Joy and Sorrow

In the book of Isaiah we hear God telling the prophet how He is different than the humans He created:

My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.  For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:8-9 [New Living Translation]

It will be no surprise when I say that we live in a world beset with difficulties, anxiety, fear, and sorrow.  There are people who are frustrated and tired of being in lock-down status in their own homes.  There are people who are terrified of contracting COVID-19, many for good reasons if they suffer from compromised respiratory issues, and other health maladies.   There are people who are grieving  the death of loved ones from the virus, and there are family members whose grief is aggravated by the fact that they could not have a funeral during lock=down days.  There are many who have become unemployed as businesses shut down and terminate or furlough employees.  No paychecks mean hard times for the finances in the household.

Sorrows and fears, anxiety and frustration.  Many people are suffering, and the writer of Ecclesiastes understands this.   We read in Ecclesiastes 7:14: 

In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.  [ESV]

Here is this verse in the New King James Translation:

In the day of prosperity be joyful,
But in the day of adversity consider:
Surely God has appointed the one as well as the other,
So that man can find out nothing that will come after him. [NKJV]

And here it is in the New Living Translation:

Enjoy prosperity while you can,
but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God.
Remember that nothing is certain in this life.  [NLT]

I tend to accept joy and will completely immerse myself in the enjoyment of happiness, often forgetting to thank the Lord for the blessing of joyful events.  

Cruise -Raft captain and river flora
Rafting down the Martha Brae River in Jamaica with beautiful flora all along the riverbank

But, then there are times when I feel like I am being inexorably pulled to the precipice and am certain to go over the edge, plummeting down the waterfall.  Rather like this video from Canada and Horseshoe Falls in Ontario.

When those hard times hit, i am the first one to ask God why this has happened to me.  What is the purpose of this, why did you allow this?   

I am ashamed to admit that often this questioning is tinged with anger and accusatory finger-pointing toward God.  

Jesus said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Matthew 5:43-45 [ESV]

The blessing and the difficulty — the writer of Ecclesiastes is spot on when he says that God sends them both.   Both the evil and the good receive the benefit of God’s sun shining down on them.  Both the just and the unjust receive the rain that God sends to the earth.  Likewise,  the pandemic the world is experiencing does not distinguish between the just and the unjust.

The difference, Beloved, is that those who are in the Lord Jesus Christ are assured that, whatever difficulties we experience here, we will be united with our Savior for all eternity.  This is not wishful thinking; rather it is a Biblical certainty.  Jesus said that His disciples would be with Him in heaven, and He was not just talking about those in the room at that moment!  

In the book of Revelation we read: 

Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,

Revelation 5:9 [ESV]

Jesus ransomed His people from “every tribe and language and people and nation.”  

So, lean on Jesus.  Come to Him through faith and keep your focus on Him, rather than on the problems of the day.  He is powerful enough to save you to eternal life.  The problems here are temporal, temporary and virtually irrelevant.  Look to Jesus!

Father, I pray that I will keep my eyes focused on You rather than on what is going on around me in this trouble ridden world.  I praise Your Name for the gift of salvation through JEsus Christ, Your Son.  And I look forward to being with people who love you from every tribe, language, people and nation.  Praise Your Holy Name.

CLIMBING, HIDING AND SECURITY!

Do you ever feel like climbing the walls?  We saw a literal example of this several years ago when our grandsons would climb the wall – or rather door frame.

Climbing the walls
Climbing the wall, or the door frame, literally.

 

There certainly is no way I could do that, when I was his age or now (at a significantly older age!).   But, the fact that I cannot literally climb the wall is not an indication that I have never wanted to do so!  Tension, anxiety, questions, financial problems, health issues, decisions, worries, … you fill in the blank for your situation … all pile up and I would want to climb the wall, mentally if not physically.

 

Another response to tension or difficulty is the head in the sand attitude.  In our house, it more precisely should be called the MinPin in the blanket response because each of our canine daughters will go to the blankets on the floor, lap or chair and, literally, wrap themselves up, sometimes with a nose sticking out, but most often they will be totally covered.  [It is rather humorous when they begin walking out of the blanket, it looks like a blanket-ghost going along the floor!]

 

Snickers in blanket
Snickers wrapped in blanket with her nose sticking out, curious about what is going on outside the blanket.

 

I have felt like that too.  “Couldn’t I just stay in bed and not face the day?  It’s too hard, and there are too many problems to deal with, I just don’t want to face it … I can’t!”

 

Ralph Ransom is an American painter from Saint Joseph, Missouri who died in 1908, likely from tuberculosis, certainly struggled with problems.  He said:

“All life demands struggle. Those who have everything given to them become lazy, selfish, and insensitive to the real values of life. The very striving and hard work that we so constantly try to avoid is the major building block in the person we are today.”

