Broken Down on Every Side

I found this in my files last week; I had started writing it a while back, but hadn’t finished. The content was incredibly timely for me, and I pray it will be useful to you:

[God] has stripped from me my glory and taken the crown from my head. He breaks me down on every side, and I am gone, and my hope has he pulled up like a tree. (Job 19:10-11)

Stripped, broken, uprooted. These are difficult words to read, though they’re a strange comfort to those enduring such pains. Job’s confession resonated with me, as he put into words what I failed to speak, not by choice, but because I simply did not know how.

In the darkness of suffering, which looks different for everyone, we are faced with the uneasy, painful reality of having to die to ourselves. My confession: I still don’t fully understand what that means. Yet, day by day, God is teaching me.

Most recently, this dying-to-self has come from feeling that God is far away when I need him most, and that there is nothing I can do but keep believing that he will help me trust him.

We lean on earthly glories, and we boast in our crowns—until they are stripped from us. We then realize that they were crummy gods, unable to give us life, meaning, or joy. They couldn’t bear the weight of our soul’s greatest need, which is to be satisfied in Jesus alone, forever. They couldn’t provide what we were searching for—and it is good when they are “gone.”

God strips earthly glories from us so we will learn to treasure him.

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The God Who Heals

She trails behind the crowd, uncertain if she should approach. The mass of people surrounding him overwhelms her; she can’t see what he’s doing, where he’s going, let alone hear him speak.

She’d heard the reports about Jesus, amazing reports. Of healing, demon-expulsion, miracles. And Lord, did she need a miracle. It had been 12 years—12 long years of the incessant flow, of her very lifeblood draining from her. And not only that, but her savings, her possessions, her strength, her hope that anything would ever change.

Here, standing before her, was the man they said was a miracle-worker, a change-maker, the one who could cause impossible things to happen—and stop them from happening. This was Jesus of Nazareth.

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The Nation That Tries to Heal Itself Can Only Destroy Itself

One thing after another. That’s the way it’s felt this past month, as acts of terrorism and violence have escalated and followed on one another’s heels. I find myself waking up each day wondering what the headlines will say, wondering what happened while I was sleeping or moving about daily life…

Violence is starting to feel normal and, though no believer should be surprised at evil’s presence, we are becoming freshly sensitive to its increasing prevalence. If I’m honest, I’m afraid, baffled, ashamed, and sad all at once.

Certain headlines and official statements haven’t helped. News headlines like “Who can heal America?” and remarks from our President read, “Only we can prove that we have the grace and character and the common humanity to end this kind of senseless violence.”

The worldview behind such thinking is even more saddening because we cannot be the solution when we are actually the problem.

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Your Opinion of Jesus Is a Matter of Life and Death

What’s your opinion of Jesus?

When it comes to Jesus Christ, there really is no neutral ground. According to chapters five and six of the Gospel of Mark, there are two opinions a person can have about Jesus, but the two are not created equal. In fact, what we believe about Jesus is a matter of life and death.

Rejected at Nazareth

We read in Mark 6:1-6 about the first of these two opinions:

[Jesus] went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching.

Summarizing this story is, “And [Jesus] marveled because of their unbelief.” In other words, within the human heart exists an opinion of Christ that is rooted in unbelief.

Notice the progression of the peoples’ questions, which begins in astonishment and ends in downright vexation: “And they took offense at him.” To the people of Nazareth, Jesus was merely a human teacher to be questioned, and the result of their unbelief was a lack of mighty works being accomplished in their presence.

Received by Jarius

Our second opinion of Jesus comes from Mark chapter five:

And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live…”

They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. (Mark 5:21-23, 35-43)

Unlike the people of Nazareth, who insisted on questioning Jesus out of the hardness of their hearts, Jarius believes that Jesus is able to accomplish great works – in fact, that he is the source of life itself. Jarius has faith that Jesus can raise his daughter from the dead, despite the flagrant unbelief of the other people who are gathered at his house (who are weeping from sadness and laughing at Jesus’ claim that the girl is only asleep).

To Jarius, Jesus was not a teacher worth questioning, he was a Savior worth believing.

