Receiving Yourself in the Fires of Sorrow

O

…what shall I say? “Father, save Me from this hour”? But for this purpose I came to this hour. “Father, glorify Your name.”  John 12:27-28

As a saint of God, my attitude toward sorrow and difficulty should not be to ask that they be prevented, but to ask that God protect me so that I may remain what He created me to be, in spite of all my fires of sorrow. Our Lord received Himself, accepting His position and realizing His purpose, in the midst of the fire of sorrow. He was saved not from the hour, but out of the hour.

We say that there ought to be no sorrow, but there is sorrow, and we have to accept and receive ourselves in its fires. If we try to evade sorrow, refusing to deal with it, we are foolish. Sorrow is one of the biggest facts in life, and there is no use in saying it should not be. Sin, sorrow, and suffering are, and it is not for us to say that God has made a mistake in allowing them.

Sorrow removes a great deal of a person’s shallowness, but it does not always make that person better. Suffering either gives me to myself or it destroys me. You cannot find or receive yourself through success, because you lose your head over pride. And you cannot receive yourself through the monotony of your daily life, because you give in to complaining. The only way to find yourself is in the fires of sorrow. Why it should be this way is immaterial. The fact is that it is true in the Scriptures and in human experience. You can always recognize who has been through the fires of sorrow and received himself, and you know that you can go to him in your moment of trouble and find that he has plenty of time for you. But if a person has not been through the fires of sorrow, he is apt to be contemptuous, having no respect or time for you, only turning you away. If you will receive yourself in the fires of sorrow, God will make you nourishment for other people. From My Utmost for His Highest Updated Edition

Bible in One Year: Job 3-4; Acts 7:44-60

 

WISDOM FROM OSWALD CHAMBERS

We never enter into the Kingdom of God by having our head questions answered, but only by commitment.

from The Highest Good—Thy Great Redemption

Today’s Moment of Truth: The Resurrected Jesus

 

Editor’s note: Today’s reading features two selections from Lee Strobel’s devotional The Case for Christ: Daily Moments of Truth which offers fact-based, intelligent devotions to build a foundational faith. Enjoy these two powerful excerpts today on the reliability and impact of the resurrection of Jesus!

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Resurrection News Flash!

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. —1 Corinthians 15:3-4

It was once fashionable to say that the Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — were written too late to give an accurate account of what really happened in the life of Jesus, including the events surrounding His resurrection. Some even said they weren’t written until the mid to late second century, more than a hundred years after the events surrounding Jesus’ ministry. This discredited the idea that the Gospels were based on eyewitness accounts, and eroded confidence in what they said about Jesus.

However, it is now known that the Gospels were written in the first century — within the life span of Jesus’ followers.1

Also, before the Gospels were recorded, Paul penned his epistles. These letters affirm many details about Jesus’ life, including His resurrection. In addition, Paul’s epistles relay several earlier creeds, attesting to the beliefs of Jesus’ first followers. One of the most interesting is in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7.

Historian Gary Habermas developed a helpful time line related to this creed. It starts with understanding that Jesus was crucified in either AD 30 or 33. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in AD 54-55, which puts it within approximately twenty-one and twenty-five years of the crucifixion. But Paul said he had previously passed on the creed to the people of Corinth, so the creed itself dates even earlier.

But there’s more. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:3: “What I received I passed on to you.” When did he receive this creed? He became a Christian one to three years after Jesus’ execution. He immediately went to Damascus to meet the disciples. He might have received it then, but it was more likely three years later, when he went to Jerusalem and met with Peter and James, both of whom are named in the creed. Paul described this meeting in Galatians 1:18-19, using the Greek term historesai, which suggests it was a personal inquiry or investigation.

Either way, this means Paul was given the creed within one to six years of the crucifixion — and it had already been put into creedal form, which tells us these beliefs went back even further.

“This tradition,” concluded historian James D. G. Dunn, “we can be entirely confident, was formulated as tradition within months of Jesus’ death.”

Months! The news of Jesus’ resurrection was a news flash in the ancient world — and it affirmed that the risen Jesus had appeared to many witnesses.

Moment of Truth

Many still believe the false rumor that generations had passed before the first Christian accounts were written. Whom should you tell about this exciting early Christian creed?

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The Resurrected Jesus Appears

[After His resurrection, Jesus] appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time… Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me also. —1 Corinthians 15:5-8

The ancient creed that we began to examine in the previous reading explains in verses 5-8 not only that Jesus’ tomb was empty but that the risen Jesus appeared to at least 515 people, including the apostle Paul himself.

