“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”
James 1:2-3, ESV
“There is no circumstance, no trouble, no testing, that can ever touch me until, first of all, it has gone past God and past Christ, right through to me. If it has come that far, it has come with a great purpose.”
“All joy,” (verse 2) is a fantastic thought. It stresses a joy that becomes militant, something powerful and significant. “All joy,” surpasses “some joy” or even “occasional joy.” Instead it’s a joy that remains joy even when tired and weak. It will only shine brighter in the darkness.
Jewels, diamonds, and pearls are typically displayed on a black background.
This reveals their brilliance and value. In the same way darkness should only encourage us to be deliberately brighter than our surroundings. We must understand that we shine only because He makes us shine. There is a divine incandescence that awaits every believer who feels the need or desire for more of God.
God’s special nearness is available to each believer, especially those in the heat of the furnace. He is close to those who want Him, and there is nothing will stand in His way. The Lord cherishes and treasures the seeking heart. There is nothing that can detour the believer’s yearning after their Father. Your faith must be purified, and this is never optional.
Name your trial, then turn it to God in prayer.
Leave it alone and refuse to carry it no further. It’s now the Lord’s concern. Simply watch for the deliverance to come. When God sees your heart, He will lavish Himself out on you. He delights to see your faith becoming solid and real.
We never choose to suffer, rather we choose His will. We must do so whether we suffer or not.
“God, who foresaw your tribulation, has specially armed you to go through it, not without pain but without stain.”
Today I’m thinking about the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-26. The passage is tragic and disturbing. These verses detail an encounter with Jesus by a man who couldn’t give up his wealth. He could not become a disciple.
“When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”
I would like to suggest something.
Perhaps riches aren’t the real point? Yes, I definitely believe that having wealth is inherently dangerous to wannabe disciples; it’s what this passage is all about. And it’s obvious that this man couldn’t give up his money to follow Jesus. But what if the issue for us isn’t about personal wealth; what if it’s envy, lust, selfishness or pride?
Sinful behavior of any kind effectively blocks the call and purpose of our lives.
No matter what it is. No matter what sin that stands in the way of true discipleship. Yes, it could be wealth. But it may be 1000 other sins (take your pick, there’s plenty). Hebrews 12 tells us that there is “the sin that so easily ensnares us.” Perhaps there is that one particular sin is one that traps us, over and over?
Jesus puts His hand on our lives, He calls us to love Him supremely. I like to think that loving Jesus is our energy source–He’s the nuclear core of our discipleship. His presence gives us the power to live and love. A sustained first love for Jesus propels us into the true reason of a disciple’s existence.
Perhaps it’s a daily surrender? Sin must be renounced every day. Jesus must always be the disciple’s first choice.
My most cherished sin would destroy me if it wasn’t for His grace and kindness.
Wealth, of course was this rich, young ruler’s sin. But don’t forget that there are many issues we could add. Lots of different sins that are getting in the way of being an actual follower. It’s a choice, and God’s power is always ready for you.
So who or what do we love most?
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
“The heart is deceitful above all things And it is extremely sick; Who can understand it fully, and know its secret motives?”
Jeremiah 17:9, Amplified
“The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil.”
The Bible in its tremendous insight, never once makes humans out to be wonderful creatures. I think we would all volunteer to be that way. But we are not. Rather the opposite is quite true. We are manipulators, rascals, liars and sinners.
There is not a single iota of evidence that we can become exceptionally kind, loving and holy people in any sense of the word.
Somehow we generate a lot of self-deceit.
We trick our own hearts into believing that we are such noble people. We ignore evidence that would convict us otherwise. The prophet spoke to his generation in Jeremiah 17. He would speak directly to people who thought they were true and good. Jeremiah called this a lie, a serious miscalculation, especially when the opposite was true!
This is not the way “to win friends and influence people.” So many pastors, priests, elders, and leaders have a desire deep down to be acceptable and relevant. But God says, we are rascals, tricksters, phonies. Something inside is sick. There can be no human remedy. We simply cannot become religious enough to surmount our profound sin. Pride and selfishness opposes God and harms others.
As a boy living in Northern Wisconsin, on a farm somewhat, we found one of our dogs killing chickens. He was a nice dog, quite friendly and very gentle. But when he started in on the chickens my dad decided to intervene. One of the dead chickens was recovered. My father wired that dead chicken to our dogs neck, nice and tight. That dog wore that rotting chicken for several weeks. Finally the dog laid down, foaming and tongue lolling, eyes rolled back. He was profoundly sick. So Dad cut off the decaying remains.
