Suffering

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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.”

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.”

August 17

Monday, August 17th, 2020

Several years ago Jo and I went to see a movie with some friends. It was called Seabiscuit and it was based on a book by the same name by Laura Hillenbrand. (She also wrote Unbroken, the story of POW Louis Zamperini). Seabiscuit was a horse case aside by it owner and handlers and used primarily as a training horse for the “cream of the crop”-horses which were supposed to bring home the roses.

But in my mind, it was about so much more than a small horse.  Here’s why:

  • Seabiscuit was a cast away horse. Too small. But Tom Smith saw what he could be.
  • Tom Smith, a cowboy whose way of life changed with the introduction of barbed wire fences and an out-moded way of life.
  • Charles Howard, a bicycle mechanic, turned car enthusiast, turned tycoon, turned divorcee’ after his son took off in a car to fish and died in an accident, to a broken man. His life was turned around by the love of a woman and a horse named Seabiscuit.
  • Red, the privileged, rich kid turned destitute by the stock market crash, turned bitter fighter, turned jockey who rode “Biscuit” to victory.

There is so much more. I’d say, “Watch the movie” but beware it has some rough language issues. But it’s real (and probably nothing you or I have not heard more than we care to).

Several statements in that movie stand out to me:

“Though she be small she is mighty.”  Red quotes Shakespeare when describing Seabiscuit to adoring fans and press.

“You don’t throw a whole life away just because it’s banged up a little.” Tom on Seabiscuit’s future.

That latter applies to all of us. I can guarantee you after 67 years of life, I am banged up. I’m glad God didn’t throw me away because of it. No, His forgiveness was/is real. I must do the same with others.

“Father, thanks for not throwing me away or giving up on me. may I be the same with others you place in my world.”

August 13

Thursday, August 13th, 2020

Have you ever been-or seen someone-so locked into an idea or action that prompted you to say, “Man, he/she is really locked in.” That might be said of a baseball pitcher who is so focused and so dominant: “WOW! He is really in a zone.” I’ve seen cyclists in a race on TV struggling to keep up, but then when he hits the mountains suddenly all else falls away, he gets locked in and it seems as if he is flying up the mountain.

We might be like that-or someone we know-and comment on how “he/she is a man on a mission.” Nothing causes that person to look to the right or the left. In yesterday’s devotion I wrote about our calling. To just piggyback on that a bit, when a person knows his/her calling, he knows his mission.

Follow Paul and Barnabas through Acts 13:42-14:28. That was my reading for today. I was struck by their resolute mission.  Nothing derailed them. Nothing deterred them. You might say, “Wrong Bill! The Jews were against them. They had to leave towns and cities. Paul was stoned and left for dead. That stopped them dead in their tracks.” Oh, really? In the first incident of rejection, they took the gospel to the Gentiles as a result (13:41-49). Stop? Oh no!! Spread the gospel.  Next, after being in Iconium for a long time, they fled. They healed a lame man and were revered as gods in Lystra. They tried to stop that but encouraged the people to turn to God.  When radical protesters came, Paul was then stoned and left for dead…in the town that had revered him!  The passage ends with a report on the gospel being taken to the Gentiles.

How’s that for staying on mission? While the enemy stirred up difficulty, it simply spurred Paul and Barnabas on. They would not be deterred. They would not be sidetracked. They were men on a mission.

Am I/are you gripped by the mission? What mission? The mission of telling the gospel to others-wherever that may be-however that is to be done. Stay focused. Stay in the game. Stay on task.

“Father, You have given me a task, a mission to accomplish. Help me to fulfill it, to not be distracted or turned aside or derailed.”

August 10

Monday, August 10th, 2020

I read an interesting passage of Scripture today from Acts 11:19-30. I’ve read it oh-so-many-times before but I had a different reaction today. I suspect its because of the past 5 months of world events. Covid. George Floyd’s death. Protests. Riots. Lies of the media. The church having to adjust. It is the latter that hit me.

Acts 11:19-20 says, “Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they came to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus.”

Noticed what spurred them on? Persecution. Did you notice who they took the message to? The Jews-their own people. UNTIL some came from Cyprus and Cyrene and took the gospel to the Greeks at Antioch. Bingo!

There has been a lot of chatter and a lot of blogging about the church’s response to Covid and being told to shut down. My point here is not to argue that. My point is how, because of Covid, and because of “persecution,” the church had to go beyond its walls. No longer was I preaching to the church attender, to those who came on Sunday. I was preaching to unknown faces, unknown people, from who-knows-where. The church has expanded beyond the walls. And it looks as though it will continue. And that is all for the better. The message of the gospel was never intended to stay within its walls on a Sunday. The church must not waste this opportunity.

And FYI.  Want to see how Acts 11 culminated? Read verse 26.

“Father, thank you for the opportunity to take the message beyond the walls. I pray it will continue to expand until those who need to hear the message, hear it.”

July 31

Friday, July 31st, 2020

As I write this, our country is on fire. Well, let me rephrase that: many of our major cities are on fire. Portland. Seattle. New York. Chicago. Others. I’ll not get into what political party the mayor of those cities is from. Or the governors. I want to take us to California where the governor has issued a mandate that no church can meet. Nada. In spite of masks, social distancing, etc.  The governor deems church non-essential.

