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Posts Tagged ‘Trials’

I have put off reading John’s account of the Revelation, because quite frankly, there is just so much that I have never been able to understand. He is writing to show us “what must soon take place”, and with all that is taking place today, I thought it would be good to give it another try. I had hoped this time, I would understand more.

Well, after reading through it twice and now beginning my third time, I have concluded that there is still a lot that I may never understand, and I’ve had to adjust my thinking. Jesus told John to “write what he saw”, so I have decided to do the same – to not worry about what I don’t see – to write about what I do see.

Though John is writing this to the ‘seven churches’, we can read it today as it is to us. I like one of his introductory comments; “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins”. In times past, I would have interpreted the word “freed” as forgiven. It is one thing to believe that we have and will be forgiven for conduct that stems from our sin nature – quite another to understand that he has freed us from the power of that nature.

That is not to say that there will never be a slip now and then . . . but slipping now and then is a far cry from being bound. When Jesus cursed the fig tree . . . was that not a bit of a slip? He was hungry. The tree had no fruit. It wasn’t supposed to have fruit because it wasn’t the time of year for it to have fruit. Nevertheless He got agitated and cursed it.

When you’ve been bound by evil desires as long as I was bound by them, it is not a stretch for me to see that Jesus could have a flicker of anger without losing His sinless status. But that is just me. You may disagree; and that is fine. But like I said earlier, I will write what I see.

I had one other thought from this first chapter. John referred to himself as a “companion” to those to whom he was writing. He was a “companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus”. He was stuck on the island of Patmos. No tropical drinks by the beach there; it was a desolate, rocky place. And yet somehow, while he was suffering in this hard place, we find him “in the spirit”.

As I write this, Israel is in the beginning stages of what could escalate into an all out war. In our own nation, we are wrestling out our differences. Hard places are plentiful these days. It is more important than ever that we make sure that we are “in the spirit” as John was.

In this kingdom that is ours, we shouldn’t have the misconception that we are promised protection from suffering. We are promised the gift of patient endurance in our suffering. There is no promise of protection from the hard places in life; just the promise of peace in them. Lord give us peace in these hard places.

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The Gift of Grace

The party was just days away,
it would have been her first;
and now to us the gift of grace
helps us through the worst.

This ripping hole so few can know,
yet You who lost a Son;
will help us by the gift of grace
until our days are done.

We’ll long to see our little girl –
there’ll never be a day
that we won’t need the gift of grace
to help along the way.

Enjoy her Lord, as we sure did,
now she is in Your care.
Bestow in her the gift of grace
until we both get there.

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I was tempted to leave this out. This is a series that I have labeled ‘A Journey of Faith’. The stories in this series were to be a record of the things I learn in relation to believing God and seeing God size things happen.

I wanted to write about it but it didn’t seem to fit. I started to pass it up for one just a few chapters away and write about this one another day; but I couldn’t. It kept pulling me back. The truth of it was so exactly where I have lived. It expresses it so simply and clearly.

And then I thought . . . it could be the very thing responsible for my being on this journey. And so I saw that it ‘did’ fit. I ‘didn’t’ have to pass by it.

There’s really nothing I can say about it or add to it to make it say anything more than it says all by itself; so I will simply close with it.

Psalm 119:67 “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.”

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I love the Psalms. They are written records of individuals pouring their heart out to God. Occasionally I find phrases that express more clearly than I have been able to, the cries and yearnings of my own heart and soul. They give me specific words that I can use myself as I pray.

One such verse is Psalm 74:11; “Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the folds of you garment and destroy them”.

Although I don’t have people I want destroyed, I have had situations I wanted to see destroyed. The image of God standing with His hand tucked in the folds of His robe, knowing it could come out at any moment, was a helpful image to have in mind as I prayed.

It was especially cool to see it finally come out. And now having seen it, I can pray another verse; but now with more feeling and meaning than ever before. It is so simple but it says so much. Psalm 118:7; “The Lord is with me; he is my helper”.

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In Acts 19 Paul decides to go to Jerusalem and in passing he adds, “I must visit Rome also”. I have learned one thing about Paul; he does what he says he will do. It takes him 5 months, but he eventually ends up in Jerusalem. And little did he know when he mentioned visiting Rome that he would arrive there in chains, but again, in another 2 ½ years, he finally arrives in Rome.

