He Set His Face to Jerusalem

LUKE 9:51

In Luke chapter 9, Jesus is traveling south with the disciples after finishing his Galilean ministry. He had preached in many synagogues, taught in many towns, and performed many miracles. He had spent very day of the last year and half to two years with his twelve disciples. His words and teachings would become the doctrinal foundation of Christianity. He is now in the last six months of his life. The time has come for him to journey back to Jerusalem to be crucified, and so “he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem.” The Latin Vulgate says he “strengthened his face.” This denotes courage, boldness, and firmness of mind.

We often minimize the fact that Jesus was wholly human as well as wholly God. We think that He was probably not as troubled by sin, temptation, and selfishness as we are, and living in this world was easier for him. But Jesus was as human as we are and he had to choose to obey his Father just as we do. He made the choice to go to Jerusalem with full knowledge of what awaited him there. It was not an easy choice. It was hard. He knew what going to Jerusalem meant. He predicts in Luke 18:32, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written of the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon; they will scourge him and kill him…” When Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem, he set his face to die.

He willingly chose to go to the cross for us—to take upon himself our sins, our shame. He states in John 10:18, “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.”He knew God’s purpose for his life and he was committed to carrying it out at all costs. His disciples were still ignorant and unaware of Jesus’ true purpose. While traveling to Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples took the shortest route, through Samaria, even though the Samaritans and the Jews despised one another.

They had journeyed through Samaria before. John chapter 4 tells of Christ’s meeting with the Samaritan woman. The woman became a believer as a result of her encounter with Christ. However this time, Jesus and the disciples did not get a warm reception. “But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:53) Public opinion of Christ was already changing. His rejection by the people had begun. His disciples, James and John, wanted to destroy Samaria because of their rejection. The “sons of thunder” lived up to their reputation.

“And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” But He turned and rebuked them, and said, ‘You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.’ For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.. And they went to another village.” Luke 9:53-56

Jesus’ message to his disciples and to us in this passage is clear. You too will be rejected by men. To be a true disciple of Jesus is to be an imitator of Him. He calls us to follow him down Calvary Road to Golgotha. We must crucify ourselves, our selfish nature, and our wishes for a comfortable life. We must allow the light of God’s Word to penetrate the darkest parts of our sinful hearts. We must be ready to give up our desires and wishes to serve God and one another. This is true discipleship ——to be ready and willing to “set our face to Jerusalem.”


Grace In A Desolate Place

flower_dryearthIf you ask most Christians to define grace, they will say “God’s unmerited favor.” Ask them how that impacts their daily walk with Jesus and you are liable to get a blank stare. We know what God’s grace is but how does that flesh out in our daily lives?  One of the most profound examples of God’s grace is told in 2 Samuel 9. It is the story of David and Mephibosheth. David has just been crowned King over all of Israel after 25 years of running from Saul and fighting his enemies. He and his family have moved into the palace at Jerusalem and there is peace in the land, albeit temporary. David is pondering his life and he asks a servant “Is anyone in Saul’s family still alive that I may show them kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” The servant replies yes and David bids the servant to go and bring him to the palace.

The servant travels to Lo-debar, “land of the dry pasture”. He finds Saul’s grandson, Mephibosheth, “the shameful one”, living with a distant relative as he is crippled and cannot provide for his family. Mephibosheth obeys the call of the king and goes to the palace. Most likely he was frightened and uncertain as to his fate. I’m sure he thought, “Oh no. This is it. David has found me and now I will be killed.” It was common practice to kill off the family of your enemies so that they would not try to overthrow the throne.

David, however, extends grace to Mephibosheth. He tells Mephibosheth in front of all at the palace that he will return to him all the lands and wealth of his grandfather Saul. He then instructs the servant, Ziba and his family to farm the land for Mephibosheth and give all the food to Mephibosheth’s family. “But,” David adds, “Mephibosheth will dine at my table.” “From then on Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem and ate regularly at the king’s table.” 2 Sam. 9:13

What an incredible picture this is of God’s grace towards us. David sought out Mephibosheth, his enemy (the shameful one), and showed him grace because of his lovingkindness. There is nothing neither lovely nor righteous in Mephibosheth that makes him worthy of David’s love, yet David seeks him out for the sake of another (Jonathan). Mephibosheth is given a room in the palace and a place at the king’s table. David adopts Mephibosheth and makes him part of the royal family. He receives all the benefits that one born into royalty would receive.

