Perseverance

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January 15

Friday, January 15th, 2021

Have you ever been disappointed with God? I suspect all of us would speak to the affirmative of that statement. I must confess there have been times I have been. One of those times is now. After 10 months or pursuing me, Covid finally caught up with me. In spite of the mask, the hand sanitizing, the extra vitamins designed to ward off a virus or infection, I got it. A body that once weighed 223 and was pretty solid is now 30 pounds less in 3 weeks, lost a lot of muscle and is weak. (I hope this is not TMI): I have trouble keeping things down (or at least not feeling nauseated) and keeping things in. I’ve tried the BRAT diet (Bananas, Rice, Apple sauce, and Toast) but that hasn’t worked. And besides, it is boring and sort of disgusting.  I’m not fond of bananas, white rice or white toast.  I’ve had people praying for me. I have prayed fervently for healing. All the tests so far have come back negative, or on the good side. After a night of solid sleep where the alarm woke me, I slept fitfully last night. This is not meant to be a “woe is me” devotion though. It is designed to ask a question:

Why am I disappointed with God?

I already know the answer: because He hasn’t answered my (and others) prayers for healing. My desire is to be completely healed from this mess. But then I think, “Who am I to expect that? Maybe God has a bigger plan in His big picture?”

One thing I do know is that I need to delight in God and then He will fulfill the desires of my heart, not the other way around, i.e. God will fulfill my dreams then I will delight in Him.  So I must keep in mind that disappointment is not unusual or even unexpected, but I must delight in Him no matter what. If He chooses to heal me, I will praise Him. If He has another plan, I will praise Him.

“So Father,  I will praise You even through my disappointment.”

December 7

Monday, December 7th, 2020

Have you ever noticed how certain words or phrases or thoughts are almost automatically connected to a corresponding word, thought, or action? For example, carousel. Say that word and our minds will go to merry-go-rounds or amusement parks. Say the word love and we might link it to joy and peace, especially at this time of the year. Or we might even think of a person. Say virgin birth and we will tie it to Jesus or Christmas or Mary.

Here’s one: courage. Did your mind go to fear? Did you happen to think of Aragorn’s speech to the enemies of Mordor or to William Wallace’s speech to his band of fighting brothers? It’s understandable but not necessarily where we should go. Here are one or two other possibilities: the cowardly lion in Wizard of Oz. He needed courage, not because of fear, but because he was a coward. We need courage when we face uncertain events or future. We need courage when we feel inadequate for a task we are about to face. That is not necessarily fear but hesitation of ability to do something.

Let me explain better: When Joshua was about to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land he had just taken over for Moses. What big shoes to fill! It was one thing to be the understudy; it was another to be the top dog. What a daunting task facing Joshua. But God told him, “I got this Joshua. You just trust Me. All your uncertainty and insecurity are taken care of. Have courage!” Check out Joshua 1:9.

God will not abandon us. Where and when God calls us, He also equips us.

“Father, I say You are in charge. Help me to know and live it. Give me courage for today and all it brings.”

December 4

Friday, December 4th, 2020

There are a lot of emotions which people experience during the Christmas season.  There are the devastating ones like loss, loneliness, and lifelessness. They lead to a feeling of why bother? Why not just give up? There are also those emotions which carry a sense of settledness. Joy. Peace. Knowing you are loved.

One that is all too common is one called discouragement. How do I know that? I’m fighting it tooth and nail right now. This has been an unusual year to be sure. The virus lead to decreased attendance until we had to lockdown. Then when we could open again our attendance began to creep back up slowly. And I was okay with that. Then recently the spike has hit and we are back to people staying home. I know this is best, especially for those directly impacted by the threat to their health or those they love. But that still doesn’t ease the angst of one who loves people and feeds off seeing them.  So after an up, then a down, then an up, and now a down,  I have found myself fighting off being discouraged. For the most part I’ve been doing well. My hardest time? This past Sunday when it hit me again.

This all came back to me and I saw it again when I read Paul David Tripp’s Day 30 devotion from 40 Days of Faith. While his devotion focused on how God has each of my days written down even before I was born, it caused me to stop and think about my own heart. I had to remind myself that what happens (has, is and will) does not surprise Him in the slightest. He’s not wearing the suit of the guy with question marks all over Him.

On the contrary, He authored this all with a combination of wisdom and grace. That means He knows my disappointment and discouragement and comes alongside me with an arm around my shoulder and eyes full of understanding saying, “I’m here Bill. Don’t get discouraged. You are going to be surprised when this all shakes out. But you gotta trust Me.”

So I do the only thing I can do. I cry on His shoulder and lean into His chest and resign myself to His warm and steady heart beat.

