Tag Archives: Jesus

The Fuel of Suffering

Family watching television, c. 1958

Family watching television, c. 1958 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Imagine if you will that we are in the studio audience for a game show.   Now look on stage at the three doors you and I could choose – consider this:

  1. 1.     Behind door number one – an extreme makeover for your house – your dream home right here.  It could be in the most wonderful, as they say in real estate, location, location, location.  It comes complete with choice of style, the most amazing appliances in a dream kitchen, a garage-workshop lined with the best power tools, and curb appeal to impress any and all guests.
  2. Behind door number two is the perfect family.  Everyone is on their best behavior, everyone gets along and they are your pride and joy.  Enough said.
  3. 3.     And behind door number three is a simple sign that says, “Suffering that you might grow closer to Christ.”

Our human natures wouldn’t let us to choose and open that third door.  We wouldn’t.  As much as we would like to think we would, none of us wants to suffer.

As difficult as it is to consider, here are some positive things suffering can do:

  • Suffering establishes a common denominator with others who suffer in different ways.  It might be health issues, an aggressive cancer, a financial reversal, a job loss, the loss of someone close to us through death, the end of a treasured relationship, the list goes on….but when we accept suffering, unjust as it may be, we “get” the suffering of others and can give and receive sympathy on a whole new level.
  • Suffering can make us more tender-hearted and compassionate and use the fueled energy for something good.  Many powerful society-changing movements are birthed out of suffering.  We are seldom moved to sacrificial action when life is easy.  It takes those circumstances that tear us apart inside to give us the courage, determination and energy to make a difference. 
  • Suffering saves us from living a superficial mediocre life. 
  • Suffering helps us understand what is important, and what is not.
  • Suffering shines the light on what position God holds in our lives.
  • Suffering helps us to identify with Christ with the realization that He suffered more and so He understands on a level of no one else.  What Jesus willingly took on in submitting to a crucifixion is described as excruciating mentally, physically and spiritually.  Jesus “gets” our suffering.
  • Suffering can increase our thirst to know Christ more intimately.
  • Suffering refines us.  It is a tough process, but suffering is able to burn away things like pride, a self-sufficient attitude, a tendency toward resentment and a host of other things that can cause war within our souls.
  • Suffering enlarges our ability to trust in God alone for our future.
  • Suffering makes us long for heaven.  Suffering helps us understand it’s not all here and now and that some day in His timing, God will have the final word on everything.

We would never in a million years choose suffering.  But when it chooses us we can purpose ourselves and encourage each other to search out those silver linings to the dark clouds on our horizons.  How grateful I am for the kind words, selfless work and encouragements given to me.  They have made many days endurable, comforting and even hopeful.  Maybe our suffering will be used – somehow in someway – to make a brighter day for someone else.   Just perhaps something significant will grow out of the unlikely soil of anguish.  That gives a sense of hope when we are deep in hurt.  We all want something that outlasts us and our suffering, painful though it is, is an oft-used vehicle for powerful positive change.

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Filed under Broken Dreams, Storms of Life, Suffering

Heart-to-Heart Fellowship

It’s so good to be home, we both agreed.  Each of us, in different circumstances, transitioned in our careers and found ourselves working from home and being an everyday participant in our grandchildren’s lives.  Neither of us were planning for this outcome, but looking back we realized God had orchestrated this timing and as we talked, our appreciation for this special season of life increased.  Before we left we clasped hands and prayed thanking God for this time in our lives, for our friendship and gave Him some practical ” I-need-you-Lord-today” requests.

Matti

Matti (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The sweetness of Christian fellowship means that we can talk about the reality, struggle and heart aches in our lives and we can also bear witness to how God has turned around bad circumstances for good.  We share joy, we laugh.  We encourage each other and strengthen one another’s faith.  It is heart-to-heart.  Fellowship – true fellowship in which we are sharing about what Jesus is doing in our lives today, yesterday, and in this season.  Much more than visiting or socializing, fellowship is a precious bond that can be described in terms of spiritual chocolate – it’s just “the best.”  We are designed for relationships and fellowship fills us up to the brim.

Because God is love, he treasures relationships. His very nature is relational and he identifies himself in family terms: Father, Son and Spirit. – Rick Warren

Pastor Rick Warren at Saddleback Church.

Pastor Rick Warren at Saddleback Church. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

God is active and working in our lives today.  By sharing what our Heavenly Father is doing, how we are responding, and what treasures we are finding in His Word, we speak on the level of “brothers and sisters”.  That special relationship we enjoy is worthy of celebration and thanks.  Fellowship is heart-to-heart.

 

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Filed under Fellowship, Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

Parable of the Plum Tree

But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God…II Corinthians 1:9b

The mature flowering plum-tree in our front yard, with its dark maroon leaves and divided kid-friendly trunk, stands in high contrast to the white Victorian picket fence and white-barked birch next door.  Driving from either way down the street it is the way to spot our house.  It’s a landmark.  But it wasn’t always so.

Twenty-two years ago we picked out the rather long overgrown twig at Dorothy’s nursery in Carlotta.  We planted it on a mound in the front of our newly constructed home and had to tether it to large wooden poles to keep it from blowing away or being damaged.  On its own it was still fragile.

Decorative blooming of a plum tree

Decorative blooming of a plum tree (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Months passed.  The day came to remove the poles.  The tree had grown to a place where it could stand on its own. and to keep the poles there would mean that the tree would not gain the internal strength it needed to stand against the wind and rain.  For it to continue to mature, the supports needed to be taken away.

