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“When it is all over you will not regret having suffered; rather, you will regret having suffered so little, and suffered that little so badly.”  — St. Sebastian Valfre

“If God sends you many sufferings, it is a sign that He has great plans for you…” — St Ignatius Loyola

I read recently from Jeff Smead about a group of folks studying the book of Malachi.

As they were reading chapter three, they came across this in verse three: “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver….” (Malachi 3:3a)

They wondered what this statement meant about the character and the nature of God.

One from the group offered to look into the process of refining silver and report back to the group at their next Bible study.

That week she contacted a silversmith and made an appointment to meet with him and to watch him at work.

She did not mention anything about the reason for her interest in silver beyond her curiosity about the process of refining silver.

As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up.

He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire ….where the flames were the hottest ….. so as to burn away all the impurities.

The woman thought about God holding us in such a way over the fire …..then she thought again about the phrase, “He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver.”

She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined.

The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, …… but he also had to keep his eyes on the silver …….for the entire time it was in the fire.

If the silver was left even a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed.

The woman was silent for a moment.

Then she asked the silver smith, “How do you know when the silver is fully refined?”

He smiled at her. “Oh, that’s easy, he paused …. “when I see my image in it.”

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Like most people I know, I have no desire to suffer.  Also, like most people, I often think whatever is happening to me isn’t supposed to be happening to me — that is, I wonder why a “God of love” allows suffering.  It’s sometimes hard to trust God for a future outcome that redeems present suffering.

I came across this reminder from Dr. Jim Denison which I am considering and hope you find it helpful:  Let’s consider this statement by the Apostle Paul: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). Nearly every word of this remarkable sentence repays deeper investigation.

“Consider” translates a Greek word meaning “to study all the evidence and reach a verifiable conclusion.” “Suffering” is a term for all hardships, generic enough to include your challenges today. “This present time” uses a Greek word meaning not this hour or moment but this present age.

“Not worth comparing” is literally translated, “so meager as not to be worthy of comparison.” “Glory” translates doxa, a word from which we get “doxology.” It refers to splendor, majesty, the brilliance of God’s perfection. “Revealed” means “to pull back the curtain and display all that is on the other side.” “Us” shows that every Christian is a recipient of this astounding promise.

Taken together, these definitions render Paul’s promise thus: “I am absolutely certain on the basis of all the evidence that every kind of suffering in this era of human existence is not worthy of the slightest comparison to the splendors that will be revealed fully to each and every one of us.”

What’s your problem today? What suffering in “this present time” is testing your faith?

I am convinced that God redeems all he allows. However, his redemption does not always take place immediately. Joseph languished for years in Pharaoh’s prison before ascending to his palace. Stephen died without knowing his influence on Paul the Apostle (Acts 7:58). Much of God’s redemption of present suffering lies in future revelation.

But one day you will know what you do not know today: “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

In the meantime, know that the future reward of your present faithfulness far outweighs its cost. And remember that the world is watching your obedience. As the song says, “May all who come behind us find us faithful.”

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“In this world you will have trouble ….”
“The world would love you if you belonged to it…”
— the words of Jesus (John 16:33, John 15:19)

It can be hard to believe in ideals the world rejects. In such circumstances, how do we persevere in faith?

One: Remember what matters most.
It is tempting to value the material over the spiritual. But as Alfred Lord Tennyson so famously noted, “Nothing worth proving can be proven.” Paul succinctly described the Christian’s response to our visible world: “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). While we live in the present, it is hard to envision eternity. But one day soon, eternity will be all there is and we will be forever grateful that we chose faith.

Two: Refuse to quit.
Scripture promises: “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis has the chief tempter Screwtape advise his demonic understudy, “Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do [God’s] will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

“….but take courage, for I have overcome the world. And, lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”                                     — Jesus (John 16:33 & Matthew 28:20)

with acknowledgement to Dr Jim Denison for the words and thoughts of One and Two above.

