Tag Archives: humanity

Lay it down…

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suffering

 

When Joseph was thrown into the pit by his own brothers, I’m sure there was some clawing and scraping at the sides of it to try to get out… but there was no escape.

 

When he was sold to the traders on their way to Egypt, I’m sure there was some begging and pleading and serious efforts to wrest himself from the chains… but no one’s heart stirred to relent, and he was hauled away.

 

And when he was unjustly thrown into prison, I’m guessing there were some pleas and cries for justice… but bars and locks only mocked his appeals.

 

When Job learned that all of his possessions and ten children were gone in a succession of calamities that would make anyone’s heart faint – his did.

 

The raw reality of human suffering is not meant to be sugar coated with platitudes and “sticker-verses” that make the speaker feel better but not the sufferer.  But it is meant for something.

 

Suffering is agonizing.  It is life-stealing.  Suffering is loss of the most intimate kind and produces groans too deep to understand.

 

But it is also good.

 

We may suffer evil, but the suffering itself is good.

 

We may fight and claw at it.  We may plead with God for it to stop.  We may cry and rail against the injustice inherent in much of it.  And almost always, our hearts grow faint under the weight of it.  But in the end, those of us who are called by King Jesus, must greet it as the good gift it is intended to be – that it actually must be – because of the One who has placed it in our lives.

 

The struggle is real, and it is part of the process we all need to go through to learn what we need to learn from the suffering.  But eventually, if we are to gain anything at all from pain and sorrow and loss, the struggle against it needs to stop.  We must all – every one of us – come to the place where we can hold that burden of struggling against the trial, look at it with full-frontal, honest scrutiny and lay it down.

 

If we believe what we say we believe – that for those who love God all things work together for  good for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28) – then this, too – this suffering, was meant for our good. If we believe that 1 Cor 4:17 is true – that our sufferings are producing an eternal glory that far outweighs them all – then we can begin to see that God is giving us something better than we would have even imagined to ask for.  If we believe what Eph 3 says – that this is the very way that we are strengthened to be able to comprehend the love of God – then we can see this as a gift from our Father who says, “I want you to know me this deeply, and widely, and broadly, and for this long.”  And that none of these things can separate you from that love (Rom 8:35).

 

If all of these things are true – really, actually, undeniably true – then we can begin to loosen our grips on the hair roots that promise to lift us out of the pit but never deliver, and the shackles that delight to keep our minds and bodies enslaved, the prison walls that mock our broken hearts, and even the soul-rending cries that long for good to be restored… and cling instead to these promises of God for our deliverance.

 

We can lay down the struggle against it all.  We must.  Or we miss the good that is inherent in it and we miss the good that only comes from believing and trusting Him through it.

 

This isn’t a decision that someone else gets to make for you, beloved sufferer. No one can tell you when it is time to cast your burden aside.  The only words that can help you are the ones that help you get to the end of your struggle – not avoid it.   You and I, each in our time, must struggle through the suffering.  We may feel alone, but our Savior, who is able to sympathize with our grief because he has borne the same, has promised to never leave us or forsake us.  He is patient, though and will wait for you to lay down the burden of struggling against his good gift on your own.

We are not wrong to rail against the evil in this world.  We are not silly to want love to prevail. We are not idealistic fools to long for peace and joy and goodness to be reality. God agrees.  But God’s path for us to see and know and live those things is not the path that we would choose.  There are no shortcuts for mercy.  There are no detours that bring peace.  

If we are to experience the full measure of God’s ultimate gift for us – Himself – we must do things his way.  We must accept that he knows what we do not and that his hard path is better than going the wrong way, no matter how tempting it may be.  

We learn how strong God is through the struggle, but we learn how good he is when we lay it down.

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Tempted to despair…

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Tempted to despair…

I suppose it is pretty natural to have times when each of us is tempted to despair.  Life’s trial hurt – badly.  Sometimes the pain is so bad that we begin to lose sight of any way out of it.  We begin to wish that we might die rather than go on living – enduring – what we are facing.  

