living holistically, intentionally, and authentically in the hope of Christ Jesus
Azalea Trees and Tea Rooms was born out of an idea from a dear relationship I had with a Sister in Christ. We would walk the streets of Richmond, Virginia to exercise after work and during that time we spent much time praying and growing in Christ Jesus. We would frequent Mrs. Morton's Tea Room, along with other restaurants in the Fan area of Richmond and would admire the beautiful Azaleas along Monument Avenue. I mistakenly called them Azalea "Trees" one day and well, there you have it. I invite you along for stories, lessons, and a holistic approach to living organically and authentically in the HOPE of Jesus, as I experience through the Gospel and life and share my heart with you.
This season of joy and love and gathering brings back a flood-gate of memories for me. It brings back a kindred-ness that has moved into a world evaporated only into recollections. The anamnesis of which brings both joy and sadness for me.
I remember when I was a little girl and the first snow would fall that I would stand outside and catch the snowflakes on my tongue and try to count them. It truly was a futile endeavor, but try I did nonetheless. My cheeks would become crimson, as I pointed my chubby, little face toward the sky. All I could hear was the pat-pat-pat of the snowflakes hitting the ground making layer upon layer of beauty. It was new and welcomed. I would be nearly frozen when Momma would call me into the house.
After I had removed the many layers meant to protect me, Momma would place a mug of her homemade, hot chocolate in front of me. It felt so warm against my hands that had only been layered with socks because we didn’t have mittens. As I lifted it toward my cherry, cold lips, I could smell the aroma of love and warmth and sweetness.
As I glance into the snowglobe of my reminiscences, I become enshrouded in grief. Grief for those I will never see again and for that which will never be again. Yet, joy and peace that it was — and how wonderful heart spurs cause an avalanche of gratefullness.
We all deal with these tender remembrances that seize our breath and that expose our hearts to the point it explodes out of our eyes. They come like a winter snowstorm and all you can do is embrace it and breathe. You breathe through the grief and pain of that husband or mother or father or child that will never enjoy this season with you again. With each Christmas card that shadows your mailbox, the gaping fissure of loss darkens it too as you are painfully aware of the card you will not receive this year. The walk back into the house takes longer than the walk to the mailbox and the cold of the snow and the crispness in the air cut you to the bone.
All of us, on some level, have experienced this grief in our souls over the years. However, that grief and that loss are not surprises that have not already been sifted through God’s sovereign hand. He sifted and allowed it because of His great love for us. For when such is sifted, whether it is joy or sadness, He has done so being acquainted with that which pierces our hearts.
“He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.” Isaiah 53:3-4
My prayer for you this Christmas Season is that you will find peace in the Prince of Peace. That you would find Divine Comfort in the Comforter Himself. That your joy would overflow out of the storehouse of His love for you. Allow the heart spurs to move you to the Babe born in a manger and then nailed to the Cross out of His great love for you! I pray that you would allow Him to wash your crimson-stained sins as white as new-fallen snow.
“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” Luke 1:31-33
There are days, weeks, months, even years that our burdens seem multiplied. I have felt this way much lately. I know that I am not alone in my struggle with the day-to-day of living…surviving.
A couple of weeks ago I found a choir from South Africa singing Dr. John Moore’s hymn, “Burdens Are Lifted At Calvary” and was reminded ever so sweetly of the Burden Bearer. Honestly, I sat down (on my heart’s knees, if you will) and sobbed. I had become over-burdened because I had forgotten to take them to Calvary — to my Savior — I have been trying to bear them all in my own strength.
Why do we allow grief or sickness or other hardships to rest wholly on ourselves and not immediately take them to Jesus? I am not sure that I know the answer to that question. Is it a lack of faith, being strong-willed, or arrogance? I think for me it can sometimes be a combination of all three. I will go back to lack of faith, but first I will tackle my strong will and arrogance.
To be strong-willed is, to me, saying, “I can do this by myself and I do not need your help.” It can certainly mean other things…even more positive things, but not for me. I dig my feet into the ground and dare someone to try and move me. I recall doing that to my Daddy when I was a teenager. He was angry at me for disobeying him and instead of facing him, I ran away from him. I went to a friend’s house to “hide” from him, yet he knew exactly where to find me.
He came to her house and literally dragged me out with my arm twisted around me…like a criminal. I dug my feet into her lawn, sat my posterior flat on the ground, and screamed with every bit of defiance I could find in my five foot body, “I hate you!!” I can only imagine the hurt that brought to my Daddy’s heart. He loved me and I was doing all I could do to prove otherwise.
