Monday, April 25, 2016

Nothing Left


[Photo of the remants of a burnt candle]

“And a woman was there who had been
subject to bleeding for twelve years. She
had suffered a great deal under the care of
many doctors and had spent all she had,
yet instead of getting better she grew worse.”
—Mark 5:25-26

These two sentences say it all. She was “subject to bleeding”—that was her condition. She “suffered a great deal”—that was her disposition. She “grew worse”—that was the conclusion of the matter.

Chronic pain, or illness, financial ruin, long-term job loss, unrelenting grief, all these leave the person carrying the burden with both a weakness and helplessness that are often too heavy to bear. Millions of hours of tests, of doctor’s appointments, of careful home care, of searching employment lists, of hopeful highs leading to devastating lows, all become a part of the long-term sufferer’s daily walk.

The primary ordeal makes life hard enough. But, the added secondary effects weigh down with such pressure, making the burden even more dreadful. This woman “spent all she had.” Also, in those times, another person having contact with such a woman would become considered ceremonially unclean. So, she had to live like an outcast. In addition, she would have been childless and spurned even more by society.

I can imagine that, as with most of us, when a trial begins in our lives, we gather our strength and even sense God’s hand on us. But, as time goes on, the fear and dread and hopelessness become heavier and heavier because we have “spent all” we had of our emotional, as well as our physical, energy. We begin to wonder if God cares at all about us.

What do we do in these kind of circumstances? We do exactly what this woman did. We desperately come to Jesus, and boldly beg His mercy, realizing He is our only hope.

If we come to Jesus—and we may have to come again and again for new stores of grace—we will hear Jesus speak to us according to His will. In the case of this woman, we find, recorded in Mark 5:34, that Jesus not only told her to go in peace, but that she was healed from her suffering.

Does that mean Jesus will heal us of all our physical and emotional problems? Will He restore our loss of employment and bring us financial prosperity? Not necessarily, but we can have the strength to carry the burden knowing God owns us as daughters and sons and has plenty of peace to give us, too.

Isaiah 42:3 shows us the character of God who sees our weakness and need:

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

Yes! He has stores of grace when we have nothing left! We can count on His overwhelming love and care for us.



Monday, April 18, 2016

Bitter to Sweet


[Photo of two disappointed people from Bible times]

“You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.”
—John 16:20

The disciples sorrowed over Jesus’ death. Their only Hope, the One whom they had given up all to follow had died and they were left alone. Yet, in such a short time, Jesus came to them in His resurrected body, bringing them joy and a new, stronger faith.

Many years before, Naomi had lost her husband and her two sons. The story of the Book of Ruth tells of her journey from joy to sorrow and back to a renewed joy. Upon her return to Bethlehem after her losses, she said, as recorded in Ruth 1:20-21:

“Don’t call me Naomi [which means pleasant],” she told them. “Call me Mara, [which means bitter] because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.”

About this divine alchemy Charles Spurgeon remarks:

…the more sorrow the more joy. If we have loads of sorrow, then the Lord’s power will turn them into tons of joy. Then the bitterer the trouble the sweeter the pleasure: the swinging of the pendulum far to the left will cause it to go all the farther to the right. 1

Through the faithfulness of Naomi’s daughter-in-law, Ruth, along with the divine plan and design of her Lord, Naomi’s life was turned back to joy. No, not in the way she would have ever expected or even dreamed. But, in a way the power and love of her God had conceived before the Creation.

Through a wonderful story of redemption in the book of Ruth, this daughter-in-law, marries the man Boaz and has a son named Obed. This joyful event does not remove Naomi’s grief and loss of her husband and sons. Nevertheless, in God’s plan it gives her new joy and new hope.

Here’s how author, Carolyn James, puts it:

The miracle birth of Obed is truly the most joyful moment in the book, hailed by the women who celebrate with Naomi. This child renews Naomi’s life. Instead of the dead end she had reached, Obed creates for Naomi a brand new opening into the future and a vital new kingdom assignment. 2

They exclaim in Ruth 4:15:

For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him [Obed] birth.

And the punch line in Ruth 4:16:

Naomi has a son!

Even with all this joy for Naomi that turned back her bitter life to better, she had no idea of the plans God had through her grandson. Obed, the grandfather of King David, and the line through whom the Messiah would come!

