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Posts Tagged ‘Trials’

Last Sunday as I entered the church auditorium, I greeted a couple and conversed with them for a moment. I complimented the lady on her coat, which was sorta of a yellowish-tan, not quite gold or orange color. So, I followed up my first comment with, “What would you call that color?” Without hesitation she responded, “I’d call it sunshine.” Her husband and I chuckled and I said, “That sounds like it should be the beginning of a poem.

Fast forward to Wednesday morning. I was driving my wife to a doctor’s appointment 1:15 minutes away. About a third of the way into the trip I told my wife about the conversation on Sunday. She said that was cheery. We both went back to our thoughts and the following poem began to come. I didn’t write anything down until we reached our destination. I had composed the 1st verse and two lines of the 2nd verse by the time we arrived.

“I’d call it sunshine”
Even though the day be drear
I’d look for joy
In the midst of trial and fear

Not pretend it’s fine
When hardships are all around
But peace with God
Is settling and profound

Can’t keep it in line
There is so much going on
God controls all
It’s trust and rest I must hone

I am His, He’s mine
Though life is full of trouble
Unchanging grace
And His Word are comforts double

This poem is not about pretending everything is OK when it is not. It is not an Optimist’s perspective. Instead, this is a reminder for those who know God to look at the unseen realities that God has revealed and living based on that. And it is a reminder for those who have not come to know God that there is a spiritual reality that they should consider and seek to know God.

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I have recently determined that there are several ways of asking why of God. “God, why is this happening to me?” is the simple question, but the intent behind asking reveals the heart and faith of the questioner.

“Why?” is frequently an accusation that God is being unfair to strap you with a particular problem or difficulty. You lose your job. “Why did this happen to me, God? I’m supposed to support my family, pay my bills, and pay my taxes. How am I supposed to fulfill my responsibilities.”

But “Why?” can be asked in a different way to mean “What do you want me to learn from this difficulty?” and “How will you get glory from this difficulty?” That is, “Why is this difficulty occurring to further Your kingdom and glory in me and those around me?” You lost your job. “Why did this happen, Lord? Were you trying to get my attention because I was doing something wrong, or are You trying to increase my faith, or do You have a better career in mind? Be glorified through Your provision for my family during this difficulty and in my reactions and trust in You. Bless my wife and children with provision and security. Bless those looking on with a sense of Your goodness to us.”

There is a third, mixed reaction to difficulty that involves asking “Why?”. I am reminded of the honest answer of the father in Mark 9:24, “I do believe, help my unbelief.” I can relate well to this response. I frequently respond initially with “Why…that’s not fair?” but then consider God’s goodness in times past and the Scriptures about His faithfulness and moderate my stance to “Why is this happening in this way for my instruction and Your glory?” In reality, it usually comes out in more colloquial language: “God, what are you up to?” or “What am I supposed to learn from this?” or “How do You get glory from this?”

I mark my progress in the faith largely by how quickly I move on to trust. And at times I am finding myself responding in faith immediately. Perhaps because of a sense of inability or defenselessness, I seem to respond in trust more immediately the more drastic the difficulty or disappointment. And that is the good in trials for us, learning to trust without accusations of “WHY?”

But lest you think I am saying that I have arrived, I also shrink back into discouragement and complaining all too often. A circumstance, a Scripture, my wife, a friend, or even a stranger communicate how blessed I am and how foolish ungratefulness is and I am set, sometimes hard, back onto the path of faith. May God patiently work His plan in me and through my circumstances, and I would append that request to say, may He do it gently because I am frail (“For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust,” encourages Psalm 103:14.).

I have been thinking about Job lately. Do you feel like Job whose friend, Eliphaz, encouraged him by saying, “For man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward.” (Job 5:7)? That’ll put pep in the step, not! I keep having to “humble [myself] under the mighty hand of God,… casting all [my] anxiety on Him, for He cares for [me]”.*

As I told my Sunday School class, “Resist temptation and replace it with something better.” Jesus is always better. Thanksgiving diverts my attention from temptation to Him. I’m preachin’ to myself. You can listen in if it gives you any help. Maybe I will even get to the place of saying with James, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

*I inserted personal pronouns in place of yourself, your, you.