A Matter of Life or Death

What’s your opinion of Jesus? Do you resonate more with the people of Nazareth or with Jarius? To you, is Jesus merely a good teacher with some helpful morality to admire, or is he the source of life?

If our final say about Jesus is merely that he was a good teacher, we should take a moment to consider that argument. Jesus cannot possibly be a good teacher, worthy of respect, if he was lying about his identity as the Son of God!

We should consider what is at stake in our opinion of Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us that Jesus is our source of life, just as he was for Jarius’ daughter.  And if Jesus is the source of life, if he really is who he says he is, then anyone who rejects him is ultimately choosing death, not only in this life but in the life to come.

If we are not living for Jesus in this life, then we are living for ourselves. Now, it may seem like living for ourselves isn’t such a bad thing; doing what we want, when we want to, can actually feel freeing! But it is an elusive freedom. What we don’t realize is that we are slowly becoming more and more hardened to the things that really matter: the things of eternity. And the longer we turn our faces, the harder we will become.

Some day the Bible says that our earthly lives will end and we will stand before Jesus (Philippians 2:9-11). There’s no avoiding the Day. Our humanity and our selfish way of life will be exposed, and what will we have to say for ourselves then? What excuse will we have for our selfish living, for turning our faces from the truth? Those of us reading this article won’t be able to plead ignorance about Jesus Christ!

But if we are willing, like Jarius, to believe that Jesus is who he says he is, the Christ and life itself, then we will hear Jesus’ response: “Arise!” For the person who takes a chance on Christ, who sees the true condition of his or her soul as dead and unable to save themselves, Jesus is willing to resurrect! Jesus is willing to give new life and new hope with a simple “Yes and amen.”

Jesus is looking for us to recognize our need for his help – not for perfect people, for none exist. He doesn’t wait until we “shape up,” but he extends undeserved grace and mercy to us while we are yet sinners.

The one who loses his or her life for Christ’s sake actually saves it in the long run (Mark 8:34-35).

Our opinions of Jesus are a matter of life or death. Eternity goes one of two ways; there is no neutral ground where Jesus is concerned. So pray for clarity about who Jesus is. Ask him to reveal himself to you. Give the Bible a chance, open it, and read about him.

For those who seek him will find him, if they seek him with all of their hearts (Jeremiah 29:13).

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The Cross Makes Good of All Our Mess

Dried tears are evidenced on my face as I write this. I feel like a mess.

I couldn’t stop the outpouring of anger that came upon me not thirty minutes ago. Pain and discomfort had re-entered my body this week with a vengeance, after an extended period of feeling well, stable, hopeful.

So I reached my emotional limit and out poured the tears.

Tears of anger, tears of fear, tears of worry. Even tears of thanksgiving for the breaking of my pride, though, I confess, the thankfulness sometimes comes through gritted teeth. The truth is, my body often feels like a mess, and I cannot make sense of much of it.

This is where believing the truth comes into play. This is where I must redirect what I feel to be true of God to rehearsing what I know to be true of him. This is where God’s Word speaks straight to the pain.

What about you? What mess are you in at the present moment?

Are you dealing with a disease, or even a temporarily illness, that seems to be holding you back from activity? Are you in the middle of a nasty family feud? Are you married to someone who does not love the Lord? Are you about to lose your job?

Here’s what is so good: the relevancy of God’s Word stands throughout time and generations. It it for you and for me, right here and right now. Joseph and Jacob, for example, experienced their own slew of messes within their lifetimes, and we have much to learn from their stories.

Let’s remember one particular story from the end of the book of Genesis…

…Jacob is giving his blessing to Joseph’s two sons, which will continue the promise of God to multiply a people for himself from their family line. The scene is reminiscent of a previous one (can you guess it?) where Jacob tricks his father, Isaac, into giving him the birthright that belonged to his brother, Esau.

Deception in Jacob’s boyhood was followed by a series of messy life circumstances: fleeing from Esau and having to settle in a new land; wrestling with an angel of the Lord; raising twelve sons, some of whom were rebellious murderers; and grieving the loss of Joseph, his beloved son, when he is sold into Egyptian slavery by the very same hateful brothers.

