Suffering


Fate has a way of introducing situations into our lives that challenge us at the deepest levels. From debt, difficulty, disaster, divorce, death, and beyond, these have a way of putting-the-squeeze on us in ways we would prefer to avoid. Never does God intend for these things to depress or destroy us. To the contrary, He uses these to develop us into power-broking people who can endure trials and prevail at any time, in any place, and under any circumstance. Settle with the fact that some realities just won’t change. Loved ones do age and may become ill. Grown children will eventually leave home; whether at a time we are ready for them to go, or earlier should they decide to take the plunge. Employers may make hard choices that cost us substantially. In short, we will continue to experience losses no matter who were are or what we have attained. We cannot change these!

You should know, though, you have options! You can either fight it—that is, try hard to deny the reality as if it does not exist—or you can face it. You can either take it lying down, or you can stand up in the midst of it and be a victor, and not the victim. When life issues you a lemon, you can actually make lemonade. God gives believers the power to take stumbling blocks, and successfully turn them into stepping stones. Regardless of how painful the dilemma is, we can make it, because it’s not the end of the world. That is, yet! Want to know how? Here’s an approach:

First, thank God for the test (trial). Really, that’s all it is. It’s a test of your faith. I don’t know anyone who tries to intentionally fail a test. There are some Christians, however, who would prefer to simply “not take the test.” Don’t trip! Thank God for it. It’s only a test! Second, ask God to help you learn from it. There is so much to learn in every experience. Turn that trial or challenge into a learning module. God will show you areas where you are much stronger/wiser than you realized, and ways (and places) where you need improvement. No matter what, learn from the experience! Third, be positive! The matter of faith is a “living” reality. Therein lies a power at our disposal to handle and overcome any adversity if we would simply appropriate it. Sing songs of praise and be joyful. Do all you can to celebrate God’s goodness even in the dark places! Make God larger than the problem. Fourth, trust His word (Him) through it! Remind yourself of the promises of God. He alone declares never to leave nor forsake us. He alone has the power to defeat death, hell, and the grave. Read and remember His word.

Daniel had fasted and was praying for three full weeks anticipating a breakthrough and some needed relief for the people of Israel (Chapter 9). While still praying, the angel of the Lord came and told him what he needed to hear. Amazingly, the angel confessed he departed heaven to come to Daniel’s aid a full three weeks earlier, but had been strangely detained by demonic forces (see Chapter 10:13). Even more amazing was the fact Daniel never lost hope. I wondered why! I pondered how we might equally be resilient as we wait on God’s timely intervention into our situations today. Two things came to mind:

(1) God always gives assurance in spite of the appearance. When things appear they are not changing and you find yourself getting a bit weary, pay close attention to how God mysteriously provides assurance even in spite of the appearance. Things are not always as they seem.
(2) Trust the revelation instead of the manifestation. As you read His word, hold fast to what God has said rather than what you see. His word alone can kindle a fire in your heart and give to you the comfort you need to make it through. I am a witness He will!

Dear brothers and sisters; roll up your sleeves and tell the devil “He’s a liar; and the truth is not in him!” Trust God! You can and will make it!

While certain critics continue their onslaught of playwright, Tyler Perry, regarding his latest film, “For Colored Girls,” box-offices prove these so-called experts don’t altogether know everything; and especially about our understanding and appreciation of black art. In my humble opinion, the production struck (strangely) a few spiritual chords I found noteworthy, and afforded me the opportunity to incorporate them into a recent message. Through a combination of varying and independent themes, Perry amazingly caused them to coalesce in a warmly communal scene at the conclusion of the movie that was packed with preaching. If you have seen it already, then you may appreciate these epigrammatic observations from my review.

As these nine ladies stood arm-in-arm on the roof of the apartment building wherein much of the drama took place, I found their dissimilar stories and uniformly unfortunate circumstances portraying these common truths. Somehow they each came to discover (1) You’re not the only one that’s going through; (2) There’s always someone else who is worse off than you; (3) You need me, and I need you; and (4) and if any of us are going to make it, only God can bring us through!

Poetic, yes! But, I submit these are both painstaking and powerful, too!

Settle with these realities, my brothers and sisters. When you do, you may find comfort to stay in the fight, the courage to continue with the struggle, and the strength never to give up (or give in) until the battle is finally over. God is not through with you yet!

Be blessed and may His peace be with you, always!

