Monday, July 14, 2014

Tough Circumstances

       Tough circumstances - they come in all kinds of different ways and from a multitude of sources.
Sometimes they just happen - the health problems or disease that shows up even though you take great care of yourself; the break up of the marriage that you couldn't save no matter what you tried; the job loss that had nothing to do with your performance and everything to do with downsizing the company for a stronger bottom line; or the loss of someone you love because someone else decided to drink alcohol and then get behind the wheel of a car.
Other times hard times are self inflicted - the lung cancer from years of chain-smoking cigarettes; the divorce that came after disregarding your spouse and choosing to have an affair; the job loss because you played Angry Birds at your desk all day instead of doing what you were hired to do; or the time in prison and the knowledge that you destroyed a family because you chose to have a few drinks and then get behind the wheel of a car.
Whatever the cause of our tough circumstances, on thing is for sure - we are all going to face them.
Job (who knew about hard times) said in Job 14:1 "Man who is born of woman is few of days and full of trouble."  The question then follows, "WHY?"  Why is it this way?  If God is all-powerful, and if  He is good, and if Christians are His children, then why doesn't He make our circumstances better?  Why do those who follow him sometimes seem to even suffer more than the rest?
     
       One thing we need to remember is that we live in a fallen, sinful world. This is NOT the happy place, and much of our disappointment and even our suffering comes from our failed attempts to make this world the happy place. With a desire for the "good life", we make career choices, relationship choices, consumer choices, and leisure choices, all of which begin with the promise and hope of happiness and fulfillment, but so many times leave us empty and disillusioned.
       Another reason we suffer is that we have an enemy who wants to devour us (1 Peter 5:8).  He wants to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). Understanding the schemes of the devil helps us understand some of the reasons that we suffer.  He tempts us to sin so we will receive the consequences of our sin (so stop giving into temptation and you will have fewer trials).  He attacks us through circumstances to try to bring about a desired response. Sometimes he attacks to try make us bitter at God.  Sometimes he brings hardship to make us believe that doing life God's way is keeping us from being happy. Sometimes he tries to make us believe the trial we face is all our fault so that we see ourselves as worthless failures instead of "more than conquerers", as he tried to do through Job's friends. He tries to get our focus off of God and His kingdom and the things we are called to be and do, and to get our attention focused on the tough circumstances we are facing at the moment so that we despair.
       While their are many causes for our suffering, the Bible teaches that there is one overarching purpose in everything we go through - to shape us into the image of Christ. While satan has his on purposes, what he means for evil, God means for good.  In chapter 1 of the book of James we are told that we should embrace our various trials - even find JOY in them; not because the circumstance is fun, but because God will use the circumstances to make us complete.  We tend to learn more, to pray more fervently, and to seek God more deeply when things are falling apart around us.  We seem to think that we deserve a trouble free life, so we forget be thankful and to lean on Him when things are going smoothly.  When the troubles come, we immediately begin to cry out to God for help.  Most of the time my prayers tend to ask for deliverance from the trial, and for that deliverance to be now, or at least really soon.
      But what if we prayed differently?  What if we first asked God for wisdom (which James says He gives generously to those who ask)?  If God refines and completes us through the fire of trials, and if God's sole purpose for creating us is to know and glorify Him, what might happen if we embrace the trial as a gift; as an open invitation to know the deep things of God, and as an open door to come into His presence and let Him reveal Himself to us? What if we allowed God to use the trials to help strip us of our love for the things of this world and to see the unsurpassed value of knowing Christ (Philippians 3)?  What if, after God brings us through the tough times, we allow Him to use our experience and wisdom to encourage someone else going through a similar situation? Then we would find purpose in our trials that go way beyond ourselves.
      So, when it comes to tough circumstances, we all agree that they are not fun in themselves. But if "In His presence is the fullness of joy, and at His right hand pleasures forever" (Psalms 16:11b), and if we come into His presence more fervently in the hard times than the easy times, then maybe the hard things can bring the best experiences we can have.  I just hope we can all realize that the very life and joy and fulfillment we are all looking for may not be found by avoiding tough times, but that it might be in the darkest places that those hidden treasures are kept.

