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In this series, I would like to address some concepts we don’t hear much about these days in the regular course of life. However, in the Scriptures they have been given significant importance. We neglect these “forgotten concepts” at our peril.

Endurance

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” –James 1:2-4 (NIV)

We were doing fine until  . . .

The storm blew in, the car broke down, my wife became ill, I was diagnosed with cancer . . . Fill in the blank. We hear the news, we read the stories and we relate to people everywhere who are asked to cope with a seemingly endless list of trials and tragedies.

Sometimes It doesn’t take a lot to throw us off course. The unexpected situations of life that often beset us can throw us sideways or even shut us down.

Almost weekly I hear of another person who was moving through life apparently with a genuine faith and trust and God and then along came an unexpected setback. Obviously, everyone’s situation is distinct but one thing seems to be consistent – most who don’t persevere seem to depart from their faith because a traumatic event or situation wasn’t resolved according to their desires.

Other times we are beset with problems we never asked for that have little to do with our choices – Our parents suffer chronic illnesses or our children end up with addiction issues. If it’s not us personally it’s a close friend or family member.

After spending a six months this year back in the USA and travelling over twelve thousand miles by car, talking to many people along the way, never did I encounter an individual I knew personally who was not dealing with some very serious matter or awkward person in their family or circle of influence.

Everyone, including myself, is having to draw on strength beyond themselves to persevere in their present context of life.

What is endurance? Why do some endure, and others do not? What makes the difference?

In my view,endurance or perseverance is the resolve to stay on course with God’s plan and purpose for your life regardless of storms and setbacks that come your way. It’s basically staying the course for the long haul.

One reason why I believe many of us do not endure well is the flawed expectation that life should be easy. We live in an era of entitlement. We expect results without the suffering and sacrifice it takes to commit to a process which will lead to the outcomes we are seeking.   

Last Christmas I was beset with a horrible case of influenza. I felt next to death for a week. It easily took another month to fully recover. I must admit I was peeved that I had to endure the flu, but then many others had it just as bad and even worse. I was able to recover at home and I wasn’t even docked for time missed at work.  Many around me ended up in hospitals so full that they had to recover in the corridors. A part of me felt, “why me?” On the other hand it had been years since I last had the flu so, “Why NOT me?”

I used to think endurance had a lot to do with gritting my teeth and putting up with difficult situations until they passed. Unfortunately, that only resulted in lingering frustration and anger. After further thought and reflection I think that one’s inner core beliefs are the difference maker when it comes to perseverance.

Look at what the apostle James says in the passage quoted above, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.”

Something in how we are created by a wise and loving God while living in this broken world reflects the reality that we will never fully mature without endurance.

God’s desire for us is also reflected in James’ words, “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Despite our suffering, God is still good and meets us in the process of our pain so that we can come out the other end as stronger, mature people.

I’m just recently getting back to my gym routine. I can easily spot the men and women who endure difficult, consistent workouts. They are the ones with the slim, muscular figures and the fit bodies. Why should the spiritual realm be any different?

I’m learning that in the suffering I must endure (which is really pretty minor compared to many others I know) God is giving me a much bigger, long-term view of Himself and His purposes.

The Christian counselor and author Larry Crabb writes, “Trouble is inevitable.  Endurance is necessary.  Our high call from God is to trust Him and to trust His heart, a heart filled with love.  Nothing can happen to us or in us that He cannot work together for our good.“  When God’s Ways Make No Sense, Chapter 11, “The High Calling to Trust.”

When beset with unexpected suffering I know that my core beliefs are challenged. I have to come back to a place of trust in God and His greater purposes for my life, my friends and my family. Maybe that’s why endurance is such a key component of maturity and why it’s often such a forgotten concept in these days of entitlement.

God wants access to the very core of our being, where ultimate decisions are made and we align our lives with His greater good. This is the intimate space where endurance and maturity meet. 