Football is perhaps my favorite of all organized sports. Routinely I enjoy a game on television, and will even catch a few highlights on a sports channel. While relaxing at home recently, a game caught my eye. The offense was executing their play as the ball was snapped, and wide receivers ran up the field hoping to get open. The quarterback unleashed a long pass toward the goal line (and near the sideline) as one receiver ran a post pattern toward the pylon—the end zone/out-of-bounds marker. Near the two or three yard line, the player inadvertently stepped-out-of-bounds, but reentered the field of play in pursuit of the descending ball. It was a remarkable catch! The referee signaled a touchdown. The stadium erupted as the crowd went ballistic. The defenders objected and I stood up in utter amazement at the acrobatic reception!

Instinctively, the scoring team’s field goal unit ran onto the field to line up for the ensuing extra point when all-of-a-sudden the game was halted. The play was being reviewed by those in the replay booth. After a short delay, the umpire repositioned himself on the field and reported, “After further review, the call on the field is confirmed; it is a touchdown!”

It is no secret we are often sidelined and knocked out-of-bounds—e. g. mistakes, blunders, indiscretions, bad judgments, weariness, fatigue, etc.—by the opposition (our adversary) while attempting to execute our Lord’s play (God’s will for our lives). In fact, to go “out-of-bounds” (in the eyes of many) actually renders one ineligible to continue or even further to touch the ball. This new rule in professional and collegiate football is affording us some valuable insights into spiritual truths I felt worthy of sharing.

Here they are:

(1) The goal of the enemy is to render us disqualified and totally ineligible to continue in ministry. His strategy is to cause us to “cross of the line” or “step out-of-bounds” through any number of discomforting means—mistakes, blunders, indiscretions, bad judgments, etc. So be aware of his schemes and ward him off at every juncture!

(2) No matter what happens, keep running the route! Had the receiver stopped his course (even though he was clearly pushed out), he never would have caught the ball and certainly would not have scored. Get back onto the playing field as quickly and as responsibly as you can, and continue with the route you have been given! After all, the ball is already in the air.

(3) Remember, lastly, the ultimate decision is not your call to make (nor anyone else’s)! There is another Person (God)—Power, Authority—who sits aptly in the replay booth; and He alone is the Official who determines whether you are “in” or “out!”

Work hard to avoid being side-tracked or side-lined, my brothers and sisters! Let the Lord use you TODAY. If you have been knocked down or in some way pushed out, get back up (or back in) and keep running your route. There’s an entire team (believers) and a stadium full of fans (Hebrews calls them “a great cloud of witnesses” [12:1]) who are counting on you! They (We) need you to score!

Here we go again! It should be no surprise that another Christian scandal has made it to the headlines and piqued the interest of believers everywhere, the viewing world, and especially the media. Although the truth is yet to be discovered, rumors continue to mount and many have already drawn conclusions on the innocence and guilt of the accused. The devil just doesn’t play fair, does he? It is most sad!

Let me be clear! Christ’s church is no stranger to controversy; and Christians and Christian leaders are never exempt from these routine and riotous hazards of the faith. Regrettably, some of these are self-imposed and the results of ones’ own undoing. Many are not! Throughout history God’s people have been under the microscope of constant judgment and incessant criticism. In fact, Jesus said, “…the kingdom suffers violence and violent men take it by force.” (See Matthew 11:12, NASB). As believers we will never escape satanic attack and the inequitable demonic strategies employed to destroy God’s work and our witness. What, then, are Christians supposed to do? How are we to respond when these tragic and unavoidable black-eyes occur? And believe me, this is undeniably a huge “black-eye!” Let’s see!

First of all, whenever a brother or a sister has been charged or is accused of a thing—a crime, an offense (a sin), an indiscretion, a fault, etc.,—as sad as it may be, don’t be surprised. In Revelation 12:10, our adversary is called “the accuser of the brethren.” Satan is still the “father of lies, the master of disguise, and the author of confusion.” These are the indisputable facts, and there’s no way around them!

Secondly, don’t judge. Any rash conclusions reached or quick judgments made about anyone who is accused is both premature as well as immature. “All the facts” need to be weighed! And even further, it is not our right or responsibility to ever reach a hasty “verdict” without giving those facts due consideration. Yes, believers will eventually judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3), but these will surely be based on facts!

Thirdly, remember grace. Were it not for the grace (goodness) of God, any of us could be under attack (under seize, or even under fire) at any given moment. That means while you may not be on the witness stand or public display (today), you don’t have to be guilty of anything for the enemy to accuse you of something. We are ALL guilty of something(s), and it is only God’s grace that keeps ALL of us out of the lime-light and the public line-of-fire. Thank God for His grace and always be sure to extend the same to others who may be struggling or are presently under attack!

