You Were Made To Do Hard Things

(Quick side note: My blog “location” will be changing at the end of April. Info regarding the change can be found following the prayer at the close of this post.)

When it comes to writing this blog, I often find myself under additional (self-inflicted) pressure to convey the importance of a Christian holiday, to make sure that I address it in a way that illuminates its relevance and value in the lives we live today. Easter is always the granddaddy of them all; it’s the time I feel the most weight of “getting it right” where it pertains to Christian blogging. Today, though, I don’t really feel that. Maybe that’s due, in part, to the fact I am not going to attempt to show you something “new” about the resurrection. As off as it might seem, I want us to spend today focused on the circumstances surrounding Jesus just prior to His crucifixion and resurrection. It’s an Easter message, I assure you, but not a very conventional one. I hope you’ll read on.

Recently, I decided to put my barely-mediocre crafting skills to work and create a wooden sign for my living room. This sign reads, “You were made to do hard things,” and OH. MY. WORD did the Lord make me live that little sermon 100% of the time I worked on that $%#@ sign!! It’s boring and too long to include here, but, y’all, not a single thing–I am not joking…NOTHING–went easily with that sign. It is finished, however. Does it look fabulous? No, it does not. Is it perfect? Not even in the slightest. Is it hanging on the wall and am I still proud of it, despite the challenge of getting it made? You bet, and honestly, even more so because of how hard it was to make. 

I wanted this sign up in my living room, because as we’ve grown more in our individual walks with God, my husband and I have had so many, many discussions about how detrimental, how truly dangerous the worship of ease and convenience is to the Christian faith. Over the past few years, we’ve begun noticing more and more the lengths people will go to in an effort to avoid a challenge, to make sure they don’t have to put themselves out or inconvenience themselves in any way. And HEAVEN FORBID we actually are inconvenienced for a reason that doesn’t directly benefit us, am I right?! I mean, most of the time instead of “Yes, Lord, send me,” we tend more toward, “Yes, Jesus, I will love my neighbor, but I will only do so when I have the time and resources and will not be in need of my own attention. I’m sure someone else will take care of it, but thanks for thinking of me.”

As with any lesson, however, it’s Jesus to whom we can turn to find how we should handle any problem or concern, any upset or difficulty. I want us to focus today on Matthew 26, in those hours just prior to the crucifixion, and I’d like us to begin in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus went to unburden Himself to His Father. Let’s begin with verse 36. 

 36 Then Jesus went with His disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and He said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with Him, and He began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then He said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 39 Going a little farther, He fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.”

Friends, how many of us have wished with ALL our might that whatever awful thing directly in our path would just go away? That we’d be saved from ever having to face that circumstance…that death….that heartache…that incredibly difficult conversation…that new beginning. Jesus knows. He has felt that very same thing. In fact, He was so overwhelmed with sorrow, as this NIV translation puts it, so scared and burdened that He prayed for God to take it away, to change His plan. Look at verse 39. Notice Jesus’s posture before He ever speaks: “…He fell with His face to the ground…” When you are on your literal face before the Father, you are at the very, very rock bottom, y’all. You have no further left to fall, no reasoning left in your brain, no strength left in your soul. Jesus knows. He, too, just wanted God to take it away. “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me.” You and I have asked this exact thing of God many times, we just worded it a little differently. It might’ve sounded more like, “I can’t do this, God. I don’t want to, and I’m not sure I can make it. I am OVER every bit of this, and I need You to do something about it. Help me. Heal my loved one. Fix my marriage. Break this addiction. Save my child. Find me a good spouse. Find me a job. Bless us with a baby. Bolster my finances. Make me feel loved.” And in Matthew 26:39, Jesus says to all of us who’ve ever been there, “Yep, me, too, friend.”

I learned recently a GIANT important detail that I’d never heard before about this scene in the Garden of Gethsemane (will I ever be able to type that out without having to do it one letter at a time??). Did you know, when Jesus was praying here, He was within one hour of full and total escape? No? Well, same. Seems like someone should’ve told us all this before now, huh? So here’s the deal: off to one side of where Jesus is prostrate at the feet of His Father, there was an area of great wilderness. That means, if Jesus hadn’t been Jesus, instead of His walking sacrificially into the death He had coming, Jesus could have absconded and been free within the hour. He could’ve hiked down that incline (especially since His disciples were sleeping instead of praying) and been swallowed up in the wilderness, unable to be found by Pilate and his cronies. Y’all, if ever the mind-blown emoji was needed, it’s here! Jesus could have walked away from EVERY BIT OF THE PAIN, but instead, He offers this prayer: “Yet not as I will, but as You will.” Praise Jesus! Sometimes, when I realize what He did for me, I’m undone. I type this with tears of gratitude in my eyes, because what would have become of us all if Jesus had just been another Lindsey Thomas and tried His very best to escape every difficulty that came His way? Praise Jesus for His goodness, for His heart, for His love!!