In fact, when we look at the broader New Testament, we get more details of how the resurrected Savior appeared to a variety of people in a variety of settings — to men and women, some individually, some in groups, sometimes indoors, sometimes outdoors, to softhearted people like John, and to skeptical people like Thomas. And at times Jesus asked them to touch the scars in His hands or side, or to eat with Him, making it clear that He was present physically and not just spiritually.

These appearances occurred over forty days, and Jesus appeared to the following people:

• Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18);
• the other women (Matthew 28:8-10; compare Matthew 28:1Mark 16:1Luke 24:10);
• Cleopas and another disciple on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32);
• Peter (Luke 24:34);
• ten of the apostles and others, with Thomas absent (Luke 24:36-49John 20:19-23);
• Thomas and the other apostles (John 20:24-29);
• seven of the apostles (John 21:1-14);
• the eleven apostles (Matthew 28:16-20); and
• the apostles at the Mount of Olives before His ascension (Luke 24:50-52Acts 1:3-9).

What’s more, these reports come from multiple sources, from both inside and outside the New Testament. Historian Michael Licona summarized, “In all, we’ve got nine sources that reflect multiple, very early, and eyewitness testimonies to the disciples’ claims that they had seen the risen Jesus. This is something the disciples believed to the core of their being.”

Even the atheist scholar Gerd Lüdemann conceded: “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”

The resurrection was the central proclamation of the early church from the very beginning. The earliest Christians didn’t just endorse Jesus’ teachings; they were convinced they had seen Him alive after His crucifixion.

Moment of Truth

Jesus said to Thomas in John 20:29,

Because you have seen Me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

The evidence for Jesus’ appearances is strong — and gives us good reasons to be confident about the reality of the resurrection.

Excerpted with permission from the The Case for Christ: Daily Moment of Truth by Lee Strobel, copyright Lee Strobel.

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Your Turn

How does having confidence in the resurrection of Jesus empower you in your faith? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Stay Awake!

Stir up the fire

Don’t Lose That Loving Feeling

Carole’s Story

Maintaining the fire of revival in my life has required effort. My pride still seems to be the “water” that threatens to put out the fire within me. But the close-up look at the pride in my life when I saw the Lord has made it easier to recognize this specific sin when it makes its periodic attempts to return.

The year I woke up to find my career had replaced Jesus as my “first love,” I repented of my sin and asked the Lord to help me never go back into it. He and I both knew I needed a divine anchor, something to grab at the first hint that my prideful self was resurfacing.

The anchor He gave me was His Word. In particular, the first eleven verses of Philippians 2. Like a magnet, I have been drawn to these words that describe genuine humility — Christ’s humility. This passage is underlined and dated in every Bible I own. It’s on a yellow sticky note on my bathroom mirror. It’s written on the inside cover of my prayer journal. It’s memorized in my brain. It’s the log that helps to keep my fire burning.

More than once in the past five years… I have wearily read through those eleven verses word by word in a stark hotel room in some foreign country… I have prayed through them during my quiet time at home in the sometimes-lonely city where I’ve moved to work in full-time ministry… I have recited them quietly to myself before returning a call to the headhunter who has offered me a high- paying job and the chance to get back on the career path I left. I have felt the Holy Spirit bring the passage to my mind to almost scold me whenever repentance is in order.

In other words, temptations and challenges have come and gone. But when I saw the Lord in a fresh way, He was quick to show me that keeping His Word central in my life was my only hope for never losing the freshness. It really works. His plan for my life is the only one I follow, and I pray I never see it any other way.

Stir Up the Fire

Have you ever worked hard to build a fire, only to have it go out? Although I was raised in a log cabin with five fireplaces, I never learned to build a fire that would last. One of those fireplaces was in my mother’s bedroom. When I would go home, I would invariably find her sitting in her overstuffed chair by the window with a roaring fire on the hearth. As we sat and visited, the fire would die down, and she frequently reminded me to “stir up the fire, Anne,” or “put another log on it.”

You and I can respond to our wake-up call and experience the thrilling fire of personal revival, but if we neglect that fire, it will die out. And nothing is more miserable than a heart that has grown cold, chilling a life that once knew the raging warmth of a passionate relationship with Jesus. Not only does a heart that’s grown cold make us miserable, but it makes Him miserable too. It grieves the Lord. Speaking to the Ephesian church through the apostle John, Jesus explained,

I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance…. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. — Revelation 2:2-4

Jesus loves you and me, and He longs to be loved — really loved — by us in return.

