Category Archives: Perseverance

The Value in Learning

Tell the righteous it will be well with them,

for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds.

Woe to the wicked!

Disaster is upon them!

They will be paid back

for what their hands have done. (Isa 3:10-11)

Here’s what I am learning today:  What appears to be harsh may not necessarily be so.

It sounded like the Jews of Judah would be utterly destroyed forever.

But the same God who said they would be “paid back,” also said later in Isaiah,

For a brief moment I abandoned you,

but with deep compassion I will bring you back.

In a surge of anger

I hid my face from you for a moment,

but with everlasting kindness

I will have compassion on you,”

says the Lord your Redeemer. (Isa 54:7-8)

God didn’t permanently reject his people.  But he did allow them to experience the consequences of their choices.  They were his beloved children who had strayed away, but he intended for them to come back to him and be gathered into his arms and blessed like never before.

You know, the book of James says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:3-4)

Our trials feel harsh.  But James says to be joyful in them, because they are actually for the good.

I was talking with a friend recently, and she told me how she’s the “fixer” in her family.  But she’s beginning to realize that sometimes it’s better to not fix things for her family members, that there’s value in letting them learn from their mistakes.

And that is what God wants.  He wants us to learn from our mistakes.  More than that, he wants us to realize that there’s learning to be had in any situation.  Our agenda is to pray and ask him to fix our life right away.  But if he did, we would miss the growth.  We would miss the lesson of perseverance.

I really think God wants me to get this in my head.  After I started writing this blog, I was in my life coaching class telling my instructor how I was trying to help one of my clients come to a solution.  My teacher told me that helping the client figure out a solution isn’t always the point.  The point is also to help them see that there is value in learning from their struggles.  Ack!  There it was again!  It’s hard for me because, like my friend, I always want to help people fix things!

But even Jesus learned from his struggles.  “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8)

And how did Jesus learn?  By wrestling in prayer. The Book of Hebrews explains, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (Heb 5:7)

This verse has to refer to the time when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemene, pouring out his heart to God and begging that the “cup” would be taken away. As Jesus did so, he strengthened his conviction that no matter what, he would do God’s will, not his own.

What if Jesus hadn’t gone to the garden to pray?  He wouldn’t have been able to go through with God’s plan.  It seemed like a horrible plan, that he would have to be tortured and executed.  But we all are the beneficiaries of the plan.

Which brings us back to the original point.  What seems harsh may not necessarily be so.  There’s value in the learning we can have from the situation.  And what seems horrible can lead to good . . . IF we wrestle to submit and have a victory in the testing of our faith.

Oh, how we want to be able to have this victory!  And we will, if we remember that the God of Isaiah 3:11 is also the God of Isaiah 54:7-8.

That he’s the God of everlasting kindness.

That he wants to bless us like never before.

That he’s committed to us in love and faithfulness because we are his family.

For your Maker is your husband—the Lord Almighty is his name.  (Isa 54:6a)

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!  (I John 3:1)

 

 

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Filed under Isaiah, Perseverance, Surrender, Things I Am Learning, Uncategorized

When Healing Takes Awhile

blurred-vision

They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him.  He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”

He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”

Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.  Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into the village.”  Mark 8:23-36

“They look like trees walking around.”  I think thing that resonates with this story for me is that the man wasn’t completely healed on the first go around.  I can relate to his blurry vision!  I, too, take my hurts and weaknesses to the Lord, and I get some better, but I still feel like I’m bumping around in the world.

Ha!  Just like the people in the story, we expect that when we come to Jesus, everything is going to get fixed right away.  It often doesn’t work that way.

I have an underlying anger (with flavors of discontent, pride and faithlessness) that I wish Jesus would just poof away in me.  It’s so hard to get a handle on.  I work on it.  I look at the example of Jesus.  I look at the cross.  I look at my sin.  I seek to trust more.  All of these things help.  But then  I feel the anger bubble up out of what seems to be nowhere, and it begins to simmering under the surface. If I’m not careful, it will rule my day.

angry kitty

But I have finally been getting a better handle on my anger.  I’ve gotten to the root of it more.  I’ve found Biblical solutions that finally clicked!

