Momentary, Light Affliction

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So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:18 (NLT)

The Apostle Paul certainly knew about suffering. He had been beaten, stoned, imprisoned, shipwrecked and starved. He had friends abandon him and spent the last years of his life on a perpetual journey and finally in prison. He knew trouble’s first and middle name.

When people are sick or taking care of sick people – they can get absorbed in the situation. Surely this is a survival mechanism that helps people in crisis make it from day to day. But Paul reminds us that despite the urgent crisis that inevitably hits, there is so much more to center our souls upon. There are things that will last forever, things to come that we will be a part of and will be a part of us. How are you doing at “fixing your gaze” on what really matters?

Preliminary to any self-determined act of behavior there is always a stage of examination and deliberation which we may call the definition of the situation. And actually not only concrete acts are dependent on the definition of the situation, but gradually a whole life-policy and the personality of the individual himself follow from a series of such definitions. – W.I. Thomas

How are you defining your situation? Is the suffering you are experiencing the whole ball of wax? Is there more to your life, to your suffering, than just right now? Do you need to get some people around you who will help remind you of what’s going away and what’s lasting forever?

Remember, every single day of your life, there are people that cross your path who are suffering in their own private ways. What can you do to be a lighthouse, a little bit of salt, a reminder to look up and watch what you believe?

“If I paint a wild horse, you might not see the horse… but surely you will see the wildness!”
― Pablo Picasso

Homesickness

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For here we do not have a lasting city,
but we are seeking the city which is to come. – Hebrews 13:14 (NASB)

Sometimes our suffering is made worse because we are too attached to this world. The poet Wordsworth wrote “this world is too much with us…” He was in anguish about civilization all around that had created such a deep chasm between mankind and the natural world.

The ditch that that I typically fall into when suffering arrives is the one between my earthly and heavenly perspectives. It even now seems to plague my travel through these recent days. I fall into it and my eyes are averted, panic and worry set in, I quickly forget to keep my sights set on what is eternal.

There’s always going to be something here and now that will distract us from our eternal beliefs. Then when suffering arrives, our attachments are made even more urgent. They seem to weigh us down and keep our sight too short.

  • Our health and freedom
  • The mortgage and our debt
  • Family and friendships
  • That all important career
  • The future of our children
  • Those big plans for retirement

When we suffer (or someone close to us suffers) we face an existential fork in the road. We can run down the path of panic and fear – filling our pockets with worry about the here and now as if it was all that really mattered. Or, we can take the path that leads us toward that vast horizon of eternity. Things that only mattered, now seem to matter just enough, only after drawing near to God.

“We lead our lives so poorly because we arrive in the present always unprepared, incapable, and too distracted for everything.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters on Life

When we spend so much of our life worrying we haven’t anything left to spend on seeking what will matter forever. When suffering raises it’s ugly snout, our worries multiply through the roof. Fear drives us into the dark woods and we lose sight of home.

I DON’T WANT TO GET ADJUSTED

In this world we have our trials
sometimes lonesome, sometimes blue
but the hope of life eternal
Makes all old hopes brand new

And I don’t want to get adjusted to this world, to this world
I’ve got a home so much better
and I’m gonna go there sooner or later
And I don’t want to get adjusted to this world, to this world

Lord, I’m growing old and weary
and there’s no place that feels like home
Saviour come, my soul to ferry
to where I never more will roam

And I don’t want to get adjusted to this world, to this world
I’ve got a home so much better
and I’m gonna go there sooner or later
And I don’t want to get adjusted to this world, to this world

Iris Dement

Jesus’ parting words to his disciples… Don’t get lost in despair; believe in God, and keep on believing in Me. My Father’s home is designed to accommodate all of you. If there were not room for everyone, I would have told you that. I am going to make arrangements for your arrival.  I will be there to greet you personally and welcome you home, where we will be together. 

– John 14:1-3  (The Voice)

Seeing is Believing

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“I began to understand that suffering and disappointments and melancholy are there not to vex us or cheapen us or deprive us of our dignity but to mature and transfigure us.” ― Hermann Hesse

When we suffer it gives us a chance to demonstrate our faith in Christ to everyone around us. Through all the pain, disappointment and fear…we have a chance to let other people see what faith in Christ looks like. This ship of faith can indeed ride out the storms of life. When we demonstrate Christ we are living out these truths:

  • a belief in an eternal future
  • the Holy Spirit bearing fruit
  • our obedience to God’s daily call to surrender

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 2:21

  1. No one is immune to suffering, not even Christ
  2. When we suffer we have an opportunity to follow the example of Christ, a life of obedience to God’s call
  3. An essential part of living the Christian life is demonstrating Christ to the world around us when we experience suffering

“God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever.”  ― Vance Havner

Suffering always presents us with a choice. An offering or a hard poison. Something we can cling to and let it darken our soul with bitterness or something we lay at the feet of our Father in Heaven, turn it loose, and let Him work and redeem brokenness and make wholeness again.