For twelve years I taught a weekly Bible class of five hundred women in our city. I never missed a class. During that time, through the disciplined study of His Word, God gave me a wonderful love for Jesus. At the end of those twelve years, I knew with absolute certainty God was calling me to leave the class and go into an itinerant, Bible-teaching ministry.

I left the class and went out into the world. Literally. Three months later I found myself in Fiji helping lead a conference of five hundred pastors who had come in from other islands for miles around. Five months later I was in Brazil leading another conference for approximately fifteen hundred pastors and evangelists from all over the country and squeezing in a youth conference of more than two thousand young people. In between Fiji and Brazil, I was teaching in seminars and conferences every week in the United States.

Gradually I became aware that I was having to drag myself into my quiet time, that my heart no longer seemed to be uplifted in worship, and that I didn’t feel any real joy, but I thought I was just tired. I thought I must be suffering from prolonged jet lag along with time and food changes.

One morning, in my devotions, I read Revelation 2:1-7 and sensed, in my heart, Jesus speaking to me:

Anne, I know your deeds. I know all about Fiji and the extra sessions that were dumped on you that you accepted because of your commitment to Me. I know all about Brazil and the women’s sessions you booked into your free time because of your heart to get others into My Word. I know your hard work and your perseverance. I know you have endured hardships in My name and have not grown weary. Thank you, Anne, for all you are doing to serve Me. Yet I hold this against you: you are losing your love for Me.

When I came to that verse, I kept on reading. I knew He couldn’t be speaking to me! After all, I was traveling around the world telling others how to love Him! Surely He wasn’t speaking to me!

But He was! He kept drawing my attention back to those verses until I finally listened to what He had to say. I would have denied it and vehemently argued, except it was Jesus who was speaking to me! And I knew that whenever He speaks, it’s the truth. Finally, the light of His Word penetrated my delusion. Deep in my heart, I acknowledged that I wasn’t just tired; I was losing my love for Him! I cannot tell you how devastatingly painful that revelation was to me. I yearned to love Him, and I thought I did. But He did not agree.

With tears streaming down my cheeks, I asked, “Lord, what would You have me do?”

He replied from Revelation 2:5.

Remember the height from which you have fallen.

Remember what it was like to love Me with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.

I remembered. That love was the “height” in my relationship with Christ. And when I lost it, it was a long way down.

Then, still from verse 5, He said, “Repent.”

Repentance means to stop it: stop going in one direction; turn around, and go in the opposite direction. Since a “first love” is an emotional, affectionate, passionate love, and because emotions really can’t be controlled or dictated, I responded, “Lord, how? I want to repent of losing my first love for You, I want to stop not loving You emotionally and affectionately and passionately. But how? I am willing to repent, but I don’t know how.”

Again, He spoke to me from verse 5. “Return to the things you did at first.”

And I answered, “What things? Things I did when I was first born again? Things I did when I first began to serve You?”

And He seemed to point out two “first things” I needed to return to.

Simply stated, the two things were the “logs” for the revival fire: daily, disciplined prayer and Bible reading. The fire in my heart was burning dangerously low because it didn’t have enough fuel. Believe me, before that day was out, I had added those logs to my fire! And within a short time, it was rekindled into a roaring blaze.

Your fire will go out also if you neglect to stir it up and stop putting the logs on it.

So… stir up the fire!

Excerpted with permission from Expecting to See Jesus by Anne Graham Lotz, copyright Anne Graham Lotz.

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Your Turn

Let’s get fired up! We have to stoke our fires for Jesus and stay hot for Him and pursuing Him with all of our hearts. Is your fire going out? Put logs on it! Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily

 

Humility Matters When We Pray

Prayer that storms the gates of Heaven doesn’t have to be fancy or long or filled with Bible verses. In fact, I almost wonder if it needs words at all. It really is a heart’s cry, isn’t it? And one wrapped in complete humility.

Recently, I spoke at a Christian gathering that was multigenerational, multiracial, and multidenominational. Before I spoke, a young pastor walked up to the platform to lead in prayer. With eyes wide open, walking back and forth, gesturing to the congregation, he didn’t miss a beat as he “prayed.”

