Perseverance

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June 18

Tuesday, June 18th, 2024

It has been a wild ride the past few weeks. The church family I pastor is small compared to many other churches (just under 200), but we have seen our share of deaths, sickness, cancer, hardship, testings, and all things “human.” Just because we are followers of Jesus does not make us exempt from any of that, in spite of the heretical ramblings of the health/wealth crowd.

We have not been immune from it personally either. Years ago in a time of seeking direction during a tough season, I ran across Jeremiah 1:17-19. A little background makes this poignant. Jeremiah’s ministry occurred during a hard time, days when Judah sank into chaos morally and politically. The kings were worthless and ungodly. Jerusalem fell and Jeremiah suffered. Like Jeremiah, we don’t get to pick our times or circumstances. Our job is to follow. It was during a tough time when God told Jeremiah the following words and then also led me to the following verses: “Get up and prepare for action. Go out and tell them everything I tell you to say. Do not be afraid of them, or I will make you look foolish in front of them. For see, today I have made you strong like a fortified city that cannot be captured, like an iron pillar or a bronze wall. You will stand against the whole land-the king, officials, priests, and people of Judah. They will fight you, but they will fail. For I am with you, and I will take care of you. I, the Lord, have spoken!” (NLT)

Those words were like gold to me at the time I found them. They still are. Take a moment to read that Scripture again and then take note of what He tells Jeremiah and then ask how it applies to you. When I feel overwhelmed by life’s circumstances and battles, these words dig down deep into my soul. I hope they do the same for you today.

May 9

Thursday, May 9th, 2024

INSTANT GRATIFICATION VS LONG-TERM DEVELOPMENT

We live in an instant society. Instant potatoes. Instant coffee. Instant meals. That comes with drawbacks. Instant potatoes are nowhere close to real mashed potatoes…no matter what the commercials might say. Instant oatmeal. I remember liking and eating CoCo Wheats. They certainly weren’t instant. They seemed to take forever to cook. Microwaves coming along made things even quicker. They tell me instant coffee is nowhere close to fresh ground bean coffee. (I wouldn’t know since I don’t drink either).

There is nothing wrong with microwaves and instant meals or instant anything. However, what one might sacrifice in taste, for example, is made up for in convenience and quickness.

There isn’t anything wrong with instant anything except that it will never happen in spiritual growth. In Bible study last night we were discussing 2 Peter 1:5-7: “In view of all this , make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.” (New Living Translation). Those three verses show that spiritual growth is not instant, but, is instead, a process. In this case, of adding one virtue on top of another. Sort of like building blocks. There is no such animal as “instant growth.” Physically. Mentally. Spiritually. To become the man or woman God desires requires that we take it step by step. Sometimes we will notice huge gains and other times the pace is as slow as a snail.

Whichever the case-move forward. Slowly prodding or sprinting. It is a long distance run. Just keep moving forward. Keep growing. Don’t be satisfied with stagnation or the status-quo. 

May 8

Wednesday, May 8th, 2024

GOOD LOGS VS GOOD-LOOKING LOGS

You may be thinking: “Say what?” Please read on.

I read recently about a man who visited a logging sight and he saw a man down by the stream the logs floated by on. He had a long pole with a sharp hook and he occasionally would separate one of the logs from the others.

When the visitor asked what he was doing, the logger answered that to the untrained eye the logs may all look the same. But to him, he could tell the difference between the logs that were from protected trees vs those which were exposed to the elements. Those what were exposed to the elements and beaten by the weather had a finer grain and were used for choice work. They were good logs, not just good looking logs.

We might hear someone say, “What doesn’t strengthen you will kill you.” I honesty have trouble trusting someone who hasn’t been toughened by life. Someone once told me that 30 is the magic age for a pastor. When I questioned what he meant, he said something to the effect that “a pastor had very little credibility until he at least hits age 30 because people figure before that age he hasn’t been though enough ‘life’ to earn his chops.” That is not always true, of course, but the sentiment expressed is easy to see. Life toughens us. One would expect a 20 year old to know more about life than a 10 year old; a 30 year old to know more than a 20 year old, etc.