Fourthly (and most of all), PRAY! The fallout associated with these terrible misfortunes is incalculable. We should immediately begin to intercede and pray. Consider for a moment those who are directly affected:

(a) The accused—undoubtedly a human being with feelings, family, friends, some form of fortune, failures, faults, and flaws. It cannot be easy for anyone accused (whether innocent or guilty).
(b) The accusers—no doubt, there are some issues within the hearts and minds of anyone who would pursue a legal (and public) course of action to resolve an apparent personal problem or difficulty. The Bible is clear on the way believers are to resolve offenses and settle differences.
(c) The world of believers—whenever scandalous matters are aired before the world for open debate and public consumption it sadly damages the image of the church and the strength of every believer’s witness. There is absolutely no way around it!
(d) The unbelieving world—these (unsaved sinners) don’t need another excuse for failing to choose Jesus Christ as their portion. When you take a look at it, it’s a no-win situation and we all lose; and the only way to combat these kinds of heinous assaults is to engage the most formidable weapon in our arsenal and at our disposal—prayer!

Fifthly (and lastly), trust God to work it out! God alone is judge, and we should trust Him and His power to work it all out for all of our good and more especially for His glory. It is still true whatever the enemy may mean against us for evil, God can (and will) work it out for our good! Trust Him!

Be encouraged, my brothers and sisters. This certainly won’t be the last attack (or perhaps fall) of a believer or man or woman of God. When it’s all said and done, God will still be God, He is still good, He will still be great, He yet remains gracious, and He will always be greatly to be praised!

Our national body met this week in Kansas City for its 130th Annual Session. KC is less than 200 miles away and since I have some level of familiarity with the area, quite naturally I drove the distance. It was good to share fellowship with colleagues and friends from all over the country.

A pastor and friend from the DC area caught a ride with me to and from the downtown Convention Center daily since he had no car. As we were riding back to our hotels one evening, he verbalized it appeared as if I was headed in the wrong direction. In all actuality, we were taking a different route, but we were still going to our same destinations. Quietly, I ignored his concern. Finally, he repeated himself, and in a rather humorous manner I looked at my friend and gave him this somewhat typical response: “Man, I’ve got this thing!” Soon we were arriving at our destination and he conceded (with surprise and delight) he really didn’t think we were going to make it.

Reflecting on our riding exchange, I thought whenever riding in someone else’s vehicle, you simply have to trust that person to get you to your goal. Interestingly, and what he didn’t know (and I didn’t tell him) was that I had been that way before.

This reality is true of Christians. We are often concerned about whether or not the path we are taking is the right one, or the given direction we are traveling can get us to our goal. Often delays and unfamiliar scenery will challenge our comfort zones and make us quite naturally uneasy. Let me tell you, my dear brothers and sisters, don’t let these concerns worry you! We have a few comforts along this journey called faith that should put us at ease.

First, we should always remember that Someone else is doing the driving. While we at times are prone to forget (as did my friend), we must keep in mind we are simply the passengers. Secondly, He (God) knows exactly what He is doing, and too, where He is going. It may not look like it or even seem like it to us, but faith says He does. That means we’ve got to trust Him. Thirdly, even though it appears He may be (at times) ignoring us, there is one other truth we must never forget: He’s been this way before! Over two-thousand years ago, our Lord traveled this same trail. In fact, when He left, He sent us a Tour Guide (a personal Driver) to make sure we will reach our goal.

Job expressed it best at Chapter 23 and verse 10 of his journal: “But He knows the way that I take; and when He has tried me I shall come forth as gold.”

Enjoy the ride, dear friends! God’s got this thing!

Never have I felt as helpless being a parent as I did when a severe thunderstorm found its way into our community. My children were quite small and I was quietly attending to some work in my basement office at home. The Midwestern skies suddenly turned dark, and I heard small feet scurrying down the stairs. Lightening began flashing across the canopy of the skies and the heavens thundered in a series of bellowing roars. Soon, all three of them peeked around the office door as I sat at my desk. With blankets and pillows in tow, one spoke up and asked if they could come downstairs with me. Of course, I said, “Sure!” As they nestled in and sat calmly in the adjoining room, I thought how powerless I was in the situation. Had the storm become a tornado, there was nothing I could do to save them or myself. Even still, in spite of my vulnerability there yet was a strange peace that prevailed among them as they found sanctuary near me. I heard God speak in the particularity of it all.

