‘Consider it all joy…when you encounter various trials.’ James 1:2
Trials are one of the common denominators for being human. However, my trials and yours are going to look and feel different because we are different. We all react differently to physical, financial, and relational trials. The operative word here is “when” not “if” we meet various trials. Trials can come about when we refuse to listen to counsel. Trials might result of someone we are connected with making a mistake [a spouse gossips] and we are caught up in the it. Trials can build over time [such as a disease] or crash in on us suddenly [like the unexpected death of a loved one]. Some trials will be public while others will be private. With a certainty all trials will test our faith. And all trials will bring us to a crossroads. The crossroad is the decision to resist the trial or to embrace this as an opportunity to grow more Christ-like. The most common response we start with is “Why is this happening to me?” Peter answers this age-old issue by telling us that ‘…don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you.’ (1 Peter 4:12 NLT). It is a matter of application. It is one thing to say that I believe in the sovereignty of God and quite another allowing God to be sovereign while we are experiencing a trial. Listen to the counsel of James under the inspirations of the Holy Spirit: ‘Consider it all joy…when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance…that you may be perfect and complete.’ (vv. 2-4 NAS). Trials have a way of clearing out the religious baggage we accumulate over time if we are willing to go back to the basics of our faith. Am I willing to stop whining about the trial and get quiet before God? Am I willing to cease my activity and spend some time listening to the One who wants me to mature?
I was not able to listen to President Obama’s State of the Union address. However, I am reading all of the commentary that it generates. Ever since getting back to the US, I am worried for this nation’s future. It appears that Obama briefly addressed our country’s ever-growing deficit, but he reinforced his stance on how the rich must pay their due. It appears that he is refusing to acknowledge any other solutions for our nation’s debt other than creating class distinctions, something that the Constitutional framers worked hard to eliminate. Reading about his other speeches, the problem of debt crisis is nominal.
I am a navy veteran and the political situation feels as if I am in a sinking ship. Water is pouring from this huge gash in the bottom of the boat. Water pressure is causing the gash to widen; threatening to break the keel in two. Captains in the past have not called for watertight integrity as they poured more power to the ship because they wanted to be popular with the crew. The two crews [Port Water Integrity Crew and Starboard Water Integrity Crew] responsible for getting rid of the water only argue about which side of the boat they should work on first. Each crew is insisting that their side gets fixed first. They insist on using only their very limited material rather than combining material and crews. If they manage to come to an agreement, they only lift a single bucket of water out of the onslaught of liquid and then go right back to arguing. The President and Congress seems incapable of understanding that we have to band together and that everyone has to compromise for this problem to be solved. The President saying that simply making the rich pay 30 percent of their income in taxes isn’t going to be a fix all. Is that disturbing to you? Does that seem short-sighted? But then should I expect better heading into an election year? The priority is not fixing the country but getting votes to stay in office.
Because we as a nation have for the most part abandoned the idea of being ‘one nation under God’ this abandonment has deprived her of leaders that truly care about America and its future. Our nation’s future is becoming nothing more than a foolish fairy tale. That is why I do not pin my hopes on a party or man to bring change. Political parties and men change to suit their agendas but Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. I am staking my vote on Him.
