Enduring Suffering

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I tend to avoid the book of Job even though at times I readily identify with his struggles and questions. While it seems few will experience the magnitude of loss that Job experienced, most of us have asked God why or questioned the Lord’s purposes in the midst of suffering and devastation.

I can’t understand why the Adversary is given so much leeway to bring destruction in the life of one of God’s dearly beloved children. Satan’s MO has always been to kill steal and destroy, yet he cannot act without God’s permission. He must stay within the limits God sets. The book of Job clearly reveals God’s sovereignty.

Although Job lost his 10 children and every possession, he never lost the favor of God. Job did not displease God. However, until the end of the book, God remains silent. Over the years, I have found my struggles are intensified when God hides his face and his voice isn’t heard.

After reading, I have so many questions and very few conclusions. I am still unsure how to help those who are hurting. However, here are a few observations many of which are based on what Job’s friends did wrong.

Wealth is not a protection from tragedy.

Avoid temptation to judge a person experiencing misfortune suggesting it was something they did.

When someone is suffering greatly, words may not penetrate the shroud of grief. Listening is far more valuable than advice or parroting platitudes.

In Job Chapter 1-2, God said that Job was blameless, upright, feared God, turned from evil and held fast to his integrity. In Chapters 7,9, and 10 Job experiences anguish of spirit, bitterness of soul, emptiness, futility, loathes his life and wishes he had never been born.  Having these feelings was the result of intense suffering not a lack of faith. Note to self: Don’t beat myself up if I have these feelings seemingly contrary to how the church portrays a victorious faith-filled believer.

God’s ways are so far above our comprehension that we cannot perceive all God is doing in the heavenly places.

Finally, in Chapter 38, God answered Job. Instead of explaining why all of this has happened, God questions Job. Was Job there when God laid the foundation of the earth? The Lord asks Job if he ever commanded the morning or does he know when a mountain goat gives birth? Can Job send forth lightning or has he entered the storehouses of snow? I counted 60! questions that the Lord asked Job, and Job did not have the wisdom or power to accomplish even one of the mighty feats of God.

God’s anger burned against Job’s friends because they had not spoken what was right about God. God, however, was not angry with Job’s questions in the midst of pain. The Lord wanted Job to acknowledge His unfathomable greatness. Job repented recognizing God’s ways were too wonderful for him to understand and no purpose of His can be thwarted. 

In the final chapter, God restored the fortunes of Job.  Whether here or in eternity, the Lord will restore everything the adversary or this fallen world has taken from us.

Even though my trials pale in comparison, I desire the faith that Job proclaimed in 13:15, “Even though He slay me, I will trust him.”  Similarly, I long for the result Job anticipated in 23:10, “When He has tried me, I will come out as gold.”  Until my faith becomes sight, my best response when questions overshadow what I understand is to Be Still and Know He is God.

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Title or Towel?

In a wonderfully God- orchestrated series of events, I visited New Community Church. The short version is that on the way home from a wedding, Mike and I stopped to eat at a restaurant where I left my credit card. When I finally tracked down the lost card, I noticed the restaurant was less than a mile from New Community Church.

The reason New Community Church is special to me is because exactly a year ago, our 2 friends took a leap of faith and left our church to plant this church. As a result of the stressful event of losing the card, God allowed me to see His grace at work in this new community of believers. Adding to my blessing and excitement, I learned New Community is planting another church.

The sermon series was a call to be ALL IN as we follow Jesus, The message asserted that radical followers of Jesus radically serve. Whoever would be great among you must be your servant -Mark 10:43. In the eyes of God, greatness is not designated by a title but by a towel.

Jesus has some pretty amazing titles – Son of God, Messiah, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, yet he performed the lowliest of tasks – washing feet. The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many -Mark 10:45.

Unfortunately, even churches seem to focus on titles and talent. (Small group leader, coach, worship team, director, coordinator- to name only a few). It’s easy to find our identity in those things but doing that may deter us from the greatness the Lord has for us in learning to serve with the love of Jesus not only our friends but the ones who will flee or betray.  

Lord, how can I serve more like you?

Here I am

Hineni. This Hebrew word is usually translated, “Here I am.” Abraham responded to God in this way as did Moses, Samuel and Isaiah long before the Lord began to accomplish mighty works through their lives.  Interestingly, we also find the widow in 1 Kings 17:12 uttering this phrase to Elijah when she brings her last bit of flour to the prophet with very little hope having enough to sustain her even until the next day. Here I am.

Hineni (hee-nay-nee) differs from po ani. The later also means I am here, but the former implies not only I am present, but I am listening, and I am willing to do whatever you reveal next. I will engage with everything I am.

