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Archive for the ‘Adversity’ Category

“‘Haven’t you read the Scriptures?’ Jesus replied. ‘They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’’’ And he said, ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.’” – Matthew 19:4-6 (New Living Translation)  

It was sometime during the summer of 1974,  I think, when I was sitting at a desk in my room at home when my older sister Betty stepped in the doorway to talk to me. She didn’t particularly have an agenda, but suddenly the conversation revealed one. “I think you and Joyce should get married!” she blurted out.

Needless to say, this isn’t what I expected from my sister but I also wasn’t shocked. Joyce Elizabeth Lamborn and myself had only been dating a few weeks at that point but we had known each other for over a year, having met through church and attending Texas Wesleyan College (now University) together.  

My sister was adamant that from what she knew of my new girlfriend that the earmarks of an enduring relationship were pretty obvious. Thankfully she wasn’t the only one who saw it either.

By Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday in November) of that year, we were officially engaged and before we knew it the wedding was set for July 26, 1975.

I can recall that the eight months of our engagement were filled with highs and lows as we sought to further our education, seek pre-marriage counselling, plan a wedding and hold down the part time jobs we had at the time.

As a full-time student I was working part-time at a factory, Superior Heat Treating Company in Fort Worth, Texas which was a bit out of my comfort zone. A friend from my church who owned the business had kindly offered me the job to get me through school. My long term plan was to complete my education at Texas Wesleyan, attend Seminary in Dallas and then enter the ministry as a church pastor, so I thought.  

The final weeks before our wedding where challenging as Joyce returned from Texas to her family home in Whitehall, Wisconsin to complete the wedding plans after our school term and I stayed in Fort Worth to work as much as possible before starting a new life as a married man.

Obviously, our wedding took place in July ‘75 and we entered married life with all the hopes, fears and expectations of an exciting future together. Our honeymoon was a saga in itself as we travelled to western, New York for some friend’s wedding which was to take place the following Saturday. By the time we returned to Texas as a married couple we could have written a pretty exciting book, if only about the first two weeks of marriage. It was, in a sense, a microcosm of our future and a foreshadowing of things to come.

Our Wedding Day – July 26, 1975

Since those early days together, Joyce and I have travelled the world, lived in Dallas the four years of seminary, served as missionaries in the West Indies (summer of 1979) and Ireland (summer 1978; 1983 to present). We have six children and are expecting our thirteenth grandchild in October. I could to on, but you get the point. It has been a life like no other and I would definitely not be the man I am today without Joyce.  

It was the author Gore Vidal who is to have said that if you live long enough you experience just about everything – joys, tragedies, good heath, illness, failure, success – you name it. I  know this is true with me and the wonderful, dedicated and gifted life partner God gave to me all those years ago.

Having just celebrated our forty-fifth year together I have seen and continue to see the fingerprints of God in our lives – bringing us together, developing us, using us and blessing us in a multitude of ways. I think I can safely say that we both desire together to be useful to God and for His good purposes for as long as He gives us life, health and strength.

There has been pain, suffering, setbacks and even my own failures which have tested the relationship, but the One who brought us together has been faithful. There will always be strength to stand the test of time when our dependence is on Him.  May it continue to be so.

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“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:35-39 (NIV)

It all changed for me one sunny Friday afternoon. It was the autumn of 1962, school was back in session and I was finally back to something of a routine, having missed several months of school in first and second grade due to Rheumatic Fever.

Sometime during the autumn of ’62 I recall being admitted to Cook’s Children’s Hospital in my home  town of Fort Worth to have my tonsils removed. I can still remember having been given ether as an anesthetic for the surgery. One whiff of that awful smell and you never forget it. I recall having a very bad dream during the operation and waking up in a lot of pain.

After my recovery, even though my mother tended to be hyper over-protective, she started letting me ride my bike up to Don, a friend who lived a few blocks south of home up Lubbock Avenue and off one of the connecting streets.

Don was a classmate and I can clearly recall that he was a partner in suffering as well. Somehow a heater had caught his pajamas on fire as a young child and he suffered from a badly burned and scarred back. It unfortunately became his badge of courage and I tended to sympathize with him. He also had a very nifty cotton candy machine and he would treat me often when I visited.

Whenever trying to negotiate my way to Don’s house I had to risk getting past a very pesky dog that would chase me on my bike as I rode up Lubbock. On this particular Friday afternoon, I decided, that since I had more time, I would cycle all the way up my street and take the long way around to Don’s house. A different direction that would take almost twice as long, rather than risk facing that pesky dog!