For the Christ-follower, our faith is tested by life. For the Christ-follower, whatever comes our way goes through God’s grid first. His plan and purpose for us will prevail. We may not like it, in fact, we may hate it, but its presence in our lives comes for a reason.  James wrote: “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” (James 1:2-4  from New Living Translation). Simple translation: you will be a good log.

It is much better to be a good log-sturdy and strong and well-seasoned-than just be a good looking one with no staying power and strength.

May 6

Monday, May 6th, 2024

Most people, if not all, look for shortcuts from time to time. If there is a way to make things easier, to make things less complicated, we will generally try to find it. And, for the most part, there is nothing wrong with that. After all, some of the best inventions or step-saving ideas have come as a result of people working to speed things up, to make some things easier to do.

But there are some things which cannot be changed or sidestepped. Like life and what we go through. Part and parcel of life is hardship. No matter how smoothly I want life to be, there will be rough patches. I can’t skirt around them. I cant bury my head in the sand and pretend  they don’t exist. I can’t hide from them.

The Apostle Paul wrote some interesting words to Timothy in 2 Tim. 2:3-6: “Endure suffering along with me, as a good solider of Christ Jesus. Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them. And athletes cannot win the prize unless they follow the rules. And hardworking farmers should be the first to enjoy the fruit of their labor.” He mentions soldiers, athletes, and farmers. Soldiers stay focused. Athletes stay committed to the rules. Farmers work hard. Neither of them can take a shortcut to reach their goal. Soldiers can’t dilly dally and not train to expect to win the battle. An athlete can’t short circuit his training, either by drugs or laziness. And a farmer can’t expect a harvest without putting in the proper field work. 

Life is hard. Life is tough. There are no shortcuts to getting around that. And frankly, IMHO, life is appreciated a whole lot more-the reward is sweeter-when the proper attention is given to the process required for the long run.

April 30

Tuesday, April 30th, 2024

TROUBLE WILL VISIT ALL OF US!

What I just wrote is nothing new to anyone. To borrow a common phrase: “Stuff happens.” (I don’t talk the other way. 🙂 ) We ALL KNOW that sooner or later we are going to hit a rough patch.

Recently, while reading another book, I read about CURE Hospital, a series of hospitals established in places like Kenya and other hard hit areas.  Sort of like Doctors Without Borders and Mercy Ship, CURE was established for doctors to help “the least of these.” One such person was Michael Panther. Michael was an active boy who would soon be training for the Sudan army when his legs grew weaker, then quit working. The civil war in South Sudan displaced him, and to make a long story short, he ended up in a CURE hospital where he was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the spine. To make another long story short, Michael spends his days in a wheelchair. But he has not allowed that to stop him following God’s direction, help and work. Michael now makes wheelchairs available to people in other countries who need them through his non-profit, Living With Hope. (You can read his fascinating and inspiring story in his book Living With Hope by Michael Panther).

During his “expansion” period, when the dream was born in his heart, he met Joni Eareckson Tada, the “champion” for the disabled who was paralyzed as a teenager from a diving accident. He had the chance to not only meet Joni, but to work with her ministry, Joni and Friends. In his book, Michael wrote down some of Joni’s statements that day. Here are three:

“God permits what he hates, to accomplish that which He loves.”

“I realized that God does not take pleasure in my spinal cord injury, but He loves the way He is changing me in it and encouraging others through it.”

“God has not abandoned those with disabilities. No, He is working through them.”   (All quotes from pages 141-142)

All of us-no matter our lot in life-have a purpose. Healthy or whole. Mobile or in a chair. Unencumbered or disabled. We all matter and we all have a purpose. Find yours. Fulfill it.

April 15

Monday, April 15th, 2024

Does the way things happen ever make sense?

That has been the question running through my mind the past week and on into the weekend.   Please give me a chance to tell you why I ask that.

My best male friend has been told he has 18-24 months to live. One of my other male friends was given 3-6 months to live and it has been close to two. Unless God intervenes time is running out. Then this past week one of our boys in the church (age 6.5 he has informed me) has been sick off and on since January/February. He goes from kinetic energy to crash is 5 seconds. Some things have been ruled out but what has not has been leukemia and lymphoma. He goes the 25th to Riley Hospital for a full work up. The family is still waiting to hear the prognosis.