It seems that Jacob’s mess could have very little good come from it, right?

Yet, in Genesis 48, we see him at the end of his very full life, having seen his sons reconciled to Joseph (now the governor of Egypt) and his two grandchildren receiving the blessing of God’s promise for his people. This mess wasn’t what it seemed.

Read Joseph’s words to his repentant brothers from Genesis 49:

“Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 49:20-21)

What the world, the enemy, and the flesh intend for our evil, God intends for our good. This is the marvelous promise of Scripture to you and to me, despite our various life-messes and, in fact, right in the middle of them.

God’s story most certainly doesn’t end there. For from the line of Jacob and Joseph, from the line of King David, there is born the Promised One, Jesus Christ, who would save the people from their sins by bearing their iniquities on the cross.

Here is the astonishing truth we must know about the supposed “mess” of the crucifixion:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with [Christ], having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:13-15)

Read that last verse again. Can you believe this?! The most atrocious act of human and spiritual hatred in all of history, come to pass by human hands and ordained by God himself, was intended for good. The enemy inaugurated and delivered his own defeat! When Christ was nailed to the cross, God had already planned the victorious resurrection and ascension of his Son, Christ proclaiming to the world that death no longer has any hold on those who trust in his ability to save the lost.

Oh Lord Jesus, if you could take something as horrible as your death at Calvary and use it for our salvation, how much more can you transform our present circumstances into eternal good? How could you not be glorified by our sufferings? Take our messes and make them beautiful conduits of your grace and mercy, reflections of the sufferings of Christ, and a witness to our world. Make them to serve your glorious purposes, and fill our hearts with the living hope of your resurrection.

For our light and momentary afflictions — our earthly messes — are preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison! The cross makes good of all our mess.

Burning Torches

Based on Isaiah 50:10-11.

She forged ahead, confident, certain that what she was doing was right. Until it went wrong, until it all went up in flames. The plans she had made crumbled before her, and her mind swarmed with questions. How could this have happened? Where did I make a wrong turn? Why, Lord?

The future she had envisioned – the husband, the happy home, the contentment – vanished before her very eyes. It was almost as if a light had flickered out in her heart, that some semblance of hope had died when the dream did.

And it made her wonder, was it really hope at all? Or was it false? Was the light she had been pursuing in that relationship really light, or was it a spotting flicker she had fashioned for her own sake, wanting it so desperately to be real, to be right?

A consuming fire sustains, but a self-kindled fire, a burning torch, flickers and eventually dies. There is no life in a mere rod of wood, no power in a man-made device. She had crafted for herself a burning torch to guide her, all the while neglecting the lasting light that was already hers in Christ.

His light had been hers from the time he had first wooed her. It had never been retracted; rather, it was haughtily pushed aside, quenched, replaced. By a mere spot of flickering flame, sustained by a piece of earth.

The fire she had kindled to be her own guide proved ineffective when the rains came, for it smoldered and went out as quickly as it had sparked. And when the skies poured down their gracious rains, she realized the light of her Consuming Fire was all she could look to for help and for hope.

Only by the light of his fire would she move forward to restoration, to remembrance. The light of Christ would be her confidence, her reward, and would consume in its power her foolish, smoldering torch.

But she would not be burned up. No. She would be refined, as gold in the flames.

God’s Will in Our Suffering

I’ve needed a little reminding today. And so I’m writing this for myself. And for you.

The road to healing comes with twists and turns. Thank God that he always stays the same! I’ve personally had a trying couple of days, causing me to think about God’s purpose in suffering.

So if you’re suffering today in any way, my hope is that you’ll be encouraged to continue standing firmly on Christ and his unfailing love for you through the gospel of grace.

Here are two brief thoughts on God’s will in our suffering:

God wills that our treasure would be found in heaven. Often, suffering involves some sort of loss.

Think about the last thing you lost. Maybe it was a job. Maybe it was a beloved family member, a dear friend, or a child. Maybe it was your health. Or maybe it was something as simple as a calendar appointment that got cancelled at the last minute.

Earthly treasures can be beautiful gifts. Losing them, at best, is not preferred and, at worst, is downright difficult, unfair, and even grievous.