Paul had just finished a meeting with the leaders of the church at Ephesus. The ship he caught had a layover in Tyre. I like what Luke says; “Finding the disciples there, we stayed with them for seven days”. It made me realize . . . who we look up when we go out of town, says a lot about us. In another town, they “stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven”. What a cool reunion that must have been.

So, Paul is now on a ship heading for Rome. While in a severe storm, he hears these words, “Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar”. How often do the words we hear from God go so contrary to the situation we are in.

The next line is a little hard to write. “Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.” It is so like life to have to run aground a while before seeing what God said we would see; and the test of faith while we are run aground to still believe what He said.

Paul does reach Rome, and “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ”.

How cool that God gave him a period of time ‘without hindrance’. Everywhere he went, he tried to convince people to believe that Jesus was the One they were looking for. Some believed and some didn’t. Those that didn’t caused him a lot of trouble. God finally gave him a break from that trouble, and for a while he enjoyed a time ‘without hindrance’.

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When the Lord told Abraham that He would take him to a new land and that he would have a son, was Abraham to pray for it to happen when it seemed like it wasn’t going to, or was it for him pray that his faith – his believing – would stay in tack when the fulfillment of that promise looked so bleak? When Sarah became impatient and tried to help God out, did it help?

When God told Moses that He was going to deliver Israel from Egypt and take them to the promised land, was it for Moses and the children of Israel to pray for it to happen, or was it for them to pray that their faith – their believing – would stay in tack when the fulfillment of that promise looked so bleak? When they were caught between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea, was God after their praying or their believing?

When God told Joseph that he would rule over his family, was it for him to pray for when he was sitting alone in prison, or was it for him to pray that his faith – his believing – would stay in tack when the fulfillment of that promise looked so bleak? Did he help matters when he took things into his own hands by asking the two prisoners to put in a good word for him?

When God anointed David to be king, was it for him to pray that the Lord would make it happen, or was it for him to pray that his faith – his believing – would stay in tack when the fulfillment of that promise looked so bleak? David surpassed them all. He could have taken things into his own hands several times to help God move things along, but he didn’t. His trust was in God to do what He said He would do.

In all cases, God in His timing, in spite of what these men did to ‘help God along’ (which in no case actually helped), did what He said He would do. And so these thoughts have changed the way I pray. I no longer pray for the Lord to provide because He told me early on that before it was too late He would, and He has. My praying now is that my faith – my believing – would remain in tack when the fulfillment of that promise looks bleak.

It says of the Israelites when they were backed against the Red Sea, that they were ‘terrified’. Can you imagine if some of them would have nudged the one standing beside them and said, ‘Watch this; this is going to be cool.’; or when Jesus was standing in front of Lazarus’ tomb; none of the disciples believed. Can you imagine if just one would have nudged a few of the others and said; ‘Watch this, this is going to be cool’. Can we, when our situation looks so bleak, believe enough to say, ‘Watch this; this is going to be cool’? I believe it would please God if we could.

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A few months ago, I joined a jail ministry team.  I really didn’t know for sure what to expect.  I guess I’ve always thought you would go in and try to convince a group of guys to believe or accept something they had no interest in. 

It has really been quite the opposite.  For the most part, the guys that come on Tuesday nights realize God has put them there to get their attention.  With few acceptions, they all believe, but realize their believing has not been sufficient enough to change the way they live. 

God knows how to get our attention doesn’t He.  Just this last Tuesday night, I told them that I may not have bottomed out in a way that landed me in jail, but I bottomed out in  my Christianity and He stopped me to get my attention.  Not to punish me, but because He had something good for me that He wanted me to find. 

I tell them that I am not a preacher, which I guess I really don’t have to mention.  (Some things go without saying)  We talk.  I tell them what has changed my life and the part writing has played in it.  Occasionally I leave a story or a poem with them. 

We have some good discussions.  They are honest and real.  A few weeks ago, one guy, who had a good way with words, expressed both belief and unbelief.  He believed but he was hesitant to just jump on the wagon.  Like all of us, he wanted it to be real.