I’m so glad I hung in there. I think sometimes God just wants us to learn to persevere.

  • By your patient endurance, you will gain your souls.  Luke 21:19
  • Not only that, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;perseverance, character; and character, hope. Romans 5:3-4
  • You need to persevere, so that after you have done God’s will, you will receive what He has promised.  Heb 10:36
  • . . . because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Allow perseverance to finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  James 1:3-4
  • He who perseveres to the end will be saved.  Matt 24:13

I believe that one reason God allows us to struggle, is so that we will come to him.  The blind man was willing to take Jesus’s hand and go wherever he was led.  He was willing to let Jesus put spit on his eyes!  Okay, maybe the blind man didn’t think that is as gross as we think.  But what does it take to get to the point of going with Jesus whereever he leads?  Look at what Paul wrote in II Corinthians 1:8b-9:

We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.  II Cor 1:8-9

Things happen so we learn to rely on God.

Is this to be a one time lesson?

I learned something interesting about the beatitude, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” (Matt 5:6)   The actual wording of that verse means that you have a continual hunger for righteousness, not a hunger where you’re satisfied and it’s gone.

hunger2

Okay, maybe it’s a bit extreme. But it’s funny!

I think we’re meant to have a continual hunger.  I think that we’re meant to go through life like the blind man who is half healed, with blurry vision.  “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror . . . ”  (I Cor 13:12)  We’re not there yet, and that’s a good thing, because it keeps us thirsting for God.   It keeps us looking to him as the only real source and solution.

Jesus does heal.  I am so thankful that God gave me the strength to persevere.  I can think of so many things in my life that are miraculously better — my marriage, my friendships, situations with my family, situations with my emotional health.  Many of my spiritual dreams have come true.

But there will always be other things, like my anger, that tempt me to despair.

I have to remember that even Paul, who had the power to heal others, couldn’t heal his own “thorn in the flesh.”  Jesus told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  II Cor 12:9a

Sometimes we need grace, more than we need healing.  Because Grace is sufficient.  It can assuage the hunger.

Last week I visited my friend Bobbie.

bobbie

Love this picture of Bobbie (right) with our friend Nanyumpka.

Bobbie has some health challenges, and hasn’t been able to get out much.   This is hard, because Bobbi has a huge heart.  She wants to be with people and love them.

“My body wants to be full of energy and stamina,” Bobbie told me.  “But this is a different season.  I am so content and happy.” 

Isn’t that amazing that Bobbie is content and happy?  Bobbie has learned to feed on the grace, the spiritual food that satisfies her even when her health is poor and her life could dissatisfy.

Let’s all learn to feed on the grace.  Let’s learn to persevere.  And let’s learn to hope.

Because healing in some areas will come while we’re on earth.  And one day we will be completely healed in heaven.

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Filed under Healing, Mark, Perseverance

Getting Past the Point of Holding Back

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.  But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’

“In tithes and offerings.  You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me.  Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.  I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty.  Mal 3:8-11

I love this passage.  Of course, it isn’t good to think that we might be robbing the Almighty God.

But I love the promise that if we give to God, he is going to pour out blessings on us.  This isn’t a prosperity gospel thing.  To me, it’s just a spiritual law.  If we put God first with any part of our life, we will have a return:

  • For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.  Luke 9:24
  • Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work  II Cor 9:6-8
  • “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–along with persecutions–and in the age to come eternal life. Mark 10:29-30
  • But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Matt 6:33

Yet it is so hard to bring the “whole tithe” into the storehouse.  For me, it’s not the money that’s as hard to give.  It’s time. It’s doing the challenging things for God, like sharing my faith.  It’s pouring myself out to new friends.

Because I want to hold back in these things.  I want to preserve my resources.  I never know how much energy I am going to have, or how good I will feel.

So I’m hesitant to give.

I did a study on what it means to “bring the whole tithe in to the storehouse.

