Pain and Purpose; Trials and Triumph; Helplessness and Hope

The homeless man with the sign: “hungry – anything helps”; the single parent raising a special needs child; the family of a man serving in the armed forces opening the front door to hear, “I am sorry to inform you that your husband/father has been killed in combat”; the young adult, living on the streets, waking up to the reality of his/her own private hell:  “My life is rotting away; I need to live again; I want to live again.”

Pain, struggles, fear, challenges, trials, chaos, helplessness.  Is their any purpose in the pain?  Can there be triumph through the trials?  Do we dare to hope while feeling helpless?  There is purpose, there can be triumph, and we should dare to hope IF . . . we look for the answers that are true and real.  Some people have found the truth and some will yet find it:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying:

“Amen!
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Amen!”

13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”

14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”

And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore,

“they are before the throne of God
    and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
    will shelter them with his presence.
16 ‘Never again will they hunger;
    never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’[a]
    nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne
    will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’[b]
    ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ (Revelation 7:9-17)

It’s the Lamb who shed His blood who shows us the purpose in the pain; who leads us to triumph through the trials; and who gives us the courage to hope while feeling helpless.  Have you shed any tears lately?  God can and will wipe them away if you will let Him.

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2-3).

Daily rituals

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Two Right Feet.”

The things I do when I first get up to make sure my day starts off on the right foot?

1) Get dressed

2) Consume caffeinated beverage, a.k.a. coffee

3) Make and eat breakfast

4) Spend time with my Creator. For me, spending time with God is the most important part of my day although putting on clothes is rather important in our culture as well.  All fun aside, if I’m too focused on things I need to do and rush around to get ready to leave for work and skip my time with God, my day is not the same.  It’s emptier, not as focused, more of a grind than a day to embrace.  If God is my creator which I believe He is and if God is personal which I know He is then I want to spend time with Him because He wants to spend time with me.  God loves me.  Who wouldn’t want to spend time with someone who loves them?

God: Is He Knowable? Does He really care about me?

“He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel:  the LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.  He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.  For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.  As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:7-14).

Dust.  What do you think about dust?  It is an annoying fact of life.  You need to dust once in a while to remove the dust from your house, your car interior, your workspace, etc.  If you don’t, dust will keep accumulating and things will get dustier.  Dust is a nuisance, right?  Guess what – you and I are dust.  “All we are is dust in the wind” (Kansas).  Kerry Livgren of Kansas got it.  We are just dust in the wind.  Doesn’t that just pump your ego?  However, even though we came originally from dust and to dust we will return, nevertheless in God’s eyes we are much more than an annoyance and a nuisance although at times I can be both and I’m sure you can too.  We all act like dust at times.  God – who does indeed want to know us and made Himself known to the ancient Israelites and made His presence known through the life of Jesus on this earth – this very same God is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.”  Not only is He knowable, not only does He want to be known, but He also cares about you and me.  He “has compassion on those who fear him.”  I guess that begs the question.  Do I fear God or is He just some ethereal being out there somewhere that I don’t know and haven’t taken the time to get to know?

The victory is won, but the battles still rage part II

In part I, I posed the question at the end:  “Why is life so stinkin’ hard?  Why is there so much garbage in the world?  Why is there so much suffering?  Why is there so much evil?  If Jesus procured the victory, why does it look like so much of life is falling apart?”  Many have sought to answer this question over the years.  I don’t propose to have THE answer.  Probably most of my comments have already been said in one form or another.  However, here are my two cents worth.  If the victory is won, why are we so often in the muck?  It is for this reason:  freedom.  There is freedom and free will in our world as per our Creator.  Jesus defeated the power of sin and Satan on the cross, but Satan is still allowed to do his dirty work and we humans are allowed to make whatever choices we will make.  The difference now:  the power of sin and death was broken by Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Therefore, we now have the freedom to first of all choose to follow Jesus, give our lives to Him, repent and believe, be born again, i.e. “be saved.”  Once that life-transforming transaction takes place, we have the freedom to choose to live for God or not.  There is the issue.  It is freedom.  We are free to choose whom we will serve.  Too many people choose not to serve God.  Therefore, we all suffer for it.  The consequences of sin affect us all.  Even those of us who have chosen to give our lives to God through Jesus still face trials, struggles, difficulties.  Those who would tell you that Christians should by right be healthy, wealthy, and living la vida loca are peddlers of a false gospel and ignorant of the full counsel of God which is found in His Word, the Bible.  The Bible clearly states that Christians are not immune from problems and in fact should expect problems:

“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (II Timothy 3:12).

Do you desire to be godly?  I have good news for you:  persecutions will follow.  Expect them or live in denial as to the validity of the Word of God.  I mean how clear can it be?  If you choose to live a godly life you will be targeted for persecution.  Whatever televangelist tries to say otherwise is selling something and it aint worth the purchase price.

Since we should expect trials, struggles, persecutions, does that mean that life is just going to suck?  Mn genoito, which means may it never be!!  Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly.  The abundant life isn’t a self-indulgent life.  That is where most of us mess up.  We treat life as all about number one, a.k.a. ME.  Life is not all about ME.  Jesus set the bar for how to live.  ME recedes to the background, YOU and others rise to the foreground.  Freedom means we are now free to humble ourselves and serve others and treat others as more important than ourselves.  That is living the abundant life, i.e. serving God, serving others.  Remember Jesus?  He washed the disciples’ feet, He submitted to His earthly parents, He . . . “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8).

Bottom line:  don’t be worried about the struggles, the illnesses, the financial difficulties, the slander against you, the persecutions.  Our master Jesus went through it all.  We have the privilege of facing life’s challenges just like Jesus did and now we can face them as children of God.  That is awesome truth.

