Trials

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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 23

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2024

“Why?” “Why me?”

Those just may be two of the most asked questions in human conversation. I won’t lie. I’ve said them or some variation of them. We usually say them or hear them during a particularly tough time we or someone we know is going through.

I very, very seldom ask that question any more. In fact, as long as I can remember, I stopped asking it years ago. Why? Because there is no answer to it. I mean, how can you or I honestly know why we are going through this rough patch? We can pile on the shame or the guilt or the “I deserve this” or “God’s getting even with me,” but that won’t answer it.

The real reason I stopped asking that question though is because I started asking another one: “Now that this is happening to me God, how do you want me to act?” How does God want me to respond to this trial?

I just finished reading Country Music star, Granger Smith’s book, Like a River. {Spoiler alert: I am not a CM fan} {Spoiler alert #2: Look for a review of Granger’s book on my other site, Cycleguy’s Spin, soon}. Granger and his wife, Amber, lost their son, River, in a tragic drowning accident in their home pool. This book is his story. There was a lot of good teaching that came through his book, but one that struck a chord was after he tells about speaking at a men’s breakfast conference at the church they were attending. It was exactly one year since he had walked into that same church building for Riv’s funeral. When he was done, he wrote that he wasn’t sure if any of those men benefited from what he said, but he did.  He learned that by sharing his story of pain and redemption God was answering his question. Not the one he asked why. “The one that asked God, ‘What are you trying to show me through this heartache?'” (p.178)  He then wrote that God responded with Isaiah 41:10-“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”  He goes on to comment: “God was reminding me to depend on Him. He would be there to pick me up and push me forward from the bottom of the river’s waterfall.” (Ibid).

The question to ask is not “Why? Why me?” The real question to ask is “What now? God, how do you want me to respond? What do you want me to learn?”

Sure changes the perspective doesn’t it?

January 21

Monday, January 22nd, 2024

One of the most loved and most quoted verses in the Bible is Isaiah 40:28-31- “Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”

It is the latter part of that passage which holds special meaning. The image of an eagle has profound meaning to many. From the end of the Hobbit when the heroes are surrounded by hordes of goblins only to hear the shout, “The Eagles are coming! The Eagles are coming!” to this passage of Scripture, eagles leave us with a tremendous picture. Even using the eagle as a symbol of our country gives us the impression of strength and dignity.  Consider the following Scriptures:

In Exodus 19:4 we read that God told His people that “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself.”

Deuteronomy 32:11 is where Moses writes, “Like an eagle that rouses her chicks and hovers over her young, so he spread his wings to take them up and carried them safely on his pinions.”

Countless times in Psalms we read of being under the protective care of the wings of a bird. The wings of eagles depict God’s protective nature and tender care.

This passage in Isaiah 40 has an ever more beautiful meaning. Often at a funeral as I’m trying to give words of comfort to the grieving family during my talk, I will use the story of a mother eagle teaching her eaglets how to fly. When it is time to leave the nest, the mother will gently nudge her young out of the nest, but not abandon it. As the eaglet falls and is unable to fly, the mother will swoop under it, “bear it up,” and take it to the nest only to repeat the process until the eaglet can gain strength to fly on its own.

Surely you can see that is exactly what God does for His loved ones. We are “pushed out” of the nest and when we falter, where our strength is lax, God bears us up. We are taken for a rest only to be challenged again. Eventually, we learn that God’s strength is sufficient.

No matter what kind of day you are facing, may you know His strength. May you know He never abandons you…EVER.

{All Scripture references are the New Living Translation}

October 2

Monday, October 2nd, 2023

If there is one thing I know for sure, it is the fact that there are many, many people today who are missing one key ingredient in their life: peace. I recently finished a two month sermon series focused on anxiety, worry, and fear.

I cannot begin to tell you how many people asked me to pray for them because of one of those three emotions. Those who seem to have it the most “together,” who give off the air that “I’m cool and all is okay,” those who exude confidence, were some of whom came to me and asked me to pray for them.