May God Bless You In All Circumstances!
Neil

Suggested Reading
James 1:1-5
1 Peter 1:6-9
2 Peter 2:9
Romans 8:26-39

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Put the toothpaste back

       I remember years ago seeing someone squeeze some toothpaste out of the tube, and then challenging someone to put it all back in.  After trying in vain, the volunteer gave up, and the speaker made a point that has stuck with me to this day.  He said our words are like toothpaste - once they leave our mouth, it is impossible to put them back again.  There have many times in my life that I wish I could take back what I had said - sometimes  as soon as I had said them.
       I also remember an old rhyme from childhood - "Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words can never hurt us."  Anyone who has been on the receiving end of a scathing tongue-lashing knows just how false that saying is.  Our words have great power.  With words we can encourage, and with them we can discourage.  We can use them to build up, or to tear down.  They can request prayer, and they can spread gossip.  They can lend to a good reputation, or they can destroy one.  Yet as powerful as the spoken word is, (as well as the written one), we are probably more reckless with our words than any other thing in our lives.
        As a pastor, I regularly deal with people who are having problems with relationships.  What I have consistently noticed, is that there is a direct correlation between the severity of the problems and the manner in which the people communicate.  We tend to have less patience with those with whom we are most familiar.  Problems arise, tempers flare, and the "toothpaste" comes out of the tube.  Words become weapons, and pain is inflicted, and before we realize it, irrevocable damage is done.  I have watched married couples as one spouse is confronted that they are wrong in a situation, and that spouse -  instead of admitting they are wrong - will reply with terribly cold, mean and vindictive language. They will insult, bring up past failures, and anything else which will give them back an advantage in the conflict.
I have seen spouses who, after splitting up, began to speak to every listening ear, determined to destroy their estranged husband or wife.  When God reconciled the marriage, they both had badly damaged one-another in the minds of friends and coworkers and church members, and sadly wished they could "put the toothpaste back".  I have seen people sharing hurtful gossip about someone, not realizing - until it was too late - that their voices were carrying far enough that the person could hear.
       We need to be very careful with our words.  In the third chapter of the book of James, we are told that the tongue is a "fire", and a "world of iniquity".  It is a "restless evil, full of deadly poison".
"With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.  From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not be so."  In chapter  one we are told to be "quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger".  But what can we do?
James says "no man can tame the tongue".  Are we destined to leave a trail of destruction from this untamable monster inside of us?

         No! Thanks be to God that "what is impossible for man is possible with God".  We must allow the Spirit of God to take control of our mouths; to be Lord of all that we are.  How can we do this?

        Pray.  Agree with God's will that no unclean word come forth from you, and ask Him to help you to overcome.
      "Bring every thought captive to Christ".  Before you speak, ask God if what you are about to say is going to build up or tear down.
       Ask yourself, "Would you say this if Jesus were standing right with me?" (He Is!).  Will it bring glory to His name, or will it give the lost opportunity to point out hypocrisy?
        Check your attitude.  Even when we speak the truth, we must "speak the Truth in love."  If I'm angry, is it something that God would be angry about, or is it because things didn't go my way?  Am I about to bring up someone's past failures?  I Corinthians 13 says that "Love doesn't keep a record of wrongs".

        Finally - if you struggle with the words that come out of your mouth, whether it's foul language or gossip, lying or hurtful speech, prejudice or foul jokes - the problem isn't just the mouth; it's the heart.
Jesus said, "From the depths of the heart, the mouth speaks."   If darkness is flowing out, then there is a problem with the source.  Let God through Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit change your heart today.
1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness".  Let Him fill your heart, so that what flows from your mouth will be to the praise and glory of Almighty God.

God bless you as you walk with Him,
Neil

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Finish the Race

      I haven't been able to blog lately, as I have spent way too much time and money seeing different doctors and having tests run.  I woke up on this Sunday morning feeling about as bad as I imagine a human can feel and still live, and I began to ponder the Apostle Paul's words in 2 Timothy 4.  Paul was facing the end of his life - the end of his journey.  He said, "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come."  Paul knew what he faced, and, as he did in everything else, he faced it in the context of who he was in Christ.  Then he did what we all do from time to time, he looked back to take stock of his life.  Had he done what he was put here to do?  Had he been faithful to God and His word?  Had he made a difference in the lives of the people he interacted with?
         After pondering all of this, he then wrote, "I have  fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith."  What a testimony!  To look back over your life and to honestly be able to say, "I have no regrets.  I did my best to do what was right, to impact others' lives for God, to exalt Christ in everything" - that is the way I want to finish.
       While finishing well should be the desire of every Christian, it doesn't just happen.  It is decided by the choices we make everyday - years before we ever get near the finish line.  It is the way I choose to parent, the way I treat my spouse, the way I serve others. It is decided by my obedience, (or disobedience) to His word. When He says go, do I go? When I have sin in my life, do I let it continue to entangle me, or do I turn from it so I can run with endurance this race which has been marked out before me (Hebrews 12)?
        So as I ponder Paul's words at the end of his life,  it causes me to ask myself, "What am I doing to insure that when I get to that last stretch of the race, whenever that will be, that I will be able to say I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, and I have kept the faith."  If all of us would live our lives with that in mind, what kind of legacy would we leave behind?  A life with no regrets; a life that matters.
       I may not have run as well as I would've liked up to this point, but today is a new day - a new beginning.  I can choose that from this day forward, I will run in a manner as to win (1 Corinthians 9:24).

