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Archive for the ‘Adversity’ Category

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. 

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“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.

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“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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“In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.” – Hebrews 2:10-11 (NIV)

As we get into the Christmas season, the days seem to go by rapidly with thoughts of shopping, cards, and preparations for our annual celebration and the end of another calendar year. We don’t often take time to reflect on the reason we celebrate Christmas and our personal stake in it all.

At Christmas we who are followers of Jesus are often aghast at how the world around us prepares for the season with a mad frenzy. However, we ourselves become so caught up in the process that we forget our own sins, failures and shortcomings that were actually the reason God chose to send His Son to redeem us. This is denial at the highest level.

We are all subject to denial. For years of my life I tried to avoid or admit to personal failure not realizing that by doing so I was standing in the way of my own transformation. I’m sure during that time I never missed a Christmas Celebration.

The news this year has been full of heartbreaking stories of the victims of war, refugee movements and other major calamities. We don’t have to look very far to see the depths to which humanity has fallen.

If we ever needed personal and societal redemption it certainly is now! However, I’m not sure that true transformation of heart and character can be genuine without failure and personal setbacks. It’s very much an enigma to me.

Even though Jesus Christ did not experience failure as a result of personal sin, as fully human He did identify with all of us in His sufferings. In fact, the writer to the Hebrews tells us that He was “made perfect” through His sufferings. And in doing so He invites us into His family! He accepts the broken, the wounded and suffering and dares to call us family – brother, and sisters.

There was something that would have been incomplete about the life and ministry of Jesus without suffering and setback. I think the same is true for us. There’s something incomplete about our own transformation without suffering and failure. I’d rather this wasn’t the case but now I see there is no other way.

Jesus Christ came into this dark, broken world to bring transformation to our lives. We don’t often realize it was because of our personal failure and brokenness that He came. We’d like to think that we are “pretty good and decent” people who try to do our best and don’t have to ask God for very much. It’s that very attitude that blocks our personal transformation.

Now for me, Christmas is a time to reflect on my own neediness and failure for which I have no answer other than the Incarnate Son of God and His work in my own life and soul. Without His redeeming work I’m stranded without transformation and my sin and failure have no redemptive value whatsoever.

Christmas should be a reminder to us all the God sent His Son into a broken world to transform it. It won’t happen through political movements or self-improvement programs. God’s plan is more personal and profound that we ever realize.

Whatever failure, setback or suffering has been part of this year for us we must remember that Jesus joins us in our deepest struggles and doesn’t shrink back from accepting us as brothers and sisters. When we surrender to Him even failure can be transforming if we allow its lessons to transform our hearts. That seems to be what God’s family is all about and I’m so grateful to be accepted into it – all because of Him.

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My thoughts on healthy acceptance of what we cannot change in life

“In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” – John 14:2-3 (NIV)

A New Resolve: “I cannot change the future but as it unfolds I can learn to rest in God knowing that long ago He made preparations for my future.”

Suicide. It’s the word we never want to hear, but is a terrible reality in our world. Recently it hit home hard as a dear friend took her own life. She had everything to live for – a lovely family and many friends who dearly loved her – but depression and despair had clouded her vision. For unexplained reasons she didn’t or couldn’t see a future for herself in this life.

We grieve for her and even more for the family she left behind. In seeking to process the pain of it all we are left with far more questions than answers.

If I’m honest there have been difficult times in my own life when I wondered why God still had me living in His world and even why He had ordained for me to be here.

Now I am more convinced than ever that we all have a mortal spiritual enemy that seeks to destroy our lives, but we also have our Lord and Maker who has revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. There is no doubt that there is a battle raging for control of our hearts and minds. That’s where decisions are made – where lives flourish, flounder or fail to thrive. That’s where we decide to choose life – or choose death, in one form or another.

Just before His crucifixion and resurrection Jesus reminded His followers that He was leaving but He also assured them of His continued presence. The Holy Spirit would come to guide, comfort and empower His followers.