You see… anxiety, worry, and fear show no favorites. Young. Old. Well-to-do. Struggling financially. White. Black. Hispanic. Male. Female. No respecter of persons.

There are some great examples in the Bible of people who found a calm and a peace in spite of circumstances.

Three Hebrew boys- Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego- were faced with a furnace made 7 times hotter because the king was so ticked off they would not bow down and worship the king’s idol. They refused and even the king stood in amazement as a 4th figure appeared in the furnace and they were removed unscathed.

Daniel spent the night in a lion’s den. Hungry lions, who the next morning had a great meal of Daniel’s antagonists, never bothered him. He got some good z-z-z-z-z-s that night.

Even Job, who lost everything, except his relationship with God, refused to curse God and die (per his wife’s suggestion). Job kept his eyes on God.

All three of these example are just snippets of people who trusted in spite of circumstances. They exuded a peace we are often missing in our “know everything” age. Sadly, the one thing many don’t know, is how to find peace.

I do. It is found in the One who said, “My peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. Don’t let your heart be troubled.”

July 26

Wednesday, July 26th, 2023

Have you ever had those times when you felt totally overwhelmed with life and by life? You’re not sleeping well. Things at work are stressful. Home-your normal place of refuge-is in an upheaval. Your workouts (if you exercise)-which are normally refreshing-seem to be a real drag. Even your moments of “me time” are seemingly non-existent and if you have them, too much is going through your brain for you to relax and enjoy them.

The truth is as plain as the nose on your face: we have all experienced them from time to time. From the holy one to the vulgar one. From the disciplined one to the undisciplined one. It doesn’t matter. It is part and parcel of being part of the human race. 🙂

The late David Powlison wrote these words:

We have this God who enters the stage of human need, who invades mercifully and powerfully to shield us, to strengthen us, to forgive us, to help us, to lead us, to care for us, to be a refuge for us.”  (Take Heart)-p.208

The Psalmist wrote these words: “Who rises up for me against the wicked? Who stands for up for me against evildoers? If the Lord had not been my help, my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence. When I thought ‘My foot slips,’ your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up. When the cares of my heart were many, your consolations cheer my soul….But the Lord has become my stronghold, and my God the rock of my refuge.”  (94:16-19,22)

Even though we may have those moments, days, weeks, even months when we feel hopeless and helpless, overwhelmed, beaten down or defeated, we are none of those. We have Someone who feels what we are feeling, but who also walks alongside and says, “Here. Let me take that from you.”  LET HIM.

July 12

Wednesday, July 12th, 2023

Disclaimer: longer than normal devotion.  🙂

As I sat down this morning in my familiar chair at my familiar table to have my Encounter Time (time alone with God), I had an idea for my devotion this morning. Actually two. Jo, Tami, and I went to the fair last night at the Owen County Fairgrounds. We like to walk around and see the displays, talk with the kids and vendors (least I do) and eat. We did the first two but only Tami the latter. It was like 89 degrees and I think we were all ready to find some A/C. I thought about writing about the “pride” I take in each of the church’s young people.

I also thought about writing that Ryan, our youth pastor, and his family (a family of 5)  leave today for their “Easts meets West” trip-a 4 week excursion out west with stops at many of our national parks.  Today begins his 7 week sabbatical. I was going to write about making memories and ask you to pray for their safety. (I guess I just did!) 🙂

But then I read Psalm 69 & 70 for my OT reading; 2 Corinthians 6:3-10 for my NT reading and I was stopped dead in my tracks. I think common to all of us are questions like, “I wonder what’s next?” “I wonder if I’ll get through this?” “I wonder how long this will last?” “I wonder if God will show up?” My one or two word answers to those questions are “Don’t know.” “Yes.” “Don’t know.” “Yes.” I know…not very sufficient and it does seem like the easy way out, but honestly, can you give any other answers?

In Psalm 69 & 70, David seems almost mercurial. On one hand he seems in distress (69:16-18); on the other hand totally okay with it all (69:29-30, 34). He for sure knew where to go to get the help he needed (70:5).

