Suffering

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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.”

April 22

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2020

Three of the Gospels-Matthew, Mark, and Luke-capture the story of Jesus and the disciples in the boat on the Sea of Galilee. I’m pretty sure you know the story, but for review, a storm suddenly hit them and those hardened fishermen, who I’m sure had been through countless storms, became full of fear.  Jesus had fallen asleep in the boat so they woke Him up and He calmed the story (to their amazement).

I read a story years ago and saw it again this morning of a church that needed parking space. So they contacted the owner of the grocery store next door that was closed on Sunday (remember those days?) to see if they could use their lot. The owner said, “Sure. You can use it 51 weeks but one week it will be chained off.”  Out of curiosity, the church rep asked, “Why that one week?” “So you’ll remember that it’s not your parking lot.”

In other words, you will remember to whom it belongs. Let’s put those two ideas together for a moment. We all hit stormy periods in our life. The current crisis is one-just more global. But what if we looked at it not so much as a disruption but a divine interruption? What a difference it makes if we see God’s hand in this as slowing us down, of making us take stock of what is important, of recalibrating our lives. God could “snap His divine fingers” and this could instantly be over, but what is the lesson in that? This storm can be stilled, our hearts quieted, by the One who calmed the raging sea in our Scripture. Maybe we need to remember whose world this really is. We didn’t make it. We don’t own it. But we serve the One who did. Let’s remember that today.

“Father, this world is yours. All that happens is under Your watchful eye. I pray you will calm this storm and help me…help us…to remember You got this. You are in charge. And this is Yours.”

March 31

Tuesday, March 31st, 2020

If there is one emotion which captures the mood of many, if not most, people these days, it is fear. It has no favorites. Young. Old. Rich. Poor. Mansion-dweller. Homeless. Actor. Homemaker. CEO. Grunt worker. Christ-follower. Non-believer. F.E.A.R. It paralyzes. It haunts. It creeps.

I was reading a devotion recently on Psalms. I’m going to reprint it in its totality for you. I hope it blesses you and show why we have nothing to fear.

Etty Hillesum was a young Jewish woman living in Amsterdam in 1942. During that time, the Nazis were arresting Jews and herding them off to concentration camps. As she awaited the inevitable arrest, and with the fear of the unknown (my note: sound familiar?), she began to read the Bible-and met Jesus. She simply put her hand in God’s hand and found rare courage and confidence.

Etty wrote in her diary: ‘From all sides our destruction creeps up on us and soon the ring will be closed and no one at all will be able to come to our aid. but I don’t feel that I am in anybody’s clutches. I feel safe in God’s arms. And whether I am sitting at my beloved old desk in the Jewish district or in a labor camp under SS guards, I shall feel safe in God’s arms. Once you have begun to walk with God, you need only keep on walking with Him, and all of life becomes one long stroll.’

Etty was a living, courageous picture of the psalmist’s declaration: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you…What can mere mortals do to me?” (Ps.56:3-4). What a challenge for anyone plagued by fear!

As we sense the strength of God’s everlasting arms beneath us (Deut.33:27), we can stroll through life with confidence, holding the hand of our unseen Companion.    Devotion by Vernon Grounds

I wish every person on earth, whether a follower of Jesus or not, could grab a hold of that truth. It is especially viable for the follower of Jesus to have faith not fear. Praise not panic.  My prayer is that including this devotion might soothe your troubled soul (if you are anxious or troubled).  And by all means, pass this along!

Devotion from Together With God: Psalms @2016 Our Daily Bread Ministries

March 23

Monday, March 23rd, 2020

During yesterday’s sermon Tami, who had to watch it from home out of precaution (she was coughing), told her mom I said something during the sermon that she wanted to post on her FB page.  First some background; then what I said.

I was preaching from Colossians 1: 19-29 and had been speaking about ministry when I came to verse 24.  Paul talks about suffering.  Not boohoo suffering, but suffering knowing there are positives in it.  In verse 24 we read where Paul says, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake.”  The statement is loaded! First, his willingness to suffer enabled there to be churches started in Asia.  We know the gospel spread through his ministry hardship.  Second, his suffering brought good to the church.

We are in unprecedented times. A few might remember 9/11. A few might remember ebola.  There are very few around any more who remember the Great Depression. We have always had crises and always will. The church needs to check its reaction to a crisis.  We live in a time unlike many have experienced before. Leastwise, the church in America. We can have one of two responses (and this is what Tami wanted in writing):

The church can either panic or praise.