Hey health and wealth advocates:  join the biblical team.  Start preaching and teaching the full counsel of God, not your disingenuous version.  There is too much at stake to be preaching falsely.  People are hungry for authenticity.  Preach the full counsel of God.

Two different outlooks, two different results

Some people choose not to persist.  Some encounter trials in their lives which they allow to overwhelm them.  The think they cannot survive them.  The trials are too exhausting, too difficult, too painful.

Seven years ago I transitioned from a leadership position in a missions organization back to the trades.  I started working in the construction industry in 1985 and it has never left my blood.  It keeps coming back.  Anyway, seven years ago I started working for an electrical contractor.  He was doing all of the electrical work at a brand new auto dealership.  It was a lot of work, lot of pipe bending, a lot of wire pulls, a lot of everything.  It was good work and I enjoyed it.  The local owner of the dealership, however, was not enjoying the building process at all.  He had to do it according to the car manufacturer so he had no choice.  It was a financial burden that he could not, at least in his mind, overcome.  He became depressed and eventually made a choice that this trial was too exhausting, too difficult, too painful.  He took his own life.  His loss affected many people.  He was well-known and respected in the community.  It was sad.

That is one outlook, one result.

There was a young girl who was born with all of her faculties in 1880.  Then at the age of 19 months, she contracted an illness which left her deaf and blind.  To go from seeing and hearing to not being able to do either is something I cannot possibly comprehend.  How utterly frightening, debilitating, hope-squashing.  But that was Helen Keller’s new circumstances.  Deaf and blind and probably frustrated, bewildered, scared.  Life was hopeless right?  After living this way, with absolute minimal communication with the outside world for five years, hope was rekindled.  In 1887, Anne Sullivan arrived on the scene.  Anne Sullivan taught Helen Keller everything.  She taught her words, the meaning of words, how to communicate what she was thinking, what she was feeling, how to express what was inside to a world outside that had been blocked to her and consequently could not hear from her.  She eventually learned to write and to speak.  She wrote many books and spoke frequently.  Helen Keller persevered through utterly dark circumstances and hopelessness and became a beacon of hope for others who struggle with similar disabilities or with general difficulties of life.  She persisted, she persevered, she stood firm in the midst of incredibly difficult circumstances.  I hasten to add that Anne Sullivan persevered in teaching Helen Keller even though it was an incredibly laborious process that took years.  If Anne Sullivan had chosen not to persist in teaching a child with extreme needs, the world would never have known of or been influenced by Helen Keller.

Second outlook, far different result.

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet.  Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved” (Helen Keller).

The Kingdom

In his commentary on Acts, John Stott spoke about the kingdom of God from Acts 1:8:  “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  I thought his comments very informative and instructive.

“It is important to remember that his [Jesus] promise that they would receive power was part of his reply to their question about the kingdom.  For the exercise of power is inherent in the concept of a kingdom.  But power in God’s kingdom is different from power in human kingdoms.  The reference to the Holy Spirit defines its nature.  The kingdom of God is his rule set up in the lives of his people by the Holy Spirit.  It is spread by witnesses, not by soldiers, through a gospel of peace, not a declaration of war, and by the work of the Spirit, not by a force of arms, political intrigue or revolutionary violence.  At the same time, in opposite extreme of super-spiritualizing it, as if God’s rule operates only in heaven and not on earth.  The fact is that, although it must not be identified with any political ideology or programme, it has radical political and social implications.  Kingdom values come into collision with secular values.  And the citizens of God’s kingdom steadfastly deny to Caesar the supreme loyalty for which he hungers, but which they insist on giving to Jesus alone” (Stott, The Message of Acts, 42).

Citizens of the kingdom have power precisely because they have chosen to give up their “rights” and their own “power” and instead have chosen to submit completely to the king who gives power in abundance to His loyal subjects.  Total submission, total surrender of our lives to our king, the Lord Jesus Christ, is anything but socially and culturally acceptable in this 21st century.  We are or want to be upwardly mobile on our own right?  Upward mobility in God’s kingdom comes from downward mobility, i.e. willingness to submit to His Lordship completely.  It is meekness.  It is humility.  It may seem counter-intuitive, but it is eternally productive.

“We are humans first of all”

“I hope that at the end of the day everyone is united.  Everyone, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists,” said Zakaria Moumni, who was at Republique (France) early Sunday.  “We are humans first of all.  And nobody deserves to be murdered like that.  Nobody.”

Comments of a French person deeply affected by the brutal loss of life from the terrorist shootings in France.  She voices what so many people want and what most people know we need.  Unity.  What does disunity lead to?  Racism, abuse, murder, genocide, annihilation.  It leads one man (Hitler) to lead many (Nazis and sympathizers) to seek to systematically eradicate those different from them (Jews, Gypsies, et al.).  It leads terrorist groups of varying allegiances (ISIS, al qaeda, Boko Haram, abu sayyaf, etc.) to proactively seek to breed terror by wantonly killing specific people and worse just people in general – men, women, children.  It leads the average person like you and me to be indifferent to the plight of those around us who are suffering, whether it be victims of terrorism, those down-and-out due to downsizing in their companies, those struggling to make ends meet due to their own poor choices, those suffering physically with no family members to care about them and their needs, those “neighbors” of ours struggling to make it because their skin color and their accent makes it hard for them to get a decent job and be treated decently at that job.  Yeah – disunity leads to the breakdown of society.  Just look at the news.  Just go outside and open your eyes.  We are a disunified bunch.  Hence the cry of Zakaria Moumni.  She recognizes what is true (disunity) and voices what needs to become true.  Here it is once again:

“I hope that at the end of the day everyone is united.  Everyone, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists.  We are humans first of all.  And nobody deserves to be murdered like that.  Nobody.”