About half way up the street on the left hand side of the road I hit gravel and the bike slipped right out from under me.  I may have ended up with a skinned knee but the most notable change was the feeling that my mouth was injured.  

The rest of my plans were now cancelled for the day and I walked back home to confess yet another setback to my mother. It turned out I had just lost my front right tooth. I soon learned that I really missed having it intact.

I recall how calm and collected my mother was that day. She had just spent two years dealing with my infirmity and now she had a son who had just knocked out his front tooth! She immediately called our dentist, Dr. Charles Cash, a legendary Fort Worth children’s dentist. I learned to realize how much pain he could dole out for being such a popular individual.

I was only in third grade but I was already getting experience in Rheumatic Fever, tonsillectomies and root canals!

Looking back on these childhood traumas, they seem now like minor pin pricks, yet at the time they were, for me, painful experiences. Time has a way of giving us perspective on our pain and problems.

All through life there will always be heartbreaking situations that we would rather avoid but the perspective we have on them can either make them worthless or pricelessly redeemable.

As a child I would not have been familiar with the verses quoted above in Romans 8:35-39, but I would come to love them later in life. No setback we face or suffering we endure has power within itself to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

I think often about that Friday afternoon. What if I had risked taking on the dog? What if I had bravely set out down Lubbock Avenue and taken the direct route to Don’s house? We’ll never know. I ended up visiting a dentist named Cash instead of a boy named Don, and the future would be different because of it. I can’t recall ever visiting Don in his home again after that day.

During this time of global pain, suffering and setback perhaps it’s a season to realize that there is a God who is sovereign over the affairs of man. Perhaps He is calling each of us to greater dependence on Him for the outcomes that He desires. After all, if we are seeking Him, there’s no power on earth that can separate us from His love.  

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“He went in and said to them, ‘Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.’ But they laughed at him. After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was.  He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha koum!’ (which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up!’).  Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished.” – Mark 5:39-42 (NIV)

Growing up in Fort Worth, Texas in the mid 1950’s was, for the most part, a superb way to start out in the world. I often look back to the traumatic events that dotted my childhood but I have to say that blessings have marked my life from the very outset.

My Parents on their Wedding Day July 28, 1947, Cleburne, Texas

I was born on January 8, 1954 in Harris Hospital to J.L. and Blanche (Loper) Northcutt. My parents moved from Townsend Street to 2650 W. Boyce Avenue when I was four years old. I can still recall one scene from our “new” house the day we moved and it continued to be our family home until after my mother’s eventual passing in 1989.

With me in the family home were my two older sisters Susan Jane born in September 1948 and Betty Joan born in November, 1950. Both were born in Cleburne where my father had grown up and my parents were married and spent the early years of their marriage.

My mother, Nora Blanche Loper had grown up in a few locations in west Texas although she, her parents and four siblings had moved around before settling down in Glen Rose. Her father died when she was thirteen from complications from a burst appendix during the dark days of the Great Depression.

After I was born my mother delivered my two younger twin brothers who died around childbirth. One was stillborn and the other lived one day. Robert Richard and Charles Lee were buried in the family plot in the White Church Cemetery near Glen Rose, where my mother would eventually be laid to rest. The experience was deeply traumatic and she always wondered what life would have been like if they had survived. I never met anyone in my life who had more compassion for children than my mother.

A few years later my sister Jeanne Marie came along. Somewhere along the way we started to nickname her “Jeannie” even though that wasn’t her proper name. Early on I didn’t quite take to having another sister instead of a brother, but as the years went by I learned to value her love and friendship. Today I am deeply grateful to have her especially since our two elder sisters passed away far too early – but that’s another story.  

From a very young age I loved television. I was an avid fan of the Three Stooges and “Slam Bang Theatre” which was shown on our local station KTVT – channel 11 every afternoon after school. A local man, Bob Camfield played the role of Icky Twerp and all my classmates would have been big fans of him and the show. I had loads of favorite cartoons which included Deputy Dawg, Bullwinkle, Felix the Cat, Top Cat, and Dudley Doright.

One evening my parents were watching TV and a drama was showing that featured a man trying to escape the bad guys on an island. He found a gourd, strips of cloth and gunpowder from which he made a homemade bomb. He was able to light the fuse, blow up the bomb, distract the bad guys and get away.