First of all, the Jews were commanded to give the Lord a tenth of what they brought in at harvest: “You must set aside a tithe of your crops–one-tenth of all the crops you harvest each year.”  Deut 14

This tithe would be used to support those who were formally serving the Lord: “The priest, the son of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive tithes, and the Levites shall bring up the tenth of the tithes to the house of our God, to the chambers of the storehouse.  For the sons of Israel and the sons of Levi shall bring the contribution of the grain, the new wine and the oil to the chambers; there are the utensils of the sanctuary, the priests who are ministering, the gatekeepers and the singers. Thus we will not neglect the house of our God.”  Numbers 10:38-39

Tithes were also to be taken up to support the poor:  “At the end of every third year, bring the entire tithe of that year’s harvest and store it in the nearest town. Give it to the Levites, who will receive no allotment of land among you, as well as to the foreigners living among you, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, so they can eat and be satisfied. Then the LORD your God will bless you in all your work.”  Deut 14:28-29.

So the Jews were supposed to take the very food that was to sustain them out of their larder, and give it to sustain others.  This had to be difficult.  I picture someone looking at the piles of grain, and jars of wine and oil they’ve worked hard to gather, and then taking some of the bags and jars and intentionally setting them aside, knowing they won’t have them if there is a year of drought.

It truly was a faith thing. They were giving away their hedge for the future.  They had to believe that if they gave some of their sustenance away, God was going to take care of them and “bless them in all their work.

And it’s the same with all of us.  We have to believe that when we give to God, he take care of us in our time of drought; that when we pour ourselves out for him, he will replenish us.

Here is one part of the spiritual principle of giving that I think is very important to understand:  God doesn’t necessarily give us a direct return for our service, but there is a return.  It isn’t like giving to a bank, where you earn a set interest rate.  It isn’t like planting a seed in the ground, where you know a plant will result.  It’s more ambiguous.  The Jews couldn’t say, “I tithed, so tomorrow it will rain.”  They just had to believe that God would reward this tithe in some form or fashion so their needs would be met.

And this encourages me.  Because when it comes to serving the Lord, I WANT to see a direct return.  I want to feel like, “Okay, I shared my faith with those people, now they should become Christians.”  And of course this often doesn’t happen.

But what does happen is that God blesses my efforts with an indirect return.   Out of the blue, someone calls and says they want to come to church.  All of a sudden there are people who want to start studying the Bible. We can know that our work will not be in vain.

Here is my conclusion:   If we don’t hold back, God won’t hold back! 

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  Luke 6:38

Since I’ve been studying this, I have been trying to share my faith more.  Earlier this week I was passing the time with a bellhop at the Auburn Hotel while I was waiting for the desk clerk.  We got to talking about church, and at some point, I was uncharacteristically candid with him about what distinguishes our church.  “We try to make Jesus Lord, but for some reason people don’t want that.”  He sympathized, but I guess he wasn’t at a point of wanting it either.

Later, I talked to a grocery check out clerk who thought it was awesome that I was buying things to cook dinner for house church, and wanted to hear all about it.  Yet when I invited her to join, she just smiled.

That evening at house church, we all filled up on spaghetti.  Then we sat in a circle and sang, “10,000 Reasons” by Matt Redman: “Praise the Lord oh my soul, oh my soul, worship his holy name.  Sing like never before…”

It was one of those perfect moments.  We were full and satisfied.  I looked around and saw people I love singing from their hearts to God.  We were all enjoying the antics of the adorable children in our midst.  We were a spiritual family.  There was a glow and warmth in the room.

And I thought, “This is the feast I invited people to attend.  But they didn’t realize what they could have.”

I think that’s what God was trying to say.  He was telling the Jews, “”I’m inviting you to a feast!  Don’t you realize what you could have, if you’ll just give what I ask?”

God is still saying that to us today.  He wants to “graciously give us all things.”  (Romans 8:32)  He will do “immeasurably more.”  (Eph 3:20)  We just have to get past the point of holding back, past our fears, past our need to control, past the emotional baggage from the past.  Instead, let us joyfully pour ourselves out for him with the faith that there will be a return.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. Col 3:24

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Being Refined, Part II

He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness,  Mal 3:3

My last blog was on being refined.  But there’s so much good stuff I’ve been learning.  I can’t stop with just one post!