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We don’t enjoy harsh teachers, but we can learn from them nonetheless. “But it isn’t fair”, “such a teacher shouldn’t be allowed”, and “we must do everything in our power to rid the system of such teachers”. Unless of course the teacher has tenure with no intention of retiring any time soon.

Pain is just such a teacher. Now I’ve lost some of you. We want the fun, picture filled blog entries. But life has not been so fun lately, and that is not the goal of life anyway. So I decided to share a little of the less pleasant side of life, not for pity or running readers off, but because it is part of life and part of my life at present. And there are lessons to be learned from this less than favorite teacher.

I started having mild back pains about three weeks ago. I have had back problems all of my life and I think there is evidence of it being genetic since my three brothers have and father had back problems. I do exercises to keep my core strong and avoid extreme motions.* However, this time I didn’t do anything that I could have avoided to prevent the problem. I guess if I had been able to see the future and its ramifications, I could have worked around it, but I don’t have that ability. Sometimes it is just small things that trip us up.

Anyway, I have these down periods with back maintenance, but this was a perfect storm. The two most painful things were getting in and out of bed and putting shoes and socks on. Function and activity came to a standstill.

In the midst of this particular storm**, my attention was riveted by the frequent bolts of lightning running along my lower back. The teacher had my attention. When in pain, you pray more. Certainly a prime topic is relief, but I found myself praying for others I know who experience constant pain and wondering how they cope. And what of people who have reduced functionality because of pain? Couldn’t I be more compassionate and helpful? And the thought occurred to me several times that at my age, when a significant regression in health occurs, is this the downturn from which there will not be recovery or serious reduction in functionality? And if it is, what is my new focus? What would be my purpose? What new goals do I set? In short, I found this bout with pain highlighting (throwing a shadow on?) my mortality. Life is short and the end is coming, sooner perhaps rather than later. Don’t think so darkly you may say, but in the midst of the pain, lighter thoughts are hard to come by, and they may be no more than whistling in the wind anyway.

So here are the deeper and brighter, not lighter, thoughts that resulted from what I am going through. Life is good, because God is good. I have purpose and meaning because He has assigned those to me. Even if my body wears out or continues in pain, I can pray for others, for my family, the infirm, this sick nation, my lost friends, and my church. I have peace with God even in the midst of turmoil within and without. I am more content when I am thankful, even in the midst of difficulty. Even though I knew all of this beforehand, I know it at a deeper level now. I suspect the lessons are not done since the holidays (the second advent) have not come, but I will have to focus on these and like thoughts as soon as the next lesson starts rather than days into it.

That should make the teacher and lesson seem less harsh, even though still uninvited and unwanted.

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I should report that my back has shown some improvement in the last few days, though I don’t know what that means for work and play just now. I am privileged to be able to start again, but wary of the fact that physically that is not sustainable in the long-term. Life is full of ups and downs, but I don’t have to pin my hopes on the ups nor dread the downs. I belong to God.

*I hear some of you snickering (LD and BF, for instance).

**See “Midst the Storm”.

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Have you ever smelled rain? Have you been exhilarated by lightning? Have you ever been fearful in the wind or awestruck at the rising waters? The power of the storm both attracts and repels. Why might that be?

The air of rain does smell
All birds’ songs it does quell
The nerves of grazing beasts try
When a fierce storm is nigh

Of sudden does it burst
Relieving ground’s long thirst
Overtop river banks
Calamitous flood pranks

No way to stem the tide
Or break the waves’ wild pride
Neither calm the screaming wind
Nor many trees defend

Where can one find shelter
Midst the helter-skelter?
Or from much loss be spared
No matter how prepared?

The Maker of the storm
Who gave to all things form
He our refuge always
To Him for help one prays

He may deem things be lost
Great material cost
But rescue of the soul
Is the reward and goal

Though many troubles come
Storms that frighten and numb
Yet He is gracious still
Your heart with thankfulness fill

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We are awed by the wonderful, the powerful, the overwhelming, and the strikingly beautiful. The God who created the world is all of those things and more and He has made us for Him. We have then an inbred desire to seek for the glorious*. I believe that it gives glory to Him to see the superior in Creation. We must, however, make it our goal to see Him in all that He has created and done, so that all glory and honor goes to Him as is due Him and beneficial for us. Fear of harm must surely be the main reason we are repelled by storms. God is merciful to those who trust Him, but He is powerful and not to be trifled with.