 

I would take Mr. Ransom’s statement one step farther.  For the Christian, “the very striving and hard work that we so constantly try to avoid may be a major building block in our conformation to the image of Jesus Christ.

 

In the Christian life, we often find that the time we struggled and had to work hard through a situation or problem was, in fact, the time when we grew the most in our understanding of the love, mercy, and all-sufficient grace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

Romans 8:29 says:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.”

 

We are to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, and sometimes it takes difficulties to bring us into that image.  The April 6, 2016, Presidential Prayer Team devotional, Vantage Point, was entitled the “Master Sculptor” and spoke to the connection between suffering and growth in our Christian life.  In part it read:

A little boy watched a sculptor begin chiseling a large block of marble. The sculptor worked meticulously until the slab looked like the face of Abraham Lincoln. “How did you do that?” the little boy asked. The sculptor said with a smile, “All I have to do is chip away everything that doesn’t look like Lincoln.”

Pain, persecution, stress and accusations are some of the struggles that believers in Christ often endure.  At the time, it may not be known exactly why the Lord has allowed them.  However, the loving Father uses trial to chip away at flaws in character.  He uses great care and thoughtfulness so that the end result will look like His Son.

Thank God, the Master Sculptor of your soul, for His work in your life and His dedication to your future. Whatever difficulties are happening with you personally (and in the nation), practice patience and trust that He will do His work carefully and creatively. Pray also that America’s leaders who are Christians will allow their trials to draw them to a closer relationship with the Lord and conform their lives to His purposes.  [Emphasis mine]

 

When we want to climb the wall, when we want to hide under the blanket, when we just don’t want to face the difficulty any more – turn your eyes to the Father and thank Him for the problem.  Take your eyes off the condition that confronts you and see the One who is in control of that condition.  See the Father working in your life to conform you to the image of His Son.

 

As unbelievable as it sounds to the unregenerate person, thank God for the difficulty and rest in Him to carry you through it. 

 

The reason we can thank God for whatever comes our way is the security that we have in Jesus Christ.

Picture hanging in our office
Picture depicting Jesus as the Good Shepherd holding His lamb in His nail-pierced hand.

 

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

Romans 8:35.

 

Paul himself answers these questions in the following verses:

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.   

Romans 8:38-39

 

Life in this world is difficult … but we can be confident that the love of Christ will carry us from this world to an eternity with Him.  This world is short-lived and temporary; eternity is forever, which by the way is a very long time!

 

During difficult times we tend to focus on ourselves and our dastardly plight!  But, pull your eyes off yourself and look to the cross … look to the Savior … look to the Father who has you in His hands … look to the Son of God who secures you in Him.

 

Christian, be confident in the knowledge that nothing can separate you from the love of God through Jesus Christ.

 

Nothing.

 

Father, help me to remember that You are sovereign and in control of my life and all that happens to me.  Help me to recall, during difficult trials, that I am secure in Your love because of my Savior Jesus Christ.  Give me strength to face difficult times as I praise Your holy name for the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior.

CONTENTMENT – A BIBLICAL POSTURE!

We see something on television about a new product that makes us consider whether our older version of the same thing is still a viable alternative for use. Or, we see something that our neighbor has purchased and it appears to be better than what we have so we want to “upgrade”, shall we say!

 

You know the feeling … that discontent with what we have or with what we are doing?

 

We compare ourselves with others and, somehow, we way too often come up lacking.

  • If only I had that job instead of this one…
  • If only my hair would …
  • If only I had received that promotion …
  • If only I had that house, or car, or dress, instead of this one …
  • If only I was as slender as that lady …
  • If only my children were like theirs …
  • If only …

 

Our canine daughters, Cuddles and Snickers, illustrate this discontent quite often when they both vie for the same toy even though the toy box is filled with other playthings, sometimes even a duplicate of that which they are fighting over.

 

Cuddles and Snickers tug of war
This is mine! Get your own!

 

Don’t misunderstand me, there are times when people are mistreated and abused and there is a legitimate reason for the hurt that is felt. We must work to resolve those issues and/or injustices.

 

I am referring to discontent that is also known as covetousness. I can hear the voices now. “I know that the tenth commandment is ‘Thou Shall Not Covet’!  I don’t do that!”

 

Really?

 

That was my first response when I was reading an article entitled “Thou Shall Not Covet” by Jason Helopoulos in the June 2015 Tabletalk magazine from Ligonier Ministries.   His words were convicting in the first order. In speaking of the reason that coveting is so harmful, he states:

Coveting pulls the heart down into the pit of self-seeking and the muck and mire of envy, slander, adultery, pride, dishonor, murder, thievery, and idolatry. It has rightly been said that when we break any of the first nine commandments, we also break the tenth commandment.