“These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng. Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” – Psalm 42:4-6 (NIV)

As a boy living back in Fort Worth, Texas in the late 1950’s and 60’s I really loved Thanksgiving. Each Thanksgiving Day we usually had a family gathering with my father’s side of the family.

In attendance were two of my uncles who had attended the University of Texas at Austin. In those days, there was a traditional American college football rivalry each Thanksgiving between the UT Longhorns and the Texas A&M Aggies. If the game was televised, the meal couldn’t take place during the game! It WAS that important! In later years the Dallas Cowboys played a late afternoon game and the tradition continues to this day. My wife, who didn’t grow up in Texas and didn’t have brothers, isn’t sure this is a cause for giving thanks!

Not one Thanksgiving celebration went by that the food wasn’t spectacular.

The meal included traditional turkey, my mother’s cornbread dressing (or stuffing as we refer to it where I now live in Ireland) along with all the trimmings. I didn’t appreciate it at the time but my mother spent hours early in the week mixing up a huge batch of potato salad for the big event. I usually asked her to withhold the olives in mine as I thought they spoiled the flavor. My cousins now rave over that potato salad and one of them now sports his own version of “Aunt Blanche’s” potato salad. He tells me that his version of her recipe he copied from her years ago still isn’t as good as the original!

Each Thanksgiving weekend was a welcome break from the school routine which came as a relief from a little boy who wasn’t enamored with school at that point in life! Other priorities seemed so much more important.

As I grew older and Thanksgiving celebrations changed in my adult years, a funny thing happened. Life happened. The responsibilities and challenges of adulthood can spoil our fun if we let them. We now live in a much different environment than the one with which I was familiar.

In my years of innocence, the worst thing that might happen Thanksgiving week was that I might have to eat my potato salad WITH olives, or the UT Longhorns might lose to the Aggies. Now we are beset with much larger issues – the threat of terrorism, mass shootings, international political turmoil and the list goes on. Even though in my youth we were constantly exposed to the Viet Nam war and campus unrest it all seemed to come to a halt on Thanksgiving Day.

I’ve come to realize over the years that I’m not generally very satisfied with the blemishes that appear on every aspect of life. I would make life perfect for everyone if I had the power, which I obviously don’t. It’s a personal challenge and discipline to be grateful in a hostile, broken world.

I really resonate with the Psalmist, quoted above, as he ponders about the downcast state of his soul. He asks, “why are you so disturbed within me?”

Today my soul is downcast for the myriad of women who are coming forward to expose the brutality of thoughtless men who have groped, raped or abused them. My soul is downcast for the multitudes of children in the world who are orphans or living in poverty. My soul is downcast for numerous other reasons with which I’m relatively sure you are all too familiar.

The tendency for me is to withhold gratitude until a perfect world arises from the ashes of life. I now realize I simply cannot wait that long until I express gratitude to God for all that He is and for all He is doing to care for me and for His broken world.

If I’m really honest, I have far more to be grateful for than I realize and my attention needs to be far more focused on the One who is the source and giver of all good gifts.

The Palmist has a simple remedy for ingratitude and a perfectionist attitude, he simply says, “these things I remember as I pour out my soul.”

Whatever our circumstances this Thanksgiving season we can and must “remember” that for which we can be grateful and pour out our souls to our living God.

Remember who you are –  your family of origin, your past, the good and bad, the things that have shaped you are part of your personal story; you are who you are because there has been a personal God involved with you, whether you acknowledge Him or not

Remember whose you are – you belong to your Heavenly Father who is seeking out your heart every moment of every day

Remember what you have – your family and friends for starters – I know I have so many to be grateful for; for us who are followers of Jesus we have every spiritual blessing in Christ; even in material terms I know I have far more than I deserve and there are many in this world who are content with far less than what I possess

If you haven’t done so lately, this might be a good time to spend some quality time in solitude, pour out your soul to God, and gratefully remember that you are blessed far more than you ever imagined!