No matter what your “something” is, we’ve all placed some treasure in the passing glories of the world. It’s only when that worldly glory fades away that we’re left to consider the foundation upon which we’ve built our hope.

This is why Jesus says in Matthew 7:24, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.”

Our Rock and Redeemer is Jesus Christ, our true and lasting Treasure, who alone gives his children an inheritance that extends far beyond this earthly life. All worldly treasures pale in comparison to what we have already received in Christ, and what we shall someday receive with him in glory.

God wills that we would continue to bear fruit for the advance of the gospel. The human impulse is to lose heart during hard seasons that test our faith, but these are precisely the times and platforms by which God would have us persevere and bear witness to Christ. Hardship and suffering speak to people, even to those whose hearts might seem to be completely hardened to Jesus.

Think about the final cry of Jesus from the cross and its effect upon those who crucified him. Luke’s Gospel tells us that Jesus called out to the Father with a loud voice, then he died. Christ knew he was going into death victorious over it, and because of his strength and testimony, the once-hardened centurion watching below praises God and proclaims Jesus’ innocence (Luke 23:46-47). His heart was softened by the glory of Christ in his suffering and the victory of Christ over his suffering.

People are taking note of how Christians endure suffering. So when they see that we’re not in despair, we are bearing fruit for the glory of Christ. And beyond that, when we speak of Jesus’ character and work, and how knowing him has impacted our perspective on suffering, we are like the lampstand in a dim house (Matthew 5:16), illuminating the darkness of a hopeless world.

Jesus is the vine, and you are a branch. When you abide in him, depending on him for salvation, joy, approval, and direction, you will bear much fruit for his glory. Apart from Jesus, suffering is in vain; but with Jesus, suffering is made useful! With Christ suffering is a platform by which to proclaim his surpassing beauty, strength, and promises.

So whatever you’re going through today, be encouraged brothers and sisters. You’re not alone. Your great God has a will and a purpose for you and for every ounce of trouble you are bearing right now. Only the gospel could make such an astounding reality possible!

Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

What Do You Know of God In Suffering?

How we respond to God during moments or prolonged seasons of suffering says a lot about what we believe is true of him.

Not what is true of God. But what we believe is true of God. I confess that I’ve responded to suffering in a multitude of ways, many of which have revealed wrong thinking about who God is.

Self-pity and anger demonstrate that I believe God exists to serve me.

Fear demonstrates that I believe God has taken an absence from lavishing his love on me.

Doubt demonstrates that I believe God is not actually able to rule all events in perfect wisdom.

Do any of those resonate with you?

In beginning the book of Job the other day, I was struck by the way this “blameless and upright” man (Job 1:1) responded to the afflictions that so rapidly advanced upon his seemingly secure and ideal life.

First, God permitted Satan to strike dead his thousands upon thousands of livestock (his livelihood). Satan was also permitted to kill Job’s daughters and sons (his family honor and beloved ones for whom he prayed and sacrificed). All ten of them. Dead from “a great wind [that] came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house” (1:19).

Second, God permitted Satan to strike Job with “loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head” (1:7). Disease from head to toe.

How in the world would you have responded to such sudden tragedies?

Remember that how we respond to suffering says a lot about what we believe is true of God. So how did Job respond to his unfortunate – no, horrendous –  circumstances? Let us learn from Job’s words. First, this, when Job lost his livelihood and his children:

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” In all this, Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.  (1:20-22)

Next, this, when Job was afflicted with sores:

And [Job] took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes. Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (2:8-10)

So what does Job believe is true about God to prompt him to respond in these ways? Three things:

Job knows the God is to be feared (1:1,8). He knows with all of his heart and mind that God is holy and powerful and righteous – and that he (Job) is none of these things on his own. Job knows that he is more like the broken pottery with which he scraped his own sores.

Job knows that God is providential and holds all authority (1:21). Job trusts that God is good in all of his decisions to sovereignly rule creation, including Job’s very life. He knows that God is the one who gives and takes away in his authoritative care. Even the permission God extended to Satan to afflict Job was not without his ultimate approval and absolute control (1:12).