 

For us to combat covetousness, first we need to follow Jesus’ commands in Matthew 6:33:

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

 

As a youth, I sang a song  that said something like this:  “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”  When our eyes are on the Lord and His gracious gifts to us, the things of earth will begin to dim in our eyes.

 

Second, we need to follow the example of Paul:

I have learned in whatever situation to be content.

Philippians 4:11b.

 

Contentment is not something we can buy, fight for or grab – it is something in which we should rest. God is sovereign and He, therefore, knows exactly what we need and His grace is sufficient for every trial.   Quoting Rev. Helopoulos again:

If God thought it was good for us to have more, he would give us more. Every Christian rightly seeks to maintain this mind-set. And when this is the case, what joy contentment brings to the Christian life.

 

Third, we should be thankful. Thankfulness forms a hedge around us enabling us to focus on God rather than on the transient things that form our world.   It is hard to be thankful when you are coveting that which others have. Likewise, it is hard to be discontented when you are thankful for the blessings provided by our Sovereign God.

 

As a result of polio, I was diagnosed with severe scoliosis (twisting of the spine) when I was 6 years old. When I was 9 years of age, I was put into a body cast and then had surgery to try to stop the twisting that would otherwise have taken my life by age 25.  Although I was in the body cast for over a year, I didn’t miss any school because I had a home-bound teacher from the Chicago school system.

Linda on hospital cart revised
This was me in the body cast. It began behind my head and then it encompassed my body all the way down to my hips and then to my left knee.   I could not raise my head, even to read a book or see television.  That is why I wore prism glasses so I could look through them and see what was in the room, rather than just the ceiling.

 

Rather than being thankful for the healing that was going on in my body, I was crying one day when she came into my room .  Rather than giving me a shoulder to cry on, she demanded “What’s wrong with you!” My response was a feeble, “Because I’m in a body cast!” She then taught me a lesson that I have not forgotten over the 55 years since she spoke these words:

“You are crying over a temporary thing. A child down the street has brittle bones and there is no cure … she breaks a bone when she turns in bed and she is constantly in excruciating pain. Now, what is wrong with spending some time in bed … you have a determined end to your procedure, she does not! So I ask you again, ‘Why are you crying?’”

 

Although I could not articulate it then, through the decades since she said those words, I have found them to be true … when you are hurting, when there are problems and difficulties that are overwhelming, just open your eyes and look around and you will find others who have problems far more difficult than your own. This will put your burdens in perspective.

 

While it is tempting to keep your eyes on your own pain and problems, engaging in self-pity is never productive. Step back from the situation. Don’t become discontented. Rather, look to the Lord, rest in God’s unfailing grace and give Him thanks for His loving hand that encompasses you even when you are not aware of it and problems abound. Psalm 139 states that God knows our every move, word and action. And, nowhere in scripture are these verses revoked.

 

When things are difficult, when pain has set in and when your world is in a cataclysmic nose-dive, you can trust that your Lord has you in His hands and that God knows exactly what is going on.   I don’t mean that he will immediately fix whatever the situation is, but you can rest assured that His grace and comfort will be poured out to help you through the trial.

 

Discontentment – while it often is a reality, it is always sin. I must acknowledge that it is a sin and then repent, look to my Lord and give Him thanks for the salvation that He provides to me. Indeed, even the breath that I breathe is a gift from Him.  No matter how difficult our life is on this earth, it is for a short time – eternal life granted by our Lord is for, well, eternity!

 

Now, what about you?

 

Discontented? Confess, repent and allow His comfort to encompass you. Praise His Name and be thankful. Discontentment will vanish, and you will be able to live life to the fullest in His grace and love.

 

Father, forgive me for whining and crying about my circumstances when You have them in your control and your grace and mercy has lifted me above my circumstances.  Forgive me when I sink in the muck and mire of discontentment rather than realizing that You have already lifted me into your Courts through Christ my Lord and Savior.  May I praise your Name today.

DIFFICULTIES CAN PRODUCE BEAUTIFUL FRUIT

I was in prayer this morning asking the Lord for comfort, strength, peace, healing and His presence for several of the people in our church who are going through very difficult times. I truly believe that prayer is the “best thing” that we can do for others, and as I was considering the various situations facing these brothers and sisters in the Lord, I was reminded of a video‐essay I saw about Yosemite National Park. This program captured my attention because my husband and I had been to Yosemite several years ago and we found it to be an awesome manifestation of our Lord’s creativity and beauty.

