Monthly Archives: October 2012

Pressure Cooked

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From the book of James (The Message):

“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”

It’s taken me some time to accept the wisdom in the paragraph above from James  1: 2-4 in the Bible.  I suppose it comes with maturity on many fronts.  I relate it to people in their 50s and 60s who are asked if they would ever trade their current lives to go back to their teens and early twenties.  Almost without fail they respond saying they would not give up all they have learned and experienced to return to those pre-maturing years of days gone by.  As I go through the aches and pains of decades gone by I realize how those experiences have shaped me to be the person I am.  I can’t say I’ve reached “lack of deficiency”, but let’s say I’m less deficient now than I was 20 years ago.  I’m able to scoff at certain deficiencies, but still there are some that just can’t be denied…so far.

How many situations have you trudged through in your life that looked unbeatable and bleak on the side going in to it and brought great clarity, knowledge and even peace once you got through them and stood on the other side?   A wise person taught me about the history of a related text from Roman’s about suffering.  We are told to  “glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”  More pressure? Really?

In the original Greek translation of the Bible the concept of pressure related to the pressure exerted by a press in order for the “juice” to flow and ultimately produce wine or olive oil.  No pressure, no juice.  No juice, no wine or oil.  Paul, the author of Romans,  says that no matter what the “pressure” God’s people deal with produces endurance (toughness) which produces character (maturity) which produces hope (a present conviction with a future fulfillment) and he says, “…hope does not disappoint us.”

Based on my own personal experience I would think I’d be pretty tough by now according to  what I learned above.  I kind of wish I was at my toughness capacity.  That would mean that I’d be like a super-hero who, when pelted by bullets of disappointment, sadness, anxiety, depression, pain, despair, (insert your “deficiency” here), could just bounce them right off my (very fashionable of course) Teflon super-hero costume.

But, I’ve got a lot to learn still.  Unfortunately, that means there is likely more pressure to be had here.   I need to let it happen.  I need it so I can mature, be well-developed, and get on to not being deficient in any way.  The promise of that benefit is so appealing that I want to take my time going through the pressures surrounding me.  I think if I keep reminding myself of God’s unfailing love, that pressure makes me tougher, more mature and hopeful,  and that those characteristics are actually gifts, then I can be on my way to getting that super-hero costume.  The question of fitting into it is entirely different.

May God bless you today with the gift of a challenge that strengthens you and your development in the coming days so that as more challenges confront you the pressure is lessened.

 

 

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wish

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Several days ago I looked up to the sky and saw this interesting wishbone cloud formation. My mind raced with wishes for people I care about and even people I don’t know. The wishes went on and on. I’m giving this further thought. If I had 10 wishes in this world what would they be? Let’s establish you can’t make one of the wishes for more wishes. From deep inside your heart what would you really wish for?

Unfailing Love

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Unfailing love..always able to supply more, inexhaustible, constant, unflagging, incapable of error, infallible, not failing,not giving way, not falling short of expectation, completely dependable, inexhaustible, endless, always reliable, certain.

This isn’t meant to make you feel bad.  It’s meant to provide true understanding of what unfailing love really is.  We probably all have at least one person for whom we believe we have unfailing love.  I do.  In fact, I’m blessed to think I have more than one person.  Then I read the definitions.  I haven’t always been dependable for those people.   Sometimes I have fallen short of their expectations.  There have been days when I didn’t think I could supply more love.  Sometimes it’s been exhausting to love these people.  This doesn’t mean I don’t love them.  I think it means I’m mortal.  I’m human.  I’m of this world.

I can think of people who I said I love you to with the deepest emotion and sincerity imaginable.  Today I couldn’t tell you where they live.

Every year I read through the book of Psalms. It’s enlightening, reinforcing, relieving.  This time I started to write down (yes the old-fashioned manual way) every verse that related to how God takes care of His people.  I needed that reassurance desperately in my life.  As I wrote over the days and weeks and months I realized a phrase used over and over.  God’s unfailing love.  I’m going to keep counting, but up to Psalm 119 the text mentions God’s unfailing love about 30 times.   That doesn’t include phrases like his “faithful love”.  Just His unfailing love.  God must feel that’s really important for us to know.  When we have done things we are ashamed to admit to we have His unfailing love.  When our pains and sorrow are at their greatest we have His unfailing love.  When those we love hurt us or leave us we have His unfailing love.  When we fall short of everyone’s expectations we have His unfailing love.  When we get ourselves into binds that seem impossible to get out of we have His unfailing love.  When we fail again.  When we can’t love ourselves or others…we have His unfailing love.  Over and over and over again we have that reassurance.  His promise to always supply more,  to be inexhaustible, constant, unflagging,  inerrant, infallible, not failing, not giving way, not falling short of expectation, completely dependable, inexhaustible, endless, always reliable and certain.  That’s God’s unfailing love…for us all.

Beyond Comprehension

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Do you know how many stars are in the Milky Way galaxy?  I’ve heard something like 200 billion. In Psalm 147 it says God counts the stars and knows them by name.  That’s 200 billion and that’s just in one galaxy.  In Psalm 139 we are told God knows the number of hairs on our head. There are over 7 billion people in the world right now. Some of us make it easier for Him to count hairs 🙂  but still.  Talk about being detail oriented.  He is amazing and that word doesn’t really describe the magnitude of his magnificence.