The SPCA would have a fit. But that dog would never again chase a chicken, or even think of killing one. But even so, our sin is disgusting to God. We just seem to do evil without considering Him or others we effect. It’s all about us, as we think we can just skate through this “problem” without any issues. But Jeremiah tells us we are rotting inside.
We all carry around a dead chicken. I must tell you the truth, you’re terminally ill. You are quite sick, in the most essential part of you.
But Jesus died to free you. He’s the only One who can.
“Our life is full of brokenness – broken relationships, broken promises, broken expectations. How can we live with that brokenness without becoming bitter and resentful except by returning again and again to God’s faithful presence in our lives.”
We are a broken lot of confused people, and we have never solved the mystery of our own iniquity. In those rare, fleeting times we step into clarity, we are ashamed and disturbed by what we see. Our awful sin needs a wonderful Savior. Jesus does what we could never do.
Jesus died to free us from death. He has come to cut us free from our spiritual evil.
He has died to destroy our sin. But there is much more. He gives us real life–eternal life. His life!
“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”
The following excerpt is from the devotional book, “Living the Message,” by Eugene H. Peterson. This pastor-professor is probably the person I want to grow up to be like; he has a gentleness and eloquence that is seldom seen–and highly respected.
Dr. Peterson died in 2018.
“When Christian believers gather in churches, everything that can go wrong sooner or later does. Outsiders, on observing this, conclude there is nothing to this religious business, except perhaps, business…and a distant one at that. Insiders see it much differently.”
“Just as a hospital gathers the sick under one roof and labels them as such, the Church collects sinners.”
“Many people outside are just as sick as the ones inside, but their illnesses are either undiagnosed or disguised. It is similar with sinners outside the church.”
“One way to define spiritual life is getting so tired and fed up with yourself you go on to something better, which is following Jesus.”
Some other quotes by Eugene Peterson:
“All the persons of faith I know are sinners, doubters, uneven performers. We are secure not because we are sure of ourselves but because we trust that God is sure of us.”
“Suffering attracts fixers the way road-kills attract vultures.”
“When we sin and mess up our lives, we find that God doesn’t go off and leave us- he enters into our trouble and saves us.”
“That’s the whole spiritual life. It’s learning how to die. And as you learn how to die, you start losing all your illusions, and you start being capable now of true intimacy and love.”
“American religion is conspicuous for its messianically pretentious energy, its embarrassingly banal prose, and its impatiently hustling ambition.”
But Thomas, sometimes called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We saw the Master.”
But he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”
Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.”
Then he focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.”
Thomas said, “My Master! My God!”
Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”
The others had told me that they had seen Jesus. But this couldn’t be. Either they imagined it or they saw His ghost. I saw him brutalized, crucified, and buried, and I knew He was really dead. I was never into pretending, or wish fulfillment. No, not me. When you’re dead, you’re dead. (At least that’s what I thought.)
I remember telling the others that I would only believe them if I could see and feel the scars–the nail holes and the hole in his side. I needed proof, something tangible or solid before I could believe their stories. Part of me hoped it was so, but I honestly couldn’t join the others in their excitement.
Some would call me a doubter–a skeptic.
And maybe I was, but a realist is how I would describe myself. To go along with the others wasn’t going to cut it. They said that they had seen Him and He was very much alive, that somehow, someway He was now resurrected. But for me, I couldn’t believe it. I myself must know it for myself.
Was Jesus alive after all they had done to Him?
We had all gathered in a large room. The door had been locked–we were afraid that the authorities would come for us next. In spite of the confinement, we had some good fellowship that Sunday morning, catching up and sharing stories of the last three years, thinking about all the things Jesus had taught and done.
And suddenly Jesus showed up. Trust me on this if you can–the door was locked, and there was no other way to get in. When Jesus “dropped in” we were completely amazed. He was very much alive–and how can this be? We were all in shock as He stood right in front of us!
Immediately Jesus looked at me, and I looked back–and it was really Him!!
Jesus immediately focused on me, He asked me to come close; He wanted me to touch Him, to inspect and see for myself that He was as real as you or I. He asked me to come and see the nail prints in His hands, and stick my hand in the hole where the Roman soldiers had thrust a spear into His side.