And while Jesus is the greatest example of how we can and should do the hard things in our lives, the Bible is filled with others: Paul, Ester, Ruth, Peter, Daniel, David, the friends who lowered their paralyzed buddy down through the roof to Jesus, and several other unnamed women of questionable decision-making, just to name a very few. I guess, if I boiled it all down, the greatest lesson I want to take away from this Easter is this: Since Jesus didn’t avoid the hard, the inconvenient (understatement of a lifetime!), and the spiritually challenging, I shouldn’t either. Instead, I should do what He did. 

1. I should acknowledge how I’m feeling about what I’m facing. Jesus didn’t mince words with His disciples; He told them he was overwhelmed, that He was sorrow-filled, and it was clear He was afraid of what was to come. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling those same things. Just be honest with yourself. 

2. All of my feelings, good and bad, need to be taken to my Heavenly Father. I need to be honest with myself (see #1 above), and I need to be honest and direct with Him. There’s NO HARM in asking God to intervene and remove your problem. Remember, Jesus did that, too. But it’s crucial that we not act like infantile Christians if He refuses. Jesus got a big fat no, and not once, not even sort of, did He pitch a fit. We shouldn’t either. 

3. And lastly, in keeping with the right attitude toward God, we should approach the challenges before us being more interested in God’s will being carried out than our own ease being placated. Our goal should never be convenience. Our goal should never be just to do whatever is easier. Friends, our goal is a relationship–a good, strong relationship–with God the Father through Jesus, and the only way to get to that is for us to experience exactly what He’s planned for us on this side of Heaven. God doesn’t sugarcoat it; He makes it clear that we’re destined to have times of troubles and hurts and aches and pains, but He promises never to leave us. Jesus wasn’t excused from His painful burdens, and neither are we. Thankfully, more good than can be verbalized came from His suffering, and that promise holds true for us as well. 

Have you ever heard the age-old motto, “Only do the easy stuff. Forget having anything of value”? What about, “Resist anything hard and live as mediocrely as possible”? Of course you haven’t, because they’re not real mottos (today’s realization: I am awful at making up fake mottos). Wisdom is no fool, and she is very aware that hard work, inconvenience, and trials are what grow us. If we spend our whole lives, especially our whole spiritual lives, trying to outrun the hard stuff by running off into the wilderness where we can’t be found, we won’t be the only ones who suffer. No unbeliever ever met Jesus after being inspired by watching others skate through life doing only what served them and was easy. This Easter, friends, while you meditate on the incredible resurrection of Jesus, take a few extra moments to remember the death that had to come first. Remind yourself that without His pain and His suffering, Jesus’s resurrection wouldn’t have been possible. God is offering you a really wonderful experience by His side, but it won’t be easy, it won’t be comfortable, and it sure won’t be convenient. He’s going to expect you to do hard things. He’s going to expect you to do things that cramp your style and take up time that you don’t even think you have. He’s going to ask you to love people you don’t even want to look at. But He’s a God who’s chosen to leave the decision-making up to us. He’s not going to force us to say, “Not my will, but Yours, God.” I am curious, though. The next time you’re faced with choosing ease and convenience over the harder but more life-affirming way, where will your worship lie?

Whatever it is in your path that’s not the easiest route, whatever it is that’s going to take more of you than you are sure you can give, He’ll be right there every single step of the way. Friend, God made you to do hard things. He made you to worship Him, to honor His will. He did not make you to worship a life of ease. If it’s God’s will you choose, there will be blessing and breakthrough in your burden. Your Father guarantees it. 

Dear Lord, thank You so very much that You have promised to be right beside me no matter what trials I face. I have some big things going on, God. I have some scary things before me, and to be totally honest, I would much, much rather they go away than for me to have to face them. I relate so much, Lord, to Jesus in the garden because I ask You respectfully to please remove this burden from me. However, although it’s scary to say this and I’m struggling to feel it fully in my heart, I want Your will in my life more than I want my own. You know more than I do, Lord. Your ways and thoughts are higher than mine, and I trust that You’ll never lead me where You don’t follow. Be with me, Lord. Help me to sense You at every turn. Make Your comforting presence known as I choose the route You’ve determined for me, not just the route that seems easiest and most convenient. I want to worship You, Lord, not my own convenience. Help me to grow in this area. Thank You for hearing this prayer, prayed in the mighty name of Jesus. Amen. 