On Thursday, the Jewish people celebrate Yom Kippur- which we translate “Day of Atonement” – the most holy day of their year. I learned when the rabbi prays at beginning of both the feasts, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah (the feast of Trumpets celebrated earlier this month), he utters the word “Hineni.

Hineni can be a response to our Lord’s calling to action or Hineni can be an invitation for Him to reveal of transgressions. Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my thoughts; and see if there is any hurtful way in me and lead me in the everlasting way. Psalm 139:23-24

When I come before the Lord, is it with an attitude of po ani or with the posture of hineni?

Here I am Lord. With everything I am, I am yours.

Lost in Church

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I was participating in a Zoom Bible study with people I had never met. One of the participants shockingly stated, “The church pews are one of the most fertile mission fields.”

A lot of people in church don’t actually know Jesus.

There are 2 ways to be lost. We can be lost in obvious rebellion from God, or we can be lost in our own self-righteousness thinking we are “good enough” and therefore not mindful of our desperate need of God’s mercy. Jesus made use of at least two parables which demonstrated this.

The first is of a Pharisee and a tax collector (Luke 18:9-14) which Jesus told to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous yet viewed others with contempt. When the Pharisee entered the temple to pray, he recounted his good deeds before God while the tax collector pleaded, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” Jesus tells his audience that the tax collector who humbled himself was right with God, not the one trusting that his position and good works made him acceptable to God.

Even more well known, is the parable of the prodigal son found in Luke 15:11-32. By requesting his inheritance and leaving home, the younger son clearly dishonored his father and wasted the blessings his father had bestowed upon him, but what about the older bother? He lived day after day in his father’s household, but he did not emulate the character of his father. Instead of feeling joy when his brother returned home, he was angry that the prodigal was being celebrated rather than chastised. He did not share his father’s generous heart. He too failed to treasure the blessings his father had generously bestowed on him believing he was worthy and deserving of his inheritance.

In the days of King Josiah, the priest, Hilkiah, found the Book of the Law hidden inside the house of God. This seems unimaginable that the words God had given Moses to record were somehow buried underneath other things and forgotten. Even so, I wonder if a similar circumstance has occurred today. The words of the Bible are buried underneath and crowded out by other sources of wisdom such as books written by spiritual men and women of our day, knowledge found in the theories of scientists, or the alarming circumstances broadcast by journalists.

Jesus gives us a stern warning in Matthew 7:21,24, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter…. everyone who hears my words and acts upon them may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.”

Our previous pastor often said, “You can miss heaven by 12 inches.” The distance between our head and our heart is about a foot. We may sit in church hearing truth and learning more, yet a true disciple daily puts the words of Jesus into practice and continually seeks to be molded into the character of our Heavenly Father.

3:16

For God so loved the world that He gave his only son that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life.

You have probably memorized the 16th verse of the 3rd chapter of John. Interestingly, there are many other significant 3:16 passages. Enjoy 😊

Luke 3:16 – John answered, “I baptize you with water, but He who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of who sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

1 Corinthians 3:16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you?

Ephesians 3:16-17 May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith – that you being rooted and grounded in love may have strength to comprehend with all the saints the depth and breadth and height of the love of Christ

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell in you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

2 Timothy 3:16 -17 All scripture is breathed by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Thessalonians 3:16 Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance. The Lord be with you all!

1 John 3:16 We know love by this, that He laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our life for our brethren.

Self-Talk

Do you not know your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not you own? You have been bought with a price: therefore, glorify God with your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

I wonder if this has happened to you too – you read God’s word and come away with an understanding until you are sharing thoughts with another believer and she has a completely different way of viewing it. Since the verses preceding the verse above warn against immorality, I recognized the warning that we are to guard ourselves (God’s temple) against immorality and impurity.

However, today the focus was from James – what does it mean to have a living faith? We discussed how our actions should be an overflow of what we believe. The conversation then evolved into how we use our tongues – James asks can salt water and fresh water come from the same source? Can blessing and cursing come from the same mouth?   This led to the topic of how do we mentally converse with ourselves? One of the participants shared the above verse explaining she believes when she judges herself /speaks to herself more critically than she would another person that she is not honoring God’s temple.

Previously I have written about the power of other’s words on me, yet I am guilty of using critical words on myself. If having a living faith means that sweet words and bitter words do not both flow from the same mouth, that means to live consistently with my faith I must change my words about myself.

Is it really such a big deal if I am harder on myself than anyone else? Am I glorifying God with my body if I rehash most every conversation wondering if this phrase could have unintentionally hurt someone or been misinterpreted?  Am I honoring my body as a temple of the Spirit if I allow my own thoughts to dissect everything I do or don’t do wondering how I could have done more or better? I try to attribute the best motives to others and give them the benefit of the doubt, but not so with myself.