The Apostle Paul wasn’t mercurial but confident. In verses 3-10 he gives his experiences as a follower of Jesus. In verses 8-10 he says, “Our sole defense, our only weapon, is a life of integrity, whether we meet honor or dishonor, praise or blame. Called ‘imposters’ we must be true, called ‘nobodies’ we must be in the public eye. Never far from death, yet here we are alive, always ‘going through it’ yet never ‘going under.’ We know sorrow, yet our joy is inextinguishable. We have ‘nothing to bless ourselves with’ yet we bless many others with true riches. We are penniless, and yet we possess everything.” (Phillips)

I especially like that last phrase. After writing what it looks like vs. the reality, Paul says, “We are penniless, yet possess everything.” Appearances can be deceiving on so many levels. In this case, what appears to be heartache and hardship, is not; it is instead a testimony to God’s goodness. David said it well, “But I am afflicted and in pain; let  your salvation, O God, set me on high! I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify Him with thanksgiving.” (69:29,30)

What appears just might not be; the reality might be something totally different.That goes especially for those who are going through tough times and wonder if God-or anyone for that matter-cares.

June 28

Wednesday, June 28th, 2023

There are many verses in the Bible that are misused or misunderstood. Jeremiah 29:11 is one of them. The prosperity teaching and Word of Faith movement misuses a number of Scriptures to justify their heresy that God wants all people healthy and wealthy (Please don’t get me started on that!). There is one verse that is often misused, misquoted, and misapplied and I’m almost afraid to say it because so many “hang their hat” on it.

Romans 8:28-“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” (ESV) That verse, unfortunately, has lost its oomph in many cases because it is so misinterpreted. I’d like to point out a couple of thoughts on that verse.

1. That verse does not promise us that all things are good. Frankly, and I hope I’m not too strong here, not all things that happen are good. I wouldn’t wish cancer, or dementia, or paralysis on anyone. While it is true that Joni, for example, has come to accept her 50+ years in her chair and has used it to minister to others, I don’t believe she would say, “This is good and I hope you experience it.” The same for cancer or any other sickness.

2. God can use what has happened to mold us into the person He wants us to be. The key thought in this is found in the words “work together” which could also be translated “working together.” The process is not a one-and-done deal. God is continually molding us by His work in our lives.

3. Now for the coup de grace: I think we do a great disservice by leaving out verse 29 and the phrase “to be conformed to the image of His Son.” I see verse 28 and the powerful truth of it finding its linchpin, its purpose, in that short phrase of verse 29. All that is happening to me-good and bad-is designed to make me more like Jesus. God’s purpose is to conform me to the image of His Son. No trial is wasted. No work in my life is wasted. It has a goal! God is working all things-not the just the good and not just the bad-all things together.

Enjoy the truth of verse 28. It is real. But always combine it with verse 29. “I want to be like Jesus” should be our daily song.

May 15

Monday, May 15th, 2023

I asked several ladies (about 17) who they saw as a triumphant woman in the Bible. I then asked them to be involved in the Mother’s Day special this past Sunday. Seven agreed. My devotions over the next several days will be the ones they chose.

May 11- Lady #1- Mary of Bethany

Lady #2- Tamar- Story found in Genesis 38

Judah had 3 sons-Er, Onan, and Shelah.  He found a wife for Er named Tamar. But Er was wicked and the Lord put him to death (we are not told what his wickedness was). By custom, Onan was to marry Tamar.  He knew the offspring would not be his so he spilled his seed on the ground (v.9). That was wicked and he also was put to death. That left Shelah to eventually marry Tamar. Judah convinced Tamar to wait, but Judah held back until finally Tamar figured “enough is enough.”