BLOG POST CHANGES:

Hi, blog readers/followers. I will post specifically about this really soon, but I wanted to let you know that as of June 1, my blog will be moving from WordPress to MailChimp and straight to your inbox! If you are already receiving my blogs via your email inbox, you will be automatically switched to my MailChimp serve list (there will be an unsubscribe option). If you are reading this and you’re not currently getting my posts via email, feel free to choose that option between now and April 30th. More info to come….

Thanks so much!!

Don’t Be Fooled By The Stink

I feel like I have started off multiple blog posts by saying something like, “let’s try a little experiment,” and yet, here I am doing it again. (I am obviously incredibly spontaneous and creative.) Over the last few weeks, I have been mentally wrestling with the Bible story I’ve felt God leading me to address and the specific points within it that I hoped to make. I had too much I felt I needed to discuss; a good problem to have, but with a story that spans more than 45 verses, it was clear I had to figure out a more reader-friendly approach. CALM DOWN. I came up with a solution. I mean, who has time to read 45 Bible verses when all those unseen Facebook posts await, am I right?! (insert good-natured eye-roll emoji here)

In this post, I’d love for us to spend some time going over the story of Jesus resurrecting his good friend Lazarus, which can be found in John 11. So in order for us to dig deeper into the goodness of these scriptures, we’ll consider today a “Part 1” if you will, with “Part 2” to follow soon. Sound okay? As I told you…I’m super creative.

At the risk of repeating a story many of you already know, let me take a quick second and summarize our main characters and the situation taking place as we enter the 11th chapter of John.

We are back with our friends Mary (of feet-washing-with-her-hair fame) and Martha (of griping-about-her-sister-not-helping-in-the-kitchen fame), and they are urgently reaching out to their dear friend Jesus, asking for his healing help for their dying brother Lazarus. Because Lazarus is literally on his deathbed and because Jesus is the Messiah and because they are all three very dear to Jesus’s heart, they contact him for his help, fully expecting his immediate arrival and subsequent answering of prayer.

Verse four tells us, “When Jesus received the message, He said, ‘This sickness is not to end in death; but [on the contrary] it is to honor God and to promote His glory, that the Son of God may be glorified through (by) it.'” (Side note: Have a seriously sick friend? Are you dealing with a scary, challenging illness? This is a FABULOUS scripture to pray over it!) Now to me, this sounds exactly what I would expect Jesus to say. I mean, after all, his dear friends have reached out to him, asking for his healing, which he can easily give, and it’s all in an effort to save someone very special to him. I read a reply like that and think yep, Jesus has got this. But wait! In verse 6, it clearly says that although Jesus was aware this was a dire situation, he still remained TWO DAYS longer in the place where he was. Do what?! WHY???? Maybe Jesus knows something we don’t? (Um, yes, always true.) Maybe ole Laz isn’t quite as sick as his over-reactive sisters made it seem? Sadly, no. In fact, it was serious. It was VERY serious. “So then Jesus told them [the disciples] plainly, Lazarus is dead” (vs. 14).

Unfortunately, I know exactly how Mary and Martha must feel. They had been faithfully praying and praying for God to hear them, for Jesus to show up and heal, to prevent the death that was getting more and more eminent. And yet nothing. No arrival of Jesus. No healing of Lazarus. Only death, with its dark cloak and sharp scythe appeared at the door of their dusty home.

I’m guessing I’m not the only one who knows what this feels like…to watch things within our lives that once were so full of life, so healthy, wither and practically die. Let me tenderly ask you today, because man does this subject often hurt, what in your life has that look of death, that feeling of hopelessness? Let me guess…

*your health?                *your marriage?               *your ambition?

*your career?                *a particular relationship or friendship?

*your self-worth?         *your will power/self-control?

*your relationship with God?               *God’s favor over you/your life?

*your future?                *a particular dream you’d held onto for years?

*your will to live?

Friends, Lazarus was IN THE GRAVE dead when Jesus finally arrived. In fact, he was so very dead (four days dead…with ZERO embalming fluid, might I add) that when Jesus approached Lazarus’s grave, which was basically a cave with boulder against the entrance, and demanded that the stone be rolled aside, the Bible says “Martha…exclaimed But Lord, by this time he [is decaying and] throws off an offensive odor…” (vs. 39). In all her grief and upset, Martha is so aware of the finality of her brother’s condition that she warns Jesus: What are you thinking, Lord? He’s gonna stink so bad! Amen, girl! This sounds like some common sense I can get behind.