After a typical day of highs and lows, I finally laid down to rest.  Thoughts were darting through my head from the day’s activities.  A single tear fell from the corner of my eye.  I’ve put a little too much on my shoulders today.  Rather than lay there I decided to get up and read.  Of my many choices I opened the Psalms.  After I read one or two of them I’d be better- like medicine you know?

I read a powerful one that pulled me in for a few read-throughs.  It spoke to me where I am. I’m still counting up how many Psalms talk about God’s unfailing love.  It’s a continuous theme throughout.  That will be for another blog.  What struck me in Psalm 147 was God’s compassion for healing the brokenhearted and binding up their wounds and that His understanding of each of our situations is beyond comprehension.  So not only does he know the names of 200 billion stars, he knows the concerns of 7 billion people and the number of hairs on each of their heads. That leaves me awe-struck and comforted.  He saw my single tear fall from my eye.  Perhaps this Psalm was the binding he put on my wound.

Psalm 147:1-11

Praise the Lord!

How good to sing praises to our God!
How delightful and how fitting!
The Lord is rebuilding Jerusalem
and bringing the exiles back to Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted
and bandages their wounds.
He counts the stars
    and calls them all by name.
5 How great is our Lord! His power is absolute!
    His understanding is beyond comprehension!
The Lord supports the humble,
but he brings the wicked down into the dust.

Sing out your thanks to the Lord;
sing praises to our God with a harp.
He covers the heavens with clouds,
provides rain for the earth,
and makes the grass grow in mountain pastures.
He gives food to the wild animals
and feeds the young ravens when they cry.
10 He takes no pleasure in the strength of a horse
or in human might.
11 No, the Lord’s delight is in those who fear him,
    those who put their hope in his unfailing love.

Solid Ground or Sinking Sand?

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The other night I woke  about 2:00 a.m.and I felt scared.  Don’t know what the trigger for that moment was.   Lots of change happening in my life and don’t have a glimmer of where it’s going to take me or my family over the next few months.  I allowed myself to acknowledge the fear is understandable based on life circumstances.  Then I decided to put it right onto God’s shoulders.  Not something I’m very good at in practice.  But this time I could do it and then the peace came.  Not too long after that I was back to sleep.  Admittedly, that sequence is rare.  If I can remind myself how good it feels to just lay it before the Lord I would do it more often for sure.  Sometimes I’m on solid ground.  Sometimes it’s sinking sand.  I know what it needs to be, but let’s be real here.

On this go around I’m up to Psalm 118.  I learned it was a favorite of Martin Luther (huge dude in the Reformation of Christianity) and he was quoted as saying, “I love them all…But this Psalm (118) is nearest my heart, and I have a familiar right to call it mine.  It has saved me from many dangers…It is my friend, dearer to me than all the honors and power of the earth.  During his greatest trials he savored verses like 5-6: In my distress I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me and rescued me.  The Lord is for me, so I will not be afraid.  What can mere mortals do to me?

In 1384 John Wycliffe lay dying deserted by  most of his influential friends.  He dared to translate the Bible into English and urged the separation of church and state.  He attacked corruption and the abuses of power he saw.  He was being pressured to admit he was wrong and see the error of his ways.  He referred to verse 17:  I will not die, but I will live to tell what the Lord has done.  Interestingly, history says that Luther kept a copy of this same verse on his wall.

These are historic figures of extreme courage.  I would like to say I could do the same, but sometimes I’m on sinking sand even though I want to be on solid ground.  I heard another story about a village in Central America that was ravished by guerilla warfare.  There was a Christian church in the midst of the chaos.  One Sunday during a service a group of guerilla’s barged into the church.  They were in full gear with their machine guns and faces covered.  The leader yelled for anyone who was a Christian to get up and come outside.  There was panic.  Only a  few people rose and went outdoors.  Gunshots were heard.  The guerilla leader returned.  People were in shock.  Then the leader brought all of those who claimed to be Christians back inside.  They were not shot.  Rather the guerilla leader yelled at the people who did not go outside for their lack of faith.  He wasn’t a Christian.  He was trying to make a point about how strong his faith was for what he believed was right about the warfare they initiated.  He could not believe how weak the supposed Christians were who did not rise to admit their faith.  Would they not die for what they felt so strongly about?  It was a moment filled with shamed for many.

I think of that story from time to time.  Would I have stood up and gone outside?  Even though my life was potentially at risk?   I hope I would have.  I hope I never have to find out.  The very fact that I can’t say with certainty that I’d be out the door for sure tells me I’m having a sinking sand moment.  I need to remind myself of the solid grounders like Luther and Wycliffe and millions of others.  They knew the truth.  They knew the good feeling of the solid ground.  They loved the Lord with all their heart and soul and mind.  They knew of (Psalm 117:2) God loves us with unfailing love; His faithfulness endures forever.  I’m moving toward solid ground.