In the same way God seeks us out, we do not seek Him nor can we as we are shameful and crippled in our sin. Before we are redeemed we are enemies of God residing in a desert. There is nothing neither lovely nor righteous in us, yet God plucks us out of our sinful, desolate place for the sake of His son Jesus Christ. God gives us a room in His palace and a place at His table. He adopts us and we become part of His royal family

God our Savior showed us how good and kind he is. He saved us because of his mercy, and not because of any good things that we have done. Titus 3:4

God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. Ephesians 1: 5

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! 1 John 3:1

This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. 1 John 4:10

God cannot love us any more than he does now, and He will not love us any less no matter what we do. Nothing we do can increase or decrease God’s love for us. This is grace.

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

Why would God treat us this way, ill-deserving as we are? 2 Samuel 22 says that God “…reached down from heaven and rescued me; he drew me out of deep waters. He led me to a place of safety; because he delights in me.”The Creator of the Universe, the Most High King, delights in us. He wants to spend time with us. What does that mean for you and me in our daily lives? It should mean that we want to spend time with our Father who is loving, kind, generous, and merciful. Mark Driscoll, Pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle says this about grace;

“God’s grace and love transforms holiness. We are not trying to be presentable so that we will get picked for adoption. We are the kids that are so well loved that we want to obey our Dad because he’s the best. We want to follow our Dad because we trust him. We want to honor our Dad because he’s been so kind, and since he has already given us his last name, we want to live in such a way as to bring honor to his name. God adopts into his family that is the church. He gives us the name of Christian. He chooses to do us good. It is his kindness that leads us to repentance, and it changes us into different kids.”

God’s grace changes us into kids who obey their Father because they want to not because they have to. Grace transforms our daily walk from one where we check off a to-do-list to a life that freely loves, serves, and gives.

What was Mephibosheth’s reaction to David’s grace? Later on in 2 Samuel, David is forced to flee Jerusalem. Mephibosheth does not come with him and David is told by Ziba the servant that Mephibosheth has betrayed him. Believing this to be true, David gives Ziba, all of Mephibosheth’s wealth. When David finally returns to the palace sometime later, Mephibosheth greets him with dirty, torn clothes and an unkempt appearance, a sign of mourning. David asks him why he did not come with him. Mephibosheth says that Ziba deceived him and that he was unable to leave as he was crippled. David does not know who to believe so he splits the wealth between the two of them. Mephibosheth, however, is as a man who understands grace. “Give him all of it” he says, “it is enough that I get to dine at your table.”

God’s grace allows me to be free from the comparison trap. It does not matter what I have or don’t have. It does not matter if He chooses to gift others with wealth and not me. It is enough that I get to live in the palace with the King and dine at his table.

This is Grace.

The Letter

A few months ago I was thanking God and praising Him for how wonderful my life was going.  My son who had been out of work had just gotten a great job that combines two things he loves; computer technology and missions. My two daughters were at school in Spokane, Washington and loving it. My job was going great and I enjoyed the people I work with. My marriage was stronger than ever as my husband and I were enjoying some refreshment at Hume Lake Christian Camp. When friends I had not seen in a while asked how I was doing I replied, “Wonderful. Life is good.” We no sooner got down from the mountain from Hume Lake when our cell phone rang. My father-in-law was in the hospital with heart failure and the diagnosis was not good.

My “life is good” bubble quickly burst as we hurriedly made plans to travel to Washington State to visit him and assess the situation for ourselves. Within the next several days more trials came our way and I knew that I was living the book of James chapter 1. I was being tried and tested in all areas of my life and I did not like it. I did not like it one little bit.

Like most people when the storms of life hit I turn to God with my bag of emotions.  Frustration, anger, denial, sorrows, bargaining, and strong desires to flee from the troubles bombard my mind and heart.  It takes me several days spent in prayer and deep thought to process all that is happening in my life.  At some point, I usually turn to a dear friend and mentor to help me sort through the mess of my emotions and thoughts.  For the first time in 18 years I could not do that as she was in the midst of her own storm.

