Tag Archives: Christ

Musings on Troubles, Faith and the Goodness of God

Are you weighed down by troubles?

The journey of faith for a believer in Christ is, it seems, a series of mountains that we climb.  We would like to think that the life of “following Him” makes life easier and we sometimes find ourselves perplexed at having trials.  Or perhaps we are perplexed at the kind of trials we endure.  They seem random, or the perfect “non-fit” for us.  While we are promised that God desires to give us an abundant life, the implications of “full and meaningful” seem contrary to the troubles we sometimes experience.

FAITH

FAITH (Photo credit: cacigar)

To be sure everyone in the human race has ups and downs.  For the believer, the “mountain top experiences” can be so exhilarating that their memory propels us on even as we go through a season bombarded with troubles.  I don’t believe the only purpose of good times is to get us through bad times, but they often help.  They are memories of God’s faithfulness and what gets us through is not the going back in our mind to good and pleasant times so much but the reminder that  God was good to us then and He will continue to be good to us in the future.  We learn to think on a deeper level about what “good” means.  We would prefer an existence without anxiety, but we find it is very human to experience such.  Some chapters of life can become overwhelming, especially if our focus is on the problems without a vision beyond them.

God, the Master Artist is working out a Masterpiece in our lives not only for our benefit, but for those around us. Like the pain-staking work of Michelangelo, and infinitely more, sometimes the sculptor’s tools have to break off some sharp edges to make the God-given potential within us fulfilled.  His divine purposes, though often not easy, are infinitely good.  The building up of our faith has great meaning to Him, and vital to the final picture.  We cannot possibly envision the unveiling and that’s where we get caught up.  We just want to understand, but faith is not about understanding, it is about trust.

The author of Streams in the Desert quotes spiritual giant George Mueller in responding to the question as to the best way to have strong faith:

The only way to learn strong faith is to endure great trials.  I have learned my faith by standing firm amid severe testings.”

A “severe testing” carries with it a temptation, and that temptation is to give up.  Giving up can mean many things.  It can be as seemingly subtle as becoming cynical, to forfeiting the hopes we have based our lives upon and worse.  Instead of placing our broken dreams in God’s hands we elect to hold it tight which can make us bitter.  At many levels giving up is dangerous to our souls.  If we believe our troubles serve no eternal purpose or of trivial meaning then we are in a fragile place that can cause us to give in to depression or despondency.

Madame Guyon said,

I entreat you, give no place to despondency. This is a dangerous temptation – a refined, not a gross temptation of the adversary.  Melancholy contracts and withers the heart, and renders it unfit to receive the impressions of grace.  It magnifies and gives a false coloring to objects, and thus renders your burdens too heavy to bear.  God’s designs regarding you, and His methods of bring about these designs are infinitely wise.”

It is in that infinite wisdom of God that we see colors that are true-to-life.  This requires the spectacles of faith. An intense focus on our troubles make them appear larger than life.  Large though the testing may be, within the scope of God’s purposes, personal pain can carve and craft our souls like an exquisite sculptor until every perfect detail is in place.  We cannot see the image in the Great Sculptor’s mind, but we can trust in His goodness, His vision, His perfect artistry and the promise of tumultuous joy after a long night of tears.  And that kind of joy is not trivial but magnificent.  For if we have been educated in the school of tears we see more clearly and have developed a capacity to experience joy and contentment on a level never before experienced.  Truly the storm clouds develop the most brilliant silver lining before our eyes when we least expect it!  When we see a glimpse of the purposes revealed, there is great cause for celebration!

Child of God, there is hope ahead.  As much as we would like it to, it is human to see our hope in the solving of our problems.  But when we experience the peace of God, right in the middle of the unsolved riddles of life, therein is a soul and rest with a capacity to receive all good ahead that God has planned.

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The Gift of Forgiveness, Part I

We hear often how forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves.  While this is absolutely true, in the bigger picture, the ability to forgive others is a gift given to us from God…because truly “to forgive is divine.”  Within ourselves we human beings just don’t seem to have the capacity to wipe others slate clean in our minds and hearts on our own power.  Our form of forgiveness is convoluted with strings attached, hidden pockets of pain and bitterness that surface at the most inconvenient times – complete with elephant-type memories regarding the deeply painful acts and attitudes toward us.  How we struggle with forgiveness!  Pure forgiveness is indeed a freely-given gift from the only perfect forgiver, Jesus Christ.

The Lord's Prayer (1886-1896) from the series ...