Sadly, I do that very same thing with the Lord Jesus. I dig my feet in and say, “I’m going to do this my way,” or “I don’t need your help,” shaking a proverbial fist at Him. However, that is not what Jesus said I should do…or how I should act. In John 15:4, He tells me that I cannot bear fruit unless I abide in Him. So, when I choose to do it my way and not His, I render myself fruitless for Him.
Arrogance, on my part, simply holds hands with my strong-willed-ness. It comes along side me and says, “You don’t have to!” My little Miniature Schnauzer, Maggie Mae, takes this attitude with my husband from time-to-time. He will tell her to do something and she comes over and sits by me and looks at him with a defiant, “I don’t have to.” How true that is of me too!! I stand with my fists by my side and refuse to do what God wants me to do. I don’t eat how I should be eating, I don’t care for my body (His Temple) as I should, and so many other ways of maintaining my health. Paul taught that it is wrong for me to have this attitude:
We don’t have to be ruled by our flesh, rather we are to put on the Lord Jesus and the fruits of that abiding are:
Then that brings me to my lack of faith. I worry and fret…I don’t turn to Him immediately…then Jesus’ own words convict me:
Oh, how He knew that I would struggle in this area! Dr. John Moore penned this hymn after reading Pilgrim’s Progress. If you’ve not read it, I wholly recommend it. Dr. Moore understood the burdens we carry, and try to carry on our own. Jesus understood them far better than anyone ever could, as He bore the Cross of Calvary so that we would not have to.
While I have tried to tackle the sin issues we may have toward our responses to the day-to-day trials and burdens, whatever they be, I want to leave you with the knowledge that you can carry each burden and each sin to Calvary. Maybe you’ve never met the Savior at the foot of that old Cross, please don’t let today go by without repenting of your sins and believing on He who died to save you. There is always room there for those seeking and those offering up fresh burdens, whether you’ve been there before or not and to the Glory of God.
Burdens are lifted at Calvary Days are filled with sorrow and care, Hearts are lonely and drear; Burdens are lifted at Calvary, Jesus is very near.
Refrain: Burdens are lifted at Calvary, Calvary, Calvary; Burdens are lifted at Calvary, Jesus is very near.
Cast your care on Jesus today, Leave your worry and fear; Burdens are lifted at Calvary, Jesus is very near.
Troubled soul, the Saviour can see Ev’ry heartache and tear; Burdens are lifted at Calvary,
Psalm 136 proclaims that God’s lovingkindness is everlasting verse-after-verse for twenty-six verses. As I read each verse I became overwhelmed with His goodness and everlasting lovingkindness because I know it all to be true in my own life. Though, when you read some of the verses you are tempted to think, “Why does that prove His lovingkindness is everlasting?”
Surely, Lord, suffering does not prove Your lovingkindness is everlasting…does it? Did He answer me??? Yes, He did — quite profoundly through this Psalm. And, as I looked back over my life and recount the joys and the sorrows, I see Him. Why, is it easier to see Him in the joys? But, what about our sorrows and our sufferings?? Well, we needn’t look harder, just more deliberately.
Throughout 70 hospitalizations, I can see His footsteps, His love, and yes, His lovingkindness. I can see how He sent people to care for me and for my family whilst I was there…sometimes for a month at a time. One of my fondest memories is of my son…only three years old sitting on the floor in my hospital room playing with his Hot Wheels. The nurses would come in and say they are going on break and could they take him down to the cafeteria with them and buy him an ice cream. His lovingkindness is everlasting. Another fond memory is when my son was around nine-years old and it was Resurrection Sunday…but here I lay in the hospital again. Our chaplain friend, Mark, came up to visit me and we shared that we were disappointed to be here on this particular Sunday because it would have been our son’s first time partaking in the Lord’s Supper. He said that he would be back and he went down to his office and came back with the elements so that our little family could celebrate our son’s first communion. It was such a sweet time to spend it, and with our friend, Mark. His lovingkindness is everlasting.