He was smooth, dynamic, polished, articulate… and proud? I hesitate to say that because only God could see his heart, but he came across as being almost spiritually arrogant. Haughty. In his words, body language, and gestures, he seemed to be performing to impress instead of praying. And he certainly didn’t lead me into God’s presence. In fact, the spirit within me recoiled. His “prayer” reminded me of a story Jesus told to those “who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else.” (Luke 18:9)

In His parable, Jesus describes two men who went up to the temple to pray. (The parable is found in Luke 18:9–14.) One was a Pharisee, a highly educated leader in Israel who was so scrupulous in keeping all the nuances, regulations, and traditions of his religion that he was considered exemplary. The other was a tax collector who was considered a low-life because, although a Jew, he collaborated with the occupying Romans for pay.

So Jesus described these two men from God’s perspective. The Pharisee “stood up and prayed about himself,” saying, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” By contrast, the tax collector “stood at a distance. He would not even look up to Heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’”

In the event that someone listening didn’t understand His meaning, Jesus summarized His story,

I tell you that this man [the tax collector], rather than the other [the Pharisee], went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

God doesn’t just listen to our words when we pray. He’s not impressed at all with our reputation, who we think we are or who others think we are. He looks on the heart. In case there is any doubt, Proverbs clearly states,

The Lord detests all the proud of heart. — Proverbs 16:5

On the other hand, God confirms,

This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at My Word. — Isaiah 66:2

In other words, someone like Daniel.

He quickly rose through the ranks of officials in Nebuchadnezzar’s court until he was ruler over Babylon. (Daniel 2:48) Daniel held this high position under three more emperors in three successive empires: Belshazzar, who briefly ruled in Babylon; Darius, who destroyed the Babylonians and ushered in the Medo-Persian Empire; and finally Cyrus, who eliminated the Medes and set up the Persian Empire. In anyone’s estimation, Daniel was a very great, important, powerful man.

It was obvious that he was a very great, important, powerful man in Heaven’s estimation too. God revealed to Daniel the dreams of others, as well as what the dreams meant. Angels personally delivered God’s answers to Daniel’s prayers. And God miraculously delivered him when his enemies contrived to feed him to lions. Yet as he began to pray, he smeared himself with “ashes” (Daniel 9:3).

He humbled himself. Because he knew humility matters to God.

It’s interesting how pride can creep into our attitude when we pray, isn’t it? We think if we keep all the “rules” — if we’re good, moral, helpful, thoughtful — then somehow God owes us the answer we want. So after prayer, when our spouse walks out on us, or the doctor diagnoses us with a terminal illness, or a business partner betrays us, then we angrily feel God has somehow let us down.

When Danny and I first got married, we lived in a university town. Every Sunday night, we opened our home to student athletes for fellowship, Bible study, and prayer. Some were on football scholarship, while others were on the basketball and lacrosse teams. In addition we had two cheerleaders. Danny and I loved them all. And they loved us. I would fix a homemade pie or cake, and we would sit around eating the desserts and discussing the Scriptures.

I’ll never forget a football player who came to our home one Sunday night very dejected. He was a huge offensive lineman. His team had played an archrival the day before. They had taken the football all the way down the field in the fourth quarter. The last play was fourth down with less than one yard to the goal line. Needing the six points a touchdown would give them for victory, they went for it.

The tough lineman told us that as they broke the huddle, he had prayed to God, asking His help for them to power the ball over the goal line. But the opposing team held them, and his team lost the game. Between bites of pie, the big football player hung his head and, with a dark look, shared that he felt God had let him down. We all tried to talk him through it, but he never came back to our home. To this day, I grieve over him.

If you are honest, would you say you are like the big lineman? Do you think God has let you down in some way? Could it be that there is pride lurking like a cobweb in the dark inner recesses of your heart? Pride that suggests God owes you something? That you deserve better? That you deserve anything? Maybe it’s time you smeared yourself with ashes.

With a laser-like focus centered on the Lord, Daniel began to plead with God privately, in utmost sincerity, and with deep, genuine humility. And that’s where the prayer that storms Heaven’s gates and claims God’s promises begins…

Excerpted with permission from Storming the Gates of Heaven by Anne Graham Lotz, copyright Anne Graham Lotz.

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Your Turn

Humility matters to God. When we humble ourselves we remember who we are and who God is. Today, let’s start our prayers with ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner’ and see what the Lord does with our contrite hearts. Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you!

 

DEVOTIONAL

JUST 4 DADA

This entrepreneur’s lesson, Day 5

Today’s reading is drawn from Lamentations 3:22-23.