The church can either wilt or worship.

The church can either live in fear or faith.

The church can either flounder or forge ahead.

(And a new one) The church can either wander or wonder.

It is a question the Church must ask-collectively and individually. And it is a question each one of us must ask ourselves. How will we choose to live?

“Father, you have not given us a spirit of fear, but of power,  love,  and self-control.  (2 Timothy 1:7).  Help me to live the triumphant life of faith and not be held captive by fear.”

March 16

Monday, March 16th, 2020

I read Denny’s blog each time it is released. He writes insightful and always thought-provoking posts. Considering all that is happening in the world today, I found this to be especially insightful and worthy to be passed on. Please enjoy and wonder at the amazing ways God’s works.

Banished from the public means of grace, we found grace nevertheless.

By Denny Burk on March 15, 2020 in Christianity, Devotion

Our church was scattered by the coronavirus this morning. We did not gather together as usual at the intersection of Southern Parkway and Third Street. No, today we were spread out all over the city of Louisville and beyond. Our college students were literally scattered across North America as many of them were compelled to go back to their hometowns after colleges and universities closed last week. Our church’s missionaries remain scattered all over the world. None of us could be together this morning.

If you know what it means to be the ekklesia of God, your heart ached like mine did. For this is not how it is supposed to be. Gathering together for the Lord’s Day is fundamental to our identity, and we were unable to do that this morning (Hebrews 10:24-25). We had a “virtual” service like so many others, but it really isn’t the same. Nor should it be.

But something really extraordinary happened as we all sat down before our scattered screens for worship. Jim Hamilton read the call to worship from a book of devotion by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, published in 1893.1 Below is the entry for March 15, and the words are nearly incredible:

MARCH 15

Therefore say, “Thus says the Lord GOD: Though I removed them far off among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a while in the countries where they have gone.”

Ezekiel 11:16

Banished from the public means of grace, we are not removed from the grace behind the means of grace. The Lord who places his people where they feel like exiles will himself be with them. He will be to them all that they could have had at home in the place of their sacred assemblies. Take this promise as your own if you are called to wander!

God is to his people a place of refuge. They find sanctuary with him from every adversary. He is their place of worship too. He is with them as he was with Jacob when he slept in the open field and woke, saying, “Surely the LORD is in this place” (Gen. 28:16). To them he will also be a sanctuary of peace, like the Most Holy Place, which was the noiseless abode of the Eternal. They will be kept from fear of evil.

God himself, in Christ Jesus, is the sanctuary of mercy. The ark of the covenant is the Lord Jesus, and Aaron’s rod, the pot of manna, the tables of the law are in Christ our sanctuary. In God we find the shrine of holiness and of communion. What more do we need?

Oh, Lord, fulfill this promise and always be to us like a little sanctuary!

In a book published 127 years ago, this was the entry for March 15. What a smiling providence. What an evidence of the Lord’s care for his people in a time of turmoil and trouble. He promises never to leave us or forsake us (Deut. 31:6; Heb. 13:5), and he proved it again this morning.

—————

1 Spurgeon’s devotional The Cheque Book of the Bank of Faith was published in 1893 in America, but Crossway published an updated edition just last year. The text above is from the 2019 edition.

February 12

Wednesday, February 12th, 2020

My title for this devotion is Future: Reward vs Destruction.

As a pastor of 45+ years, I think one of the questions I have been asked the most is “Why do the unrighteous prosper and I, who is trying to follow God, don’t?” (or some variation of that).  It certainly is a conundrum when godly people watch as those who use, abuse, take advantage of, disregard, persecute, or run over others appear to get ahead.

I read that residents of some communities in Michigan’s UP are living in danger. In years past, thriving towns-like Negaunee, Iron River, and Marquette-grew up around the great iron mines that fueled the economy. These mines are huge caves carved beneath the surface of the earth so the ore could be taken out. But many of the timbers which supported these caverns are rotting and if/when they give away giant holes will develop and everything above will collapse.

My point is simple. While people may look at those who “seem” to have it all-with disdain or maybe even envy-one truth remains, it will collapse. All they have is a house of cards, and that house of cards will fall. With rotting foundations, their house won’t make it. In the end, they will have nothing. For further reference check out Matthew 7:24-27.