And I was completely undone.
It was really Him, and I couldn’t explain it away. Jesus was real flesh and blood! In a second I went from doubt to faith. How He knew that I had voiced my hesitation out loud I didn’t know. But I now knew for certain Jesus was very much alive. Death was now dead.
“My Master! My God!” was all I could say.
At that moment I became a believing believer. It wasn’t second-hand anymore; I wept and laughed at the same time! I couldn’t explain it, I must believe it. Jesus had overcome death and He was now commanding me to believe.
Immediately I knew, I saw Him for myself.
Looking back I admit my foolishness and doubt; Jesus had sought me out, and somehow He knew that of all His disciples, I needed that special touch. He understood and had come just for me. To this day I realized how much He really loved me–the doubting Thomas.
According to common Christian tradition, Thomas, was killed by jealous Hindu priests of Kali India. He was burned to death in 72 AD. A church is now established there and still recognizes him as an apostle.
Bryan’s note: I can relate to Thomas. I was also one who needed to know for myself that Jesus was really God and that He really did rise from the dead. It was reading “More Than a Carpenter” by Josh McDowell that propelled me into belief. If you need to know for yourself, I suggest you buy this book. (If you want, I’ll buy it for you.)
Art: Caravaggio’s The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, c. 1601-1502, oil on canvas–Verses are from The Message, a translation by Eugene Peterson.
God’s temple was now filled with an evil darkness. King Manasseh made the Lord’s holy place a fountain of sin and filth. Instead of holiness, it was an evil place.
He brought in dark things that were twisted, perverted and clearly forbidden.
“Manasseh led Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem astray, to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel.”
2 Chronicles 33:9, ESV
His own darkness was now encouraged by others, it became accessible, available and promoted:
The high places were rebuilt throughout the land.
Altars to Baal rebuilt, using images of wood.
In the holy temple, altars to the “starry host,” astrology, plain and simple.
Human sacrifice of his own sons to Molech, a false god. Murder.
He practiced soothsaying, used witchcraft and sorcery, and consulted mediums and spiritists.
Evil was being encouraged and something wicked was replacing all that was good and true. The analysis of Manasseh’s policies was way beyond disturbing. Of all the kings of Judah, he was the most sinful and the most corrupt. He was at the bottom of the barrel.
The Hebrew word for “led astray” can be translated seduced.
Manasseh was an incredibly immoral man, a king who ruled for 40 years. “He did all he could to pervert the national character, and totally destroy the worship of the true God; and he succeeded.” (Clarke)
It’s believed that he put Isaiah to death by cutting him in two.
Moreover Manasseh shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another, besides his sin by which he made Judah sin, in doing evil in the sight of the LORD.
1 Kings 21:16
But then something happened.
And the LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they would not listen. Therefore the LORD brought upon them the captains of the army of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze fetters, and carried him off to Babylon.
2 Chronicles 33:10-11
Assyria came knocking on Manasseh’s door. I think there was a certain mercy here, but also discipline. Manasseh had “hooks,” inserted through his jaw and out of his mouth. Like a fish he was led to Babylon, a trophy of the power of the army of Babylon.
It was from a dark dungeon that Manasseh cried out to the Lord and repented.
There’s a Jewish fable that when Manasseh cried out to God the angels boarded up the windows in heaven. They wanted to block out his prayer so God wouldn’t be able to hear. But God, rich in mercy, bored a hole in front of His throne to hear Manasseh’s desperate cry.
The Lord’s intention was to forever show His kindness and grace given to the most awful repentant sinner.
I believe that Manasseh was the “Prodigal Son” of the Old Testament.
God is not at a loss when He moves to bring us back to Himself. He can woo or whip. He can draw or drive. He can work rapidly or slowly, as He pleases. In other words, He is free to be God! And in His own way, at His own pace, He brings us back.
Buried in the Old Testament we discover the idea of the Cities of Refuge.
They speak profoundly to our situation and bring real hope to those who struggle. Six places of safety were given to protect those who accidentally killed another person— maybe an ax head flew and hit someone, and they died as a result.
God told Joshua to establish cities of protection where one could be safe from an avenger. There were six of them, three on the east side of the Jordan river, and three on the west. The cities covered Israel; each was spread out intentionally so they were always close.
That city became a place of asylum for those guilty of manslaughter.