Sometimes in life our supports, either willingly or against our will, are taken away.  It may because of a change in health, the loss of someone important in our inner circle, a move, a job change, or a variety of other life circumstance.  We find that the people we leaned on for spiritual strength are no longer available in the same way they once were.

This is a time of decision.

Do we frantically try to find support replacements, or do we allow God to take away those “poles” so that we might fully lean on Him?

While Christianity is lived in community, there are some deep and shadowed passages of the soul that one can only walk with Jesus alone.  In those times we either made daily decisions that will result in either cooling off spiritually or embracing Him more fully.

When we come to a place where God is all we have, we find that God is all we need.

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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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Morning Prayer

In the quietness of this morning I consider a new day and the contents of my daytimer.  It is time to increase my time of prayer.  Oh Lord, how I need You!

There is some time scheduled in a doctor’s office with someone I love.  Lord I pray for the decrease of anxiety, for peace and the flowering of faith and trust in You.  There are some errands to be ran, and some necessary shopping.  Lord, for the divine encounters in the ordinary passages of life, may You prepare my heart.  Help me not to be so focused on the incidentals that I miss the big picture.  Thank you Lord for providing for us in this season of change.  May I be thankful.

English: Speak Lord For Thy Servant Hears

English: Speak Lord For Thy Servant Hears (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is some art work to be done today.  Thank you God for the joy in this – for it is in creating that I catch a glimpse of the You, the Great Creator and the obvious delight You took in creating us!  Today there is ministry for someone that needs Your healing touch.  Lord, I pray for Your direction, Your mercies, Your guidance, and for Your Word to speak powerfully to my heart, even as I speak and listen.

Estelle's Irises - named for a godly woman of prayer

Estelle’s Irises – named for a godly woman of prayer

Lord, where I have been preoccupied, where I have totally missed Your plan in the moment or the people You have put before me, where I have missed an opportunity to speak as You would have spoken, or just plain failed miserably, please forgive me.  This is a brand new day, Lord.  In the many things that are before me, help me not to forget that this is the day which You have made, may I rejoice and be glad in it.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

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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 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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Rock Solid Identity

What is your identity?  Who are you?

We wrestle with those questions from Jr. High days on forward.  Our identity colors what we think about ourselves, how we choose to act and with what our hearts resonate.

We often think of a relationship when considering our identity.  A parent of, a child of, a spouse of etc.  Or we think in terms of our vocation, our occupation.  I am a ………..butler, a banker, a candlestick maker.  Or we may identify with our favorite pastime – a fan of a sports team, a “skater,” a “surfer,” a “blogger,” a quilter.”

When we identify ourselves in one of those areas our worlds can be quickly shaken if something goes a rye.  If our pride and joy is being a parent and our kids make choices that break our hearts we wonder if we are good at anything at all.  Or if we are very proud of our parents and they are our stability in life, then when one of them makes a decision that makes us ashamed, our world is rocked.   If we are all about our business ventures and they go south, again, an identity crisis.  If our self-concept has to do with our physical health and that changes then we re-evaluate who we are in this season of life.

The only rock solid identity is that of a child of God.  No one can take that away.  No life change can break the cement of that relationship made available through Jesus Christ.  Hear the words of David, when he was in trouble:

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and He turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire.  He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.  He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God.  Many will see what He has done and be amazed.  They will put their trust in the Lord.

Faith in the One who will never leave us or forsake us provides a strong foundation for our identity.  From Mrs. Charles E. Cowman, author of Streams in the Desert:

Faith rests on the naked Word of God.  When we take Him at His Word the heart is at peace.

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Filed under Fear & Anxiety, Identity

Why I Loved the Addicts

Why you ask?…in a word, honesty.  The answer seems so opposite of what one would expect.  Addiction by its nature involves lying.  Typically when caught up  in an addiction one becomes a good actor.  Some would say we are caught up in denial.  In the book of Jeremiah we are told, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things…Who really knows how bad it is?”

But my experience with the addicts came about through prayer meetings where a small group of people who were formerly enslaved to chemical addictions came together and said, “we want to start a Celebrate Recovery.”  Through the next few months we prayed together and I found myself sharing at a level with this group things I haven’t shared with any other Bible Study group.  Why?  Because this group of people had come to a place in their sobriety and more significantly in their relationship with Jesus that they had confessed it all to Him and at least another person.  In that confession and honesty they experienced a freedom they never knew before and an ability to share the real story of their lives.  We are all human, and we all struggle.  There were no “church faces” in this group.  Christianity was real and raw and very attractive because Christ met each person in this group at the point of their deepest need.  When they said “I’m a grateful believer in Jesus Christ,” they meant it, and it showed.

With that level of honesty came acceptance, understanding, encouragement, and a lot of support.  I never forgot the experience, and doubt I will ever “recover” from it either.

We tried to launch a Celebrate Recovery, and it ran for ten months.  In that time we saw many people come through our doors.  There were a variety of issues.  Someone was suicidal, another definitely under the influence, many newly clean and off alcohol, prescription drugs and meth, some that struggled with porn,  and some from broken marriages.  There were victims of domestic and sexual abuse and those who struggled with gambling and some who were just plain hurting.  We ate together.  We worshiped together.  Someone would share their life story, called a testimony.  We prayed, we confessed our sins and we talked about how Jesus was helping us and we shared real life together.

Once one experiences this kind of fellowship it leaves a lasting impression.  And so, I loved the addicts in that group.  They taught me some valuable soul lessons.  It is in the brokenness of life that we find the humility to admit, no, I don’t have it all together.  But I’m much better than I used to be because Jesus has rescued me from myself.  And I’m a grateful believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with…change.

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