The Lord’s Prayer (1886-1896) from the series The Life of Christ, Brooklyn Museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We know we are supposed to forgive.  The Lord’s prayer, reads in part:

and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.  Matthew 6:12

Forgiveness

Forgiveness (Photo credit: poportis)

This is clearly not an option, but a command from God who has forgiven us – that we MUST forgive those who have inflicted pain upon us to have a clear relationship with God.  But, oh how we struggle!

In a sense, granting forgiveness is like hitting bottom with a drug or alcohol addiction.  What finally causes one to surrender is unique to each person.  Those who love an addict agonize in prayer over them and keep hoping that each new crisis or even happy “big life moment” will be THAT THING that will cause that one to admit there is a problem, surrender to Christ and submit to a program that will help them overcome their addiction.  But that turning point is indeed different for every person who has made that huge u-turn in life.  And so it is with forgiveness.  For the person who knows they need to forgive and willingly travels that journey toward totally releasing that person or group of people in their lives that has caused pain, the point of letting go mentally and emotionally differs.

But God is faithful.  Forgiveness is for real.  If we are seeking to obey Him in this area, He will provide that necessary ability to forgive fully, but it is a journey.  It is a process.  The gift of forgiveness – the ability from God to forgive others is a sweetness to our soul.  It brings smiles and relief and often times reconciliation and tenderness to a relationship that looked like it was beyond recovery.  Forgiveness is a miracle.

Forgiveness is and isn’t many things.

Forgiveness does not mean that we minimize what that person has done.  Forgiveness most certainly will cost us in some way.  We may have to endure the consequences for the other person’s sin against us, and perhaps for a very long time.  Forgiveness does not mean we necessarily go back to “life as normal.”  The act of forgiveness sometimes means that we are separated from that person, yet our hearts are at peace.  Sometimes, the relationship becomes stronger and more connected with granting forgiveness.  We do not have power over the outcome of granting forgiveness, but obeying God by forgiving is always for our good.  The is greatness and exhilaration in the peace that God provides to our souls when we forgive.

Forgiveness lesson from flowers

Forgiveness lesson from flowers (Photo credit: juliejordanscott)

Forgiveness is freedom.  We give up the notion to desire any punishment or ill will toward that person in our minds.  We can pray that God will bless them and mean it, and go on with our lives.  We find ourselves to be “bigger”, stronger, more generous and sweeter human beings.  The best part of forgiveness is that it opens the doorway to run to God full throttle, leaping up into His arms and experiencing that sweet communion that cannot be described in words.  There is nothing between God and ourselves when we willingly forgive others, and in the process admit our own sins and weaknesses.

Our hearts are softened by granting forgiveness.  This too is a gift from God.

I will given them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them.  I will take away their stony stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart, so they will obey my decrees and regulations.  Then they wil truly be my people, and I will be their God.  Ezekiel 11:19-20

 

 

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No Business of Mine

Personality tests come in various shapes, sizes and colors, so I’ve learned.  At a Christian women’s retreat a couple of years back the leadership team decided to use a short, fun, colorful personality test both as an ice breaker and way to divide into teams.  This particular quiz divided the room full of women into “reds,” (outgoing, take charge individuals), “yellows” (conscientious rule-followers and hard workers), “blues,” (tender-hearted harmony seeking people) and a minority of “greens,” (thinkers, learners and problem solvers).  While all these tests are just indications, and it is pointed out that most people have more than one “color,” this quiz indicated a predominance toward these characteristics.  I was a green.  Greens like logical approaches and need to know the “why” behind decisions and like to think of helpful solutions.

This image (when viewed in full size, 1000 pix...

This image (when viewed in full size, 1000 pixels wide) contains 1 million pixels, each of a different color. The human eye can distinguish about 10 million different colors. Judd, Deane B. Wyszecki, Günter (1975). Color in Business, Science and Industry . Wiley Series in Pure and Applied Optics (3rd ed.). New York : Wiley-Interscience. p. 388. ISBN 0471452122. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The life of faith in Christ has a particular challenge for the “greens” among us.  The very essence of faith means we usually don’t know the “why” and we don’t get to create the helpful solution.  We place much in God’s hands and trust that He is indeed working all things together for the good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose (reference:  Romans 8:28).  Then we trust, wait and obey.