After Judah’s wife died, he was going to visit friends and Tamar heard about it. She dressed disguised herself and enticed him. She bargained for his ring, his cord and his staff as proof he would keep his word on bringing her a goat as payment for her services. Tamar conceived, and when Judah was told, he was going to have her burned to death. He changed his tune when she sent the ring, the cord, and the staff as proof of who the father was.  She eventually had twins-Perez and Zerah. Perez is listed in the lineage of Jesus.

What an interesting story on so many angles! So unpredictable. Right smack dab in the middle of Joseph’s story. In chapter 38 it was Judah’s recommendation that they sell Joseph into slavery instead of just killing him. You know…out of sight out of mind. And why not make a little profit while we are at it? Judah was not an upstanding man. But his life was changed after this encounter with Tamar.

Sometimes unexpected events change us. Good and bad. Sometimes our lives are never the same. Nothing is ever wasted in God’s classroom. I’m reminded of Romans 8:28. I’m also reminded of James 1:2-4: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Let’s learn from every experience that God moves in ways we don’t often expect.

 

May 9

Tuesday, May 9th, 2023

I think one of the most common questions asked by both those who believe and those who don’t is, “Why me?” It is likely most, if not all of us, have asked that at one time or another in our life.

“Taking it on the chin” is not easy. Suffering is never easy. It gets worse as the suffering lingers. It gets worse when we see suffering as a punishment or as “God is getting even with me for something bad I have done.” The bottom drops out of our lives and we begin to wallow in self-pity, or worse, languish in despair. We begin to see no end to our pain, no end to the dead end road we are on, no end to the endless circle our life seems to be taking.

Do you mind if I take us in a different direction for a moment? Perhaps instead of asking, “Why me?” we should start asking, “What now?” I heard Joni, a quad since her teen years, express it that way. Instead of languishing in pity, maybe a more productive question would be, “Now that this has happened to me, how should I react?” Maybe a better response would be to ask ourselves how we should react to this trial, this suffering, this test I am going through?

Here’s an example I recently read: In 1953, a fledgling business called Rocket Chemical Company and its staff of three set out to create a line of rust-prevention solvents and de-greasers for use in the aerospace industry. The original secret for WD-40-which stands for Water Displacement 40th attempt-is still in use today. Its most recent net worth was 1.3 billion.

Let’s ask an obvious question: what if they had stopped at #39 and gave up in defeat? What is Joshua and the children of Israel had stopped at Day 6 or even Day 7 walk-around #6? They would have missed #7 and the opportunity to watch the walls of Jericho fall.

We are told in Isaiah 40 that those who wait/hope in the Lord will renew their strength. Don’t give up. Don’t quit. Don’t wallow in pity. Use this as an opportunity to grow.

March 14

Tuesday, March 14th, 2023
  1. May I make a confession to you? You are saying, “Yes, of course. Let’s have the dirt.”

Sorry. You are going to hear dirt, but nothing that you haven’t heard from thousands of others. Here it is:

I. AM. A. MESS.

Not that you will ever see it. No siree. You’re crazy if you think I’m going to show it. But trust me: I’m a mess.

And so are you.

Now you are probably thinking, “Speak for yourself bub.” But, please, hear me out.

There is a story I suspect many of you have heard or read.  It is the story of a tapestry-a beautiful, fine-looking piece of art. Every piece in place. Every stitch, every strand of yarn is right where it needs to be. Now…turn it over. What do you see?  A mess. Yarn, string, fabric going everywhere in one big, tangled mess.

Now, turn it back over. Chaos to sublime. Chaos to order. Ugly to beauty.

So yes, I am a mess. Inside me is chaos, a real jumble of wires. It is called and made worse by sin. I know this verse is overused, sometimes misused, and sometimes nothing more than a picture on a wall or some “Jesus junk” (as Keith Green used to call it), but the words ring true: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” To get the real strength of that verse you MUST read the ones which follow. “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”  (Jer.29:11-13) (ESV)

The real truth is that God does bring order out of chaos. He does take messed up, tangled lives and makes them something beautiful. A song from years ago said, “He makes beauty from ashes.”

Let Him take your mess and your chaos and replace it with order and beauty.