We miss so much of what God is doing and plans to do, and forget, in our bitter times, the miracles behind the scenes—the things He alone can see of the future. Naomi and Ruth, though flawed, trusted in God and lived to see the blessing of that trust. God give us the same strength of faith and hope to rely upon Him and accept the bitter pills as seed for something new He wants to do in us!


1 Spurgeon, Charles, Faith’s Checkbook. Chicago: Moody Press, 1980. p. 166.
2 James, Carolyn Custis, The Gospel of Ruth. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008. pp. 201-202.



Monday, April 11, 2016

Read the Small Print


[Photo of a contract and a pen]

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower.
Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost
to see if he has enough money to complete it?”
—Luke 14:28

Do you get annoyed like I do with ads on TV that either put up their disclaimer in such small print, and for such a short time, that you cannot possibly read it? Or, the announcer speaks so rapidly to fit in the required information that no one can possibly understand it?

These things remind me of Christians—preachers or otherwise—who espouse the benefits, humanly speaking, of belonging to Christ. They talk about things like the peace that passes understanding, eternal life, joy, grace and forgiveness without telling us what He requires of His disciples.

The small print of Jesus’ words say in Mark 8:34:

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Or, from Paul in Philippians 1:29:

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ no only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.

Or, from Peter in 1 Peter 4:12:

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ.

If Jesus Himself warned us, and two of His most trusted followers warned us, that suffering belongs with the privilege of knowing Christ, we can be this must be true.

Now, suffering to some degree comes to all who live on the earth. Some struggles come by way of personal sin or from turning away from God. But, some suffering just comes in the natural course of living in a sin-cursed world.

However, I am referring to something different. Bearing Christ’s cross sometimes means suffering the hatred of people who hate Christ and anything He stands for. Some suffering means discrimination because of a strong stand in holy living, or a strong witness for the life-changing power of Jesus. In some places around the globe, simply identifying oneself as a Christian means imprisonment or death.

How far are you prepared to go to obey Christ? To live like He expects you to live? To determine to follow Him no matter the cost? He asks for that kind of commitment from His children.

Yes, He shares the riches of heaven and the Presence of His life within us. But, He also shares with us the privilege of suffering for Him. Woe to those who share the gospel, but hide the small print, or put the “disclaimer” in the contract in such a way that eager followers sign on without counting the cost.

And, what is the result of cost-counting? We read in Romans 8:17:

Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Ah! That’s the glory we share—to those who sign on to the small print!



Monday, April 4, 2016

Being the Bridge


[Photo of a covered bridge]

“Praise be to the Lord, to God our
Savior, who daily bears our burdens.”
—Psalm 68:19

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this
way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
—Galatians 6:2

Did you ever stop to think what your life would be like without bridges? People who live near rivers, or even swamp land, would have a nearly impossible time getting to work or to common shopping areas without them. We can all be grateful for the continual burdens bridges carry to allow us ease in our daily lives.

Have you ever been a bridge for another person? As such, you became their help in traversing a tough spot in life, or helped them move on to the other side of a difficulty? I can’t help but think of the Simon and Garfunkel lyrics from the 1960’s:

When you're weary, feeling small
When tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all (all)
I’m on your side, oh, when times get rough
And friends just can’t be found
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down. 1

Certainly, if people without an eye to pleasing our Savior can think that way about their friends, how much more should we—who have the example of a God who bears us through this life, and of a Savior who bridged the gap on the cross for our sins—act as a willing bridge for those who need us to help carry them to wholeness?

Sometimes it even becomes necessary to act as a covered bridge for others: protecting them from more winds of adversity and from the cruel and bitter sting of sin and shame. Such people need the hospitality and healing of a safe and guarded place. And, God calls us, from time to time, to offer this solace to His hurting children.

Jesus told us in John 15:13:

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

The next time you drive over an expansive bridge, or see a covered bridge, remind yourself that, just as we sometimes need bridges to arrive at our next destination, so Christ may have need for us to become a bridge for someone else on their journey through life!


1 Simon, Paul. “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.”, ©1969. All Rights Reserved. These lyrics remain the sole property of the copyright owners. Included here under the “Nonprofit Educational Use Provision” of Section 107 of the U. S. Copyright Act of 1976.