On my 44th birthday, I received the phone call every entrepreneur dreads. The voice on the other end of the line was a very familiar one. The man had, for 13 years, been one of my closest friends. “Robert,” he began, “we have to call the note on your business loan. I know what this means, and I’m sorry. I’m your friend, but I’m also a man under authority. I have to do what I have to do.”

I hung up the phone and sat there stunned. My five-year-old dream had come to an end. I walked into my business partner’s office, closed the door behind me, and gave him the awful news. Our eyes welled up with tears as we began to realize the impact of what had just happened.

A few minutes later, our whole staff was together, not having any idea what they were about to hear. My business partner and I had done our best to protect them from the rough seas our little enterprise had encountered, but now we had to tell them they were out of work and should start looking for other jobs.

I went back to my office and called my wife, Bobbie. When I heard her voice, I broke down, sobbing uncontrollably. Once I gathered my composure, I told her what had happened. “We’ve lost everything, Honey,” I said. “I can’t believe it.”

Over the next few days I made dozens of phone calls. One of the first was to a man to whom our business owed tens of thousands of dollars. The purpose of my call was to tell him that I was closing the doors to my business and he was never going to see his money. After I broke the bad news, there was a moment of silence. I braced myself.

“I know you’ve done your best, Robert,” Patrick began. “God has been faithful to both of us in the past, and he’ll be faithful in the future. He will provide.”

I was overwhelmed by Patrick’s response. I thanked him for his understanding and promised that if there was anything I could ever do to make this up to him, I would. He thanked me, offered a short prayer over the phone, and we said good-bye. I’ll never forget this man’s wise words.

Jeremiah couldn’t have said it better. In fact, Jeremiah did say the same thing. “[God] has driven me away and made me walk in darkness . . . he has weighed me down with chains . . . he has barred my way with blocks of stone . . . Yet this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed . . . Great is [God’s] faithfulness.”

This was true for Jeremiah in his distress. It was true for me when our business folded. And it’s true for you today. No unexpected phone call will ever take it away.

DEVOTIONAL

NLFCOUPLES

Beautiful Music

“Lean not on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5

I can’t tell you the number of times, especially during our early years together, that the requirements of being a godly wife and mother have seemed to be completely out of reach for me.

Perhaps you face similar feelings tonight. You want to keep growing, trying, getting better, but you’re not sure if you can hope for success. If so, I want to share one of my favorite stories with you. It reminds me how the Lord can turn our small, sincere efforts into a masterpiece….

Wishing to encourage her young son’s progress on the piano, a mother took her small boy to a Paderewski concert. After they were seated, the mother spotted a friend in the audience and walked down the aisle to greet her. The little boy seized the opportunity to explore the wonders of the concert hall. After wandering a while, he eventually made his way through a door marked “No Admittance.”

Then the house lights dimmed. The mother returned to her seat for the beginning of the concert only to discover that her son was missing. Before she could start her search, the curtains parted and the spotlights shone on the impressive Steinway grand piano on stage. There, innocently picking out “Chopsticks,” sat her little boy. The mother froze in horror. The audience began to murmur with irritation. Meanwhile backstage, the great piano master overheard the childish playing and the rumblings from the audience. Quickly he donned his jacket and made his entrance. Moving to the piano, he whispered in the boy’s ear, “Don’t quit. Keep playing!” Then Paderewski leaned over, reached around both sides of the boy, and began to improvise a countermelody to harmonize with the boy’s rendition of “Chopsticks.”

Music—at once childlike and mellow, simple and profound—filled the auditorium. Everyone sat mesmerized, none more so than the boy’s awestruck mother….

Do your efforts to grow and flourish in your marriage feel inadequate, timid, unpromising? You’re not in this alone! Remember that the Lord’s loving arms are around you. Lean on His strength and guidance. You’ll grow in ways you never thought possible and make music together more wonderful than you ever imagined.

Our encouragement to you is simple: “Don’t quit. Keep playing!” With the blessing of the Master, your efforts together will become something beautiful and unforgettable.

– Shirley M Dobson

  • From Night Light For Couples, by Dr. James & Shirley Dobson
    Copyright © 2000 by James Dobson, Inc. All rights reserved.

Illustration by Charles Swindoll from Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life (Zondervan, 1983). Reprinted in Stories for the Heart, comp. Alice Gray (Sisters, Ore.: Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 1996).