No one knows what goes on in my thoughts except the Lord. But it is for Him I live, my audience of One. He challenged me to live by faith in every area of my life and since this is the place He cast the light of his truth, I ask him to transform my thinking so his living water becomes the source of my thoughts not the cesspool of fleshly thinking.

Knots & Tangles

I enjoy discovering tangible visible pictures which are able to point us to spiritual truth, so sometimes I worry I fill my blog with these too familiar analogies that have been heard over and over. The image to which I am referring, I first encountered in a book by Corrie ten Boom. She was sewing an intricate needlepoint design. When she worked, if she looked at the back, it was a bunch of knots and tangles that made no sense. When she turned it over, varied colored threads and stitching were interwoven to create a beautiful picture.

In this present life, we may only see the tangles and knots, but God knows how everything will appear once the tapestry of our life is turned over. The black grief and trials that crisscross and obscure our understanding of the here and now are merely the background of our eternal future where the gold thread of grace and the red thread of redemption triumph.

My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.

Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.

Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.

The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned

He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him. – Author Unknown

GODISNOWHERE

Many of us are muddling through these days feeling helpless, hopeless or as if life is out of control.  As we view our current circumstances, do we believe “God is nowhere” or are we able to perceive “God is now here”? What we feel depends on perspective. When I think God is distant, I lose hope. When I forget God is sovereign, things seem out of control.

Where is your hope? If I could sit with you, I would want you remind you that God is now here in this very moment. Sometimes our vision becomes cloudy, as if we have spiritual cataracts, and we require surgery from our Great Physician.  Unfortunately, this process of gaining spiritual sight is not as quick and uncomplicated as having a cataract removed from our physical eyes. The process may take an entire lifetime… until we see Jesus fact to face. If 20/20 spiritual vision is seeing people and circumstances with God’s perspective, we have a long way to go; however, as our vision becomes unclouded, our hope grows.

It may be hard to hold onto hope, but you can always hold on to Jesus. Even better, He is holding fast to you and nothing can snatch you from His hand.

May the God of HOPE fill you with all HOPE as you trust in Him Romans 15:13

41 Wolves

I came across a fascinating article about Yellowstone National Park.  In 1995, forty-one wolves were re-introduced into the environment. Within a few years, many changes occurred. More beavers populated the streams and rivers. The waters were clearer. Flowers that had not been seen in many years appeared. A small number influenced a whole population.

I find encouragement in considering this. Just a few of us can change the world. Unfortunately, this this is frequently evidenced as darkness, evil, and disease multiply in this world. But we are the light! Our pinpricks of light can and will influence the darkness. Our acts of love, kindness, faithfulness, and truth cascade into areas we cannot imagine.

In social work, it is called the systems theory. If one element of the system changes, the whole system is impacted. I encourage you to be a world changer! The Lord God told Joshua, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified because I, the Lord am with you!”  Displaying courage and strength in the Lord during challenging times becomes similar to the 41 wolves. A small number of faithful believers, fully trusting in the Lord changes everything.

Image result for google images wolf

https://www.yellowstonepark.com/things-to-do/wolf-reintroduction-changes-ecosystem

Redeeming the Time

Ephesians 5:15-16 Be careful how you walk not as unwise but as wise, making the most of your time because the days are evil. Don’t be foolish but understand what the will of the Lord is.

How are we able redeem the time? We have been given long quantities of time at home. What are we to do to wisely make the most of our opportunities? How can we invest in eternal things? How can we work within the limits imposed upon us?  What seeds can we plant that will bear fruit over the weeks or months or years?

We can be inspired by Paul’s attitude as expressed in Philippians; he realized that even though he was imprisoned the gospel was not. That truth remains. God is not limited, and His purposes will prevail. Instead of focusing on what I cannot do, I want to look for open doors.

How many times have I thought,” If only I had more time to pray and study God’s word”?  Now, I am gifted with the opportunity to delve more deeply into God’s word and draw near to Him. I can pray more intentionally for missionaries, persecuted believers, our spiritual and governmental leaders, and my brothers and sisters in the Lord.

I can worship our Everlasting God, our Creator and Redeemer. I can sing praises.  I can fix my eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith.

I am able to think on whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and of good repute. If there is anything excellent or worthy of praise, I can dwell on those things.

I can still write blogs and send texts or make calls to encourage others.

I have wanted more time for painting and to learn a language.

There are closets and garages to clean.

Now I can even take a nap.

We can ask the Lord to show us how to leverage this time for His glory. The answer will be unique for each one of us, but when we trust in the Lord and do not depend on our own understanding, God will guide us in all our ways.