As believers, we know that we’ve committed crimes against God and other people. The burden we carry threatens to undo us. Satan (and his minions) want to destroy us—and honestly, we deserve it. We are essentially spiritual ‘criminals’ who have hurt others and damaged ourselves in the process.
Outside the city, we’re vulnerable—but inside those walls we find safety.
Those who have killed others are protected. If we venture outside, we find our adversary who is waiting. Scripture tells us that we must stay cloistered there until the current high priest dies. Upon his death, we’re released and may leave the city walls.
For broken believers, the whole concept rings true.
The text speaks for itself, and there is spiritual logic in all of this. We see parallels here that speak to our condition. We’ve messed up big time. We also carry issues that the enemy can attack. Depression, bipolar, trauma, and even thoughts of committing suicide— can be a fundamental part of our lives.
I must tell you that safety is found only in the Savior.
Finding God and abiding in him is our place of safety. His walls protect us, Jesus is our high priest, who never dies; that means we need to stay with him, permanently. I like Hebrews 6:18, LB:
“Now all those who flee to him to save them can take new courage when they hear such assurances from God; now they can know without a doubt that he will give them the salvation he has promised them.”
For us especially, we often have problems with the doctrine of assurance of salvation. Our enemy works overtime to accuse us (Rev.12:10). We’re his targets and the lies of many demons assault us. We can, at times, wonder if we’re really saved. We wonder if we are really forgiven, and we doubt our salvation. Satan’s efforts can be constant and crippling.
I encourage you to think this over and pray about this.
“Then one of the criminals hanging there began to yell insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
40 “But the other answered, rebuking him: “Don’t you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment? 41 We are punished justly because we’re getting back what we deserve for the things we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
43 “And he said to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
The pain was incredible, but I know that deep down I deserved to die. But not like this. Never like this. I was almost out of my mind with fear. What they were doing to me was terrifying.
You must understand that I was a common thief. I had stolen a loaf of bread when I was eight years old and that’s how it all got started for me. It more or else got bigger and easier. I knew how to steal and I was quite good at it. I was Jacob, the master thief!
When I was finally caught, they sentenced me to die. I supposed it was inevitable. I fault no one but myself as I knew what I was getting into. As I dragged my beam up to Golgotha, it was really strange but I suddenly remembered a verse from the scripture and it really did unsettle me.
It’s a terrible thing to die this way. There were three of us, nailed to the wood and lifted up between heaven and earth. Jesus was nailed to the middle cross, not that it really mattered; all three of us were going to die today.
Many hope for a simple and easy death, maybe in their sleep–but that’s not going to happen to us.
The third man could only mock, he was afraid, and I suppose he just echoed those Pharisees who didn’t really understand. But I knew better. I knew who this other man was, I had heard all the stories. Deep down I knew that this man on the center cross was the Messiah.
A crowd had gathered to watch us die. The Romans in their wonderful ingenuity had made a sign that they nailed above Jesus’ head, and it declared to everyone that Jesus was “the king of the Jews.” Even as he was dying, they found a way to malign him and irritate the crowd.
The other man being crucified continued to mock Jesus, and it infuriated me.
Why I defended him I don’t know for sure.
But I understood. Jesus was murdered out of the envy and jealousy of the Pharisees. He didn’t deserve to die like this, but He was hated, and who can confront these religious men without becoming a victim. Jesus had repeatedly crossed the line, so now they were now putting him to death. It seemed evil was really winning today.
I saw the soldiers throwing dice for Jesus’ clothes. He was now being mocked by them as well, even as he was dying on a brutal cross.
But all of a sudden it all made perfect sense, he really was the Messiah, and these bastards were killing him. Crucifixion was starting to work on me now. I began to choke on my words, and it was getting hard to breathe.
“Jesus… please remember me. When your kingdom comes, please let me be a part of it.”
And as beaten as he was, he managed to turn and look directly at me. They had whipped and brutalized him, and yet he was still aware. His words were whispered now, but I understood. “I promise that today you will be with me in paradise.”
I was starting to spasm again, but the horror of death had left me. Some time had passed, and I could hear his breathing stop. But for the first time, I had peace. They used a spear on Jesus, but he was already dead.
The soldiers now came to the two of us, and they were carrying an ax to break our legs. It all had to do with the coming festival, and the Pharisees wanted us dead. When they swung that ax I knew a pain that I could never describe. My own death came quickly after that.
I was suddenly standing in paradise, whole and complete, and loved.