I couldn’t have been more than five or six, but one day I got angry that one of the neighborhood boys couldn’t come out to play so I decided to recreate the “bomb” idea and throw it the neighbor’s house! I found a glass jar with a lid, tore up strips of cloth and soaked them in lighter fluid! My father was an occasional smoker and in those days cigarette lighters and fluid were household commodities. I used one strip as a fuse and was going to get my father’s lighter when I was caught!

Looking back this was one of the first close calls that obviously averted disaster and you can be sure that I never, ever tried a stunt like that again!

South Hills Elementary School Today

Eventually I attended South Hills Elementary School which was just a short walk up Lubbock Avenue and a right turn up Bilglade. My Kindergarten teacher was Miss Sanders whom I didn’t appreciate very much at the time. By the autumn of 1960 I was in first-grade and my teacher was a lovely woman named Mrs. Herring.

It was during first-grade that an event occurred which would be a life-changing event for me and my family.   The winter of 1960-61 I contracted strep throat. My mother told me that we had snow that winter, a rare occurrence,  and she made the mistake of letting me go out to play even though not fully well. The strep throat developed into Rheumatic Fever and I ended up missing three and a half months of school that year, being confined to the bed most of the time. I had a recurrence of the Fever during second grade and missed two and a half months of that school year.

There were now numerous trips to our family pediatrician, Dr. Frank Cohen, regular doses of penicillin and the occasional Gamma globulin injection (extremely painful, if you haven’t had one!) I learned the torment of unwanted isolation but had our family cat, Cuddles to console me in my time of need.

It was during these formative years that my faith was developed at a heart level. Although we were faithful churchgoers, I can’t recall discussing many matters of faith with my parents in the early years. However, at nights during my illness before bed during mother would read stories to me from the Gospels of Jesus healing children (quoted above) and we prayed for my healing. In later years these memories would become the bedrock of my faith.

A friend who attended our church in those days, Myrle Burton, was my home-school teacher during my illness before home-schooling was even known. I remember my classmates sending me cards and gifts to wish me well in my illness. Some of the cards and puzzles that I received I kept as keepsakes well into my teen and even adult years.

Looking back on my early years I can see that God was preparing me for far more than I ever realized. I think back to my dear mother suffering through the loss of her twin sons and now struggling to keep her life and family together during the illness of her only son. I can’t imagine what she was thinking and feeling when she tried to sleep at night. My father was a hard-working electrician and she was home trying to provide for a family of six and nurse me through my illness.

Early in third-grade I had my tonsils extracted and the Rheumatic Fever never recurred, but my memories of those years and my mother’s fight to bring me through them never left.

I firmly believe that God is at work in the large and small stories of our lives to shape us for the future He desires for us to have with Him and the place He has for us in the world. As I look at the present with its current challenges, we are now in the midst of a terrible crisis with the Covid-19 pandemic. I can’t help but think that He has far more planned for each of us than we ever realize. May we cling to the One who is eternal and holds us and the future in His capable hands. We just never outgrow the foundation of our faith.

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“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that One died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.” – 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 (NIV)

As I write these words from the safety and security of my home in Ireland the scene outside my window seems calm, quiet and at peace. However, I know that there is a battle raging in this country and all around the world. It’s a battle to save lives from a deadly virus that’s spreading and infecting people of all ages in large numbers with the potential to become one of the world’s greatest pandemics in history.

I’m not interested in becoming another news reporter explaining all the details of the spread of the disease or careful spokesperson to encourage you to practice social distancing and safe hygiene. We have many capable and competent people already doing this. Please continue to follow wise advice.

I have a very specific reason for writing today and that is to consider a subject that will face each and every one of us. The current crisis has me asking the question, “Am I ready for death should it visit me personally?” Other related questions come to mind, such as, “If this were my last day, week, month or year to live what would be the legacy I leave behind?” or  “What might others who have known me say was the purpose and significance of my life?”

No matter what our age or health situation I doubt that many of us are really expecting this to be the last day, week or month that we could be alive on this earth.

In recent days I’ve seen videos of transport vehicles in Italy taking multiple coffins to crematoriums. It’s a grim reminder that death will overtake all of us at one point or another but now we don’t even have the assurance that any of us will actually have a typical funeral or memorial service to perhaps remind those left behind what our lives represented or signified.

My grandfather (above), father (left) and uncle after the passing of my grandmother Hallie

Back in 1918 the world faced a terrible pandemic which has been labelled “The Spanish Flu.” It took the life of my grandmother at the age of thirty in the prime of her life. My father and his brother were very small boys and were left without a mother and with a father who would later die of tuberculosis. The reality of those premature deaths marked them for life. Fortunately, we have some photos of my grandmother and a lovely obituary of her life to remind us that she was a woman whose faith was securely in Jesus Christ.

The apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthian church in the first century reminds these early Christ-followers that they are aligned to the One who has defeated the power of death. The only religious figure in history who has experienced a vicarious death and resurrection for all people is the One to whom I give my heart and allegiance. If those who know me don’t know that, then they haven’t really known me at all.

The very same life and security that I have experienced personally in knowing and following Jesus is freely available to all who turn to Him in faith.

To be perfectly honest, today I don’t feel that this virus will overtake me and I hope and pray it never takes the lives of any of my family, friends and loved ones. If you know me personally and are reading this know that I’m praying for your health and safety as I capture these thoughts. However, I am faced with the harsh reality that I have no guarantees.

So for today, I’m ready to continue to share the love and life I have experienced as a follower of Jesus Christ with the world around me and with others with whom I can connect around the globe.

As the apostle said, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that One died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.”

Another reality is that during this life we don’t generally know what others think of us unless they specifically tell us. Perhaps in these uncertain days it’s time for you to communicate to some friends or loved ones just how special they are to you.

Once we have departed this life it’s impossible to shape the legacy we hope to leave behind. That’s still the opportunity of the hour.

Let’s consider today that as long as we have life and breath we can continue to give our heart, mind and soul to what is really important  – the relationships we enjoy with others. It’s my prayer that in the midst of the present crisis you will find a relationship with the One, and the only One, who defeated even death itself that you might live – even for all eternity.   

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“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)

When the last decade began in January 2010 I was in the early stages of a major transition in my life. The story is far too long to even summarize, but needless to say several major shifts were taking shape in my life. I had just come through a very difficult season and due to some major personal failures was side-lined from what had been my normal work/life routine. My weaknesses and failures were being surfaced and exposed and it wasn’t pleasant!

At one and the same time I was devastated by a sense of loss and personal failure but also relieved that there was hope for the future and fresh start. Looking back, I can see that I was greatly blessed to have a loving wife (who didn’t abandon me) and family as well as countless friends and care-givers carefully placed around me by the hand of God. These choice people saw me through some of the darkest days of my life.

One of the major lessons at the early stages of the decade was a fresh understanding of the grace of God (i.e. His unmerited favor). In circles where I travel, there’s generally a clear understanding that the Grace of God is fully realized in His gift to us in Jesus Christ. His free gift of personal reconciliation with God culminated at the Cross. However, there’s often less discussion about how the same grace that brings us into a right relationship with God also enables and sustains us on a daily basis. This is equally essential to our health, growth and wholeness.

God’s grace is also highly relational. God has demonstrated limitless grace to us and with us in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. Before I went through a major crisis I had an intellectual knowledge of grace, but through failure and weakness (alluded to in the verse above) I grew in an experiential knowledge of Grace. I can only be a living demonstration of this grace. I cannot in any manner transfer that experiential knowledge to you or others. You must experience this yourself and hopefully see it lived out in community around you (e.g. God’s idea of “the church”).

There were key people along the way who vividly embodied God’s grace to me and without them I would have never come through a very dark period. They too had experienced God’s unmerited favor. They in no way excused my failure but they recognized it for what it was – an opportunity to grow and trust God at a deeper level than ever before.

I discovered many things through the past decade. It began with an exposure of my weaknesses and a grew through an ever increasing understanding of my daily need for God and dependence upon His grace and sustaining power.

I’ve often been told that I’m a man who is very hard on himself. In my perfectionistic ways I abhor my weaknesses. I often feel they limit my effectiveness and I would be so much better off without them. However, the great Apostle Paul says, he is thrilled with his weaknesses, he even boasts in them. They allow God to shine brighter through him and that’s the bottom line.

I’m not there yet, but I’m continually growing in my awareness that God is not glorified by me being able to make life work without Him. God is most glorified in my life when I’m truly trusting and fully dependent upon Him. That’s why Paul understood that God’s grace was “sufficient” for Him. It should be sufficient for all of us.

During the decade of 2010 to 2019, found many things restored in my life that had been broken or missing in previous years. I can’t begin to enumerate all the wonderful discoveries that I have made along the way. However, I will say this, I discovered that personal growth, guided by God and His grace, is far more dynamic, relational and process-oriented than I ever would have imagined.