When I returned to the office after visiting my in-laws in Washington, my office space was in chaos as the office rooms were being rearranged.  The chaos seemed to symbolize my life at that moment and I had to resist the urge to sit down in the middle of my floor and weep.  I was not navigating this storm well. Just when I felt as if my boat was about to capsize, the letter appeared.

My husband found it when we were organizing the office. It had been mailed almost 7 years ago to the day. It was written in longhand from another dear friend and mentor who has been with Jesus now for many years.  I wept as I read it.  It was healing and refreshment  to my soul. I read it again. I was stunned at how accurately it spoke to the very season of life I was now in.  I was reminded of how wise this dear woman was, also a pastor’s wife. How well she understood the life my husband and I had been called to.  She spent her life encouraging others and her ministry is still impacting my life.

I read that letter over and over that day and one part stood out among the rest.

“Where is your faith? Why don’t you shout victory in the very face of the storm, and say to the raging winds and rolling waves, you can do no harm, for Christ the Mighty Savior is on         board!”  

And in her wonderful southern humor she also wrote, “remember Christ said, ‘Let us go to the other side’-not the middle of the lake to be drowned.”

What a great gift that letter was; the first time that she sent it and the second time that God sent it. How good of God to send us the letter again to remind us that when our boat is rocking and rolling there is no need to fear; for Christ the Mighty Savior is on board.  Life is indeed good for I have a Savior who not only directs the storms in my life but gets in the boat with me to see me safely to the other side.

God’s Amazing Gift

The incarnation—a miracle of God planned from the beginning of time. God knew His creation, man, whom He had lovingly sculptured in His own image, would fall. But God loves man and so He made a way to redeem him. Man’s spiritual death would be redeemed by a birth- the birth of God Himself to a lowly, young woman. The incorruptible God entered the world through a corruptible woman.
He could have come as a man, fully grown, ready to start His ministry. But God chose instead to leave His heavenly world, spend 9 months in the body of a woman, make the arduous, messy journey out of the woman’s womb, through the birth canal and into a sinful world. He took the form of a newborn baby, the most helpless of all humans, and at that moment in time, hope entered the world and His name was Jesus. He chose as His vehicle a young Jewish girl, Mary, called “highly favored one” by an angel who visits her. She was, as T.S. Eliot says, “the place of impossible union where past and future are conquered and reconciled in incarnation.” Mary is the one constant is Jesus’ life. She brought Him into the world and watched as death took Him from this world. This “most favored woman” does not question God but presented herself as God’s servant and said “let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) Her faith was simple yet deep. Perhaps she remembered the many Old Testament scriptures that prophesied the Messiah’s birth. God had been in fact preparing the world for His arrival since before the world was created. The entire Old Testament is the story of a special preparation.

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:9 2

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Micah 5:2

“The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.” Jeremiah 23:5

The miracle of the incarnation made possible the miracle of salvation. We marvel at how God, the creator of the universe, could become man. Yet we should also marvel at how God could love us so much that He would leave His heavenly throne to become like us. The miracle of Christmas is not just that “the word became flesh and dwelt among us” but that God chose to love us at all. The ancient scholar Irenaeus wrote, “The word of God, Jesus Christ, on account of his great love for mankind, became what we are in order to make us what he is himself.”

Take time this Christmas season to ponder, wonder, contemplate and reflect on this great love!
“See what an incredible quality of love the Father has given, shown, bestowed on, us, that we should be permitted to be named and called and counted the children of God! And so we are!”
I John 3:1 (Amplified Bible).

For The Joy that Was Set Before Him

“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”      Hebrews 12:1:2.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that Christ endured the cross and the shame for the “joy that was set before him.” He knew what God’s plan was for his life. He knew that he would have to endure the suffering and shame of the cross. Yet he chose to follow God’s plan. Because of his trust and    obedience to His heavenly Father, Christ was able to go to the cross. But he also did for the joy which would be his. He suffered for the joy of being seated at the right hand of the Father, and he suffered for the greatest joy of all —- saving you and I.