Job knows that God is sovereign and is to be submitted to (1:20). Despite his deep pain and grief, Job worships God and declares who God is (2:10). The holiness and wisdom of God humbles Job to his rightful place as a created being who gives nothing of his own, but who receives all things – both good and evil – from the hand of the Lord.

Job responded in a way that what is true of God was what he believed was actually true. What faith! What trust! Seeing God as he truly is humbles us to recognize our place as dependent beings on the grace and mercy of our Lord. This understanding of God shapes how we will respond to all the circumstances of our lives – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

And how much more have we seen God as he truly is in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ? “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3).  This Jesus is the one who came, lived, died, resurrected, and ascended to demonstrate the very power and glory of our God.

Take some time today to open the Word and meditate on what is true of God, seen in the person and work of his Son, Jesus. Ask him to set his truth in your heart and sanctify you by it (John 17:17) so that you may trust him at all times and know what is absolutely true of him.

Drained? Receive His Fullness | No. 2

Christmas can leave a good number of people feeling more empty than full.

And not only Christmas but many aspects of life. Parenting children. Budgeting monthly finances. Maintaining a healthy, vibrant marriage. Making appointments on time. Meeting the boss’ expectations. Running errands within a packed schedule. Caring for family and friends who are grieving.

The feeling of being drained – even empty – is not hard to come by these days. But it’s not altogether surprising, considering our imperfect planet is occupied by limited, transient human beings.

So where do we find the energy and supply to keep pressing onward, especially during the busyness of the Christmas season?

From His Fullness…

The opening of the Gospel of John gives us our answer.

For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known (1:16-18).

John mentions the fullness of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who came into the world to show mankind the glory of the Father. He says plainly, “From his fullness we have all received…” The word “fullness” here begs our meditation. What exactly does it mean that Jesus Christ is fullness?

Consider the various ways a person could use the term “full”:

“The glass is full of water.” The opposite of full is empty or lacking stores; so fullness implies that something is not empty, that it is not lacking supply.

“I’m so full.” The exclamation of having a full stomach after eating a large meal tells us that fullness means sufficiency, completion, and satisfaction.

“You are so full of laughter!” While this usage of the word “full” could also be negative, it implies an abundance of something.

So to read, “From his fullness we have all received…” we encounter an astounding truth about Jesus Christ: The Word made flesh is fullness in himself, and the ones who have put their faith in him are the beneficiaries of his fullness. (Even to those who have not believed, God gives common grace from his fullness.) Therefore, since Christ is fullness in himself – never lacking in richness, full of grace and truth, sufficient, complete, and satisfied –  his children lack nothing!

…We Have All Received

But what does the fullness of Christ mean for us today?

Out of his fullness, all things were made (vv1-3). “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

Jesus Christ is the Creator of the entire universe and the instigator of our lives. He put breath in our lungs. He was so entirely satisfied and pleased in his own glory that, from his fullness, he lavished it upon all of creation.

Our lives are not our own; we belong, body and soul, to Christ. Have you understood that Jesus Christ is your Lord?

Out of his fullness, he gives life to men who once walked in darkness (vv4-5). “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

More than creating humans by breathing into them physical life, Jesus Christ creates in the dead sinner spiritual life by giving them a new heart and a new spirit. This is the astounding work of regeneration, where Christ gives the gifts of faith and repentance, awakening a dead person from his spiritual darkness and helping him or her to see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6).

Apart from trusting Christ as Lord and Savior, we all have a dead soul. What is your response to this reality?

Out of his fullness, he reveals his glory to men and commissions them to bear witness (vv6-8). There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.”

We were all made to reflect the glory of Jesus Christ and to point a watching world to the Word of life. When God regenerates sinners and enables them to see the beauty of Jesus Christ, he then sends them out to boldly proclaim the gospel to a world still trapped in darkness. And out of his fullness, he will supply the words to speak and the power to do so.

Those who have believed in the Lord Jesus have work to do! Where has God placed you for opportunities to bear witness to Jesus Christ this Christmas season? What would keep you from telling others about the work of Christ?