We are adept at celebrating joy and praising Him for those joyful moments, but how do we become more inclined to celebrate suffering or sorrow? Dr. Helen Roseaver, a missionary to Africa, who suffered greatly for Christ said in her book, “A Living Sacrifice“, “Steward well the suffering He has given us.” The apostle Peter said, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.” (1 Peter 4:12-13)
I honestly have never thought much about “stewarding well my suffering.” Yet, I see clearly that it is a fellowship with Christ’s suffering. What a privilege that God would so entrust me with pain, sorrow, and suffering. So, I think in order to steward it well, we must rejoice in it…and keep on rejoicing, as Peter said. To steward it well is to be an image-bearer of Christ Jesus. In doing this, in trusting Him, our burden grows lighter…we are better able to bear-up under it…easily, then, stewarded for His glory. His lovingkindness is everlasting.
(Psalms 136:1) Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, For His lovingkindness is everlasting. (Psalms 136:2) Give thanks to the God of gods, For His lovingkindness is everlasting. (Psalms 136:3) Give thanks to the Lord of lords, For His lovingkindness is everlasting. (Psalms 136:4) To Him who alone does great wonders, For His lovingkindness is everlasting; (Psalms 136:5) To Him who made the heavens with skill, For His lovingkindness is everlasting; (Psalms 136:6) To Him who spread out the earth above the waters, For His lovingkindness is everlasting; (Psalms 136:7) To Him who made the great lights, For His lovingkindness is everlasting: (Psalms 136:8) The sun to rule by day, For His lovingkindness is everlasting, (Psalms 136:9) The moon and stars to rule by night, For His lovingkindness is everlasting. (Psalms 136:10) To Him who smote the Egyptians in their firstborn, For His lovingkindness is everlasting, (Psalms 136:11) And brought Israel out from their midst, For His lovingkindness is everlasting, (Psalms 136:12) With a strong hand and an outstretched arm, For His lovingkindness is everlasting. (Psalms 136:13) To Him who divided the Red Sea asunder, For His lovingkindness is everlasting, (Psalms 136:14) And made Israel pass through the midst of it, For His lovingkindness is everlasting; (Psalms 136:15) But He overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea, For His lovingkindness is everlasting. (Psalms 136:16) To Him who led His people through the wilderness, For His lovingkindness is everlasting; (Psalms 136:17) To Him who smote great kings, For His lovingkindness is everlasting, (Psalms 136:18) And slew mighty kings, For His lovingkindness is everlasting: (Psalms 136:19) Sihon, king of the Amorites, For His lovingkindness is everlasting, (Psalms 136:20) And Og, king of Bashan, For His lovingkindness is everlasting, (Psalms 136:21) And gave their land as a heritage, For His lovingkindness is everlasting, (Psalms 136:22) Even a heritage to Israel His servant, For His lovingkindness is everlasting. (Psalms 136:23) Who remembered us in our low estate, For His lovingkindness is everlasting, (Psalms 136:24) And has rescued us from our adversaries, For His lovingkindness is everlasting; (Psalms 136:25) Who gives food to all flesh, For His lovingkindness is everlasting. (Psalms 136:26) Give thanks to the God of heaven, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
“As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. “We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. “While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” When He had said this, He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and applied the clay to his eyes, and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated, Sent). So he went away and washed, and came back seeing.” (John 9:1-7)
We have all experienced some type of pain during our lives. It’s really a part of the human experience and it manifests in many different ways and throughout the entirety of our lives. Often our broken-ness and pain build…blocks that are stacked one upon the other. There really is no true way to immune ourselves from it.
When I was studying the above Scripture, I noticed several things that took place in the account of the Blind Man mentioned in John 9. There is much we can glean from this man and how it relates to each of us.
What we know from John’s account of the man is that he had been blind since birth. His pain was lifelong…he never knew anything different from it. Not only could he not see, but I can imagine his lack of sight caused many other afflictions for him. He probably stumbled and/or fell many times throughout his life and some of those falls would have caused wounds…bruises…pain.
However, with the physical assaults throughout his life, I am certain he most likely suffered verbal assaults and jeers. He may have faced social ostracization and accusation — thus, the shame that is born from being set aside, ridiculed, and laughed at by others. Even the disciples asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Perhaps it was the “whispered” accusation among many that it must have been his own fault or that of his parents.
I love Jesus’ answer to his disciples, when they asked who’s fault it was that this man was blind. He responds by saying, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” vs. 3
Jesus knew this man before they happened upon him. Unbeknownst to the disciples, and as He always does, Jesus had gone before them to meet them at their question. The answer wasn’t a simple “neither sinned,” it was to demonstrate the works of God through this man.