What is your marriage, your career, your self-worth smelling like these days? Are you convinced that Jesus didn’t get there in time to save whatever it is you’ve been begging him to heal for so long? Mary and Martha felt just as you do, as I have. You’re too late, Jesus. I cried out to you, and you delayed getting here and now look! I’m too sick. The love between my husband and I is too far gone. My current circumstances have completely killed my dreams and plans. You’re too late, Jesus. It’s dead.

Y’all there is NEVER an absence of hope, of possibility, when it’s Jesus who’s in charge. You and I? We are Mary and Martha. We can pray all day and beg and plead, but ultimately, we have no power within ourselves. We can’t heal, and for those circumstances having already crossed over into the grave, we certainly have no ability to resurrect. But let me hook you up with someone who does. When you and I allow Jesus to handle our dying parts in His way, with His power, He fixes things that we swore could NEVER be fixed.

“Jesus said to her, I am [Myself] the Resurrection and the Life…” (vs 25). What in your life desperately needs The Resurrection HIMSELF? You see, for us, things look dead. For us, things even smell dead. But for Jesus, death is no big deal. He’s already overcome it. How can Jesus, who mastered death and for whom death holds no power, be limited by it? He. Isn’t. He. Cannot. Be. Don’t stop praying and expecting! Don’t stop taking to Him your marriage or your career or your zest for life simply because in your human weakness you have decided it’s past the point of help. Lazarus was dead for four solid days. He was buried and starting to literally stink. His skin would have been beginning to decay. But then Jesus arrived. Mighty, mighty Jesus. And he simply spoke, “He shouted with a loud voice, Lazarus, come out!” and out walked Lazarus (vs 43-44). Whatever you think is dead and buried, friends, it is not. There is nothing too far gone for The Resurrection Himself to breathe life back into.

And for those of you going through something like this, I’m sure you’re feeling hurt and frustrated and confused about why God is even allowing something like this to happen to you, to your family, to your body in the first place. Mary and Martha certainly were. When my marriage was all but dead despite our praying and our counseling and our trying (see previous post), I felt so abandoned. I felt like God had turned His head and His ear; I felt like, instead of coming to help in response to my urgent requests, He was staying those extra couple of days where He was, just letting death win. But He wasn’t. He just wasn’t on my schedule, and Satan used that to whisper doubt into my heart and my head. The same was true for Mary and Martha, and the same is true for you.

You probably feel like screaming WHY WOULD HE LET THIS HAPPEN?!, and I get it. I’ve been there. Chances are, I’ll be there again someday. But God knew we’d feel this way. In fact, if you read this Bible story carefully, He even explains Himself to us.

If you look back at verse 15, before Jesus ever leaves to go to Mary and Martha’s, after telling his disciples that Lazarus is already dead, he says to them (and he says to us, too), “And for your sake I am glad that I was not there; it will help you to believe (to trust and rely on Me).” My friends, God is most interested in our relationship with Him. If when we have a problem, we pray, He snaps His fingers and all is set right, we don’t develop much character and we don’t develop a very deep relationship with Him, do we? It would make us happier and it would make our lives easier, or so we think. But you know what? Sometimes God isn’t interested in only affecting you and your family through your challenges.

The Bible tells us that others’ lives were changed when they witnessed Lazarus’s miracle. Mary was changed, no doubt. Martha was changed, for sure. And there’s zero debate that Lazarus was completely changed. But a number of other lives were affected for God as well. “Upon seeing what Jesus had done, many of the Jews who had come with Mary believed in Him” (vs 45). Whether you realize it or not, people are watching you. They’re watching your decisions and your life and your faith. Because you are Jesus’s friend, because you are a joint-heir to the throne of God with Jesus Christ Himself, you are a testimony to His power and His love. Yes, Lazarus was dead. Yes, it appeared Jesus was too late. But God is never late. He’s never without the ability, and He’s always able to use any situation, any circumstance, no matter how stinky it might be, for His glorification. Will you let Him use you? Will you stop declaring a time of death and prepping for a funeral and instead let Him breathe the breath of life back into your life? Keep your faith, friends. Don’t be fooled by the stink.

