Trials

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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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

September 1

Tuesday, September 1st, 2020

As a young boy I remember what were called Air Raid drills.  Our country had already lived through WWII and the Korean War. Vietnam was not yet happening. But conflict with Russian was a possibility. A drill involved us going into a hallway where there were no windows, sitting on the floor, putting our head between our knees, and our hands over our heads. Fortunately, they were only drills. However, I still wonder how all that would have helped.

All across our country towns and cities have sirens that go off with a high-pitched whine if a severe storm-like a tornado-is coming.  The first time it happened here I walked through the house looking for a room we could go to if need be. A couple in the church just built a new house. The backside of it is built into the hillside and he is in the process of making one of the areas in that back part into a storm shelter.

Rock solid buildings have saved lives as people have found shelter during storms. No one would think for a minute that being in a thatched-roof hut during a tornado or on a sailboat during a hurricane would be a safe place to be. Today’s world is anything but safe. The storms we are having to “ride out” are not for the faint of heart.

That’s why Psalm 18:2 is so powerful. “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Look at all the descriptions relevant to our situation today!!

Where do you go take refuge? What is your storm shield? Better yet, WHO is your storm shield?

“Father, may I run to You when storms hit. When I’m unsure of where to go or what to do, be my refuge.”

August 25

Tuesday, August 25th, 2020

One constant throughout the past 6 months -give or take a few weeks- has been the presence of fear. For some it is very palpable. One can almost see it in the eyes, brows, or body language. At times one can see a paralysis present, so much so that a person is afraid to interact with others at all. When this whole virus thing started, I saw someone at Kroger wearing a Hazmat suit, covered top to bottom. That’s not saying there were and are those with legitimate health concerns, but a Hazmat suit?

But there are other kinds of fears also. It’s the fear of moving forward, of moving beyond the status quo. It’s the fear of traditionalism. We can see this fear in certain words/phrases we use or hear: (1) We’ve never done it that way before; (2) I’ve always been this way; (3) Those are the rules!; (4) Where will you get the money?; (5) Try to be normal; (6) Don’t make waves; (7) Failure is not an option; (8) That’s not my responsibility; (9) We don’t have room; (10) He’s never going to learn. {Note: I’m grateful to Chuck Swindoll for that list}

The sad part? I’ve probably heard most of those…and to my shame… admittedly have used a few of them in my own rationale and in my judgment of others. Each of those phrases basically is fear wrapped in a different package. That’s not saying there aren’t times when fear is legitimate, or caution is essential.  But when fear become a real ghost that haunts us, it has gained too much power. Paul wrote these words in 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love and self-control.” Let’s not allow irrational fear paralyze our desire to follow Jesus. Let’s not allow fear to get a foothold in our lives.

“Father, please replace fear of moving forward with faith to trust. Help me to not to cloak fear with excuses.”

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.”

July 22-23

Thursday, July 23rd, 2020

We were in Ohio watching our grandson play his last baseball game on Tuesday night. After having breakfast at IHOP with him (he loves french toast with extra powder but no syrup) yesterday morning, we made our way home. I wrote this on the morning of the 22nd in the hotel room so I wanted to share it with you and post it as a two-day devotion.  Here were my thoughts on the morning of the 22nd:

It has been an up and down season for the team as they weren’t allowed to practice and then had 3 practices before their first game. Last night I saw exemplified a trait in all the boys that I believe is worth mentioning. Braden especially has this trait.

There is a saying attributed to Yogi Berra: “It ain’t over till it’s over.”  A similar phrase: “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings” has a connection to opera and was believed to be first used in 1976 by a reporter named Ralph Carpenter. Both phrases mean virtually the same: A person/team should never assume the outcome of a situation until it reaches the end, because circumstances can change.  It is used in athletics to say, “Never quit. The game isn’t over until the final out or the gun sounds or however a sporting event ends.”

I saw that last night. It was the bottom of the 6th inning and the game looked hopelessly out of reach. But B’s team scored 4 runs to make it 11-7. Unfortunately, the other team scored 4 runs in their top half of the 7th. But with 2 outs our team struck again. A hit. Braden got another hit. Next thing we knew 3 or 4 more runs scored. Even the final out of the inning was a ground ball that the player ran all-out to first in an attempt to beat it out, but he was thrown out. Heart-breaking? Yes. But go down fighting? No shame in that.

I see a parallel in our walk with Christ. We are in a battle and our enemy may have us down for the count. All hope seems lost. But Jesus doesn’t want us to quit. It’s not over until the trumpet blares. Don’t quit. To borrow Yogi’s phrase: “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

“Father, help me not to give up, to throw in the towel. You are my hope and strength.”

May 14

Thursday, May 14th, 2020

I live in Indiana. That means our winters are usually made up of freezing and thawing, freezing and thawing, freezing and thawing, and more freezing and thawing. Combine that with several other factors-the use of salt or some weird combination of ice melt; lack of money; heavy trucks; school buses (not so much the past 2-3 months); and (in our case) miles and miles of graveled back roads-and you have a problem called potholes. I’ve been driving around a lot lately and I’ve (unfortunately) ran over some potholes that have threatened to swallow my truck or at least put in the “I-need-an-alignment” stage. This is especially true on the gravel roads I’ve traveled. They jokingly say the Indiana state flower is an orange cone.

But what really gets me is how a newly paved road or highway doesn’t take long before it begins to show signs of stress fractures, and cracks, and little holes, and even break-offs. Say what? They just finished it and it is already squirrely.

There have been times in my Christian walk when all was good. I was firing on all cylinders. My heart was in the right place; my Bible reading was alive; my worship was vibrant; my “spiritual eyes” were wide open; my trust factor high, and I wished for it to never end. And I foolishly thought or hoped it wouldn’t. I wanted to stay there. I can’t and won’t because the walk of a Christ-follower is one of ups and downs; highs and lows; ins and outs; climbs and descents; and mountaintop and valley experiences. Like the newly paved asphalt which over time shows signs of stress, so does my faith. And yours.

No. I can’t stay there. While roads develop those annoying potholes, stress cracks and break-offs, those times of cracks and stress and break-offs are designed to help me grow. It’s unrealistic to expect to stay where God and I are in sweet communion. I can’t avoid the potholes but with God I can navigate through them to much better roads.

“Father, it is easy to forget You are in the lows, the stresses, the potholes and the break-offs as much as You are when the road is smooth. Help me to trust You to navigate me through the mess called my life.”

May 12

Tuesday, May 12th, 2020

We all face tough days. We use different phrases to describe them:

From the frying pan into the fire.

Going from bad to worse.

Between a rock and a hard place.

My mother told me there would be days like this, but she never told me they would run in packs.

The light at the end of the tunnel is the headlight of an oncoming train.

There are still a few hymns I like but my favorite-hands down- is Great is Thy Faithfulness. Rich theology. Steeped in Scriptural truth. It tells the Gospel truth of an unchanging, powerful, sovereign God. When all else around me shakes, rattles and rolls, I have a faithful God. He stand as a rock. He never wavers or waffles. He never stumbles or slumbers. He never falters or fades away. He never ducks or disappears. He is steady, sovereign, steadfast, and solid.

And He surprises me with new insights each day. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”  (Lam.3: 22-23) I did not say “new revelations” because I don’t believe that happens, but each day I am the recipient of His mercy. No matter the storm. No matter the negative stuff. No matter what hits the fan. No matter the height of the mountain. He is there. Unmovable. Giving me fresh strength. Fresh eyes. Fresh hope.

“Father, even in the midst of this current struggle; even in the midst of a storm; even in the midst of seasons of change-YOU. NEVER. CHANGE. You are faithful.”