Our pain is not for naught! It wasn’t for this blind man and it isn’t for us either. God is at work through the pain, and for His glory. Jesus did not coincidentally “pass by” the blind man…He never does anything out of coincidence…there was a purpose…the blind man was sought by Christ, as are we.
“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)
Oh, yes…the healing! I think Jesus could have just spoke and this man would have been healed…there is no doubt about it! However, and instead, Jesus spat upon the ground and made clay from the earth…the same clay He used in the Beginning to fashion Adam in His own likeness…then He applied that clay to the man’s eyes, and then sent Him to the Pool of Siloam to wash. When he had washed, he began to see!
“Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7)
The Knowing and The Telling
This man could not only see things he had never seen before, but he now knew things he had never known before. His seeing begat faith! More than anyone breathing at that very moment, this man had a life-changing encounter with the Savior! Jesus pulled him up out of the pit of blindness and despair and set him on a sure foundation…a Foundation that is the Cornerstone!
The new man went and testified of the Lord’s healing of him…He proclaimed that Jesus IS!
But, what about you? What about your suffering that has not ended though you know this same Jesus? Why has He not healed you the way He healed this blind man? I do not know the answer to your question. Your question, my question, has been asked the ages through. Why does God allow suffering? The wisest theologians cannot answer it and I will not attempt it either.
What I do know is this, and it is my experience, that He works through our suffering. Jesus answered our question best, and with the knowledge only God could have,
“…but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3)
We are here to be used of by God and for His glory only. In the midst of our suffering, we must seek to only serve Him and to glorify Him. The only problem with pain and suffering is how we allow God to use us. Pain can make me bitter, if I choose, or it can make me useful…which is often the harder choice. However, regardless of the difficulty in choosing to be useful, it is always for our best and for His glory.
“In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:26-28) (Emphasis mine.)
Our greatest problem, our deepest pain, our relentless sickness can all be used for His glory. While we might not be healed as the blind man was during our sojourn in these mortal bodies, we know that there is an ultimate healing in eternity with Him.
For believers, death is the ultimate healing because it takes the believer out of this sin-ridden world and deposits him in the next where there is no sin. “The last enemy that will be abolished is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:26) Jesus saved us from the second death (the first one being physical), as Paul teaches,
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)
Therefore, let us live for Him regardless of our pain, and when we die our physical death, let us be raised to newness of Life, knowing that our bodies will never again die or decay!
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)
When I was a teenager and young adult, and a babe in Christ, I continuously doubted my salvation. I truly understood Christ’s ability to save me…I understood the gift of His mercy and grace…I understood well that His blood could cover all of my sins…yet, it seemed every other Sunday I was back at the alter weeping out of fear that Christ had not saved me thoroughly or that I had somehow lost my salvation. My heart and mind were a complete mess.
As I continued in this effort to “get saved again,” each Sunday, my pain and doubt kept cementing that I was not saved at all…thus…I was at the alter again. However, one night I was talking to a lady I knew from work who was also a Christ-Follower and she shared two verses from God’s Word that had a changing impact on me. She said, “Tammi — I have no doubt that you are saved because you are broken over your sin. You have been continually taking your sin to Him. Sweet girl, God loves your brokenness over sin and that you are inclined to bring it to Him often. He will not turn you away for that or mock you or even despise you…He loves you. When you think you’ve lost your salvation, you are feeling the Lord’s discipline on you.”
She then opened the Bible and showed me from Psalm 51:17 where David says to the Lord, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”
This verse comes out of prayer after Nathan had confronted David because of the sin he committed against God with Bathsheba. David was broken over his sin against God…if you read the entirety of the Psalm, you can feel that brokenness of spirit. I find myself particularly drawn to verses 11 and 12,
“Do not cast me away from Your presence And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation And sustain me with a willing spirit.” (Psalms 51:11-12)
In those two verses, I understood David’s heart — not only had his sin broken him, but he was begging God to not throw him away because of it. He felt the pain that there could be should he no longer be in the presence of God. His brokenness brought him to the alter of contrition and repentance. But, it is important to understand that David did not get there own his own. None of us can…because when you come to that alter, God has been convicting you and discipling you so that you are brought there wholly.
Proverbs 3:12 says, “My son, do not reject the discipline of the LORD Or loathe His reproof, For whom the LORD loves He reproves, Even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.”