I know I am.

 

By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.” – Hebrews 11:4 (NIV)

I think it’s safe to say that our world is in turmoil. When “tolerance” seems to be a prevailing value at the same time we have a growing sense of “intolerance” on many levels of society.

Daily in international news we are beset with stories of racial tension and violence, hate crimes, terrorist attacks and the list goes on. I don’t have to cite the stories which are most likely very familiar to you.

In these times of turmoil, I see the same story repeated through history, but I also see the same resolution as well. I’ve been reflecting in these days on the first recorded murder. In the Bible, in Genesis chapter 4 we see that the first death among the children of Adam and Eve was the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. The story is well worth a review if you haven’t thought about it lately.

The conflict began when Abel brought an acceptable sacrifice before the LORD and was commended. Cain brought another sacrifice and was rejected because of his heart condition. The situation really got Cain fighting mad.

As the story goes,

“. . . but on Cain and his offering He did not look with favor. So, Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” – Genesis 4:5-7 (NIV)

When confronted with the condition of his heart Cain had some major decisions to make. Would he continue to bury his anger, brood and stew over his rejection, or would he take stock of his strong internal emotions, have his heart healed, and move on to a better place?

Unfortunately, we know the rest of the story. He misplaced his rejection, blamed his brother and violence and murder erupted.

Personally, I think this story is lived out again and again in our world today and we are seeing it played out on an international scale.

For each of us, when we begin to experience anger against an individual, a different racial, political, cultural or religious group, we are in danger of misdirecting our anger and letting it take us to places that are dangerous and destructive.

Anger led Cain to murder when internal reflection wasn’t the response of his heart. Unchecked anger can do the same for any of us.

I suppose that from here to eternity love and hate will both be opposing forces. The question for each of us, is what we will do and how we will react by hating the right things. We can choose to hate racism, for example, without hating racists. What we hate says a lot about us, just as who or what stirs our anger says a lot about us.

In the New Testament, the writer to the book of Hebrews, quoted above, says that Abel was a righteous man and was wrongly targeted for stirring up his brother’s anger. Even though dead, he still speaks. Abel was an innocent victim but was also the target of hostility. His example of godliness and suffering even in the face of violence and death is something that should speak strongly to us even today – especially today.

The ultimate expression of love in the face of hatred comes at the Cross of Jesus Christ. It was He who died in all His innocence and rose to life so that each of us could be set free from misdirected anger and hatred against anyone or anything.

Anger, along with love, is perhaps the strongest and most powerful of our emotions. When confronted with deep seated anger in our hearts, each of us can choose to step back, reflect and re-direct it toward something that is worth hating. It’s not a person or a race, a political party or country, but in reality a way of life that runs contrary to love which seeks the highest good of another fellow human being.

Abel lived a shorter life than Cain but there’s no question as to who serves as a better model for us today in these times of turmoil.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:6-8 (NIV)

I’ve been making a lot of trips to see my Osteopath lately. He’s been the one healthcare professional that I’ve found to be most helpful with my recurring back problems. Every time I go to him he keeps giving me a lecture on “letting go.” It seems that the recurring theme that he sees with many people he treats for various health disorders is the tendency we humans have to “hold on” to memories, burdens, toxic emotions and almost anything that we deem necessary to carry with us through life. My Osteopath says this is particularly true in his patients with back problems! Carrying too much weight on the inside must be hazardous to your health!

I have to admit that “holding on” has been a life-long battle for me.

We come into the world naked and immediately those who care for us, rightly start putting clothes on us. We start grasping things and putting them into our mouths! We then start feeling comfortable and becoming attached to what makes us comfortable. We make necessary attachments, first to mom (hopefully) then dad and other significant people in our lives. We start to care about things – early on we care about getting our needs met and we scream and cry when we don’t get our way.

