Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Joy through Trials

I'm not sure what's going on in my life sometimes. For the last month and a half, it has felt like I'm just going through life, trying to keep afloat, and just when I think I can't keep going, and I don't want to keep trying, my pleas to God become more desperate and at the perfect time, someone or something comes into my life that allows me to keep persevering. That goes along well with the beginning of James' letter.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” (James 1:2-8)

The question that this raises, in regards to joy, is this: We have joy through trials because we know our reward is greater at the end, which enables us to keep our faith which enables us to keep calling on God as we're called to do. But as those trials are going on, what is the appropriate response? How much mourning, grieving, complaining, should Christians allow ourselves when we face these trials?

Sometimes, there seems to be pressure from other Christians to have faith that is so strong, that nothing shakes you. “Oh, you have cancer? Well rejoice in the Lord always!” “You lost your job and you're running out of money? Well don't be anxious about anything, but through prayer and petition, present your requests to God!” My personal favorites are the ones that aren't even from the Bible: “When God brings you to it, He'll bring you through it!”

I'm not doubting the validity of any of these sayings, nor am I trying to mock them or the people who say them. I feel that this is more of a defense mechanism because we are trying to become more faithful Christians, and we feel if we show weakness or weariness in our situations, we appear to have no faith. In short, we're trying to become automatons.

And it's something that is happening all over Christianity. We tend to say, “Well, you should go to my type of church where we sing my kind of songs and you should react to everything just like I do.” So when we grieve and mourn, I guess I shouldn't be too surprised that the first thing I hear is, “Well you should grieve like me,” or even worse, “Well that's nothing compared to what I went through, and look where I am now!” But this attitude is hindering joy in the Lord!

As you go throughout your week, you may come across hurting people, or you, yourself, may be hurting. Here are some things that have helped me work on my joy in the past few weeks.

  • We are each Created by a loving God and have the freedom to hurt, and to question what God is doing in our lives. We're told to: “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21,22)
  • We should never feel that we need to go through trials alone: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)
  • Do not substitute worldly pleasure for Godly joy. Worldly joy is only temporary: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:7-10)

  • Keep faith... God knows trials too: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
  • God IS listening: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” (John 5:14-15)
  • God blesses us through trials, and rewards us after them: "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)

So when you face trials in your life, continue to have joy, because God has already provided for your final reward. But don't try to be Superman. Cry, wail, question, test do all of that... but surround yourself with Christian friends who will help you fix your eyes on Jesus, and make sure that through everything you're seeking His will. No it isn't easy, yes, it's counter-intuitive to our fallen human condition, and it certainly takes practice, but remember the verses from my blog post a few weeks ago: “...The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." (Deuteronomy 31:7-8)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Have you ever noticed how hard it is to love someone? Even if you truly love someone else, they also need to allow you to love them, and in today's society, that's a hard sell. I think that is one of Satan's greatest weapons, the automatic distrust that the human race has for each other. In fact, the very first time Satan decided to start poking his nose where it didn't belong, we see see that He's trying to place that wedge not only between Adam and Eve, but also between man and God!

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"
The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.' "
"You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

As an English major, I can't help but notice that Eve misquoted God. In Genesis 2:16,17, God says:
"You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."
So from what we have, at least recorded in the Bible, God hasn't said that Adam and Eve cannot touch the tree. Often, when we don't listen to what God, or each other, truly says, we get mad and angry at that other person.
Genesis 3:11-13
And he [God] said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?"
The man said, "The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it."
Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?"
The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

