Suffering

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May 6

Thursday, May 6th, 2021

How often have you wished your troubles would go away? How many times have you (and I) said, “Oh, I’m so tired of this mess. I just wish it would all be right. For once.” More than I care to admit.

I’m in the process of reading Surviving Religion 101 by Michael J. Kruger. It is written in the style of a father writing to his daughter at college. (His real life daughter was just beginning her freshman year at UNC in Charlotte).  So the format fits perfectly.

His first chapter address the question: will I survive? I started reading this book because I see and hear and read of so many who are deconstructing their faith, especially those who go off to college. In this first chapter he said something which was so spot on, so insightful, it impacted me enough to write his post. Opposition to our faith comes in various ways. Kruger writes about the effect/importance of/response to opposition.

Here is some of what he wrote:

“In short, opposition  made the early Christians better theologians (My note: he had referenced the Gnostics), better defenders of the faith, and better evangelists.”

“But opposition to your faith will change you in another way. In addition to sharpening your mind, it will hone your character.”

And finally: “Don’t view opposition only in negative terms; view it as an opportunity to grow as a Christian, so that you might be better equipped to build up your fellow believers and reach non-Christians more effectively.”

Nothing wasted. No wasted opportunity to learn. To share. To grow. I believe that is God’s modus operandi.

So…let me ask you: how do you view opposition in your life?

“Father, help me to view opposition not as a negative, but as a positive influence in my life.”

{Note: All quotes are from page 35}

April 27

Tuesday, April 27th, 2021

Sometimes the description of the Christian life is one of opposites. Sometimes living the reality of the Christian life is a bundle of opposites. I want to say a paradox but I’m not really sure if that fits. Let me show you what I mean:

“We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry. In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love. We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense. We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.”  (2 Cor. 6:3-10)

What I underlined during my Encounter Time this morning are verses 7-10.

I’m reminded of some of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. So many times Jesus says, “You have heard it said…but I say to you…” He was challenging their age old beliefs (legalism) with something totally radical. He took the law even further and gave it more scope.

In the 2 Corinthian passage Paul is saying, “We are…but they say…” That seems to be an outgrowth of being a Christ-follower. First, taking it one step further than it appeared. Second, facing accusations which aren’t true or are embellished to make them look bad. The key is for us, when they say that about us, is to live a life of love (v.12a)

“Father, may my life be consistent with what You want. No matter what people say to tear me down may it be found to be a lie.”

April 16

Friday, April 16th, 2021

One of the phrases we heard a lot of during the pandemic -ad infinitum, ad nauseum- was “we’re in this together.” I know. I know. It was supposed to be true. And yes, I know what it was supposed to mean.

But if I want to be cynical (Who me?) I would say this: if we were supposed to be in this together, why was 2020 a year of unrest and riots and upheaval and hate speech and vitriol? We may have been going through the scourge of the pandemic together, but we weren’t really together.

But I digress. The point I really want to get to is found in I Cor.12: 22-26. Take a moment, please, to read it. Several points stand out to me:

  1. Those who think they are the most important very often are not.
  2. We need to take special note of those who seem less important. I’ll call them the “behind the scenes” people.
  3. A real “in this together” body laughs and cries together. They experience life together.

This pandemic has done several things to the church. One has been to separate people. The church is a body, uniquely put together and made up of different people. We were designed to need each other and no amount of zoom meetings, or even cards or phone calls, can take the place of personal, in-person contact. I’m not delusional enough to think all will come back-at least not right away.  Maybe never. But when we do and when we do see each other I pray we will “honor” each other; know our place, and laugh and cry with each other.

I don’t think that’s asking too much. Do you?

“Father, may Your body- the church-truly be an example of being in this together.”

March 22

Monday, March 22nd, 2021

I’m sure you’ve heard or maybe used the phrase, “You make a molehill into a mountain.” The opposite is what we truly want to happen (and what God often does): “He makes a mountain into a molehill.”

Back to the original statement of “a molehill into a mountain.” Small things loom large. Small holes are made into mountains by worry, fear, and rebellion.