So for this blog, I investigated how silver was refined in the olden days.    I found out it was a pretty arduous process of putting the silver ore over a blazing hot fire and keeping it there until the impurities have separated and burned away.

refining2

If that is a metaphor for how God purifies his people, it doesn’t sound like fun!

Does God refine the all of us like this, or was it just the Levites at that time in history?

In I Peter 1, Peter talked about the many “grievous trials” the first Christians endured, “These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

It sounds like the refining of faith through testing is a process God likes to use for Christians.

Rats.  I wish I was like James, thinking it’s great when there are challenges!  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” James 1:2-3

But more often I want to avoid the unpleasantness.  I haven’t been blogging partly because I had several bouts of depression.  When I’m depressed, I feel like a failure.   The voices of self-accusation are so loud!  It is very hard to feel like I am pleasing God.

And I’ve also been ADD.  My mind has been like a bee flitting from flower to flower, and not able to land in one place for long.   Plus, I’ve been working through the emotional fallout from some situations that upset me.

Is this refining?  It’s been making me feel like I’m becoming more unspiritual, not more spiritual!

It’s funny to me — last night we were talking at house church about the widow who gave two mites, and I saw how ironic it was that Jesus commended this woman who probably didn’t look sharp or well put together, and derided the teachers of the law who did look sharp and well put together. (Mark 12:38-44)

In my own life, I tend to think I need to feel and look like I have everything under control.  But maybe that’s not what God is seeking.

We can see what God is seeking by looking at the process of refining metal.  If God purifies us like silver, the following things are going to happen:

  1. We’re going to feel the heat! Refinement can’t happen if the temperature is just pleasantly warm.  In the same way, we’re not going to progress if it’s too easy and comfortable.  God’s going to put us right over the fire!!  “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”  II Cor 1:9
  2. We’re going to think it never ends. Refinement isn’t an instant chemical reaction.  It takes a good while for all of the impurities to burn away.  So we can’t expect to learn what we need to learn in a quick trial.  God works through processes.  “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”  Romans 5:3-4
  3. We’re going to be in a controlled situation. A silversmith has to keep a constant eye on the refining process to see when the impurities are burned off, and when he needs turn off the heat.  If he exposes it to fire too long, the silver can oxygenate too much and it will be unworkable.  In the same way, God doesn’t just expose us to heat and go off and do other things, like we do with a pot on the stove.  He monitors and protects us.  He gets us through at just the right time.  “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”  I Cor 10:13
  4. We’re going to get radiant!! The end product, purified silver, is so shiny, it’s like a mirror. In Ephesians 5:29 it says that Jesus gave his life so the church could be radiant. So what does it mean to be radiant?  It means we’ve quit our whining and bellyaching and started trusting God completely!  “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure …Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.” Phil 2:14-15

The upshot of this is that we start trusting God completely because the trials have made us realize the worthlessness of our own efforts and of the unspiritual things we’ve been relying on.

We’re studying the Bible right now with a woman who’s been through some really harrowing stuff in her life.  At this point in time she sees clearly that all of the things she’s been chasing are empty.  She told us that she is so sick of it all that she is ready to throw in the towel and give her life to God.

She’s going to God as the source.  That’s what I’m learning to do as well.  When I’m feeling weak, I’m seeing that I’ve got to rely more on the Spirit.

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  Luke 11:13

When I’m feeling down, I’m remembering that His grace is sufficient, and that will get me through.

“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” II Cor 12:9

When I have a sticky situation, instead of wracking my brain, I praying more, expecting God to help me work it out.

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.  Ps 5:3

Instead of freaking out at a challenge, I’m taking a deep breath, accepting it, and asking God what he is trying to teach me.

He wakens my ear to listen like those who are being taught.  Isa 50:4

It’s true, I do feel a bit haggard and worn lately – a little like a widow with two mites myself!  But I’m learning to find peace.

