Tested Faith

“No faith is so precious as that which lives and triumphs through adversity. Tested faith brings experience. You would never have believed your own weakness had you not needed to pass through trials. And you would never have known God’s strength had His strength not been needed to carry you through” (Charles Spurgeon).

Leave it up to the old dead guys to speak some serious truth in a way that few now speak it. I’m not saying that everything old was great and everything new is crap, but there is a lot of wisdom out there that has been tested through the years and proven worthy, much in the same way that the purity remains after the gold has been refined by fire.

This quote spoke to me profoundly, even though I’m not currently in the midst of a crisis. Maybe you are. Maybe this will speak to you on a whole different level than it did to me.

Tested faith doesn’t come through prosperity and wealth, despite what some preachers might say. It only comes through hardship and poverty (sometimes material but more often being poor in spirit).

I keep thinking about how the apostles actually rejoiced because they were counted worthy to suffer for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel. Such language doesn’t fit the culture we live in that worships success and comfort. Sadly, you find little of it coming from pulpits on Sunday mornings.

But that’s the kind of faith that lasts and leads to Christlikeness. That’s still the kind of faith that changes the world.

 

10930090_937496052929236_1380222833476064516_n

I have friends that are dealing with health issues. I have friends who are walking through that dark valley of the shadow of death in grieving over a loved one. So many are struggling through finances, stress, anxiety, and depression.

Sometimes, life can seem overwhelming. It’s hard to look five years down the road when it’s all you can do to breathe in and breathe out and make it through the next five minutes.

The good news is that you can say with confidence, no matter what, “Whatever my problems and no matter how big and insurmountable they seem, my God is bigger. My God is able.”

Struggles are temporary. Even the worst of days only last 24 hours. God is eternal. His promises are true through all seasons and through every passing emotion.

Sitting in the doctor’s office facing the worst possible scenario is scary, but God’s perfect love still casts out all fear. The God who brought you this far in your journey will be faithful to get you through even the darkest and most terrifying circumstances.

Even in those moments, there is nothing that God can’t redeem and turn into something good and glorious. Not even death, for to live is Christ and to die is gain. It’s a win-win.

The Apostle Paul walked through every kind of trial and suffering both from within and without, yet was able to pen some of the most hopeful words ever written not because of a great big faith in God but because of faith in a great big God:

“I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us” (Romans 8:38-39, The Message).

 

I’m Still Here

“You’re not a failure until you stop trying. If you have no other testimony you have this one: ‘I’m still here'” (Joyce Meyer).

Winston Churchill once said that success is never final and failure is never fatal, but it is the courage to continue that counts. Aside from some very impressive alliteration, there’s some good truth here.

So hooray for all of you who made it out of bed this morning when you felt an overwhelming desire to sleep in and give up on the day.

Hooray for all of you who adhere to the old motto that faith is believing when common sense tells you not to, or as the author of Hebrews puts it, it’s the “assurance of things you have hoped for, the absolute conviction that there are realities you’ve never seen (Hebrews 11:1, The Voice).

Hooray for those who doggedly adhere to that faith through trials and doubts and who have never given up on God because they know God has never given up on them.

Hooray for those who still dream after so many previous dreams have been dashed to pieces and who keep longing after their desires have been countlessly delayed and denied.

Hooray for those who persevere in the midst of pain and suffering while wearing a smile through it all.

Hooray for those whose only victory today might be the declaration “I’m still here.”

Not only will your endurance lead to a reward, you are leaving a legacy to those who follow to not give up.

After all, Advent is all about how waiting on God’s best is always always worth it.

 

Living in View of Eternity

The guest speaker at Kairos made an astute observation: he said that most of us live like practical Sadducees.

Sadducees were a sect of Jewish religious leaders who denied the resurrection. For them, life ended at the grave.

A lot of us pay lip service to heaven and that sweet by and by, but live as though the here and now is all there is.

The result? We live with a kind of frenetic desperation. We determine our worth by our stuff. We settle in relationships because we think nothing better will come along. We’re always falling victim to FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out.

When Jesus came to give life and give it to the fullest, He did mean here an now, but I believe that life will find its truest and fullest expression in the life to come.

In C. S. Lewis’ book, The Great Divorce, he describes heaven not as a shadowy phantom-land but as place where every blade of grass is so real that it almost hurts to walk on it. A place that’s too much for some because it’s so very real and present.

We are to live in the now, but we should also live under the shadow of eternity, knowing that a whole human life is only a heartbeat in heaven (stolen from a Robin Williams movie).

Because of eternity, failure is not final and death will not have the last word. Defeat is temporary and suffering gives way to joy. Love wins and hope survives.