When we abide in Christ and long to do God’s will, He, like a father, will chastise us and discipline us for our sins. Paul gives us a stern warning about God’s discipline, “It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” Hebrews 12:7-8 (Emphasis mine)
My heart cries out from that verse, “Lord, please chastise me and discipline me when I have sinned against you. Don’t delay, Father, please don’t delay.”
And so, I come often to that alter of contrition — I drop there in deep sorrow over my sin. Honestly, contrition or contriteness is a word we don’t often here from people — so I researched it to find out where such a word comes from and I was astounded. It comes from the Latin word, “Contritus,” which literally means “to ground to pieces.” Oh, yes, Lord, I’ve been ground to pieces —
Does your sin ground you to pieces on His alter? If it is not, I pray that you will allow Him to discipline you as a son or daughter. Let Him love you so thoroughly that you lie before Him prostrate and broken…ground to pieces and then allow that precious Blood to wash you clean — whiter than snow. Beg Him, as David did in Psalm 51:2, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity And cleanse me from my sin.” “Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness, Let the bones which You have broken rejoice.” (Psalms 51:7-8)
As many women do, I struggle with many things. Sometimes the thoughts that satanic spirits would put into my head about myself can consume me. Am I pretty enough, am I smart enough, am I skinny enough, am I funny enough, am I liked enough, am I a good mother, am I a good wife, and the list gets longer and longer the more I dwell on it. I have spent most of my life striving for people to like me…or to even like myself.
These years have kept me in bondage to satan on different levels through eating disorders, self-harm, even promiscuousness as a young adult, as I searched for some man to love me and take me away from it all, like Prince Charming took Cinderella away from the awfulness of her life. But, I tell you that none of the things I have done to harm myself ever took me away from anything. They only added more misery to my life. For that was always satan’s plan — to keep me in misery.
However, there is a new lie that satan is peddling to women and that lie is that “I am enough.” Though, it seems like it could be a good and true statement off of the cuff, is it really? I am going to explore why I believe it is false and why we need to reject it.
First, let’s explore the lie, “I am enough.” Those three words are supposed to empower women to believe that looks, smarts, body image, and all of the other things that women feel that make them less valued are false, to be rejected, that they can then know and believe that they are enough…even more than enough. Further, satan tries to validate it with Scripture found in Psalm 139 to say, then, that a woman is to tell herself, “I am enough.” If you will recall, satan used Scripture to tempt Jesus in Matthew 4:1-11, and it is a practice satan employs often. So, some have put this thought into women’s minds that it is settled because “Scripture says so.” But, does it?
As I have searched the Scriptures and prayed on it and dwelt on it, I surmise that I am not enough. But, why am I not enough?
1. God’s Word tells me that I am a sinner and that I am utterly unrighteous.
“What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.” (Romans 3:9-12)
Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
2. God’s Word tells me that there is only one remedy for sin and that is Christ Jesus.
“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2)
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
3. God’s Word tell me that if I repent and believe on the Lord Jesus, I will be saved.
“But what does it say? “THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.” (Romans 10:8-13)
Precious friend, Psalm 139 is true, we were knitted in secret in our mothers’ womb by God. But, because of Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden, sin was passed along and we became sinners.
“For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.” (Psalms 139:13-16)
“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—” (Romans 5:12)
My friend, I say all of this to bring you Hope not discouragement. There is Hope that while we are not enough in ourselves, Christ became all that is sin, for us…He and only He is enough.
“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:20-21, Emphasis mine)
Do not believe the lies of satan…they are subtle and are meant to harm you with the worse kind of harm and that is eternity in hell being tormented. You are very precious in the LORD’S sight and that is why He sent His only begotten Son to take our sins upon Himself and to die for us…that we might live…eternally…with Him. While I’ll never be enough on this earth in all of its darkness, Christ is enough for me and I am so thankful to be grafted into that True Vine. Jesus reminded us of our value to God,
“Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7)
Pray that you will see the value God has placed on you and not the lies of satan. If you have not repented of your sins and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, please do it now. We are not promised tomorrow.
“And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain— for He says, “AT THE ACCEPTABLE TIME I LISTENED TO YOU, AND ON THE DAY OF SALVATION I HELPED YOU.” Behold, now is “THE ACCEPTABLE TIME,” behold, now is “THE DAY OF SALVATION”—” (2 Corinthians 6:1-2)
I was a bit plowed down by this question this past week. Why did Jesus weep? My heart was not completely able to navigate that question, as I read John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” I have read that many times over the years, but in my grief I was overcome by the question. It was begging for an answer and I felt compelled to explore the “why.”