 

I have certainly felt that way, and I’ve talked with enough other people who have experienced real pain to know that I’m not alone.  In fact, I think it’s a fairly normal human experience to have at least a few of these dark valleys during our lifetimes, if not many more.

 

But what do we do when the circumstances of life seem to press in so hard that our chests ache with the heaviness of it all and there is not even a pin-point of light that gives us hope that it will soon be over?

 

We need the LIGHT of truth as desperately as we’ve ever needed it in those times, and yet, if you’re like the countless others I’ve talked with about these tunnels of darkness reading your Bible, praying, or even listening to sermons is more than your numbed mind can manage.

 

How do we cling to the things we know to be true when nothing about our experience helps us believe them?

 

I’ve been in such a time.  Recently.  As in, right now.  But I’ve been in times like this before, too.  I’ve learned a few things along the way and I’d thought I’d share them.  When my eyes are shrouded by darkness I need help to know that the light is there even though it is hidden from me.   Sometimes a friend is able to remind me of what I already know is true, and that is really and truly wonderful when it happens.  But friends are busy with their own lives and the fight against this darkness is a minute-by-minute struggle.  What then?  How do we get through in a way that glorifies God and doesn’t give in to the lies of the evil one?

 

Below is a document I have begun for myself.  It’s still a work in progress – I keep adding to it.  It is a call from the truths of scripture to endure – knowing that even this trial is a gift from a loving heavenly Father who wants me to know him to the depths as well as to the heights.

 

I hope it helps you – or someone you know who is struggling.  I’d love to hear what you might add.

 

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When I am tempted to despair, in an effort to take every thought captive to the mind of Christ, be anxious for nothing, be thankful in all circumstances, and rejoice always I will:

 

    1. Remember whose I am:
      1. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought with a price.  Therefore, glorify God with your body.”  I Cor 6:19-20
      2. “Looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  For consider him that endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you will not grow weary or fainthearted.”  Hebrews 12:2-3
    2. Remember who I am:
      1. “And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?  ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.  For the Lord disciplines the ones he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’”  Heb 12:5-6
    3. Remember how I am loved:
      1. “God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Rom 5:8
      2. “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the children of God; and so we are.  The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”  1 John 1:3
      3. “In my Father’s house are many rooms.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”  John 14:2-3
    4. Remember that I am valued:
      1. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your father.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore; for you are of more value than many sparrows.”  Matthew 10:29-31
    5. Remember that I am not alone:
      1. “It is the LORD who goes before you.  He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you.  Do not fear or be dismayed.”  Deut 31:8
    6. Remember the faithfulness of God:
      1. “I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire.  He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.”  Ps 40:1-2
    7. Expect Him to be faithful again:
      1. “Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living.  Wait patiently for the Lord.  Be brave and courageous.  Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.”  Ps 27:13-14
    8. Ask for wisdom and clarity:
      1. “If any of you lacks wisdom let him ask of God and He will give it generously to all without reproach.”  James 1:5
      2. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path”  Ps 119:105
    9. Remember my blessings and how I enjoy them:
      1. “…what do you have that you have not received?…” 1 Cor 4:7
      2. “O, give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.  His love endures forever.” Ps 118:1
      3. “Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to all mankind.  For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things…. Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.”  Psalm 107:8-9, 43
    10. Remember that this is normal for the believer:
      1. “We are experiencing trouble on every side but are not crushed; we are perplexed but not driven to despair; we are persecuted, but not abandoned; we are knocked down but not destroyed, always carrying around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus might also be visible in our body.”  2 Cor 4:8-9
    11. Remember the lessons I have learned:

 

  • “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  Rom 8:28

 

    1. “That according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that suprasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within, us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.”  Eph 3:16-21
  1. Praise God for His goodness and mercy:
    1. “For you are my hope, Lord God, my security since I was young.  I depended on you since birth, when you brought me from my mother’s womb. I praise you continuously.”  Ps 71:5-6
  2. Ask God to help me:
    1. “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.”  Matt 7:7
    2. “Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  Hebrews 4:16
  3. And after I have done all of this, I will fasten on the belt of truth, put on the breastplate of righteousness, and as shoes for my feet put on the readiness of the gospel of peace.  I will take up the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation, I will hold tightly the sword of the Spirit and pray in the Spirit.  And after all of this, I will stand firm.  And when the time is right, I will do the next thing that God has set before me to do in the race that he has set me on, knowing that his good and perfect will is neither to be trifled with nor railed against.  God help me.