I still love the imagery of heaven in The Last Battle as the real and true Narnia while the present world is only a shadow and a copy. It’s the real beginning of the story that only gets better with each new chapter, the best story ever written.

 

Severe Mercies

I survived a wreck today.

Actually, that makes it sound much worse that it really was.

I was in a three-car fender-bender where the car behind me got hit from behind and ended up bumping into me.

I ended up with a dinged-up bumper and some shaky nerves.

It could have been so much worse.

I often wonder why God allows His people to go through dark valleys of suffering.

I know that the world we live in is broken and all of creation is affected by the fall and original sin. Plus, there’s that little matter of free will.

I also know that sometimes it takes a little pain to get our attention and remind us that our lives are about more than just us and our pleasure.

I believe that there are some precious truths and lessons that can be learned no other way than going through the dark night of the soul.

We find true community when we come together to share each others burdens and be strong for the ones who can’t be strong for themselves.

I still believe that there is no situation any of us will ever go through that is so dire where we cannot discover small blessings and at least something to be thankful for.

The Psalmist said that even in the deepest and darkest valley he would ever walk through, the Shepherd was with him.

There is nothing that will ever come against the child of God that Jesus has not already faced and defeated once and for all on that Cross of Calvary. Nothing.

That means that any trial is temporary and any affliction is fleeing and momentary.

You can survive just about anything if you can see beyond it to something better. Even Jesus endured the cross, knowing the joy that awaited Him on the other side.

Ultimately, I still believe that every day I wake up is grace and everything beyond that is gravy and there are a multitude of blessings and gifts to be found along the way with those who see with eyes of faith.

 

 

I’m Sick

It’s official. I have a fever and I feel bad. I’m sick.

As much as I like to think that I am brave and stoic in the face of illness, I’m not. Actually, I’m a bit of an overdramatic martyr, truth be told. In my own passive aggressive way, I want everyone around me to be aware of the agony I’m in so they can feel appropriately sorry for me and buy me nice things and do nice things for me.

I regaled more than one person with the thrilling tale of how I drove from work with the A/C off and the vent on because of the chills. It was brutal. I didn’t even sweat one drop the whole way, even though I normally would have been perspiring like the pig that’s about to be bacon.

I made sure that people saw how I was shaking and shivering under all that nasty air conditioning when I was clearly not well. Anyone should have been able to tell that just by looking at my poor miserable face.

Yet here I am, sick. Honestly, I’ve felt much crummier and if this is the worst experience I go through, I’m doing alright.

I know several who are worse off than I. I have a friend who has been to doctor after doctor trying to diagnose and lingering illness that causes her to be extremely fatigued and with a weak immune system to fight off infection. I know several who are fighting courageous battles with cancer, including one who recently lost his battle.

Viewed the right way, illness can be an opportunity rather than solely a burden. You can always serve those who are worse off than you (and if you can’t physically serve, you can send encouraging notes or texts letting them know you are thinking and praying for them. Encouraging words tend to have the same effect on those who write them as with those who receive them.

You can use illness as a means to stand in solidarity with those around the world who suffer daily from hunger, malnourishment, disease, and abuse. You can use your aches and pains as a reminder to pray to the Healing God for those everywhere who live daily with chronic pain and diseases.

This just in. I’m not at death’s door just yet. I’ll probably be right as rain in a day or two with hardly a memory of all my dire suffering.

 

Thoughts on the Book of Jeremiah

In my quest to read through the Bible in a year (again), I’ve made it to Jeremiah. I confess that the prophetic section of the Old Testament can be hard to read at times — I see time and time again where God’s patience runs out as the Israelites have abandoned Him and chased after other gods for so long.

I also see hope. I love the parts where God speaks of restoring His children to their land and to their former glory. Even though they deserve annihilation because of all their philandering and idolatry, God has promised after a time to bring them back to their home.

That gives me great hope. It means that the worst part of your story is never the last part. The part where the darkness seems never-ending and where hope seems so far away is not the last chapter. The ending is so much better.

Elisabeth Elliot once said that God’s story never ends with ashes. It never ends in exile and despait. Death and destruction do not have the last word. Neither does evil.

The terrorists do not win in the end. Fear and violence will one day be forever past tense. Love and mercy will be the currency of the new world order.

I truly believe in my heart of hearts that one day Jesus will come back and set everything right again. What got derailed in Eden will finally be fully and forever realized.

There’s a beautiful verse that speaks about how overjoyed the people will be when they see Jerusalem restored. It will be like dreaming with your eyes wide open, too good to be true yet still very much true.