Before we can answer the “why,” we have to put some context to the verse. Jesus had been summoned by Mary and Martha because their brother, Lazarus, was very sick.
“Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was. Then after this He *said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” John 11:1-7
Mary and Martha knew that Jesus could heal their brother…they had seen Him heal so many throughout Judea. They also knew that Jesus loved Lazarus and would come at their harkening. However, He delayed coming to Bethany. We might wonder why Jesus would delay coming, especially knowing the depth of His love for Lazarus and Mary and Martha.
The answer becomes quite obvious as you read the account further.
“This He said, and after that He *said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.” The disciples then said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. So Jesus then said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.” John 11:11-15
Jesus knew that Lazarus had died. Since He was fully God, He knew His mission was not to heal a sick man, but to raise a dead man. But, why??? He clearly tells His disciples it was for their sakes. I believe that Jesus needed for His disciples to see Lazarus raised from the dead so that when He resurrected, after His own death, they would believe it.
However, when Jesus arrived in Bethany, Mary and Martha were distraught. They did not understand why Jesus would delay coming to them. I am sure they felt quite abandoned by Jesus at that moment.
“So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. “Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Jesus *said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha *said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” She *said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” When she had said this, she went away and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she *got up quickly and was coming to Him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him. Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They *said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” John 11:17-34
And now, we have arrived at the verse that has caused my heart to ponder so deeply its meaning:
“Jesus wept.” John 11:35
Two words that have pierced my heart and my grief so profoundly…Jesus wept. This little verse was not included in John’s account by accident…God is very intentional in His Word so that we can understand better. In God’s intention for me to understand His Word, I have understood so much regarding this verse.
Jesus Wept — He wept because He loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus so very much. He was “deeply moved” by their grief. His heart was pained to see them hurting at the loss of their brother. It reminds me that our Lord is acquainted with our grief and our sorrow. The prophet Isaiah tells us of this surety in chapter 53, verse 3 and 4.
“He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.”
Jesus Wept — He wept because He understood that when He raised Lazarus from the dead that Lazarus would die another physical death again. Yet, He knew that His death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave had swallowed up death. If we Believe upon Him, we are given eternal life.
“Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. “O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:50-57
“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?“ John 11:25-26
Jesus Wept — He wept because of their lack of faith. While it was a momentary lack, Jesus knew that we too would suffer momentary lacks of faith from time-to-time. Martha and Mary’s momentary lack of faith was used to teach us to better trust.
“Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. “Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” John 11:21-22
Jesus Wept — He wept because He knew that He would soon suffer on the cross. While Jesus was resolved to complete the Father’s will, He still struggled with the cup He had to drink, while praying on the Mount of Olives in the Garden of Gethsemane before His arrest.
“And He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him. When He arrived at the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. When He rose from prayer, He came to the disciples and found them sleeping from sorrow, and said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Luke 22:39-46
God has given us such a beautiful picture of His love for us through His Son’s life on this earth. Jesus became like us…fully God and fully man and yet without sin. He set an example for us to follow..in His steps. His heart is ever toward us, as the Psalmist reminds us.
“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15
“For His lovingkindness is great toward us, And the truth of the LORD is everlasting. Praise the LORD!” Psalms 117:2
John Piper said, “Not only is all your affliction momentary, not only is all your affliction light in comparison to the glory there, but all of it is totally meaningful. Every millisecond of your pain from the fallen nature of man, every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that. I don’t care if it was cancer or criticism. I don’t care if it was slander or sickness. It’s doing something! It’s not meaningless. Of course, you can’t see what it’s doing. Don’t look to what is seen. When your mom dies, when your kid dies, when you’ve got cancer at 40, when a car careens into the sidewalk and takes her out, don’t say, “That’s meaningless!” It’s not. It’s working for you an eternal weight of glory. Therefore, therefore, do not lose heart. But, take these truths and day-by-day focus on them. Preach them to yourself every morning. Get alone with God and preach His Word into your mind until your heart sings with confidence that you are new and cared for!”
My grief this past week has only been met by God’s enduring love for me. I must become like Jesus in all things…even my sorrow…it is always for God’s glory. We were created to glorify Him and that does not change because I am sick or pained or tired or grieved. He is acquainted with my grief and my sorrow, but more than that, He suffered greatly physically…oh, what a Savior!