Dear Lord, thank you so much that I can ALWAYS count on You, that I never have to believe that it’s too late for Your power to work. Father, I bring to You today those parts of my life that I’ve mistakenly declared dead. I ask that You do what only You have the power to do: resurrect them, please. Help me to keep my faith, to trust that You’re at work even when it’s impossible to detect. Use me, Lord, use my life and my situations so that others may witness You and Your goodness and grace. Father, help me to remain patient, to stand firm when challenges and trials don’t get resolved as I’d like. Heal my dead parts, Lord. May all I go through in my life ultimately bring You glory and honor. I love you, God. Thank you for hearing my prayer. It’s in Jesus’s mighty name that it’s offered. Amen. 

 

The Resurrection

Easter.   The resurrection.

Such a monumental event in the back-story of every Christian. If I’m being honest, trying to write a blog post about what this holiday means or should mean to those of us who consider ourselves Christ followers is intimidating and daunting. On top of my deep desire to convey the great display of love and forgiveness and sacrifice embodied in what this holiday represents, an interest in doing so in a way that’s not “same old” or simply a regurgitation of what we’ve all heard at church year after year makes it seem next to impossible. So, instead of stressing and fretting, I’ve decided to focus on just one of the positive reminders that Jesus’s resurrection creates for us, to keep it short and sweet (you’re welcome, Dad), and  leave the preaching to the pros. 🙂

If you turn in your Bible to Mark 15, you’ll notice that Jesus’s crucifixion and death are very detailed, down to the exact times when each event occurs. It states in verse 25 that it was 9:00 am when the crucifixion and torture began. In verse 33, we’re told that while the taunts and brutality continued, the sky completely darkened–it was noon. Take a second and just imagine what THREE HOURS of pain and torture, both physical and emotional, must have been like. How long those three hours must have felt to the man who was suffering on our behalf.

Then, after six full hours, at 3:00 pm, Mark 15:37 tells us, “Jesus let out a loud cry and breathed his last [breath].” It was over. Or was it?

Spoiler alert from Mark 16: Jesus didn’t stay bruised and broken and dead! Praise be to God, for three days later, Jesus rose from the dead having paid our debt in full, having conquered the grave, having fulfilled God’s promises to us, His children!! CAN I GET AN AMEN??!!

This Easter, I pray the Holy Spirit moves in you in a way that’s never before happened when you hear this story and consider its implications on your life. I pray that you feel Jesus’s love for you when you read about those nails, because with each pounding of that hammer, it was certainly His love for you that kept Him there. I pray that you experience something this Easter that you’ve never experienced before, that God whispers something to your heart and to your soul that heals you and inflames your passion for Him and His Word.

This Easter, consider a little fact that sometimes gets lost in all that happens in those chapters in Mark, in those descriptions and retellings of what our Savior endured. In the miraculous emptiness of the tomb. Friends, consider this great truth: so very much can change in just three short days.

I don’t know what death you’re facing: the death of your marriage, the death of your career, the death of a particular season of your life, the death of your will-power, the death of your motivation, etc. But I want you to think about this: if God completely defeated death for His children (that’s US!) in only three days, imagine what He can deliver you from. Our Jesus went from King to crucified in a few days’ time; then, He went from dead to risen, from hurt to healed, from broken to whole, from buried to being seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty IN ONLY THREE DAYS. Whatever it is you’re facing, whatever it is in your life that seems on its last leg, breathing its last breath, don’t count it out yet. Easter is a story of hope. Easter is a promise of God’s power bestowed upon our lives. Easter is a reminder that the mighty, mighty power of God, the power that literally made death a non-issue, is the same power available to you today to put toward whatever area you’re desperately trying to revive.

Happy Easter, my friends! Let’s celebrate! Won’t you let this holiest of holidays serve as your reminder that God’s love for YOU is so incredibly big, even death could not contain it. There’s nothing you’re facing, nothing you’ll EVER face, that’s too far gone for God; apply God’s Word to it and watch a resurrection of sorts happen in your very own life.

Father, it is almost too much for words what You did for me that day on Calvary. Because I know You know my heart, I know You understand that overwhelming gratitude there for Your sacrifice, Jesus. Thank you that I do not have to fear death because You have overcome it and I am Yours. Thank you for the reminders You’ve embedded into this Easter story. I pray, Father, that this year Easter and the celebration of it light this world of believers on fire for You. May Your Word affect us all like never before. Thank you for Your might, that I am able to apply it to those dead areas of my life and see life in them again. Help me to always remember that NOTHING is beyond Your ability. I love you, God, and I am so very grateful for the matchless gift of Your Son. It’s in His name that I offer my sincere prayer. Amen.