As I shared with the church yesterday, I believe God has 3 answers to our prayers:

“Yes.” We like this one for obvious reasons. We like that we are in agreement with God…or is that He is in agreement with us? In either case, a good answer.  🙂

“No.” This is an answer but not quite the one we wanted. This simply means that God and I are not on the same page. Shocker! But at least its an answer!

“Wait awhile.” This is the toughest I believe. No one like to wait. From grocery store lines to prayer, waiting is not a strong suit. It’s like God is saying, “Hang on. I’m not going to answer right away.” The answer will come-perhaps a yes, perhaps a no-but just not yet. And it’s not because God is being mean or vengeful. Maybe there is a lesson I need to learn. Maybe there is a timing issue. In any case, I have to realize that what seemed like a bad idea actually worked out for my best.

Until God’s timing comes to fruition, I’ll live life to the fullest and realize God is good…no matter what. For reference take a moment to read Psalm 116:5-19.

March 26

Tuesday, March 26th, 2024

I had someone say to me the other day, “Getting old s**ks.” (I can’t stand that word hence the astericks.  However, it is a quote so…). While I hate the way he said it, I can’t totally disagree.

At age 71 I’m getting older. Well, so are you, but let’s think about this for a moment. As we age, lines develop on our face. We call them crow’s feet. Some develop “wisdom wrinkles” which become more prominent as one ages. Depending on your body fat, skin will hang and wiggle. Skin will get crepe-y. Bruises (blood) will show up in the arms and forearms or skin nicks will show up when you can’t even remember bumping or scraping them. Your stamina is not what it once was. For example, I used to ride 20-30 miles a day. If I do that today, I need a day or two between rides to recover. I might do 20 miles for 2-3 days in a row, but then I have to give myself a day or two off the bike.

Getting old is an adjustment, that’s for sure. That’s why I have issues with the “preacher” i.e. self-help guru who tries to tell me my best life is now. No, Joel, no it is not.

My best life is yet to come. I recently held the funeral service of a man whose last 2-3 years were spent fighting the effects of diabetes, a nasty bed sore caused by neglect of a rehab facility, the amputation of a leg at the knee, and a couple of strokes which affected his right hand strength and his communication (he could communicate but was slow in responding and putting sentences together). His best life was not now, laying in a bed. Not here. He is enjoying his best life NOW, living in the presence of the Savior he loved so much.

Do not look at your present or even your past life, as the pinnacle..as your best life. It’s not. For the follower of Jesus, the best is yet to come! That, by the way, is what the story of “Easter” is all about.

March 20

Wednesday, March 20th, 2024

Have you ever played the “what if?” game? You know how it works. You might make a statement and say, “What if I hadn’t…?” Or you might look back on something you have done, slapped your forehead and said, “I could have had a V-8.” Just kidding. 🙂 You might, however, say, “What if I had or had not done…?”

As an athlete (in my younger, former days) there have been times I was tempted to quit, to give up. to say the pain to continue was too great. I now look back and see that extra practice effort; that extra game effort; that push to get that rebound was worth it. I would have missed out on the prize-whatever it was. What if I had quit a tad bit earlier?

There’s an interesting story in the OT which has always captured my fancy. You can find it in 2 Kings 5. It’s the story of Naaman, the leprous, Gentile, military leader. He had a little Jewish girl as a servant who recommended he go see the prophet Elisha to be healed of his leprosy. Long story short: Naaman gets a letter from his king requesting safe passage for Naaman and an audience with Elisha. Elisha sends his servant to tell Naaman to wash 7 times in the Jordan River. He protests because the Jordan is muddy and, he thinks, inferior to the rivers in his home land. His soldiers basically tell him, “What could it hurt to do what the prophet says?” So he does. Seven times and he comes up clean! No more leprosy!!

Here is your list of “what ifs?”