What really captured my attention was the discussion of the Park’s Giant Sequoias and the role that fire plays in their sustainability. The Narrator discussed fire in the Park as being a necessity for the forest, and I recognize this as a correct generalized proposition that is true of any forest woodland. Without fire, the underbrush would become so dense that seedlings would not be able to take root, etc.

Fire scar completely through the base of Giant Sequoia Tree

This is a picture that we took on our visit to the Park which shows a fire scar that is so severe that the inside of the tree has been burned out and the tree resembles an old‐time wooden clothespin, perhaps for Paul Bunyan’s laundry! The Narrator of the video-essay stated that the Giant Sequoia tree’s bark was extraordinarily thick and the cambium layer, just beneath the bark, has fire resistant properties to enable the trees to survive severe forest fires.  This statement is consistent with one of the plaques in the Park.

Giant Sequoia Tree plaque for the tree Tennessee Tree, with explanation about cambium layer beneath bark that enables trees to survive forest fires.
Giant Sequoia Tree plaque for the tree Tennessee Tree, with explanation about cambium layer beneath bark that enables trees to survive forest fires.

The Narrator continued to describe how the Giant Sequoias cannot survive without periodic fires. I thought I misunderstood what he said – why would these majestic trees require fire for their survival – they might successfully endure the wildfire, but to say that they require it is an entirely different proposition, and one which surely must be incorrect!

I was intrigued by this statement and, after doing some research, I found that one of the primary requirements for Giant Sequoia seedlings to grow is full sun. A glance at the forests in which these trees thrive reveals that, while the mature trees have full sun due to their towering height, there are multitudes of trees around them which, although dwarfed by the Giant Sequoias, are tall trees in their own right. The result of this, of course, is that the Giant Sequoia seedling is beneath the neighboring pines, oaks, and whatever – without the benefit of full sun.

In short, the Giant Sequoia Trees require periodic wildfires so that the underbrush and smaller tree vegetation can be cleared so as to provide the correct environment for successful germination of the sequoia seeds in full sun.

Giant Sequoia fire scar with seedlings nearby.
Giant Sequoia fire scar with seedlings nearby.

But, as the television marketer says, “Wait, there’s more!”  Not only does the wildfire provide the open nursery for the seedlings, the fire actually is required to release the seeds from the cone in the first place. It is no secret that extremely hot air accompanies a forest fire; for me, the surprise was that the hot air in the canopy of the massive trees dries and opens the trees’ seed cones causing the release of large numbers of seeds to the forest floor, which, because of the clearing accomplished by the fire, has been transformed into the optimal seedbed for the seeds to take root and grow into images of their ancestors.

Seedlings in Yosemite National Park
Seedlings in Yosemite National Park

Also, the Lord provided even more help for these seeds to grow to maturity. The post‐fire loose ground ash operates as a blanket to protect the seeds from ultraviolet radiation damage. [See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sequoiadendron_giganteum accessed 8/28/2013]

Besides being an interesting aspect of the Lord’s natural world and besides showing the care that He took to insure the sustainability of His creation, the soul‐searching began when I considered the illustration provided by the Giant Sequoia Trees in the connection between the fire and the resultant beauty.

It made me consider how I respond to the fire circumstances in my own life? Am I able to look past the immediate pain and difficulty so as to see the beauty ahead? Do I endure the difficulty with anticipation for the good that our Lord will accomplish through it? Or, do I, like Jonah, run in the opposite direction so that I avoid the problem and pain? Do I even recognize that there is a cost for avoiding the trial … lost lessons learned and more agonizing trials ahead for which I could have been prepared, or perhaps which could have even been avoided, if I had paid attention to the initial difficulty?

Do I say what Joseph said to his brothers?

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “… And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.… But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.”

Genesis 45:4-7. Or, as my own paraphrase would render this passage, you may have meant to hurt me, but actually you were fulfilling God’s plan to provide a way to protect you and your families from the death that would surely have come during this severe famine.

When we are in the midst of the maelstrom, when we can’t see where things are going, through faith we can have confidence that God is sovereign and that He is working things out for His purposes and the Christian’s ultimate good. Even if scars remain, there will be beauty that will come.  The nail piercings in our Lord’s Hands reflect just some of the excruciating suffering He endured for us on the cross, but they are beautiful for those who believe in His Name for salvation.  But for what those scars represent, we would not have His righteousness to cover our sins and we could not call God “Abba Father”.  Mark 14:36; Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6.

God is sovereign in all things. He provided for the Giant Sequoia Trees, and He will provide for His children. See Luke 12:22-31.  Praise His Name as we trust in Him and in His unfailing grace, even as we go through the flames of trial that confronts us, by whatever name it is called.

As the Psalmist said: “Praise the LORD! O give thanks to the LORD for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” Psalm 106:1.