In the classic devotional, Streams in the Desert, a verse from Joel is the basis for a great comment by C.H. Spurgeon.  First the verse:

And it shall come to pass that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered.  (Joel 2:32)

All of us, no matter what personality “color” we lean towards can find ourselves in that “whosoever.”  When we come upon troubles and trials and perplexing situations we can take these words of C.H. Spurgeon to heart:

Charles Spurgeon (C.H. Spurgeon)

Charles Spurgeon (C.H. Spurgeon) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My case is urgent, and I do not see how I am to be delivered;  but this is no business of mine.  He who makes the promise will find ways and means of keeping it.  It is mine to obey His commands;  it is not mine to direct His counsels.  I am His servant, not His solicitor.  I call upon Him, and He will deliver.  C.H. Spurgeon

Even as a “green,” is so comforting to know the final outcome of that which concerns me is not my deal, it’s His business.

 

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Accepting Help

It is much more comfortable to be the one giving help.  Accepting help is against our grain in several instances.  If one is the serving type and loves to make everyone else feel welcome – then accepting help can be hard.  If one is a leader type and feels a weight of responsibility than being the one who needs help doesn’t feel quite right.  And again, if we tend to be independent, then, help means dependence.  There are many instances where we can find ourselves resisting the love and concern of others through practical acts of care they want to do to help us.

While Christianity causes us to be “givers” instead of “takers,” there is a time and season for many things in life.  We are commanded to work hard and to be self-sacrificing.  But sometimes it is our turn to humbly accept help.  Humility is a Christ-like characteristic.

Elijah was a mighty prophet.  God worked through him tremendously.  Elijah stood against 450 false prophets of Baal and challenged them to a “bake-off.”  Really, it was about Elijah offering a sacrifice to the one and only true God and proving to the whole community that the worship of Baal was idol worship. The God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob was not pleased with the worship of other gods.  The results were amazing.  Then Elijah prayed for much-needed rain, and it poured.  Not only did God dramatically answer his prayer, Elijah ran a race with a chariot and won!  Talk about a spiritual high!  In all these events Elijah was a spiritual leader.

English: Elijah Resuscitating the Son of the W...

English: Elijah Resuscitating the Son of the Widow of Zarephath (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then it happened.  The evil woman Jezebel threatened Elijah, and Elijah freaked out.  Elijah fled for his life.  In a short amount of time he found himself alone, exhausted and depressed.  He asked God to take his life.

English: Jezabel and Ahab Meeting Elijah in Na...

English: Jezabel and Ahab Meeting Elijah in Naboth’s Vineyard Giclee. Print by Sir Frank Dicksee. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Elijah needed help.

The rest of the story is recorded in I Kings 19, but in short, Elijah needed some physical things to help him regain his emotional stability, his mental equilibrium, and strengthen his faith.  Elijah was encouraged to sleep, eat, drink water and sleep some more.  Then he went to be alone with God and pray.

Elijah in the wilderness, by Washington Allston

Elijah in the wilderness, by Washington Allston (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Elijah’s healthy perspective returned.

We all need help sometimes.  Followers of Christ are united into what the Bible describes as “the body of Christ,” meaning that although we all work in different ways, we are all important and needed.  Like a physical body, some parts are more prominent, but each has a function that is vital to the health of the whole body.  We help each other.  No matter what part of that “body” we play, in some season of life we will need to help of others and we do well to accept that help.

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God.  There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.

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Filed under Crisis, Depression, Fear & Anxiety, Grief & Loss

Tug of War

There’s a tug of war in the believer’s heart and one side wants what it wants when it wants.  That’s the self.  On the other side is the part of our heart that truly wants to please our Maker.  On our journey with Christ spiritual growth means that the side that wants to please the Lord is gaining the upper hand.  Oh, how our culture screams in the opposite direction!  We hear a lot about “me.”  “Me time,” “What’s best for me,” “What makes me happy.”  We tend to hear and “I love Jesus” rather than “Jesus loves me.”

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Stained glass at St John the Baptist’s Anglican Church http://www.stjohnsashfield.org.au, Ashfield, New South Wales. Illustrates Jesus’ description of himself “I am the Good Shepherd” (from the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 11). This version of the image shows the detail of his face. The memorial window is also captioned: “To the Glory of God and in Loving Memory of William Wright. Died 6th November, 1932. Aged 70 Yrs.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How do we know if we love Jesus?  Is it primarily a feeling or an intellectual nod to the things He said or what we think about Him? Do we “love Jesus” because He is cool or fashionable?   A writer named John in the Bible said it pretty plainly:

But those who obey God‘s Word truly show how completely they love Him.  That is how we know we are living in Him.  Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.  I John 2:5-6 (NLT)

Obedience and following His example…two things that do not come “naturally” to the human heart!  It’s against our grain – contrary to our independent, seemingly “self-sufficient” nature!  But why should it surprise us that loving God means to be obedient to Him and follow His example?  Don’t we want this from our children?  As parents we want what is best for them, and we recognize being able to take direction even if they don’t understand it is for their own benefit and protection.  No!  Do not put your finger in that light socket!  No, do not run into the street!  No, do not drink that orange scented shampoo!

