Trials

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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.”

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 20

Monday, April 20th, 2020

Throughout this whole “virus thing,” I’ve seen various actions and reactions. I’ve seen abject fear. I’ve seen wise caution (One church family has had to hunker down and be super careful because of a family member with an illness that could get much worse if she got the virus). I’ve seen cautious and careful movement toward others (maintaining distance and limiting physical touch). I’ve also seen recklessness and total disregard for suggestions.

The one I have been pleased to see in many is 9-1-1. Known as the universal call numbers for help or an emergency, they also should remind us of something else: Psalm 91:1. When this whole thing started I wanted to let the people know I was thinking of them.  So about 2-3 weeks in I started writing notes. It turned into quite the project…over 100! I’m not sure I will ever do that again! 🙂 But each note was signed with two Scriptures underneath my name: Is. 40:28-31 and Psalm 91:1-2.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’

Psalm 91:1 is a good verse to cry out. In fact, the first six verses are enough to calm the troubled soul and bring peace to the distraught mind. The false teachers do a great disservice to this chapter when they jump to verses 11-13 and focus on this current situation and try to apply those verses and say no harm will happen to someone who claims the blood of Jesus over their illness or over the virus. (Totally out of context btw).

But I digress. Whether good or bad; positive or negative; health or sickness; faith or fear, the promise we have is God’s presence. I’ll call 9-1-1 any day. I’ll stand on it. There is no greater place to be.

“Father, I can’t live in fear. Not as Your child I can’t. But I can live in cautious faith-trusting You to be my shelter and refuge during this storm.”

April 15

Wednesday, April 15th, 2020

Did you know on this date in 1912 Titanic sunk?  108 years ago. Okay…on to other things.

As I write this-April 15, 2020- our lives are being “determined” by the COVID-19 virus. I use the word determined in quotes because while some people see it that way, I don’t.  I still see God in control of this whole scene and firmly believe my steps-all steps- are determined by the Lord.

One of the safety steps we are told to take is social distancing. At home it is called self-quarantine. Do not expose yourself to anyone nor allow anyone to expose themselves to you. It, for many, has become a lonely existence, a lonely time. Sure, there is social media if you use it. There is texting and phones. But interpersonal interaction in minimal, at best. I was reminded of the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy. He is in prison with his life soon to  be snuffed out when he writes this letter to Timothy. He asks Timothy to come to him soon (v.9). He’s alone, deserted (v.10). Bring Mark with you and join me and Luke (v.11). Oh yeah, bring my cloak with you also and my parchments (v.13). Is Paul feeling sorry for himself? No, I don’t think so. He is simply gathering his friends around him for one last hoorah. How do I know that? Several reasons:

  1. “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering and the time of my departure has come. I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith…” (4:6-8)
  2. “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (4:18)

Paul may have been in isolation in a dingy prison cell. But the last thing on his mind was defeat. On the contrary, his lips were filled with praise (v.17). In spite of our circumstances, we are not alone. Not by a long shot. God knows and provides all we need. If you are feeling alone, isolated, or just plain fearful, reach out to Him and also reach out to people as Paul did. In this age of social distancing and isolation and self-quarantine, you are never alone and you don’t have to be isolated.

“Father, help me to find ways to reach out while respecting others’ need for space. If I’m lonely or feeling isolated, please bring someone into my life whom I can help.”