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” Revelation 21:3-4
As I walked around the house Christmas night, tidying up the kitchen and wiping everything down. The Christmas dishes washed and ready to be placed back in their lonely box until next year, I caught a reflection in a Christmas Bauble on the tree, which was sitting quite alone in the living room — the family no longer gathered around its evergreen branches — packages unwrapped and sitting under it — all was quiet.
I saw reflections of love and laughter and joy that had been unpackaged throughout the day. Hearts that reflected Christmases that have long been packed away in our remembrances and new ones that will be wrapped in the fragility of time.
That red Christmas ornament gave me glimpses of all that the Lord has lavished on me throughout the years — the blessings that have been counted one-by-one — the aroma of Christ…come wrapped as a Babe and placed in a feeding trough. The red causing me to recall His blood shed on a tree that bore only two decorations — a plaque that read, “Jesus King of the Jews,” and not a shining, glittering star, like the one God placed over Bethlehem to lead the Wise men to the babe, but a crown of thorns that pierced His brow. The gift given? Salvation, to the world — not wrapped in shiny paper, rather wrapped in Grace and Mercy. All that He has given in His goodness to me — strung, if you will, like lights wrapped around the Christmas Tree…encircling my life and wrapped tightly much like Mary wrapped the Christ-Child in swaddling clothes.
He gives to us generously from His store-house — He sifts those gifts and blessings through His sovereign hands — sifting out that which would cause harm — keeping that which would mature and sanctify. Some gifts we don’t understand, but they are gifts nonetheless — given by a Father who loves us and He only gives good gifts.
As I lean down to unplug and extinguish the lights on that Christmas Tree, I am reminded that He is the Light of the world that can never be extinguished…forever beckoning the wayward to “come unto Me.”
“I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.” (John 12:46)
With the room darkened and only the street light shining through the front window blinds, I sit in a nearby chair to think about the past year. It has been a tough year for all of us and even tougher on some. We’ve ploughed through a pandemic, school closures, businesses shuttered their windows, and for many even death.
“Lord, please show me the reason…the lesson…the value in these things we do not understand?” As I ask the question, the room is still…the night is quiet…my family is asleep…my question is answered.
While 2020 has been one of the most difficult times I can remember in our country and the world, I know from His Word that the things that have passed were necessary and there is more to come.
“You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. “But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. “At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. “Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. “Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. “But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:6-14)
We must be ready — ready to persevere — ready to share the Gospel with others — ready to withstand the tribulations that are coming. Our purpose, as He tarries a bit longer, is to make Christ known and bring others with us into eternity.
“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
Be ready to give an answer to those around you by the word of your testimony, as to why you follow Christ. Be ready to help them understand their need for Jesus and why He came — that is to save us.
“We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” (1 John 4:14-15)
“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)
Therefore, gird yourself…put on the whole armor of God, for we will be in the toughest battle of our lives until the end. He will equip us, He will help us, He will comfort us, He will abide with us.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Ephesians 6:10-20)
Thanksgiving always ushers in the promise of Christmas. When I was growing up in Virginia, we knew that as soon as the Thanksgiving dishes could be washed and put away that the Christmas Tree would be cut down and all of the decorating would begin. There were Christmas Tree balls, lights, tinsel, and the smells of Cinnamon and Cocoa, as goodies cooked in the oven.
Those few weeks leading up to that “magical” day were filled with busy. We bustled from one house to another expecting laughter with cousins, kisses from aunts and uncles, and all the pure love we could get from our grandparents. Packages were left under their trees, as were left under ours when they visited. Everyday we visited our Christmas Tree to see what new packages had arrived and we would pick them up and shake them hoping to figure out what was inside.
The thrill of all that Christmas promised was more than my child-heart could contain and I always so looked forward to every minute of it. I enjoyed the decorations and presents, but that which my heart loved most was our family being together and laughing and enjoying how we were all connected sinew by sinew — strengthened, loved, and cared for because we belong to one another.
Family and friend relationships are so very important as we sojourn this harsh world. Our human experience of suffering and disconnect is restored by coming together during the holidays. We all long for those times, but we know, and especially in 2020, how fragile such is. The pandemic that has torn through our year…taken captives…left many lost and without family because of quarantines, and sadly death has left darkness in many lives.
However, if we reflect on the reason we celebrate Christmas, it all becomes clearer and perhaps we can be comforted.