Last week he came up to me afterwards and said he had written a couple of poems and wanted to know if I would read them and let him know what I thought.  I have decided to post one here today. 

 

My Cage

 
My addiction is a cage;
it wants my life.
It’s filled with confusion,
pain, guilt and strife.

It’s cold and it’s lonely,
regret my only friend.
Is this a life’s sentence?
When exactly will it end?

I weep for my family.
On this journey I’m lost.
I long for freedom;
can you tell me the cost?

I search for answers;
they must be the key.
My will is my bond;
my faith sets me free.

Yet I remain a prisoner
and console myself each night.
I’m still locked in this cage
but at least now it’s filled with light.

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Does it ever seem like the more you pray, the worse things get?  It does to me.  Sometimes I can relate to how the disciples must have felt when in their storm they heard these words; “Where is your faith?”

Recently I read about another storm that Paul was in.  I saw something I had never noticed before.  Paul’s storm didn’t let up; in fact it got worse.  But there was never anything said about ‘his’ lack of faith.  I wondered why the difference.

If you look closely at both stories, it wasn’t so much about faith to calm the storm; as it was about faith to believe they would be okay in it.  In Paul’s story, even though the storm kept getting worse, he believed he was going to be okay. 

The disciples gave up before they ever started.  Luke describes it this way; “A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.  The disciples went and woke Him, saying, ‘Master, Master, we’re going to drown’.”

Paul didn’t give up quite that easy.  Listen to how his situation went down. Addressing a crew that has given up hope, he says, “Last night an angel of the God whose I am and who I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul.  You must stand trial before Caesar: and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’  So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.  Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.”

Paul’s faith didn’t calm the storm; but it did lead to a calming of all who were in it.  Even though the storm got worse – even though it caused them to ‘run aground on some island’, Paul’s faith held up.

It is natural to pray that the Lord would calm our storms.  Sometimes He does.  Paul was probably praying for the Lord to calm his storm when He heard the angel speak.  There is a phrase in there that I like; “Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me”.  We can bear a lot when He stands beside us. 

I thought too that had Paul’s storm let up, he would have missed the island of Malta.  Sometimes when we pray and our storms continue to get worse, it may be that God wants to run us aground somewhere for some reason beyond what we have the ability to see.

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Personally, I would much rather go around them. Wouldn’t we all? But then there is this thing called ‘life’. Every where I turn lately, there seems to be . . . ‘life’. There is good, but bad just seems to not be willing to let go – to not get out of the way.

Paul’s comment to the believers in Antioch struck me. Not just that we must go ‘through’ hardships, but that we must go through them ‘to enter the kingdom of God’. I like the part of God’s kingdom that is free of hardships. They are like front door blessings – blessings that everybody sees and associates as ‘God’s blessings’. But Paul is talking about another kind of blessing – another part of the kingdom of God that is not seen. They are more like ‘back door’ blessings.

These blessings and part of the kingdom of God are found when we, with the help of God, go through our hardships. It is like a trailer I was pulling one time. One of the 4 wheels was a little too low on grease and burned up. The wheel was still there – it endured the haul – but the hub was burned out. The other 3, with the right amount of grease, didn’t even get warm.

It is possible in our hardships to enter the kingdom of God and relatively speaking, not even get warm. (Well maybe a little) But that is what Paul is referring to; and in chapter 16 he demonstrates it. Amidst all the good that happened in the chapter, he also experiences the bad of being thrown in prison. He was put in the inner cell and his feet were fastened with stocks. (Hardships are like that; they can lock you up.)

But through prayer, Paul entered the kingdom of God. Before his hub got hot he added the grease of prayer. He wrestled with God until he gained God’s perspective. Once he did, he was able to sing. Afterwards, the doors and chains that locked him up opened and fell off.

The Lord may not always cause the doors and chains of our lives to open and fall off as He did with Paul; but, at a minimum, He can keep our hub from burning up. As I am learning about most things lately, it is not just all or none; we can enter a little, or a little more, or a lot. We can keep from burning up. We can keep from getting warm. In some cases . . . we can enter enough to sing.

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How Firm a Foundation

How Firm a Foundation
By John Rippon 1787

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said—
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

“Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand.

“When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee thy trouble to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not harm thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

“The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose,
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”

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