I’m learning that God is the god of the broken, of those who are travel-stained and stumbling on the road.   I’m learning that God doesn’t want us to always look impressive, and be able to pat ourselves on the back.

This statement resonates with me, “We miss the gospel of God:  the good news that although the holy and all-powerful God knows we are but dust, He still stoops to breath into us the power of life – to bring to our wounds the balm of acceptance and love.” (Rich Mullins)

The gospel is that we who are dust, who feel the burden of our failings, can be healed, refined, made radiant.  It’s counter intuitive, but it is pure joy to undergo the grueling process of trials, because the end is so wonderful.

Still, the end product may not look like we think — us looking all sharp and well put together.  Instead, we become joyful beggars, exchanging our dross for riches with a loving savior who is happy to provide.

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich. Rev. 3:18

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed . . . Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  II Cor 4:8-9, 16-17

Good things come to those who persevere!  Feeling emotional at the baptism of my friend Lauren.

Good things come to those who persevere! Feeling emotional at the baptism of my friend Lauren.

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To Love is To Endure

Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.  And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.   Mark 13:13

How hard it is to endure!  We are disappointed, crushed by life’s woes, broken in heart by those we love.  Our friends fall away.  People let us down.   Things don’t go as we planned.  The world seems to fall apart.

Yet Jesus calls us to endure.

How do we do this?  Sure, it’s easy to have it as a lofty goal.  We’re all inspired by stories of the those who persevere in spite of great hardship to the very end.

crossing finish line

But then we find out that it’s a lot harder in practice than it is in concept.

endure

What makes it so difficult?  I want to suggest that it’s not just the trials, it’s our mindset during the trials that makes us lose heart.

Look at this parallel passage in Matthew 24:12, “Because lawlessness will multiply, the love of many will grow cold. And the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

Let’s break down this verse.

First of all, what is lawlessness?  The Greek word here is anomía (from A “not” and nómos, “law”).  In other words, without law.  It describes people who don’t want to follow God or His precepts.  Instead, they want to do things their way.

Or maybe I should say it describes us when we do what we want instead of what God wants. “All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own.” (Isaiah 53:6)  

And then, what kind of love are we talking about here?  The Greek word is agape, which means a committed, sacrificial, unconditional love.  Agape is the way God loves us.  He is righteous.  He is faithful to us no matter what.   He is the one who proclaimed, “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”   (Isa 46:4)

So, looking at Matthew 24:12 again, it’s saying people will have an increasingly prideful and independent mindset.  And this will cause them to lose the passionate unconditional love for God they once had.  If they don’t feel like it, they won’t obey Him.   They will no longer commit themselves to Him on His terms.

It does seem like this is especially true today.  With the Internet, it’s such a temptation to think we’re well informed, and thus we know the best way to look at things.   As we read and cultivate opinions, we define ourselves in sharp lines, and we are sure we know how the world should go.

pride

Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them.  Prov. 26:12

The trouble with this is that we start thinking that God has to fit into the construct of our own personal world view.  And thus if some part of following Him doesn’t fit with our paradigm, or make sense to us, it seems very reasonable and rational that we not do it.

We start to drift away in small ways, both in practice and attitude.

And then the trials hit, and we flounder.  We know we should keep on, but we’ve taken God with a grain of salt.  We’ve lessened our commitment to him.  It’s easy to be tempted to give up.

In addition, we can feel stuck, because we’ve required God to make sense to us, and what we’re going through doesn’t make sense. We don’t know how to move forward.

stuck2

How sad if feels to be in this place where our heart isn’t what it once was!

So it’s vitally important that we maintain our passion for God.  It is our wellspring, our source. 

spring

Above everything else guard your heart, because from it flow the springs of life.  Prov 4:23

Here is what I’ve learned: No matter what happens, it’s me and God.  That relationship is my sweetest delight.   Regardless of what is going on with my loved ones, or my church, or my life, I have God.  I have His love, like a hidden treasure.  It is enough.