I read poetry online infrequently, but recently I did because of a poet’s name that came up in conversation. One of the poems was about storms. It was good poetry, but it was atrocious theology. I don’t like poetry with bad form but I really don’t like poetry that tells lies or misses the truth. So, I set out to write my own poem about storms. When it flows and conveys deeper truths, I am happy with what I have written. Given the constraints of poetical form I place upon myself, it is difficult to convey the ideas in the way that I want.

*from Hebrew kabod, meaning weighty and the Greek doxa, meaning of honorable reputation

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My pastor preached an informative, challenging, and encouraging sermon this morning on John 14:1-3. I am always trying to organize information so that I may digest it. If it is not organized in my brain, I have trouble living it, because I don’t know what the next step is or even where to look for it. He gave four reasons from the passage that Jesus gave for why their hearts should not be troubled: 1) Jesus is trustworthy (v.1), 2) We have a sure promise of a home with God (v.2), 3) Christ began preparing a place for us immediately afterwards through the cross, the resurrection, and the ascension (v.2)*, and 4) Jesus is coming again to take us to be with Him (v.3).

We will outlast troubles, while troubles will burn away like the morning fog, he said. He ended the sermon with the most encouraging book ends of the eighth chapter of Romans. From verse 1, we know that there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”, and from verses 38 and 39, “[nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus.”

Which of following two responses will you have to troubles and trials, brother and sister? Friend, will you consider the hope and peace you may have by trusting Christ, who saves** all those who trust Him?

Responses to Trouble

*Pastor agreed with me that those past preparations do not exclude the present and future preparations in us and the world and in heaven.

**He saves not only through troubles and trials but more importantly from sin and eternity under God’s wrath in hell.

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I’m not complaining to say the following about 2019. It has simply been a difficult year. Health, stress, strained relationships, loneliness, unfulfilled dreams and expectations, they have all been there. But God has been there, too, and He ordained, allowed, and prescribed the difficulty as well as directed, sustained, and provided in the midst of it. I am not here to say everything is alright now, but I am here to say God’s presence has been more obvious in the midst of the ongoing difficulties. Forgive the overuse of a single rhyme sound. After the first verse came, it became a challenge to continue with coherent, true, and heartfelt lines. Some people say don’t look back, but bracing for the next wave, as well as riding it, requires a steady foothold and keen balance based in knowing your source of propulsion and floatation.

Oh, my goodness, what a year!
Losing things I thought were dear
Trials and temptation to fear
Mundane difficulty drear

Oh, my God, Your presence near!
Comforting when every tear
And discouragement appear
Sparks of joy amidst unclear

Oh, my Comforter, and dear
My cries for help so sincere
Do not fall on a deaf ear
Do not meet with scoff or jeer

Oh, my Jesus, grace so clear
Wipes away my every tear
Makes the voice express my cheer
Pushes worries to the rear

Oh, my Lord, in this new year
Me not from Your path to veer
Own ordained influence sphere
Trials that witness to each peer

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As I have mentioned several times recently, and as anyone in my area will attest, there have been more than usual number of days with gray skies and fewer of sunshine than normally. On just such a day yesterday, I began to consider.

Snow on the mountain
Wind in the trees
Frost on the pasture
Chilled by degrees

Gray sky overcast
Sun seldom guest
Trees in dark profile
Season of rest

All is damp and cold
The days are short
Food scarce for creatures
Few birds report

In this bleak season
Emotions wane
Foreboding reason
Given to pain

Now the time for faith
Let the truth ring
After these dark days
Then will come Spring

Even wintertime
Has its beauty
Seek out what is good
Fulfill duty

Embrace these gray days
Count it all joy
Draws you to Jesus
And sins destroy

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There is so much stirring in my heart and mind.

Before prayer time the pastor read about the two houses, one built on the rock and the other on sand. Having a good foundation in God and in His Word is important. But pastor pointed out that the foundation in no way determined what was thrown at the house. Both houses experienced severe storms. Christians and devoted Christians do not get an easier life. In fact, “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” ( II Timothy 3:12) The house cemented to God lasts.