As parents having our children simply say they love us but reject our instruction and example would indicate that there is no real love at all – just maybe a warm fuzzy affection, at times.  God could have created us without a free will and made us completely obedient beings.  But genuine love cannot exist without the ability to make a decision of our own free will –  from the heart – to obey even when we don’t understand or feel like it.

The only reliable means of measuring our love for God is to examine whether we obey Him.  – From Seeking Him by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Tim Grissom

 

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The Class You Don’t Want to Take

As I paint in my artist studio I try to listen to uplifting music or messages from preachers and speakers I respect and from whom I am eager to learn.  Today, while I was working on a painting of a wedding portrait with a stained glass background, I took in a session of Beth Moore‘s Jesus the One and Only that was filmed in Israel.  Beth’s messages resonate with me because of her knowledge, the way she connects in a personal way with her audience, her humble nature and sense of humor.  She is a terrific communicator but does not water down the message to try to make it popular.  But popular, she is – and for good reason.

Today Beth talked about losing a following with an important person in her life because she wasn’t as funny as she used to be and did not shrink back from tough issues.  Life is difficult  and a lot of people are hurting.  I caught myself saying “amen” out loud several times as the video rolled on.

We live in a culture that loves to be entertained and we financially reward those who help us escape mentally for awhile be it through sports, films, or with popular music.  Nothing wrong with those things, but those who are hurting still need someone real with a sensitive ear to listen, some hope from the reality of faith in Christ and encouragement from the Scriptures.

Day 442: Precious

Day 442: Precious (Photo credit: amanky)

Jesus with little one

Jesus with little one (Photo credit: freestone)

God equips normal every day people for this task of listening, hope-giving and encouragement and His school for such ministry is called The Academy of Suffering and Sorrow.  Wouldn’t you know it, no one intentionally signs up for one of those classes.  But once they are in the academy something wonderful can happen.  The suffering and sorrow is not the wonderful part.  But those who have been trained by such are able to lend a hand, an ear and a heart to a hurting world and let others know that God is going to get them through this difficult time.  These academy graduates know because God was faithful to them in their time of need.  Their resolve was strengthened, their belief became more than intellectual and their faith made real.   Now their outlook is deeper and they can handle bigger punches from life, their attitude brighter and they are full of hope.  God can mould us by His “thundering velvet hand” and make us sweeter for the encounter.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort.  He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.  When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.    II Corinthians 1:3-4

 

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The Boston Crisis – Lord, Have Mercy

We flew out of Boston just two weeks before 911, and from the same airport where the terrorists took off.  We have a friend who was in the Boston Marathon, and we are relieved to hear she is well and safe.  It’s astounding how close terror comes to us.  If it is not us directly affected, it may be someone we know or just another step removed.  Even if we don’t have a direct connection, the television screen and internet record the faces of people just like you and I…we shake our head and get a knot in our stomach as we consider the ramifications of evil acts towards innocent people.  How could this be happening?  Again we are in national crisis.

History records time and time again, “man’s inhumanity toward man.”  How could it be that this human race that is capable of building hospitals and sending people to the moon and sending missionaries into dangerous tribes to share the peace of Christ can also bring into being those who would instigate acts of terror on the innocent?  It’s frightening to think of what we, as human beings, are capable of given the wrong circumstances, bad influences, and an openness to play at evil like it’s nothing to take seriously.  Lord, have mercy.

Thoughts matter.  Thoughts lead to actions.  Actions can be for incredible good, like those who ran into harm’s way today to rescue the injured, or actions can be horrific, like the one(s) who put those bombs together.  What we think has enormous consequences.  What we choose to fill our mind with, day-by-day, influences others for the good or the bad.  Very little in life is neutral.

Have mercy on us God.  We need You.  Please comfort the grieving, heal the hurting, give strength and energy to those who are giving of themselves on a level more than they can handle to make a difference for good in this situation.  Use, as only You can, even this devastating crisis to bring about the best that people can be.  Send those with courageous acts of love and determination to make the world better directly to combat those who would obey evil impulses.  Fill the helpers with Your Spirit!  Protect them, supply them with superhuman energy and inspire them with Your greatness!  We cry out to You, Lord Jesus, our hope.  We acknowlege that You understand suffering like no other, because You went to the cross on our behalf.  You said, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”  Lord, have mercy on us.