Eventually, if we have loving care-givers and friends, we realize that we don’t have to scream and beg our way through life. We can learn virtues such as patience and self-control and hopefully in a healthy environment. Unfortunately that is not a given these days.

Along the way we find that our emotions can get hijacked. We can start holding on to that to which we feel entitled, whether it belongs to us or not. Our jealous inner selves can see others who have what we want or whom we perceive to have it “better” than ourselves.

Now that I’m well into the later seasons of my life, I realize just how much of useless stuff has cluttered up my life through the years. I suppose as we mature we begin to discern the valuable and realize that most of what we’ve carried along hasn’t been all that helpful.

I love the words of the apostle Peter, quoted above. For those of us who accept and believe that there is a personal, Creator-God who knows, loves and cares for us and has revealed Himself in His Son Jesus Christ  – He is the One to whom we can and must go with all the care and anxiety we hold onto so desperately.

Peter gives three important commands in quick succession – first, “humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand,” then “cast all your anxiety on Him,” and “be self-controlled and alert!” I have probably read over this verse dozens of times without seeing the connection.

Humility, casting cares on God and being self-controlled and alert are all habits that can lead to a much more whole and satisfying walk through life. Peter reminds us too that there is a spiritual battle in place with an unseen enemy ready to devour the careless and unsuspecting. The thinking must be that our own pride, anxiety and lack of self-control will play right into the hands of the enemy of our souls.

I think what Peter is teaching here is that we have to let go of something before we can take hold of something much better. In humility we cast off the useless to take hold of the Eternal God who alone can help us through whatever issue is overtaking us at the moment.

I find that when it comes to life it’s much easier to cast out unwanted items of junk or clothing than it is to discard our negative emotions, grudges and toxic inner battles. Even to this day, I can still recall painful experiences that cause me angst if I think about them too long.

I’m seeing more and more that holding on to worry and anxiety has probably been a tool that has given me a false sense of control through the years. By continually fretting over what we have no control over, we feel slightly more in control. But unfortunately, it’s an illusion.

I’m not suggesting any quick fixes for anxiety and worry that plagues me and so many others in today’s world. I’m not ready to list out a three or six or ten step plan to combat anxiety. All I’m saying here is that I’m much better off when I habitually recognize when anxiety is mounting in my life and continually cast it upon a loving and caring personal God.

In a highly superficial and material environment, the temporal always seems to take precedence over the eternal. Ultimately we will leave this world behind and all of our possessions, worries and cares which we so desperately cling to now. By entering into a trust relationship with the Living God revealed in Jesus Christ, we take with us a life of wholeness that will never end.

I have to be reminded repeatedly that holding onto the Eternal God and letting go of everything else is the only place to find true freedom this side of heaven.

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12:48 (NIV)

 I face the temptation on a regular basis to think that I’m not personally responsible for the plight of people around me who are less fortunate than I. I’m grateful that I have experiences from time to time to rouse me out of my complacency and selfishness.

For some years now I adapt my weekly schedule to do some volunteer work at one of my local charity shops. I find the few hours a week I spend at the shop refreshing to my soul. It gets me out of my dusty routine and into the daily lives of many people that I might not otherwise meet during a given week.

Just this week while working at the shop’s “till” as we call it in Ireland, I was quite surprised to see a very destitute looking man enter the shop and begin to play with a child’s musical toy. I had only priced the toy at the value of three Euro some minutes before.

If I could only have had two free hours with this individual I would have gladly re-clothed his badly soiled garments, treated him to an hour bath and burned the filthy rags he was wearing. You could smell an individual like this coming from blocks away. He was that bad off!

After a few minutes of rummaging around the shop, he approached me at the till and asked if he could purchase the musical toy for a small girl who was with her mother in the shop. He inserted his filthy fingers into a long-worn pocket and found three Euro to complete the purchase. I left the receipt for the sale on the till as I guessed he wouldn’t be interested in it!