He suffered for the joy of imparting His righteousness to you and I; for giving us a mansion in heaven, or as C. H. Spurgeon says, “ for the joy of finding mansions in heaven for homeless souls.”

If Christ can endure the shame, suffering, and agony of the cross for our homeless souls, shouldn’t we be able to endure suffering for His sake?

Yet send even a little suffering our way and God will find us crying out for relief. He will find us praying, “It is too much, Lord!” or “It is not fair, God!” Our suffering in this world pales in comparison to him who was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”

This Easter season, take a fresh look at the cross. Stand there at the feet of your suffering Savior and worship Him anew. Marvel at His great love for you.

Do not turn away from His suffering, for it is that suffering that you were healed. Worship Jesus Christ, your Savior and pray as William Gadsby did,

Now, for the love I bear His Name,

What was my gain I count my loss;

My former pride I call my shame,

And nail my glory to His cross.

Grant, O Lord, that in your wounds I may find my safety, in your stripes my cure, in your pain my peace, in your cross my victory, in your resurrection my triumph, and a crown of righteousness in the glories of your eternal kingdom.

Jeremy Taylor, in The Westminster Collection of Christian Prayers, compiled by Dorothy M. Stewart

The Backyard Battle or Woman VS Weed

Memorial Day weekend is the “unofficial” start of summer with families heading  to the beach or backyard barbecues. This past  Memorial Day I ventured into uncharted territory; the backyard weeds. I gathered my weapons, put on my fighting gloves, and headed out to do battle with the dreaded Spiny Sow Thistle that had taken my backyard captive. This weed often disguises itself as an innocent looking dandelion with its dainty yellow flowers. But don’t be fooled! This innocuous looking weed attacks with its spines causing welts and  severe rashes. This nasty plant is hard to get rid of and the only sure way to annihilate this enemy is to dig deep in the soil and dig out the root of this pesky plant. As I was battling this enemy I was reminded of another enemy I must battle on a daily basis which is also hard to root out; bitterness. This enemy is so sneaky that it often resides in us without our knowing. It easily takes root in our lives when we do not deal with our anger and when we have an unforgiving heart.

 Years ago I had a conflict with a friend  which deeply hurt and wounded me. The issue was resolved to the best of my ability and I forgave this person or so I thought. Throughout the years whenever I thought of this person or their name was brought up I would secretly wish they were having a miserable life. I told myself it was only fair and just that they should suffer as I had suffered. The incident that led to my anger would replay in my mind like a video movie looped to play the same scene over and over. Bitterness had taken root in my heart.

 Bitterness often disguises itself. I was convinced that I had forgiven this person. What I felt was not  unforgivness or bitterness, but  disappointment. I did not want revenge but justice. Just as the Spiny Thistle in my backyard can look like a charming flower, so bitterness can camouflage itself as something less poisonous.

 Ephesians 4 tells us to “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you,” lest we give the devil a foothold in our lives. And Hebrews 12:14-15 says “Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life… Let no one become like a bitter plant that grows up and causes many troubles with its poison.” Bitterness is our heart will poison our life and spread to others too as we retell the tale. Soon the devil not only has his foot in the door, but all of him and his evil schemes.

Bitterness is the replaying of a grievance in your mind, not being able to let go of the offence. We secretly hope for someone’s harm or distress. We wish they would get knocked off their “high horse.” When you are bitter towards someone there is a sense of superiority. “I would never do that.” And so we begin to pass judgment on the person. We bring it up to others in the form of a prayer request. “Pray for brother so and so, he has a terrible temper.” Or” pray for me, I am struggling with unforgiveness. Let me tell you what   happened.” We also bring it up to ourselves as well; replaying that video again and again. We tell ourselves that we will forgive but not forget. I forgive but have not forgotten means I have judged you but not acted as executioner. We withdraw warmth from that person holding them liable for the sin. But an unforgiving heart is an unforgiven heart, and until we can let go of the offense, we have not truly forgiven nor are we behaving like a forgiven, redeemed individual.