Many people start life in difficult and incredibly ‘unfair’ circumstances. There many around us who begin life rejected by parents. Many grow up in families surrounded by murderers, rapist, treachery, addictions and con-artists. Some grow up in slavery or are sold into slavery, even here in the US. Consider Joseph, who is held up as a hero of the Bible. Jacob his father was a conniving and treacherous. He stole his older brother’s inheritance. Jacob’s sons took after their father. Joseph was the 11th son, the youngest. Jacob played favorites with his sons and Joseph was his favorite. This created animosity and jealousy among the other 10 older brothers. They made a plan and sold Joseph into slavery to some Egyptians slave traders. Then they created an elaborate lie complete with evidence to convince their father of Joseph’s unfortunate demise by a wild animal attack. Joseph started life as a loved and cherished son and suddenly found himself in a foreign country as a slave among foreign gods. But did he focus on yesterday? No. He remained faithful to his God and “The Lord was with Joseph…” [Genesis 39:2] That changes everything. That changes most of all our attitude. God being with us levels the playing field. He can change tomorrow. Many people go through life looking at the wrongs people do to us in the yesterdays. They fail to see that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” [Hebrews 13:8 ESV] God can help us with the wrongs and heal our hurts. That does not mean that God is necessarily going to ‘fix’ those who have wronged us. We may not escape the circumstance we are in or resolve it to our liking. The good news is that “if God is for us, who can be against us?” [Romans 8:31 NIV]. When everything is all said and done, if God is in us then it does not matter who is against us! Beginnings are not endings!
“…the word of the Lord stands forever…” 1 Peter 1:25
As a new Christian I some older Christians challenged me to develop the habit of reading my Bible daily. I took up the challenge eagerly. About half way through reading the Bible cover to cover, I suddenly wondered “What am I going to do after I finish … there will be nothing left to read!” I asked my Christian mentors and they said something like “You could read the Bible for a lifetime and not ‘scratch the surface.” At the time I did not believe them. But over the years I have found that there just is no other book like the Bible. In my 70 years of living I have found no human being that would have written a philosophy for living to such a high standard. The Bible speaks from outside the human condition. I think that it was Martin Luther who said: “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.” I have found that the Bible creates a sense of God’s presence that forces a reaction in public places. I can lay a newspaper on my table in a Starbucks and no one gives me a second look. However, when I lay my Bible on the table I get looks. Some see the Bible and then stare as they walk by as if I am going to jump up and preach! So for the last 50 years I have worked on maintaining a daily reading schedule. The Bible is and will be the last word. ‘The Word of God is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires. It exposes us to what we really are’ (Hebrews 4:12 NLT).
We live in treacherous times. Truth has become relevant. The principles that we thought to be sacred are being eaten away. Our Constitution is currently being interpreted by events and “modern times.” The things that we held dear 100 years ago out of date by our society. Sticking to the things that the Founding Fathers thought important for freedom are now considered inappropriate and anachronistic. We no longer need to do things by the ‘old code.’ We live and act according to relevant beliefs. Since we have no standard outside of ourselves we behave according to the dictates of the circumstance. How sad. It looks like freedom but it is stressful. We need fences. As we reject the norms set by Judeo-Christian principles, we act more god-like. We seek wisdom and find folly. We talk and sing songs about love. But love without boundaries is chaos. Without a guiding principle love becomes greedy and self-serving. Jer 31:3 “…the LORD appeared to him [me] from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” I as a husband need to reflect and act on this continually.
When we were living in South Africa it was amazing to us to realize that not more than 20 years ago the level of communications available to us for calling back to the US was the stuff of Dick Tracy comics. Today we live in an age of unparalleled communication. In the “christian” world there is a plethora of information about Jesus. But have you noticed that so many people are still unclear about Jesus and what it means to follow Him? The message sounds garbled. Even the meaning of the word “christian” is garbled. And it is no wonder. We Christians keep providing the media with lots of dirt. Headlines are consistent: Pastoral moral failure, embezzlement, wrong Biblical interpretation on the date for the return of Christ, using number sequences to bring meaning to prophecy, the correct day to have church services, health and wealth doctrines, and the list goes on. We fight among ourselves to keep hold of our fortress of the truth.
Leighton Ford said in his Bible Study on Mark: “Sometimes I think we should stop using the term Christian. It carries a great deal of negative cultural baggage. In some societies everyone assumes they are Christians unless they happen to belong to some other religion. In other cultures “Christians” may be viewed as a political party – or even the ones lobbing the bombs. Perhaps it would be better if we simply talked about being followers of Jesus.”