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monkey-with-hand-trapped-in-bottle-grabbing-bannana-with-sign“we are tempted when we are dragged away by our own evil desire and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is brought to completion, it brings forth death.”   — James 1:14-15

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it to the full.”   — John 10:10

“…choose life…by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him…” — Deuteronomy 30:19b-20a

 

In Southern Mexico lies the Cueva de Villa Luz, or Cave of the Lighted House.  I’ve read that as you make your way to the cave you walk through a veritable paradise of tropical birds and lush rain forest. Underwater the cave is fed by 20 underground springs, beautiful watercourses which teem with tiny fish. The cave itself is home to spectacular rock formations and beautiful ponds. The environment is inviting. Yet accept the invitation and you’ll soon be dead. You see, the Cueva de Villa Luz is filled with poisonous gases.

Temptation is just like this. It presents itself to us as something inviting, attractive, lifegiving. Yet in reality it’s poisonous and toxic.

Now squarely in mid-life, I, like many others before me, am examining my life — in particular, what have I done, if anything, of lasting meaning — and what, if anything, can I do with the time remaining to me that will be of lasting meaning. In this lengthy (and still in-progress) exercise, I’ve had to admit the painful truth that, as Paul puts it in Ephesians 4, I’ve often given the devil a foothold, following the path that James outlines in his first chapter (and quoted above).

The result has been, indeed, death.  Death of dreams, death of opportunities, death of fulfilling my role fully as husband, father, and friend.  I reflect on moments in which my words and actions can only have negative impact they are modeled by others such as my children.  In the opportunities and ministries God has provided, I see responsibilities only partially fulfilled and effectiveness compromised.

All too often, I’m like the monkeys that are caught using candy or other sweets and a bottle. You see, old milk bottles are tied to the ground, and then something sweet is placed inside the bottle.  When a monkey comes along and sees the sweet he places his hand inside the bottle, but with the sweet enclosed in his palm his fist is too big to get back out the bottle. The  monkey will pull and push in an effort to get that sweet out, but he will not let it go, not even as his captors approach. And so the monkey is caught, literally with “his hand in the cookie jar”!

This represents perfectly the contradiction of temptation and integrity.  As Dr. Jim Denison notes, “temptation seems to benefit more than it costs at first, but its disastrous consequences always outweigh the reward. Integrity usually costs more than it benefits at first, but its positive consequences always outweigh the cost.”

Our enemy is always a “roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). He wants, as Jesus told us (also quoted above), only to steal from us, to destroy us. Thus, we can know that any offer of good from our desires which contradict God’s word to and design for us must lead to a greater harm.

Theologian Lyman Abbott noted that “every life is a march from innocence, through temptation, to virtue or vice.”  In my self-examination, I’m looking at where my march is headed.  It’s a question I urge you to consider as well.

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The Super Bowl is this Sunday, and it will feature the New England Patriots — a franchise that has had an extended run of greatness, unlike any in team sports over the past quarter-century.  The owner of the team is Robert Kraft – who took a losing team and made it a winning one.

“Winning football games has been more important to me than making money. Winning is what turns me on. Money is pretty good, but a shroud has no pockets.” – Robert Kraft
There is great wisdom here. No, not winning football games, but rather, the realization that you can’t take it with you — “a shroud has no pockets.” So, what turns you on?  Is it something that you can’t take with you — or is it something of eternal value.
“Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life…” – Jesus

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humility

As I continue my wilderness wanderings/life introspection in this midlife sabbatical the Lord is leading me on, my thoughts today have rested on humility.
 
What is humility? – a modest view of one’s own importance; a viewing of others as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3, NASB)
 
What others have said about humility:
 
“Humility is the solid foundation of all virtues.”  – Confucius 
“Those who travel the high road of humility will not be troubled by heavy traffic.” – Alan Simpson
 
“Humility is so light a grace that once you think you have attained it, you’ve lost it.” – Unknown
 
“… all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” – the apostle Peter (1 Peter 5:5b, NASB)
 
As God is working in and through my examination of myself, my past actions and motives, what I know at this point is I could use a healthy dose of humility.  Realizing and acknowledging this has been painful, but I’ve got a little idea it will radically impact my life, particularly in terms of discovering and developing deep, meaningful friendships and relationships with others in a variety of contextual communities.  And from a fulfillment, significance and legacy standpoint, one of life’s 3 greatest blessings and needs (along with health and purpose) is meaningful friendships and relationships.  
 