Out of his fullness, he loved (vv11, 14). He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Jesus Christ came freely into a world that ridiculed him, rejected him, and ultimately crushed him by nailing him to a tree, even though he lived a perfect life. The Lord of all creation, who is fullness in himself, could have demanded to be served by human hands – but he came to serve them instead. This is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10). Christ knew the terrible cross he would bear for our sake, and he proceeded to his death anyway, out of love for the Father and love for us.

Have you stopped to consider the full extent of Jesus’ love for undeserving sinners like us? What would keep you from turning to him today in faith and repentance?

This Christmas, despite the busyness and distractions, may his fullness be ours. May the grace and truth of Jesus lighten our darkness, blot out our transgressions, and fill our emptiness us with great joy, purpose, and conviction to see his glory known!

Where Joy is Found | No. 1

The Christmas season is often one of joy. But for some of us, it is one of hardship and sorrows.

Perhaps you’ve lost a family member recently. Or perhaps you’ve been diagnosed with a disease you never saw coming. Maybe you’re struggling with the same sin over and over again. Or maybe you’re just plain tired! Whatever the trial you’re enduring, such a generally joyful season can almost seem…unattainable or far-reaching…while you’re in the thick of it.

And it is. On our own strength, it is indeed.

I was recently diagnosed with Lyme disease. This is the first I’ve written about it, and I have a feeling it will be cause for many more meditations in the future. But for now, it is one of those hardships that arrived slowly and painfully, confirmed itself quickly, and has made joy seem somewhat illusive throughout the recent weeks.

It has made me cling to the cross all the more desperately. And it has made it clear that joy isn’t easy. Sometimes, it’s a fight.

But praise be to God, joy has dawned in Jesus Christ! Joy isn’t found in ourselves! And we celebrate our wonderful Lord and Savior as we anticipate Christmas these next twenty-something days. I hope you’ll follow along with me in Isaiah chapter nine for the next few weeks, to absorb all the glory of Christ during Advent.

Here’s the beginning:

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

 The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.

While much of the book of Isaiah is talking about God’s anguish over and wrath upon the disobedient and unfaithful nations, namely Israel, the book richly foreshadows the vanquishing of all sin and evil in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Matthew 4:15-17).

Our anguish does not determine our eternal outcome. Often it can feel like our pain and distress determines some sort of outcome, be it our emotional state or the way we treat our families. And that very well may be true. When I find myself in distress, it often leads to tears. But tears are temporary. “But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish.” At the day of Jesus Christ, every tear will be wiped away from our faces! As we have been saved from the coming wrath, how much more are our temporary trials and afflictions but a momentary trouble in light of eternity with Christ?

May our hardship and anguish be for God’s glory, in that they point us to what is eternal. 

Christ makes us glorious, not ourselves. I don’t know about you, but when I’m having a hard day, I often try to find comfort in worldly goods or pleasures. Putting on make-up and jewelry makes me feel better. Hot tea makes me feel better. A good book makes me feel better. But only temporarily. None of us can save ourselves, nor give ourselves comfort or lasting peace. And God knew that, which is why only Christ would be sufficient for our weaknesses and the final sacrifice for all our sins. “He has made glorious,” says Isaiah 9.

May the reminder of our weaknesses and our desire for comfort lead us to our Eternal Comfort, the Glorious One who alone clothes his children in glory and honor, peace and security, beauty and strength. 

Our joy is in our Hope. I remember playing games as a little girl, specifically the one where you turn off all the lights and have to find your way around the room. Scary, to say the least, with little hope for getting around without gaining a stubbed toe by the end. Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, came to redeem sinners who “dwelt in a land of deep darkness,” who could not see the light of day, nor have any hope for salvation apart from his light. We once were stumbling around in the dark, just trying to avoid a stubbed toe now and then, with little concern for our spiritual state. But in Christ, we have been made alive and awakened to the Holy Spirit’s presence and indwelling and richness! During seasons of affliction and trial, when joy seems hard to fathom, remember this: your joy is in your Hope. And your Hope is eternal, lasting, and indestructible.

May the hope of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus strengthen you and cause you to well up with praise, as you meditate on all that is yours, eternally, in Christ.