      You may or may not have started well, but by the grace of God - finish well.

       Grace and peace to you in Christ
      

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Resist the devil, and he will flee from you?

This familiar phrase is an often quoted scripture meant to encourage us when we are under attack from the enemy.  In it we find a promise from God that we can stand in the face of temptation, and that if we resist the devil, he will leave us alone.  While that all sounds like good news, a closer look at scripture shows us that this phrase was never meant to stand on its own.  We discover that this promise is a benefit and by-product of a right attitude and right approach to God.  James 4:7 says that before we can resist, we must "Submit therefore to God", then we can "resist the devil and he will flee from you."  See, we have no power in our wimpy flesh to stand against even the weakest of the lesser demons, much less Satan himself.  Like a kid constantly pushed around by the school bully, we need someone bigger standing with us, someone the bully is afraid to mess with.  Jesus is willing to stand with us in our moment of attack, and the bully is definitely afraid of Him. You see, Jesus has beaten the bully before.  He beat him on the cross of calvary, when He bled and died and took away the power of sin and death. Jesus settled this thing forever.  So scripture tells us in James 4 that to be safe from that bully, we need to make a habit of hanging around with God.  "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" -vs 8.
To be clear, if you want victory over the attacks of the devil, we must do it as God intends.
    
So the right attitude and approach is as follows -

"Submit therefore to God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.
Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
Be miserable, mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy to gloom.
Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you."  - James 4:7-10 (emphasis added)


Submission is a hard thing for us.  It means we are no longer in charge.  It means that our way is no longer the best way.  Submission means we begin to live life according to the will of God as recorded in scripture.  It is only when we can truly say with our hearts and minds, and with our life: "God, I am Yours.  Have Your way - whatever that means and wherever that takes me, no matter the cost, I will follow You."  When that becomes who we are in Christ, then you will see victory over your enemy like you've never experienced before.

"Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde,
for the battle is not yours but God's." - 2 Chronicles 20:15b

Friday, May 20, 2011

Where does your devotion lie?

     What is it that motivates us to act, to do, to go? There are things that we will sacrifice for; things that we will go to great effort to experience or obtain.  Then there are other things that we won't get off the couch for.  What's the difference? Is the one thing of great importance and the other not? And how can something move one person to action and the same thing have no moving effect on someone else?
Jonathon Edwards said that we are moved by our natural affections. He explained that we all have things in our life that we naturally deem important, and other things that have little or no importance to us at all. Then there are those things in the middle - affections that, according to our mood, we can take or leave.
    Growing up in church, I remember going because I was supposed to, because I was made to.  I went, but there was no affection that moved me to go. It was just as easy for me to miss as it was for me to attend.  But all my affections changed when Jesus came and changed my heart. He gave me a new nature, and with that, new natural affections.  Now I desire to worship with other believers. Now I have a desire to read his word. I want to know Him, and the old affections continue to fade away.
    Our affections are what we're drawn to. Where we devote our time, our extra money, our passion - these will tell us who we really are - and who we really aren't.  If we profess Jesus as our Lord and Savior, but our lives are devoted to the things of this world, then we show that our affections haven't changed, which means our nature hasn't changed, and we are not His. (1 John 3:7-10).

Monday, May 2, 2011

Welcome

Welcome to the Neil's Blog

For the first posting, I would like to give everyone an overview of the purpose of this blog.
This will be an attempt for you to look deep into my mind; to search the endless caverns full of intellectual treasures. This is your chance to experience the plethora of wisdom that makes me who I am.  So sit back, relax, and enjoy your trip as you explore the great depths of me!
So.......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................uh..............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................umm................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................. - ok, the caverns are empty.

I guess I'll go back to my original plan.

In this blog I invite you to join me to know the depths of God.  1 Corinthians 2:10 says that the Spirit searches the mind of God, the depths of who He is, to reveal Himself to us. There are treasures there waiting to be discovered. My hearts desire is that this blog will be a help to you and to me, that we may grow to know Him better, and He may reveal to us, through His Spirit, the deep things that are hidden in Him.
Explore with you soon,
Neil