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Asphalt background

“When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter…..God led the people around by the way of the wilderness….”  Exodus 13:17-18

This Scripture tells us Israel was going from Point A (Egypt) to Point B (the edge of the Red Sea/Sea of Reeds).   Now, we all learned in geometry that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  And, generally, we all like to get where we’re going in the least amount of time/distance as possible.

What is true in travel, is true in life.  We make our plans and we think we know the best way to achieve them – the “straight line” to getting there.  But sometimes, God gives us a detour.  A life detour is an unexpected event that changes your life’s course.

The election of 2016 represents a detour for many in the country today.  For some, it is a devastating detour; for others, a detour pointing to promise and validation.  For most of us, regardless of who we voted for, the 2016 election is a detour we will be coming to terms with, and impacted by, for some time to come.

But God may be using this detour for good to get us to the right destination.  I suspect God could be at work bringing better unity to the church in this detour.  Better unity by using this detour to cause us to see differing, valid perspectives; to be transformed individually and as a whole as a result in order to bring about positive impact for eternity.  For our Point B is not “to make America great again,”  but to “seek and save the lost”.

Can we make a difference?  Does your life matter?  Absolutely.  If we are willing to take the way of Romans 12:2 and take Philippians 2:1-8 to heart, we will leave a lasting legacy and impact.

 

 

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Psalm 116:9 – “I shall walk before the Lord in the land of the living.”  (NASB)
Psalm 111:10 – “The good life begins in the [reverence] of God…” (The Message)
Psalm 90:12 – “Teach us to number our days…teach us to live wisely and well” (NASB and The Message)
How a man walks in life (how he lives) reveals his heart, his passion, his love.  Some live only in regards to the judgments and opinions of other people.  Others are concerned with living in light of the fact that abundant life, meaningful life, a life that leaves a lasting legacy for others is found in walking with God and in light of Him as our Creator.
An article I read a few years ago highlights this well.  From Dr. Jim Denison (with some slight editing):
A Tale of Two Armstrongs
Lance Armstrong is one of the most remarkable people of our generation.  Diagnosed with cancer at the age of 25 and given only a 40% chance of survival, he went on to win 7 Tour de France cycling titles.  But with them came accusations of cheating through doping (taking performance enhancing substances).  Recently, after years of fighting these accusations and proclaiming his innocence, he decided to stop fighting the allegations; in response, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency banned Armstrong from professional cycling for life and recommended ALL his Tour de France victories be vacated.
In spite of the many things he has done, and is doing, to raise money for cancer research, it’s hard not to be shocked at the way his amazing cycling career has ended.

Another Armstrong made the weekend news as well: Neil Armstrong died Aug 25 at the age of 82.  When he set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, he made the statement heard around the world: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”  The Apollo 11 moon mission was his last space flight.  He left NASA a year later to become a professor of engineering at the University of Cincinnati.
Armstrong refused all offers to use his fame for personal advancement.  Life magazine described his legacy well: he “was one of those rare, genuine heroes whose legend grew larger with passing years not because he nurtured the myths that attached to him as the first human to walk on the moon, but because he quietly, resolutely refused to play the role of the publicly lauded Great American.”  His humility was both genuine and remarkable.
One Armstrong finished well; the other may yet forge a great legacy but today lives in the shadow of scandal.  Their stories prove the truth of the old adage: it’s not where you begin the race that matters, but where you end.  The same is true for us.  Jacob stole his brother’s birthright; Moses killed a man and fled as a felon; David was a murdering adulterer; Peter three times denied knowing his Lord; Paul persecuted Christians to the death.  But try writing the story of human history and redemption without them.
Their common secret: they learned to define success by faithfulness.  Our culture defines it by fame and fortune, popularity and possessions, but God knows better.  If we live in light of the truth of God, confident of His calling on and purpose for us, abiding in Him and our identity in His Son … when our days are done we will say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).  Whose race are you running today?

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