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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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I read that yesterday marked 33 years to the day that Pete Rose joined Ty Cobb as the only players in MLB history with 4000 hits.  A Facebook friend of mine posted this fact and his opinion that Rose deserved to be in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.

Rose, as you may know, was banned from MLB baseball and from its Hall of Fame for life because he gambled on MLB baseball games as a player/manager.  My friend insisted that this was irrelevant to his accomplishments on the field.  He also felt Rose had not gambled on baseball games as a player.

I began to respond to this post with the following, “Whether he was a player or not when he gambled on games (Rose was definitely a manager at the time of his gambling) is irrelevant.  Rose knew what was right/wrong, and he knew the consequences.  He nevertheless chose to do what was wrong — not once, but repeatedly.  He deserves his punishment and should NEVER be allowed in the Hall of Fame.”

I finished typing and my finger hovered over the “submit” button.  But I couldn’t send my scathing message.  Why?  Because I realized I was indicting myself — and in a much more important sphere — the sphere of life and my relationship with God Himself.

How many times have I done what I knew to be wrong?  Knowing the consequences, I did it anyway.  How many times have I lost my temper and lashed out at others — even those I claim to love?  How many times have I taken the selfish action, knowing it would bring pain to others?  How many times have I failed to take action that I knew would bring comfort to, ease loneliness of, soothe suffering to others?

I know there is a God.  Creation itself testifies to this.  I know that in doing wrong, there are present and eternal consequences for knowingly sinning (doing wrong) against others and therefore against Him.  And yet, I did the wrong things anyway.  I certainly don’t deserve His love nor to be in any “Hall of Fame” He may have (heaven and right relationship with Him).

As the United Airlines firestorm continues, Dr. David Dykes (longtime pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas) shared this: Regarding the man pulled from the flight, my first thought was, “When they were dragging this bleeding man off the plane, why didn’t someone stand up and say, ‘Let him go. I’ll take his place. Take me instead’?”

“I suppose all the passengers were shocked and stunned into silence. I’m just glad that 2,000 years ago when I should have been the one rejected and bloodied, Jesus stepped forward and said, ‘Let him go. I’ll take his place. Take me instead!’ “

Today is Good Friday.  On this very day, some 2000 years ago, Jesus took my place.  He took my place at enormous cost and enabled me to receive what I didn’t deserve.  To receive what my actions dictated I should NEVER have:  right relationship with God now and forevermore more, and abundant & eternal life.

“What must I do to be saved?” asked a man in Scripture after Jesus’ death.  The answer?  “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”

On this Good Friday, I remember what Jesus did for me — and for Pete Rose and for you.  And I believe in the Lord Jesus.  And I am grateful (an inadequate word) that Jesus took my place.  May my life going forward reflect this gratitude by reflecting Him.

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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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You will seek Me and fine Me when you search for Me with all your heart.
— Jeremiah 29:13 (NASB, italics/underline mine)

My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding— indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.
— Proverbs 2:1-5 (NIV, italics/underline mine)

If you find God with great ease, perhaps it is not God you have found.
— Thomas Merton

An impersonal God, well and good. A subjective God … inside our own heads, better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap, best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, … that is quite another matter. … There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (“Man’s search for God!”) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to THAT! Worse still, supposing He had found us?
— C.S. Lewis in “Miracles”

And yet, as Philip Yancey points out, the only thing more difficult than having a relationship with an invisible God is having no such relationship.

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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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(Note: this post was originally published Christmas Eve, 2015.  It has been updated and republished for 2016)

Today, 77 years ago, my Dad was born (that’s him in the picture above when he was a teenager/young man).  Sadly, he did not see his 55th birthday, abruptly and unexpectedly taken from us as the result of a heart attack.  This grievous and dreadful event capped an approximately 18-month period when a dear uncle, my precious grandmother and my respected father were all seemingly snatched from our lives.

In the last 6 months, I’ve watched as both my Mom and another uncle (who married my wife and me) have had their bodies ravaged by Parkinson’s disease and their minds ravaged by age and its accompanying ills.

Both of these periods have resulted in wounded hearts, fractured faith and voids in my life.

Growing up, Christmas always represented a time of hope for me.  Year after year, I would ponder and reflect that God showed He is faithful to His promises and to us in the sending of His Son, Immanuel, God with us.  Year after year, I anticipated that life would become more and more fulfilling; that my calling and purpose would be revealed and, with sincere effort, fulfilled; that my loved ones would find and grow in Christ and God the Father.

But as I’ve grown older and witnessed & shared in the pain of dear friends losing children during pregnancy or childbirth; of the unexpected and unexplained loss of family; of the shattering impact of divorce of seemingly rock-solid couples; of the numbing, toxic and eroding effect of “post-modern/post-truth” culture on the young (including my own children); of the life-changing/world-shrinking effects of Parkinson’s and other diseases; of the immense struggle to adapt to the results of stroke, Alzheimer’s, Lupus, aging – I’ve struggled more and more with belief.  Hope has often seemed a light disappearing from view as I travel farther down “the race set before me.”  And I battle feeling as if my life has been invalidated as the institutions I’ve counted on seem to have declared my accomplishments as inconsequential; my beliefs as ignorant, my faith as unprofitable and counterproductive.  Immanuel?  God with us?  Sometimes, I confess, I have misgivings as to whether that is true…..

But I’m continually brought up by the fact that the evils of this world do not contradict God nor His Son. “In this world you will have trouble,” He told us.  Trouble of my own making and trouble resulting from a world increasingly spurning God and His Son.  We are described as imbued with the dignity of God and yet infected with death, fear and self-defeating tendencies.   “But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  It was into this world that He came.  For you.  For me.

I continue to be rescued by this Immanuel, God with Us.  This God who did not consider equality with God as something to be held onto and used to His own advantage.  Rather, He emptied Himself and became human.  He experienced what we experience – he experienced our reality.  And, in order to save us, He became obedient unto death.

The Christmas hope (Immanuel) is a future hope – for a place where the kingdom of God is actually and fully realized.  Where creation, now broken, will be made anew.  Where the losses, the wounds and the voids will be redeemed, healed and closed.

The Christmas hope (Immanuel) is also a present hope – those who seek God, who come to God through His Son, will be sustained through present sufferings and will know peace and purpose in this life.

So, for grieving widows, abuse survivors, those suffering illness, disease, depression, doubt and fear.

For those who have made bad choices and despair of repairing what has been broken as a result.

For those who have or are experiencing heartbreaking and confusing loss.

For those who were not loved and have a hard layer to try to deaden the pain and insulate from any more pain.

For the widows alone, unable to sleep at night, remembering nights past and the laughter of family filling the house.

For the parents who feel overwhelmed and wonder how to build a family.

For those who feel insignificant …. lost …. alone.

For those who are weary and ready to give up.

For those who worry that the hour is too late for them to return.

This night, and the birth of this Child so long ago is meant to bring the hope of salvation.

He came to bring light to the world.

He is the gift.

May this gift bring you the hope of the realization that you are loved.  The hope that a way to God has been made for you.  That abundant life and abundant living can be found even here and even now.

Merry Christmas.

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