An old axiom says “It costs nothing to become a Christian but will cost everything to live as a Christian.” Becoming a Christian is a one-time decision. Living out that decision for the rest of our lives is a process involving daily choices. Jesus made that clear when He told the crowd: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” [Mark 8:34] He goes on to talk about the profit and loss of those daily choices we will experience.
Peter, when asked by Jesus who he thought the Son of Man might be answered: “You are the Christ.” This is an amazing statement for a Jewish man to make in that time and place. Does stating that make one a Christian? Some think so. Some would say that saying those words makes one a follower of Jesus. That claim is misleading. It misses an important part for becoming a follower of Jesus. Peter did not make that statement because it suddenly hit him that this was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” standing in front of him. Jesus made it clear to Peter and the other disciples that Peter did not come up with that revelation on his own. “… for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” [Mat 16:16-17] “For by grace have you been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” [Eph 2:8-9]
Immediately after Peter’s proclamation, Jesus goes on and tells the group about what choices He would be making as the Christ. He would be choosing to go to the hotbed of persecution … Jerusalem. He would be making the choice to suffer many things at the hands of the religious leaders. And finally He knew He would choose to place Himself in harm’s way by allowing mortal men to kill Him on a cross but rise on the third day. Peter, immediately upon hearing this news pulls Jesus aside to counsel Him, making a private proclamation. In so many words Peter told Jesus that He was making a critical error in choosing these things to happen. This was not good political strategy!
The rebuke that Peter and the other disciples got from Jesus was a shock to them. They were envisioning their country free from Roman tyranny; the things of men. Jesus wanted them to see a new vision; a land focused on the ways of God. The narrative of the blind man needing a second touch is the illustration that Jesus used to make His point. We all need a second touch to clarify our sight. We need to understand the Jesus’ destiny; the cross that Jesus headed to in order that we might be able to fulfill our destiny. We are image bearers if we have met the living Christ and not just made a verbal assent. Otherwise we are just political pawns in a world of darkness. Ask Jesus for a better understanding of His way; ask Him for a second touch.
“Don’t be fooled by the cliché’s of protest movements … It’s not about declaring war on some nefarious élite. It’s about changing behavior…” [David Brooks The NY Times] Jesus said succinctly: “I am the way and the truth and the life…” We never seem to learn fundamental truths. History repeats itself because we as humans do not want to hear the truth. It is really simple: We are unable to change ourselves.
“Unless the LORD Almighty had left us some survivors…” Isaiah 1:9
Yesterday’s headlined news story was a second day “in infamy” for our nation. The story was how we had a national day of mourning for the loss of life ten years ago, on our soil. All day the TV ran unfolding stories of the tragedy and heroism that occurred. Commentators compared 9-11 to Pearl Harbor. Aside from the surprise attack, these two events cannot be compared. The Pearl Harbor story has an ending with the total defeat of the Japanese empire and the totalitarian German government. We healing for the wound of Pearl Harbor in the victory of WW II. Pearl Harbor was avenged. But what about 9-11 … Where is the closure? Where is the victory? Sure we killed Bin Laden but we still have 100,000 spread out on various foreign soils being exposed to acts of deadly force. Peace has become elusive for us. The story of 9-11 is not ended.
Watching the news events unfold yesterday once again affirmed to me that we have lost our moorings as a nation. With a double mind we contemptuously throw God out of the public affairs and then ask for His protection and blessing in times of national need. We commit national fraud by denying Christian prayers or symbols in schools or government lands but then invoke the name of this same Christian God to help us heal. We watch our Presidents ask for God’s blessing today while tomorrow supporting laws that hinder His name being invoked in governmental sanctioned places. Are we insane? If this God whose name we keep invoking is real, then He is making the same assessment … that we are insane. With our own flimsy resources we build wall and then white wash them. We cry peace but there is no peace. We reject this God’s authority so we can live as we please, seeking comfort and love without the truth. This is the stuff that fairy tales; we have become a nation believing in fairy tales.