So many times in life we will find ourselves in similar circumstances and there is literally nothing we can do to change it. Three small toddlers taught me a lesson I have never forgotten. Every last one of us can do exactly what they did. As soon as the storm began, they (1) immediately stopped what they were doing, (2) took cover and began paying keen attention to the developments, and (3) found sanctuary near their father. Oh, if we would but do likewise. Bless His holy name!

If there is a storm brewing in your life, try the above child-like strategies, and let the Father give you a peace that will surpass all comprehension.

Believe me; unlike the rest of us, God is not helpless under any circumstances!

How long do I have to go through this? When will my “ship come in?” Will trouble ever cease? When is it going to be my turn? Will my dreams come true? Will things ever get better? These are the universal and unrelenting concerns of so many true believers. They pray, they fast, they seek the loving intercession of others, even labor before the Lord for hours on end; and yet it seems like nothing happens. Things don’t improve or get any different, and the waiting is wearisome to endure. Here’s a real question for you? What if change doesn’t come or things don’t get better? And what if they get worse? Plainly frustrated by waiting, what is one supposed to do? How does one manage in the meantime and beyond this likely possibility?

If God does not discernibly change things for you or improve your circumstances to your delight, and obviously you can’t change them, here are some options:

1. You can start by changing YOU. There’s no need to keep beating-your-head-up-against-the-wall in frustration and disappointment. Arriving at this crucial growth position does not mean you’re happy with or appreciate your situation; instead it means you are learning to accept it. It doesn’t mean you like it; it just means you have decided to live WITH and “to live” IN SPITE of it. Sometimes things just won’t change. “It-is-what-it-is,” and there is nothing we can do to fix it. Don’t become bitter! Get better! Try hard to work on you!

2. Get involved in some area of kingdom service. One of the best ways to avoid depression and overcome the tendency to be overwhelmed by your own plight is to find eager (helpful and encouraging) involvement in another’s struggle. Ask God to reveal to you His opportunities where you can be a real and meaningful blessing to someone else who may be having a hard time. Trust me! You won’t have to look long, you won’t have to look hard, and you certainly won’t have to look far!

3. Listen and learn from both. Someone asked me recently from where I find all my stories? I told them I actually don’t have stories; all I have are experiences. And from these experiences, I am able to joyfully discover stories. How then does that happen? All I do is take the time to reflect on my experiences and process them from every possible angle. When they have “marinated” for a while, I seek God about the lesson He wants me to gain in every one of them. Some believers see life as full of obstacles; I try to see life’s obstacles as learning opportunities. Don’t miss the lesson you are supposed to learn; and don’t rest until you find it. It’s in there!

You can actually turn your negative experiences into positive energy! You can move from frustration to favor. Just ask God to help you, and before you know it you will have stumbled upon a new joy that will give you the strength you need to go on!

Confident He will still help you through it, I remain…

A cold and dreary atmosphere permeated much of the east coast in the wake of Ida—a much anticipated hurricane that was eventually reduced to a tropical storm. Although the weather conditions resultant from the gulf winds were downsized somewhat, low cloud cover produced dense fog over a great portion of the eastern sea board and threatened air traffic for many travelers. Several flights were actually cancelled due to strong winds that made flying absolutely unsafe. Thankfully (and nervously, I must admit), our direct flight from Newark to Omaha did not make that list. The take-off was extremely choppy and reaching a comfortable cruising altitude all but seemed impossible. In spite of it all, we pressed on!

The science of air travel has always fascinated me. Even more intriguing is the confusion of flying when there is no visibility. I still cannot fathom this process. After years of boarding and deplaning aircraft, I finally decided to ask the pilots when we were aground. My question was a simple one: How in the world do you maneuver this huge jet through dense cloud cover and the often in darkness when in truth you cannot see? I know this is the case, because from my seat (as a passenger), I can’t see. Their response to me was interesting. They conceded my observation was true. From the cockpit, their view was the same as mine; but they said they didn’t need to see. The planes, they reported, are equipped with an instrument panel and multiple sensors. All they needed to do was pay attention to the indicators, and they could almost always land on any runway to within mere feet. I got happy!

If the manufacturers of these large big-iron birds could design airplanes with the essential equipment capable of navigating just about every conceivable condition, how much more, then, does it make sense that our Manufacturer has also equipped us with critical sensors to negotiate every circumstance we face. Through a shifting economy, unemployment, tough times, and more, we have already been equipped to survive, and even overcome.

Be a witness today and find someone who may be struggling and just say to them, “You can make it; God has already willed it so!” Be encouraged, my brothers and sisters!