However, there are some defying that order. One, Grace Community Church (GCC), is the home of Pastor John MacArthur and over 3000 souls. Last week, they respectfully submitted a letter to their people and also to the government officials why they were meeting, in spite of the mandate. It came down as Christ, not Caesar, is the Head of the Church. I agree with their decision. There is a concerted move in this country to stop, stifle and stymie churches from meeting, to push them aside. In Nevada, for example, casinos can open but churches can’t? So the elders of GCC made a bold statement: “Governor Newsom, you will not stop us from meeting.” I suspect in the days to come they will not be alone.  I saw an interview with Pastor John where he told how he preached to an empty auditorium for the first few weeks of the pandemic and then each week more and more folks came back until there were over 3000 there last week-no masks, hugging and shaking hands with each other.

This kind of civil disobedience is nothing new. Today I read in Acts 5 where Peter and John did just that. Told not to speak they did. Ordered not to speak they were at Solomon’s Porch (the part of the Temple that surrounded the Court of the Gentiles) speaking boldly. They were arrested and the religious leaders said, “We strictly charged you not to preach…” Strictly commanded. Did you catch those two words? Peter and John’s words? “We must obey God rather than men.” They were basically telling them, “You can tell us to shut up but we take our orders from a higher authority.”

Decently. Orderly. Respectfully. Their allegiance to God was plain to see. Just like GCC and others I am sure are soon to follow. Disrespect. Disorderly conduct. Out-of-control speech and actions. Those are not godly actions. Hmmm. Sound familiar?

“Father, it is far more important to listen to and be faithful to You. But help it to be done decently, orderly, and respectfully. There is no call for the opposite.”

June 23

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2020

Memory foam. Touted as the mattress material that “remembers” its shape. It always goes back to its original state. It bounces back.

The big C church has always been that way. Kick it; punch it; slap it; tackle it; it always come back. Not that if ever left. It has had to hunker down a time or two.  It has had to go underground for awhile. It has taken blows that looked like it was down for the count. It took on the look of the culture and about camouflaged itself out of sight, but it was always there. Like a phoenix it would rise out of the dust and ashes to become a champion.

How do I know that? Because Jesus said it would. He once said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” I read the following quote that got me thinking:

Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave. G.K.Chesterton

The big C church is under attack today. Speak out and we are accused of being homophobic, bigoted, opinionated, etc. Stay silent and we are accused of bigotry, prejudice, pride, and a lack of compassion. Many want to hide. But the church will never die. It may cloud over; it may become a funky gray color; it may appear misty; but it will stand. Why? Because we will remember Jesus’ word that the gates of hell will never prevail.  Never win. But the church will win. We have His Word on it.

“Father, thank you for the words of Jesus. No matter how bad things get; no matter how rough they get; no matter how disturbing and accusatory they become, the church will prevail.”

April 29

Wednesday, April 29th, 2020

I recently finished reading the book The Gift of Struggle by Bobby Herrera. It is a book on leadership and how the struggles a leader has can actually be good for him/her. No leadership can be without struggles. That’s the nature of the beast. I don’t remember who said it but it is a wise saying: “The sure way to failure is trying to please everyone.” Just the very nature of leadership will lead to struggles; tugs-of-war; jealousy; competition within and bad-mouthing without; a desire to fudge the truth; and a whole lot more. Even failure. But leadership learns from struggles, even failures, and moves on.

No one likes to fail. Let me rephrase that. Speaking personally: I can’t stand to fail. I cringe knowing that something I proposed or believed in bit the dust. Not that everything I propose is good or fulfilling or right. But I don’t take pride in failing. I don’t have a plaque that says #1 Failure. And yet it happens. History is dotted with failures. Edison. Bell. McCormick. Einstein. Luther. Lincoln. Washington. The list is endless. And yet, we remember them for their place in history

The one thing I’ve learned along the way and Herrera’s book reinforced is Weakness is the stuff of true greatness. How much better it is to be brought low in humility-and to learn from it- than to be arrogant and proud and miss the lesson(s). One more thing: Someone already showed us the way to true greatness. What looked like a failure was actually His greatest triumph. Check out Romans 5:8-11

“Father, help me to see failure does happen but doesn’t have to bring defeat. Help me to rise up out of the ashes and learn from my struggles.”

April 27

Monday, April 27th, 2020

In the movie The Free State of Jones starring Matthew McConaughey, Newt Knight deserts the Confederate Army when he tires of war, sees his nephew get shot and killed, and hears about the Twenty Negro Law. With a ragtag group of people, he frees Jones County from the hold of the Confederates. But he would never had gotten there if he hadn’t first been saved by two slaves.

In this time in our country, there are many who are in despair for various reasons. I’m not downplaying the more serious kind. People are wounded and desperate, facing an enemy that can’t be seen and, in all honesty, makes its presence known in most cases without warning. It sort of reminds me of what Paul said in Ephesians 6 about spiritual warfare: “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers of the air.” The battle is very much a flesh and blood one, but it creeps up on the unexpectant. Many are like the psalmist in 102:1-2: “Hear my prayer, O Lord; let my cry come to you! Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress! Incline your ear to me; and answer me speedily in the day when I call!”

We wonder where God is in all of this. Does He really care? Is.43:2 answers that question unequivocably: “When I pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.” Sometimes I feel like a broken record-we have nothing to fear. No matter what happens our God goes through it with us. We are not alone.

“Father, help me to remember there is no water too deep; no storm too strong; no mountain too high; no path too treacherous that you aren’t with me.”