If you are feeling a sense of weakness or personal failure at the beginning of this decade, take heart. Some of my greatest life lessons came out of my greatest personal failures. My weaknesses had me listening to the One who is always speaking. He wouldn’t have it any other way. May you know and experience His grace for yourself in this New Year.

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“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14 (NIV)

September 1st 2019 is not far away. It will be a special milestone in my life.

A decade ago I wasn’t living a very fruitful life even though everyone around me would have assumed otherwise. I had a wonderful wife and family. Most of my six children were thriving and well-adjusted in life. I had a job that was stable and I was by most standards doing well in it. I was part of a local church that was growing and enjoyable to be a part of, both as an attender and as a member of the leadership team. I could elaborate further, but you get the picture.

What no one knew was that for a number of years previous I wasn’t “dealing” with some personal issues that I had swept behind a very thick curtain. Leading up to 2009 I didn’t even think that anything from the past could come back to haunt me. But in reality I was a powder keg only a lit match away from exploding.

Now I know that God doing at least two things with me the summer of 2009. The first was that He was exposing me to some quality teaching through some mentors new to me. He was gently directing me to a better pathway. The second was that He was beginning to expose my sin, error and wrong thinking in some very dramatic ways. Some were my own mis-steps that were very harmful.

Leading up to my transformation, my response to life was much like being a lost driver in a strange town at night in a pouring rainstorm. I was driving frantically never knowing where I was going, where I had come from and where I was supposed to be turning next. Needless to say, I was in serious need of help and direction.

Without knowing it at the time, I was desperate to make life work on my own. If I could figure this life out without others I could perhaps be a hero-crusader – loved and admired for my independence and ingenuity. Little did I know how isolated I had becomeperhaps the biggest danger any of us face.

After a series of drastic personal failures, known only to myself, by the end of August 2009 I finally reached out to a trusted friend and made that life-changing phone (actually Skype) call. Even though I had confessed to God, I finally confessed to another real, living human being.

One of my greatest fears was how people would react if they really knew the darkness of which I was capable. I had to risk and trust that God had at least one gracious person out there who could handle my truth.  

It may seem strange to say, but I had always been a man who loved the truth. The truth of God as revealed in Scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ. However, what I was about to learn was the equal reality of grace.  I would now say that these two powerful principles cannot be found until they experienced at the deeper levels of our souls. Do you recall the story in the Bible of the woman caught in adultery (John 8)? What was the deep emotional experience of that woman? How was her life transformed by the experience of Grace and Truth in Jesus Christ?

That critical call on September 1, 2009 was to a trusted friend who not only loved the truth but was a man full of grace. Without that living reality of Grace and Truth I now could not imagine what life would have been like the past decade. As a result, God showed me that His grace and truth was also embodied in the lives of many others around me. Not everyone – but many of His servants were already prepared to demonstrate the grace and truth I so desperately needed.

God had to bring me to a place of deep brokenness in order to end my years of isolation and self-sufficiency. Previously, I would have said that I trusted God and most people in my life would have believed me. In the coming days and weeks I would actually see what it was like to finally “trust” Him and others He put around me.

The early days of September 2009 were some of the darkest days of my life. I went to bed at night  thinking of how I could end the deep pain I was experiencing.  At the same time that I was suffering my family was too. No way would I choose the easy way out and leave them to suffer more pain and agony that I knew would be their fate without me.

The first two years of the decade were the worst. Any major change of direction in life takes pain, effort and intensity. The cost was well worth the results that have come on multiple levels.

The lessons I learned in my recovery and restoration period were profound. But perhaps the greatest lesson was that we daily need to bathe in the truth of God and in the abundant and generous grace that He offers us. We also desperately need people of grace and truth in our lives who are following the lead of Jesus Christ – the One who is and will forever be “full of grace and truth.”

One of my deepest desires is that I will continue to be and become a man of “grace and truth” – living by the principle that touched me so deeply. How can I withhold from others what was so generously lavished upon me?

I’m rejoicing today that I’m no longer a loner (at least most of the time), isolated in my own little world, trying to make life work by myself. I still have a long way to go in being fully whole and mature, but I have a much clearer path forward than ever before.

Whatever you are facing right now, whatever situation you are in, please know that the path of “Grace and Truth” is the only path to wholeness, spiritual and emotional health. I hope you will also come to realize that Jesus Christ is the complete embodiment of grace and truth.

I know, because not only have I met Him but I know He has many of His choice servants speaking words of Grace and Truth into my life on a daily basis.

I plan to never leave the path of Grace and Truth – and you shouldn’t either.   

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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. 

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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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