But wait! We are just at the good part of the story. In every story there is a hero. This same Christian God is none other than the Hero Jesus Christ and His remnant in this rebellious nation who have not bended the knee to the god of rebellion. To many citizens, Jesus is a stone in their path that they trip over and kick out-of-the-way. But to the remnant this stone is the Rock. They have discovered that He alone is the Source of all comfort and love. They live by His Truth.
Yesterday was a day of mourning for us as a nation “under God.” Today, one day later, we move forward as a nation not under God, on a war footing with no peace in sight. God warrior saints; that is His remnant. This is a small band of Hero followers, equipped for victory. Gideon thought that he needed an army of 32,000 but his Commander ordered a reduction in arms. Gideon obeyed [it was an insane military move] and ended up with a force of 300 and that was enough. Gideon’s remnant received the applause for success but it was the Hero who won the victory. Today there is a rag-tag remnant in our nation. They are obediently expanding the Kingdom of God in their own lives. The Hero’s prayer finds fulfillment as His people in the remnant learn obedience; others see the Hero and obey His call. The final victory is not in the weapons of war but in the salt and light of the remnant.
They tell me that I cannot take anything with me when I die. All of my possessions: my bank accounts, my stocks and bonds, my retirement funds, my real estate, my cars, my toys, my furniture, my books, my art work … all of this stuff is left behind. Once I am dead, I will lose control over every earthly possession that I call mine. When I die my stuff becomes the property of others. The people left behind get to do what they want, as they want, and when they want with my stuff. It is plain for anyone to see “…that even the wise die; the fool and the stupid alike must perish and leave their wealth to others.”
It is apparent that I have no control on my stuff. It is also apparent that I have no control on my life. I am exactly one heartbeat away from eternity. I can do nothing that will absolutely control the length of my duration here on earth. In the Bible God tells people that when He decides to:”…take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.” One of the wisest men in the world said after years of study that there is “…a time to be born and a time to die…”
If I am buried in a cemetery plot with a headstone, who cares? Who is going to visit? The next generation in my family line will not visit because they  will not have time and  I am not there so what is the point? Headstones do not carry on conversations! They are cold and impersonal.
They tell me that I cannot take anything with me when I die. If this life is all there is then we are more miserable than any animal. Jesus said “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” It is true; there is nothing tangible that I can take with me. But I can add to the inheritance that Jesus has provided me. Those people that I have taken the time to introduce to the Lord Jesus; those people that I have mentored walked the road with; those who have decided to follow Jesus because of my walk and talk … they are the inheritance I am building. “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”
“…Who am I that I should go…” [Exodus 2:11]
Are you in the dark about the direction God seems to be leading you? Too often I have heard people tell me that they could not do His will because they did not know the specifics. It is at this point where a battle of wills takes place. We want God to reveal His plan first. But my experience is that God does not work that way. God wants me to decide in advance to trust Him. He wants me to decide that His will is best for my life. Sometime I hesitate simply because I do not want to risk it; I might look like a fool. So He waits patiently for me to be willing to be made willing. The Israelites were in slavery, so God’ sent Moses, an unlikely wanted fugitive, to lead them to the Promised Land.
One reason God doesn’t give me the full picture [learned this from considering Job’s dilemma] is simply that I would be overwhelmed. I would say “The task appears impossible.” Or I would say “I do not have the skills or tools.”
God would say “Bingo. That’s the point! You are a very smart fellow! You cannot do this thing without Me.”
The danger with hesitation in obedience to God is that He may want us to be on a mission very much like Joseph. Here is a young man who did not know what God was doing during his time as a slave or during his long imprisonment. But when Joseph was reunited with his brothers in Egypt, he told them: “Do not fear … you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” [Genesis 50:19-20] Joseph’s brothers incited by jealousy sold him into slavery, but God used it to preserve the Jewish race.
So here you are at a cross-roads. Stop. Look. Listen. You will see and hear some “Who am I?” moments of your own where you’d reached the end of your rope and He came through for you.