Jesus also assured His followers, “I go ahead of you to prepare a place for you.” This is the assurance of a glorious future in Heaven for all those who submit to the leadership of Jesus in this life.

In reflecting on the tragedy that befell my good friend and searching my own soul, I think our mortal enemy tries to deceive us into thinking that there will be nothing good for us down the road. We might as well just “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.”

To be honest, with the pain, failure and suffering that many of us have experienced life doesn’t always look promising for the future. But Jesus assures us, “I go to prepare something special for you.”

In another context, the Apostle Paul spoke of Jesus’ followers this way, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)

When I began to grasp the reality that Jesus prepares a place for His followers in Heaven then it dawned on me that He must have good purposes for them on earth until that day comes. We are “God’s workmanship” and as such we are being shaped for deeds that are good and most of them yet to come! These works are good. Not only good for our world but they will be good for us too!

Regardless of what our present situation is like there is good news for everyone to keep on living, even in a broken world. God is preparing good works for us and He’s preparing a future home for us too.

For those of us who struggle with depression, worry, and anxiety we can be reassured that God holds the future. He’s already there ahead of us – far ahead. We can leave the future in His Mighty Hands and trust Him as it unfolds.

Several years ago when I was processing a lot of failure in my own life I prayed on more than one occasion that if God no longer had any purpose for me in this life, He was more than welcome to take me “home.” I know now that my dear friend felt the same way.

Looking back I’m so glad that God didn’t answer my foolish prayer. I’m also thankful that He shows me on a continual basis that He’s got my future, and all of our futures in His hands.

God’s desire for us is to live with Him now and forever. We can embrace an uncertain future by preparing our hearts for good works, then we can walk by faith alongside Jesus confidently into the future.

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A New Series on Acceptance – my thoughts on healthy acceptance of what we cannot change in life

“Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.” Philippians 3:13-15a (NIV)

A New Resolve: “I cannot change the past and must only carry life-lessons with me.”

I used to feel that the more energy I expended on negative things in my life the more likely I was to fix them. Actually just the opposite is true.

I’m not suggesting that we ignore our problems or escape reality. So often the energy we could be expending on effectively dealing with today’s problems gets diffused by carrying unnecessary baggage with us along life’s journey.

Even though I think I’ve made peace with my past there’s often a reminder that I’m not as far along in “letting go” as I think I am.  Sometimes reality has to hit before we realize how our past is robbing us of joy and contentment in the present.

Last year I really suffered with my back. When the problem started I immediately made an appointment with my physiotherapist. After she couldn’t work out the problems after almost six months of treatments I discovered Tony a local Osteopath who was recommended by some trusted friends. Tony found the solution to my back problems but also reminded me of what I knew in my head but in reality wasn’t practicing.

Tony indicated that not only were my back problems related to a past physical injury that was never resolved but they were also related to my emotional state which wasn’t healthy either. He said, “Jesse, you have to let go! You’re still holding on to a lot of things and tension is keeping your problem going! I have no clue what it is, but you have to find it and let it go.”

My weekly sessions with Tony ended up being consistent reminders to me that I cannot change the past and have to “let it go.” No matter how much I try to grasp the things that don’t seem to be resolved the only things worth holding onto are positive lessons learned through life’s failures and success. It seems we always learn a lot more through failure than success.

I think this is where the Apostle Paul seeks to take us in the passage quoted above. Even though he had a lot of things going for him as an individual, as an apostle and leader in the early church he was focused on the present and the future. The task of being a builder in God’s church in the early stages of its existence was too great a task for him to be bogged down by the past – precisely where he could not live and what he could not change.

But Paul also had the personal resolve of knowing God intimately through Jesus and was fully convinced of his eternal destiny. He took every opportunity to present Jesus Christ to others and proclaim the message of the Cross – that God’s sacrifice of His Son, when accepted, resolved his past and gave him everything he needed for the future.

To say that Paul had his eye on a larger picture would be an understatement at best.