November 27

Friday, November 27th, 2020

Have you ever noticed how sometimes life just doesn’t make any sense? Seriously, when you think you get it, life throws a curveball. When you think life is smoothing itself out, you hit a bunch of potholes and you find yourself trying to navigate around them. Or you are just enjoying the pleasure of a nice, relaxing drift on a boat in still water when a pop-up storm hits that threatens to capsize you and maybe even your faith.

On Day 22 of his little book 40 Days of Faith, Paul David Tripp writes:

Don’t be discouraged today. You can leave your ‘what-ifs’ and ‘if-onlys’ in the hands of the one who loves you and rules all things. (p.50)

Later he writes even more:

He knows, he understands, he is in control of what appears to be chaos, he is never surprised, he is never confused, he never worries or loses a night’s sleep, he never walks off the job to take a rest, he never gets so busy with one thing that he neglects another, and he never plays favorites. (p.51)

How’s that for reassurance? We certainly live today in a day of insecurity and unrest. What more reassurance do we need than words like these about a God like that? Is life out of whack for you? Screwy? Twisted? Hassled? Unsure? You now know the One who knows all about it.

“Father, thank you for being in control. For not being surprised. For being the calm in the storm. Help me to trust You implicitly.”

November 19

Thursday, November 19th, 2020

“I can’t do it.”  You might hear that quite often from younger children. Sometimes it is legitimate; sometimes not so. Sometimes it is a cop out; sometimes it is an honest statement and cry for help. I’m not sure where I read it, but it has been suggested that instead of “I can’t” the person really means “I won’t.” In fact, as an experiment it is recommended to replace “I can’t” with “I won’t.”

There are legitimate times “I can’t” is valid. All things mechanical in a car has me yelling “Uncle!” pretty quickly.  (See my clever use of another word there instead of “I can’t?”) But, admittedly, I do say, “I can’t” a little too quickly.

Two passages of Scripture come to mind when I think of this: one is a story. It is found in Judges 6:11-18. An angel comes to Gideon and calls him a “mighty man of valor.” That is laughable because at that moment he’s threshing grain indoors out of fear of the Midianites, the very people God is calling him to defeat. When Gideon says, “I can’t,” God says, “I can.” With an army of 300 Gideon defeats the Midianites-a feat which was definitely against all odds.

The other passage is found in Ephesians 3: 20-21- “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly that all that we ask or think…” God just takes the “I can’t” and throws it right out the window with this statement by Paul. Again, when I say, “I can’t,” God says, “I can and so will you.” Listen to those words again: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly…”

“Father, help me to remember that with You all things are possible. Help me not to write off Your work and power too quickly. Help me to remember You can.”

November 16

Monday, November 16th, 2020

I am a terrible waiter.  No, I didn’t work at a restaurant and drop food or drink in a person’s lap. I could jokingly say, “When God was handing out qualities and said, ‘Patience?’ I thought I was going to be a doctor so I said I’ll take plenty.”  But I’m not a doctor and it’s not the same word. (I know. That’s bad).

I repeat: I am a terrible waiter. I’m not as bad I used to be, so I guess I can chalk it up to maturity. I remember one incident when I was at the first church I served. I commented about this new Bible I had seen at the bookstore. I went ahead a few days later and bought it. One day later, a man came to me with that same Bible as a gift. I missed out on being blessed and him having the joy of blessing me. That has happened so many times I can’t count. But I missed because I was spontaneous. I’ve run ahead of God way too many times.

I find myself waiting again. Last Thursday, the 5th, I was outside sitting across a picnic table talking to someone, for close to 1-2 hours.  The next day she lost her sense of smell and tested positive for ‘rona. I found out Monday afternoon. So, now I am quarantined until sometime this coming week (probably Thursday to be safe). I wait. Have I said I’m a terrible waiter?

When I don’t presume upon God and run ahead, He has often taken me on a slow path. However, while people will say, “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line,” I’m not convinced that is always best. Some of my best time with God has been the slow churn. Or as I am fond of saying, “He took me ’round Robin Hood’s barn.” In other words, He took me the long way.

I’m learning to wait. I suspect I will also continue to learn. “And that is my prayer, Father. I need to learn to wait.”

October 23

Friday, October 23rd, 2020

Sadly there are many people today who call themselves “Christians” that have strange views. Some are whacked. Some are way out there. Some follow heresy (and often don’t know, which gives rise to a lack of Bible knowledge). Some follow men. Some are just ignorant. And some look for the easy way, an easy faith. It is this latter group I want to probe.