It is easy to find yourself questioning-wondering even-why them and not me? But their end is destruction.  It is much better to have little but have Jesus than to have much and not have Jesus. Hold fast. Stay strong!  Put your eyes on His prize! Build a solid foundation, one that will not collapse like a house of cards in the wind.

“Father, the lesson is for me also. Help me not to look longingly at what others have but to build my house on You. Help me to keep my eyes focused on You.”

January 22

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020

My thoughts are focused this morning (I wrote this at 4:15) on Alexander, and by proxy, Jimmy, Christine, Eliza and Isabella. (Ryan and I went at 5:15 but had to leave at 8:30 because of a previous commitment Ryan had. I am typing this at 11:16 and they took Alexander at 10:40 and expect it to last 3-4 hours. I will let you know when I know something. Thanks so much for praying for him).  “Oh Father, I pray for Alexander during  this exploratory and possibly life-changing surgery. Be with the eyes and hands and minds of the doctors and nurses as they work. I pray for an alternative for his heart, but if it is not to be, I pray for grace for Jimmy and Christine. Either way I pray You will be glorified, that You will be given honor and this will be a testimony to you. And I pray for Alexander-that no matter the outcome You will use him for Your glory. Now and in the future.”

Tonight we meet with a young lady named Katherine and her family to pray over her and anoint her with oil. She is 13 and has had Lyme disease since she was 3. (She went 2 years with it misdiagnosed). She is out of remission right now and it is raining havoc in her teenage body. We meet tonight in accordance with James 5:14-15. It started with me visiting them; then I wanted to include Ryan (since she is part of the youth group); then I wanted to include the elders/leaders. I’m praying for healing. Medicine and the medical community says there is no cure for this. Maybe so. But I serve a God who is bigger than that, One who can do more than I or anyone can imagine. It may not be His will to completely heal her. But I don’t know that. I’m called on to pray in faith believing He will heal her.  I refuse to doubt God’s power and sovereignty. I do know Katherine, her mom and dad (Becca and Rob); her grandma (Joyce) all belong to God. She has a sister, Ally, who loves Jesus. She also has two young brothers, James and Robbie, who love Jesus as they know Him. We will pray tonight believing in God’s healing power.

One last thought:Pr.22:1 says, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” May my life be an expression of God working in and through me with more concern for Whom I represent than what I can get out of it. May I labor for Him and not for wealth or earthly gain and appeal.

January 17/Weekend

Friday, January 17th, 2020

My title for this devotion is Storm vs Calm.

In September of this past year (2019) Jo and I were blessed with the trip/dream of a lifetime-a trip to Alaska. After having made the decision in early ’19 to look into a trip and then deciding to save one more year, some folks in the church I pastor took the initiative to contact others to “bless us.” In late March/early April they surprised us with the all-expense paid trip. We were blown away to say the least.

We have lots of memories of that trip-tangible ones like pictures and t-shirts. But one that hit me today was that we did not encounter any rough weather on or off land. It was absolutely gorgeous! Even the one day we were cruising Tracy Arm Fjord where it rains 100″/year, it was sunny and bright and calm. I’m glad. All my life I’ve had trouble with going in circles and riding rough, windy roads. I had not been able to ride and read in a vehicle EVER (hence my tough time studying on the bus during basketball trips in college). I finally learned a trick to be able to read on the interstate (while someone else is driving of course! 🙂 ), but rough sea weather? That could have spelled disaster on the trip.  Frankly, I did not want to find out if I had sea legs or not.

In real time, storms are a part of life. I get fried whenever I think of the smiling speaker who says I am to have my best life now. Heaven becomes a downgrade when you think about it. No thank you. Storms are a part of life. The way I see it I have either been through a storm and may be enjoying a reprieve; going through a storm right now; or will be going through one soon enough. Proverbs 17:3 says, “The crucible for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests the hearts.” In I Peter 1:6-7 Peter talks about our faith being tested to show the genuineness of it-more precious than gold. Storms are a part of life; a part of growth; a part of the life of the Christ-follower. Storms are never comfortable, but in God’s plan are always essential. A storm on a boat is dubious for me. A storm in life is expected and ALWAYS has a purpose. Among many, one huge purpose is God keeps His promise of being there. A.L.W.A.Y.S.

“Father, storms serve so much more of a purpose than calm. Although calm is nice, storms have a purpose and will benefit my growth. Help me to trust You that storm comes.”