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Further thoughts on Luke 10:2 – Plentiful

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Continuing the series…

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  Luke 10:2

Plentiful

There is a harvest of souls to be reaped and it is plentiful – it is not meager or sparse.  The Lord of the harvest has invited us to be laborers in this joyful work.  He has promised to bring people to faith from every tribe and tongue and nation – do we really consider what that means?

Heaven will be filled with great variety, sure, but heaven will be FILLED!  He has not given us a small task, but a bountiful one!  Revelation 7 describes it like this:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

“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.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

No matter how you look at this, “a great multitude that no one could number” is a LOT of people!  I’ve been in crowds where hundreds of thousands are gathered.  I’ve seen crowds where 1 or 2 million are gathered.  These are seas of humanity converging in one area together.  It’s an overwhelming number of people…. But those crowds were numbered!

What does it take to gather a crowd of people together that can’t possibly be numbered?

But I have a confession to make here – I don’t really want to be crammed into close quarters with – I don’t know – billions (?) quadrillions (?)   centillions (I looked that up – it’s 10 to the 303 power!)   – of people!  Do you ever struggle with the imagery of a heavenly city crowded with throngs of people praising God in worship and song with all the gusto they can muster?  I do.

But this is the City of God I protest to my own self.  How can I not want to be part of that?

Well, of course I want to be there, and I know, intellectually, that it will be good.  So where do my perceptions and emotions collide with the truth of what that reality will be?

My ideas of large crowds of people are based on unpleasant experiences with large crowds of people!  Masses of strangers jockeying for position in hot, close quarters (or jammed parking lots) all looking to get where they want to get before everyone else gets there…. Sporting events where people are loud and obnoxious… and then they start drinking…  Conferences where being first means getting a good seat and being last means you can’t hear or see the speaker… Market places in developing countries where one wrong step could land me hopelessly lost and everyone is yelling in words I don’t understand… Amusement parks where you’ve paid a small fortune to get you and your family through the gates only to spend so much time waiting in lines that the day ends up costing $15 or $20 per ride and you’ve waited with people who have no desire to shelter your youngsters from even the coarsest of language or behaivor… No thanks.

But will this heavenly crowd be like this?

First of all, that crowd will not be strangers – it will be family.  Even if we haven’t met them yet, we will know we are deeply, meaningfully, connected – related – to each other through Jesus.  Family reunions, even rambunctious ones, are different from large crowds of strangers gathering together.  There are lasting connections with that group – history – that makes us glad to be there.  (“For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12:50)

(OK, I know not all families are great to be with, but Jesus’ family will be everything our earthly families were meant to be and more.)

Secondly, everyone in that crowd will be freed from their sinful selves and be on their most loving, caring, considerate behavior all the time!  No selfish jostling people out of the way.  No crude or angry voices.  No lines that lead to disappointment.  No bad seats.  No one cutting in front.  Rather, we will all have the genuine heart attitude of, “No, no, please, you go first.” (“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35)

Thirdly, we will care for one another the way we care for ourselves.  We will be looking out for the well-being and best interest of each other – because it will give us great joy.   (“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”  Romans 12:4-5; and to further clarify, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body” Ephesians 5:29-30)

But most importantly, all will be right because God himself will be dwelling among us.  .”  (“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  Revelation 21:1-4)

So then, the crowds will not be the ill-mannered sports fans or conference goers or amusement ride aficionados we’ve all encountered but will be the kindest, gentlest, most genuinely thoughtful people we can possibly imagine, because God will be transforming each and every one of us!

Now, I can’t wait to see that!