You cannot control your feelings but you can control your thoughts. You can make a decision not to replay those tapes. You make that decision when you say I am going to grant  forgiveness before I feel it. And you decide to not seek repayment and determine to absorb the debt. When God says He remembers our sins no more he does not actually forget our sins. He is all knowing. What God means is that he will no longer hold us liable for those sins because the debt has been paid. Jesus absorbed the debt. We can absorb the debts others place on us because Jesus paid for our debts in full. When we realize the great debt we owe to God and the grace he has freely, lovingly bestowed on us, how can we not extend that same grace to others?

So how do we get rid of bitterness? Determine to absorb that debt and give it over to the Lord. Work at living in peace with everyone. Return evil with a blessing  (1 Peter 3:9) that you may inherit a blessing. Pray and wish their good.

 Thanks to my diligence and hard work the Spiny Sow Thistle no longer holds my back yard captive. And thanks to convicting power of God’s Word and the sword of the Spirit, bitterness no longer holds my heart captive.  Summing up: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless—that’s your job, to bless. You’ll be a blessing and also get a blessing.”  1 Peter 3:8-12 (The Message)

Wrestling with God

“So Jacob was left alone. Then a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he could not defeat Jacob, he struck the socket of his hip so the socket of Jacob’s hip was dislocated while he wrestled with him. Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.’ ‘I will not let you go,’ Jacob replied, ‘unless you bless me.’ The man asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He answered, ‘Jacob.’ ‘No longer will your name be Jacob, ‘the man told him, ‘but Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have prevailed.’ “ Genesis 32:22-32

Have you ever felt like you were wrestling with God, wanting answers, wanting a blessing as Jacob did?

Fifteen years ago I had my own Jacob moment. My husband had just resigned as pastor of our church after ten years of faithful service. Conflict was dividing the church body and we thought it best to step down. Although it was our choice, it was still a very painful decision. For a ministry family this meant not only the loss of a job, but also the loss of our church, our place to worship, and many of our friends.

So many losses all at once left me reeling and confused. Wasn’t God supposed to keep bad things from happening to me? I had dedicated my life to serving Him, my family and I had sacrificed much for “the ministry”, and now we have lost it all. Where was God in all this? Thus began my night of wrestling with God.

My “night” lasted almost a year as I wrestled with God for answers. Why had this happened, why me, why now? I felt as if everything I knew about God was being tested; his goodness, his sovereignty, his love for me. It was as if I woke up after a wonderful wedding and honeymoon to find myself married to a stranger. And that stranger was God.

Jacob’s night of wrestling continued until daybreak loomed (Genesis 32), and when the angel saw that Jacob was not going to give up, he dislocated his hip. Still, Jacob held on. His wrestling turned to clinging until the angel pleaded, “Let me go.” “Not until you bless me, replied Jacob.” “No longer will your name be Jacob,” the man told him, “but Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have prevailed.” So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.”

Jacob was a changed man after his night with God. No longer was he called Jacob which means schemer, but Israel, which means literally “God fights”. This name replaced the name Jacob; it was both a promise and a call for faith. In essence, the Lord was saying that Jacob would have victory and receive the promises because God would fight for him. Jacob’s walk with God would never be the same.

As dawn appeared on my night of wrestling, I too was weary of the fight. My wrestling turned to clinging and then to resignation and acceptance. When the night was over I had no more answers to my questions than when it had started.

Catherine Marshall said, “I need you and your presence in my life more than I need understanding…I trust You to give me understanding and an answer to my Whys only if and when You choose.” God choose not to answer my whys. His reply to me was, “I AM GOD, that’s all you need to know.”

I have found that in my darkest hours, God has been silent. I have yet to understand why, but I know that in those days my faith narrows so that I focus only on Jesus. My faith seem to go backward as I cling to His promises with a baby-like faith that says, “I don’t know much about You or what You’re doing, but I know I need You.”

I did not come away from my experience with a limp but my walk with God was also changed. I no longer had the confident sometimes cocky walk of one who “had all the answers.” My walk was slower but surer. I believed in myself less and trusted God more. My circumstances had not changed but my heart had and I could say with confidence as Habakkuk did:Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. Habukkuk 3:17-19