Here is an interesting connection for you. Moses is opposed by two magicians at the start of the plagues in Egypt-the Nile turning to blood, and the frogs taking over. They were able to duplicate the plagues but not remove them. Paul gives us their names in 2 Timothy 3:8-9. Their names were Jannes and Jambres. They opposed the truth, put up counterfeits, and rejected Moses’ warnings. Eventually, they slithered off in disgrace (Ex.9:11) but very possibly convinced Pharaoh to pursue the Israelites and drowned with him and the army.

Application: In our lives-sometimes daily-we have our Jannes and Jambres. Let’s give them different names: fear, anxiety, anger, rebellion, and others opposed to God’s work. Molehills become mountains because we allow the tools of the enemy to take root in our lives. What is interesting is Jannes and Jambres could duplicate the plagues but not get rid of them. That tells us the enemy of our souls can cause havoc but has no power to take it away (not that he would want to). He brings the mountain; God does the removing.

Two statements come to mind. I have a magnet on my file cabinet at the office which I have for more year than I can remember:

The faith to move mountains is the reward of those who have moved little hills.

The other is a Tolkien quote via Gandalf:

The power of Sauron is still less than fear makes it.

Don’t let your molehill become a mountain. Let God take your mountain and make it into a molehill.

“Father, may I give you my complete trust in all my circumstances, especially when the molehill threatens to become a mountain.”

March 10

Wednesday, March 10th, 2021

Let’s continue with some more thoughts on gratitude.

I personally think one of the hardest things to do and to see is to be grateful in all circumstances. But I believe some of that is because of wrong thinking. I did not say “Be thankful for all circumstances” but in all circumstances.

Of course, I’m not going to be thankful for cancer or MS or bankruptcy or (fill in the blank). I’m not sure anyone in their right mind would say, “I’m so thrilled and thankful I lost my home, my car, my family, etc because I lost my job and now I can’t afford anything. So I guess I’ll file for bankruptcy and be happy about it.” Or “I’m so thankful cancer is ravaging my body.” When I was going through my medical issues as a result of being a Covid long-hauler, I wasn’t praising the Lord for all of that.

But I can be thankful in that situation. Gratitude doesn’t hinge on certain or good circumstances in my life.  The opposite, however, can be true: I should be able to be thankful in those circumstances KNOWING God’s presence is there with me. I’m reminded of Paul’s words to the Philippians when he said, “He who has begun a good work in you will bring it to completion.” (1:6) We are all in the dark when it comes to God’s plans for our lives. All we can really do is trust Him in and through it all to complete His purpose and perfect will.

Can you say you are grateful in all circumstances? I certainly want to be able to say I am!

“Father, only You know what is ahead for me.  Help me to be thankful in all my circumstances, no matter what they may be, knowing You are there with me. I thank You for Your presence in all things.”

March 1

Monday, March 1st, 2021

(Note: I wrote this Friday, the 26th, but waited to post it until today)

I didn’t sleep well last night. Not exactly sure why. I was tired. I had a day of doctor visits (follow up to surgery and dental for an implant). I had a beautiful visit with a family of three children, who because of health issues with the youngest, have been unable to be in worship with the group. I took M&Ms to the kids; a bag of York peppermint patties to mom; and a bag of Heath bars to dad. Of course the kids were already in their boxes within 5 minutes! 🙂

If I had a “guess” as to why I have unrest and have been up since  before my regular “day-of-work-get-up-time of 3:30” is what I know I might have to do this morning and where I need to go. I will be at the High School at 8:00 to possibly “help” or listen to a teacher or student who is struggling. You see, we had a tragedy this week in our school system. Last weekend one of our teachers and baseball coach, the husband of our Middle School principal, had a brain bleed. Even a second opinion has declared him brain dead so last night they began harvesting his organs for the donation process. (He will continue making a difference long after he leaves this earth).  He leaves behind a wife and 2 young girls. The oldest turned 6 on Thursday. One also has Down’s but I’m not sure what her age is. Bryan was not only the baseball coach, but he also taught SpecEd and it is easy to see why.

Why then the upset? Because Ryan (our youth pastor) and I have been asked to be there to listen and help if needed. Ryan was there all morning on Thursday. Very few wanted to talk. Like one or two.  But who knows?  It appears that he and his wife were Christ-followers. Her posts allude to that.  If so, she has a hope beyond all one can imagine. I pray it will sustain her and the girls in the coming days.