“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.” Matthew 1:18-25
Salvation had been born in a cave and laid in a feeding trough! The Messiah, promised to the Jews, did not come as the King or Ruler they were looking for, rather He came in helplessness and needed to be nurtured and loved and cared for so that He could then, as a man, be beaten, flogged, and nailed to a tree — a cruel Roman cross. God came to earth on what we call Christmas. He packaged Himself in the form of a Babe born to a virgin, Mary, and an earthly father, Joseph. These two did not erect a tree with lights and tinsel — no, they laid God — Immanuel — Jesus — in a feeding trough that was shadowed not by a Christmas Tree, but a cross. He was not wrapped in shiny paper with bows…He was wrapped instead in swaddling clothes and then death clothes.
Yet, what is the Hope?? He is our Hope! Before the foundation of the world God had a plan — His plan would redeem us to Himself.
“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.” 1 Peter 2:21-25
As you gather for Christmas and gaze up on the lights and presents, do not forget He who came to give you the gift of everlasting life! There is no greater gift, hope, or joy!
“And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” Luke 2:9-14
Upon becoming a Christ-Follower in 1981, I knew and understood very little about God’s Word. I certainly understood that Christ Jesus came to die on a cruel cross for my sins and the sins of the world, and I completely submitted to my need of salvation, and laid my life prostrate before Him in repentance, receiving this free gift He offered…that of Eternal life.
What I couldn’t understand, at that moment, was how important it would be for me to daily sit at His table learning and memorizing all of his precepts. I honestly would not realize its importance until I was in my early twenties. I knew well the verse in Psalm 119:11,
“Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You.”
But, I didn’t understand what that meant really. In my mind it was just a Bible verse I should know — there was no application or need for application.
That all changed for me when I was around 25-years old. I met my friend, Wanda, and she was a student of God’s Word. She dwelt in His Word — she devoured His Word — she shared His Word with other malnourished souls, such as I. But, one day she just got down with me and said, “You need to be in God’s Word — reading it, meditating on it, chewing on it like a cow chews its cud! It’s sustenance for a starving soul and yours is starving.”
It all became clear — I needed God’s Word as much as I needed to eat and drink to live. My soul was starving and parched — and what do you do with all of that need?? Well, I sat down with my Bible and begged the Lord to feed me and He did and He has.
The prophet, Jeremiah, declared,
“Your words were found and I ate them, And Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; For I have been called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts.” Jeremiah 15:16
How is that any different when we feed our body?? I think you would agree that when our body is physically hungry and we satisfy it with food, we feel full afterwards, and contented. I have Type 1 Diabetes and when my blood sugar drops too low, I have to give myself food to bring my blood sugar back up and balance the insulin that is in my body. If you’ve never experienced a low blood sugar, I will tell you that when it drops you become clammy and confused…you start to feel shaky. It is imperative to bring your blood sugar back up because if you don’t, you can slip easily into a diabetic coma. This I understood and I understood it well because I’ve experienced it.
Jeremiah is saying the exact same thing, but the difference he is talking about is feeding his soul and when he did, God’s Word became a joy and a delight to his heart. Well, I am not a rocket scientist, but I realized how low my spiritual blood sugar was — that I had an imbalance! So, I just propped myself up to the Lord’s table and began to feed!
Jesus told the disciples in John,
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” John 6:63 (Emphasis mine)
As I learned to dine consistently and often in God’s Word, I became stronger, more discerning, and better able to understand the Lord’s will for my life. I began longing more and more for the Word — I couldn’t hardly wait for an opportunity to get back into my Bible and study. Peter, when writing to several of the scattered churches encouraged them to “long for the pure milk of the word,” like babies! Babies when hungry and given the breast, suckle fast and hard…they want to get out every bit of goodness from their Mommas. If you’ve ever nursed a baby, you will understand. They are so contented…it is a “delight” to their bellies and it causes them to grow strong — feeding every ounce of them.
“…like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,…” 1 Peter 2:2
The more I read the Bible…the more I studied it…the more I suckled every bit of goodness from it, my heart was delighted with pure joy — I felt full and contented. Conversely, when I do not sit daily to read my Bible, I suffer greatly and my soul does languish. David understood this and he meditated on God’s Word — he treasured the Lord’s precepts — he declared that they were pleasing to his taste buds and “sweeter than honey or the drippings of the honeycomb.”
“The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Your servant is warned; In keeping them there is great reward.” Psalms 19:7-11
I encourage you to make time daily to read God’s Word. Ask Him to reveal it and to open your eyes — to feed you from it — so that you may be sustained and restored by it. He will — He most certainly will!