  • What if he had refused to dip in the Jordan?
  • What if he had stopped at #6 out of frustration or disbelief?
  • What if he had thought this was effort in futility?
  • What if he had blown off the servant girl’s suggestion? You know…kids don’t know squat.

We are often hamstrung by the “what ifs” in our life, missing out on blessings God wants to give us by being paralyzed by the “what ifs.” So we short-change ourselves.

Take it from Naaman. The what ifs can be crippling. Break through them and see what God has on the other side.

January 31

Wednesday, January 31st, 2024

I did a review of Country Music star, Granger Smith’s book Like a River on my other site, Cycleguy’s Spin. It will post today. I’d like to ask you to visit that site and see what is so special about this book (especially since I am not a Country Music fan).  🙂

One of the recurring theme in Psalms is “God’s faithful love endures forever.” I just started reading Psalm 119 this morning as I journey through Psalms (it is the longest psalm and the longest chapter in the Bible) and the number of times it speaks of “God’s faithful love endures forever” in the previous 118 chapters would take a lot more meticulous work than I am able to give to it. But Psalm 136 take the prize. 26 verses = 26 times it says, “His faithful love endures forever.”

That may not seem significant to you at the moment, but I ask that you read the story of Abram and Sarai (later to become Abraham and Sarah) in Genesis 12-23. Pay particular attention to Sarah. She lived in a time when it was a disgrace not to have a child. Year after year she longed for and waited to have a child, especially when one had been promised. Shen she and Abraham are told they would have a son and that Abraham’s seed would be as numerous as the sand on the seashore. Oh the joy! Until days turn into months; months turn into years; years turn into decades; and decades turned into Sarah being 89 and Abraham 100. Still without a child. She had tried earlier to take matters into her own hands by giving her handmaid, Hagar, to Abraham. Ishmael was born but he was not the promised child and it didn’t bring Sarah the satisfaction she thought it would. In fact, it led to conflict so strong that Hagar and Ishmael had to leave. Much of the Middle East issues are a result of this child. Finally, at the age of 89 and Abraham at 100, the promised child was born. They named him Isaac.

My purpose in this devotion is not to get into a discussion of the Middle East conflict and how Sarah’s efforts have a direct bearing on them. No…my point is to talk about “God’s faithful love endures forever.” Even through Sarah’s conniving and wondering, God’s faithful love endured. He promised. He delivered.

The same God of Abraham and Sarah is the same God today.  His faithful love endures forever, even when we don’t see. Sarah didn’t but even in spite of her missteps, she clung to the promise of a son. She clung to the truth that God would keep His word. Those same words are for us today: God’s faithful love endures forever.  So don’t give up. Don’t quit. Don’t throw your hands up in despair. He is a God of His word.

January 25

Thursday, January 25th, 2024

Have you ever cried out for help and received it? Or maybe not?

I was struck today by a chapter in the Bible I have read countless time before but never saw what hit me until this morning. It is Psalm 107.  It begins with a familiar refrain that was repeated in some previous psalms: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! His faithful love endures forever.” (107:1)

Okay. Sounds like something I or maybe you have read before. But then the writer veers from script and begins to recount different events in the life of the wandering Israelites, as well as other events unrelated to them. What I noticed though (and missed this before) is that four times they cry out the same thing: “Lord help! they cried in their trouble and he rescued them from their distress.” Those same words are used in verses 4, 13, 19, and 28. So four times we see their cry, “Lord help!” and four times we see His response: “He saved them from their distress.”  Now watch what God did:

  • He led them straight to safety-v.7
  • He led them from the darkness and deepest gloom-v.14
  • He sent out His word and healed them-v.20
  • He calmed the storm to a whisper- v.29

Simple point: they cried out for help. God acted. Please read the chapter for yourself and do your own investigation. Let me close this simple devotion with two more verses:

“Those who are wise will take all this to heart; they will see in our history the faithful love of the Lord.”  (107:43)

“Oh, please help us against our enemies, for all human help is useless. With God’s help we will do mighty things, for He will trample down our foes.” (108:12-13)

Cry for help. He will answer. He will fight for you. And remember (as I told someone yesterday): God is seldom early, but He’s never late.

{All Scripture is from the New Living Translation}