We carry the death of Jesus in our own bodies so that the life of Jesus can also be seen in our bodies. – 2 Corinthians 4:10 (CEV)

 

Through Every Dark Night

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“We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.”
― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

I’ve been thinking about suffering these days.

There are different kinds of suffering. I just read one pastor who cataloged 14 different kinds of suffering he found in the Bible. That’s a lot of heartache. It’s impossible to divorce the Christian life from suffering. It’s almost impossible to find someone in the Bible who didn’t experience suffering. Suffering has always been a part of the life of faith. I suspect it always will be.

We can experience misery as the result of consequences, such as bad behavior or selfishness.

  • When people have to go to prison for breaking the law
  • A student fails a class because he stopped attending or didn’t hand in assignments
  • A family falls apart because neither spouse will give in

But the kind of suffering I have been thinking about is the kind that happens to people out of the blue, when someone experiences terrible harm for no reason at all other than because they live here on earth with others.

  • A drunk driver kills a family in another car
  • A child is diagnosed with an incurable cancer
  • The economy shifts and your father loses his job all of a sudden
  • An innocent victim is sexually assaulted

It doesn’t seem like the same degree of suffering if its somehow deserved. There’s got to be a different word. To me, what makes it real suffering is that the people who live the experience have done absolutely nothing to deserve it. Horror and pain sometimes fall without reason on innocent people. That’s suffering.

 “The righteous person faces many troubles, but the Lord comes to the rescue each time.”
– Psalm 34:19

There is no immunity from trouble, from suffering. Even people who are living right, end up suffering. How will God come to the rescue? So often, it’s not the way we planned or fast enough. But He is near to the brokenhearted. When we walk through the valley of shadows He provides visible comfort. His Holy Spirit has been sent to walk with us so that we will never be alone, never be afraid, never feel abandoned. Through every dark night there waits a sunrise.

“The Lord has turned all our sunsets into sunrise” – Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD)

 

 

In All Circumstances

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.
– I Thessalonians 5:18

No matter what happens to you, God’s desire is for you to search for the truth, for everything and anything that deserves thanks. When we belong to Christ, we live a different kind of life. We live a redeemed life that can see beyond the horizon and into a future of hope and promise. This shapes our perspective. It enables us to see much more than immediate threats and lonely burdens. When we belong to Christ we know that we are never alone and that the here and now lasts but a moment.

“Life without thankfulness is devoid of love and passion. Hope without thankfulness is lacking in fine perception. Faith without thankfulness lacks strength and fortitude. Every virtue divorced from thankfulness is maimed and limps along the spiritual road.”
― John Henry Jowett

It’s easy to say thanks for all the obvious blessings. Now, spend a season of time finding a way to give thanks for the trials, deserts and mean people that have come into your life. Don’t do what comes natural. Do what comes because you are living a supernatural life!

“…love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you.” – Matthew 5:44

“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20

The message of Paul to the Thessalonians isn’t to look for the good things in your life and say thanks. That’s easy. Even pagans can pull that off. Paul is teaching that there is a blessing to be found in every page of your story. Search for the work of God throughout your life. The lesson here is to begin and never stop the practice of speaking thanksgiving every single day.

“The unthankful heart discovers no mercies; but the thankful heart will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings.” ― Henry Ward Beecher

Looking The Other Way Around

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“The truth of the matter is that the whole world has already been turned upside down by the work of Jesus Christ” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

A friend from college in the midst of a medical crisis passed away this week, not so much unexpectedly, but all of a sudden. As I looked back at photos from when we were together at college, it seemed as if a thousand years had passed. And yet, it was just a moment ago when we were having so much fun and dreaming about a hopeful future.

In the eternal scheme of things, as a lyric goes from one of my favorite singers, “…you and I will simply disappear, out of sight.”  

  • Time passes us by so quickly
  • So much that we worry our lives with, doesn’t really matter
  • Perspective and context are essential to keep ourselves on track – heading in a meaningful direction (instead of lost in the woods, cussing too much)

Death sometimes comes too fast.  To some who are too young.  It catches us off guard. Things seem out of order. I posted to friends a passage from the Gospel of John as I thought about sudden departures for heaven. It’s a familiar passage, when Jesus is telling his disciples (and us) to not be afraid, there are bigger and better things waiting in eternity.