But questions abound. Some I don’t have an answer to. Does anyone really? Only God knows for sure and His Word is the go-to. But sometimes questions still abound. I’m praying for wisdom if needed.

Meanwhile, would you please pray for Ashley and the 2 girls? They need God’s Presence more as each day passes.

“Father, You are the Giver of Peace. I pray that for Ashley. You are Giver of Wisdom.  I pray that for Ryan and me today.  I also pray extra wisdom for Ashley as she navigates life without the love of her life. And I’m looking for the good you will bring out of this.”

February 12

Friday, February 12th, 2021

It’s never too early. They say that, for example, when teaching a child. In fact, the experts tell mom to sing to their baby in the womb. Like I said, it’s never too early. It’s never too early to potty train!! 🙂 What parent, tired of changing wet or smelly, poopy diapers hasn’t wished their child was already potty-trained?  Can you say 6 months?  I joke, of course, but you get the point.

It’s never too early to talk about the cross. I’ve been reading a book called Journey to the Cross by Paul David Tripp. It is designed as a 40-day Lenten devotional.  I know. I know. Lent doesn’t actually start until February 17th but I started reading early to help me in my preparation for a 4 week sermon series on the cross and resurrection. I’m going to include-in its entirety-a paragraph from the book. It is THAT good!

“The cross is a powerful interruption to our ‘easy way out’ thinking. It catches us up short. It confronts our vain wishes. The horrible suffering and death of the perfect Messiah, Jesus, on a criminal’s cross, outside the city on a hill of death, tells us in no uncertain terms that when it comes to humanity’s deepest and inescapable problem, there is no easy way out. None. The cross calls us to quit hoping in , to stop searching for, and to give up on our belief in our ability to manufacture or stumble upon a cure. Sin brought death into the world. Sin separated us from our Creator. Sin turned us all into rebels and fools. Sin’s pathway is destruction, and its endpoint is death. There are no escape routes. We can’t buy our way out. We can’t earn a better destiny. There is nothing we can do. We are being propelled blindly down a roadway of death. We may smile and celebrate and accumulate, but left to ourselves we have no hope. Apart from some miraculous intervention, we are doomed. There is and never has been any easy way out of this terminal disease, the one that infects us all: sin. The cross screams to us, ‘Stop looking elsewhere. This is the only way!’ ” (Journey to the Cross-Day 10-p.62)

It’s never too early to be reminded of the power of the cross over our utter inability to save ourselves. Agree? Allow these words by Tripp to soak in.

“Father, thank You for the power of the cross over my lost state and my inability to solve that sin problem.”

November 2

Monday, November 2nd, 2020

I visited a dear lady this past week. Actually, twice.  She has COPD but her toughest battle has been cancer for the past four or so years. I went one day at her granddaughter’s request and could not stay. She was having a tough time.  She had hit a wall by the time I had gotten there. So I graciously offered to leave and come back another day. Another day was the very next day. This time I went a littler earlier and she was able to visit. It wasn’t long until she was wore out. They were getting ready to put her to bed and so I left.

Before I left I prayed with her. When I was done and stood up (I had knelt since she was sitting on the couch) she said, “You know. I listen to Charles Stanley and he said that God would never leave me.” I said he is absolutely right.

Those words were sweet to hear. Backstory: she had begun coming to church after I met her at the bank. She had then retired but worked part-time to help out. After she began coming it wasn’t long until she was diagnosed with cancer. She was given maybe 4-6 months. That was 4 years ago. She told me once that she was so grateful for the live stream and that she had found her faith again. I can’t even tell you how excited I was to hear that…and grateful for our team. Several months ago, after several attempts over the years to visit, she asked to see me. She to cancel twice due to medical reasons, but she finally made it. I was able to reassure her of her salvation and God’s love and about heaven. Romans 8 is what I used (my reading for today).

Now you see why her statement about what Charles Stanley said is so meaningful to me…but mostly to her. There is nothing like assurance of salvation to prepare someone to go. Are you sure? You can be. Read Romans 8.

“Father, thank you for the assurance of salvation you give in your Word. Let me live in that confidence and help others to as well.”

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.”