I admit that I have a strong tendency toward feeling entitled to more that I already have. We live in a world that is consumed with consumerism. It’s also very popular today to think that we should have the best of everything at reasonable prices and we should demand our rights if we don’t get what we want. Often I feel that I’m on the giving end far more than the receiving end, which is in fact, totally false.

The words of Jesus Christ, quoted above, come at the end of one of His many parables. In the parable, Jesus speaks of a faithful and wise manager who is entrusted with his Master’s possessions. The key is how the manager behaves, knowing he will one day be held to account for that which he has been entrusted. How the manager views the Master is the key to the parable. If the manager feels that there will not be a day of reckoning in the future, he can even go so far as to beat the Master’s servants and begin to believe that he will not be held to account for his actions.

There’s also an added precaution – the manager must face the reality of the trust he’s been given.  Those entrusted with more – more will be required of them.

Upon reflection, I find that even the most impoverished among us still have something to share with others. One person who is a most unlikely candidate for admiration, is still made in the image of God and can display generosity and kindness.

The reality is that I have been endowed with far more than I can ever imagine with grace, goods and gifts of many kinds. By one act of kindness, I’m reminded that I have been entrusted by my Master with infinite riches. The more I can manage to give the more I seem to gain. Perhaps He’s arranged it to work that way.

 

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”  – Philippians 4:8 – New Living Translation
Recently in my casual reading I came across an important term. One author mentioned the word “brooding.” It resonated with many life-lessons I’m thinking over so I looked up the definition.

Brooding is defined as, “thinking deeply about something that makes one unhappy, angry or worried; or to be preoccupied with depressing, morbid, or painful memories or thoughts.”

It seems that brooding is very much related to worry and anxiety. We can become compulsive about things we just can’t, for one reason or another, shake out of our minds.

I have to admit that for a good portion of my life I’ve been a brooder. Being somewhat compulsive, for many years I thought that worry and brooding were just part of my personality type that was instinctive and irreparable.

It’s always sobering to hear what those closest to us really think about us!  Several years ago my wife and I were discussing a painful personal experience. She bravely mentioned that one our children said to her privately, “I hope it doesn’t take Dad a week to get over it!”

I’m learning in recent days that I’ve been making choices all through life and that I can actually “choose not to brood” if I’m so inclined.

It’s another election year in the USA and it seems the entire western world is inundated with political speeches and promises of a better future if someone does, or doesn’t get into office. I’m all for making informed choices as to whom we vote for, but so often I see many people brooding over political parties or personalities to the point of depression and burnout!

I’m currently leading a small group study on the book of Philippians in the New Testament. The apostle Paul, author of this epistle, was well acquainted with the issues of his day in the first century. He was actually writing from prison – being in house arrest in Rome.  I’m pretty sure that if he were here today and he had a vote he would be exercising his privileges. However, he has some pretty direct advice for his readers who were persecuted themselves.

Surprisingly, Paul tells his readers not to brood! He writes –

“Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

When it comes to making informed choices, we should do so. When it comes to fixing our deepest attention on something, that “something” Paul says, should be “true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and worthy of praise.”

That’s a tall order for those of us who are constantly bombarded by negativity in our world where the media and social media dominate so much of our day. Combined with this some of us have a tendency to keep working painful thoughts over and over in our minds, consumed with what has happened, might happen or could happen. I know, I’ve been there many times myself and still can be if I choose to be.

I’ve come to discover that I need time and space in my own life on a daily basis to switch off and listen for God’s voice through His Word and in my inner being to counteract all the false messages of hopelessness that come against me.

As I reflect on it, I’m shocked to discover that brooding wasn’t God’s original design for my life and that it was a choice I had been making all along. But I’m relieved to know that that there’s a better alternative.

Corrie Ten Boom, author of the book “The Hiding Place” was a woman who lived through significant hardship, being sent to a Nazi death camp with her father and sister both of whom died as a result. She has much to say about worry and the choices we make.