Someone was standing before me. He was shining I remember, and I knew he was powerful; stronger, and he was more glorious than anyone I had ever met. It was crazy but somehow I knew that he was an angel and he had been sent to meet me. It’s funny, but I realized that somehow I really did belong. Me–a dirty rotten thief.
Jesus had promised me, he had pronounced me righteous, me of all people. I suddenly had a joy that I could never explain. I really was a part of the Kingdom that was beyond anything I had ever known. And all I can really say about this was that I was privileged to die with him. That is all I could claim. I simply believed him and asked if somehow I could be part of his eternal rule.
I simply asked and He gave me everything.
Cover Art: “Christ on the Cross between Two Thieves,” by Peter Paul Rubens
I have to admit, I never really appreciated the depth of Psalm 23:5. I supposed that “He anoints my head with oil” was simply just figurative language for something nice. Poetic. I never knew this definite parallel until recently. But David completely understood and was able to understand the full ministry of the Shepherd.
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”
Psalm 23:5, ESV
“Sheep can get their head caught in briers and die trying to get untangled. There are horrid little flies that like to torment sheep by laying eggs in their nostrils which turn into worms and drive the sheep to beat their head against a rock, sometimes to death. Their ears and eyes are also susceptible to tormenting insects.”
So the shepherd anoints their whole head with oil.
“Then there is peace. That oil forms a barrier of protection against the evil that tries to destroy the sheep. Do you have times of mental torment? Do the worrisome thoughts invade your mind over and over? Do you beat your head against a wall trying to stop them? Have you ever asked God to anoint your head with oil?”
He has an endless supply!
His oil protects and makes it possible for you to fix your heart, mind, and eyes on Him today and always! There is peace in the valley! May our good good Father anoint your head with oil today so that your cup overflows with blessings! God is good and He is faithful!!”
“And Saul hurled the spear, for he thought, “I will pin David to the wall.” But David evaded him twice.“
1 Samuel 18:11, ESV
“And Saul sought to pin David to the wall with the spear, but he eluded Saul so that he struck the spear into the wall. And David fled and escaped that night.“
1 Samuel 19:10
King Saul has gone mad.
We need to understand that David had a different heart. We see that he would leave Saul’s spear in the wall. Remember that David was the giant killer, the boy who faced Goliath. I don’t really think that David was really afraid, he knew God’s protective hand was on him and this made the difference.
Saul’s spear shows up later in David’s life, and it becomes a vital component in his growth as Israel’s next king.
But David doesn’t know it yet.
1 Samuel 26 is David’s second encounter with the spear of Saul.
The scene is in the wilderness and David’s on the run. Now the badlands are a good place to hide as any Western movie knows. I think David had his scouts and I suppose that there were also men who knew every rock and cave in that wasteland. They were hiding from Saul.
“So David and Abishai entered the encampment by night, and there he was—Saul, stretched out asleep at the center of the camp, his spear stuck in the ground near his head, with Abner and the troops sound asleep on all sides.”
1 Samuel 26:7
Sneaking into Saul’s camp was a bold and audacious move. Saul was sleeping and scripture says that David’s companion desperately wanted to kill Saul, but David refused, David, looking through the darkness lighted on Saul’s spear. Perhaps he remembered back to when Saul tried very hard to kill him.
He avoided that spear a long time ago, and now he escapes it again.
The tables have completely turned. Given a chance to end King Saul’s life, he refused; he would not kill him. When you think about it, many problems would’ve been solved, and David would take his rightful place as Israel’s new king.
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Romans 12:21, ESV
The Greek word for “overcome” is νικάω which can be translated as “to conquer or to come forth victorious.” It is also used when someone is arraigned before a court of law but wins the case.
Inherent in this definition is the idea of a test that one passes with “flying colors.”
To follow Jesus means to entirely reject the spear. It’s not for you. Never.
“We win by tenderness. We conquer by forgiveness.”
Frederick W. Robertson
Like David, we are to trust the Father. We’re to be secure in His timing. And yes, we each must use kindness and brokenness to overcome dark things. When you think about it, Jesus also faced evil without defending Himself. The spear showed up again and we see that our Savior allowed it to pierce His side on the cross.
You must leave the spear in the wall. You mustn’t use the spear when it seems you can wield it at the perfect moment, And like Jesus you need to allow it to save your enemies from their sin.
These three spears are evidence you “have God’s heart.”