So often when I get focused on the past I insist on carrying fear, wounds, grudges, burdens, shame, anxiety and bitterness with me. In doing so I am focused on the small picture. It usually just has “me” in the picture and no one else. We often carry scars with us that tell a story of difficult situations and perhaps others that harmed us. Carrying all the negatives with us will lead to depression and despair. I know, I’ve gone there far too often.

When we refuse to “let go” of the past we lose sight of the fact that God in His greatness can run the universe. He’s been doing it from eternity past and we can trust Him with the present and future no matter where we have come from.

So let go of the past and be grateful in the present. Be grateful for where you have come from and the lessons you carry with you instead of getting mired in the details. Be grateful for where you are headed, but be sure you are headed in the right direction.

Ultimately the only place secure in this world is the eternal world to come where we will be free from every snare that kept us in bondage during this life. There is One who goes ahead of us who is quite willing to take us there.

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“But Job replied, ‘You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?’ So in all this, Job said nothing wrong.” Job 2:10 (NLT)

Have you ever received a Christmas gift that you found difficult to accept?

Have you ever been downright disappointed in what you’ve received?

I know I have. I vividly recall one Christmas in my late teen years when my parents gave me a gift that I flat out rejected. It wasn’t a pretty scene. Today I’m really embarrassed that I behaved so poorly and was so unappreciative of my parents who had previously never failed to make Christmas a special occasion.

Being a somewhat typical man, I admit I’m hard to shop for when it comes to gifts. I can’t always make up my mind what I really want anyway, so how could my family know what gift to give me?

I don’t know about you but I struggle with the idea of acceptance. We love accepting things that we enjoy especially when fun surprises come our way. But when we get what we aren’t expecting – especially when it comes in the form of disappointment, adversity or suffering – that’s when we are not so sure we can accept the gift.

Being the natural perfectionist that I am, I’m always looking for the best deal I can find so when I get less than what I think is best, disappointment can quickly sink in.

I have found that when I set my standards high and don’t figure in setbacks and suffering into the mix of life, I set myself up for struggles with disappointment and a lack of acceptance.

Lately, I’ve been listening more carefully to people who have graciously struggled with pain, suffering and adversity in their lives. Many of them describe even adversity as a “gift” from God. One that we don’t ask for, but which inevitably comes our way, living in this fallen world.

A colleague of mine has been struggling with cancer for over fourteen years. Barring a miracle her condition will not change for the better this side of heaven. The painful process she’s been through she describes as a “gift.” She has had countless opportunities to speak to others of God’s grace and provision for her during her time of affliction. I don’t know if I would be that accepting if I were in her shoes.

From time to time professional golfer Gary Player alludes to the fact that he had a difficult childhood in South Africa but grew up with the dream that he would be one of the world’s greatest golfers in his generation. He is often quoted as saying that adversity is one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind even though we don’t see it that way. By facing adversity with a more than positive attitude his accomplishments continue to back up his bold statements.

Jealousy and envy also make acceptance a difficult task. When we think that others have it better than we do in some area of life we look at our own situation and covet the possessions of others. We never expect that they might be looking back at us with similar sentiments. We aren’t so quick to envy others for the suffering they endure even though it might just be the making of us.

Part of accepting God’s gifts to us – the pleasant and the painful – is the realization that He is doing something unique with each one of us that only He can accomplish with our willing participation. We refer to this as a “faith” journey with God, trusting that His way for us is tailor-made and whatever is beyond our control comes directly from His gracious hand.

This Christmas I find myself desiring a new perspective on acceptance and gratitude. The more that we can accept what God gives us and respond to Him with a heart of gratitude the less disappointment will be part of our daily life-experience.

God’s greatest gift to the world was His very own Son – our Christmas Treasure. The rich gifts that He offers to all of us – His grace, mercy, peace and forgiveness – can’t be measured or removed once received.

When we gladly accept Him, in all His richness, we can easily accept whatever else may come our way – without disappointment!

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