Ms Ten Boom said, “Worry is like a rocking chair: it keeps you moving but doesn’t get you anywhere,” and “Happiness isn’t something that depends on our surroundings…it’s something we make inside ourselves.” 

In this world where we are flooded with data, most of it negative, take time to reflect and find restoration of your soul in the eternal things that really matter rather than surrendering yourself to worry and anxiety. I think you, and your world, will reap the benefits. I’ve learned the hard way that brooding never brings blessings into our lives, or the lives of those we love.

“And when the Israelites saw the great power the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.”  – Exodus 14:31 (NIV)

Trust is a very deep and mysterious thing and yet it something that we do every day to some degree. Without trust our lives would be in tatters. We trust everything from cars to computers, bus schedules to customer care employees. When you think about it trust is also risky. By trusting others, we can open ourselves up to hurt and disappointment.

Seven years ago today, September 1, 2009, I made a choice to trust someone with personal issues in my life that were beyond my own resources. The details are not as important as the lessons that resulted from that decision.

 In reviewing the story in Exodus 14 where Moses, under God’s direction led the children of Israel out of Egypt, safely through the Red Sea from the flight of the Egyptian army we find a very interesting statement.

At the close of this crucial chapter the text says, “The people feared the LORD and put their trust in Him and in Moses his servant.”

Trust is critical to our relationships both with God and others. As a Christian, in my work with other followers of Jesus, rarely do people argue the fact that we should be trusting God. However, the stronger pushback comes when we start talking about trusting others around us.

Trust is a matter of the heart and we don’t like having our hearts crushed, yet all meaningful relationships are built on mutual trust.

I’m sure that over time, the Israelites found God to be more trustworthy than Moses. However, I’m coming to see that we can’t fully say we are trusting God without being able to trust key people whom God has placed in our lives.

There are several “Moses” figures in my life and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not fully trusting God if I’m not trusting them at some level.

Seven years ago today, I took a step of faith by trusting a friend with things I had never spoken about to another living individual. Admittedly it was a risk, and there were many issues that flowed from my decision to trust another living soul with my “stuff.”

I have since regretted many of my life choices in the past, however, I have never regretted the decision to trust God and another person He had hand-placed in my life.

Looking back over the last seven years here are a few life lessons that will remain with me always as a result of my decision to trust God and a “Moses” in my life –

  •  Vulnerability and Relational growth – As a result of my decision I eventually discovered that I was robbing myself and others of the “real” me that was hiding behind a curtain, too scared to come out. These years later perhaps more people around me get to see the “real” me with fewer masks.
  • A Confidence that God is work in my life – Previously I was trying to be the best version of about five or six people whose lives I was sure were “better” than mine. I stopped trying to be my version of other people and instead trust God with who I really was and was becoming.
  • Transformation and the Inner lifeIn these years I discovered that everything in our lives really flows from the inside out. Jesus once said of men that “from the overflow of the heart, his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45 NIV) Cultivating our inner life is the means whereby God meets us at deep levels. Life circumstances may shape us but deep change in one’s life is from inside out, not the reverse.

I can speak from personal experience that trusting God and others made all the difference in my own life and even though it’s a difficult road I’m grateful for the growth.

Who are the “Moses figures” that God has placed in your life that you need to be trusting?

We don’t grow unless we’re vulnerable with someone we can trust. It goes without saying that we can’t trust everyone but we do have to trust someone. We often find out the hard way that we can’t trust everyone and we can often get caught out.

Was there ever a cook who has never been burned in the kitchen? Most good cooks I know had their share of wounds but bandaged them, went back to the kitchen and ended up being quite successful at what they did. They grew despite the pain of the wounds.

We should always be discerning when it comes to trust. We may never trust everyone that we should but we’ll certainly not develop as healthy individuals without trusting someone. Perhaps in doing so we’ll be safe and trustworthy ourselves, even a “Moses” in the making.

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