You see, some have the lame idea of “out of sight, out of mind.” You know…if I don’t see I don’t know. I don’t see so I’m not responsible. Take, for example, followers of Jesus in other countries (and even now in our own). We have no clue in many cases what others are going through. We think, “Oh that’s a Muslim country” or “That’s in a communist country” so we turn a blind eye and either deny it or worse, pretend it doesn’t exist. Every day multitudes of followers of Jesus are persecuted and executed for their faith. I have no clue what that is like. But whether I choose ignorance or disregard, it still goes on. All over the globe. Behind the bamboo curtain. Behind the Great Wall. Behind the sickle and stars. Behind the stars and stripes. People are living their faith and as a result are either imprisoned or executed for that faith. Plain and simple: being a follower of Christ in many places is truly an effort of faith and of taking one’s life in one’s own hands. It is one of the least popular things a person can do.

Those of us who are followers of Jesus really do stand in the presence (now) and will (in heaven) of some truly remarkable people. One author would call them world-changers. They may be little known but their light shines brightly.

“Father, I stand in the company of some ‘great’ people who shine your light in tough circumstances and places. Help me not to forget them.”

October 21

Wednesday, October 21st, 2020

I read something recently that piqued my interest and got my mind going. Two things actually, but what started it is this whole idea of running. Not running as in sport or exercise. Running…as in “running away.”

I’ve heard, said, and read that sometimes the wisest thing a follower of Jesus can do is run, i.e. run away from sin. Paul told Timothy to “flee youthful lusts.” The word flee can only mean one thing to me: high tail it out of there. So running away from temptation is good. but it seems to be there is a fine line between knowing when to run and when to fight. The Bible does talk about the battle we fight is not against flesh and blood (Eph.6), so there are times we need to stand our ground in the power of the Spirit and realize “greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world.”

So we stand. Our faith is tested. Our stamina is tested. Our faith and strength grows as a result of doing battle.

But there is another kind of running. It is called cowardice. In Psalm 78:9 it says that on the day of battle the Ephraimites, though armed with bows (weapons of warfare) turned tail and ran. Only one thing causes that kind of reaction: F.E.A.R.  That is the opposite of Joshua 1:9 when God tells Joshua to “be strong and courageous…God will go with you wherever you go.” Seems to me that turning and running when the battle comes betrays, not only my own troops, but the also God Himself, the Captain of the army. 

“Father, help me to know what it is wise to stand and fight or when to run to avoid giving in. But may I never run because I’m betraying You or my fellow soldiers because of cowardice.”

October 19

Monday, October 19th, 2020

We live in an instant world.  Instant potatoes. Instant coffee. Microwave dinners. You get the picture. What we don’t have are instant gardens (although we do have chia pets) 🙂 , instant height, instant weight gain or loss, or (fill in the blank).  No, those take time. I used to hear people say, “Anything worth having is worth saving for.” Man, I wish I had followed that advice. I know an older couple who paid cash for everything. They didn’t even write checks! ‘Course that was back in the mid ’70s.

What great advice though to remember that good things are worth the wait. We tend to appreciate things more. Come to think of it, growing as a Christ-follower is like that. While we may get frustrated that we aren’t growing as we would like, growth happens over time. I’m always skeptical when someone comes to Christ and immediately wants public access. I’ve often thought that celebrities who come to Christ ought to be discipled first before leashed upon the world. How many do you or I know who weren’t ready for the backlash or scrutiny that came as a result of a public testimony?

Growth is not instantaneous. It takes time. Sowing. Cultivating. Watering. Fertilizing. I wish my growth could skyrocket, even now. But it never has and never will. Slowly. Somewhat methodically. But always at God’s timing. Then Psalm 1: 2-3 becomes a true picture of where I am and desire to be. “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in season, and its leaf does not wither.”

“Father, it is frustrating sometimes that growth takes ‘steps.’ Sometimes slow; sometimes quick; but always incremental. Help me to be trusting so I can be like a tree planted by the water.”

September 23

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2020

I have never met a person who said, “I love adversity.” In fact, the opposite is most often true: we try to avoid it like the plague. We read garbage like Your Best Life Now and think “I want my best life now. I want ease. I want comfort. I want prosperity.” We listen to trash that promises us health, wealth, prosperity, and comfort but leaves out the struggles, doubts, questions, adversity and unfulfilled dreams that are sure to come. If they do, we are told it is our lack of faith.

I read an interesting quote recently:

Adversity is sometimes hard upon a man; but for one man who can stand prosperity, there are a hundred that will stand adversity. Thomas Carlyle, Scottish philosopher

I’ve been listening to podcasts and reading lately about this whole idea of adversity and prosperity. It all relates to the pandemic we have been facing since March and its testing of our wills and outlook and patience. I know I’m sick and tired of masks, mandates and social distancing, etc that have come with it.  But, you know, we would not know how good things are, or could be, if not for when things get tough. Our Christian life is the same way. To live without adversity would never show us how good God is on a daily basis. I’m not asked to understand; I’m asked to trust. My vision may be cloudy now; it will become clear someday. While not desired, adversity is to be expected and even welcomed.

“Father, help me not to lament and complain about adversity.  Help me to see it as Your hand and move upon my life.”