My class’s Sunday School lesson was on David and Goliath. I liked the fact that the lesson emphasized that this was not a boy fighting a giant, but a young man described as a “valiant warrior” (I Samuel 16:18). Nonetheless, any thought of him defeating this giant on his own was beyond anyone’s imagination. All of the army of Israel fled from his presence and were terrified. When David told Saul that he had defeated the lion and the bear, he was insistent that “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (I Samuel 17:37) The rest of Israel was afraid while David trusted God. My concluding point was that “You overcome giants like [I had the students fill in the blank and then I added only a few more] fear, bullies, my worst subject in school, pain, disease, conflict with family or friends or enemies, death, the devil, my sinfulness, embarrassment, weakness by trusting in God.”

Then my pastor preached on prayer in the book of Acts. He surveyed the occurrences of prayer and their results. If my notes record correctly, he numbered 19 instances of prayer. There were many kinds of prayer: worship, praise, petition, devoted, focussed, decision, pleading, requests, commissioning, singing, committing, exhorting, meditating, seeking, fasting. These prayers had many results: divine guidance, many saved, miracles, healings, provision, rescue, preaching, Holy Spirit empowerment, conflict and its resolution, persecution, rebuke, dead raised, blind given sight, understanding, discernment, calling missionaries, elders chosen and confirmed, church planted, priests saved, testifying, praise, earthquake, jailer saved, commitment, strengthening of the church, supplied. Then the pastor asked, “Will you give yourself to prayer?” He concluded by saying, “A life of prayer doesn’t mean that we do nothing, but that we do nothing apart from prayer.”

The devotion and lesson and sermon reminded me of a thought I had many times before about the work of a Christian. “The only true work of a Christian should be prayer; all else is rest.” I don’t mean by this that muscles and sweat and planning and thought aren’t involved in many activities for the kingdom of God. Rather, we plead and travail and petition and worship and fast and cling to God in prayer and then go out confidently to the battle to meet the giants, expectantly and confidently looking for how God will work. The upshot of this day of thought on God and His ways is that I have much work to do. I would describe my prayer life as sporadic. I do fervently pray even when things are going well, but I get distracted by many pursuits and cares rather than resting in God from a position of having requested His power in prayer. Will you come along with me to renewed commitment to prayer? Ourselves, our families, our churches, our communities and businesses, our nation, and our world need prayer.

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I hugely enjoy fellowshipping in other churches on the rare occasions that I travel. This Memorial Day weekend was just one of those times. I am encouraged by God’s universal church worshipping God and the teaching of God’s Word, interpreted by the same Holy Spirit, sounding forth. God is at work in many and various places to accomplish His work, and God’s people are seeking Him.

Visiting a small church called “Grace…” [only part of the name I could remember, or needed to know] in New Port Richey, Florida, the pastor’s son-in-law, who is a policeman, preached on trials from James 1:1-12. Following are a few paraphrases of his words on purpose and perspective in the midst of trials:

“We don’t have it in us to have joy” [deep, light-hearted confidence]; it comes from the Holy Spirit within us enabling us to “delight in the

       1) person of God,    

       2) the purpose of God, and

       3) the people of God.”

“Our life purpose is to portray the superiority of God in our lives”, giving glory to God.

The purpose of our trials is to glorify God by our winning when it looks like we are losing [because of trials].

Trials test our faith: pop quiz:

1) “Do you believe God is in control?”

2) “Do you believe God is good?”

3 “Are you willing to wait on God’s perfect timing in every area of your

    life?”

The endurance or steadfastness referred to in verse three means to ‘remain under’. Trials are a stress, a pressure, an uncomfortable force in our lives. ‘Everything God wants to do in our lives and use to bless us comes through us remaining under God’s control’ in the midst of trials.

This spattering of my sermon notes does not convey the full weight of the sermon, but it does give you pieces of wisdom that I think are worth reading over several times. Trials are for believers to test and strengthen their faith and give glory to God. We are not spared trials because they are what are best for us and give the most glory to God. May His name be praised in all that I do.

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Overflows from the Heart

"But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart…" Matthew 15:18

CreatorWorship

Pointing to the One who made, saved, and sustains