And I want that for all of us!  Let’s fight for it!!  Here’s a battle plan:

Let’s REMEMBER WE ARE LOVED with agape love.  Because HE set an example of loving us no matter what, we can press on to show our love for Him.  “For Christ’s love compels us…” ( II Cor 5:14)  “We love because he first loved us.”  (I John 4:19)

Let’s COMMIT AND GRIT our way through.  Like marriage, love for God is for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health.  It is a promise to continue in ANY circumstance.   Like I Corinthians 13 says, “love always perseveres. Love never fails.”  We have to set our face forward with teeth clenched determination that we’re going to follow God and do the right thing no matter what.  “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.”  (John 14;23)

Let’s TRUST.  We need to live our life on our knees, admitting in humble acknowledgment that He knows better than we do, and that He loves us and wants what is best for us.  “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.”  Prov 3:5

Let’s REALIZE HE IS WALKING WITH US.  When my mother died, there was nothing that could take away my pain.  But it meant the world to me that my friends came and supported me through the pain.  It’s the same way with God.  He sometimes doesn’t take away the pain, but He does He walks with us through the it.  “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”  Ps 23:4

Let’s HOPE.   It is infinitely helpful to know that our efforts are not futile, that they WILL bear fruit.   “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”  (I Cor. 15:58)  “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”  (Gal 6:9)

Jesus wanted his disciples to know very clearly that trials would come.  And he called them to endure through the trials, to the very end.  He would not have said this if it wasn’t possible.

Satan’s goal is to keep this from happening. And he’s got some pretty heavy artillery.  Jesus mentioned some gruesome trials — being betrayed by family, being put to death.

But even with all of that, Satan’s greatest weapon is to attack our minds and hearts.

He wants us to dilute our love for God, little by little, with love for self.

He wants us to distract us from drinking deep from the well of God, so we feel like we’ve run dry, and get weary and tired.

He wants us to feel like our challenges are bigger than they are.

barking dog

But Satan is often all bark.  Satan just stirs up our fears and uses them against us.

“he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”  I John 4:4

Let’s fight for our hearts!  Let’s hang on, even if it’s by our fingertips!

hang-in-there

The one thing Satan doesn’t want is for us to keep on going.  It doesn’t have to be pretty, but as long as we don’t give up, we’re in the battle.

And look what is in store for us!

  • To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations  Rev 2:26
  • To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.  Rev. 2:7
  • ‘He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne  Rev. 3:21
  • He that overcomes shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. Rev. 21:7

To love is to endure.  We can do it.  It is worth it.

 

 

 

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The Jesus We Need to Make It Through

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”

Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you.  Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many.”    Mark 13:306

As I read this, it really hit me that people need to see the REAL Jesus, not a deceptive one.  And I began to realize I haven’t always been reflecting the real Jesus to my friends.

Because I want to make Jesus easy for my friends.

When my friends are having a hard time, I want to empathize with them, and tell them it’s okay. I don’t want to be seen as self-righteous or closed minded by telling them they have to do the right thing no matter how difficult it is.

self-righteous-610x250

After all, I haven’t walked a mile in their footsteps, I don’t know what they’re going through.  Would I be able to do better if I were in their shoes?

So I’m soft and I let them settle.

softie

And I don’t think that’s necessarily wrong.  I really don’t have the wisdom to understand what they’re going through, or what their journey should look like.

The thing is, though, that I may be withholding from them the thing that could help them most – the real Jesus.  Yes, I tell them about the Jesus who is loving and compassionate, and this is vital.  Without these qualities in Jesus, we could never make it.  We need his understanding and loving mercies so desperately.

But we also need the hard-nosed Jesus.  We need the Jesus who set his face towards Jerusalem and gutted it through to his death.  We need the Jesus who pushed through in the garden and kept praying until he had the heart to do the right thing.  We need the Jesus who willingly took the way of suffering.

Because we’re all going to suffer, and if our only goal is to end that suffering, we’re going to miss the point.  It’s in pushing through the suffering that we are able to grow, overcome and be our best.  If we just settle for where we are because it’s too hard and painful try to do better, we’ll never become the best version of ourselves.  We cheat ourselves of the joy of victory, the joy of being our best selves.