The best part (to me) will be that all the pain and suffering that seems now like it will never end will one day seem light and momentary compared to the glory and joy that’s coming. It won’t even begin to compare.

All that from one little book in the Bible.

 

 

Today’s Word for the Day– Suffering

“There’s far more to this life than trusting in Christ. There’s also suffering for him. And the suffering is as much a gift as the trusting. You’re involved in the same kind of struggle you saw me go through, on which you are now getting an updated report in this letter” (Phil. 1:29-30).

Imagine Mr. Fred Rogers in his sweater and sneakers saying something along these lines: Boys and girls, today’s word for the day is suffering.  Can you say suffering? Suh-fer-ring.

Most of the time, I am all about the suffering- avoidance mode. I likes my comfort. I don’t likes to suffer in the least.

I think that what drives most of the consumer market is comfort and convenience. That seems to be the American way, especially in American churches.

Still, the American comfortable middle-class Christianity is an anomaly. For most of the world, to proclaim Christ as Lord is to invite suffering. It’s not a matter of if, but when.

If I’m honest, when I read that suffering is a gift, my first thought is where to go to exchange it for something more comfortable and convenient.

But that’s where you and I find God. C. S. Lewis said that God speaks through our pleasures but shouts to us in our pain. Something about suffering clarifies our perspective and gives us better eyes to see God with.

Also, there is no better testimony than seeing someone willing to sacrifice for their faith. Anyone can believe in something that benefits them tangibly, but it’s quite another when you give up family, houses, and land for what you believe. Jesus Himself said that those people would be rewarded a thousand-times over for what they lose, but the loss is still very much present and real.

Christians all over the world are literally laying down their lives for the Gospel. I believe that the day is coming soon when believers in America will face the choice of denying Christ or death. Maybe not in my lifetime, but soon enough.

Will you and I choose suffering to advance the Gospel? Will we choose the painful path if it means that Jesus is glorified in us?

I pray our answer to both these questions is a resounding YES.

 

Another Kairos Challenge 


Tonight, Matt Pearson laid down a challenge at Kairos. He spoke about how so many North American believers have become inward-focused, as in “What’s in it for me?” and “How will this meet my needs?” He mentioned that the most inwardly-focused believers are usually the most miserable people who are always complaining about something.

I confess that I am one of those people sometimes. I crave comfort and ease at the expense of obedience and faithfulness. I definitely try to avoid any semblance of pain and suffering at all costs.

Jonah was a lot like that. God sent him to Nineveh to warn them of what was coming if they didn’t repent. You’d think after the whole city repented that Jonah would have been pleased, but he was peeved. He thought God’s love should be for the Israelites exclusively– or in other words, people like him. Jonah didn’t like the Assyrians and didn’t think they were worthy of God’s love. Not that any of us feel that way about any particular ethnic groups today, of course.

My takeaway from tonight is that any vision other than seeing God’s love displayed and proclaimed to all the people of all the nations is too small. What matters isn’t what songs we sing in worship or even what kind of songs. What matters isn’t if the church building is traditional or modern (or even if there’s a church building at all).

What matters is that God so loved all the sinners in the world (including you and me) that He sent Jesus to die for us and make true deliverance and salvation possible for anyone who trusts in Him.

That’s what I’ll be pondering and praying over for the next few days. At least I hope so. I don’t want to go back to the comfortable me-centered faith, and God willing, I won’t.

Severe Mercies

ee

“God never withholds from His child that which His love and wisdom call good. God’s refusals are always merciful — ‘severe mercies’ at times but mercies all the same. God never denies us our hearts desire except to give us something better” (Elisabeth Elliot).

I saw where you entered through those gates of splendor you had written about all those years ago. I read where your own suffering had ended, that ‘severe mercy’ that God gave you to bear, Alzheimer’s disease, was finally over.

You taught me that the mark of a man is in being both tough as nails about what he believes and fights for and tender toward those he fights for.

You shared the words that your first husband, Jim, wrote, before he was martyred for his faith: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

You showed me that faithful obedience and surrender to Jesus aren’t the keys to joy. They are the joy, that a heart given over completely to God is a heart at rest.

You helped me see that trust doesn’t always require explanations or answers or reasons why. Faith is its own reward and God above all is enough.

You defined true femininity when you wrote these words: “. . . my plea is let me be a woman, holy through and through, asking for nothing but what God wants to give me, receiving with both hands and with all my heart whatever that is”.

I hear God saying to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into your rest.”

I and so many others will carry on your legacy you left behind in your books and speeches and letters. We are your legacy.

So thank you. May all who come behind us also find us equally faithful.