It has been nearly six weeks since I underwent rotator cuff surgery.  These have been some of the most physically challenging days of my life.  While the actual procedure was arthroscopic—utilizing a camera to execute the repair, the surgeon needed to cut the deltoid to get a visual of the site for surety.  The deltoid—the thick, flat triangular muscle at the top of the arm—is attached to the shoulder and collar bone; and is the muscle that enables the arm to move away from the body.  Whenever it is surgically split, there is literally no strength to lift or extend the arm outward.

 

I have been undergoing prescribed physical therapy since week two.  It’s been tough trying to realize the proper range of motion and to regain my strength.  Gratefully, I am yet making good progress and am well on my way to full recovery.  The experience has not been without some valuable and insightful learning opportunities.  Here are a few:

 

1.  Injuries happen (physically, emotionally, relationally, financially, and more).  These inevitably occur as we negotiate this thing called life.  There are some we can avoid; but others we may not.  Settle with it.

 

2.  The pain is real.  After surgery, I was initially numb to what had happened.  Before long, however, it became increasingly clear that I had sustained an injury and was hurt.  It didn’t feel right.  I had to recognize it, and be careful in light of it.

 

3.  Relief is available.  Fortunately, the doctor prescribed medication to minimize my discomfort.  All I needed to do was to get the prescription filled, and appropriately take the pills.

 

4.  With therapy, you can regain mobility and strength.  I was inadequate (ill-equipped) to get better alone.  I needed someone else’s help in order to move closer to recovery.  To be sure, this intervener needed to be competent (skilled) and patient for me to negotiate the difficulty and the discomfort.

 

5.  Healing does occur.  Amazingly, God has factored “healing” in the human equation.  Given the right information and the right intervention, we can get past our pain and begin anew to live a quality existence.

 

These clearly have more than physical implications.  No doubt, people (and circumstances) have hurt us all.  The corresponding pain was likely undeniable and very difficult to endure.  Sometimes (when we are injured), we are incapable of getting better or regaining our mobility without the loving intervention (Christian therapy) of someone else.  Plus, we (believers) have another blessed advantage—the spiritual disciplines.  If we would employ and appropriate them daily (i.e. pray, meditate, worship, praise, practice, trust, etc.), soon, we will overcome the difficulty and mysteriously (even miraculously), we will heal.

 

Each morning as I bathe, I am reminded of the painful experience through which I’ve gone.  For the rest of my life, I am forced daily to re-visit a tough time when I was wounded, weak, and at times very weary.  Joyfully, time has afforded me the privilege to get better.  Even though a scar yet remains, I am happy to report, it doesn’t hurt anymore.  Bless His holy name!

 

Trust God through your pain, and simply give Him time!

 

I invested in a bicycle a couple of years ago for recreational riding.  It’s a very nice Fuji mountain bike with 21 gears.  The route I normally take requires me to negotiate a slight slope to the north when I leave my residence, and then another much larger one (inclining eastward) upon my return home.  The entire path usually takes me about 20-30 minutes each time I ride.

 

One evening while sitting under my garage, I observed a mature couple—a man and a woman—riding their individual bicycles up the same hill I ride in the mornings.  I was spellbound at the ease with which they were able to do it.  There was no apparent struggle; nor did they exhibit any trouble as they rode up this fairly steep incline.  The strange phenomenon intrigued me so that it caused me to stand up from of my comfortable lawn chair.  Staring at them intently, I yelled as they approached my driveway, “Hey!  How can you do that?” I continued, “I ride that hill every day!”  The man (recognizing my dilemma) quickly kicked out his legs; and he said to me amusingly (pointing to the belly of his bike), “We’ve got help!”  With a closer look, I noticed there attached to his bike frame an electronic motoring device which gave these riders assistance (power) to ease their journey when negotiating steep hills or rough terrain.  I got it!

 

As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we are likewise in a similar situation.  Yes, we are sure to face the same difficulties and frequently we have to climb the same hills as unbelievers.  Our advantage, however, allows us to negotiate these trouble-spots with a greater degree of ease.  We literally can testify to curious onlookers by saying to them, “We’ve got help!”  For every Christian, the Holy Spirit accompanies our travels and enables us to make it every time without-a-hitch!

 

Psalm 146:1 says, “The Lord is our refuge and our strength; a very present help in the time of trouble.” (emphasis, mine)  It is excitingly good news to know that our God is “very present,” and furthermore ever present with us through all of our tough times.

 

You should let Him help you!

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