I’ve got to reflect the beneficent Jesus, but I also have to call people to follow the Jesus who never did what he wanted, but always sought to please the Father (John 8:29), the Jesus whose sweat was like drops of blood as he prayed to be able to do the right thing, (Luke 22:44) the Jesus who gave his ALL.

Unless I show my friends this Jesus, and call them to imitate him, I am leaving out the one thing that can help them through their trials: the Jesus who found a way to be righteous when it was hard. THIS is their lifeline! Because there IS a way through. There’s a better place ahead, if they’ll just keep fighting.

If you read the whole chapter of Mark 13, you see that Jesus was sending a clear message to his listeners:  struggles and hard times were coming.  This is a message people have never wanted to hear.

Case in point, we all love Jeremiah 29:11, and how God has plans to give us a hope and a future. But right before that in 29:8 He said, “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have.”

The Israelites were going to have to go through seventy years of captivity before they got to the place where God was going to bless them.  And they didn’t want to hear about that.  They wanted to listen to false prophets who would tell them it wasn’t going to happen.

We all gather around us teachers who will tell us what our itching ears want to hear (II Tim 4:3), that we’re going to be free from struggles.

itching ears

Is this how the early disciples encouraged one another? By telling them that life doesn’t have to be hard?

Acts 14 says of Paul and Barnabas, “Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,they said.

Paul and Barnabas built up the churches by telling them that they would be in for a hard time.

What was the real Jesus Paul preached? Here is a part of his sermon in Acts 13:

Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have (Jesus) executed. When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people. Acts 13:28-31

Paul preached the Jesus who suffered, died and came back to life.

THIS is the Jesus we imitate in our lives, and encourage our friends to imitate.  We get beaten down by life, but we rise again!  We live out the gospel over, and over again, as we go through hardships.

Let’s not be deceived, like the writer of Ps 73 almost was:

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.

We can’t think the be all and end all is the cessation of struggles.  But we can have the mindset, and help others to have the mindset, that there WILL be challenges and we CAN get through them, just as Christ did.

Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Romans 8:17

For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. II Cor 1:5

So going back to the beginning, maybe instead of being self righteous and telling my friends to do the right thing no matter how tough it is, or being soft and letting them settle, I should tell them that I’ll cheer for them and be with them every step of the way as they fight through!

It’s just like the illustration we had Sunday in our lesson.  Mitchell, who was preaching, had someone from the audience, Nate, go up front and do push ups.

nate pushups

Nate thought he could only do 40 push ups, but when he had people cheering him on, he did 73!  Check out the following link below if you want to see it in action: Video

WE CAN DO IT, with encouragement from one another, and the real Jesus is our inspiration!  He gave his ALL!  And as we strive to give our all, we will realize more and more the abundant life God intends for us to have.

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Five Ways to Build to Last

As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”  Mark 13:1-2

This is pretty amazing, when you think about it.  Jesus knew what is going to happen in the future.  The temple would be destroyed.

And this actually happened, in 70 AD.  There was a Jewish uprising, and Rome came down on the Jews in Jerusalem hard, with four legions.  There was a terrible siege, where the Jewish people starved, and finally the whole city was razed.

The destruction of Jerusalem

The destruction of Jerusalem

Josephus wrote, “Men and women, old and young, insurgents and priests, those who fought and those who entreated mercy, were hewn down in indiscriminate carnage.  The legionaries had to clamber over heaps of dead to carry on the work of extermination. . . [Jerusalem] was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited.  . . those places which were adorned with trees and pleasant gardens, were now become desolate country every way.”

Stones from the Western Wall of the Temple

Stones from the Western Wall of the Temple

This was the fate of the city, and the temple the Jewish people put their hope in.  It was the end of a way of worship for them.  To this day, Jewish people no longer worship at a temple, but in synagogues.

And this was only one of the trials Jesus foretold in Mark 13.  He said there would be false prophets, wars, and earthquakes.  Disciples would be arrested and tortured, even put to death, for their faith.  They would be betrayed by their own family members.

What was Jesus really getting at here?  He was telling them to be careful what they put their faith in.