Don’t get lost in despair; believe in God, and keep on believing in Me. My Father’s home is designed to accommodate all of you. If there were not room for everyone, I would have told you that. I am going to make arrangements for your arrival.  I will be there to greet you personally and welcome you home, where we will be together. – John 14:1-3 (The Voice)

The translation grabbed my attention.  The reason that despair (and fear and worry and anxiety and anger and frustration and calamity and uncertainty and…) can be conquered isn’t because Jesus has a magic lamp to rub and wishes come true. The reason that all of these trials of the heart and mind can be defeated is because, in perspective, they don’t matter as much as we think they do in the moment.

Our forever future has already been established. Here and now with all of the accompanying troubles, pales in comparison to the overwhelming eternity that awaits – where Jesus himself is waiting. This is the true context in which we ought to walk our steps on earth. Always on the march toward a heavenly home. One that won’t ever need a fixing up!

Last year, my Sunday School class shared the story in Acts 12 of Peter’s rescue from prison by an angelic messenger. We couldn’t help but notice the first verses of that chapter that quickly described the execution of Jesus’ brother James in the same jail. This great mystery puzzles me still. Sometimes God sends an angel to the rescue, and other times there’s an execution awaiting.

But the way I have been thinking about that story and telling it is backwards. Probably lots of things I think about are that way, what about you? We are now living on the Titanic and we know it’s going down. We are awaiting transport to safety to be secure forever.

The sad news in Acts 12 isn’t that James was left in jail to be executed. With a Christian orientation to our mindset, when we read this account, we ought to be heartbroken that poor Peter had to stay on board a little while longer and wasn’t taken to safety as quickly as his fellow disciple James.

Paul had this perspective when he wrote…

“For my life is about the Anointed and Him alone. And my death, when that comes, will mean great gain for me. – Philippians 1:21 (The Voice)

There is so much about my perspective that needs constant reorientation because of the Good News. What about you? Do you need to use your faith today to remember the eternal context and reorient your heart and mind (and mouth) back toward that accurate perspective?

I showed this quick video to my class this week – it helps keep your thinking the right way around.

Did You See That?

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Can’t you buy a car now that will stop for you if you get too busy doing something else, other than driving? I think there are vehicles that will even warn you if you somehow wander out of your lane. Isn’t there a car that will parallel park itself? Of course we are all waiting for the “driver-less” cars that are being developed. Driving is fast becoming an activity to which we have to pay less and less attention. Great!

What are you paying attention to these days? Where are your worries taking you? What keeps you up at night?

  • We tend to pay attention to what’s urgent – what’s currently on fire!
  • We pay attention to what’s familiar to us
  • We also pay more attention to problems that we feel as if we can fix (or we want to fix)

When you feel overwhelmed – and it happens to everyone – think about what you are paying the most attention to during these times. Of course, when you’re involved in a car accident or just heard that your job has been phased out, that’s all you are supposed to think about in those moments. It’s natural and normal. But what about the context within which you frame these kinds of disasters or even the normal bad days?

“For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” – 2 Corinthians 4:18

  • Remind yourself that this time of trouble is not going to last forever – one day you will see it in your rear view mirror.
  • You are a child of God – he is going to care for you in his way.
  • Think about the messages your words and actions are sending to others about how confident you are about your true future.

We need to stop looking and start paying attention. What does it mean to pay attention to the context within which the Christian life is lived? Think about the works of God in your life that ARE going to last forever. Think about the transformation that the Holy Spirit is accomplishing in your life. The Fruit of the Spirit is nourishing both you and others eternally. Your real home is not here on earth but with Christ in heaven. God has never once left you alone as you traveled through those dark days. At a moments notice you are able to enter God’s presence with your prayers and know the peace that passes all understanding.

“For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long.” – 2 Corinthians 4:17

The ways that we go about defining situations is a powerful process for determining what we believe. You see it’s not always what’s true but what we believe is true that shapes how we go about living. Is the “here and now” so real to you that you can’t get past it and see the “forest”? Have you got things mixed up and are you defining your earthly circumstances with eternal weight? Start looking at the whole picture – frame your life within what you truly believe. There’s a larger story being played out and your life is a part of it. Even the terrible times.

“What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” – Matthew 10:29-31

Paul wrote to the Corinthian church and encouraged them to not get tripped up by their worries about current circumstances and to instead think about what was being born in their lives now and what was to come, what would last forever – life eternal. What seems so urgent and terrible, what can make us feel so powerless, is actually only for a moment.

“We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.” – 2 Corinthians 4:7

This power to stop staring at the immediate circumstances and instead take the long view and frame what’s happening by looking down the road, that ability is a gift that comes from within us. When we surrender and submit our fears, it is then that our gaze can be raised to see eternal hope spread before us like the bright lights of the dawn.

“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.” ― Og Mandino