So we see here that Satan was successful on three fronts. They both were scared of God, and distrusted his love for them, so they hid. Adam now distrusts Eve, and Eve distrusts Adam. God has to step in here and show Adam and Eve what “tough love” is, but the damage was already done. We became a people who distrust love from any source, even God.
And yet, God calls us to love His people, even those we consider to be our enemies. Because God loved us, and gave us the ultimate sacrifice through his Son, we need to answer that call. It's not hard, and often it's not fun, but if we can rise to that, if we can answer that call, imagine how much better our lives would be.
Look at Adam and Eve. Do you think Eve was mad at Adam when he blamed her? What if Adam had said,
God... I know I shouldn't have eaten the fruit off of that tree. You told me that directly, and I did it anyway. I accept full responsibility for my actions and for my wife's. She ate it too, but I did not stop her from doing so, even though I should have. I'm sorry.”
That would be love, and regret, and seeking forgiveness. What would Eve have done? Well, I don't know her personally, but I'm in a situation where someone shows me that kind of love, I'd have a very difficult time being mad at him, or continuing to victimize him. When someone tenses up for a fight, and another person just completely disarms that person, love prevails.
Love is the foundation of the Fruit of the Spirit. God loves us, we need to learn to accept that, and we need to allow that to radically change the way we love His people. Instead of judging people, persecuting people, disrespecting people... if we can substitute that with love, the Spirit then is free to move in us, and we're free to move in the Spirit.
And that opens the door to the rest of the Fruit of the Spirit... which will be continuing next week.
Continue to work on loving God and loving people. Feel free to share your stories and thoughts about this subject in the comments!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

You Never Know What You Had... Until You Leave

The adage says "you never know what you had, until it's gone." At times like these, in transition in life and location and relationships, I don't think those words have ever meant as much to me as they do now. I've always valued friendships and relationships (I'm sure we'll discuss why in a later post), but I've found new appreciation for some of my old friends, and I've been disappointed in others.

That's not to say that some of my friends are true friends and others aren't. In fact, one of the things that I've learned in the last month is that most people truly think they're doing the right thing most of the time. Some people have viewed my broken engagement and said "You have to move on." They think that's the right thing to say. Others have said, "Wow that sucks... take all the time you need... time heals all wounds." Those people think that's the right thing to say. It's all relative, and I'm getting to a point where I realize that it's not what is actually said, but the sentiment behind it.

Everyone has his own motivations for doing what he does, some of them purer than others. In coming down to Culpeper, I've tried to cling to friendships that I thought would help me make it where the other person in that friendship thought that it would be best to talk less and go and meet new people. Both of us feel that we're right, but it's the motivation behind it... the fact that we still care enough to try to do what's best for the other person that impresses me.

Other people have called and checked in, seeing if I'm ok, seeing if I'm settled, seeing if I need anything. It's been great to see that kind of outpouring of love as well. It's a lot more comforting to know that when I get home at night, if no one's home, I don't have to be bored and lonely.

I'll take the opportunity right here to thank everyone who has shown that love and care for me in one way or another both those who I knew before I left, and those who have met me here and welcomed me. It has meant more than I could ever say, and whether or not you believe and realize it, God has used you as an instrument in my life to encourage me, and make this transition bearable, as well as to reveal Himself to me, and reaffirm that as long as I'm in Him, I will truly never be alone.

In the end, I'm sure that God's going to work things out. But this whole situation has given me new perspective on Him. We have trouble appreciating God, specifically because He's never gone. When have any of us ever needed to face a trial when we could not rely on Him? There have been times on this journey where I have felt, honestly, that God was being unfair, that I couldn't do this alone, and I was angry that God was letting bad things happen to me. After all, I felt He called me to Culpeper to preach? Why were things so difficult. And yet every time I doubted, in the matter of HOURS, God responded.
I'm sure that Moses felt a lot like I have in the past month. Surrounded by all kinds of people and voices... some supportive, others not... he had to lead a nation who didn't want to be led. The people grumbled and complained even though God was feeding them and leading them for most of their journey. I'm sure that Moses got disheartened at times, but every time he needed proof, God was there with water coming out of rocks, or manna, or quail.
That led Moses to a point in his life when he was going to die. It was time to turn the nation of Israel over to Joshua. When he was about to leave:
...The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." (Deuteronomy 31:7-8)
Moses could not have said that, had he not believed it and experienced it himself. So while we go through tough times and lose touch with friends, relatives, neighbors, we can learn to appreciate what we had by their absence. But be careful, because you should always remember what you have and what you will always have, because He will never leave you nor forsake you.