And he was telling them that trials WOULD come.  All the things they thought were solid would be shown to be sifting sand.  All of the safety they felt would become turmoil.  They couldn’t depend on their government, their religious traditions, their loved ones.  Even the very ground would be unreliable.

Thus, it was true then, and it is true now, that it is vital to invest in things that LAST, that cannot be shaken.  Even though it feels solid, our world is no more stable than the world was then.  Tragedy can strike at any moment.  Trials WILL come.  Change will happen.

The storms of life can knock us off our feet.

The storms of life can knock us off our feet.

Our objective, then, should be to build our lives on things that really are solid.  What does this look like practically?  Here are some things I do that help me most to have stability for the long term.

  1. Seek God’s will.  Start your day by asking yourself, “Am I doing what I want, or what God wants?”  Ask God, “What do you want for me to do today?  Please put on my heart what is most important.”  SO many times God has answered this prayer for me.  I feel so strongly that one of the best Christian principles is, “whoever loses their life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:24) The more we do things God’s way instead of our own way, the more effective our life becomes.
  2. Seek wisdomLearn God’s word.  “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”  Isa 40:8.  The Word is an instruction manual that helps us build our lives in the right way, so we’re not wasting our time.  Any time invested in reading the Bible, memorizing scriptures, is worth it.  But remember, wisdom is not just intellectual knowledge.  It is knowing how to act.  In the parable of the wise man who builds his house upon the rock, his stability comes because he hears Jesus’ words and puts them into practice.
  3. Invest in your relationship with God.  When things fall apart, this is all you will have left, and if you don’t feel like you’re close to God, you’ll flounder.  Closeness with God is something you have to foster and maintain.  Satan constantly tries to separate us from God with things that consume our time and things that consume our thoughts.  Carve out time to really talk to God.  Get on your knees and bare your soul to Him.  Quiet yourself and listen to Him.  Walk with Him through your day.  Picture Him smiling as you serve Him.  Remind yourself over and over that God is what really matters.
  4. Remember that Christ died for you, personally.  No matter what happens, you have this.  Nothing can take it away.  God thinks you are so important that He gave his son for you.  Jesus thinks you are worth dying for.  He went through everything to rescue you, personally.  This really is something you can hold onto when everything else in life lets you down.   “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”  II Cor 4:7-10
  5. Rely on faith, not feelings.  We can’t go up and down, depending on what our circumstances are.  One week we’re doing well as Christians because things are peachy.  The next week, everything falls apart, and we feel weak.  We have to remember that God is still the same.  He is our anchor.  We have to believe that He is a Father whose heart yearns to give us good things, because He’s so fired up for us.  Keep believing that better times are coming!  Don’t buy into Satan’s lies that everything is going downhill.  God got us through the last rough patch, and did amazing things, and He will get us through again, and give us even more!  “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”  I Peter 5:10

I am writing all of this out of personal need this week.  My life feels out of wack.  My children are going through some significant challenges and changes.  My ears are so stopped up I’m out of it.  Inexplicable bad moods plague me.

It feels like the rug’s been pulled out from under me.  And it reminds me of how much harder it is to be yourself when things aren’t going as they usually do.

So I keep going back to the basics, losing myself in the comfort of my relationship with God, setting my face forward and believing over and over again that God knows the way through.

Let’s build to LAST!  Let’s put God, and Jesus, at the center of every thing we do.  It is the only effective way to live.

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ.  Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw.  But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done.  I Cor 3:11-13

"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.

Let us live with thankfulness, because we have more than the temple of the old covenant, a temple that could be toppled.    We have SOLIDITY, if we will only build on that, and not on self.  And then when things get shaky, we find His grace is sufficient, and we can hang on, if only for a moment, and then the next, because we KNOW we have something dependable to hold onto.

kingdom not shaken

And here is the really cool thing.  When we are still standing, in spite of the storms howling around us, we show the whole world that God is real and powerful.  Nothing else can make such an impact.  Our faith is real.  Christianity works!

Let me quote II Cor. 4 again, starting with the beginning of the passage:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

 

 

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