, I thank God for the gift of snow, which brought with it the reminder of the pure and spotless heart and mind of Jesus.  While I am so grateful for the gift of Christ’s birth, I’m even more thankful for the example He lived out for you and me…showing us it is possible to respond in the spirit, no matter how people react to His message flowing out of us.  I desire to respond as Jesus did…a somewhat scary thing to admit, as in doing so means I’ll no doubt be given more “opportunities” to practice my responses!!   Yet I’m willing to practice as long as it takes in order for my fleshly reactions to become spirit-led responses that no longer distract from God’s ultimate purpose for my life.

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“Shake the Dust off Your Feet”

I have been immersing myself in the Gospels this past week, desperate to glean further understanding from Jesus.  The Holy Spirit seems to always highlight something new and different each time I read the accounts of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry.  This time around, it’s been the theme of “shaking the dust off my feet” and “not looking back” or dwelling on rejection experiences.

The mandate of Jesus to His disciples, as well as His own example has been so meaningful to me in recent days.  Rejection used to be a big struggle for me, but God has brought much healing to those wounded places of my heart.  Now, I’d say 99% of the time I really could care less about what people think about me, or the message God has placed within me to share.  But it’s been that other 1% that I have so struggled to let go of.  Why?  Because the 1% has included individuals who I very much wanted to know the real me, to trust the motive of my heart, to heed the message I choose to live out, and at times, to heed the message I have been asked to share directly.  The past couple weeks especially, I have struggled to simply let go…allowing God to free my heart from that painful feeling of knowing I have been rejected, in the midst of doing all the good I’ve known to do.  But today, as I intently read in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – hanging on every word written about Jesus’ time on earth, or words spoken by Jesus Himself – God did a sweet thing and brought release and healing to my heart.  Truly Jesus – the Word – is the Bread of Life.  He is the Light that dispels all shadows of darkness.  The model of His life gives the blueprint we are to embrace and follow.

Many times when Jesus was teaching and performing miracles, the Pharisees were right there in the midst of the crowds.  They appeared to be ‘receiving’ Jesus’ message because they were present and listening.  Yet nearly every time, we see the Pharisees thinking to themselves or talking amongst each other, devising ways to trip Jesus up, and ultimately, to kill Him.  They were ‘offended’ by His message, even though they were there outwardly receiving it.  Bottom line, they were jealous at all the attention Jesus was getting, as well as the power and authority He operated in.

God has graciously given me this illustration of the Pharisees to show how Jesus went through the same thing I feel like I have struggled with; people who outwardly oblige the message God has placed within me to share, yet inwardly they are seething with envy and bitterness.  Jesus didn’t let the Pharisees’ actions get to Him.  He read their minds and answered their thoughts on occasion, but ultimately He knew their hearts, and He wasn’t going to be bothered by their choice to not accept Him or the message He delivered.  Jesus makes it clear what our response is to be when His message through us is not received:

  • “If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave” (Matthew 10:14, NLT)
  • “If you’re not welcomed, not listened to, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way” (Mark 6:11, MSG)
  • “When you enter a town and are not received, go out in the street and say, ‘The only thing we got from you is the dirt on our feet, and we’re giving it back’ “ (Luke 10:10-11, MSG)

When Jesus sent His disciples out, He was in essence warning them… “You ARE going to be rejected…really though, it’s not so much you.  It’s what/Who you represent, and the message you have been appointed to deliver.  So don’t let your heart get crushed when rejection happens!!  I experienced it too!!  Just walk away, don’t look back, and go to the next place I’ll send you.”

There is such a bigger picture going on in this world.  You and I can’t allow the sting of rejection to trip us up and distract us from what God has planned for our futures.  I have chosen to let go…even of the 1% that my heart really wanted to approve of me.  I am no longer concerned if people know and accept the real me.  I am letting go of the frustration of not understanding why people choose to believe lies and assumptions about me, as opposed to finding out the truth.  I want to be like those disciples who obediently spoke the words Jesus told them to speak…and stayed in the places where they were welcome.  But the moment they knew they were not welcome they walked away, and never looked back.  It is so empowering for today to see what Jesus and His closest followers went through 2,000 years ago, as they proclaimed Truth and lived out love.

I am so grateful for those who have been receptive (both outwardly and inwardly) of messages God has had me speak to them.  I have been on both the giving and receiving end of a message from God – neither side is easy.  But God always honors the obedient messenger, just as He honors the humble recipient.

Jesus amazes me; there’s no other way to say it.  When we take a good look at His life, it is bewildering how poorly He was treated, when all He did was good.  Yet He continued to extend love, to the point of dying for all mankind, even His worst enemies.  I’m willing to admit that I struggle with Jesus’ instructions in Luke 6:27-30: “ ‘But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back’ ” (NLT).  I don’t feel I have any enemies per say.  The closest thing I would have to enemies are those who choose to believe and perpetuate lies about me.  When I look closely at Jesus’ life, He was rejected and lied about…despised and falsely judged ‘til the moment He left this earth.  This rejection wasn’t just from Jesus’ enemies.  It was from those who should have known Him best and appreciated Him most…those who had the opportunity to know the truth about Him, yet they chose to believe what they wanted to believe – often because of jealousy and their own personal agendas.  Once again, His example is there for us to follow; dying to self, and choosing to extend love to those for whom it is most difficult.

One other thing that was somewhat shocking to me is found in John 6, when Jesus had been teaching the masses: “After this a lot of his disciples left. They no longer wanted to be associated with him. Then Jesus gave the Twelve their chance: ‘Do you also want to leave?’ Peter replied, ’Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God’ ” (vv. 66-67, MSG).  What a reminder that even those who had been with Jesus day in and day out, and thus should have known His heart and motives…a large group of them chose to walk away, leaving only the 12 disciples.  This is bizarre because all Jesus was ‘guilty’ of was doing good: healing people, feeding the masses, and teaching them truth – but clearly His way of loving was offensive even to those who should have had eyes to see and ears to hear.

I am so grateful that Jesus left an example for me to emulate.  I don’t expect to be rejected by people, but neither will I be surprised if it happens…and I will not allow my heart to be so deeply wounded.  I want to live with the perspective of my Savior: “ ‘Count yourself blessed every time someone cuts you down or throws you out, every time someone smears or blackens your name to discredit Me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and that that person is uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—skip like a lamb, if you like!—for even though they don’t like it, I do…and all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company; my preachers and witnesses have always been treated like this’ ” (Luke 6:22, MSG)

“All heaven applauds”?  Wow!  I humbly choose to accept the role of messenger of the Most High King; but with this, I choose to shake the dust off my feet when God’s message through me is not received.  My heart will not be adversely affected; knowing obedience is the love language of my Heavenly Father.  If my actions (and the motive of my heart) have pleased Him, that’s all the matters.

I am also choosing to forgive – daily and even hourly in some cases, when I encounter those who have chosen to believe falsehoods about me.  I choose both to bless them, and to count myself blessed that I have been chosen to share in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings…of which rejection and false accusation were the greatest.  I choose to look forward, embracing my future and all that God has in store for me.

“Jesus told him, ‘Anyone who…looks back
is not fit for the Kingdom of God’ ”

(Luke 9:62, NLT)

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