 

 

 

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Decision Making and the Will of God

Flipping a coin, going through open doors, and goosebumps are all something we hear when people talk about making decisions.  Fear of making a wrong decision can paralyze us into inactivity.  Acting spontaneously or going by feeling alone can lead us to long-lasting undesirable consequences.  As believers, an oft-spoken prayer in the area of decision-making is to ask for God’s will to be done and then for spiritual wisdom.

As I read of King Solomon’s life in the book of I Kings, I was impacted by the fact that wise decisions in one season of life does not automatically mean a life where sound judgments continue!  King Solomon “had it all” after he asked God, above everything, to give him wisdom to lead his people.  God was well-pleased with such a prayer and granted Solomon not only wisdom but riches and respect from those around him.  Solomon did some tremendous things!

Piero della Francesca: Legend of the True Cros...

Piero della Francesca: Legend of the True Cross – the Queen of Sheba Meeting with Solomon , Detail. (c. 1452-66, Fresco, San Francesco, Arezzo, Italy) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But decisions are a day-by-day occurence and a little less conviction one day followed by a teensy weensy slide into mediocrity the next eventually produces a downward slide of epic proportions.  Solomon, the builder of the great temple, eventually found himself worshiping false gods to please his many wives.  There are many bad decisions represented in that last sad sentence!

How often in life we know people who have had a season of sound decision-making based on seeking God’s will and months or years later we find that same person miles away from where they once were spiritually.  What can happen to other people can happen to us – no one is immune from the enemy’s attacks.  One of Satan’s craftiest ploys is in drawing people away one little “innocent” decision at a time.

Such reality can keep us on our knees, especially when there is a decision to be made.  For weapons, in this spiritual battle of decision-making, we have the Bible as a compass, prayer to bring us into God’s presence, wise counsel from godly Christ followers, God-directed circumstances, the shield of faith to ward off stabs of unbelief and especially the peace of God which works even in situations we do not understand.

Rather, cling tightly to the Lord your God as you have done until now.  Joshua 23:8 (NLT)

 

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The Strength of a Broken Heart

Easter celebrates the resurrection of Christ – His power of life over death.  That is truly good news in a world where death is a part of life and people we know and love are hurting from great losses.  That is reality.  Ruth Graham, daughter of Billy and Ruth Bell Graham wrote a book called In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart.  We never know in our casual encounters with people how someone might be shouldering great hurt or loss underneath that smiling exterior.  Broken hearts abound.

As a former church counselor, I can look out over an Easter service of 1,000 and be very cognizant of the many broken hearts represented.  Many have been in my office as we have talked, listened, prayed, searched the Bible for direction and cried together.  How do we deal adequately with our broken hearts?

Tim Grissom, co-author of Seeking Him, with Nancy Leigh DeMoss, shares how his wife Janiece was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Laternal Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease).  When she died at age forty-one she left a grieving husband and four heart-broken children.  He describes the “earthly reality” of their circumstances as: painful, dreadful, overwhelming.   At the same time Grissom recognized a “heavenly reality” that gave them hope.  The awareness of God’s presence through this tumultuous time both “covered” and “carried” them.  He describes that during this time “He was escorting us through the grief and protecting us from being mortally wounded by it.”  Grief, with hope.

What gives hope to our broken hearts is that God is accomplishing something through our time of grief and loss if we will but allow Him to keep our hearts soft, and not becoming bitter, in the process.  A broken heart is a heart that swells with compassion.  A broken heart can attempt great things here on planet earth being driven by an inner push to help someone else so that they will not have to suffer in the same way.  A broken heart has the opportunity to be strong for others and giving hope in seemingly hopeless situations.  A broken heart can share the love of Christ like no other, for it by our suffering we enter in to an intimate communion with Christ.

So then, since Christ suffered physical pain, you must arm yourselves with the same attitude He had, and be ready to suffer, too.  For if you have suffered physically for Christ, you have finished with sin.  You won’t spend the rest of your lives chasing your own desires, but you will be anxious to do the will of God.  I Peter 4:1-2 (NLT)

Suffering can purify, can clarify our callings and cause us to run our race with endurance, giving us great confidence to perform the work for which He has called us.  Is your heart being broken?  Then know that God has great purpose and plans ahead.

 

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